Monday 26 June 2017

In the world

(AFP )

A Brazilian court sentenced Antonio Palocci, an influential minister during the leftist governments of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, to 12 years prison for corruption Monday.

Palocci, in custody since September, had been convicted of taking bribes and money laundering as part of a huge corruption network centered on the state-owned Petrobras oil company.

He was sentenced to 12 years and two months behind bars by Judge Sergio Moro, who heads the "Car Wash" probe dismantling the embezzlement and kickbacks scheme at Petrobras.

(AFP )

The world is watching Hong Kong as a "test case" of whether Chinese promises mean anything, Britain's last governor said ahead of the 20th anniversary of his tearful departure from the city.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Hong Kong to mark the anniversary of its handover from British rule on July 1, and Chris Patten said Xi should reaffirm Beijing's respect for the city's unique brand of autonomy dubbed "one country, two systems".

By and large, he said, China had respected its treaty obligations to Hong Kong and Britain in the years after the 1997 handover.

(AFP )

Germany's election campaign battle heated up Monday, with accusations of mud-slinging flying after Chancellor Angela Merkel's rival accused her of an "attack on democracy".

Social Democrats chief Martin Schulz lashed out Sunday at the German leader, saying the famously cautious Merkel caused voters to disengage by refusing to air her views or engage in forceful debate.

(AFP )

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the increasing "convergence" of US-Indian interests and values, as he prepared for his first face-to-face meeting Monday with President Donald Trump.

Modi brimmed with optimism about the future of trade and diplomatic relations between the world's two largest democracies in an opinion piece appearing in Monday's Wall Street Journal.

Following a visit to the United States one year ago, when he addressed a joint session of the US Congress, Modi wrote that he returns "confident in the growing convergence between our two nations."

(AFP )

Dutch scientists on Monday celebrated the discovery of only the sixth meteorite found in recent history in The Netherlands, which at 4.5-billion years old may hold clues to the birth of our solar system.

"Meteorites are very special because we do not have rocks of this age on earth," said geologist Leo Kriegsman from the Naturalis biodiversity centre in Leiden in a YouTube video marking the occasion.

(AFP )

One of the world's biggest art collectors unveiled Monday his plans for a spectacular new museum in Paris, cementing the city's claim to be a modern art capital.

French billionaire Francois Pinault will show his $1.4 billion (1.25 billion euro) collection of modern masters in the domed Bourse de Commerce, within a stone's throw of the Louvre, long the world's most visited museum.

The new gallery, which he said would open in early 2019, is also within sight of the Pompidou Centre, which houses Europe's largest modern art collection.

(AFP )

Megan Couto on Monday became the first female officer to command the troops protecting Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, as a Canadian battalion took over guard duties.

Captain Couto, 24, has been given the prestigious role of Captain of The Queen's Guard, responsible for guarding the London palace.

Based in the central province of Manitoba, The Second Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry has been invited to Britain to mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of modern Canada.

(AFP )

British Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservatives struck a deal with an ultra-conservative party on Monday that will allow them to govern in exchange for an extra £1 billion in funds for Northern Ireland.

The controversial pact with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party comes after May ended up losing her parliamentary majority in an election earlier this month that she had called to boost her support for Brexit talks.

(AFP )

Hong Kong saw multiple protests Monday ahead of a visit by President Xi Jinping to mark 20 years since the city was handed back to China by Britain.

Pro-democracy activists including high-profile student campaigner Joshua Wong draped a black flag over a statue symbolising Hong Kong's return to China in an early morning act of defiance.

(AFP )

A Roman Catholic priest abducted by Islamist militants who seized parts of a southern Philippine city has been seen alive, the military said Monday, as troops pressed on with their offensive.

Air and artillery bombardment of enclaves occupied by the militants in the largely Muslim city of Marawi resumed after an eight-hour truce Sunday to allow residents to celebrate the end of the Ramadan fasting month.

Fires erupted and plumes of dark and white smoke billowed against a blue sky as the bombs slammed into their targets, AFP journalists in Marawi said.

(AFP )

Russians have picked Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin as the greatest figure in history, a new poll said Monday, beating President Vladimir Putin into joint second alongside poet Alexander Pushkin.

In the poll conducted in April by the Levada Centre independent pollster, Russians were asked to pick the ten greatest individuals of all time.

Stalin came out on top with 38 percent, while Putin shared second place on 34 percent with Russia's beloved national bard Pushkin.

(AFP )

Shiites in Pakistan's restive northwest protested Monday as the death toll from twin blasts three days earlier rose to 69, marking a grisly Eid for the town worst hit by militancy so far in 2017.

Dozens of protesters offered their Eid prayers wearing black armbands in the market in Parachinar, where the bombs tore through crowds of shoppers on Friday, local officials said.

"The death toll from Friday's blasts has reached 69," local administration official Basir Khan Wazir told AFP.

He said the local administration was trying to negotiate with the protestors.

