Tuesday 25 July 2017

In the world

(AFP )

The US military has picked up indications that North Korea is prepping for a new missile test, potentially of an intercontinental ballistic missile, a US defense official said Tuesday.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official told AFP that if the test goes ahead, it would "probably" occur on July 27, which is the anniversary date of the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement.

"They're setting up for something," a second defense official said.

(AFP )

Venezuelan intelligence officials on Tuesday arrested two judges the opposition-run parliament had appointed to the supreme court, highlighting a fight between President Nicolas Maduro's government and a nascent "parallel" state in the making.

The detention of judges Jesus Rojas Torres and Zuleima Gonzalez happened in the eastern state of Anzoategui, the National Assembly said on Twitter.

Their arrests brought to three the number of opposition-named judges being held, following the arrest on Saturday of another, Angel Zerpa.

(AFP )

Poland's row with Brussels over judicial reforms threatens to undermine the bloc's legal order and stoke a growing divide between the EU's eastern and western states, officials and analysts say.

Though Poland's president vetoed some of the measures after mass protests, officials say Brussels still faces an underlying problem of being ill-prepared to face such challenges to democratic standards.

(AFP )

US Ambassador Nikki Haley on Tuesday said there was progress in talks with China on imposing what she termed as "pretty serious" new UN sanctions on North Korea in response to its first ICBM launch.

The United States has been locked in negotiations with China for nearly three weeks on a new raft of measures, and Haley said China was negotiating with Russia to win its backing for possible tougher sanctions.

"I think we are making progress," Haley told reporters.

(AFP )

Daniel Craig, the British actor who once complained he'd rather slash his wrists than play James Bond a fifth time, is returning after all as 007, US media reported Tuesday.

Citing two unnamed people "briefed on the matter," The New York Times said the 49-year-old's return to the big screen in 2019 was a "done deal" for the 25th movie in a franchise that has thrilled generations of cinemagoers.

(AFP )

Humanity will have used up its allowance of planetary resources such as water, soil, and clean air for all of 2017 by next week, said a report Tuesday.

Earth Overshoot Day will arrive on August 2 this year, according to environmental groups WWF and Global Footprint Network. This is a day earlier than in 2016.

It means humanity will be living on "credit" for the rest of the year.

"By August 2, 2017, we will have used more from Nature than our planet can renew in the whole year," the groups said in a statement.

(AFP )

The number of jobless in France dipped slightly in June, the first full month under President Emmanuel Macron, who has launched labour reforms aimed at boosting hiring.

After rising in May the number of unemployed in mainland France fell by 0.3 percent, or 10,900 people, to 3.48 million, the labour ministry announced.

The total number of jobless, including in French overseas territories, stood at 3.74 million, the ministry said.

The unemployment figures have been see-sawing since the start of the year. The jobless rate currently stands at 9.6 percent.

(AFP )

Turkey remains an EU membership candidate despite deep concerns over its rights and rule of law record preventing fresh accession talks, EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said Tuesday.

At a tense press conference with two visiting Turkish ministers, Mogherini however warned that "concrete steps" were needed before there could be any progress on Ankara's long-stalled candidacy.

"Clearly Turkey is and stays a candidate country," Mogherini said after meeting Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik in Brussels.

(AFP )

Botswana on Tuesday confirmed it will allow the Dalai Lama to visit next month as "a foreign dignitary" in the face of China's fierce opposition to the Tibetan spiritual leader.

Beijing views the Dalai Lama as a dangerous separatist campaigning for Tibetan independence and consistently condemns foreign governments who welcome him.

Botswana Foreign Minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi told lawmakers that the visit was "purely private" but added that the Dalai Lama would be granted the status of a foreign dignitary.

(AFP )

Shops closed their doors in Addis Ababa's largest market on Tuesday in protest at a recent hike in business taxes, bringing anger over the policy to the nation's capital.

Small businesses receiving their annual assessments have found themselves taxed at rates up to four times higher than in previous years.

That is according to residents of two towns outside Addis Ababa where strikes started earlier this month.

(AFP )

Rescuers coming to the aid of a dinghy packed with migrants off the coast of Libya said Tuesday they had discovered 13 bodies including those of pregnant women.

"Thirteen corpses in total. People who had names, surnames, mothers, fathers, friends, and lives," said Proactiva Open Arms, a Spanish NGO involved in rescues in the Mediterranean, on Twitter.

"We have found 167 people drifting," it said earlier noting that "several pregnant women and mothers" were among an initial toll of 11 dead and that their relatives were on board.

