Thursday 21 September 2017

In the world

(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".

(AFP )

The world's cereal production is headed for a bumper 2017, with total output on track for a record, the United Nation's food agency said Thursday.

The increase will not, however, automatically alleviate world hunger, as conflicts and weather disasters continue to threaten food security in many regions, the Food and Agriculture Organisation said in a report.

"Global cereal production is forecast to reach a record level in 2017," the FAO said.

(AFP )

British ministers put on a show of unity Thursday as they met on the eve of Prime Minister Theresa May's major speech on Brexit, which has been overshadowed by cabinet divisions.

May is hoping her speech in Florence on Friday will break the deadlock in negotiations with the European Union, before talks resume next week.

But the run-up to the event has been dominated by an intervention by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who last week laid out his own vision for life outside the EU.

(AFP )

Unions staged new protests Thursday against an overhaul of France's labour laws, hoping to build pressure on President Emmanuel Macron days before his flagship reforms are expected to enter into force.

The marches and strikes come a week after hundreds of thousands of people -- 200,000 according to police, half a million according to organisers -- demonstrated against the measures in the first major challenge to Macron since he was elected in May.

(AFP )

Ugandan police on Thursday fired teargas at students who defied a police order banning protests as they demonstrated the proposed removal of presidential age limits that would allow President Yoweri Museveni to stand again in 2021.

Police on Wednesday had issued an order banning protests in the east African county, but it was ignored by hundreds of students at the country's main Makerere University.

The students were tear-gassed, chased and detained by armed officers in return.

(AFP )

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said Thursday that a Supreme Court ruling annulling his recent election victory was a "coup" that stole democracy from the people.

In an angry televised address, Kenyatta railed against "a coup in Kenya carried out by four people in the court."

Speaking mostly in Swahili, the president said the Supreme Court, which issued its full judgement on Wednesday, had undermined democracy by arguing that "numbers don't matter, it is processes that matter."

(AFP )

A pair of conjoined sisters are settling into campus life at a Tanzanian university, a first in a country where disabled people are often marginalised or abandoned at birth.

Maria and Consolata Mwakikuti, 20, who are joined at the abdomen, have become minor celebrities in the east African nation where the media have closely followed their path through high school and arrival at university earlier this month.

(AFP )

Standard & Poor's slashed China's credit rating on Thursday over warnings that its ballooning debt had raised "economic and financial risks", marking the country's second downgrade this year.

The decision by S&P, which downgraded China's debt from AA-minus to A-plus, follows a similar decision in May by Moody's, which had also raised concerns about the growing debt of the world's second largest economy.

(AFP )

North Korea's nuclear threat takes center stage at the United Nations on Thursday as US President Donald Trump holds talks with leaders of Japan and South Korea and the Security Council meets to push for sanctions to be enforced against Pyongyang.

After threatening to "totally destroy North Korea" in his first address to the General Assembly, Trump will sit down with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean leader Moon Jae-In to discuss the way forward.

(AFP )

The Catalan government acknowledged Thursday that its plans to hold an independence referendum on October 1 had been dealt a blow by a crackdown by Spanish authorities against the vote which Madrid deems illegal.

"It is obvious that the rules of the game have been changed," Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras told Catalonia's TV3 a day after police detained 14 Catalan officials suspected of preparing the vote slated for October 1.

(AFP )

British Prime Minister Theresa May gathered her ministers Thursday on the eve of a major speech on Brexit, seeking to restore cabinet unity after a damaging intervention by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

May flew home with Johnson overnight from New York, where they had attended the UN General Assembly, landing at dawn before holding a special cabinet meeting in Downing Street.

(AFP )

Syria's Kurds are poised to hold their first local elections, a move that has annoyed Damascus and Ankara and comes days before a controversial independence referendum by Iraq's Kurds.

Kurds made up around 15 percent of Syria's pre-war population and were long oppressed by the central government.

But they largely stayed out of the uprising that erupted in March 2011, instead quietly building local control in Kurdish-majority areas after the withdrawal of most government troops.

(AFP )

In a suite at the harbourside Mandarin Oriental hotel in Hong Kong, Chris Patten is whipping through rounds of interviews before an important visit from his tailor.

Having lost weight recently he needs new suits and running them up in the city, famous for its speedy and affordable couture, was preferable to taking them for alterations in London, he says.

