Sunday 21 January 2018

In the world

(AFP )

Pope Francis was preparing to wrap up his Latin American trip on Sunday with a mass at an air base where a million faithful were expected to hear him speak.

On the last day of a week-long trip that has taken him to six cities in Chile and Peru, the 81-year-old pontiff began the day by delivering a homily to 500 nuns, as well as meeting the bishops of Peru.

He warned the church officials: "Dear brothers, work for unity, do not remain prisoners of divisions that limit our vocation."

(AFP )

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday said the West's "unprecedented Russiaphobia" was worse than at the height of the Cold War.

"This Russiaphobia is unprecedented. We never saw this during the Cold War," Lavrov, fresh from a visit to New York on Thursday and Friday, said in an interview with the Russian daily Kommersant's online edition.

"Back then there were some rules, some decorum... Now, all decorum has been cast aside," he said.

(AFP )

The Turkish military has started an air and ground operation against Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia whom Ankara views as "terrorists" linked to outlawed militants.

Turkey's last such cross-border operation -- against the Islamic State extremist group and the Kurdish militia -- was between August 2016 and March 2017.

Launched together with Syrian rebels, Turkish officials hailed its completion as a great success.

(AFP )

Women's rights protesters took to the streets in European cities on Sunday to voice their frustration at sexual harassment, violence and discrimination against women.

Hundreds of people gathered in London chanting "Time's up! Time's up!", as similar demonstrations took place across the continent.

"I am here today to say time is up on violence against women and girls all across the world," Kiyleigh, 29, told AFP at the march outside Prime Minister Theresa May's Downing Street office.

(AFP )

Turkish anti-riot police on Sunday blocked protests in Istanbul and the Kurdish-majority southeast against Ankara's military operation inside Syria.

At least seven people were detained in Kadikoy on the Asian side of Istanbul, an AFP photographer at the scene reported.

One protester was seen with his hands tied behind by the police officers with others were carried roughly away.

(AFP )

US Vice President Mike Pence arrived in Israel on Sunday for a visit that will see him warmly welcomed by Israeli leaders but snubbed by the Palestinians, deeply angered by the White House's Jerusalem recognition.

Initially scheduled for December before being postponed, it is the final leg of a trip that included stops in Egypt and Jordan as well as a visit to a US military facility near the Syrian border.

Pence received a red-carpet welcome at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport before entering his motorcade for travel to Jerusalem.

(AFP )

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Sunday he would seek a new truce with the ELN group in a bid to salvage peace talks that had been set back after a recent offensive by the rebel group.

The ELN indicated a willingness to resume negotiations.

Santos wrote on Twitter that the government's chief negotiator, Gustavo Bell, "will travel to Quito to explore the possibility of a new ceasefire that will allow peace talks with the ELN to continue."

(AFP )

Germany cleared a major obstacle on the road to a new government Sunday after the centre-left Social Democrats gave a cautious thumbs-up to starting formal coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives.

The make-or-break vote by some 600 SPD delegates -- won by a narrow 56-percent majority -- has averted the threat of fresh elections for now, but a renewed Merkel-led "grand coalition" is far from guaranteed.

Here's a look at what's next as Europe's top economy seeks to emerge from months of political paralysis.

- Formal talks -

(AFP )

President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday condemned Turkey's offensive against Kurdish militia in the northern Syrian region of Afrin, saying it was part of Ankara's support for extremist groups.

Turkey and allied Syrian rebels entered the Afrin region on Sunday, a day after launching their offensive against the Kurdish-controlled area.

(AFP )

Bahraini police said Sunday they had arrested 47 people on charges linked to terrorism, including plots to assassinate "public figures", as well as filing charges against another 290.

Authorities have cracked down hard on dissent since mass street protests in 2011 which demanded an elected prime minister and constitutional monarchy in the Sunni-ruled, Shiite majority kingdom.

The government accuses Shiite Tehran of training "terrorist cells" in the tiny island state, located between rival regional heavyweights Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Iran denies involvement.

(AFP )

Near the olive grove where Christians believe Jesus agonised before his crucifixion, an American visitor spoke of a decision by US President Donald Trump some believe also holds spiritual importance.

Phillip Dunn, the 37-year-old pastor of an evangelical Christian church in the US state of South Carolina, said he saw Trump's declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital last month as part of biblical prophecy.

(AFP )

South Korea went into swoon mode Sunday -- at the feet of a party apparatchik from the North.

Hyon Song-Wol is, however, no dourly-dressed, suit-wearing bureaucrat from the nuclear-armed nation, but the leader of Pyongyang's most popular girl band.

