Saturday 24 March 2018

In the world

(AFP )

Voting was underway in Turkmenistan Sunday in a parliamentary election which could indicate a path towards hereditary succession in the authoritarian, gas-rich former Soviet state.

Polls in the Central Asian country opened at 0200 GMT and were set to close at 1400 GMT.

A total of 284 candidates are competing for 125 seats in parliament, but only one stands out from the crowd -- Serdar Berdymukhamedov, son of all-powerful President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.

(AFP )

Jose Antonio Abreu, a musician, politician and economist who created a network of more than 1,500 orchestras and choirs for young people in Venezuela, died on Saturday at age 78.

Known as "El Maestro" in his home country, Abreu started the project in 1975, and his internationally-acclaimed "El Sistema" ("The System") has grown to include more than 900,000 children, taught by 10,000 teachers throughout Venezuela.

(AFP )

Yemen's rebel-held port of Hodeida, a lifeline for a war-battered country dependent on food imports, remains "a wasteland" three months after a Saudi-led coalition said it lifted a blockade.

The assessment by humanitarian and port officials comes as Saudi Arabia and its regional allies push into the fourth year of their military intervention in Yemen.

(AFP )

Cricket Australia said Sunday that Steve Smith will remain captain while they investigate the ball-tampering scandal during the third Test against South Africa which has plunged the game into crisis.

There have been calls for Smith to step down or be sacked over the premeditated plan hatched during the lunch break on Saturday's third day in Newlands, after the captain admitted being the mastermind.

(AFP )

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a leading campaigner for Brexit, dismissed as "ludicrous" Saturday allegations that his side broke electoral spending rules during the 2016 EU referendum campaign.

A whistleblower claimed that Vote Leave, the main campaign group advocating Brexit, sought to avoid a legal cap on spending by diverting funds to a smaller group to which it had close ties.

Coordination between supposedly independent campaigns is not allowed under electoral law.

(AFP )

Life on Wake Island seems, much of the time, rather sedate.

The blank "Flight Movement" board at this tiny airfield in the middle of the Pacific promises zero flights, and no movement.

But every day or so, a US military plane touches down to refuel or deliver cargo, bringing a burst of activity to one of the world's most remote places.

The miniscule coral atoll, which pops up unexpectedly from the ocean's steel-grey expanse, seems an unlikely place to find a permanent military presence.

(AFP )

Ivory Coast voted Saturday in its first senatorial elections, boycotted by the opposition who have accused the electoral commission of bias.

The commission is due to announce the results by the end of Sunday.

However, the ruling Houphouetist Rally for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) coalition are expected to win a comfortable majority of seats in the face of independent candidates.

The opposition had called for a reform of the commission and for all votes - including future municipal and presidential elections - to be postponed.

(AFP )

Argentine opposition leader Carlos Zannini was freed from prison Saturday, where he was detained over his suspected role in covering up a 1984 bombing at a Jewish center allegedly carried out by Iran, a prosecutor confirmed.

Zannini was arrested as part of an investigation into former president Cristina Kirchner and her role in signing a 2012 pact with Iran, which said that officials suspected of involvement in the bombing could be investigated in their own country and not brought to Argentina.

(AFP )

Thousands of people demonstrated Saturday in central Tel Aviv to protest against Israel's plan for the mass expulsion of Eritreans and Sudanese who entered the country illegally.

Israeli media said more than 20,000 people -- migrants and Israelis -- took part in the rally, with footage broadcast live on the Ynet news website showing them chanting: "we are all human beings".

"There is no difference between their blood and our blood," chanted the demonstrators.

(AFP )

Along with a heroic police officer who offered himself as a hostage, the victims of the jihadist shooting spree in France were a butcher and two pensioners.

- Jean Mazieres, retired winemaker -

The first victim of gunman Radouane Lakdim was the passenger of the car he hijacked in the medieval town of Carcassonne, retired winemaker Jean Mazieres.

In his sixties, the married father-of-one had retired two years ago and delighted in playing an active local role, notably through a committee to organise village fetes.

(AFP )

The nine-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr. made a rousing appearance at a huge protest for gun control in Washington on Saturday, saying that like the slain civil rights leader she too has a dream -- "a gun-free world."

The poised young girl made a surprise appearance at the "March For Our Lives" rally, held near the National Mall where her grandfather delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech calling for an end to racism in the United States in August 1963.

(AFP )

Authorities in Peru raided two houses owned by former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski as part of a money laundering probe, the public prosecutor's office said on Saturday.

Both homes are in Lima, the office announced on Twitter.

Television images showed officials entering the properties with boxes, a day after Congress accepted Kuczynski's resignation.

In another development, Kuczynski's defense team said it accepted a request from the prosecutor's office to ban the ex-president from leaving the country.

