Wednesday 22 November 2017

In the world

(AFP )

Lebanon's prime minister Saad Hariri returned to his home country late Tuesday, on the eve of its independence day and after a nearly three-week absence dominated by his surprise resignation.

Hariri stepped down from his post in a televised address on November 4 from Saudi Arabia and then remained in Riyadh, where he spent two weeks before making brief trips to Abu Dhabi, Paris and Cairo.

His plane touched down at Beirut international airport shortly before midnight, a statement from his office said.

(AFP )

The United States on Tuesday unveiled new sanctions targeting North Korean shipping and Chinese traders doing business with Pyongyang, again raising the pressure on the pariah state to abandon its nuclear program.

The measures came a day after President Donald Trump declared North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism, a spot on a US blacklist Pyongyang had shed nearly a decade ago.

"These designations include companies that have engaged in trade with North Korea cumulatively worth hundreds of millions of dollars," US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

(AFP )

A top official in France's Socialist Party was expelled on Tuesday days after tweeting an image with anti-Semitic overtones against President Emmanuel Macron.

Gerard Filoche, a member of the Socialists' national bureau, claims to have written the tweet out of "negligence", but the party's National Office voted unanimously to exclude him in his absence.

"The National Office has voted for the exclusion of Gerard Filoche. He can no longer speak on behalf of the Socialist Party, nor be a member," party coordinator Rachid Temal said at a press conference.

(AFP )

A second federal judge Tuesday ruled against President Donald Trump's ban on transgender military personnel, further undermining his order by saying Pentagon-funded sex reassignment surgeries can continue to go ahead.

Trump in July sent out three tweets decreeing that transgender troops could not serve "in any capacity," citing "tremendous" medical costs and disruption.

The tweets, later followed by a formal White House memorandum, set off a roar of protest -- with several service members and rights groups quick to sue.

(AFP )

An international search mission for a missing Argentine submarine entered its sixth day Tuesday as uncertainty over the fate of its 44 crew members gave way to rising anguish for families troubled by earlier false hopes.

The ARA San Juan made its last contact with authorities on November 15 to report a mechanical breakdown, but, as storm conditions which had impeded rescuers eased, officials said they were not ceding to despair yet.

(AFP )

The United States unveiled new economic sanctions Tuesday targeting North Korean shipping and Chinese traders doing business with Pyongyang.

The measures came a day after President Donald Trump declared North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism and warned of a string of new measures against its banned nuclear program.

"These designations include companies that have engaged in trade with North Korea cumulatively worth hundreds of millions of dollars," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin held a lengthy phone call Tuesday, stressing the need to ensure "the stability of a unified Syria," the White House said.

Unifying Syria is an extremely difficult proposition, with the country currently divided between forces loyal to Kremlin-allied strongman Bashar al-Assad, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and several jihadist groups and rebel units.

(AFP )

The Bosnian Serb political leader Milorad Dodik said he believed Ratko Mladic would remain "a legend" regardless of the verdict at his genocide trial on Wednesday.

UN war crimes judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) are to hand down their long-awaited judgement on "The Butcher of Bosnia" in The Hague.

Despite the multiple charges against him, which include genocide, Mladic remains a hero to many in Serbia.

(AFP )

A scandal-plagued top politician in Rio de Janeiro was ordered by a court Tuesday to go back to jail, just four days after the state legislature provoked an uproar by letting him out.

Jorge Picciani, speaker of the state legislature, surrendered to police after an appeals court overturned the legislature's earlier ruling, local media reported.

The assembly on Friday had voted overwhelmingly to let him out while he awaits trial, arguing it had authority over sitting politicians. That vote prompted fury from many in a city exasperated with rampant corruption and crime.

(AFP )

US forces conducted an air strike against the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shabaab group in Somalia on Tuesday, killing more than 100 jihadists, military officials said.

"In coordination with the Federal Government of Somalia, US forces conducted an air strike in Somalia against an al-Shabaab camp on Tuesday, November 21 at approximately 10:30 am local Somalia time (0730 GMT), killing more than 100 militants," the US Africa Command said in a statement.

The operation occurred 125 miles (200 kilometers) northwest of the capital, Mogadishu.

(AFP )

Hundreds of armed men in military fatigues on Tuesday blocked access to government buildings in eastern Ukraine's rebel-held Lugansk as infighting spiked between rebel factions.

The patrols began after an apparent standoff between the rebel region's self-proclaimed leader Igor Plotnitsky and the interior minister, who's been accused of seeking to destabilise the war-scarred city.

(AFP )

Endangered Amazon hardwood sold by a Brazilian exporter allegedly behind the massacre of nine farmers this year is being sold unimpeded around the world, Greenpeace said Tuesday.