(AFP )

France asked for Europe's help Tuesday in fighting wild fires that have consumed swathes of forest in the southeast, one of which is raging near the popular resort of Saint-Tropez.

Over 4,000 firefighters and troops backed by 19 water bombers have been mobilised to extinguish the flames. At least seven firefighters have been injured since the fires broke out on Monday, according to the authorities.

(AFP )

A US Navy patrol ship fired warning shots at an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps vessel in the Persian Gulf Tuesday after it approached within 150 yards (137 meters), a US defense official said.

"The IRGCN boat was coming in at a high rate of speed. It did not respond to any signals, they did not respond to any bridge-to-bridge calls, they felt there was no choice except to fire the warning shots," the defense official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

(AFP )

The Polish president's surprise veto Monday of two controversial judicial reforms opens a period of political turbulence in Poland.

Polish analysts told AFP why the implications are hard to predict, including the impact on Warsaw's relations with Brussels.

- What prompted veto? -

President Andrzej Duda is a close ally of the ruling rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) party that had pushed the reforms, and as a result many assumed he would approve them.

(AFP )

Global ransomware attacks soared by over 11 percent in the 12 months to March, Europol reported Tuesday, but specialist tools developed with its partners had helped unlock some 28,000 encrypted devices.

"Ransomware has soared since 2012, with criminals lured by the promise of profit and ease of implementation," the European police agency said in a statement.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump touted the prospects of a "very big" trade deal with Britain on Tuesday as the minister tasked with clinching accords for the post-Brexit era met officials in Washington.

"Working on major Trade Deal with the United Kingdom. Could be very big & exciting. JOBS!" Trump tweeted.

"The E.U. is very protectionist with the U.S. STOP!" he added, repeating a common line of attack against trading partners for what he says are unfair policies that hurt US businesses.

(AFP )

South Africa's has insisted memories of an inspired innings will play no part when he returns to one of his favourite venues for the third Test against England at The Oval.

Five years ago at the south London ground, Amla made South Africa's highest individual Test score of 311 not out, his marathon effort playing a key role in an innings and 12-run win.

(AFP )

A US Navy patrol ship fired warning shots at an Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel in the Persian Gulf Tuesday after it approached within 150 yards (137 meters), a US defense official said.

"The IRGCN boat was coming in at a high rate of speed. It did not respond to any signals, they did not respond to any bridge-to-bridge calls, they felt there was no choice except to fire the warning shots," the defense official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

(AFP )

Sri Lanka's government Tuesday approved the sale to China of a majority stake in a loss-making but strategically-sited deep sea port for more than a billion dollars, the ports minister said.

The cabinet gave final approval to sell a 70 percent stake in Hambantota port for $1.12 billion to state-owned China Merchants Port Holdings, minister Mahinda Samarasinghe told reporters.

The Chinese will manage the port operations and the Sri Lankans the port security, the minister said. That, he added, should allay fears that the port could be misused by the Chinese.

(AFP )

The historic fountains in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican lay empty Tuesday after the tiny city state turned them off as Italy struggles with a prolonged draught.

The dry basins of the two fountains by 17th-century sculptors Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini were symbolic of a period of sweltering temperatures which have devastated farms and forced Rome to consider water rationing.

(AFP )

A far cry from the 1990s "ABC" campaign promoting abstinence and monogamy as HIV protection, scientists reported on new approaches Tuesday allowing people to have all the safe sex they want.

Moving away from the message to "Abstain, Be faithful, Condomise", modern prevention strategies include drug-doused vaginal rings, male circumcision, and taking anti-retroviral therapy (ART) medication, experts said at a HIV science conference in Paris.

(AFP )

EU member states on Tuesday extended the landmark Sophia rescue operation in the central Mediterranean for another 18 months amid growing concern at the huge number of migrants crossing to Europe.

More than 100,000 from North Africa and the Middle East have made the trip so far this year, often in flimsy boats run by unscrupulous people smugglers, according to UN figures.

Most have landed in Italy which complains bitterly that its EU partners have not done enough to share the burden.

(AFP )

A five-month legal battle over the fate of a terminally-ill British baby that drew the attention of Pope Francis and US President Donald Trump has also stoked an often angry debate about medical ethics and the courts.

Charlie Gard's parents waged a high-profile campaign with the help of social media and Britain's tabloids for him to receive experimental treatment in the United States, striking a chord worldwide.

(AFP )

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has demanded the United States return church bells seized by American forces in a bloody campaign more than a century ago, in another blast at his country's traditional ally.

