Wednesday 13 December 2017

In the world

(AFP )

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted on charges of genocide and war crimes, attended Wednesday an emergency summit of the world's main pan-Islamic group in Istanbul.

Bashir was among leaders who responded to a call by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to attend the meeting after US President Donald Trump outraged the Islamic world with his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Images showed Bashir warmly greeted by Erdogan and then attending the family photo and summit plenary session in traditional dress.

(AFP )

Palestinians have the right to Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital, Saudi King Salman said Wednesday, echoing calls at an Islamic summit in Istanbul from which he had stayed away.

"The kingdom has called for a political solution to resolve regional crises, foremost of which is the Palestinian issue and the restoration of the Palestinian people's legitimate rights, including the right to establish their independent state with east Jerusalem as its capital," the king said.

(AFP )

The German government said Wednesday it would ramp up support for relatives of victims of attacks, after facing accusations of insensitive handling of last year's Christmas market assault.

Several relatives of the 12 people who were killed in the December 19, 2016, truck rampage in Berlin had vented their anger in a withering open letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel, accusing her of "political inaction" and of failing to reach out to the bereaved.

(AFP )

The European Parliament on Wednesday gave its backing to opening the next phase of Brexit talks, but said Britain must "fully and faithfully" turn last week's hard-fought divorce deal into a final exit treaty.

Parliament President Antonio Tajani welcomed the vote in Strasbourg, eastern France, as "an important step forward" but said MEPs still had concerns about citizens' rights and the Irish border.

(AFP )

Dutch police have clipped the wings of their airborne drone-fighting force of eagles, and fired their winged warriors deeming them too expensive and too unruly to be effective.

After a series of tests in 2015, the police last year announced they were putting into operation a flock of the birds of prey to take down drones believed to be posing a danger to the public, such as near airports.

But now the feathered force has been grounded, with police realising that demand for their services was not very high, and their upkeep was more expensive than first thought.

(AFP )

British Prime Minister Theresa May was Wednesday facing a rebellion from her own MPs over whether parliament will have a "meaningful vote" on the final Brexit deal in what would be a damaging defeat.

A vote is expected later on Wednesday on an amendment to a landmark bill ending Britain's membership of the European Union and incorporating thousands of pieces of EU legislation into the British statute books.

Dominic Grieve, an MP in May's Conservative Party, proposed the amendment requiring any Brexit deal to be made law by a binding parliamentary vote.

(AFP )

Some 100,000 Nigerians made homeless by Boko Haram received formal identification papers on Wednesday, to help boost security and restore normality in the country's restive northeast.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHRC) began documenting personal details of the displaced at the Dalori camp, just outside the Borno state capital, Maiduguri.

Dangana Ibrahim, from the agency, told AFP: "We are capturing their data and issuing them with temporary ID pending the production of the ID card in the next week."

(AFP )

Sri Lanka's railway workers called off an island-wide strike Wednesday that disrupted travel for hundreds of thousands of students ahead of crucial school exams, prompting a public backlash.

Railway trade unions said they would return to work after receiving assurances from the government that their concerns over pay would be addressed within two months.

President Maithripala Sirisena had appealed to drivers, station masters and technical staff to end their industrial action to enable students to get to school.

(AFP )

The United States is ready to talk to North Korea "without preconditions" but remains determined to force it to abandon its nuclear arsenal, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday.

China and Russia responded positively to Tillerson's remarks, even after the White House appeared to put his proposal in question by saying that US President Donald Trump's "views on North Korea have not changed."

(AFP )

Defects were found in equipment for a third-generation nuclear reactor under construction in southern China with the problematic parts being replaced, the state-owned China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) said Wednesday.

The issue concerned equipment used in one of two new European Pressurised Reactors (EPR), large units designed to offer improved power and safety.

With EPRs in Finland and France facing setbacks, the Chinese Taishan 1 and 2 are on track to become the first working reactors of their kind in the world.

(AFP )

Chancellor Angela Merkel meets Social Democrat leaders on Wednesday, in a new bid to end a political stalemate nearly three months after elections left Germany in limbo.

The meeting at 7 pm (1800 GMT), which also gathers the leader of Merkel's Bavarian allies, comes after SPD chief Martin Schulz obtained the blessing from his party last week to hold open-ended talks with the chancellor.

(AFP )

French prosecutors have called for a Lebanese-Canadian academic suspected of the deadly 1980 bombing of a Paris synagogue to be put on trial, sources close to the investigation told AFP on Wednesday.

