Monday 24 July 2017

In the world

(AFP )

Thai authorities have frozen seven bank accounts belonging to ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra over a $1 billion fine she faces for her administration's controversial rice subsidy scheme, her lawyer said Tuesday.

The move is seen as unprecedented because it financially sanctions an elected leader for a government policy and it is the latest in a barrage of legal battles she has had to fight since she was booted from office.

(AFP )

The US House of Representatives votes Tuesday to slap new sanctions against Russia, a move that limits President Donald Trump's ability to tinker with the penalties and has also triggered uproar in Moscow and Europe.

The legislation, which is the result of a congressional compromise reached at the weekend and is aimed at punishing the Kremlin for meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and Russia's annexation of Crimea, could end up penalizing European firms that contribute to the development of Russia's energy sector.

(AFP )

Britain's Serious Fraud Office has opened an investigation into mining giant Rio Tinto for "suspected corruption" surrounding the development of the world's biggest untapped iron-ore deposit in Guinea.

Plans to mine the massive Simandou iron ore deposits -- a US$20-billion project deep in the remote interior of the poor west African country -- have been mired in legal disputes and political upheaval for years.

Rio Tinto reported itself to regulators last November after conducting an internal probe into US$10.5 million in payments made over the project.

(AFP )

All-female police units are shaking up the male-dominated force in conservative northwest India, hitting the streets to combat sex crimes and a pervasive culture of silence around rape.

One such squad in Jaipur has been patrolling bus stops, colleges and parks where women are vulnerable to sexual harassment.

Women can face a barrage on India's streets, enduring everything from lewd jokes and strangers following them -- often dismissed as innocent "Eve teasing" -- to physical attacks and rape.

(AFP )

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is gearing up to testify as a witness Wednesday in a major graft trial involving former members of his conservative Popular Party, a first in the country.

No other acting prime minister has appeared in court since Spain's transition to democracy following dictator Francisco Franco's death in 1975.

Two former premiers -- Felipe Gonzalez, an ex-Socialist leader, and Adolfo Suarez, prime minister during the transition -- appeared in court in separate trials after they were no longer in office.

(AFP )

Judges in Greece have reacted angrily to a blunt barrage of government criticism over recent court rulings, comparing the "dirty" attacks to authoritarian crackdowns in Turkey and Poland.

The government "is systematically attempting to subjugate and control justice," the association of judges and prosecutors protested over the weekend.

"Ministers and lawmakers launch baseless accusations daily... they seek to erode the prestige of the Greek justice system... following the example of Turkey and Poland," they said.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump on Monday announced he had ended a program to support rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad because it was "massive, dangerous, and wasteful."

The comments came days after General Tony Thomas, the head of US special operations confirmed that the four-year-old operation was brought to a close but denied the decision was motivated by a desire to placate Russia, which backs the Assad regime.

(AFP )

US Senator John McCain returns to Washington on Tuesday for the first time since being diagnosed with brain cancer, his office announced, in order to take key votes on repealing Obamacare and passing sanctions on Russia.

"Senator McCain looks forward to returning to the United States Senate tomorrow to continue working on important legislation, including health care reform, the National Defense Authorization Act and new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea," a statement read late Monday.

(AFP )

A Venezuelan military court has ordered the imprisonment of a lawyer that congress named to a shadow Supreme Court in a swipe at President Nicolas Maduro, a rights group and an opposition leader said Monday.

Angel Zerpa, arrested Saturday, has been imprisoned and has gone on a hunger strike, said Foro Penal, a group that defends political prisoners in this oil rich country in the throes of a political and economic crisis.

(AFP )

Bela Gil may be the youngest daughter of Brazilian singer and politician Gilberto Gil, but she's not riding on her father's musical coat tails.

Instead, she has turned her fascination with the "weird" things her dad ate when she was little, such as tofu and seaweed, into her own television show on cooking, "Bela Cozinha."

In it, Gil shows how to make a vegetarian version of Brazil's national dish of feijoada (a stew of beans, usually with pork and beef), gnocchi pasta made from yuca, or a pesto sauce from cacao -- all showcasing natural ingredients from her country.

(AFP )

Controversial insecticide endosulfan, which has been banned by more than 80 countries, was responsible for the deaths of 13 children in Bangladesh in 2012, a study found Monday.

All of the fatalities, caused by brain inflammation, were linked to exposure to lychee fruit and occurred within 20 hours of the symptoms surfacing, according to the research published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

(AFP )

Israel removed metal detectors from a highly sensitive Jerusalem holy site in the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday and said they would no longer be used after the new security measures set off deadly violence.

The move came after intensive international diplomacy seeking to stop the outbreak of wider unrest, with warnings that it could spread far beyond Israel and the Palestinian territories.

