Friday 20 October 2017

In the world

(AFP )

Japan's Emperor Akihito will step down on March 31, 2019, a report said Friday, the first imperial retirement in more than two centuries.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet top officials and members of the royal household next month before announcing the date, the Asahi Shimbun reported, citing unnamed government sources.

Akihito's eldest son, 57-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito, will ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne the next day on April 1, the paper said.

(AFP )

A North American family who were kidnapped by a Taliban faction in Afghanistan were held for five years in Pakistan before their release last week, CIA director Mike Pompeo said Thursday.

The account is at odds with the Pakistani military's version of events, which said it rescued the couple and their three children born in custody after a tip-off that the family had been moved into Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal areas from across the border in Afghanistan, where they were captured in 2012.

(AFP )

Colombia's Constitutional Court Thursday ordered the government to recover more than 120 pieces of indigenous treasure given to the Spanish royal family by Colombia's president in the 19th century.

According to the high court, the gift violated the constitution, which states an item of cultural importance cannot be given away.

It ordered the foreign ministry to undertake all necessary negotiations to bring back the pre-Colombian artifacts from the South American Quimbaya civilization, known for their gold work.

(AFP )

New Zealand's Prime Minister-elect Jacinda Ardern expressed confidence Friday that her new government would see out its full term, despite long-standing tensions between her coalition partners.

The charismatic 37-year-old will lead a three-pronged coalition comprising her centre-left Labour Party, the populist New Zealand First (NZF) and the Greens.

NZF leader Winston Peters and the Greens have a rocky history, which descended into name-calling earlier this year when the environmentalists said the 72-year-old's anti-immigration rhetoric was racist.

(AFP )

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis revealed new details of a Niger ambush that left four US servicemen dead, including that the body of one slain soldier was not immediately evacuated.

Mattis's comments come as questions mount in the US media about what happened on October 4, and criticism over President Donald Trump's handling of the aftermath.

The Pentagon boss said the body of Sergeant La David Johnson was "found later" by non-US forces following the ambush, which is thought to have been conducted by jihadists in an area where an Islamic State group affiliate operates.

(AFP )

At least 16 civilians including several children were killed in air strikes believed to have been carried out by Russian jets Thursday in Syria's Deir Ezzor province, a monitor said.

The eastern province is partly controlled by the Islamic State group, which is under pressure from several fronts in war-torn Syria.

"The civilians were killed as they tried to cross the Euphrates river near the town of Abu Kamal," the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

(AFP )

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday led calls for a cut to EU funding linked to Turkey's membership talks, to signal the bloc's unhappiness at Ankara's crackdown in the wake of a failed coup.

In the latest round of a bitter spat between Berlin and Ankara, the powerful German leader said it was important the EU acted in unity to defend its values, at a summit in Brussels.

Turkey, whose application to join the EU is effectively frozen, has alarmed European leaders with its hardline response to a thwarted bid to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last year.

(AFP )

British Prime Minister Theresa May urged European leaders on Thursday to allow negotiations to move forward on a Brexit deal she could "defend" to voters and her divided party.

Addressing a summit dinner in Brussels, the night before the other 27 leaders decide whether to advance the talks, May said "the clear and urgent imperative must be that the dynamic you create enables us to move forward together".

"There is increasingly a sense that we must work together to get to an outcome we can stand behind and defend to our people," she said, according to her office.

(AFP )

The United States and Turkey made "substantial progress" during talks to resolve an ongoing visa row, but Washington continues to protest over the arrests of Turkish employees from its diplomatic missions, the State Department said Thursday.

An American delegation that traveled to Turkey and was led by senior State Department official Jonathan Cohen "made substantial progress," spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters in Washington.

(AFP )

Amnesty International on Thursday alleged police and justice authorities in Poland are suppressing anti-government protesters, a claim flatly rejected by the interior ministry.

"The Polish government is cracking down on peaceful protesters in a blatant attempt to dissuade further protests," AI said in a new report published on Thursday.

Titled "Poland: on the streets to defend human rights", it focuses on several demonstrations against the rightwing government's approach to justice issues, the rule of law and the women's rights organised earlier this year.

(AFP )

The EU on Thursday pledged more money for Italy's work with Libya to stem migrant flows to Europe, with Brussels seeing a "real chance" to close the central Mediterranean route.

Italian Prime Minister Paulo Gentiloni has been working with his UN-backed Libyan counterpart Fayez al-Sarraj to sharply reduce the perilous migrant sea crossings to Italy, the main entry point to the European Union.

(AFP )

White House chief of staff John Kelly -- a former general whose son died in Afghanistan -- made an emotive defense of Donald Trump Thursday, amid a scandal over the president's phone call with a military widow.

Kelly, who spent nearly four decades in the Marine Corps, said he had advised Trump not to call the families of four servicemen killed in Niger personally, but was disgusted by how the issue had become politicized.

