Monday 25 September 2017

In the world

(AFP )

The White House on Monday batted back allegations that Donald Trump is not focused on the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, which has been clobbered by a series of deadly hurricanes.

Hurricane Maria hit the US island territory before dawn Wednesday as a Category Four storm, leaving vast tracts of the island with power or telephone coverage.

The five living former US presidents extended their "One America Appeal" -- set up in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey in Texas and Irma in Florida -- to help with the devastation in Puerto Rico.

(AFP )

One week before the announcement of the 2017 Nobel prizes begins, the Nobel Foundation said Monday that this year's winners will receive a larger monetary award worth over a million dollars.

"The Board of Directors of the Nobel Foundation decided at its meeting on September 14 that the 2017 Nobel Prize will amount to SEK 9 million ($1.1 million, 944.000 euros) per prize category," the private institution based in Stockholm said in a statement.

(AFP )

Police have charged Rwandan opposition leader Diane Rwigara, who was detained at the weekend along with her mother and sister, with "offenses to state security and forgery," according to a statement issued Monday.

Rwigara, who was blocked from challenging President Paul Kagame in August elections, is one of several opposition figures arrested earlier this month.

Police said the three women were detained Saturday, having already been held and released earlier in September on suspicions of tax evasion.

(AFP )

Spain's chief public prosecutor on Monday refused to rule out ordering the arrest of Catalonia's president as Spanish authorities continued a crackdown against a banned independence referendum in the region.

Jose Manuel Maza said Carles Puigdemont could be charged with civil disobedience, abuse of office and misuse of public funds for pressing ahead with preparations for the October 1 referendum.

"It's a decision that is possible but we have not considered that we should take it," Maza said during an interview with Onda Cero radio.

(AFP )

As thousands of volunteers gather to dig out victims of Mexico's devastating earthquake, rescuers have started organizing crash courses to stop well-meaning but inept helpers from making the situation worse.

Professional rescuers warned of chaos in the dangerous rubble piles, saying blundering volunteers could cause further collapse in unstable structures.

"You don't save lives with your heart, you save them with organization," said rescue worker Juan Carlos Gutierrez, his voice rising almost to a shout.

(AFP )

An Istanbul court on Monday ordered the release of leading Turkish journalist Kadri Gursel in the controversial trial of staff from the Cumhuriyet opposition newspaper, but ruled that four other detained suspects must stay in jail.

The judge ruled that Gursel, one of Turkey's most respected journalists, could go free after 11 months in jail though he remains on trial on charges of links to terror groups, an AFP correspondent said.

(AFP )

South Korea urged the United States to help dial down tensions with the North on Monday, after Pyongyang accused President Donald Trump of declaring war.

"It is very likely that North Korea will conduct further provocations," South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said in a speech in Washington.

"It is imperative that we, Korea and the US together, manage the situation... in order to prevent further escalation of tensions or any kind of accidental military clashes which can quickly go out of control."

(AFP )

A female US Marine on Monday became the first woman to complete the Corps' notoriously rigorous training course for infantry officers.

Many women serve in the Marines and other branches of America's armed forces but the woman, who has requested that her name not be released, is the first to make it through the Marine Corps' 13-week infantry officer training course.

"I am proud of this officer and those in her class," Marine Corps commandant General Robert Neller said.

(AFP )

As thousands of volunteers gather to dig out victims of Mexico's devastating earthquake, rescuers have started organizing crash courses to stop well-meaning but inept helpers from making the situation worse.

Professional rescuers warned of chaos in the dangerous rubble piles, saying blundering volunteers could cause further collapse in unstable structures.

"You don't save lives with your heart, you save them with organization," said rescue worker Juan Carlos Gutierrez, his voice rising almost to a shout.

(AFP )

Former Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Monday he would sue Russia in the European Court of Human Rights over allegations that he fought Kremlin forces in Chechnya.

His spokeswoman Olga Lappo wrote on Facebook that Yatsenyuk intended to prove "the entire absurdity of Russia's justice system".

Yatsenyuk headed the Kiev government from Ukraine's ouster of its Russian-backed leadership in a February 2014 revolution until his resignation over a seeming failure to fight corruption in April 2016.

(AFP )

Israel continues to build settlements "at a high rate," the UN envoy for the Middle East said Monday, in defiance of Security Council demands for an end to the expansion of Jewish outposts.

Reporting to the council, envoy Nickolay Mladenov accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government of using provocative rhetoric to shore up the drive for new settlements.

From June to September, new construction was mostly in east Jerusalem, with plans for some 2,300 new housing units -- a 30 percent increase from last year, he said.

