Monday 21 August 2017

In the world

(AFP )

China's Great Wall Motor signalled on Monday its intention to make an ambitious offer to buy all or part of Italian-American car maker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

A deal would be a major coup for the Chinese auto industry but it may cause political waves in the United States, where President Donald Trump has railed against his country's trade imbalance with the Asian country.

"There is an intention to make the purchase," the spokeswoman told AFP, though she declined to say if the possible deal would be for the entire auto giant or just one of its brands.

(AFP )

Islamist gunmen killed nine people and injured ten others as they attacked a town in the Philippines at dawn Monday, burning houses in which women and children were sleeping, police said.

About 60 members of the notorious Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom group entered a town in their stronghold on Basilan island in the southern Mindanao region and began shooting, local police chief John Cundo told AFP.

(AFP )

More than 750 people have died in floods across South Asia, officials said Monday, with monsoon rains also causing the deaths of hundreds of animals, including rhinos and a tiger.

The human toll is steadily rising across India, Nepal and Bangladesh following the latest in a series of deluges since August 10, as the annual monsoon hits the north and east of the region.

Nearly 50 bodies were found overnight in Bihar, in India's east, taking the number of dead there to 253, a state disaster official told AFP.

(AFP )

The Danish inventor of a do-it-yourself submarine has said that a Swedish journalist missing since August 11 died in an accident onboard the vessel, and that he dumped her body in the sea, Danish police said Monday.

The inventor, Peter Madsen, had been claiming that he last saw Kim Wall when he dropped her off on the tip of an island in Copenhagen late on August 10.

(AFP )

One of Australia's top Catholics has warned the church's thousands of employees it will only tolerate traditional views on marriage, as the country prepares for a vote on whether gay couples can wed.

After years of fierce political debate, Australia will hold a non-binding, nation-wide postal vote on marriage equality next month, with the issue proving politically strenuous for the Malcolm Turnbull government.

The 'Yes' campaign has received support from both sides of politics and polls indicate it is favoured by most Australians.

(AFP )

Qatar on Monday denied it had banned Saudi Arabian flights from landing in the emirate to transport Muslim pilgrims to Mecca, after an accusation by authorities in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabian Airlines on Sunday said Qatari authorities had refused to grant a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight, scheduled to transport Qatari hajj pilgrims, permission to land at Hamad International Airport.

(AFP )

Elon Musk is leading demands for a global ban on killer robots, warning technological advances could revolutionise warfare and create new "weapons of terror" that target innocent people.

The CEO of Tesla and SpaceX joined more than 100 robotics and artificial intelligence entrepreneurs in signing a letter to the United Nations calling for action to prevent the development of autonomous weapons.

(AFP )

A Vietnamese sailor kidnapped by Islamist militants off the southern Philippines has been rescued after nine months in captivity, the military said on Monday, following the beheading of two fellow crewmen in July.

Philippine troops rescued the hostage on Sunday on Basilan island in the southern Mindanao region, a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom group, following intensified operations against the militants, authorities said.

(AFP )

Marcelino is calling to her, but Cecilia cannot be with him. Not yet. He may be handsome, but she has suffered a lot and isn't ready for a relationship.

This is not a soap opera. It is just the way things go in a Brazilian refuge for abused and depressed chimpanzees.

Cecilia, 20, sits on a rooftop and gazes wistfully around -- perhaps remembering her childhood spent in a cramped zoo, or her two friends who died there.

Luckily she is now in the best place to have her depression treated: the Sorocaba Great Primates Sanctuary.

(AFP )

New Zealand's conservative Prime Minister Bill English conceded Monday he was "worried" about next month's general election, as support for the opposition continued to surge.

The centre-left Labour Party has enjoyed a huge boost in support ahead of the September 23 election after gambling on a charismatic new leader in 37-year-old Jacinda Ardern.

In a phenomenon local media have dubbed "Jacinda-mania", Labour's support has rocketed since she took over earlier this month, making a change of government a realistic possibility.

(AFP )

Ceramics, carpentry, calligraphy and gem cutting: centuries of Afghan craftmanship honed on the ancient Silk Road are being preserved in Kabul, a rare success story for an aid project in the war-torn country that organisers are now hoping to replicate with refugees from Syria.

In the sixteen years since the fall of the Taliban, the Turquoise Mountain foundation has found some of Afghanistan's best artisans and helped them preserve and pass on their skills, as well helping them showcase their work in international markets.

(AFP )

Tamara Makarovna spends her afternoons sitting in a dilapidated armchair upstairs in her care home, watching an old TV set and talking to her neighbours.

Her way of life may seem peaceful at first glance, but the 81 year-old is a resident of a state-run care home in war-torn eastern Ukraine, just a few kilometres from the front line with the pro-Russian rebel insurgency.