The environmental pressure group said the purchase of murder-tainted products by importers from as far apart as Japan and the United States illustrates lack of control over a logging industry ravaging the world's greatest rainforest.

(AFP )

Spain on Tuesday defended holding in prison nearly 500 migrants who arrived in the country by boat.

Following criticism by rights groups, the Spanish government said it was due to a lack of space at immigration detention centres.

"We feel it is better that the migrants be held in a centre with the latest technology, with sanitary facilities, showers, heating, beds, sports areas than to put them in camps like in other countries," Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido told radio Onda Cero.

(AFP )

Top Chinese oil company CEFC China Energy on Tuesday denied any involvement in an alleged multi-million dollar bribery scandal that US investigators say helped the giant win business advantages in Africa.

US officials announced Monday that they had arrested Hong Kong's former home affairs secretary and the ex-foreign minister of Senegal for leading the alleged scam, with some deals arranged in the halls of the United Nations.

(AFP )

Campaigners set up a food bank outside British Prime Minister Theresa May's Downing Street residence on Tuesday in a protest against austerity policies on the eve of a new national budget being announced.

The demonstration by the People's Assembly Against Austerity group saw crates carrying tonnes of tins, milk cartons and fruit juices piled up on the street as campaigners urged the public to donate.

"The rich in this country are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer and poorer all the time," Tom Griffiths, one of the organisers, told AFP.

(AFP )

Spain and Portugal are grappling with a devastating drought which has left rivers nearly dry, sparked deadly wildfires and devastated crops -- and experts warn that prolonged dry spells will become more frequent.

The national weather office says 94 percent of Portugal is enduring what it classifies as an "extreme" drought.

"The country has never experienced a drought like this in the sense that it worsened significantly in October, a time of the year when the situation normally improves," a climatologist with the weather office, Fatima Espirito Santo, told AFP.

(AFP )

Danish police said Tuesday divers had recovered an arm in waters off Copenhagen, where the dismembered head, torso and legs of Swedish journalist Kim Wall were found in October.

"We have not yet determined if it is a right or left arm, or to whom the arm belongs. But we are working on the assumption that it is linked to the submarine case," Copenhagen police inspector Jens Moller Jensen said in a statement.

Danish inventor Peter Madsen, 46, in October admitted dismembering the corpse of Swedish journalist Kim Wall.

(AFP )

Venezuela on Tuesday arrested the acting president and five other top executives in charge of Citgo, the US refinery subsidiary of troubled state oil company PDVSA, on corruption charges.

"Six senior executives have been arrested," said chief prosecutor Tarek William Saab, adding that the charges included embezzlement, bid rigging, money laundering and criminal association.

He speculated that they might have been assisting "a foreign power" pursuing an anti-Venezuelan strategy -- an allusion to the United States.

(AFP )

Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, 93, was until his resignation on Tuesday the oldest serving head of state in the world.

He leaves behind around a dozen world leaders who are in power in their eighties and nineties.

- Two rulers over 90 -

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, who at 91 has been on the throne for a record 65 years, on Tuesday became the world's oldest leader. She became queen in 1952 at the age of 25 following the death of her father, George VI.

(AFP )

Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, who resigned on Tuesday, is the latest in a long list of African leaders forced from power by coups, rebels and popular uprisings since 2010.

Aged 93, Mugabe stepped down days after a military takeover and following unprecedented demonstrations against his rule.

- 2010 -

- NIGER: On February 18 president Mamadou Tandja is overthrown in a military coup after changing the constitution in order to remain in power beyond two terms. He had been voted into office in 1999.

- 2011 -

(AFP )

Key dates in the life of Robert Mugabe, who resigned as president of Zimbabwe Tuesday.

- February 21, 1924: Mugabe is born into a Catholic family at Kutama Mission, northwest of Salisbury, the capital of the self-governing British colony of Southern Rhodesia.

- 1960: After years outside the country as a student and teacher, Mugabe returns to Rhodesia and joins the National Democratic Party (NPD) to challenge colonial rule.

(AFP )

Additional remains of a US soldier who was killed in an ambush in Niger last month have been found in the West African nation, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said a joint US Africa Command military team on November 12 discovered the remains at the site where Sergeant La David Johnson's body was recovered following the October 4 attack.

"Today, we can confirm that the Armed Forces Medical Examiner has positively identified these remains as those of Sergeant Johnson," White said in a statement, without giving any additional details.

(AFP )

Czech President Milos Zeman on Tuesday called for an end to EU sanctions against Russia imposed over the Ukraine crisis, as well as the retaliatory measures introduced by Moscow.