The Paris prosecutor's office considers there to be "sufficient evidence" against Hassan Diab, who has been in preventive custody since his extradition from Canada in 2014, to try him over the October 3, 1980 attack, the sources said.

(AFP )

Saudi-led air strikes on a prison camp run by rebels in Yemen killed 12 people and wounded 80 on Wednesday, the rebels' Al-Masirah TV reported.

There has been no let-up in the air campaign against the rebels that a Saudi-led coalition has been waging since March 2015 despite an appeal by UN chief Antonio Guterres on Sunday for a renewed push to end the "stupid war".

All of the casualties in the pre-dawn strikes on the camp in the capital Sanaa were prisoners, rebel television said.

(AFP )

France's Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday hosted African and European leaders to drum up support and contributions for a new counter-terrorism force in the terror-plagued Sahel.

Two years in the planning, the force brings together troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger in a desert region the size of Europe.

The five nations are among the world's poorest, and funding was high on the agenda as their presidents joined Macron and other leaders including Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel at a chateau in Celle-Saint-Cloud outside Paris.

(AFP )

The major European gas pipeline hub in Austria that suffered a deadly explosion on Tuesday has resumed pumping gas abroad, its operator said Wednesday.

"All transit connections were put into operation again before midnight and are 100-percent operational," Harald Stindl, Gas Connect Austria chief, told Oe1 public radio.

The explosion at the Baumgarten site on Tuesday killed one person and left 18 others injured, including one seriously. The cause is currently being investigated.

(AFP )

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson may have opened the way to negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear programme, saying Washington was ready to talk "without preconditions".

The apparent olive branch -- after a year of mutual threats by US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, and multiple missile tests by Pyongyang, coupled with its most powerful nuclear blast to date -- could help defuse sky-high tensions.

But with the two sides engaged in a war of words there is a long way to go before any negotiations -- let alone a deal.

(AFP )

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte won martial law powers across the southern third of the country for one more year on Wednesday to combat Islamic militants and leftist rebels, as Congress brushed aside fears of a looming dictatorship.

Duterte's request to extend martial law in the Mindanao region until December 31 next year and detain rebellion suspects there without charge was approved by 240 votes to 27 at a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives.

(AFP )

Indonesia's biggest corruption trial in years was derailed Wednesday after its graft-charged parliament speaker Setya Novanto claimed a bout of diarrhoea had left him too ill to participate, prompting jeers from the courtroom gallery.

The claim was just the latest in a string of manoeuvres -- including allegedly faking an injury in a car crash -- that critics say the 62-year-old has employed to dodge serious charges.

(AFP )

A decade after Pakistan's first female leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, her son Bilawal is striving to reclaim his mother's mantle, the latest act in a Shakespearean saga of tragedy and power.

But reviving the wilted fortunes of his family's political dynasty ahead of a general election due next year will be a tough ask for the Oxford-educated scion, who at 29 years old has never held political office.

His family once dominated Pakistani politics.

(AFP )

The Israeli air force hit the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Wednesday lightly wounding three people, after Palestinians fired at southern Israel, the military and Gaza security officials said.

Israel also arrested a number of senior Hamas members in the occupied West Bank overnight, including one of its leaders in the territory.

Late on Tuesday, the military said that an undefined "projectile" was fired from Gaza towards southern Israel.

A spokeswoman told AFP that it was "very probably" a rocket but that it was not clear where it hit.

(AFP )

Singapore is increasingly using harsh laws to severely restrict freedom of speech and assembly, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday, urging authorities to let people publicly debate matters of national interest.

A report from the New York-based rights group said that while the financial hub was an economic success, it was time to relax tough regulations which are not in line with international human rights standards.

(AFP )

South Korean President Moon Jae-In began his first state visit to China on Wednesday to soothe relations strained by the US deployment of an anti-missile system that has angered Beijing.

Moon is also expected to discuss the North Korean nuclear crisis during his four-day trip, which includes talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday.

The US military installed the powerful THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system in the South earlier this year to guard against threats from the nuclear-armed North.

(AFP )

Sirens blared and thousands of doves were released as Chinese President Xi Jinping presided over a sombre ceremony in Nanjing marking 80 years since the wartime massacre in the city by Japanese troops.

Several thousand black-clad soldiers, civil servants and students with white flowers pinned to their jackets braved chilly temperatures at a monument to a dark World War Two chapter that still divides the two countries.

(AFP )

High-tech shark-spotting drones are patrolling dozens of Australian beaches this summer to quickly identify underwater predators and deliver safety devices to swimmers and surfers faster than traditional lifesavers.