He blamed the Democratic lawmaker who made public the contents of a call between Trump and widow Myeshia Johnson.

(AFP )

Brazilian judges on Thursday conditionally released from jail the former head of the country's Olympic committee who is charged with corruption in an alleged vote-buying scandal to secure the 2016 games.

Federal police arrested Carlos Nuzman, 75, at his home in an upscale Rio neighborhood on October 5.

He was formally charged Wednesday with corruption for his role in the alleged $2-million scheme to secure votes in Rio's bid for last year's Olympics.

(AFP )

The United States should assume Kim Jong-Un's regime is "on the cusp" of getting a nuclear missile capable of striking US targets and work to prevent this, the head of the CIA said Thursday.

CIA director Mike Pompeo said President Donald Trump is determined to prevent North Korea from making the breakthrough "whether it happens on Tuesday or a month from Tuesday."

Both Pompeo and US National Security Adviser HR McMaster said Trump would still prefer to use sanctions and diplomacy to force Kim to come to the table to discuss disarmament.

(AFP )

The death toll from forest fires, which ravaged swathes of land in central Portugal in recent days, has risen to 43 after the discovery of another corpse, authorities said Thursday.

The latest grim discovery was made near a hospital in the central city of Coimbra, which was badly hit by the fires which broke out on Sunday and were largely controlled on Tuesday, with the help of rain and calmer winds.

"The toll has been revised upwards, we currently have 43 dead," said Jorge Dias, spokesman for the country's civil protection agency.

(AFP )

A man set himself on fire in the heart of Warsaw Thursday in what appeared to be a protest against Poland's rightwing government, according to leaflets found at the site.

"I was leaving a city council meeting and saw a man burning. People were trying to extinguish the flames with fire extinguishers," eyewitness Paulina Piechna-Wieckiewicz told AFP.

"Leaflets were strewn around him on the ground and a speaker was broadcasting the song "I Love and I Understand Freedom," by a 1990s Polish rock band, she added.

(AFP )

US lawmakers Thursday unveiled legislation to require disclosure of the source of many online political ads, a move aimed at preventing a recurrence of Russian social media manipulation in the 2016 election.

"First and foremost this is an issue of national security -- Russia attacked us and will continue to use different tactics to undermine our democracy and divide our country, including by purchasing disruptive online political ads," said Senator Amy Klobuchar, who introduced the bill with fellow Democrat Mark Warner and Republican John McCain.

(AFP )

A Baghdad court on Thursday issued an arrest warrant for the vice president of Iraqi Kurdistan on charges of "provocation" against Iraq's armed forces, the judiciary said.

Kosrat Rasul had referred to the Iraqi army and federal police as "occupation forces" in a statement on Wednesday, the court said.

In the statement, Rasul, who is also vice president of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two main Kurdish parties, criticised his own group for not having resisted the entry of Iraqi federal forces into the disputed northern city of Kirkuk on Monday.

(AFP )

George W. Bush issued a sharp denunciation of bigotry, white supremacy and falsehoods on Thursday, in what was seen as a clear rebuke of politics in the age of President Donald Trump.

In a New York speech, the two-term former president warned that the coarsening of the national tone and divisive themes are threats to American democracy.

"Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication," Bush said.

(AFP )

The EU closed ranks behind Spain in the Catalan crisis Thursday, saying there was "no space" for outside intervention by the bloc as France and Germany voiced strong support for Madrid.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron threw their weight behind Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in the dramatically escalating standoff over Catalonia's independence drive at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels.

(AFP )

Separatists in Catalonia want to declare independence, Spain's central government wants to stop them at all costs.

So what happens next? Will the Spanish region descend into a spiral of unrest? Or will Catalan leaders hold regional elections with the hope more supporters will have rallied to their cause?

Here are possible scenarios:

- Suspending autonomy-

Even if Catalonia is deeply divided over independence, the separatists in power want to declare independence based on a referendum on October 1 that went ahead despite a court ban.

(AFP )

An Israeli soldier convicted of manslaughter for shooting dead a prone Palestinian assailant has asked the country's president to pardon him, the presidency said Thursday.

"A request for pardon in the case of Elor Azaria was submitted today, Thursday, October 19, to President Reuven Rivlin," Rivlin's office wrote in English.

"The request will be considered by the relevant authorities and, as is customary in the case of pardon requests by soldiers, will be passed to the ministry of defence and the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) for consultation," it said.

(AFP )

Violence, crime, anti-Semitism and seething resentment of France: the toxic family life that shaped the notorious French jihadist Mohamed Merah has been vividly exposed in court this week.

Merah was killed by police in 2012 after gunning down seven people including three Jewish schoolchildren in southwest France, an attack that marked the start of a wave of Islamist violence.