A work crew could be seen in the early hours of Tuesday removing the metal detectors at one entrance, an AFP journalist reported.

Muslim officials said all had been dismantled.

(AFP )

Hundreds of firefighters were battling blazes across southern France on Monday, with one inferno spreading across 900 hectares of forest and threatening homes on the island of Corsica, emergency services said.

Residents were evacuated from homes at the edge of the town of Biguglia, on the island's northeastern coast.

"The fire is very fierce and heading to urban areas of Biguglia," lieutenant-colonel Michel Bernier, of France's civil defence forces, told AFP.

The blaze engulfed a sawmill and burned 10 vehicles.

(AFP )

A plan to ease a ban on abortion in Chile has the backing of 70 percent of the country, a new poll released on Monday suggested, as a government push to do so navigated legislative problems.

A bill allowing abortion in cases of rape, if the mother's life is at risk, or if the fetus presents a deadly birth defect got held up in the National Congress last week when a lawmaker from the ruling coalition abstained from the vote, preventing a quorum.

That means the text now must be revised by a committee of deputies and senators before being resubmitted.

(AFP )

The Puerto Rican duo behind the worldwide sexy smash Latin pop hit "Despacito" on Monday slammed Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro for "illegally" using their song to promote a controversial vote he is organizing.

"Illegally appropriating a song doesn't compare to the crimes you are committing and have committed in Venezuela," one of the two, Daddy Yankee, wrote on his Instagram feed, directly addressing Maduro.

(AFP )

Poland's governing conservatives on Monday vowed to press on with judicial reforms, even after the president used his veto following huge street protests and threats of unprecedented EU sanctions.

President Andrzej Duda vetoed two out of three controversial reforms on Monday in a move that surprised observers because he is a close ally of the ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party that had pushed the legislation.

(AFP )

Germany said Monday Turkey had informed it that Ankara had dropped accusations of "terrorism" funding against major German companies, amid a raging dispute between the NATO partners.

After the reported claims against nearly 700 German firms including giants Daimler and BASF added further tensions to the dispute, the German and Turkish interior ministers held talks aimed at clearing up the issue.

(AFP )

Russia has deployed military police to monitor two safe zones being established in Syria, it was announced on Monday, with officials touting it as a new era of US cooperation.

Senior commander Sergei Rudskoi said Russian forces had set up checkpoints and observation posts around a zone in the south-west and in another covering Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus.

The two areas are part of a broader Moscow-backed plan to create four "de-escalation zones" in rebel-held parts of Syria.

(AFP )

The US military is preparing to conduct another test of a missile-intercept system in Alaska, the Pentagon said Monday, amid continued tensions with North Korea over its ballistic missile program.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said a routine test of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system had been scheduled to go ahead "soon."

"These tests are done as a routine measure to make sure that the system is ready," he said.

"They are scheduled well in advance of any other real world geopolitical events going on."

(AFP )

A survivor of a horror truck journey in which 10 migrants suffocated to death has told how travelers took turns breathing through a tiny hole in a desperate bid to stay alive, US investigators said on Monday.

As charges were filed against the driver who was detained in Texas near the border with Mexico, one of President Donald Trump's cabinet secretaries denounced the "brutality" of people-smuggling gangs.

(AFP )

Only 30 percent of $1.4 billion aid needed in 2017 for refugees fleeing the conflict in South Sudan has been raised, a UN official said Monday, raising fears of aid cuts.

Nearly two million South Sudanese have fled, and tens of thousands have been killed, since the country descended into civil war nearly four years ago.

In May, the United Nations said it needed $1.4 billion this year alone to help people who have sought refuge in Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

(AFP )

The parents of British baby Charlie Gard on Monday abandoned their legal fight to take him to the United States for experimental treatment in a case that has attracted global attention.

A lawyer representing Gard's parents Connie Yates and Chris Gard told judge Nicholas Francis at London's High Court that "time had run out" and that they had made their decision after seeing the 11-month-old's latest brain scans.

"We have decided it is no longer in Charlie's best interests to pursue treatment and we will let our son go," Gard said outside court.

(AFP )

Colombia's leftist FARC rebels said Monday they will officially transform into a political party on September 1, a major step in reintegrating into civilian life as part of a historic peace deal.

"The democratic opening that Colombia needs is approaching. We will launch our party on September 1," the FARC's top leader Rodrigo Londono wrote on Twitter, almost a month after the rebel group completed its disarmament.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is the largest and oldest rebel group in the country's long-running civil war.

(AFP )

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Monday demanded Russia's Vladimir Putin halt arms supplies to rebels as the leaders of France and Germany tried to revive a peace plan.

