Saturday 17 March 2018

In the world

(AFP )

Thousands of terrified Syrian civilians fled for their lives on Saturday, as they sought to escape two raging offensives in a rebel bastion outside Damascus and a northwestern Kurdish enclave.

Syria's civil war this week entered its eighth year with world powers unable to stem a complex conflict that has killed more than 350,000 people and displaced at least half the country's population.

(AFP )

At least 16 people, including six children, perished Saturday after a migrant boat capsized in the Aegean Sea, the deadliest disaster in the area since a controversial deal between the EU and Turkey to try to stem the flow of migrants two years ago.

The boat was ferrying migrants from Turkey to Greece when it went down overnight off the island of Agathonissi.

Two women and a man who managed to swim to safety on the island sounded the alarm and port police said they believe two or three people are still missing.

(AFP )

North Korean officials continued talks Saturday with Swedish counterparts to make a proposed nuclear summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong Un a reality.

Sweden has longstanding ties with North Korea. Its diplomatic mission in Pyongyang, which opened in 1975, was the first Western embassy established in the isolationist country and now represents US, Canadian and Australian diplomatic interests, with Sweden playing a key liaison role.

(AFP )

Here are the main developments since the poisoning of a Russian former double agent in England sparked soaring diplomatic tensions between London and Moscow.

- Poisoning in English city -

On March 4 spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, are found unconscious, slumped on a bench outside a shopping centre in Salisbury. They are currently in critical condition in a local hospital.

(AFP )

A Myanmar official in Rakhine state said Saturday that Rohingya refugees who return will not be held in newly-built camps "forever," as concerns mount over a vexed repatriation process and efforts to reshape communities in the crisis-hit state.

Ye Htut, the administrator of Maungdaw district, was speaking to reporters on a government-chaperoned trip to northern Rakhine, the site of a military crackdown last August that has emptied the region of some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims.

(AFP )

At least 14 migrants, including four children, died when a boat carrying about 20 people capsized overnight in the Aegean Sea, Greek police said Saturday.

The boat was ferrying migrants from Turkey to Greece. Police recovered eight more bodies after the corpses of a man, a woman and four children surfaced off the island of Agathonissi.

Two women and a man who managed to swim to safety sounded the alarm. Survivors said the boat was carrying 21 people, according to port officials.

(AFP )

Russia said Saturday it would expel 23 British diplomats and close a British consulate following London's "provocative" measures over the poisoning of a double agent that has triggered a fierce diplomatic row.

Moscow also said it would halt the activities of the British Council in Russia in a tough series of retaliatory measures announced after it summoned British ambassador Laurie Bristow.

(AFP )

Israeli forces have arrested a brother and an uncle of a Palestinian accused of killing two soldiers in a West Bank car ramming late on Friday, the army said.

The alleged driver of the vehicle -- identified as Alaa Kabha, born in 1991 -- was already in custody having been detained injured at the scene and taken to hospital under guard.

Friday's car ramming, close to the Jewish settlement of Mevo Dotan near Jenin in the north of the occupied West Bank, also wounded two soldiers, one of them seriously.

(AFP )

Russia announced on Saturday the expulsion of 23 British diplomats in a tit-for-tat move following London's response to a nerve agent attack against a Russian former double agent in England.

They are the latest sanctions by London and Moscow in spying affairs:

- The Cold War -

- In September 1971 Britain expelled a record number of 105 Soviet diplomats and officials after Moscow refused to clarify the activities of 440 of its citizens in Britain.

Moscow in turn expelled 18 Britons.

(AFP )

Maldivian authorities arrested more than 140 activists who defied a ban on rallies and demonstrated against a state of emergency imposed by President Abdulla Yameen, the opposition said Saturday.

Thousands of supporters poured into the streets of the capital island Male on Friday night and continued their protest rally till early Saturday, the joint opposition said in a statement issued in Colombo.

(AFP )

Use of encrypted messaging apps to plan terrorist attacks is the greatest threat facing intelligence agencies in modern times, Australia warned Saturday as Southeast Asian leaders vowed closer cooperation to counter extremism.

An ASEAN-Australia special summit in Sydney heard that use of the "dark web" was a spiralling problem and countries in the region must work together to keep on top of it.

(AFP )

Malaysia's prime minister Saturday warned his Southeast Asian neighbours that the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar could become a serious security threat for the region.

Hundreds of thousands of the Muslim-minority Rohingya have fled Myanmar's troubled Rakhine state after authorities launched a brutal crackdown on insurgents six months ago that the UN has called "ethnic cleansing".