(AFP )

Catalonia's former president Carles Puigdemont foiled attempts by Finnish police to arrest him under a European arrest warrant, after his lawyer confirmed on Saturday he had left the country.

Puigdemont, who lives in self-imposed exile in Belgium, had been visiting Finland since Thursday for talks with lawmakers.

Tensions are running high in Catalonia and separatist parties have abandoned plans to name a new president following the arrest of the latest candidate.

(AFP )

Portugal on Saturday launched an unprecedented drive to clear its vast forests in order to prevent a repeat of last year's deadly wildfires, which killed 112 people and sparked a massive backlash against the Socialist government.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and some 20 senior government officials joined workers across Portugal to start clearing several hectares of the forests covering two-thirds of the country.

(AFP )

The Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower and Moscow's Red Square were among the world landmarks to go dark Saturday, as part of a global campaign to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change.

Earth Hour, which started in Australia in 2007, is being observed by millions of supporters in 187 countries, who are turning off their lights at 8.30pm local time in what organisers describe as the world's "largest grassroots movement for climate change".

(AFP )

More than a million Americans flooded the streets of cities nationwide for emotional protests demanding tighter gun control on Saturday, marches spearheaded by teenagers from a Florida high school where 17 people were shot dead last month.

"Politicians, either represent the people or get out," Cameron Kasky, a 17-year-old from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, told the crowd at a huge rally in Washington.

(AFP )

With Italy still in political deadlock following the general election earlier this month, the two parties battling it out to head a new government reached agreement Saturday on the respective positions of speaker for both the lower and upper houses of parliament.

In a horse-trading deal that could now pave the way for discussions over who will lead the country, a member of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), Roberto Fico, was elected speaker of the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies.

(AFP )

Several thousand people marched through the Croatian capital on Saturday in protest against a European treaty designed to protect women.

The demonstration gathered up to 10,000 people according to journalists' estimates and was held two days after conservative Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic's government sent the treaty for ratification by the parliament.

The Council of Europe convention -- the world's first binding instrument to prevent and combat violence against women, from marital rape to female genital mutilation -- has split the country.

(AFP )

The Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge went dark for an hour Saturday to kick off a global campaign raising awareness about the impacts of climate change.

Earth Hour, which started in Australia in 2007, is set to be observed by millions of supporters in 187 countries, who will turn off their lights at 8.30pm local time in what organisers describe as the world's "largest grassroots movement for climate change".

"It aims to raise awareness about the importance of protecting the environment and wildlife," Earth Hour organiser WWF Australia chief Dermot O'Gorman told AFP.

(AFP )

Hundreds of Syrian rebels and civilians quit the penultimate opposition-held pocket of Eastern Ghouta on Saturday, bringing the government ever closer to sealing its victory over the battered enclave.

Eastern Ghouta was the opposition's final stronghold on the edge of Damascus, but beleaguered rebels are now left with less than 10 percent of their one-time bastion.

Since February 18, a Russian-backed air and ground assault has brought most of the area under government control, and Damascus is using evacuation deals to clear the last three pockets.

(AFP )

The heroic French policeman who died Saturday after offering himself as a hostage in a jihadist siege at a supermarket was an elite officer who had been decorated for his bravery in Iraq.

Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame, 45, took the place of a woman who gunman Radouane Lakdim was holding as a final hostage in the Super U store in the quiet southwestern town of Trebes on Friday.

(AFP )

Politicians in Italy appeared to reach an agreement on Saturday in the battle for speakers in both houses of parliament, which could lay the ground for the fight over who will lead a new government.

Following a stalemate in a second round of voting on Friday, the newly-elected Chamber of Deputies and the Senate gathered again on Saturday morning.

Leaders of the right-wing coalition, which won 37 percent of the vote in the March 4 elections, made a breakthrough after tense negotiations to pick Elisabetta Alberti Casellati for the presidency of the Senate.

(AFP )

French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday expressed "concern" over Turkey's military offensive in Afrin in Syria, telling Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan it was vital that humanitarian aid be allowed to reach the area.

In a statement released by his office on Saturday, the Elysee said that Macron had talked with Erdogan via telephone on Friday.

And during that conversation, the French leader had emphasised the "strategic importance of our partnership with Turkey, particularly in the fight against terrorism and in all other regional crises."

(AFP )

The "Kangaroo Route" from Australia to Britain became a shorter hop Saturday when the first direct passenger service left Perth for London, with the 17-hour flight set to break aviation records.

Qantas' 14,498 kilometre (9,009-mile) journey from the southwestern city to London is the world's third-longest passenger flight, the Australian carrier said, and the first ever regular service to connect the two continents directly.

Captained by Lisa Norman, it will also be the longest Boeing Dreamliner flight in the world.