American forces took three bells from the Catholic church of Balangiga town on the eastern island of Samar in 1901 as war booty in what historians said was a particularly brutal military operation in the new US colony.

(AFP )

Washington's ban on US citizens travelling to North Korea will have no effect on the country's tourism industry and Pyongyang does not care about it "at all", a senior development official insisted Tuesday.

The measure is due to be enacted this week and once it goes into force US passports will no longer be valid for travel to the isolated country, which is subject to multiple sets of United Nations sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes.

(AFP )

Thousands of firefighters battled forest fires in large areas of southeast France Tuesday, with one "extremely virulent" inferno raging near the jetset resort of Saint-Tropez, emergency services said.

The blazes have consumed 3,000 hectares (11 square miles) of land along the Mediterranean coast, in the mountainous hinterland and on the island of Corsica -- at the height of the region's holiday season.

Over 2,000 firefighters and 19 aircraft, including 10 Canadair water bombers, have been mobilised to quench the flames.

(AFP )

The two main rivals in conflict-ridden Libya agreed Tuesday to a ceasefire and committed to holding elections that French President Emmanuel Macron said would take place in spring 2018.

Macron said Libya's UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar, the military commander based in the east of the vast country, had shown "historic courage" in talks outside Paris.

"Today Prime Minister Sarraj and General Haftar can become the symbols of national unity and the commitment to reconciliation and peace," the French president said after hosting the meeting.

(AFP )

France is hosting a rare meeting on Tuesday between Libya's UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and military strongman Khalifa Haftar who backs a rival administration in the east.

The French government hopes the meeting will help clinch a political agreement to end years of chaos that has gripped Libya since a 2011 uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Here are some of the key challenges facing Libya, also bedevilled by jihadism and people smuggling.

- Establishing one central government -

(AFP )

Libya's UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and military strongman rival Khalifa Haftar are set to meet near Paris on Tuesday for talks aimed at easing tensions in their violence-wracked country.

It is their first encounter since a rare meeting in Abu Dhabi in May.

The talks come as Europe struggles to secure a political settlement in Libya after years of chaos since the NATO-backed uprising that ousted and killed veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

(AFP )

China on Tuesday called on the United States to stop "unfriendly" and "dangerous" military flights after two Chinese fighter jets intercepted an American surveillance plane over the East China Sea.

The US Navy EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft took evasive action Sunday after a Chinese J-10 warplane zoomed underneath it, slowed down and pulled up in front of it, the Pentagon said earlier.

China's defence ministry said the action of its pilots was "legal, necessary and professional".

(AFP )

Washington's ban on US citizens travelling to North Korea will have no effect on the country's tourism industry and Pyongyang does not care about it "at all", a senior development official insisted Tuesday.

The measure is due to be enacted this week and once it goes into force US passports will no longer be valid for travel to the isolated country, which is subject to multiple sets of United Nations sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes.

(AFP )

Beijing urged Southeast Asian nations on Tuesday to unite and "say no" to outside forces seeking to interfere in the South China Sea dispute, in an apparent swipe at the United States ahead of a regional summit.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the statement in Manila where he hailed the "strong momentum" in improving ties with the Philippines, a longstanding American ally which has moved closer to China under President Rodrigo Duterte.

(AFP )

Anger was growing in Pakistan Tuesday as the grief-stricken relatives of 26 people killed by a suicide bomber in Lahore a day earlier buried their loved ones and demanded the government publicly hang the masterminds of the attack.

Families and residents in the bustling eastern city demanded action as they attended funeral prayers, and as the chief minister of Punjab province Shahbaz Sharif -- brother of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif -- visited survivors in hospital.

(AFP )

Greece returned to the debt markets for the first time in three years on Tuesday, with reports saying it was on track to raise funds at a lower cost, marking a symbolic victory for the beleaguered eurozone nation.

The Greek news agency ANA said that initial transactions for the five-year government bonds put the yield -- the financing cost for the government or the rate of return for investors -- at 4.875 percent.

That is slightly below the 4.95 percent in Greece's last auction of five-year bonds in 2014, which was reportedly the target the Greek government had set.

(AFP )

An air strike killed eight civilians, half of them children, and wounded dozens more late Monday in a rebel-held region near the Syrian capital where a fragile truce was declared at the weekend.

A Russian military official said there were no air strikes in the ceasefire zone in the Eastern Ghouta region, calling reports to the contrary "a complete lie".

The strike hit the town of Arbin in the Eastern Ghouta rebel enclave at around 11:30 pm (2030 GMT), residents said.