Wednesday 26 July 2017

In the world

(AFP )

US Secretary of State on Wednesday Rex Tillerson denied suggestions that he plans to resign because of disagreement with the White House.

"I'm not going anywhere," Tillerson told reporters said as received Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.

Tillerson described his relationship with President Donald Trump as "good" and he would remain in his job "as long as the president lets me."

Tillerson's job status has been the subject of much speculation this week in Washington following a report from CNN.

(AFP )

A rural movement in Nicaragua that opposes the government's plan to build a cross-country canal to rival Panama's on Wednesday said it has taken its fight to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The matter would be lodged in coming days, alleging violations of thousands of people's livelihoods and property along the route of the planned waterway, the director of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, Gonzalo Carrion, told a news conference.

(AFP )

German car giant Volkswagen, facing allegations that it colluded with fellow automakers on diesel emissions and other issues, insisted Wednesday that technical exchanges between manufacturers were "quite common".

VW, already facing tens of billions of dollars in compensation and fines after admitting to cheating on diesel emissions, reported the industrial cooperation to German competition authorities in a letter seen by the Der Spiegel weekly, as did Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler.

(AFP )

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Wednesday claimed that his country's first bond sale in three years would help convince the European Central Bank to provide additional liquidity to its struggling economy.

Tsipras argued that the "positive" sale would persuade the ECB to induct Greece into its bond-buying programme, a Greek goal for months.

"This goal still lies ahead and yesterday's (bond sale) brings it closer," Tsipras told Alpha TV.

"Now conditions (to request access) are much more favourable," he said.

(AFP )

The number of people registering to buy newly legalized marijuana in Uruguay jumped by almost 50 percent in the first week of sales, according to official figures released Wednesday.

The small South American country is the first in the world to legalize pot from production to sale.

The drug is sold only to people who have officially registered with a licensed pharmacy, and with a monthly limit of 40 grams.

(AFP )

Seven Mexicans were among the 10 migrants who suffocated in an overcrowded, sweltering truck smuggling them into the United States, Mexico said Wednesday, up from an initial figure of four.

The Mexican foreign ministry said it had confirmed that at least 34 Mexicans were being transported in the truck, whose driver was arrested after the horrific scene was discovered Sunday at a Walmart parking lot in San Antonio, Texas.

(AFP )

Catalonia's majority separatist lawmakers approved a reform Wednesday to fast-track bills through parliament, a move they hope will pave the way to holding an independence referendum banned by Madrid.

The vote came as the stand-off between the Spanish region's pro-independence government and Madrid reached such heights that opposition MPs have dubbed it unprecedented and an attack on democratic rights.

The reform, passed with 72 votes for and 63 against, means that any piece of legislation in Catalonia can now be adopted quickly, with fewer checks and balances.

(AFP )

They come every day, spreading out prayer mats in a Jerusalem street under the watchful eyes of Israeli police and refusing to enter one of the world's most sensitive holy sites.

Nearly two weeks into a standoff over Israeli security measures at the Haram al-Sharif compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, the days have developed a rhythm.

Daytime prayers are small -- usually a few hundred worshippers gather at the Lions' Gate entrance to the walled Old City.

Supporters distribute food and drinks to the protestors.

(AFP )

France's Emmanuel Macron continued to reach for the stars Wednesday, hosting R&B icon Rihanna for what she called "incredible" talks at the presidential palace in Paris two days after Irish rocker Bono.

Barbados-born Rihanna is an ambassador for the Global Partnership for Education, which is trying to raise $2 billion in annual funding by 2020 towards schooling for children in developing countries.

Last month the 29-year-old singer challenged Macron on Twitter to commit to the fund, as she has done with other leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

(AFP )

The UN Security Council on Wednesday warned that the Democratic Republic of Congo and the region could face further turmoil unless a political deal reached six months ago to pave the way to elections is implemented.

Under the agreement reached on New Year's Eve, elections are to be held this year in the large mineral-rich African country that would be the DR Congo's first democratic transition.

Concerns are growing however that the deal is unraveling after the head of the electoral commission said this month that the vote will likely not be held this year.

(AFP )

Plans to ration water in drought-hit Rome could have serious consequences for public health, Italy's health minister warned Wednesday.

The Lazio region has said that emergency measures to battle the prolonged dry spell could lead to staggered water supply shutdowns in neighbourhoods in the capital for eight hours daily, starting from this weekend.

Such a move could "seriously compromise sanitary hygiene standards in accommodation structures and restaurants in the capital, as well as in all public offices," Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin said.

(AFP )

The US state of Ohio ended its three-year moratorium on the death penalty Wednesday, using a new drug cocktail that included a controversial sedative to execute a convicted child murderer and rapist.

