Monday 23 October 2017

In the world

(AFP )

US Vice President Mike Pence described the 1983 bombing of a Marine Corps barracks in Beirut as the opening shots of the "war of terror" Monday, as he issued fresh warnings to Iran and Hezbollah.

Speaking during a ceremony at another building used to house Marines in Washington, Pence berated Tehran and framed the attack that killed 241 Americans as part of a series of outrages that included 9/11.

"Thirty-four years ago today, America was thrust into war with an enemy unlike any we had ever faced," said Pence -- who is the father and brother of US Marines.

(AFP )

Germany on Monday signed a deal to sell three submarines to the Israeli navy in an agreement of "strategic importance" to the Jewish state, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu "welcomed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Germany and the state of Israel to acquire the submarines," his office said in a Hebrew-language statement.

(AFP )

Populist billionaire Andrej Babis held difficult coalition talks on Monday despite his weekend election win, as potential partners appeared loath to form a government with the "Czech Trump".

Campaigning on an anti-corruption, anti-euro and anti-migrant ticket, Babis's ANO (Yes) movement won 78 of the 200 seats in parliament.

But none of the record nine parties that made it into parliament in the fragmented vote was willing to cooperate with ANO, which currently forms outgoing coalition government led by the Social Democrats.

(AFP )

Anti-Kremlin activist William Browder said Monday he had been blocked from flying to the United States after Russia placed him on an Interpol wanted list.

Browder, a Briton based in London, said this move was in retaliation for his support of Canada's passage last week of its "Sergei Magnitsky Law", which targets Russian officials for human rights violations and is named for a former employee of Browder who died in a Russian prison after exposing massive corruption.

"Putin adds me to Interpol wanted list in retaliation for passage of Canadian Magnitsky Act," he tweeted.

(AFP )

Nicaragua signed the Paris climate agreement Monday, leaving the United States and Syria as the only two holdouts on the global climate pact.

The government of President Daniel Ortega said the global 2015 pact represented "the only international instrument that offers the conditions to face global warming and its effects," according to a statement read out by vice president Rosario Murillo.

(AFP )

French backers of Catalonia's possible secession from Spain plan to "offer hospitality to president Carles Puidgemont to lead a government-in-exile in Perpignan," a southern French city with deep Catalan roots, a statement said Monday.

Catalan separatists have threatened "mass civil disobedience" if Madrid carries out threats to depose their leaders, including Puidgemont, as tensions rise over a bid to sever the region from Spain.

(AFP )

Algerian authorities have arrested and deported more than 2,000 sub-Saharan Africans to Niger and Mali in the past month, Amnesty International said Monday.

In what the rights group described as "arbitrary arrests" and "illegal" mass expulsions, the migrants were detained in the Algiers area and Blida, 50 kilometres (30 miles) to the southwest.

They were then placed on buses and taken 2,000 kilometres south to Tamanrasset, it said.

They were then "abandoned" on the Nigerien side of the border between the two countries.

(AFP )

A Rwandan court on Monday refused to grant bail to Diane Rwigara, a prominent critic of President Paul Kagame who has been charged with inciting insurrection against the state as well as other offences.

Rwigara was blocked from challenging Kagame in August's presidential election and arrested on September 22, along with her mother and sister, for alleged tax evasion and forgery as well as for inciting insurrection.

(AFP )

France has issued an arrest warrant for a Moroccan man being held in Germany who is suspected of helping plan a 2015 attack on a Paris-bound train, a judicial source said Monday.

Redouane Sebbar, 25, is suspected of having a hand in the August 2015 attack by fellow Moroccan Ayoub El Khazzani on a high-speed Thalys train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris.

Khazzani, a member of the Islamic State group returning from Syria, shot and seriously injured a passenger just after the train had entered France.

(AFP )

President Mauricio Macri's center-right coalition's victory in mid-term elections has paved the way for a tilt at a second term in Argentina's presidential elections in 2019, analysts said Monday.

All the more so as the vote delivered a setback for his main rival Cristina Kirchner, beaten into second place in a Senate race in Buenos Aires province, a key battleground representing 40 percent of the national electorate.

"This election allows the government to consolidate," said analyst Gabriel Puricelli.

(AFP )

Turkey's long-serving mayor Melih Gokcek announced on Monday he will step down, after coming under pressure from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who is seeking to refresh the ruling party ahead of elections next year.

Gokcek, 68, who has been the mayor of the capital Ankara since 1994, had been one of the three greater city chiefs resisting pressure from Erdogan to quit.

(AFP )

The European Union said Monday it has given a "yellow card" to Vietnam, warning the Pacific country it could ban seafood exports unless Hanoi did more to tackle illegal fishing.