As hundreds of people lined up in early morning sun to take part in a recent ocean swimming race at Bilgola beach north of Sydney, they did so in the knowledge the ocean had been scanned to keep them safe.

(AFP )

Doug Jones, the Democrat who pulled off a stunning upset victory in Alabama's nail-biter Senate contest on Tuesday, is considered a champion for civil rights in a state that played a seminal role in the 1960s movement for racial equality.

Jones' supporters erupted in cheers and jubilation as it became clear their portly, balding candidate had become the first Alabama Democrat to win a US Senate seat in 25 years.

"I am truly, truly overwhelmed," Jones said as aides and volunteers hugged and cheered.

"We have shown the country the way that we can be unified."

(AFP )

With a push from campaigners and some parent groups, more British schools are allowing pupils to explore their gender identities in a bid to be more inclusive and stop bullying.

Cumberland High School, a sprawling establishment with nearly 1,500 pupils in east London, is one of hundreds of schools around the country that is taking steps to break down the binary division between male and female.

(AFP )

The world's newest island -- formed during a volcanic eruption in the remote Pacific three years ago -- may offer clues to how life potentially developed on Mars, NASA said Wednesday.

The island of Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'apai rose from the seabed about 65 kilometres (40 miles) northwest of the Tongan capital Nuku'alofa in late 2014-early 2015.

Scientists initially expected the island -- created when vast quantities of rock and dense ash spewed from the Earth's crust -- to wash away within a few months.

(AFP )

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday chairs an emergency summit of the world's main pan-Islamic body, seeking to marshal Muslim leaders towards a coordinated response to the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Erdogan, whose country holds the rotating chairmanship of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will be hoping to unite often feuding Muslim leaders into a tough final statement on the move by US President Donald Trump.

(AFP )

For President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it was proof that Turkey is the world's fastest growing economy and a warning to 'agitators' who wish the country ill.

But economists warn that Turkey's stunning 11.1 percent growth in the third quarter -- its best reading in six years and well ahead of India and China in the same period -- masks potential risks ahead.

Inflation hit its highest annual rate last month at 12.98 percent, the Turkish lira has lost 11 percent of its value since September and the country's current account deficit is worsening.

(AFP )

UN prosecutors will Wednesday seek to overturn the surprise acquittal of Serbia's Vojislav Seselj, with the firebrand politician set to snub the court, dubbed this week "a theatre of the absurd."

The appeal hearing in the Seselj case comes after several blows for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and its hopes for justice for the victims.

(AFP )

French President Emmanuel Macron hosts Germany's Angela Merkel and five African presidents Wednesday, hoping to bolster the fledging G5 Sahel force fighting jihadists in an area the size of Europe.

Two years in the planning, the force brings together troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger in a desert region plagued by extremism where France is currently leading counterterrorism operations.

(AFP )

US regulators are set to vote Thursday on a plan overhauling rules for internet services providers. The action by the Federal Communications Commission is likely to end so-called "net neutrality." Here are some questions and answers:

- What is net neutrality and why is it important? -

The concept dates back to the early days of the web, and requires internet service providers to treat all data equally -- prohibiting the blocking of sites or services for competitive reasons, and banning "fast" and "slow" lanes for different kinds of online traffic.

(AFP )

A crack has been found in a Japanese "bullet train" that could have caused a derailment, officials said Wednesday, in the first-ever "serious incident" for the iconic mode of transport.

Crew aboard a "shinkansen" bullet train reported a burning smell and strange noises when it pulled out of a station in southern Japan on Monday.

The train stopped for checks at Nagoya station in central Japan and inspectors discovered a crack in the chassis under one carriage as well as an oil leak.

(AFP )

Robert Clergerie, the maker of the luxury French shoes worn by Rihanna, Bella Hadid and Madonna, was never one to sit around kicking his heels.

When the brand that bears his name almost went bust four years after he had sold up and retired, he dumped his golf clubs and repurchased the company, pumping in two million euros ($2.3 million) of his own money to put it back on its feet.

"I was 70, but I was bored stiff," Clergerie recalled.

He had toured the Greek islands, taken up gardening and golf, but he was "bored to death, particularly by the golf".

(AFP )

Polish lawmakers on Tuesday approved the cabinet of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who promised to maintain the previous administration's focus on social welfare but barely mentioned the issues that have put Warsaw at odds with the European Union.

The Western-educated ex-banker was tapped by the governing right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party to take over as prime minister, notably to mend ties with Brussels.