Ronald Phillips, 43, was put to death by lethal injection, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said. He was pronounced dead at 10:43 am (1443 GMT).

Phillips was 19 years old in 1993 when he was convicted of raping and killing three-year-old Sheila Marie Evans, his then-girlfriend's daughter.

(AFP )

The International Monetary Fund announced Wednesday it will launch a new tool to support governments in financial trouble -- but one that involves no money -- formalizing a step it took last week for Greece.

Instead of providing cheap loans to member countries, the new IMF tool will serve as a good housekeeping seal of approval for a government's reform program.

With that approval in hand governments would be more likely to be able to access other forms of financing from banks and bond markets, the IMF said in a statement.

(AFP )

The European Union stepped up pressure Wednesday on rebellious eastern states to take in their fair share of refugees under mandatory quotas adopted at the height of the migrant crisis.

Hungary and Slovakia looked set to see their appeal against the plan rejected after the advisor to the EU's top court said the quotas were a fair way of easing the pressure on Greece and Italy.

The European Commission meanwhile took its landmark legal action against Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to the next level over their refusal to take in any asylum-seekers under the system.

(AFP )

One of Germany's most notorious Islamist preachers, Sven Lau, was sentenced Wednesday to five and a half years in jail for backing a terrorist group.

The German Salafist convert, who had previously sparked outrage by forming a "sharia police" vigilante group, was convicted for helping to recruit for Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA) or Army of Emigrants and Supporters.

JMA, which includes Chechens, Uzbeks and Tajiks, first emerged in Syria in 2012, is deemed a terrorist organisation by Germany.

(AFP )

President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that transgender people may not serve "in any capacity" in the US military, upending a key policy from Barack Obama's administration and drawing swift condemnation.

Announcing the major policy change on Twitter, Trump said the military should be focused on "overwhelming victory," and not burdened with the "tremendous" medical costs and disruptions that transgender personnel would entail.

(AFP )

A new bout of violence in the Central African Republic that has killed nine peacekeepers this year risks derailing years of efforts to restore a fragile stability, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Wednesday.

Guterres condemned the killing of two Moroccan peacekeepers who were ambushed in the southeast town of Bangassou on Tuesday, just two days after another soldier was killed in an attack on the same contingent.

The United Nations has blamed anti-Balaka Christian militias for the attack.

(AFP )

Fourteen members of a Pakistani village council have been arrested for ordering the rape of a teenage girl as punishment for a rape committed by her brother, police said Wednesday.

The incident occurred earlier this month in the neighbourhood of Raja Ram in Muzaffarabad, a suburb of the central city of Multan, investigators told AFP.

"A jirga (village council) had ordered the rape of a 16-year-old girl as punishment, as her brother had raped a 12-year-old," said Allah Baksh, a local police official.

(AFP )

President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that transgender people may not serve "in any capacity" in the US military, citing the "tremendous medical costs and disruption" their presence would cause.

In late June, Pentagon chief Jim Mattis delayed for six months a plan put in place under Barack Obama's administration to start accepting transgender recruits.

An estimated 2,500 to 7,000 transgender people are among the 1.3 million active duty service members.

(AFP )

Two teenagers who murdered an elderly French priest a year ago, after pledging loyalty to the Islamic State group, failed to sow religious division, President Emmanuel Macron told a memorial service Wednesday.

Jacques Hamel, 85, was conducting mass in the northern town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen, when the attackers burst in and slit his throat in front of five worshippers.

The gruesome attack caused widespread horror, coming two weeks after a radical used a truck to crush 86 people to death in the southern city of Nice.

(AFP )

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's government plans to abolish the agency tasked with recovering the billions of dollars plundered by late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his allies, a cabinet member said Wednesday.

The announcement was the latest development in the remarkable political rehabilitation of the Marcos clan, which has accelerated since family ally Duterte became president last year.

(AFP )

The EU warned Poland on Wednesday it would suspend its voting rights if it pushes ahead with controversial court reforms, sparking a furious reaction from Warsaw.

Poland's right-wing government accused Brussels of "blackmail" after the European Commission signficantly raised the stakes in the confrontation.

President Andrzej Duda's unexpected vetoing of two controversial reforms, including one targeting the supreme court, had not ended the risk to the independence of the Polish judiciary, Brussels said.

(AFP )

Hala Gamal looks at a pile of rubble on Cairo's Warraq island -- all that's left of her house after a police operation to evict residents accused of squatting on state land.

Gamal, 31, said she had left the Nile island in the capital's north on July 16 to buy breakfast. She returned to find her home destroyed and her children on the street.

As part of a government campaign to reclaim hundreds of thousands of hectares of state-owned land, police stormed the island and demolished several homes, sparking clashes that left one resident dead.