She is one of thousands of elderly and ailing people, who have found themselves stuck in state institutions as the deadly conflict rages close by.

(AFP )

Two months into a bitter Gulf crisis, Saudi Arabia's use of a previously unknown Qatari royal family member has opened a new -- and bizarre -- front in the conflict.

On August 17, it was announced that Saudi's King Salman had ordered the reopening of the Qatar border to allow pilgrims from the emirate to join the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

(AFP )

London landmark Big Ben will fall silent for four years from Monday as a political revolt rumbles on over renovations that will rob Britain of a cherished symbol at a time of national uncertainty.

Westminster's Elizabeth Tower, one of Britain's most popular tourist attractions, is due for conservation work.

The famous clock's bells are set to stop ringing at midday over safety concerns, silencing an emblem of continuity as Britain grapples with Brexit negotiations.

(AFP )

Spain appealed for unity after the deadly attacks in Catalonia but tensions between Madrid and Barcelona over the region's separatist drive have endured and have even flared up in the police probe.

The regional Catalan government is determined to push ahead with an independence referendum in the wealthy northeastern region on October 1, which Madrid has vowed to stop.

Spaniards have dubbed the confrontation a "head-on train collision".

(AFP )

Ten US sailors were missing and five injured after their destroyer collided with a tanker east of Singapore early Monday, the second accident involving an American warship in two months.

The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain arrived in Singapore Monday afternoon with a large hole torn in its hull after the pre-dawn accident sent water flooding into the vessel, the US Navy said.

A major search involving ships and aircraft from three countries was launched for the missing sailors after the warship collided with the Alnic MC near the Strait of Malacca.

(AFP )

Clashes erupted Sunday between police and dozens of anti-racist activists on the sidelines of a pro-immigration rally in Quebec City, an AFP journalist witnessed, while a demonstration organized by extreme-right activists gained little traction.

A few hundred people gathered in Quebec City's center early afternoon to counter-protest a planned far-right rally, supporters of which spent much of the day stuck in a parking lot.

(AFP )

Colombians in the city of Itagui hauled mattresses and hammocks into the streets Sunday to mark the annual "World Laziness Day," a quirky effort to urge overstressed workers to slow down.

The daylong celebration of relaxation has been held annually since 1985 in this small city of some 200,000 in northwestern Colombia.

The city is known, rather paradoxically, for its bustling commerce and its thriving industrial park.

(AFP )

President Donald Trump will announce his decision on America's strategy in Afghanistan in an address to US troops and the nation Monday night, almost 16 years after the war began.

The US leader will "provide an update on the path forward for America's engagement in Afghanistan and South Asia" in an address to be delivered at 9 pm (0100 GMT Tuesday) from the military base at Fort Myer southwest of the capital, the White House said in a statement.

(AFP )

In a little Spanish town by the Pyrenees mountains, a Moroccan imam has come under intense scrutiny, accused of creating the terror cell that allegedly launched the twin attacks in Spain.

Those who knew him described Abdelbaki Es Satty as a discreet and religious man, who had recently asked for a holiday from the mosque he was preaching in, apparently to return to Morocco for personal business.

But police believe he may have been among those blown up in an accidential explosion Wednesday in the house where the suspected attackers were believed to be building bombs.

(AFP )

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday warned Turkey not to "misuse" Interpol to pursue its critics after a Spanish court ordered the conditional release of a Turkish-German writer wanted by Ankara.

Dogan Akhanli, who writes about Turkey's human rights record, was arrested Saturday while on holiday in Granada on an Interpol red notice, similar to an international arrest warrant, from Ankara.

(AFP )

Martine Groby rues the day when she ignored her father who told her: "They are terrorists, take down their number plates."

"I should have listened to him," said Groby, who saw all the windows of her home in Spain shatter when a massive explosion detonated in the house next door on Wednesday.

It turned out that house hidden behind olive trees was likely the bomb factory of suspected jihadists who used vehicles to mow down pedestrians in Barcelona on Thursday and the nearby seaside resort of Cambrils hours later.

(AFP )

The very thought that Lula might go to prison causes Maria Helena da Conceicao to break into tears. To her, the former Brazilian president is much more than just a politician facing corruption charges and fighting to regain power.

The fortyish Maria Helena is one of the many people who benefited from the social policies of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a hugely popular leader who in his two terms as president (2003-2010) pulled millions of Brazilians out of lives of barefoot poverty.

(AFP )

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday she was glad a Spanish court had ordered the conditional release of a Turkish-German writer wanted by Ankara and warned Turkey not to "misuse" Interpol to pursue its critics.

"That's not on. We must not misuse international organisations such as Interpol" in such cases, she said on RTL television about the case of writer Dogan Akhanli, who was arrested Saturday at Turkey's request while holidaying in Spain.

