Thursday 20 July 2017

In the world

(AFP )

Donald Trump hit the six-month point of his turbulent presidency Thursday in combative style -- lashing out at his own attorney general over the probe into Russia's alleged election meddling that has dogged him from day one.

Since taking office on January 20, Trump has been on a roller coaster ride, and the gut-wrenching twists and turns looked set to continue after Jeff Sessions vowed to stay on at the Justice Department despite a stinging public rebuke from the commander-in-chief.

(AFP )

The United States warned Thursday that a new regional plan to shore up South Sudan's failing peace agreement was the last chance for Juba's leaders to end the war, now in its fourth year.

US Deputy Ambassador Michele Sison told the UN Security Council that Washington will reconsider its support for the deal signed two years ago by President Salva Kiir and rival Riek Machar, if the latest effort fails.

(AFP )

All 180 airlines serving the United States have taken the security steps needed to avoid being forced to implement inflight bans on laptop computers, the Department of Homeland Security said Thursday.

But the more intense inspections of carry-on electronics required by DHS at all points of departure for the United States are likely to make airport boarding procedures even longer than before.

(AFP )

US and European police on Thursday announced the shutdown of two huge "dark web" marketplaces that allowed the anonymous online trade of drugs, hacking software and guns.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said underground websites AlphaBay and Hansa had tens of thousands of sellers of deadly drugs like fentanyl and other illicit goods serving more than 200,000 customers worldwide.

(AFP )

The French government on Thursday gave the green light for the cull of dozens of wolves in mountainous areas where sheep are under sustained attack.

Over 8,000 farm animals, mostly sheep, were killed in attacks blamed on wolves in the past year -- mainly in the south-east of the country.

Farmers say that electric fences and fearsome dogs are powerless in the face of the predators and are demanding greater culls.

(AFP )

Two of six teens from Burundi who were reported missing in Washington after taking part in an international robotics competition have been seen crossing into Canada, police said Thursday.

Police posted photographs of the six -- four young males and two females -- who participated in the First Global Challenge robotics meet -- on Twitter.

"Two of the individuals were seen crossing over into Canada," said Karimah Bilal, a spokeswoman for police in the US capital.

"We have no indication of foul play," she said.

(AFP )

Tanzanian President John Magufuli on Thursday called on Burundians who have fled their country to return home, after talks with President Pierre Nkurunziza who was making his first foreign trip in more than two years.

The visit -- kept secret up to the last moment -- was aimed at reviving dialogue on Burundi's enduring political crisis, diplomatic sources said.

Nkurunziza arrived with a heavily-armed escort in the northwest Tanzanian town of Ngara, about 15 kilometres (eight miles) from the Rwandan and Burundian borders.

(AFP )

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday he intends to stay in his job despite blistering criticism from President Donald Trump over the top law enforcement official's decision to recuse himself from the Russia election meddling probe.

Asked at a press conference if he plans to resign, Sessions replied: "I have the honor of serving as attorney general. It is something that goes beyond any thought I would have ever had for myself."

(AFP )

The EU's Brexit negotiator urged Britain on Thursday to provide more clarity on key issues after the second round of talks wrapped up in Brussels with "fundamental" differences remaining.

Michel Barnier said after talks with his counterpart David Davis that the two sides were still at odds over Britain's divorce bill and over the rights of European citizens living in Britain.

(AFP )

Polish lawmakers on Thursday adopted a controversial reform of the Supreme Court, despite days of street protests, concern from the opposition over judicial independence and EU threats of unprecedented sanctions.

The lower house of parliament, which is controlled by the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, voted 235 to 192 -- with 23 abstentions -- in favour of the law giving the justice minister power to select candidates for the court.

(AFP )

The United States on Thursday hit oil giant ExxonMobil with a $2 million fine for violating Ukraine-related sanctions, at a time when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was still in charge of the company.

The Treasury Department said Exxon had business dealings with Igor Sechin, president of Russian state energy company Rosneft, who was blacklisted under the sanctions imposed in the wake of the Russian annexation of Crimea.

(AFP )

The Islamic State group is falling "very fast," US President Donald Trump said Thursday as he visited the Pentagon for a military strategy meeting.

"We're doing very well against ISIS. ISIS is falling fast, very fast," Trump said, using another acronym for IS.

Trump's comments come at the six-month mark of his presidency, for which he campaigned by vowing to quickly defeat IS.

(AFP )

Firefighting planes were dispatched to battle a fresh blaze near Croatia's Adriatic resort of Dubrovnik on Thursday as scores of emergency personnel remained on duty further north.