After a spike in violence, the four leaders discussed the Ukraine crisis for two hours by telephone in the latest round of talks aimed at stilling a conflict that has killed 10,000 people since April 2014.

The conversation was the first to involve French President Emmanuel Macron since he came to power in May, becoming the main international moderator on the crisis along with Germany's Angela Merkel.

(AFP )

Spain's Balearic Islands on Monday banned the killing of bulls in corridas in a decision feted by animal rights activists but decried by supporters of the controversial, centuries-old tradition.

While not prohibiting bullfighting outright, the regional parliament of the Spanish archipelago voted an animal protection law banning the use of "sharp implements that can injure and/or kill the bull" in the ring, effectively outlawing the slaughter of the animal.

(AFP )

A new public bathing area on a Paris canal that has been helping residents keep cool during the summer was temporarily closed Monday due to pollution concerns just a week after opening.

The City of Paris tweeted that three floating pools on the Canal de l'Ourcq were closed because the water quality was "unsatisfactory".

The authorities said the site would remain closed until the situation returned to normal.

The cause of the pollution was not clear.

(AFP )

An explosion claimed by the Pakistani Taliban killed at least 26 people and injured dozens in a busy vegetable market in the Pakistani city of Lahore Monday, officials said.

The powerful blast hit a bustling main road in the south of Lahore and blew out windows in nearby buildings.

"A suicide bomber of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) used a motorcycle bomb to kill dozens of policemen," TTP spokesman Muhammad Khurasani said in a statement emailed to local media.

(AFP )

Colombia's leftist FARC rebels announced Monday they will launch as a political party on September 1, a major step as the group transitions into civilian life as part of a historic peace agreement.

"We will publicly launch the party on September 1 in the Plaza de Bolivar," in Bogota, guerrilla commander Carlos Antonio Lozada told AFP after a news conference by the group, almost a month after it completed its disarmament.

Lozada, whose real name is Julian Gallo, said the group had been working on the details of the "great political-cultural act."

(AFP )

The parents of British baby Charlie Gard on Monday abandoned their legal fight to take their son to the United States for experimental treatment in a case that has attracted global attention.

A lawyer representing Gard's parents Connie Yates and Chris Gard told judge Nicholas Francis at London's High Court that "time had run out" and they had made their decision after seeing the 11-month-old's latest brain scans.

(AFP )

The Chinese Communist Party's anti-graft watchdog has launched an investigation into a Politburo member once seen as a contender for a top leadership post, just months before a major political congress.

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection is investigating Sun Zhengcai, who some 10 days ago was ousted as party chief in the major city of Chongqing, for "serious discipline violation", the official Xinhua news agency said.

(AFP )

Swiss police were searching Monday for a man who went on a rampage while armed with a chainsaw in an attack police said was not "a terrorist act".

Officers have identified the assailant as Franz Wrousis, a 51-year-old man with a criminal history and no fixed address who reportedly has spent significant time living in a forest.

Late Monday he remained on the run from police.

The attack began shortly after the suspect entered an office building in the northern town of Schaffhausen at 10:30 am (0830 GMT), local police said in a statement.

(AFP )

The Kremlin on Monday warned that new US sanctions on Russia would hit the interests of both sides as Congress gears up to approved fresh punitive measures.

"We consider such a continuation of the rhetoric of sanctions counter-productive and harmful to the interests of both countries," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

In mid-June, the US Senate overwhelmingly passed tough sanctions, but the text stalled in the House of Representatives, until agreement was reached on Saturday.

(AFP )

Protesters in a town in southwest France have built a nearly-two-metre-high wall around the entrance to a disused hotel to try to prevent it being turned into a migrant shelter.

Working under cover of darkness, a few dozen residents of Semeac in the Pyrenees mountains erected a wall 18 metres (60 feet) long and 1.8 metres high barring access to the Formule 1 hotel, a spokesman for the group confirmed.

"We not against taking in migrants," Laurent Teixeira told AFP. "But you have to take account of the citizens."

(AFP )

Donald Trump's son-in-law and top White House advisor Jared Kushner denied colluding with Moscow to sway the 2016 election Monday, insisting a string of undisclosed meetings with Russian officials were "proper."

"Let me be very clear -- I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so," Kushner said after he testified before a congressional inquiry.

(AFP )

Swaziland, which bears the world's heaviest HIV burden, has almost halved the rate of new infections in five years by boosting access to virus-suppressing drugs, researchers said Monday.

The country -- where one in three adults is infected with the AIDS-causing virus -- has vastly expanded public programmes to test people for HIV infection and put them on life-saving anti-retroviral treatment (ART).

"The rate of new HIV infections has been reduced by half," Velephi Okello of the Swazi health ministry told journalists at an HIV science conference in Paris.