Thursday 19 April 2018

In the world

(AFP )

The number of asylum-seekers in the European Union whose applications were granted dropped by almost a quarter in 2017 to 538,000, official figures released Thursday showed.

Syrians accounted for 33 percent of successful applications, according to the figures released by the European Union's statistics agency Eurostat.

"Of the 175,800 Syrians granted protective status in the EU, over 70 percent have been registered in Germany," Eurostat said.

(AFP )

A Liberian former warlord whose forces committed atrocities including murders and cannibalism during the country's civil war was sentenced Thursday to 30 years in US prison -- for immigration-related fraud and perjury.

Nicknamed "Jungle Jabbah," 51-year-old Mohammed Jabateh commanded the "United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy" (ULIMO) and later ULIMO-K rebel groups, which engaged in killings, rapes, multilation and cannibalism during Liberia's 1989-2003 civil war, according to prosecutors.

Jabateh was arrested in March 2016.

(AFP )

The Romanian government will follow the United States and transfer its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, the ruling Social Democrat Party (PSD) leader said Thursday .

"The decision has been taken (...), the procedures are beginning," Liviu Dragnea told Antena 3 television ahead of any official government announcement.

According to Dragnea, PSD Prime Minister Viorica Dancila's government agreed Wednesday on "the start of procedures with a view to the transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem."

(AFP )

Brazil's top army commander on Thursday made another foray into political commentary, warning that corruption poses a threat to democracy in Latin America's biggest country.

The comment by General Eduardo Villas Boas was his second high-profile remark on the state of Brazil's democracy this month, going against an unwritten rule that high-ranking military officers keep out of politics.

(AFP )

Save the Children chair Alan Parker resigned on Thursday, citing a "complex mix of challenges" as the reason for his early departure.

The Brunswick Group chair's decision to step down from the global organisation cuts short his 10-year term, which was due to end in December.

"Given the complex mix of challenges the organisation and the sector is facing, it is my view that a change is needed," Parker said in a statement.

(AFP )

Despite being in the upper echelons of Cuba's government for the past two decades, new President Miguel Diaz-Canel is not exactly well known.

Most people on the island of more than 11 million know that, unlike the Castro brothers, he wasn't part of the 1959 revolution. Some aren't sure.

But that hasn't stopped Cubans from welcoming their new president, hopeful he will advance reforms to improve their daily lives, in a country with an average monthly salary of $30.

(AFP )

Raul Castro, who stepped down Thursday as Cuba's president, lived most of his life in the shadow of his iconic brother Fidel. But after taking over in 2006 he steered the island on a path of radical reform as only he could do.

Now 86, his departure ends the Castro brothers' six-decade grip on power.

Always a good soldier, Raul Castro knew that his place was behind his older brother. "Fidel is irreplaceable, unless we all replace him together," he said upon temporarily stepping in when his brother fell ill 12 years ago.

(AFP )

A recent shift in nuclear weapons policies in the United States and Russia, involving upgrades, modernisation and growing arsenals is as dangerous as North Korea's nuclear threat, campaigners warned Thursday.

Beatrice Fihn, who heads the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), hailed an upcoming summit between the United States and North Korean in what Washington hopes will persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

(AFP )

The European Parliament called Thursday on Slovakia to ensure a full and independent investigation into the murder of an investigative reporter while demanding better protections for all journalists in the EU.

The appeal was adopted by 573 MEPs -- with 27 against and 47 abstentions -- after journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova were shot dead in Slovakia in February.

"MEPs called on Slovak authorities to deploy all necessary resources to ensure a full, thorough and independent investigation of the double murder," the parliament said in a statement.

(AFP )

About 500 lawmakers from Germany, France and Britain on Thursday urged the US Congress to support the Iran nuclear deal which President Donald Trump has threatened to abandon.

"It is the US's and Europe's interest to prevent nuclear proliferation in a volatile region and to maintain the transatlantic partnership as a reliable and credible driving force of world politics," the MPs wrote.

(AFP )

With its futuristic curved roof, gleaming walls of glass and steel and host of eco-friendly features, NATO's new billion-euro Brussels headquarters is a world away from the drab, low-slung warren of offices reeking of Cold War intrigue that it replaces.

The alliance is almost halfway through its move into the new building, with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg expected to shift to his new office at the end of the month and completion due in mid-June in time for July's summit.

(AFP )

NATO is not planning to boost its military presence in Baltic nations, which have called for extra protection from their Russian neighbour, the alliance's head Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday.

"Currently we are not planning to increase our military presence in the region, but what we are planning is to strengthen our ability to reinforce if needed," Stoltenberg told reporters after talks with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

(AFP )

Rights groups on Thursday pressed the Greek government to comply with a court ruling to allow migrants to move freely within Greece instead of being confined to six Aegean islands.