Britain's last governor in Hong Kong was given the affectionate nickname "Fat Pang" during his five-year tenure and was known for his love of its ubiquitous egg tarts.

(AFP )

As thousands of Rohingya flee ethnic violence in Myanmar, Bangladesh's small Buddhist community fears the crisis could spark a violent backlash from their Muslim neighbours.

Many Bangladeshis are angry over the treatment in Buddhist-majority Myanmar of the Rohingya, a persecuted stateless minority who they see as Muslim brethren.

The anger is particularly acute in the southern district of Cox's Bazar near the border with Myanmar, where many people have close links with the Rohingya and share linguistic and cultural roots.

(AFP )

Russia warned the United States of reprisals Thursday after artillery fire from an area controlled by US-backed fighters in eastern Syria targeted government troops.

A military spokesman in Moscow blamed Syrian Democratic Forces and said future attacks would be repelled.

"Syrian regime forces were twice targeted with massive fire from mortar launchers and rocket artillery from areas east of the Euphrates river where SDF forces and US special forces are," Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.

(AFP )

A top aide to French far-right leader Marine Le Pen quit the National Front on Thursday, laying bare a deep split over Europe and immigration after the party's election defeat this year.

Florian Philippot, architect of the party's pledge to quit the euro and of Le Pen's drive to detoxify the National Front (FN) brand among voters, announced his departure on France 2 television, after Le Pen stripped him of most of his responsibilities.

(AFP )

Climbing onto a pile of rubble that used to be a building may not seem the most obvious thing to do for someone who has just survived an earthquake.

But that is how thousands of Mexicans have reacted to the deadly 7.1-magnitude quake that rocked the country Tuesday, killing more than 200 people.

(AFP )

Iraq brought all of its territory still held by the Islamic State group under attack Thursday, throwing the jihadists on the defensive across their self-proclaimed "caliphate" extending into neighbouring Syria.

Security forces backed by paramilitary units launched a dawn assault on a besieged IS-held pocket around the northern town of Hawija, just days after attacking the jihadists' only other foothold in the country.

(AFP )

The spread of a flesh-eating bacterial condition in Australia sparked calls Thursday for more government-funded research into the disease, which is normally limited to developing countries.

Buruli ulcer, a leprosy-like disease that rots flesh, is usually found in parts of Africa and was named after the Ugandan village where it was discovered.

It was first diagnosed in Australia's Victoria state in the 1930s and a growing number of cases have hit Bellarine Peninsula south of Melbourne.

(AFP )

China has lifted a 10-year travel ban on a feminist activist who was jailed for more than a month in 2015 after organising a campaign against sexual harassment.

Wu Rongrong plans to fly to Hong Kong on Sunday to pursue a master's degree in law in the semi-autonomous city, which has a separate legal system and border controls.

"It was a very complicated process, but now I have my permits and passport back and I will be able to go anywhere," Wu told AFP on Thursday.

(AFP )

The Alternative for Germany (AfD), which rails against immigration and Islam, is set to become the country's first hard-right nationalist party to clear the five-percent hurdle and enter parliament in the post-war era.

Close to France's National Front and the UK Independence Party, the AfD is an anti-establishment party that harnesses xenophobia and popular discontent about what it labels unaccountable political and media elites.

(AFP )

Turkey, which staunchly opposes Kurdish statehood, is far from alone in its rejection of an independence referendum in northern Iraq but it remains unclear whether this will translate into concrete action.

Ankara's displeasure over the referendum, which is planned for September 25, is shared not only by the government in Baghdad but also by its sometimes prickly neighbour Iran, not to mention Turkey's Western allies in NATO.

(AFP )

Condemned to death twice, former spy Seo Ok-Ryol spent three decades in prison, most of it in solitary confinement. Now aged 90, the only thing he wants to do before he dies is go home -- to North Korea.

Born in what is now South Korea, where he still has relatives, then a soldier and spy for the North -- where he left a wife and two children -- Seo epitomises the enduring divisions of the peninsula, and the way Koreans have been buffeted by the forces of history and politics.

(AFP )

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said he will have his son killed if drug trafficking allegations against the younger politician are true, and that the police who carry out the hit will be protected from prosecution.

Paolo Duterte, 42, this month appeared before a senate inquiry to deny accusations made by an opposition lawmaker he was a member of a Chinese triad who helped smuggle in a huge shipment of crystal methamphetamine from China.

