Tuesday 23 January 2018

In the world

(AFP )

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party secured the chair of the country's powerful budget committee Tuesday, after being repeatedly being shunned for top parliamentary jobs which were shared out among more established parties.

The move comes after the Social Democratic Party (SPD) agreed Sunday to open coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, leaving AfD lawmakers as potentially the largest opposition grouping -- traditionally called on to head up scrutiny of government finances.

(AFP )

Pakistani police Tuesday arrested the key suspect accused of raping and murdering a young girl in a case that enraged the country and stoked fears a serial killer was preying on children in the city of Kasur.

The killing of six-year-old Zainab Fatima Ameen -- the 12th child found raped and murdered in Kasur within a two-kilometre radius in the last two years -- sparked riots, with thousands swarming police stations and setting fire to politicians' homes, accusing authorities of inaction.

(AFP )

Seven high-powered women dominate one stage while panellists elsewhere agonise over sexual harassment and pay inequality -- but despite efforts to redress the gender imbalance, Davos still remains a man's world.

After the #MeToo campaign gripped Hollywood in 2017, scrutiny turned to the World Economic Forum (WEF) this week to see whether the movement against sexual harassment and discrimination could conquer the business world too.

(AFP )

The far-right candidate in an Austrian state election was under pressure Tuesday after a magazine report about song texts celebrating the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities.

According to the Falter weekly, Udo Landbauer of the Freedom Party (FPOe), which is in the national governing coalition, is deputy chair of a student fraternity behind a songbook containing the texts.

According to the left-leaning weekly, the lyrics of one song reads: "In their midst comes the Jew Ben Gurion: 'Step on the gas, old Germanics, we can make it to seven million'."

(AFP )

The fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement hung in the balance Tuesday as Canadian, US and Mexican negotiators kicked off a sixth round of talks aimed at revamping the 1994 free trade pact Washington has threatened to dump.

With time running out to reach a deal, Canada and Mexico will do everything to prevent the United States from following through on its threat to withdraw from the continental deal that binds nearly 500 million consumers unless it gets significant concessions.

(AFP )

Another potential challenger to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi appeared in danger Tuesday of dropping out of the election race after he was accused of breaking the law with his candidacy announcement.

The allegations against General Sami Anan, a former armed forces chief of staff, mean that Sisi seems to be heading towards the March polls with most of his possible rivals already out of the running.

The general command of the Egyptian armed forces, in a video posted on Facebook, accused Anan of crimes including forgery.

(AFP )

Nigeria's former president Olusegun Obasanjo on Tuesday called on the country's current leader Muhammadu Buhari not to seek a second term of office, in wide-ranging criticisms that could hit his support should he decide to stand.

Obasanjo's outspoken comments come against a backdrop of growing discontent at Buhari's stewardship of Africa's most populous nation, which since 2015 has suffered recession and a slew of security concerns.

(AFP )

As Cape Town suffers its worst drought in a century, residents were warned Tuesday that they face losing piped water to their homes on April 12 -- a whole nine days earlier than predicted.

If drastic consumption reductions are not achieved by "Day Zero", people will have to queue at 200 standpipes for daily rations of 25 litres (6.6 US gallons).

The city, which attracts millions of tourists every year, has enforced strict waste controls including prosecution of homeowners who use more than the current 50-litre daily limit.

(AFP )

Nigeria's former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, on Tuesday called on the country's current leader not to seek a second term of office.

Obasanjo, who headed a military government in the 1970s and was Nigeria's first president when civilian rule was restored in 1999, said Muhammadu Buhari needed a "deserved rest".

With a nation increasingly divided, insecure and in an economic slump, to ask Nigerians to vote for Buhari for another four years was "unrealistic," Obasanjo argued.

(AFP )

The Turkish army on Tuesday clashed with Kurdish militia in Syria in an operation that has already left two of its soldiers dead, as the United States voiced alarm the offensive could endanger attempts to end the Syrian civil war.

Speaking at the funeral of the first of two Turkish soldiers to be killed so far in the four day cross-border campaign, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed that Ankara would emerge victorious.

(AFP )

Catalonia's ousted leader Carles Puigdemont asked Tuesday to return to Spain "without any risk" of being detained for his role in the independence drive despite Madrid warning he would not be let in "even in the boot of a car."

Speaking from Copenhagen on his first trip from Belgium where he now lives in self-exile, he said: "My intention in the coming days is to contribute to restoring democracy in order to respect election results."

(AFP )

Americans were among the dead and wounded in the weekend attack by Taliban gunmen on a Kabul luxury hotel, a State Department official said Tuesday.

"We can confirm that there were US citizen fatalities and injuries," the official said, without specifying how many Americans were involved.

‎"We offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed and wish for the speedy recovery of those wounded.

"Out of respect for the families of the deceased, we have no further comment."

(AFP )

Germany's Red Cross on Tuesday said it would end its search for missing persons from World War II in 2023, leaving the fate of 1.2 million people a mystery.