The Greek section of Amnesty International and local group SolidarityNow also called for the ruling by Greece's top administrative court to be made retroactive so that some 15,000 migrants already in overcrowded camps on the islands could move to the mainland.

(AFP )

It's the closest thing yet to an ABBA reunion: computerised avatars of Sweden's legendary disco group will perform during a televised tribute to the quartet to be broadcast this autumn, ABBA member Bjorn Ulvaeus said Thursday.

Agnetha Faltskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson split up in 1982 after dominating the disco scene for more than a decade with hits like "Waterloo", "Dancing Queen", "Mamma Mia" and "Super Trouper".

The group, which has sold more than 400 million albums, has not sung together on stage since 1986.

(AFP )

Cuba marked the end of an era Thursday as Miguel Diaz-Canel was formally elected as the country's new president, becoming the first leader of the Caribbean island in six decades who is not named Castro.

The silver-haired Diaz-Canel -- a top Communist Party figure who has served as first vice president since 2013 -- assumes power from Raul Castro, who himself took over from his elder brother Fidel, father of the 1959 revolution.

In his first speech as president, Diaz-Canel vowed to keep the country on the path of that "revolution," but also on the road to economic reform.

(AFP )

Polish President Andrzej Duda on Thursday honoured the young Jews who launched the Warsaw ghetto uprising against the Nazis 75 years ago, but also used the occasion to reject claims that Poles had a hand in the Holocaust.

"I am strongly convinced that both Poles and also Polish Jews deeply care about having a single historical truth," Duda said at a remembrance ceremony at the Ghetto Heroes Monument in Warsaw.

(AFP )

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday stressed their common will to reform the EU, but without bridging their fundamental differences on economic and fiscal policy.

The young French leader voiced his passion for a sweeping overhaul for a post-Brexit EU that would have "at its heart" eurozone reforms such as a common budget and finance minister, and greater "solidarity" within the bloc.

(AFP )

The first rains of the year have flooded parts of the crowded Rohingya camps in Bangladesh, aid workers said Thursday, wreaking havoc and raising fears for nearly one million refugees ahead of the monsoon.

A brief but heavy downpour turned roads into quagmires in the world's largest refugee camp, hindering relief efforts and hinting at the danger ahead for the Rohingya who have sought refuge from violence in Myanmar.

(AFP )

IOC chief Thomas Bach insisted Thursday that violent computer games would never be part of the Olympics as he faces growing pressure to allow eSports into the Olympic movement.

Bach said it would be a "red line" for the International Olympic Committee that no computer game that encourages violence would be allowed.

eSports have already been admitted as a medal sport for the 2022 Asian Games and the Paris committee organising the 2024 Olympics has not ruled including eSports in its events.

(AFP )

A volcano in southern Japan erupted for the first time in 250 years on Thursday, spewing steam and ash hundreds of metres into the air, as authorities warned locals not to approach the mountain.

"There is a possibility that (Mount Io) will become more active," said Makoto Saito, an official from the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), confirming the eruption.

In a televised press conference, he warned residents in the area to stay away from the mountain, part of the Mount Kirishima group of volcanoes, as major ash deposits spread from the crater.

(AFP )

The Basque militant group ETA will make the highly anticipated announcement of its dissolution on the first weekend in May, an international mediator told Basque radio Thursday.

Alberto Spektorowski, one of a group of international mediators brokering talks on a definitive end to the conflict in Spain's northern Basque region, said that "failing a last-minute surprise" ETA would make the announcement on May 5 or 6.

"The declaration that ETA no longer exists will be very clear," the Israeli academic, a member of the International Contact Group (ICG), told Basque radio EITB.

(AFP )

With his stunning call for elections in just over two months, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seeking to wrong-foot an unprepared opposition and capitalise on surging nationalist sentiment after his operation in Syria, analysts say.

Erdogan and his party will be the strong favourites to win the simultaneous presidential and parliamentary polls on June 24 but may still be taking a risk against the background of a deteriorating economy.

(AFP )

The Dutch state Thursday appealed a decision by an Amsterdam court to refer a landmark case over Brexit to Europe's top court, as British expats demand clarification of their rights as EU citizens.

In what is believed to be the first such case as Britain prepares to leave the European Union next year, five Britons living in the Netherlands and two expat organisations took the government to court in January.

They have argued that they have independent rights as EU citizens, over and above being citizens of any specific EU member country -- including Britain.

(AFP )

The Olympics ethics watchdog will "monitor" developments after South Korean media said Samsung carried out illicit lobbying for Pyeongchang to be awarded this year's Winter Games, IOC president Thomas Bach said Thursday.

Samsung, a top Olympics sponsor, has denied the claims made by the SBS television network that the company offered incentives to get votes from International Olympic Committee members.