(AFP )

Libya's UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj has appealed to Italy to send ships into Libyan territorial waters to help combat human trafficking, Rome said Wednesday.

Sarraj "sent a letter requesting the Italian government provide the technical support of Italian naval units in the joint struggle in Libyan waters against human traffickers," Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said.

Gentiloni said the ministry of defence was considering the request and "the options will be discussed with the Libyan authorities and the Italian parliament".

(AFP )

Beijing issued a warning to Botswana Wednesday over its plans to host the Dalai Lama next month, asking the African nation to respect China's "core interests".

The Tibetan spiritual leader, who lives in exile in India, is due to speak at the three-day "Mind and Life Dialogue" conference in Botswana's capital Gaborone, which begins August 17.

China's officially atheist ruling Communist party views the Dalai Lama as a dangerous "separatist" campaigning for Tibetan independence and consistently condemns foreign governments who welcome him.

(AFP )

The EU warned Wednesday of swift retaliation after the US House of Representatives voted to impose tougher sanctions on Russia in a move Brussels says could punish energy firms and divide the West.

The Kremlin responded coolly to the sanctions vote, saying that President Vladimir Putin would wait for the approval by the US Senate, the final step necessary before the law goes for signature by US President Donald Trump.

(AFP )

At least 26 Afghan soldiers have been killed in a Taliban attack on a military base in southern Kandahar province, the defence ministry said Wednesday, the latest blow to the country's struggling security forces.

The Afghan air force said it carried out strikes backing up soldiers on the ground during the hours-long attack on the base, which began late Tuesday and ended in the early hours of Wednesday.

(AFP )

A tense standoff was underway between Israel and Muslim worshippers at a Jerusalem holy site Wednesday despite the removal of metal detectors, with concerns of major unrest this week if no resolution is found.

Muslims have refused to enter the site and have prayed in the streets outside for more than a week after Israel installed new security measures at the Haram al-Sharif compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount.

The measures followed an attack that killed two policemen, and included metal detectors at entrances.

(AFP )

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy denied any knowledge of an illegal financing scheme within his conservative Popular Party as he testified as a witness at a major graft trial Wednesday.

Rajoy gave his testimony in sometimes bad-tempered exchanges as dozens of protesters outside the court blew whistles and held banners reading "Make the PP illegal".

This was the first time a serving prime minister in Spain has testified in a criminal case.

(AFP )

Clashes erupted overnight in a rebel-held enclave outside Damascus, which was also hit by government air strikes despite a truce deal, a monitor said on Wednesday.

An internationally brokered ceasefire zone covering parts of Eastern Ghouta went into effect on Saturday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the overnight fighting was the first in the enclave since the truce began.

Government troops clashed with fighters of the Faylaq al-Rahman rebel group in the Ain Tarma district, the Britain-based monitoring group said.

(AFP )

President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that Iran would respond in kind to any breach by the United States of the 2015 nuclear deal after the House of Representatives passed a new sanctions bill.

"If the enemy steps over part of the agreement, we will do the same, and if they step over the entire deal, we will do the same too," Rouhani said at a cabinet meeting aired by state broadcaster IRIB.

The Iranian parliament's national security and foreign affairs committee said it would hold an extraordinary session on Saturday to discuss its response.

(AFP )

A former member of an IRA splinter group on Wednesday admitted to a German court his role in carrying out an attack at a British base in Germany 21 years ago.

The Belfast-born man, 48, identified by Irish media as James Corry, was arrested in December at Frankfurt Airport after his extradition by Irish authorities.

A total of 15 hearings have been scheduled for the trial for attempted murder, according to the court in the city of Osnabrueck in northwestern Germany, which did not name the suspect.

(AFP )

An overwhelming vote by the US House of Representatives to slap tough new sanctions on Moscow is a "serious step" towards wrecking chances of improving ties, Russia's deputy foreign minister said on Wednesday.

"What has happened goes beyond the realms of common sense," Sergei Ryabkov told state-run TASS news agency.

"The authors and sponsors of this bill are taking a very serious step towards destroying the possibilities for normalising relations with Russia."

(AFP )

Britain will outlaw the sale of new diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2040 in a bid to cut air pollution, the government was set to announce later Wednesday.

Enviroment minister Michael Gove is due to present the government's keenly-awaited £3 billion ($3.9 billion, 3.4 billion euro) air pollution plan, which is expected to demand that councils propose measures by March next year to reduce nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels, according to British media reports.

(AFP )

A prominent Venezuelan opposition leader, in a video made while under house arrest, called Wednesday on the military to withdraw its support for a government plan to rewrite the constitution.

Leopoldo Lopez, placed under house arrest earlier this month after nearly three and a half years in a military prison, made the appeal hours before the start of a 48-hour general strike against the leftist government of President Nicolas Maduro.