"We won't be able to shed light on their fates," the head of the German Red Cross's tracing service, Thomas Huber, told DPA news agency.

His office and the German interior ministry have agreed to halt efforts to determine what happened to the disappeared in five years' time, he said, 78 years after the end of the devastating war.

(AFP )

Dolores O'Riordan's duet of "Ave Maria" with Luciano Pavarotti rang out at her funeral on Tuesday as Ireland bade farewell to the Cranberries singer following her shock death aged 46.

Around 200 people, largely members of O'Riordan's family and close friends, gathered at Saint Ailbe's church in Ballybricken, outside the western city of Limerick.

Her mother, her three children, her six siblings and the other three members of the Cranberries were among the congregation.

(AFP )

Spain's interior minister said Tuesday that troops were on alert 24/7 to prevent sacked Catalan president Carles Puigdemont from sneaking home from exile even "in the boot of a car".

Charged with rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, Puigdemont faces arrest if he returns to Spain over his role in Catalonia's independence drive. He has been living in Belgium in self-imposed exile since the end of October.

(AFP )

Nigerian police on Tuesday briefly detained activists calling for the release of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram jihadists nearly four years ago, campaigners said.

Members of the #BringBackOurGirls advocacy group were taken into custody as they held their daily demonstration in the capital, Abuja, said group coordinator Aisha Yesufu.

#BringBackOurGirls has been calling on the government to rescue or secure the release of scores of girls abducted from the remote northeastern town of Chibok in April 2014.

(AFP )

Myanmar blamed Bangladesh on Tuesday for delays to the start of a huge repatriation programme for Rohingya refugees, as the UN warned of the dangers of rushing their return to strife-torn Rakhine state.

Nearly 690,000 Rohingya escaped to Bangladesh after a brutal Myanmar army crackdown began in the state last August, while around 100,000 fled an earlier bout of violence in October 2016.

In signs the unrest was continuing despite the repatriation plans, Bangladesh officials said a huge fire burned and gunshots were heard in a village in Rakhine.

(AFP )

A former Gurkha soldier who lost both his legs in Afghanistan hit out Tuesday at new rules by the Nepal government that ban double amputees from climbing its mountains, dashing his Everest dreams.

Hari Budha Magar, 38, had been training hard in hopes of becoming the first above-the-knee double amputee to scale Mount Everest until his plans were scuppered by the law introduced in December.

The rules ban double amputee and blind climbers, a move that has drawn criticism from disability rights groups around the world.

(AFP )

Bangladesh officials said Tuesday a huge fire burned and gunshots were heard in a village across the border in Myanmar's conflict-scarred Rakhine state, where authorities want to return Rohingya refugees.

A "big fire" was seen raging late Monday in an abandoned village from Tombru, a frontier post in Cox's Bazar district, a senior Bangladeshi border guard told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The fire occurred the evening before Bangladesh was due to start repatriating hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees to Rakhine state under an agreement with Myanmar.

(AFP )

France braced for floods Tuesday as the Rhine threatened to overflow and the rapidly rising Seine forced Paris authorities to halt trains on a busy commuter line.

Heavy rains have lashed France for days, leaving 30 departments across the country on flood alert. Some towns and villages in the east are already inundated, leaving homes and shops filled with muddy water.

The Seine, running through the centre of the French capital, had already burst its banks in some places Monday, growing into a powerful muddy torrent that has submerged riverside parks and footpaths.

(AFP )

North Korea's figure skaters Ryom Tai-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik are "friendly and kind and a little bit shy", South Korea's Kim Kyueun said Tuesday ahead of their hugely anticipated Olympic appearance.

The skater is competing with her partner Alex Kam in the pairs competition against the North Koreans at the Four Continents championships in Taipei this week, where the North Korean duo have been closely guarded from journalists.

(AFP )

US Vice President Mike Pence visited Jerusalem's Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism, on Tuesday as he wrapped up a trip to the disputed city that Washington has declared Israel's capital.

Pence and his wife Karen visited the wall separately as required by the ultra-Orthodox Jewish authorities who govern the site under strict interpretation of religious law.

The vice president, wearing a black skullcap, inserted a piece of paper inside a crack in the ancient wall's stones in accordance with the tradition of leaving a prayer.

(AFP )

Egypt's military on Tuesday accused a former armed forces chief of staff who plans to stand in presidential elections in March of forgery and other crimes linked to his candidacy announcement.

The general command of the Egyptian armed forces made the allegations against General Sami Anan in a video posted on its official Facebook page.

It accused Anan of announcing his intention to run in the election "without getting the approval of the armed forces or following the required procedures to end his service in the military."

(AFP )

A powerful 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Alaska early Tuesday, sparking tsunami warnings along the Pacific coasts of the US and Canada that were later called off.