(AFP )

Iraq has hanged 42 prisoners condemned to death for crimes including kidnapping, killing members of the security forces, car bombings and other attacks, a justice ministry statement said on Monday.

It said Sunday's executions were carried out in Nasiriyah prison in the south and that those put to death were convicted under Iraq's counter-terrorism law.

(AFP )

Interpol said Monday that it seized a record total of 25 million illicit and counterfeit medicines worth more than $51 million (42 million euros) in a weeklong worldwide operation.

Dietary supplements, pain killers, fake contact lenses, epilepsy medication and 1.2 tonnes of erectile dysfunction pills were among the drugs seized, the agency, based in Lyon, France, said in a statement.

Operation Pangea X was carried out by police, customs and health authorities across a record 123 countries and led to more than 400 arrests from September 12 to 19.

(AFP )

Spain's chief public prosecutor refused on Monday to rule out the arrest of Catalan president Carles Puigdemont for pushing ahead with an independence referendum deemed illegal by Madrid.

"Legally the conditions may be met" for Puigdemont's arrest, Jose Manuel Maza said during an interview with radio Onda Cero.

"It's a decision that is possible but we have not considered that we should take it," he added.

(AFP )

The controversial trial of 17 journalists and staff from the Turkish opposition daily Cumhuriyet began hearing witness testimony on Monday, with a key witness dismissing charges that the accused are linked to terror groups.

Five top figures from the newspaper, which has been deeply critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, remain in custody, though the remainder are now free while on trial.

In a case that has caused an international outcry, the staff members are charged with supporting in their coverage three groups that Turkey considers terror groups.

(AFP )

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Monday signed into law a controversial language bill which has sparked a standoff with Romania and other east European states.

The law states that starting in September 2020, students will be taught exclusively in Ukrainian from the fifth grade onwards, though they can still learn their native languages as a separate subject.

But Romanian President Klaus Iohannis has said the bill "drastically limits" the access of minorities to education in their native language, and cancelled a planned trip to Kiev this month.

(AFP )

Former army chief Philippe Mangou testified Monday for the first time against ex-Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, who is on trial for crimes against humanity, accused of inciting a wave of post-electoral violence.

Appearing for the prosecution at the International Criminal Court (ICC), Mangou sought to clarify his ties with the former head of state and distance himself from the bloodshed which erupted when Gbagbo refused to step down after losing the November 2010 presidential elections.

(AFP )

Britain's main opposition Labour party is performing a delicate balancing act on Brexit even as it takes on Prime Minister Theresa May's negotiating strategy.

Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer told Labour's annual conference in Brighton on Monday that the party was ready to "take charge" of negotiations with Brussels if May's government collapsed due to its own splits.

After months of bickering within the cabinet, Starmer said: "Labour are now the grown-ups in the room".

(AFP )

Anthony Weiner, the disgraced former US congressman and estranged husband of one of Hillary Clinton's closest aides, was sentenced to 21 months in prison on Monday for sexting a school girl.

The 53-year-old had pleaded guilty in May to sending explicit photographs and messages to a 15-year-old high school student last year as his wife worked on Clinton's presidential campaign.

(AFP )

North Korea's foreign minister on Monday accused US President Donald Trump of declaring war against his country and said Pyongyang was ready to defend itself by shooting down US bombers.

The latest threats stoked a week-long war of words that began when the American leader threatened in his address to the United Nations General Assembly to "totally destroy" North Korea if it launches an attack.

(AFP )

The EU and Britain resumed Brexit talks on Monday with fresh clashes, dimming hopes that a speech by Prime Minister Theresa May could provide a breakthrough in unlocking stalled negotiations.

The European Union's chief negotiator Michel Barnier insisted that he would not discuss May's call for a two-year post-exit transition deal until there was progress on key issues, including Britain's divorce bill.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump denied stoking racial tensions Monday, insisting his charged comments that prompted a wave of symbolic protests by NFL players were about patriotism.

After his verbal attacks on black athletes led players across the country to kneel in solidarity during the US national anthem at games over the weekend, the besieged US president played defense on Twitter.

Trump had sparked the furor by describing NFL players who chose to take a knee through renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner" as "sons of bitches" who should be fired.

(AFP )

Venezuela accused the United States on Monday of "psychological terrorism" designed to bring down the government after it was included in a list of eight countries targeted by a travel ban.

In a speech at the UN General Assembly, Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza described US President Donald Trump as acting like "the world's emperor."

Amid an escalating war of words, Arreaza said Venezuela would seek dialogue with Washington to "stop the madness and irrationality."