Four planes were sent to the area near the border with Montenegro to prevent the spread of the fire, a defence ministry statement said.

Both Croatia and neighbouring Montenegro have been hit by forest fires along their Adriatic coastlines in recent days. In Montenegro, most of the fires were under control by Wednesday.

(AFP )

US financial firms and no-frills airline easyJet have begun activating Brexit contingency plans and fears are growing that the trickle could turn into a flood as most major businesses in Britain are preparing similar arrangements.

Britain's easyJet, Europe's second biggest carrier by passenger numbers, set up a Vienna-based division on Thursday that will allow it to fly across the European Union regardless of the final outcome of talks on the UK exit from the bloc.

(AFP )

Cat Stevens has channeled the Sufi poet Yunus Emre for a song about divine love as he announced his latest album since his return to Western folk pop.

"See What Love Did To Me," released on Thursday, is the first single off "The Laughing Apple," which will come out September 15 and mark Stevens's fourth album since he ended a three-decade retreat from music following his conversion to Islam.

The song is dominated by the gentle and joyous folk guitar that characterized the English artist's hits in the 1970s such as "Wild World," "Father and Son" and "Peace Train."

(AFP )

Israel's army boosted security Thursday and braced for possibile unrest on the eve of the main weekly Muslim prayers after security measures imposed at a sensitive Jerusalem site angered Palestinians.

Officials were reportedly in talks to defuse the crisis, which followed a deadly attack last Friday on police near the site that includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

(AFP )

Disgraced American football star O.J. Simpson -- who was acquitted of murdering his ex-wife and her friend, but jailed for armed robbery years later -- is expected to be granted his release Thursday after nearly nine years in prison.

Simpson, 70, could walk free as early as October 1 if a parole board in the western US state of Nevada rules in his favor.

Simpson was found not guilty in 1995 of the grisly murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and a male companion, Ron Goldman, in a racially charged case which became known as the "Trial of the Century."

(AFP )

Under the shadow of heavy police surveillance, around 20 close friends of China's late Nobel laureate and dissident Liu Xiaobo have held a defiant private memorial in Beijing.

Since the prominent democracy activist died of liver cancer in custody last week, his Chinese supporters say they have been barred from leaving their homes or organising commemorative events, while censors have blocked online tributes.

(AFP )

A 24-hour nationwide strike got underway in Venezuela Thursday, in a bid by the opposition to increase pressure on beleaguered leftist President Nicolas Maduro following four months of deadly street demonstrations.

The general strike, which commenced at 6 am (1000 GMT), is the latest in a series of protests that commenced in April calling for Maduro's ouster, and which has claimed the lives of about 100 people.

(AFP )

Like hundreds of thousands of other Iraqis, Maha lives with her boys at a camp for the displaced near Mosul. But there's a big difference -- her father and husband worked and fought with the Islamic State jihadist group.

"Men go off and do what they want, they never listen to us," said the young woman, a new arrival at the camp in the Al-Jadaa area, south of Mosul, by way of excuse for their actions.

(AFP )

A Saudi prince was arrested Thursday on King Salman's order, a state-run broadcaster reported, as outrage grew on social media over videos appearing to show him abusing members of the public.

Salman issued a warrant for "the immediate arrest ... and imprisonment" of Prince Saud, a descendent of Saudi Arabia's founder, along with a group of men who appeared in the videos uploaded to YouTube, Al-Ikhbariya television reported.

(AFP )

An autopsy on the body of the former head of Spanish bank Caja Madrid, who was sentenced to six years in prison for graft, confirms he committed suicide, officials said Thursday.

Miguel Blesa, one of the figureheads of Spain's financial crisis, was found dead on Wednesday with a gunshot wound to his chest at a private hunting estate in the southern province of Cordoba.

An autopsy was carried out on Thursday at a forensics institute in Cordoba as part of an investigation into his death.

(AFP )

Turkey on Thursday accused Germany of displaying "great political irresponsibility" in stepping up a travel warning for the country after Berlin reacted angrily to Ankara's latest arrests of human rights activists.

"Sending a message... (to Germans) telling them that it's not safe to travel to Turkey is a great political irresponsibility," presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said after Berlin warned it could no longer guarantee its citizens' safety in the country.

"We do not accept this," he added in televised comments.

(AFP )

The ringleader of a gang whose criminal tentacles reached into almost every department of Rome's City Hall was sentenced to 20 years in prison by an Italian court on Thursday.

Massimo Carminati, 59, a convicted gangster with a history of involvement with violent far-right groups, had been accused along with 45 others of operating a "mafia-style" network that used extortion, fraud and theft to divert millions of euros destined for public services into their own pockets.

