Thursday 23 November 2017

In the world

(AFP )

Switzerland said Thursday it will provide more than a billion dollars in development aid to the European Union, as Bern seeks to stabilise its messy ties with Brussels.

The 1.3 billion Swiss francs ($1.32 billion, 1.1 billion euros) will be spread over ten years and will target lower income countries in central and eastern Europe, a statement said.

The funds are "intended to reduce economic and social disparities in Europe, which is in Switzerland's economic and political interest", it said.

(AFP )

The EU's anti-trafficking operation is working to train Libya's coastguard on how to respect the human rights of migrants recovered at sea, the mission's commander said Thursday.

The operation, dubbed Sophia, was created two years ago to combat human trafficking in the Mediterranean, and has rescued about 42,000 people attempting the perilous crossing from Africa to Europe since then.

(AFP )

The party of ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont now favours talks with Madrid to achieve independence instead of pushing to break away from Spain unilaterally, its coordinator said Thursday, the latest sign it was softening its position.

Spanish media have reported that Puigdemont's PdeCat party and its former government ally, the far-left ERC party, were planning to abandon a call for Catalonia to break away from Spain "unilaterally" in their programmes for a December 21 regional election.

(AFP )

Parched Morocco which is heavily dependent on its agricultural sector is to hold prayers for rain Friday in mosques across the country under a royal decree.

"Water is becoming more and more scarce. We keep having to dig deeper to find any," said Houcine Aderdour, president of a producers' federation and an orange farmer in the Souss region of southern Morocco.

Like its Iberian neighbours to the north, Portugal and Spain, Morocco has suffered a severe shortage of rainfall since the end of the summer.

(AFP )

A former Chad presidential candidate who was imprisoned in July on charges of embezzlement was released on Thursday, according to judicial sources speaking to AFP.

Opposition leader Laokein Medard had been held in prison since the summer after being kicked out as mayor of Moundou, the second largest city in the country, over accusations of financial malpractice.

He was suspected of embezzling 27 million FCFA (about $48,000, 41,000 euros) following a routine administrative check at the town hall but now a judge has ruled his detention was "improper".

(AFP )

Bangladesh and Myanmar will start repatriating refugees in two months, Dhaka said Thursday, as global pressure mounts over a crisis that has forced more than half a million Rohingya to flee across the border.

The United Nations says 620,000 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh since August and now live in squalor in the world's largest refugee camp after a military crackdown in Myanmar that Washington said this week clearly constitutes "ethnic cleansing".

(AFP )

The number of migrants who have reached Italy via Libya has dropped significantly since July, when the European Union reached a deal with Libyan authorities to stem migrant flows, the UN said Thursday.

The EU's decision to help Libya intercept migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean and return them to detention centres was condemned as "inhuman" earlier this month by the United Nations human rights chief, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein.

But a report from the UN refugee agency indicated that the pact has achieved its objective of curbing migrant arrivals in Italy.

(AFP )

German police are trying to recover numerous items stolen from the estate of the late Beatle John Lennon, prosecutors said Thursday, after the arrest of a suspect accused of handling the objects.

A 58-year-old man identified as Erhan G. was arrested in Berlin on Monday on suspicion of dealing in the stolen goods.

Prosecutors said he has "given a broad confession" in the case and provided information about stolen personal items from Lennon that remain undiscovered.

(AFP )

A man doomed to die after suffering burns across 95 percent of his body was saved by skin transplants from his identical twin in a world-first operation, French doctors said Thursday.

Consumed by flames while handling chemicals on the job, 33-year-old man Franck Dufourmantelle received life-saving grafts from his brother Eric's skull, back and thighs.

"I had a fresco-like tattoo on my arm," he recalled in a phone interview with AFP.

"But the only thing left is the word 'life'," in English, he said.

(AFP )

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Djibouti's visiting leader Omar Ismail Guelleh, whose African nation is hosting China's first overseas military base, agreed on Thursday to elevate their nations' diplomatic relations.

The two countries agreed to form a "strategic partnership" as Guelleh held talks with Xi at the imposing Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

(AFP )

India said Thursday it was outraged at Pakistan's release of an Islamist leader accused of organising the 2008 deadly Mumbai attacks that nearly brought the nuclear-armed nations to the brink of war.

A Pakistani court on Wednesday ordered the release of firebrand cleric Hafiz Saeed, who carries a $10 million US bounty, after Islamabad failed to back the charges of terrorism with evidence.

Saeed, who heads the banned charity group Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), was put under house arrest in January following increased US pressure on Islamabad to rein-in militant groups.

(AFP )

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and war crimes, on Thursday asked Russia's Vladimir Putin to protect his country from the United States.