(AFP )

US rights groups on Monday pledged to keep fighting the new, open-ended version of President Donald Trump's controversial travel restrictions, insisting they remain a disguised Muslim ban.

Despite the removal of Sudan from the block on travelers from six mainly-Muslim countries, and the addition of Chad, Venezuela and North Korea to the list, activists and legal experts said Trump's intent remained the same, to sharply cut off the flow of Muslim visitors and immigrants into the United States.

(AFP )

Spain's Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis on Monday called on Catalonia's separatist leaders to "stop lying" and start talks with the central government, less than a week before a planned independence referendum.

"My message for him (Catalan President Carles Puigdemont) is that a hypothetical declaration of independence won't lead to anything because no one would recognise it," he told AFP in an interview.

(AFP )

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that Ankara would close its border with Iraq's Kurdistan region over an independence referendum and threatened the Iraqi Kurds with blocking their key oil exports.

Despite enjoying strong ties with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Turkey fears Monday's vote could stoke separatist aspirations among its own Kurdish minority. Erdogan also hinted the Turkish military were ready to act if needed.

(AFP )

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Monday received a toy table-tennis set from his Czech counterpart, a gift intended as a reflection of his country's back-and-forth talks with the EU.

Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said the German-made set, which is sold for roughly four euros ($5) in Prague and is coincidentally called "Little Boris", was a symbolic gift.

(AFP )

Russian air strikes on northwest Syria's mainly jihadist-controlled province of Idlib on Monday killed at least 27 civilians, a Britain-based monitor said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was the highest civilian death toll in Idlib since the region was designated in May as one of Syria's "de-escalation" zones under an accord between regime allies Russia and Iran, and rebel backer Turkey.

(AFP )

Paris fashion week begins on Monday with all eyes as much on the models as on what they are wearing.

French fashion's two biggest players, LVMH and Kering, said this month that they were banning ultrathin and underage models from their catwalks.

The two companies -- which between them control a raft of storied labels from Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton to Saint Laurent and Balenciaga -- have vowed to use only models 16 and older from now on.

The girls must also be at least size 34 (size six in Britain, 0 in the US).

(AFP )

Milan Fashion Week closed on Monday after six marathon days of powerful women, flashy sequins and frequent nods to the past, but near total avoidance of the world's current messy state.

The global fashion circus now heads to Paris, where it kicks into full swing on Tuesday. Here are 10 top trends from the Italian fashion capital's shows this season:

- Throwback-o-rama -

Gucci's creative mastermind Alessandro Michele opened the week with a show that was like totally 1980s. It was all big bangs, spaceman shades, boxy coats and even a striped track suit.

(AFP )

Poland's president on Monday unveiled plans to give himself more power over the judiciary, as the EU warned that Warsaw still risked unprecedented sanctions over what it calls a threat to the rule of law.

Andrzej Duda presented his own version of laws in place of government reform proposals he vetoed in July, to the surprise and dismay of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

"I have a proposal: I've prepared a bill to amend the constitution," Duda told reporters, adding that he had asked lawmakers to give their thoughts on the matter later Monday.

(AFP )

A teenager was killed on Monday in protests against instability in Bukavu, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a local official said.

The 14-year-old student died after being hit by a bullet. A further seven people were treated in hospital, an AFP correspondent said.

Protestor Robert Njangala accused police of firing bullets in the area where the teenager was killed, after attempts to disperse the crowd with tear gas failed.

(AFP )

Searchers on Monday found 17 more Hindu bodies in mass graves in Myanmar's Rakhine state, the government said, a day after 28 corpses were exhumed in what the army says is evidence of a massacre by Muslim Rohingya militants.

Northern Rakhine has been ravaged by communal violence since Rohingya insurgents staged deadly raids on police posts on August 25, unleashing an army crackdown that has displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians.

(AFP )

Bangladesh must not force Rohingya Muslims who have fled Myanmar to move to camps on a desolate island, the UN refugee chief said Monday.

Authorities have stepped up moves to house the Rohingya on the island in the Bay of Bengal since a new surge which now totals 436,000 refugees started arriving on August 25.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had mentioned the relocation plan when they met in July. There were already 300,000 Rohingya in camps near the border at Cox's Bazar before the latest influx started.

(AFP )

An official who was mayor of a northern Chinese city when a massive chemical explosion killed at least 165 people was Monday sentenced to 12 years in prison for graft, state media said.

Huang Xingguo, 62, headed the response committee after the explosion rocked Tianjin in August 2015 and devastated a huge swathe of the port city.

He was also acting party chief of the municipality at the time.

Huang was sentenced for taking bribes of over 40 million yuan ($6 million) and fined three million yuan, the official Xinhua news agency said.