Cameras followed her every move as the glamorous songstress swept through Seoul at the head of a North Korean delegation sent to inspect performance venues for the Pyeongchang Olympic Games.

Wearing a fur muffler and exuding an air of confident calm, Hyun was unfazed by the throng of cameras that followed her everywhere.

(AFP )

As gunmen went on a night-time rampage through Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel on Saturday, Aziz Tayeb posted a desperate plea on Facebook: "Pray for me. I may die."

The telecom executive hid behind a pillar as four heavily-armed attackers stormed the luxury hotel and began spraying terrified guests and staff with bullets.

At least six people were killed, including a foreigner, and eight wounded in the 12-hour ordeal as the attackers engaged in an fierce gunfight with Afghan security forces.

(AFP )

Gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in Kabul and killed at least 18 people, most of them foreigners, sparking a 12-hour battle with Afghan forces backed by Norwegian troops that left terrified guests scrambling to escape.

Six Ukrainians were among those killed in the Taliban-claimed assault on the six-storey Intercontinental Hotel in the Afghan capital, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said on Twitter.

(AFP )

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of northern Greece's biggest city Thessaloniki on Sunday, police said, in a long-running row between Athens and Skopje over the use of the name Macedonia.

Athens argues that the name Macedonia suggests that Skopje has territorial claims to the northern Greek region of the same name, of which Thessaloniki is the capital.

The region was the centre of Alexander the Great's ancient kingdom, a source of Greek pride.

(AFP )

Turkish troops and tanks entered Syria on Sunday to push an offensive against Kurdish militia as rockets hit border towns in apparent retaliation and the United States urged Ankara to show restraint.

Turkey on Saturday launched operation "Olive Branch" seeking to oust from the Afrin region of northern Syria the Peoples' Protection Units (YPG) which Ankara considers a terror group.

(AFP )

An Iraqi court said Sunday it had condemned to death by hanging a German woman of Moroccan origin after finding her guilty of belonging to the Islamic State jihadist group.

She was sentenced for providing "logistical support and helping the terrorist group to carry out crimes," said court spokesman Abdel Settar Bayraqdar.

"The accused admitted during interrogations that she left Germany for Syria then Iraq to join IS with her two daughters, who married members of the terrorist organisation," he said.

(AFP )

US Vice President Mike Pence arrived in Israel on Sunday for a visit that will see him warmly welcomed by Israeli leaders but snubbed by the Palestinians, deeply angered by the White House's Jerusalem policy.

The visit, initially scheduled for December before being postponed, is the final leg of a trip that has included talks in Egypt and Jordan as well as a stop at a US military facility near the Syrian border.

(AFP )

Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia called Sunday for extending cooperation between OPEC and non-OPEC producers beyond 2018, after a deal to cut output succeeded in shoring up prices.

The call, the first explicit invitation by Riyadh for long-term cooperation between oil producers, came with oil prices topping $70 a barrel thanks to the deal, after they dove below $30 a barrel in early 2016.

(AFP )

North Korean delegates arrived in Seoul on Sunday on their way to inspect venues and prepare cultural performances for next month's Winter Olympics, in the first visit by Pyongyang officials to the South for four years.

Television footage showed a group of seven officials led by Hyon Song-Wol, the leader of the North's popular Moranbong band, crossing the heavily-fortified border on a bus before arriving at Seoul train station about an hour later.

(AFP )

A hotel room automatically adjusting to the tastes of each guest, virtual reality headsets as brochures: the tourism sector is starting to embrace new technologies, hoping to benefit from lucrative personal data.

In a prototype of the hotel of the future on display at Madrid's Fitur tourism fair, receptionists have disappeared and customers are checked-in via a mirror equipped with facial recognition.

(AFP )

Germany's centre-left Social Democrats voted Sunday to begin formal coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, bringing Europe's top economy a step closer to a new government after months of deadlock.

At a special party congress in the western city of Bonn, 372 out of 642 delegates (56 percent) backed SPD chief Martin Schulz's appeal to approve a preliminary coalition deal painstakingly hammered out with Merkel's CDU/CSU bloc.

(AFP )

Gunmen burst into Kabul's luxury Intercontinental Hotel on Saturday, shooting at guests and staff and setting the building on fire, officials said, as security forces battled to end the more than eight hours-long assault.

Special forces were lowered by helicopters onto the roof of the landmark hilltop hotel during the night-time siege, interior ministry deputy spokesman Nasrat Rahimi told AFP, adding two attackers had been killed.

(AFP )

Activists blocked roads and clashed with police in Honduras on Saturday as part of nationwide protests against the contested re-election of President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Dozens of people have been killed and hundreds jailed since Hernandez was declared the winner of the November 26 run-off election -- after a three week stretch of often-interrupted ballot counting that stoked tensions and sparked accusations of fraud in the Central American country.