Zeman, a pro-Russia veteran of the left in EU member the Czech Republic, made the remarks following a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

"I have not accepted these sanctions... I have been opposed to them for a long time. This is not just a question of European sanctions towards Russia, but also of Russian sanctions towards the EU," Zeman said.

(AFP )

On Greece's rural border with Turkey, a sizeable Muslim minority has lived for decades, regulating their family affairs under Islamic sharia law, a legacy traced back to century-old treaties.

Now, the leftist government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has announced plans to make sharia optional for such disputes, following recurring criticism by rights groups and a looming ruling by the European court of human rights.

(AFP )

Senior British ministers have agreed to offer more money to Brussels in Brexit negotiations, but only as part of a final deal on leaving the EU, a government source said Tuesday.

Leading eurosceptics were among ministers who signed off on the idea at a cabinet sub-committee meeting late Monday in a bid to move the withdrawal negotiations onto trade.

The source told AFP that "no numbers" were discussed, and stressed that the agreement to up the financial offer was dependent on a wider deal on future relations being struck.

(AFP )

A suicide car bomber killed at least 24 people in an attack on a busy market in a town north of Baghdad on Tuesday, officials said.

Dozens more were wounded when the attacker blew up the vehicle in the middle of the fruit and vegetable market in Tuz Khurmatu.

Mayor Adel Shakur al-Bayati said 24 people were killed.

A doctor at the town's general hospital put the number of wounded at 80, some of them lightly injured.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

(AFP )

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has clamped down on attempts to make French more female-friendly, issuing a ban on so-called "inclusive writing" in official texts, according to a memo seen by AFP on Tuesday.

Moves to end the linguistic dominance of the masculine over the feminine have sparked impassioned debate in France, coming as a flurry of revelations about sexual harassment and assault continue to dominate global headlines.

(AFP )

Morocco's currency regulator has announced a ban on transactions in bitcoin and other virtual currencies, in a country where foreign exchange flows are tightly controlled.

"Transactions via virtual currencies constitute a breach of regulations, punishable by penalties and fines," the Offices des Changes said in a statement on its website.

The announcement came a week after Moroccan digital services company MTDS said it would accept payment in bitcoin.

MTDS said it was the first time the regulator had taken a clear position on bitcoin payments.

(AFP )

The United Nations said Tuesday that Sudan had to disarm militias in Darfur before those displaced by the conflict could return home, rebutting a push by President Omar al-Bashir to close the camps.

Bashir, indicted for genocide and war crimes related to the Darfur conflict, said earlier this month that the crisis in the region had ended and that it was time to shut camps hosting hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs).

But in a new report, the UN human rights office and African Union mission in Darfur indicated that Bashir's call was premature.

(AFP )

The presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran will meet on Wednesday for a summit aimed at bringing peace in Syria.

Here is what you need to know about the trio's summit at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, hosted by Vladimir Putin ahead of parallel UN-led talks in Geneva set to be relaunched on November 28.

- Building on Astana talks -

Syrian regime backers Russia and Iran and rebel supporter Turkey have co-sponsored peace talks in Astana, the capital of Russian ally Kazakhstan.

(AFP )

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday declared "victory" over the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria as the jihadists cling to just a few remaining scraps of territory.

Iran is one of the main international backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has sent military advisers and thousands of "volunteers" to fight IS on the ground in Syria and Iraq.

(AFP )

The Palestinians have frozen all meetings with the United States after it decided to close their representative office in Washington, officials said on Tuesday.

"What is the use of holding any meetings with them when they close our office? Our meetings begin from our office, and the arrangements are there," Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki told AFP.

"In practice by closing the office they are freezing all meetings and we are making that official."

(AFP )

Germany's president was to start a difficult round of talks with party leaders Tuesday in a last-ditch attempt to save the EU's top economy from the political turmoil sparked by the collapse of Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition talks.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who takes centre stage because he can call snap elections, is expected to use his diplomatic skills as a two-time former foreign minister to persuade reluctant party chiefs to return to the negotiating table.

(AFP )

A Norwegian court on Tuesday granted a reprieve to seven wolves near Oslo caught in the middle of a battle between environmental activists and sheep farmers.

The Oslo district court granted a request from the Norwegian branch of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and issued an injunction temporarily stopping the hunt of 12 wolves in the Oslo region -- five of which have already been killed -- pending a final decision on the matter.

(AFP )

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, whose resignation from Saudi Arabia earlier this month caused widespread consternation, is set to return to Beirut this week as part of a deal brokered by France.

But will his resignation stand, forcing negotiations on a new government, or might he withdraw the decision? Here are some of the possible scenarios in the coming days.

- Hariri's resignation stands -

Under Lebanon's constitution, the president is bound to accept a prime minister's resignation however it is tendered, Lebanese constitutional expert Edmond Rizk told AFP.