The European Commission, the executive of the 28-nation EU, said Vietnam should fix the problem "within a reasonable timeframe" but did not set a deadline.

"We cannot ignore the impact that illegal activities conducted by Vietnamese vessels are having on marine ecosystems in the Pacific," European fisheries commissioner, Karmenu Vella, said in a statement.

(AFP )

The sentencing hearing for Bowe Bergdahl, the US soldier who faces life in prison for desertion after being held captive by Afghan insurgents for five years, opened Monday amid accusations that President Donald Trump has prejudiced the trial.

Sergeant Bergdahl, 31, was seen in a dress uniform arriving at the military court in Fort Bragg, North Carolina one week after he pleaded guilty to charges of desertion and endangering his fellow troops.

(AFP )

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson renewed US support for Afghanistan in a surprise visit Monday, days after the Taliban launched a spate of attacks they described as a "message" to America.

Tillerson is only the second member of Donald Trump's cabinet to visit the war-torn country since the US president's pledge in August to stay the course in America's longest war and send more troops.

(AFP )

Argentina's President Mauricio Macri pledged Monday to press ahead with an austerity drive in Latin America's third-largest economy, following a sweeping victory in mid-term elections.

Macri told a news conference at his Casa Rosada presidential palace in Buenos Aires he would target the large budget deficit and inflation in the remaining two years of his mandate.

Macri's Cambiemos, or "Let's Change," coalition won decisive victories across the country in Sunday's mid-term elections which were widely seen as a referendum on his reformist government.

(AFP )

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to Paris on Tuesday under pressure from human rights groups to end what they call France's "disgraceful policies of indulgence" towards him.

Sisi, a former general who ousted the elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, will meet the French defence and foreign ministers as well as business groups during his two-day trip that starts on Monday.

(AFP )

Pope Francis on Monday mourned the plight of 200,000 Rohingya children stuck in refugee camps a month before he heads to Myanmar and Bangladesh, the countries at the heart of an intensifying humanitarian crisis.

"Two hundred thousand Rohingya children (are) in refugee camps. They have barely enough to eat, though they have a right to food. (They are) Malnourished, without medicine," he said.

(AFP )

More than 1,100 children are suffering from acute malnutrition in the besieged rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area outside the Syrian capital, the UN's children's fund UNICEF told AFP on Monday.

Based on surveys done in recent months, the body said 1,114 children were suffering from various forms of malnutrition, including the most dangerous form, known as "severe acute malnutrition".

(AFP )

The Islamic State group executed dozens of civilians this month in the Syrian desert, a monitor said Monday, in a gruesome massacre as the jihadists see their "caliphate" collapse.

The extremist group last week lost its key Syrian stronghold of Raqa, the latest in a string of setbacks for the jihadists who are facing multiple offensives in both Syria and neighbouring Iraq.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said IS fighters massacred more than 100 people in the desert town of Al-Qaryatain this month before they lost it to regime forces.

(AFP )

The Hollywood sexual abuse scandal widened Monday after 38 women were reported to have accused US film director James Toback of unwanted sexual encounters over a period of decades.

Toback reeled them in with boasts about his movie career and connections and with claims he could make them a star, according to their accounts to the Los Angeles Times.

But in meetings framed as interviews or auditions, he allegedly would turn disturbingly personal, with questions veering to masturbation and pubic hair, the Times said.

(AFP )

Politicians and dignitaries paid their respects on Monday at a mass for slain Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia -- though her family, which has accused the establishment of complicity in her death, was notably absent.

Malta's archbishop led the service at a chapel just a few hundred metres from the site where the anti-corruption blogger was blown up by a car bomb last week.

"Whoever killed Daphne Caruana Galizia wanted to scare and terrorise us," Archbishop Charles Scicluna told the congregation.

"What happened last week was intended to make us fear."

(AFP )

The pregnant widow of an American soldier killed in an ambush in Niger said Monday that Donald Trump had struggled to remember his name during a condolence call, in an account the president immediately disputed.

Trump's call to Myeshia Johnson, whose husband Sergeant La David Johnson was one of four US soldiers killed in the October 4 jihadist attack, has generated a storm of controversy that is now heading into its second week.

(AFP )

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson paid a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Monday to discuss Washington's new strategy with President Ashraf Ghani.

Tillerson reiterated the US commitment to working with the Kabul government and regional partners "to achieve peace in Afghanistan and deny safe havens to terrorists who threaten that goal", said a US embassy statement posted on Twitter.