His brother Abdelkader has been on trial since the start of October for alleged complicity, leading the prosecution to call witnesses to describe the dysfunctional family from the inside.

(AFP )

President Donald Trump on Thursday gave his administration ten-out-of-ten for its response a hurricane that hammered Puerto Rico exactly one month ago, as 80 percent of the US island remained without power.

Meeting Puerto Rico's governor Ricardo Rossello in the Oval Office, Trump acknowledged the massive scale of the rebuilding effort, but defended his administration's response.

"We have provided so much, so fast, we were actually there before the storm hit," Trump said. "They got hit dead center."

(AFP )

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of France on Thursday to denounce President Emmanuel Macron's planned labour reforms, but low turnouts suggested the resistance is running out of steam.

Numbers have steadily dwindled from a peak of around a quarter of a million who protested nationwide on September 12, the first major demonstration against Macron's reform agenda seen as pro-business.

(AFP )

Poland's conservative prime minister said Thursday she supports a draft law banning eugenic abortion in Poland, a devoutly Catholic country which already has one of the EU's most restrictive abortion rules.

Eugenic abortion refers to terminations carried out to eliminate potentially defective foetuses, often in pregnancies where Down syndrome has been detected during pre-natal screening.

(AFP )

South Sudanese forces stopped a UN peacekeeping convoy at gunpoint and beat the unit's commander in the latest clash with peacekeepers in the war-wracked African country, a report obtained by AFP on Thursday said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council that South Sudan's defence minister had apologized for the September 21 incident in Juba, the capital.

About 100 officers from South Sudan's national security service "surrounded the convoy and pointed weapons at the vehicles," said the confidential report sent to the council on Monday.

(AFP )

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will meet with President Donald Trump at the White House on Friday to discuss UN reform and other "issues of mutual concern", the UN spokesman said.

Guterres this week spoke out in defense of the Iran nuclear deal that Trump has refused to certify, describing the 2015 agreement as "essential" and "something that needs to be preserved."

The fate of the deal is now in the hands of the US Congress.

(AFP )

One month after the earthquake that jolted Mexico on September 19, flattening dozens of buildings across Mexico City and leaving 369 dead, many people are only just starting to pick up the pieces.

Here is a look at the recovery effort in four snapshots.

- Looking the part -

How do you keep going to work if your only clothes are the ones you were wearing when your home collapsed?

In Roma, a trendy neighborhood devastated by the quake, a group of friends came up with an original idea to help people in that situation.

(AFP )

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Moscow will retaliate if the United States takes measures against Kremlin-controlled media group RT.

Washington is pressuring the channel to register as a "foreign agent", which would force it to disclose personal information of employees and those interviewed.

Speaking at the annual Valdai Club meeting of international experts in Sochi, Putin said Moscow would take similar actions against US media in Russia if legal steps are taken to limit RT's activities in the United States.

(AFP )

The threat of fresh attacks on the West by foreign fighters fleeing the fallen Islamic State stronghold of Raqa is set to dominate a G7 meeting of interior ministers in Italy.

The two-day gathering, which kicked off Thursday on the Italian island of Ischia, comes just days after US-backed forces took full control of the jihadists' de facto Syrian capital.

(AFP )

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday that a Malaysian militant tipped to become the new leader of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia had been killed.

Mahmud Ahmad was described by the Philippine military as a "high value target" who had funded an attack by pro-IS militants on the southern city of Marawi in May and connected local insurgents with jihadists in the Middle East.

(AFP )

It's been a month since Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico and Samuel de Jesus still can't drive out of his isolated, blacked-out town.

In fact, much of the US territory in the Caribbean is still a crippled mess four weeks after that fierce Category Four storm.

The bridge connecting Rio Abajo to the rest of the island was swept away when Maria slammed the island on September 20. For two weeks Rio Abajo, located in a mountainous region in central-western Puerto Rico, was cut off and forgotten, without power or phone service.

(AFP )

Hundreds of protesters shouted down white supremacist leader Richard Spencer on Thursday at a university in Florida, forcing him to leave the stage without delivering his planned speech.

Officials were so fearful of disturbances that Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency ahead of the speech by Spencer, an organizer of a white supremacist rally that erupted in deadly violence in Charlottesville earlier this year.

The order enabled the governor to bring in law enforcement personnel from across the state to keep order in the town of Gainesville.

(AFP )

Turkish police have detained businessman and leading civil society activist Osman Kavala, reports and his lawyer said Thursday, raising fresh alarm over freedom of expression under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Kavala was detained at Istanbul's Ataturk airport after flying in from the southern city of Gaziantep, the Dogan news agency said.

His lawyer Ferat Cagil told AFP that Kavala was apprehended immediately after the flight landed late Wednesday and has been remanded in custody for seven days ahead of a court hearing.