(AFP )

Protestors took to the streets en masse across the United States Saturday, hoisting anti-Donald Trump placards, banging drums and donning pink hats for a second Women's March opposing the president -- one year to the day of his inauguration.

Hundreds of thousands of marchers assembled in Los Angeles, New York, Washington, Chicago, Denver, Boston and other cities nationwide, many donning the famous pink knit "pussy hats" -- a reference to Trump's videotaped boasts of his license to grope women without repercussions.

(AFP )

As soon as Turkish warplanes began bombing raids over Afrin on Saturday, terrified residents of the Syrian Kurdish enclave dashed to take cover in the cellars of their homes.

They had been bracing for a Turkish assault over the past week as Ankara escalated its rhetoric against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which controls the area.

"My four-year-old son is terrified every time he hears the sound of an airplane," said Nisrin, a housewife in Afrin who asked that her real name not be used.

(AFP )

Four heavily-armed gunmen raided Kabul's landmark Intercontinental Hotel on Saturday, shooting at guests and staff and setting the building on fire, officials said, in an hours-long assault that is still ongoing.

Special forces were lowered by helicopters onto the roof of the luxury hilltop hotel during the siege, interior ministry deputy spokesman Nasrat Rahimi told AFP, adding two attackers had been killed.

(AFP )

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of US cities on Saturday for a second Women's March opposing President Donald Trump on the first anniversary of his inauguration.

The demonstrations come one year after more than three million people turned out nationwide to voice opposition to the president, according to a Washington Post estimate. The flagship rally was held in Washington, with sister protests echoing worldwide.

(AFP )

Pope Francis on Saturday urged Latin America's faithful to fight rampant violent crime against women including murder, while holding mass in Trujillo, Peru's largest northern city.

"I wish to invite you to combat a plague across our Latin American region: the numerous cases of violent crimes against women, from beatings to rape to murder," the visiting pontiff told thousands in Trujillo's main colonial-era square.

Half of the 25 countries with the greatest number of murders of women are in Latin America, according to UN Women.

(AFP )

Hundreds of right-wing demonstrators crowded a main square at Rotterdam's central station Saturday to protest what they describe as the "discrimination against ordinary Dutch citizens" in favour of immigrants and Muslims.

The protest by around 700 right-wing supporters comes as Dutch political parties gear up for local government elections in March, with issues such as immigration and integration again expected to feature prominently among its 13 million illegible voters.

(AFP )

A week-long French prison strike sparked by a spate of inmate attacks on guards looks set to enter a second week after unions on Saturday rejected proposals to end the standoff.

A solution to the crisis had looked to be inching closer after two of France's three major prison unions -- CGT and Ufap-Unsa -- suspended a protest action to put fresh proposals on security and employment to staff after a week of tension.

But by Saturday evening both those unions said their members had rejected the proposals as they called for a "total blockage" of prisons on Monday.

(AFP )

Private investigators hired by the children of late Canadian pharmaceutical tycoon Barry Sherman concluded that he and his wife were murdered, the Toronto Star reported Saturday.

The 75-year-old chairman of Apotex and his 70-year-old wife Honey were found dead in their Toronto home on December 15. Apotex is the largest maker of generic drugs in Canada, and the Shermans' fortune was estimated at more than $3 billion.

(AFP )

Catalonia's ex-leader Carles Puigdemont, currently exiled in Brussels after a failed independence bid, faces arrest if he returns home despite having parliamentary immunity, Spanish prosecutors said Saturday.

Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium in late October after Madrid sacked his cabinet over their breakaway attempt, is eyeing a return to power after scoring big in regional elections in December.

But back at home, he risks being detained on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.

(AFP )

Eleven people were killed on Saturday and 46 injured when a Turkish intercity bus taking families bound for a half-term skiing trip crashed into trees while travelling on a motorway, local officials said.

The bus, which was making an overnight journey from the capital Ankara to the western city of Bursa, crashed in the region of Eskisehir amid good road conditions, Eskisehir governor Ozdemir Cakacak was quoted as saying by the Dogan news agency.

The road was empty and neither wet nor frozen, Cakacak said, vowing that the causes would be made clear.

(AFP )

French President Emmanuel Macron said a special post-Brexit trade agreement between Britain and the EU was certainly possible but would not involve full access to the single market, in a BBC interview to be screened Sunday.

Macron, who met British Prime Minister Theresa May for talks on Thursday, said there could not be complete single market access without fully signing up.

However, Britain could strike a deal that would fall between full access and a regular trade agreement.