Myanmar has vehemently denied the allegations, insisting it was responding to attacks by Rohingya militants in late August.

(AFP )

Ten people were killed when a small plane crashed into a house just outside the Philippine capital on Saturday, police and aviation officials said.

The twin-engine aircraft crashed shortly after taking off in Plaridel town, killing all five aboard as well as three children, a mother and a grandmother from the family in the house, said Superintendent Julio Lizardo.

"We had to dig through the rubble to find the bodies," he said, explaining why the toll rose from an initial figure of seven dead.

(AFP )

The new head of the Catholic Church in Guam welcomed Saturday the guilty verdict against his predecessor, Anthony Apuron, who faced multiple sex abuse charges, as Apuron announced plans to appeal the finding.

"This long-awaited announcement by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is very much welcomed," Archbishop Michael Byrnes said after a Vatican tribunal ruled Apuron should be removed from his office and barred from living in Guam.

Apuron had been accused of molesting altar boys when he was a parish priest during the 1970s. The allegations emerged in 2016.

(AFP )

Russia announced Saturday it will expel 23 British diplomats and halt the activities of the British Council in response to London's "provocative" measures over the poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter.

"Twenty three diplomatic staff at the British embassy in Moscow are declared persona non grata and to be expelled within a week," the foreign ministry said in a statement after summoning the British ambassador Laurie Bristow.

(AFP )

A car bomb explosion claimed by the Taliban in Kabul on Saturday killed at least two civilians, as the militants maintain pressure on the capital amid growing calls for peace talks.

Several others were wounded in the morning rush-hour suicide blast in an industrial area of the city that the Afghan interior ministry said had intended to strike global security company G4S.

It was the fourth suicide attack in Kabul in three weeks and comes days after the top US general in Afghanistan said protecting the war-weary city was "our main effort".

(AFP )

Air strikes on Eastern Ghouta killed at least 30 civilians on Saturday, a monitor said, almost a month into a blistering Russia-backed regime assault on the Syrian rebel enclave outside Damascus.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights could not say who carried out the strikes on the town of Zamalka in a southern pocket of the enclave.

Regime forces have retaken 70 percent of the last rebel bastion on the outskirts of the capital since February 18, carving it up into three shrinking pockets held by different rebels.

(AFP )

More than 200,000 civilians have fled the city of Afrin in northern Syria in less than three days to escape a Turkish-led military offensive against a Kurdish militia, a war monitor said Saturday.

"There was fierce fighting throughout the night on the northern outskirts of the city as the Turkish forces and their Syrian allies tried to break into the city," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

(AFP )

Moos sounded across Sydney's Bondi Beach Saturday as drovers on horseback mustered dozens of cows across its famous soft sands to raise awareness about rural health needs.

The unusual sight of 40 heifers -- who travelled thousands of kilometres (miles) from Australia's remote outback -- and six stockmen and women at one of the world's most iconic beaches attracted hundreds of excited onlookers.

(AFP )

A suicide attacker blew up a bomb-laden vehicle in Kabul on Saturday, killing at least two civilians and wounding several others, an Afghan official said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack as the group comes under growing pressure to take up the Afghan government's offer of peace talks.

"Around 9:10 am this morning a suicide car bomb exploded in Police District Nine of Kabul," interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish told AFP.

(AFP )

Brazil -- the country with the world's greatest fresh water reserves -- hosts an international conference next week on growing fears over the fragility of drinking water supplies in a heating planet.

Under the slogan "sharing water," the 8th World Water Forum will bring together 15 heads of state and government, 300 mayors and dozens of experts in the Brazilian capital Brasilia from Sunday to March 23.

An estimated 40,000 people are expected to attend, organizers say.

(AFP )

Monty Python's Terry Gilliam could be forgiven for thinking the whole Donald Trump presidency is a joke on him.

This is a man after all who renounced his American citizenship in protest at George W. Bush.

"For years I was saying we are getting to the point of having a complete conman for a president," the film director and animator told AFP, "And now here we are...

"For somebody who likes turning things upside down, I should be enjoying this -- but Trump is an idiot," said the maker of "Brazil" and "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas".

(AFP )

Book by book, and with donations large and small -- some from people who are illiterate -- a library is taking shape in one of the poorest places in destitute Haiti.

Cite Soleil, a slum in the capital Port-au-Prince that is home to half a million people, used to be known for how dangerous it was as gangs fought each other in its narrow alleys for control of the neighborhood.

That violence ended about two years ago, and one of the young men living in the slum came up with the idea of building a place for people to read and learn.