Bach told a press conference during a visit to New Delhi that the allegations "have been clearly denied by Samsung, this is all that we know so far.

(AFP )

Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday openly voiced her wish for her son Prince Charles to succeed her as head of the Commonwealth as she opened the group's summit for potentially the final time.

Queen Elizabeth, who turns 92 on Saturday, welcomed leaders from the 53 Commonwealth nations -- mostly former British colonies -- to Buckingham Palace to start two days of talks focused on trade, marine protection and tackling cyber crime.

In her opening speech, Queen Elizabeth spoke of her own "extraordinary journey" since pledging to serve the Commonwealth for life when aged 21.

(AFP )

The Muslim nomads who lead their goats, cows and horses up and down the Kashmir hills have never felt at ease in modern India and the gruesome rape and murder of a girl from the impoverished community has heightened their fears.

Many of the Bakarwals speeded up their annual migration out of the Hindu-majority Jammu region because of the national storm of controversy created by the killing of the eight-year-old girl.

(AFP )

A Bahrain court sentenced 24 Shiite citizens to prison and stripped them of their nationality after finding them guilty of forming a "terrorist group", a Bahraini judicial source said Thursday.

Other charges included travelling to Iraq and Iran for "weapons and explosives training" and attempted murder of police officers.

The High Criminal Court on Wednesday sentenced 10 of the defendants to life in prison, 10 to a decade behind bars and the other four to jail terms ranging from three to five years.

(AFP )

The lower house of Burundi's parliament has voted to allow security forces in the politically tense nation to conduct night raids without a search warrant.

The draft law changing the criminal code was passed late Wednesday in the lower house, with 90 votes in favour and 22 against after eight hours of debate, parliament announced on Twitter.

The bill must now go before the Senate before being passed into law by President Pierre Nkurunziza "as fast as possible", a senior member of the ruling CNDD-FDD party told AFP, asking not to be named.

(AFP )

A hermit crab, a shiny-eyed shrimp and a crab with fuzzy spines are among over a dozen new species discovered in a deep-sea expedition off the Indonesian island of Java, scientists said.

The team from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) carried out the expedition for 14 days between March and early April.

The area covered included a long stretch of the Indian Ocean off Java's southern coast as well as the Sunda Strait that separates the island from Sumatra.

(AFP )

The Japanese high school clerk who sensationally won the Boston Marathon despite having neither a coach nor a sponsor announced Thursday he was packing in his day job and turning pro.

An overnight media star, Yuki Kawauchi, 31, told reporters waiting for him at Narita Airport: "From April next year, I am thinking about resigning as a civil servant and turning pro. I want to use the (prize) money to do that."

Kawauchi scooped $150,000 when he became the first Japanese man to win the race since 1987, the year he was born.

(AFP )

A Turkish court Thursday sentenced 18 people to life in prison over the killing of a soldier who became a national hero for shooting dead one of the suspected leaders of a 2016 failed coup, state media reported.

Sergeant Omer Halisdemir killed Brigadier General Semih Terzi on the night of July 15, 2016, breaking the command chain of the plotters.

An Ankara court, which heard the case, found all 18 guilty of "deliberately killing" the soldier as well as "attempting to destroy the constitutional order" by seeking to oust the government, the Anadolu news agency reported.

(AFP )

A peace treaty to formally end the Korean War "must be pursued", South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Thursday, ahead of a summit next week with Kim Jong Un, leader of the nuclear-armed North.

"The armistice that has dragged on for 65 years must come to an end," Moon told media company representatives at the presidential Blue House, adding: "The signing of a peace treaty must be pursued after an end to the war is declared."

(AFP )

Chinese combat helicopters conducted live-fire drills with missiles off the country's southeast coast, state media said Thursday, without confirming whether the exercises took place in the sensitive Taiwan Strait.

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) exercise took place Wednesday and involved various types of helicopters that tested "all-weather operational capability of the air force at sea," the official Xinhua news agency said.

State broadcaster CCTV showed footage of helicopters firing missiles at distant objects in the water.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump says that five locations are under consideration for his expected meeting with Kim Jong Un, the leader of nuclear-armed North Korea.

But he gave no clues as to what they might be, and speculation is rife as to the possibilities -- with many contenders suggested.

Here are some of the options:

- Panmunjom -

The truce village in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas will host a summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in next week.

(AFP )

Austrian paediatrician Hans Asperger, after whom Asperger's syndrome is named, "actively cooperated" with the Nazi euthanasia programme, according to a new study published Thursday.

"Asperger managed to accommodate himself to the Nazi regime and was rewarded for his affirmations of loyalty with career opportunities," Herwig Czech, a historian of medicine at the Medical University of Vienna, wrote in the study.