The quake struck at 12:31 am (0931 GMT) in the Gulf of Alaska, 280 kilometers (175 miles) southeast of the town of Kodiak, the US Geological Survey said, revising a preliminary estimate of 8.2 magnitude.

The epicenter was 10 kilometers under the seabed.

The National Tsunami Warning Center did confirm a tsunami, meaning the water levels were slightly above normal.

(AFP )

Visitors to an upmarket Kabul hotel attacked by Taliban gunmen have described glaring security breaches before the assailants went on a bloody rampage targeting guests, in a city constantly under threat.

Bags were not checked, scanners did not work and body searches were non-existent, according to witnesses, as the private company providing security to the state-owned Intercontinental Hotel comes under the spotlight.

(AFP )

A new hunt for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 using high-tech underwater drones has started, officials said Tuesday, in the latest bid to solve one of the world's greatest aviation mysteries.

A ship operated by exploration firm Ocean Infinity arrived at the search area in the Indian Ocean on Monday and launched the drones, said Malaysia's Department of Civil Aviation director-general Azharuddin Abdul Rahman.

"The vessel Seabed Constructor has arrived at the search area and commenced the search operation," he said in a statement.

(AFP )

A powerful earthquake of magnitude 8.2 struck off the southern coast of Alaska early Tuesday, prompting tsunami warnings.

The quake struck at 0931 GMT in the Gulf of Alaska, 280 kilometers (175 miles) southeast of the town of Kodiak, the US Geological Survey said. The epicenter was 10 kilometers under the seabed.

Tsunami warnings were issued for Alaska and the west coast of Canada, the National Tsunami Warning Center said.

Less-ominous tsunami watches were issued for the US west coast -- the entire coasts of California and Oregon and part of Washington state.

(AFP )

Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies pressed an assault on a border enclave held by Kurdish militia on Tuesday but the fighting was more narrowly focused, a monitor said.

Turkish warplanes carried out new strikes on the northwest of the Afrin enclave and also hit the outskirts of the mainly Kurdish-held city of Qamishli far to the east, wounding two children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

(AFP )

US Vice President Mike Pence visited Jerusalem's Western Wall on Tuesday while Palestinians held a general strike after denouncing his fervently pro-Israel speech the previous day as "messianic".

The devout Christian's speech to the Israeli parliament on Monday laden with biblical references was praised by Israelis as perhaps the best they could ever hope for from a US administration, but Palestinians saw it as confirming some of their worst fears.

(AFP )

Sacked Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, in Copenhagen to muster international support for an independent Catalonia, has cited Denmark's autonomous territories Greenland and the Faroe Islands as models for a peaceful bid for independence.

But the model may be difficult to export, experts say.

"It's not easy I know but you're proof that it's possible," Puigdemont said Monday during a seminar on the Catalan crisis at the University of Copenhagen.

(AFP )

Diplomats from 29 countries including US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meet in Paris on Tuesday pushing for sanctions and criminal charges against the perpetrators of chemical attacks in Syria.

Tillerson and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian will also co-host a meeting of ministers ahead of a new round of peace talks in Vienna later this week and again in Sochi in Russia the week after.

The chemical weapons meeting from 1300 GMT comes after allegations Monday of a fresh chemical attack by the Syrian regime on Douma in the rebel-held region of Eastern Ghouta.

(AFP )

Myanmar blamed Bangladesh on Tuesday for delays to a huge repatriation programme for Rohingya refugees, as the deadline passed for starting the return of the Muslim minority to strife-torn Rakhine state.

Nearly 690,000 Rohingya escaped to Bangladesh after a brutal Myanmar army crackdown began last August, while a further 100,000 fled an earlier bout of violence in October 2016.

Myanmar agreed that from January 23 it would start taking them back from the squalid camps in the Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh where they have sought shelter.

(AFP )

A court will decide whether to bail two Reuters journalists accused of breaching Myanmar's secrecy law on February 1, their lawyer said Tuesday, raising fears the pair could otherwise face months in detention during convoluted pre-trial hearings.

Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, appeared in court Tuesday nearly six weeks after their arrest under the Official Secrets Act.

(AFP )

India's top court Tuesday rejected a final bid by two states to ban a Bollywood film about a mythical Hindu queen which sparked violent protests by radical groups.

Threats by Hindu fringe groups against "Padmaavat", which is to be released Thursday, have forced police to step up security around cinemas intending to show the movie.

The Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh state governments asked the country's Supreme Court to retract an earlier ruling stopping states from banning "Padmaavat".

"We do not find any merit in the applications," the court said on Tuesday.

(AFP )

Dozens of support centres for women victims of sexual violence are to open across India under an scheme announced Tuesday, as pressure grows on police over their handling of rape cases.

Police in four states have signed up to the "Justice For Her" initiative, with Sheffield Hallam University in Britain.

Fifty-one centres, which aim to improve access to justice for victims, will be opened in Madhya Pradesh state which has the country's worst record for rape cases.

The New Delhi region and the northern states of Haryana and Punjab have also signed up.