(AFP )

Former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, who has endured a year of withering attacks from President Donald Trump, was fired by the Justice Department Friday just days before he was to retire.

"Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI - A great day for Democracy," Trump tweeted soon after the firing.

"Sanctimonious [ex-FBI director] James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!" Trump wrote.

(AFP )

Wearing a big grin, Marame clambers into the small electric sports car and drives off -- to the operating theatre.

The five-year-old girl is a patient at the public hospital in the northern French city of Valenciennes, which has begun using toys rather than drugs to alleviate children's fears of surgery.

The new scheme for youngsters aged 18 months to eight years is based on similar programmes in the United States and Australia.

(AFP )

"Even before the Anschluss, Austrians had the Nazi symbol hidden under their lapels," says Marko Feingold, the oldest living Austrian survivor of the Holocaust.

Almost 105 years old, he shared with AFP his sometimes startling memories of Hitler's takeover of Austria in March 1938 and how anti-Semitism lingered on well after the war.

"Anti-Semitism was already very much in evidence in the 1920s," he says.

(AFP )

China's rubber-stamp parliament unanimously handed President Xi Jinping a second term Saturday and elevated his right-hand man to the vice presidency, giving him a strong ally to consolidate power and handle US trade threats.

Xi's reappointment by the Communist Party-controlled legislature was a foregone conclusion, but all eyes had been on whether his former anti-corruption enforcer, Wang Qishan, would become his deputy.

(AFP )

Donald Trump flops over his pink and white baby walker and rolls it around his family's modest home in Kabul, blissfully unaware of the turmoil his "infidel" name is causing in the deeply conservative Muslim country.

The rosy-cheeked toddler's parents named him after the billionaire US President in the hope of replicating his success. But now he is at the centre of a social media firestorm in Afghanistan after a photo of his ID papers was posted on Facebook.

(AFP )

Russia is on Sunday set to elect Vladimir Putin to a historic fourth Kremlin term, as the country faces increasing isolation over a spy poisoning in Britain and a fresh round of US sanctions.

Putin, who has ruled Russia for almost two decades, is polling at around 70 percent and is sure to extend his term to 2024 despite a lacklustre campaign.

In the run-up to the election, he and a compliant state media have sought to reinforce his image as the man who restored stability and national pride after the humiliating collapse of the USSR.

(AFP )

Every day more than 1,000 water tankers rumble past Nagraj's small plywood store in Bangalore, throwing up clouds of dust as they rush their valuable cargo to homes and offices in India's drought-stricken tech hub.

Gleaming new apartment blocks are still springing up all over the city known as India's Silicon Valley -- even though there is nowhere near enough mains water to supply those already living and working there.

(AFP )

Canadian peacekeepers backed by helicopters will join UN Blue Helmets in the troubled west African nation of Mali before autumn, a government source said on Friday.

Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan is to provide details of the number of troops on Monday, said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity about what will be Canada's first mission to Africa since Rwanda in 1994.

Jihadists have ramped up their activities in central Mali in recent months, targeting domestic and foreign forces in violence once confined to the country's north.

(AFP )

Oxfam faced fresh allegations of sexual misconduct by staff in Haiti, with a report on Saturday claiming the charity kept a senior aid worker in the earthquake-hit country for over a year despite harassment claims.

The British-based charity attempted to "contain" sexual harassment allegations involving Raphael Mutiku, who led Oxfam's installation of water supplies after the 2010 earthquake, according to an internal report seen by The Times newspaper.

(AFP )

After a standoff in the Mediterranean that saw Turkish warships force back an Italian rig, Turkish Cypriot authorities insist no resources can be tapped around the divided island unless they are on-board.

The confrontation over gas deposits has seen tensions soar between the Greek-majority Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriot authorities -- just as the two sides are weighing up a return to peace talks that collapsed last year.

(AFP )

A court in Argentina on Friday ordered an octogenarian former police chief convicted of execution and torture to return to prison, after his home detention sparked protests.

Miguel Etchecolatz, 88, is serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity carried out during the South American country's military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983.

The judges ruled on Friday that his health is compatible with detention behind bars.

(AFP )

British Prime Minister Theresa May will on Saturday address members of her Conservative Party, rejuvenated by the widespread praise for her handling of the Russian spy crisis but still dogged by Brexit.

May's last major party conference speech ended in disaster as a cough, a prankster and a collapsing backdrop undermined her address -- intended to restore her authority following last year's disastrous snap general election in which the Conservatives lost their parliamentary majority.