Thursday 22 March 2018

In the world

(AFP )

Catalan separatist parties failed to elect a new regional president on Thursday after their most radical faction refused to back the proposed candidate in a vote of confidence.

Former Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull obtained 64 votes in favour and 65 against, prolonging the political deadlock in the wealthy Spanish region.

There were four abstentions from the far-left CUP party.

The vote triggers a two month deadline for Catalonia to install a new regional government before fresh Catalan elections must be held.

(AFP )

A stray hippopotamus that had been roaming around the countryside in Mexico has been captured after a 10-day hunt and relocated to a wildlife refuge, authorities said Tuesday.

"Tyson," as locals had named the stray hippo, drew a large fan following -- and even inspired his own Facebook page -- after mysteriously showing up several weeks ago in a rural area in Las Choapas, in the eastern state of Veracruz.

(AFP )

Hundreds of Florida high school students headed for Washington on Thursday to take part in a weekend march for gun control organized by fellow teenagers after the massacre at a school in the southern US state.

Wearing their maroon school colors, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 14 students and three adults were killed on February 14, boarded a flight for Washington.

"The World is Changed With Your Actions, Not With Your Opinion," read a sign carried by a student at Fort Lauderdale airport.

(AFP )

EU leaders cautiously welcomed a US decision to grant Europe a last-minute exemption from punishing metals tariffs, but remained wary of potential conditions set by President Donald Trump.

In the US capital, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told a Senate panel that Trump had authorised a "pause" in the controversial tariffs while talks are under way to find a more permanent solution.

(AFP )

The United States has quietly dropped assault charges against 11 bodyguards of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who were accused of attacking protesters in Washington last year.

The Superior Court in Washington confirmed Thursday that charges against four were dropped last November and another seven on February 14.

No reasons were given for government prosecutors' decision to seek dismissal of the cases.

(AFP )

EU leaders on Thursday pressed tech giants to fully protect Europeans' personal data after the scandal over information harvested from Facebook that some in Brussels warn also threatens democracy.

The leaders of the 28-nation European Union stressed privacy concerns rather than broader political fears, including whether a similar breach may have influenced the shock 2016 Brexit vote in Britain.

The summit host said leaders discussed the misuse of Facebook data by British firm Cambridge Analytica, which played a role in US President Donald Trump's election campaign.

(AFP )

As Peru's Congress on Thursday began debating president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's resignation, it echoed a previous presidential resignation that rocked the South American country.

On November 21, 2000, Congress impeached corruption-accused president Alberto Fujimori on the grounds of "permanent moral incapacity," bringing to an end weeks of political drama.

Fujimori had resigned by fax -- sent from his hotel room in Japan -- but this was rejected by Congress, which chose instead to punish the ex-strongman.

(AFP )

The leading attorney on President Donald Trump's legal team, John Dowd, resigned Thursday amid growing pressure on the White House from the Russia investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller.

Dowd quit days after Trump directly attacked Mueller's investigation as a "witch hunt," a statement that raised questions about whether the president was interfering with the probe.

(AFP )

Five centuries after brothers Atahualpa and Huascar engaged in a bloody battle for the Inca throne, a similar feud is tearing apart Peru's powerful Fujimori clan.

This time, it's siblings Keiko and Kenji -- the daughter and son of disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori.

The immediate effect of their open feud was to effectively remove Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's last fingerhold on power.

But analysts believe the feud will reverberate throughout Peruvian politics for some time to come.

(AFP )

A woman who claimed 25,000 euros in compensation after posing as a victim of the 2015 Paris terror attacks was sentenced Thursday to four and a half years in prison.

The 49-year-old, who claimed to be at the Bataclan concert hall where Islamic State attackers killed 90 people, had already been found guilty of fraud on three different occasions.

Before her arrest in February she had also been holding a paid job at a charity for victims of the gun and bomb attacks in which jihadists murdered a total of 130 people.

(AFP )

A humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo is worsening and has reached catastrophic levels in some parts of the country, with millions facing severe hunger, the UN Security Council warned Thursday.

At least 13.1 million Congolese are in need of humanitarian aid including 7.7 million who are severely food insecure, said a unanimous statement from the top UN body.

The humanitarian crisis has been compounded by a doubling over the past year of the number of Congolese fleeing violence in the country who now total close to 4.4 million.

(AFP )

Like every spring, the Dervishes in Kosovo on Thursday celebrated the beginning of the season by dancing and pushing skewers into their mouths in a quest for heavenly salvation.

Considered as a mystic sect by their fellow Muslims, some 60 Dervishes gathered in the southern city of Prizren for a centuries-old celebration of the spring equinox festival of "Sultan Nevruz".

(AFP )

The man Hamas called the main suspect in a bomb attack against the Palestinian prime minister in Gaza was killed in an arrest raid on Thursday that also left two members of the Islamist movement's security forces dead.