(AFP )

Iraq on Monday rebuffed a US demand that Iranian militias leave the country, insisting that the paramilitary forces which helped it defeat the Islamic State group consist solely of Iraqi nationals.

"Nobody has the right to interfere in Iraqi affairs," the Iraqi cabinet said in a statement, quoting a source close to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

"The fighters of the Hashed (al-Shaabi paramilitary units) are Iraqis who are concerned for their country and have sacrificed for its defence and for its people," it said.

(AFP )

Ukrainian anti-corruption investigators on Monday raided the home and office of a powerful mayor at the centre of a politically charged embezzlement probe.

The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) said the searches were conducted at the premises of Odessa Mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov and his associates.

The Black Sea city's authorities are suspected of pocketing money from contracts assigned for repairing a highway and awarding loans that vanished but were meant to help refurbish the local airport.

(AFP )

Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab announced on Monday it will allow third parties to analyse its antivirus software in an attempt to rule out accusations of spying for the Kremlin.

"We want to show how we’re completely open and transparent. We've nothing to hide," company founder Eugene Kaspersky said while launching what was dubbed a "global transparency initiative".

(AFP )

A German far-right militant belonging to the shadowy "Citizens of the Reich" movement was sentenced to life in prison Monday for killing a policeman during a dawn raid on his house.

Wolfgang Plan, 50, was convicted by the regional court in the southern city of Nuremberg of murder in a case that sparked a nationwide crackdown on radical right-wing groups.

Plan, who referred to himself exclusively in the third person during the trial, smiled as he entered the courtroom wearing a dark suit. He sat impassively as the presiding judge read out the verdict.

(AFP )

A Russian journalist was in a medically induced coma Monday after a man claiming a "telepathic" connection broke into a radio station critical of the Kremlin and stabbed her in the neck.

Tatyana Felgengauer, a 32-year-old presenter for Echo of Moscow, was attacked after the suspect entered the radio station's building in central Moscow and blinded the security guard with a spray, editor-in-chief Alexei Venediktov said.

A police video shows the suspect, identified by the station as Boris Grits, saying he had known the journalist "telepathically" for years.

(AFP )

Malaysia has asked Interpol to help track down a financier at the centre of a massive financial scandal that has embroiled the country's leader, it was announced Monday.

Low Taek Jho, a jet-setting businessman also known as "Jho Low", was allegedly a key figure in the scandal surrounding 1MDB, a state investment fund founded and overseen by Prime Minister Najib Razak.

(AFP )

Indonesia's military chief is free to travel to the United States, the US embassy said Monday, after the general was apparently stopped as he tried to board a flight.

Jakarta has demanded an explanation for the incident after General Gatot Nurmantyo -- who is believed to harbour presidential ambitions -- was refused boarding in Jakarta by the US Customs and Border Protection agency.

(AFP )

Shinzo Abe has seized a "super-majority" in Japan's parliament but failed to win the hearts and minds of voters suspicious of his nationalist instincts and unenthused by his drive to change the country's pacifist constitution.

Abe now has the parliamentary numbers to start a process that would bolster the role of the military -- an ambition he has long cherished.

(AFP )

A senior EU official on Monday denied a German newspaper report saying a "tortured" British Prime Minister Theresa May pleaded with Jean-Claude Juncker for help in stalled Brexit negotiations at a dinner in Brussels last week.

German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) said that May "begged" European Commission chief Juncker for help in the negotiations, warning Europeans of the immense political risk she had taken domestically in backing away from a hard Brexit and asking for a two-year transition period.

(AFP )

Two of Italy's wealthiest regions were drawing up plans Monday to claw back power and money from Rome after a victory for autonomy campaigners that could deepen divisions in Europe.

Over 95 percent of voters who flocked to the polls in the northern regions of Veneto and Lombardy, home to Venice and Milan respectively, supported a mandate to negotiate a better deal with the Italian capital.

(AFP )

Senator John McCain has taken a barely-veiled jab at President Donald Trump's avoidance of military service, sharply escalating their war of words.

Republican McCain was interviewed by broadcaster CSPAN on the 50th anniversary of his being shot down over Vietnam, which led to his five-year stay as a prisoner in the infamous "Hanoi Hilton" prison.

(AFP )

A German far-right militant belonging to the shadowy "Citizens of the Reich" movement was sentenced to life in prison Monday for killing a policeman during a dawn raid on his house.

Wolfgang Plan, 50, was convicted by the regional court in the southern city of Nuremberg of murder in a case that sparked a nationwide crackdown on radical right-wing groups.

He had denied intending to kill the 32-year-old officer during the trial, which started in August, as well as membership of the so-called Reichsbuerger (Citizens of the Reich).