Speaking during his first visit to Russia as president, Bashir also said he wanted to ramp up military ties and praised Moscow's military campaign in Syria.

"We have been dreaming about this visit for a long time," the Sudanese president told Putin at the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

(AFP )

Britain's Africa minister Rory Stewart arrived in Zimbabwe on Thursday for wide-ranging talks, ahead of the inauguration of a new president following Robert Mugabe's dramatic departure.

Stewart is due to meet political and business leaders, as well as human rights groups and NGOs, the UK foreign ministry said in a statement.

His arrival in the capital Harare comes just days after Mugabe's resignation on Tuesday, ending his 37-year rule as MPs gathered in parliament to impeach their 93-year-old leader.

(AFP )

The Islamic State group's online propaganda channels went mysteriously quiet for more than a full day between Wednesday and Thursday, in what analysts said was an "unprecedented" silence.

IS, which uses messaging application Telegram to broadcast daily updates on military operations and claims of attacks, published nothing between 0900 GMT on Wednesday and 1001 GMT on Thursday.

Charlie Winter, senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, called the silence "unprecedented."

(AFP )

Eight Indonesian pro-basketball players and a team official have been banned for life over match fixing, the league said Thursday, reportedly to help their cash-strapped squad pay salaries.

The members of Siliwangi Bandung, one of a dozen teams in the Indonesian Basketball league, were given the boot this week for throwing at least four games last season.

It is the graft-riddled country's first-known case of basketball fixing, although there have been numerous instances of similar cheating in Indonesia's most popular sports football and badminton.

(AFP )

The EU's bid to deepen ties with six former Soviet states enters its latest round in Brussels on Friday with anxiety about Russian influence running higher than ever in the bloc.

But with Russia and the war in eastern Ukraine off the official agenda, the Eastern Partnership summit looks likely to be more of a stock-taking exercise than a substantive statement of intent.

(AFP )

The international court has finished its work and Bosnian Serb wartime military chief Ratko Mladic will end his days in prison, but Bosnia will struggle to turn the page on its ethnic war.

"A judicial process in itself can never achieve reconciliation," the UN war crimes court's chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz told AFP ahead of Mladic's guilty verdict, which was delivered Wednesday.

"Reconciliation has to come from within society," he added.

But the process of reconciliation has stalled in the Balkans, the Council of Europe rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks wrote.

(AFP )

Iraqi forces launched a sweep through the western desert to flush out remaining Islamic State group fighters on Thursday, an operation the prime minister has said will spell the jihadists' "final defeat" in the country.

The arid, sparsely populated wastelands between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are the last refuge of the jihadists in Iraq after troops and paramilitaries ousted them from both valleys and all urban areas.

(AFP )

Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a deal on Thursday paving the way for the possible repatriation of Rohingya Muslims who have fled violence in Rakhine state, officials said, as global pressure mounts over the refugee crisis.

More than 620,000 Rohingya have poured into Bangladesh since August, running from a Myanmar military crackdown that Washington said this week clearly constitutes "ethnic cleansing".

(AFP )

Australia warned on Thursday against American disengagement from Asia at a time of rising Chinese power as traditional US allies grow nervous about President Donald Trump's isolationist tilt.

In a major Foreign Policy White Paper -- the first to be issued by the Australian government in 13 years -- Canberra outlined its approach to the "Indo-Pacific" region amid "changing power balances".

(AFP )

When Dave Mullins and Charlie Craig entered the "Masterpiece Cakeshop" bakery in a Denver suburb on July 19, 2012, they were giddy about choosing their wedding cake.

The two men could not for a moment imagine that their cake-shopping excursion would wind up before the US Supreme Court five years later and spark a national debate about fundamental rights.

"We sat down with the owner of Masterpiece, and he instantly asked us who the cake was for, and as soon as we told him it was for us, he informed us that would not make a cake for a same-sex wedding," Mullins told AFP.

(AFP )

A Chinese metal trading firm said Thursday it is investigating whether children are toiling in Congolese mines that supply it with cobalt, a key resource for mobile phones and electric cars.

Yantai Cash, a cobalt exporter based in eastern Shandong province, told AFP that it is looking into the supply chain following a request from the London Metal Exchange, which sets prices for the market.

Amnesty International issued a report last week accusing leading technology and electric car companies of failing to ensure that minerals used for batteries are not dug up by children.

(AFP )

Eight warships joined a US aircraft carrier and scores of helicopters and planes Thursday to search for three American sailors who went missing after their plane crashed in the Philippine Sea.

The families of the missing sailors were notified after a C-2A "Greyhound" aircraft with 11 people on board went down Wednesday afternoon around 930 kilometres (500 nautical miles) southeast of Okinawa, the US Navy said in a statement.