(AFP )

At 6:55 a.m. on Monday, a man in rural Mongolia stood outside a yurt and looked down at his watch.

Five minutes remained until presidential election polls opened in the country of just three million wedged between Russia and China. Clad in a bright green traditional "deel" gown, Sharkhuu Gerelt-Od was ready.

(AFP )

Norwegians have come out en masse to raise nearly 20,000 euros to repair an eye-catching penis-shaped rock formation apparently knocked down by vandals, an online collection showed on Monday.

The formation, which local guides had planned to make a tourist destination, is known as "Trollpikken", or "The Troll's Penis" in a very conservative translation.

Hikers in southwestern Norway on Saturday found the massive rock sectioned off, lying on the ground at the base of the rock face from which it had protruded.

(AFP )

Israel's shelving of a deal to allow mixed-gender prayers at the Western Wall echoed far beyond religion Monday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused of abandoning reform efforts for political gain.

Netanyahu's cabinet voted Sunday to back out of the hard-won deal, provoking a flood of criticism and warnings it could damage Israel's relationship with the United States' influential Jewish community.

That followed pressure from ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties who are part of Netanyahu's right-wing coalition and follow a strict interpretation of religious rules.

(AFP )

China's Nobel peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo has been transferred on parole from prison to a hospital for terminal cancer treatment, his lawyer said Monday, but concerned supporters called for his unconditional release.

Liu, who has about three years of his 11-year sentence to serve, was diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer on May 23 and granted medical parole days later, his lawyer Mo Shaoping told AFP.

The 61-year-old democracy campaigner was being treated at a hospital in the northeastern city of Shenyang, where he was imprisoned.

(AFP )

US-backed fighters have seized a quarter of Syria's Raqa from the Islamic State group, a monitor said Monday, less than three weeks after they first entered the northern city.

Arab and Kurdish militiamen from the Syrian Democratic Forces smashed into the jihadists' main Syrian bastion on June 6 after a months-long drive to encircle it.

"Since the offensive began, the SDF have captured around 25 percent of the city's built-up neighbourhoods," Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP on Monday.

(AFP )

Russia's FSB security agency on Monday said the Telegram messaging service was used by those behind the Saint Petersburg metro bombing, the latest salvo by authorities after they threatened to block the app.

"During the probe into the April 3 terrorist attack in the Saint Petersburg metro, the FSB received reliable information about the use of Telegram by the suicide bomber, his accomplices and their mastermind abroad to conceal their criminal plans," the FSB said in a statement.

They used Telegram "at each stage of the preparation of this terrorist attack," it said.

(AFP )

Rescuers searching for more than 90 people missing following a huge landslide in southwest China were ordered to evacuate Monday due to the risk of another collapse, state media reported.

Thousands of emergency workers have been digging through rocks and earth since Saturday when a landslide entombed 62 homes in Xinmo, a mountain village in Sichuan province.

At least 10 people have been confirmed dead and 93 are still missing after heavy rain brought down a side of the mountain.

Only three survivors -- a couple and their one-month-old baby -- have been found.

(AFP )

Pakistan began Eid in mourning Monday as the death toll from an oil tanker explosion rose to 153, with scores more injured after they were caught in a fireball while scooping up spilt fuel.

Dozens of grief-stricken relatives waited outside hospitals in Bahawalpur, the nearest major city to the disaster, to claim the bodies of their loved ones as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif arrived to visit victims.

(AFP )

Kendrick Bailey is standing outside the tent he has pitched on a filthy sidewalk in downtown Los Angeles and points to the American flag he served proudly during the Vietnam War.

"I didn't have education back then," says Bailey, recalling his time in combat. "So most of us shot guns. Sometimes you could see people get shot by guns. It was horrible."

Bailey, who is in his sixties, is among an ever-growing population of veterans in Los Angeles who face challenges readjusting to civilian life and eventually become homeless.

(AFP )

South Korea's dovish new President Moon Jae-In -- who backs engagement with the nuclear-armed North -- heads to Washington this week for talks with his hawkish US counterpart Donald Trump, as Pyongyang defies international sanctions to accelerate its missile programme.

Centre-left Moon suggested on the campaign trail that as president he would be willing to go to Pyongyang before Washington, but he is making the US his first foreign destination since he was sworn in last month after a landslide election win.

(AFP )

A top North Korean sports official voiced doubts over a proposal by South Korean President Moon Jae-In to form a unified Olympic team, citing political tensions and a lack of time, a report said.

The comment by Chang Ung, the North's delegate to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) came after Moon suggested that two Koreas pool their athletes to form a joint team for the 2018 Winter Games, which the South is hosting.

(AFP )

Adorned in makeup, fake breasts and bells, Jawed whirls around middle-aged men at Kabul's underground bacha bazi, or "boy play" parties, where the former child sex slave finds freedom of sorts as a dancing boy.