(AFP )

New Zealanders go to the polls Saturday in a cliffhanger election that sees conservative Prime Minister Bill English battling a challenge from charismatic young rival Jacinda Ardern.

No party has formed a majority government in New Zealand since proportional voting was adopted in 1996 and this election is unlikely to change that.

But English and his National party looked set to be in the driving seat until Ardern became opposition leader last month.

(AFP )

As Austrians grow more openly hostile towards Muslims, major political parties are deliberately brandishing Islamophobia in the Catholic majority country ahead of next month's parliamentary election.

A torch-lit procession of ultra-nationalists gathered recently on the outskirts of Vienna to listen to fiery speeches on the anniversary of a 17th-century victory over Muslim Ottomans.

"Today we have to defend our homeland again," thundered the leader of the Identitaren movement.

(AFP )

Washington and Tehran's top diplomats confronted each other for the first time Wednesday as envoys scrambled to save the Iran nuclear deal from a skeptical Donald Trump.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met as signatories to the 2015 accord at an EU-hosted event on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

European ministers called the meeting to examine ways to save a deal that US President Trump is poised to denounce, but Tehran and Washington remain far apart.

(AFP )

As the clock ticks down to elections Sunday, Germany's cyber defence nervously hopes it'll be third time lucky after Russia was accused of meddling in the US and French votes.

But even if Berlin avoids a last-minute bombshell of leaks or online sabotage, it sees Moscow's hand in fanning fears of Muslim migrants that are driving the rise of the hard-right.

Forecasters say Chancellor Angela Merkel is almost certain to win.

(AFP )

French unions will stage new protests Thursday against an overhaul of the country's labour code, hoping to build pressure on President Emmanuel Macron days before his signature reform is expected to become law.

The marches come a week after hundreds of thousands of people -- 200,000 according to police, half a million according to organisers -- demonstrated against the plan, in the first challenge to Macron since he was elected in May.

(AFP )

Along southern China's snaking rivers, an ancient fishing community that once lived and worked exclusively on the water has been finding its way to land.

Wooden fishing boats, wispy nets and bamboo steering poles are typical of the traditions of the "Tanka" -- the term for generations of rural Chinese who have eked out an aquatic existence.

They are not an ethnic minority, but rather so named for their unique customs and egg-shaped vessels (Tanka, or "danjia," is homophonous to the Chinese word for egg).

(AFP )

French President Emmanuel Macron likes to describe France and Germany as two tango dancers who are enthusiastic partners but wary about embracing.

This weekend, he will discover who will be his opposite number in Berlin for what he hopes will be an ambitious -- and French-led -- routine.

The German election on Sunday is widely forecast to result in Chancellor Angela Merkel extending her 12 years in office, which would confirm her and Macron as the EU's uncontested power couple.

(AFP )

President Donald Trump galloped to victory as the quintessentialanti-Washington champion. But today he backs the establishment candidate in a Senate race against a more Trumpist Republican whose right-wing rebellion has made him the frontrunner.

Former Alabama chief justice Roy Moore has snatched a solid lead in the state's Republican run-off against interim incumbent Senator Luther Strange, the man Trump hopes will retain the seat vacated by now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

(AFP )

North Korea's foreign minister has brushed aside US President Donald Trump's fiery threat to destroy his nation, comparing it to a "dog's bark" and suggesting Pyongyang would not be deterred by the rhetoric.

Trump used his stormy maiden address at the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday to warn the North that Washington would "totally destroy" it if the US or its allies was attacked.

(AFP )

Production is back at full capacity in Argentina's brimming biodiesel plants, producers say, after the WTO upheld Buenos Aires' complaints against European Union anti-dumping duties following a four-year battle.

The first tanker loaded with biodiesel is on its way to Europe and others are due to set sail shortly from the 10 specialized terminals along the Parana River near the agro-industrial hub of Rosario.

Luis Zubizarreta, head of Argentina's biodiesel association, Carbio, described the lowering of tariffs and the re-opening of the European market as "excellent news".

(AFP )

The Supreme Court on Wednesday sentenced a man convicted of killing Miss Honduras World and her sister to 45 years in prison.

Plutarco Ruiz, 31, was convicted and sentenced for manslaughter in the case of Miss Honduras World Maria Jose Alvarado Munoz, in 2014. He was also convicted of murdering Sofia Trinidad Alvarado, whom he was dating, said court spokesman Melvin Duarte.

The murder case shocked even violence-plagued Honduras and captured headlines around the world.