(AFP )

Born from the fires engulfing the Balkans in the 1990s, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia closes next month having tried and judged dozens of those behind Europe's worst atrocities since World War II.

From helping to write the history of the bitter conflict, to putting war criminals around the globe on notice that they too could up in the dock, to setting international jurisprudence for such crimes as genocide, law experts say the tribunal leaves an impressive legacy.

(AFP )

Papua New Guinea police raided a shuttered Australian detention camp Thursday, removing dozens of refugees in an effort to end a stand-off that has drawn global attention to Canberra's tough asylum-seeker policies.

Hundreds of men sent to the remote camp on PNG's Manus Island have refused to leave the site for new, PNG-run centres since Australia closed it on October 31.

The detainees said they were fearful of hostility from locals outside the camp, and said the new centres were not fully operational, with a lack of security, sufficient water or electricity.

(AFP )

A boatload of tourists in the far eastern Russian Arctic thought they were seeing clumps of ice on the shore, before the jaw-dropping realisation that some 200 polar bears were roaming on the mountain slope.

"It was a completely unique situation," said Alexander Gruzdev, director of the Wrangel Island nature reserve where the encounter in September happened. "We were all gobsmacked, to be honest."

(AFP )

The only pointer of what lies inside the stone storehouse within the grounds of the prison is a printed note pasted to an old grey door.

"This is to mark the temporary resting place of 325 liberated African slaves brought to St. Helena against their will. They now wait in this room for their final resting place," it reads.

Candles and a bouquet of wilting white arum lilies sit in front of the wooden door on the remote British island of St. Helena in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean.

(AFP )

For many July 12, 1995, was just another day long ago, but it is forever etched in Munira Subasic's mind. It was the day she met Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic, and the last time she saw her son alive.

"I was in Srebrenica in July 1995 when Mladic came, on the 12th of July. And he said that we will all be safe. Until he came all my family was alive. After he came, they were gone," she said.

(AFP )

Father William's 16-strong flock on Myanmar's eastern border is one of the Catholic Church's tiniest outposts, but next week they will join a tide of 200,000 faithful in Yangon for a historic mass led by Pope Francis.

The Pope, renowned for powerful entreaties for peace no matter how highly-charged the issue, arrives on Monday in a country on the defensive over its treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority.

Some 620,000 Rohingya have been driven from western Rakhine state to Bangladesh since August, prompting allegations of ethnic cleansing of the stateless minority.

(AFP )

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday named Asdrubal Chavez -- a cousin of late leader Hugo Chavez -- to lead Citgo, the state oil company's US affiliate.

"He's straight off to be Citgo president, to restructure it, to get it back, to strengthen Citgo," Maduro said in a speech broadcast on VTV state television.

Asdrubal Chavez held the critical oil ministry portfolio from 2014-2015.

(AFP )

Russian billionaire senator Suleyman Kerimov was charged Wednesday with tax fraud in Nice, hours after Moscow protested his arrest in the French Riviera resort.

Kerimov was detained upon arrival at the airport on Monday, where he faced two days of questioning over alleged tax evasion involving the purchase of luxury properties.

He has now been released under strict conditions including handing over his passport and posting bail of five million euros. He also faces restrictions on his movement, state prosecutor Jean-Michel Pretre said.

(AFP )

Latin America and the Caribbean is the most violent region in the world for women, the United Nations said Wednesday, highlighting Central America and Mexico as particularly dangerous.

In a report presented in Panama, UN Women and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) found assaults on women persisted in the region despite severe laws aimed at curbing the phenomenon.

(AFP )

Colombia's landmark peace deal with Marxist FARC rebels was supposed to mean peace for all -- but it has made little difference to indigenous and Afro-Colombian minorities, Amnesty International said Wednesday.

A year on, the deal is having a "very limited impact" on the lives of minority communities in Choco – a department where 60 percent of the population are armed conflict victims.

(AFP )

Papua New Guinea police moved into the shuttered Australian refugee camp on the country's Manus Island Thursday in the most aggressive push yet to force hundreds of men to leave, the Australian government and detainees said.

The police operation was confirmed by Australia's Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who said Canberra was "very keen for people to move out of the Manus regional processing centre".

"I think it's outrageous that people are still there," he told Sydney commercial radio station 2GB. "We want people to move."

(AFP )

Former USA Gymnastics team doctor Lawrence "Larry" Nassar, accused of molesting more than 100 female athletes over several decades, pleaded guilty Wednesday to multiple counts of criminal sexual conduct.

Nassar -- who was involved with USA Gymnastics for nearly three decades and worked with the country's gymnasts at four separate Olympic Games -- could be sentenced to at least 25 years in prison.

Nassar faced 22 criminal counts of sexual assault in Michigan for abusing athletes under the guise of providing medical treatment.