One of chief suspect Anas Abu Koussa's alleged accomplices in last week's attack was also killed in the raid, according to Hamas.

The raid came after Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, launched a manhunt to search for the perpetrators of a roadside bomb that left prime minister Rami Hamdallah unhurt on March 13.

(AFP )

President Donald Trump will impose tariffs on at least $50 billion in Chinese goods imports to retaliate against the alleged theft of American intellectual property, White House officials said Thursday.

Saying it would be the "first of many" trade actions, Trump signed the order that also will look at restrictions on Chinese investment in the US.

"We have a tremendous intellectual property theft situation going on," Trump said.

(AFP )

Former South Korean president Lee Myung-bak was on Thursday arrested over corruption, the last of the country's four living ex-leaders to be embroiled in a criminal inquiry.

The 76-year-old, business CEO-turned president -- who served from 2008 to 2013 -- faces multiple charges including bribery, power abuse, embezzlement, and tax evasion.

He is the fourth surviving former South Korean leader to be detained over corruption.

(AFP )

The leading attorney on President Donald Trump's legal team, John Dowd, resigned Thursday amid growing pressure on the White House from the Russia investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller.

Dowd quit days after Trump directly attacked Mueller's investigation as a "witch hunt," raising questions about whether the president was interfering with the probe.

In an email Dowd confirmed his departure to AFP, saying "I love the president and wish him well."

(AFP )

Brazil's top court on Thursday delayed until April 4 a decision on whether ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva should go to jail if he loses an appeal next week.

The Federal Supreme Court decision is a shot in the arm for the 72-year-old leftist leader, the front-runner for October's presidential election, and means he cannot be jailed for at least two weeks.

(AFP )

The Frenchwoman accused with her partner of murdering their au-pair in London demanded on Thursday to be released, claiming in her trial that she had been drugged by the victim.

Sabrina Kouider, 35, and her 40-year-old partner Ouissem Medouni, also French, are standing trial at England's Old Bailey central criminal court for the murder of 21-year-old French au-pair Sophie Lionnet.

Lionnet's charred remains were discovered by the fire brigade on September 20, in the back garden of the southwest London home where she cared for two children.

(AFP )

Pop quiz: How many species of big, land-dwelling animals are there in the world?

Count all the different kinds of big cats, bears, wolves, wild dogs and other carnivores weighing at least 15 kilos. Add large herbivores -- 100 kilos or more -- such as bison, zebra and deer, along with rhinos, elephants, large apes, giraffes, hippos, wild pigs, tapirs...

What's the final tally?

The answer, based on this widely used definition of terrestrial megafauna, is 101.

(AFP )

Philippine police said Thursday they had shot dead 13 drug suspects, just days after President Rodrigo Duterte moved to take the country out of the International Criminal Court over its inquiry into his deadly drug war.

The suspects were killed Wednesday in the northern province of Bulacan, an official statement said, an area where police have previously launched lethal crackdowns on illegal drugs.

(AFP )

Dutch voters appeared Thursday to have narrowly voted against new laws giving security services greater powers to snoop on emails and online data, amid growing global fears about internet privacy.

With some 93.8 percent of votes counted from Wednesday's referendum, the results were still on a knife-edge.

The country was split, with 48.7 percent of voters opposing the legislation and 47.3 percent in favour, the NOS public broadcaster said. Some 4.0 percent of the ballots were blank.

(AFP )

Britain on Thursday marked the one year anniversary of the terror attack on Westminster Bridge, the first in a series of assaults in the UK in 2017 that killed dozens of people and left scores injured.

On March 22 last year, Khalid Masood, a 52-year-old British convert to Islam, drove a car at pedestrians on the bridge over the River Thames in the heart of the London, before fatally stabbing a policeman on guard outside parliament.

The attack left five people dead and around 50 injured, and only ended when police shot Masood dead.

(AFP )

Saudi Arabia and America must pursue "urgent efforts" to bring a peaceful end to Yemen's war, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Thursday.

The two men met at the Pentagon as part of Prince Mohammed's tour of the United States, which began this week with a White House visit.

"As you discussed with President (Donald) Trump on Tuesday, we must also reinvigorate urgent efforts to seek a peaceful resolution to the civil war in Yemen and we support you in this regard," Mattis told Prince Mohammed.

(AFP )

Slovakia's president on Thursday appointed a new government led by Peter Pellegrini, whose predecessor had quit in a scandal over the murder of an investigative journalist.

"Your responsibility is to fight for public confidence and the trust of our citizens," President Andrej Kiska told Pellegrini after appointing him in front of reporters.

"As the head of state, I will not allow you to forget this responsibility."