(AFP )

A British-Australian boy aged seven who had been reported as missing by his grandfather was killed in the vehicle rampage in Barcelona, his family and Spanish officials said Sunday.

Julian Cadman was among 14 people killed in the twin assaults in Spain, according to Catalonia's civil protection agency, which also confirmed on Twitter the deaths of an Italian and a Belgian national.

In a heart-wrenching statement, Julian's family described him as "a much loved and adored member of our family".

(AFP )

Qatar has blocked Saudi planes from transporting hajj pilgrims, Saudi state media said Sunday, after Riyadh reopened the border despite a major diplomatic crisis roiling the Gulf.

Riyadh last week reopened its land border with Qatar and allocated seven flights of the Saudi national carrier to bring pilgrims from Doha, in a temporary lifting of a weeks-long boycott of its Gulf neighbour.

"Qatari authorities have not allowed the aircraft to land as it did not have the right paperwork, although the paperwork was filed days ago," the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.

(AFP )

Traces of the easy-to-make but deadly explosive TATP -- known as the "mother of Satan" -- have been found in a house where the alleged attackers in the twin assaults in Spain were believed to be building bombs, police said Sunday.

Used by jihadists everywhere from Paris and Brussels to the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, the dangerously unstable TATP has become the explosive of choice for the Islamic State group, which claimed the attacks in Barcelona and the seaside resort of Cambrils.

(AFP )

Five people were reported dead Sunday when a rocket hit near an international trade fair in Syria's capital Damascus being held for the first time in five years.

The Damascus International Fair was once the leading event on Syria's economic calendar but had not been held since shortly after the outbreak of the country's war in March 2011.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war, said five people were killed and around a dozen more injured in the rocket fire near the entrance to the fair.

(AFP )

The confirmed death toll passed 700 and more than a million were driven from their homes as large swathes of South Asia reeled under monsoon floods Sunday, officials said.

At least 100 deaths were reported overnight across India and Bangladesh following the latest in a series of deluges since August 10, as the annual monsoon hit the north and east of the region.

Anirudh Kumar, a top disaster management official in India's eastern state of Bihar, said 53 bodies were recovered as water levels started to recede in some areas.

(AFP )

Italy on Sunday boosted terror prevention measures surrounding the country's architectural and artistic treasures and major pedestrian areas in response to the attacks in Spain, Finland and Russia.

Italy has not suffered any jihadist attacks on its territory but has been repeatedly warned by Islamic State (IS) propagandists that the country and the Vatican are on its hit list, most recently in messages relayed over the Telegram messaging service this weekend.

(AFP )

Russia said Sunday that a stabbing which injured seven people and was claimed by the Islamic State group is being probed by top investigators in Moscow, as new details emerged.

IS claimed responsibility for the attack in the remote city of Surgut along with the attacks in Spain that killed 14 through its Amaq propaganda agency, calling the attacker "a soldier of the Islamic State."

(AFP )

Thousands of supporters of three jailed young democracy activists took to the streets in Hong Kong Sunday to protest their sentences.

Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, leaders of the 2014 Umbrella Movement rallies, were sentenced to six to eight months in jail Thursday for their role in a protest that sparked the months-long demonstrations calling for democratic reforms.

People took on the scorching summer heat to stream from the district of Wan Chai to the Court of Final Appeal in the heart of Hong Kong Island, protesting the jail terms.

(AFP )

A Spanish court on Sunday ordered the conditional release of German-Turkish writer Dogan Akhanli a day after police had arrested him at Ankara's request, his lawyer said.

Berlin -- which sees Turkey's bid to have the writer extradited as a politically-motivated move by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- hailed the Spanish court's decision.

"It would be terrible if, even on the other side of Europe, Turkey succeeded in having people who raise their voices against President Erdogan arrested," said German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.

(AFP )

At least 14 people were killed and more than 100 injured in twin attacks in which vehicles were used to mow down pedestrians on Barcelona's most popular street and in a busy seaside resort town.

- What happened? -

Around 4:50 pm (1450 GMT) on Thursday, a white van ploughed into a crowd of pedestrians on the famous Las Ramblas boulevard in Barcelona.

One of the city's busiest streets, the promenade is normally thronged with tourists and street performers until well into the night.

(AFP )

Iraqi forces on Sunday pounded the Islamic State group in Tal Afar, one of its last bastions in the country, in a new assault just weeks after ousting IS from second city Mosul.

Once a key IS supply hub between Mosul -- around 70 kilometres (45 miles) further east -- and the Syrian border, Tal Afar is the last major population centre in northern Iraq under jihadist control.

Weeks after recapturing Mosul in a major blow to the jihadists, convoys of Iraqi forces around Tal Afar began pounding IS positions from three sides at dawn Sunday.