(AFP )

Italian police are investigating football clubs for allegedly getting young African players false papers in a probe that could involve Serie A teams, national media reported Thursday.

The inquiry centres on AC Prato, which plays in the Lega Pro league, amid suspicions managers "favoured the illegal entry into Italy of African minors, some of whom were then sold to superior clubs," the Gazzetta dello Sport said.

(AFP )

The parents of Austin Tice, a freelance reporter who went missing in Syria nearly five years ago, urged their son's captors on Thursday for "another chance" to negotiate his release.

Speaking in Beirut, Marc and Debra Tice said they were encouraged by the US administration's efforts to get their son home, but that it was not enough.

"We now plead with those holding Austin to reach out to us again and give us another chance to communicate," Debra Tice said.

"Whoever, wherever, whatever. We will do it to bring our son home."

(AFP )

Greece is failing to adequately care for many unaccompanied migrant minors, Human Rights Watch said Thursday, citing the case of an island camp where violence has broken out in recent days.

"The misidentification of unaccompanied migrant kids on Lesbos as adults leads to real problems, including lumping them together with unrelated adults and denying them the care they need," the group said in a statement.

"Greek authorities need to take responsibility for properly identifying unaccompanied children and providing them the protection and care every child needs," it added.

(AFP )

Hundreds of refugees being held at a remote Papua New Guinea detention camp will be moved by October despite uncertainty over a resettlement deal with the United States, Australia's immigration minister said Thursday.

Canberra sends asylum-seekers who try to enter the country by boat to camps on Nauru and PNG's Manus Island, with those found to be refugees barred from resettling in Australia.

They are instead relocated to third countries, or resettled elsewhere in PNG.

(AFP )

Britain and the EU will wrap up four days of tough Brexit talks in Brussels on Thursday with a special lunch between their chief negotiators as major differences emerged on key points.

The two sides remain far apart on the exit bill that the EU says Britain must pay and on whether or not the bloc's top court will keep jurisdiction over European citizens living in Britain, sources close to the talks said.

(AFP )

India elected a new president from the bottom of the Hindu caste system Thursday, only the second time since independence a head of state has been chosen from the marginalised group.

Ram Nath Kovind won the largely ceremonial position with more than 65 percent of the vote by members of India's parliament and state assemblies, the election commission said.

The 71-year-old former lawyer and state governor from the downtrodden Dalit community was nominated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling party for the post.

(AFP )

Germany on Thursday vowed stinging measures hitting tourism and investment in Turkey and a full "overhaul" of their troubled relations, signalling its patience had snapped after Ankara's arrests of human rights activists.

The government stepped up its travel advisory for the NATO ally as Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel warned it could no longer guarantee its citizens' safety in the face of "arbitrary" mass arrests, a step set to hit a sector crucial to Turkey's ailing economy.

(AFP )

The Bank of Japan on Thursday slashed its annual inflation forecast and once again delayed its timetable for hitting a two percent target as the economy struggles to gain traction despite years of stimulus.

Central bankers also decided to maintain the BoJ's ultra-loose monetary policy at a time when their counterparts in other major economies from the Americas to Europe consider ending the era of cheap cash.

(AFP )

A leader of Thailand's 'Red Shirt' movement was jailed Thursday for defaming an ex-prime minister, sidelining a key voice of dissent against the ruling junta ahead of polls expected in 2018.

Thailand's Supreme Court sentenced Jatuporn Prompan over a 2009 speech accusing then-PM Abhisit Vejjajiva of being a "tyrant" and ordering the military to shoot at protesters in clashes that year.

He is "sentenced to one year in prison without suspension", despite his case being twice dismissed by lower courts, Jatuporn's team confirmed on his Facebook page.

(AFP )

AIDS claimed a million lives in 2016, almost half the 2005 toll that marked the peak of the deadly epidemic, said a UN report Thursday proclaiming "the scales have tipped".

Not only are new HIV infections and deaths declining, but more people than ever are on life-saving treatment, according to data published ahead of an AIDS science conference opening in Paris on Sunday.

Experts warned, however, that much of the progress can be undone by growing resistance to HIV drugs.

(AFP )

At least 28 people were killed Thursday after a bus plunged into a deep gorge in a Himalayan region of northern India popular with tourists, police said.

The accident occurred around 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the hill resort of Shimla in Himachal Pradesh state, said police superintendent Soumiya Sambasivan.

"28 people have died and seven are injured. All the bodies have been identified," she said.

The bus was taking around 40 people from Kinnaur district towards Solan when it rolled roughly 200 metres down a gorge to the banks of a river river.