The new cabinet of the three-party coalition retains most of the same people from the previous administration, a couple of whom swapped jobs.

(AFP )

Israeli authorities said Thursday they had launched an investigation into Facebook's activities following a scandal over the hijacking of personal data from millions of the social network's users.

Israel's privacy protection agency "informed Facebook" of the probe after revelations over data transfers from the tech giant to consultant Cambridge Analytica, the agency said.

The agency was also looking into "the possibility of other infringements of the privacy law regarding Israelis", it said in a statement released by the justice ministry.

(AFP )

Jordan and the United States unveiled a counterterrorism training centre south of Amman on Thursday aimed at boosting the capacity of local forces in a region beset by conflict.

The centre connected to the Jordanian Police Academy was opened in Suwaqah, 70 kilometres (43 miles) from the Jordanian capital.

It aims to prepare security forces to cope with crisis management, hostage-taking, cyberterrorism and the detection of explosives.

(AFP )

A British coroner on Thursday opened an inquest to establish the cause of death of Russian exile Nikolai Glushkov, who was found at his London home on March 12.

The inquest at West London Coroner's Court was told that a post-mortem discovered the 68-year-old businessman suffered from compression to the neck, suggesting he may have been strangled.

His family said Wednesday they were "devastated" by the death.

"We are devastated at the loss of Nikolai and are coming to terms with our grief," they said in a statement.

(AFP )

Syrian rebels began leaving Eastern Ghouta on Thursday, state media said, under the first such evacuation deal from the battered opposition enclave outside Damascus.

State television announced the "departure of 547 people from Harasta so far, including 88 fighters".

A military source told AFP the rebels and accompanying civilians had boarded buses and were waiting in a buffer zone to cross over into regime-controlled territory.

In total, around 1,500 fighters and thousands of family members are expected to leave the town of Harasta, state news agency SANA said.

(AFP )

Top Russian media outlets launched a rare boycott of parliament on Thursday after it dismissed claims from a number of journalists that a senior lawmaker had sexually harassed them.

Influential media including popular radio station Echo of Moscow, RBC media group and Dozhd (Rain) independent television said they would no longer send journalists to cover the lower house of parliament, the State Duma.

(AFP )

The evacuation of hundreds of rebels and their families from Harasta, a bombed-out town in Syria's Eastern Ghouta, follows a string of similar operations in the seven-year war.

The regime is pushing "reconciliation" deals -- the evacuation of fighters, generally towards the northwestern province of Idlib -- in exchange for lifting bombardments and sieges.

Amnesty International, in a November 2017 report entitled "We Leave or We Die", labelled such forced displacements crimes against humanity.

Here are some of the major evacuations:

- 2014 onwards: Homs -

(AFP )

Russia's ambassador to Britain insisted Thursday that England football fans will be safe at the 2018 World Cup, despite a raging diplomatic crisis between London and Moscow.

"They will be safe in Russia," Alexander Yakovenko told a press conference at the London embassy.

All the necessary measures are being taken, and the British special authorities are in contact with the special Russian authorities to provide security.

"It's regular precautions that we are doing with every single country.

(AFP )

At least six people died and two were injured in an explosion Thursday at a Czech chemical plant in the northern town of Kralupy-nad-Vltavou, firefighters said.

"Six bodies were found at the scene, and two people were injured," regional fire spokeswoman Vladimira Kerekova told AFP.

One of the people injured was hospitalised with "devastating facial injuries", while the other suffered 10 percent burns, emergency services spokeswoman Petra Effenbergerova said.

Owned by Czech chemicals group Unipetrol, the plant is part of a refinery complex.

(AFP )

A Ukrainian MP who was once hailed as a symbol of resistance against Russia but now stands accused of plotting a terrorist attack in Kiev was stripped of her immunity by parliament on Thursday.

Nadiya Savchenko planned "a large-scale terrorist act in the centre of the Ukrainian capital," general prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko told lawmakers in parliament.

(AFP )

A coroner testified Thursday that Swedish journalist Kim Wall, who died on Danish inventor Peter Madsen's submarine, was probably strangled or had her throat cut, and was not killed in an accident as Madsen claims.

Christina Jacobsen told the Copenhagen district court there was no conclusive evidence to prove the cause of death beyond doubt.

"What we think happened is that the airways were totally or partially cut off. That would be due to either strangulation, throat cutting or drowning," she said.

(AFP )

It took a crucial piece of evidence for Microsoft to win one of its numerous anti-piracy lawsuits in China: A computer seller telling an investigator that he could install a Windows 7 knock-off for free.

But the US software giant's victory was marred by the paltry compensation ordered by the court, illustrating both progress and challenges for foreign firms defending their intellectual property in China.

Premier Li Keqiang pledged this week that China will "strictly protect" intellectual property rights, and special IP courts have been created to hear such cases.