(AFP )

A policeman was killed in a bomb attack Saturday targeting the security chief of Egypt's Alexandria, officials said, two days before the start of presidential election.

The car bomb, which exploded near a convoy transporting General Mostafa el-Nemr through a residential area of the Mediterranean city, also wounded four others, the government press office said.

Nemr was not among the casualties of the "terrorist bombing that targeted the convoy", his office said, quoted by state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram.

(AFP )

British regulators finished searching the offices of Cambridge Analytica, the firm at the centre of a Facebook data scandal, before dawn on Saturday and said they would examine the evidence before considering "next steps".

After receiving a warrant from a judge, about 18 enforcement agents from the Information Commissioner's Office entered the company's London offices at around 8:00 pm (2000 GMT) Friday.

"Our investigators left the premises at about 03:00 am," a spokesman for the data watchdog said Saturday.

(AFP )

Finnish police said Saturday they had requested more information from Spanish authorities before acting on an arrest warrant issued against Catalonia's former president Carles Puigdemont, though it was unclear whether he was actually in Finland.

Puigdemont, who lives in exile in Belgium, visited the Nordic country on Thursday and Friday to meet Finnish lawmakers and hold a seminar at the University of Helsinki. He had been due to leave Finland on Saturday afternoon, but his exact whereabouts were unknown.

(AFP )

Facebook and psychologists who have worked with it are grappling with their "Oppenheimer moment", experts say, over revelations that its data may have been used to help elect US President Donald Trump.

The scandal over the way Cambridge Analytica obtained personal information to try to manipulate US voters "is the most important moment that Facebook has faced since it went public (in 2012)," according to Professor Andrew Przybylski of Oxford University, one of the world's leading authorities on social media psychology.

(AFP )

In Syria's Kurdish-controlled Manbij, salesmen shout as customers bustle through the city's packed marketplace -- an everyday scene that masks residents' deep fears of a Turkish attack.

Despite the presence of US troops nearby, Manbij could become the next target of a Turkey-led battle against Kurdish militia in Syria's north.

Ankara and allied Syrian rebels seized the northwestern city of Afrin on March 18, and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to push eastwards and take Manbij.

(AFP )

Parents and friends of Kim Wall honored her memory in New York Friday on what would have been the slain Swedish journalist's 31st birthday.

Wall's remains were discovered in plastic bags over a series of weeks after she vanished while interviewing Danish inventor Peter Madsen aboard his homemade submarine.

Madsen currently is on trial in Copenhagen in the grisly case that sent shockwaves worldwide, with charges including premeditated murder, desecration of a corpse and sexual relations other than intercourse.

(AFP )

European countries are set to take further steps as early as Monday to punish Russia over the poisoning of a former spy in England, officials said, as diplomatic pressure builds on Moscow over the nerve agent attack.

Russia, for its part, accused London of trying to force its European allies to take "confrontational steps" and unleashing an "anti-Russian campaign".

EU leaders meeting in Brussels have agreed to recall the bloc's ambassador from Moscow over the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury.

(AFP )

The US and China's top economic officials agreed by phone Saturday to "continue to communicate" on trade issues, Chinese state media said, as President Donald Trump pledged his escalating trade showdown would get results despite pushback from Europe and Beijing.

In his latest jolt to the prevailing global order, Trump on Thursday authorised tariffs on as much as $60 billion of Chinese imports, targeting sectors in which Washington says China has stolen American technology.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump late Friday rolled back his blanket ban on transgender people serving in the military -- but they will still face major restrictions in the American armed forces.

Trump signed a memorandum in August that effectively barred transgender people from the military but the ban faced multiple legal challenges.

The White House has now come back with a modified version of the original plan -- as with Trump's efforts to ban travelers from several Muslim-majority countries, which was repeatedly challenged in court.

(AFP )

Tributes flooded in Saturday for a French policeman who died after offering himself in exchange for a hostage held by an Islamist gunman in a supermarket siege, with President Emmanuel Macron hailing him "a hero".

Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame, 44, was shot and stabbed after taking the place of a woman whom assailant Radouane Lakdim had been using as a human shield during Friday's attack in the southwestern town of Trebes.

Beltrame died of his wounds early Saturday, becoming the fourth victim in the shooting spree claimed by the Islamic State group.

(AFP )

Egypt, known worldwide for its ancient pyramids, is the Arab world's most populous country and has been under military control for decades.

It is ruled by ex-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is assured of a second term in elections next week.

Here is some background about the country.

- Army's grip on power -

After a period of British rule, Egypt gained independence in 1922 under King Fuad I.

In 1952, charismatic army colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew Fuad's son, King Farouk. A republic was declared in 1953, headed by General Mohamed Naguib.