Jawed was kidnapped by a former jihadi commander in Shomali, north of Kabul, when he was barely 14, a victim of a hidden epidemic in Afghanistan of culturally-sanctioned male rape.

(AFP )

Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia torched nearly $1 billion worth of seized narcotics on Monday, a defiant show of force as police struggle to stem the rising flow of drugs in the region.

The burnings, to mark the UN's world anti-drugs day, follow another year of record seizures of narcotics from the remote borderlands of Myanmar, Laos, southern China and northern Thailand.

(AFP )

Japan's crisis-hit car parts maker Takata said Monday it has filed for bankruptcy protection and its chief executive would quit, after a deadly airbag defect triggered the auto industry's biggest ever safety recall.

The Tokyo-based firm is facing lawsuits and huge costs over the problems that are linked to at least 16 deaths and scores of injuries globally.

The scandal has involved almost every major global automaker, including top client Honda, which has already written down significant costs linked to the crisis.

(AFP )

A young girl with a garland of flowers in her hair sings to the setting sun before a group of women join in nearby.

"We give our thanks to you, oh sun," they chant.

In the tiny village of Glubokovo, some 80 kilometres east of Moscow, several hundred people gathered to mark an ancient pagan ceremony to celebrate the summer solstice.

Women sang in circles as men collected firewood for a gigantic bonfire that formed a blazing centrepiece for the festivities.

(AFP )

On the buzzing Taksim Square of Istanbul, the focal point of the modern city, a giant disused building looms over visitors, its glass windows broken and a few tattered advertising banners flapping disconsolately in the breeze.

This is the Ataturk Cultural Centre (AKM), opened in 1969 to realise the dream of modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk for the country to be a world-class centre for the arts, including Western genres such as classical music, opera and ballet.

But the glass-fronted AKM has endured a chequered, even cursed history.

(AFP )

Crystal clear ice caves, glacial lakes, spewing volcanoes and crashing waterfalls framed by dark lava columns: Iceland's breathtaking landscapes have become a magnet for Hollywood moviemakers looking to conjure up otherworldly scenery.

In southern Iceland, the massive Almannagja gorge stretches as far as the eye can see. Its spectacular setting was chosen as the location for an epic battle scene in "Game of Thrones" between the characters Brienne of Tarth and the Hound.

(AFP )

AB de Villiers left South Africa's tour of England saying he would decide his cricket future in August.

One of the outstanding batsmen of his generation, the 33-year-old headed home after captaining the Proteas in a 19-run defeat by England in Cardiff on Sunday that saw them beaten 2-1 in a three-match Twenty20 series.

They previously lost a one-day international series to England by the same scoreline and then suffered a hugely disappointing first-round exit at the Champions Trophy.

But a Test series against England is the centrepiece of a four-month tour.

(AFP )

At least six people were dead and 31 missing after a tourist boat sank in a reservoir in northwestern Colombia on Sunday, the country's president said.

Authorities did not yet say what caused the four-deck Almirante to go down in the El Penol reservoir in the tourist town of Guatape, where Colombian and foreign tourists take leisure cruises.

There are "six people deceased so far and 31 reported missing," Santos told reporters in Guatape, after the regional government earlier gave a death toll of at least nine.

(AFP )

Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters on Monday draped a black flag over a statue symbolising the city's return to China by Britain, days before a visit by President Xi Jinping to mark 20 years since the handover.

High-profile student campaigner Joshua Wong and a dozen demonstrators attached the black cloth to the giant golden bauhinia flower on Hong Kong's harbourfront in an early morning protest as security tried to stop them climbing on the famous tourist attraction.

(AFP )

Four high-tech trimarans, made purely for racing speed, and the Queen Mary 2, built soley for luxury, set off for New York on Sunday, the centrepiece of celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the arrival of US troops in Europe to fight in World War I.

"The Bridge" tests the talents of four leading skippers in a battle of little and large.

Sodebo, skippered by Thomas Coville, Idec, with fellow world record holder Francis Joyon at the helm, Francois Gabart's Macif and Yves le Blevec's Actual are in charge of multi-hulled crafts measuring just 32 metres.

(AFP )

Tens of thousands of marchers paraded through New York streets Sunday in a huge Gay Pride parade, with many proudly carrying rainbow flags or waving virulently anti-Trump signs.

On foot, astride motorcycles or riding on flatbed trucks, participants slowly covered the 2-mile (3-kilometer) route from Midtown Manhattan to Greenwich Village, where the movement for homosexual rights was born after the so-called Stonewall riots of 1969.

(AFP )

Mongolians cast ballots on Monday to choose between a horse breeder, a judoka and a feng shui master in a presidential election rife with corruption scandals and nationalist rhetoric.

From its sprawling steppes to its capital and even in yurts serving as polling stations, people began to vote in the landlocked country sandwiched between Russia and China that was once viewed as an oasis of democracy full of economic promise.