Thursday 21 September 2017

In the world

(AFP )

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday took an indirect swipe at the United States, telling the United Nations that "military hysteria" over North Korea's nuclear and missile tests would lead to "disaster."

"We resolutely condemn the nuclear and missile adventures of Pyongyang," Lavrov said, "but military hysteria is not just an impasse, it's disaster."

The foreign minister spoke to the UN General Assembly two days after US President Donald Trump threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea if it launches attacks on his country or its allies.

(AFP )

France will not attend the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang if the current international stand-off over North Korea's atomic weapons programme worsens and security cannot be guaranteed, the country's sports minister said Thursday.

"If this gets worse and we do not have our security assured, then our French team will stay here," Laura Flessel told RTL radio. "We will not put our team in danger."

(AFP )

Yemen's president on Thursday promised the United Nations to open the entire war-torn country to aid as millions of people are at risk of famine and cholera.

Addressing the United Nations, President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi urged international pressure on Huthi rebels who control the capital Sanaa and also appealed for greater humanitarian assistance.

"We in the Yemeni government are ready to provide all facilitation so that humanitarian assistance can reach anywhere in Yemen, and also the areas under the control of the Huthis," he told the General Assembly.

(AFP )

Hurricane Maria left more than 15 people dead in hard-hit Dominica, the small Caribbean island's Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit announced on Thursday.

The toll from Dominica brings the overall number of confirmed deaths caused by Hurricane Maria to 18, including two in Guadeloupe and one in Puerto Rico.

"So far, we would have buried in excess of 15 people," Skerrit told a television network of Antigua and Barbuda, a neighboring country.

"If there (are) no other fatalities, it is a miracle," he said.

(AFP )

NATO's chief on Thursday backed sending UN peacekeepers to Ukraine but said the force should operate throughout the zone of violence which Western powers say is backed by Russia.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia, which has proposed a limited UN mission.

"I welcome the proposal to have UN peacekeeping forces in Ukraine," the head of the Western military alliance told a group of reporters after his meeting.

(AFP )

Slovakia plans to increase its military budget to the NATO target of two percent of gross domestic product by 2024, according to an official document released Thursday.

The NATO and EU member state of 5.4 million people currently allocates 1.16 percent of its GDP to defence.

Slovakia "expects to increase the budget of the defence ministry to 1.6 percent of GDP in 2020 and 2.0 percent of GDP in 2024," the document said.

Defence Minister Peter Gajdos told reporters that reaching 2.0 percent would enable the country to "realise our commitment from the NATO summits."

(AFP )

The EU agreed Thursday on new sanctions against North Korea, diplomatic sources told AFP, as the international community steps up efforts to punish the pariah state for its nuclear weapons programme.

The bloc has agreed a new package of measures, including a ban on investments in North Korea and on European Union exports of oil, the sources said on condition of anonymity.

EU members also want to blacklist more North Korean individuals and entities, a move that would freeze their assets in the bloc and ban them from entering its territory.

(AFP )

Former rebels and pro-government fighters have signed a new ceasefire in northern Mali, they told AFP Thursday, after a summer of intense battles in violation of a 2015 peace deal.

The ceasefire lays out an "immediate halt to hostilities", according to a document signed by the groups on Wednesday in Bamako, and the release of prisoners, following almost a week of talks in the capital.

(AFP )

Mexico waited with bated breath on Thursday for signs of life in the rubble of a collapsed school as a desperate search for survivors of a devastating earthquake entered a third day.

The country's civil protection organization put the death toll following Tuesday's 7.1 magnitude quake at 233 people, but that toll was expected to rise.

As rescue workers scrabbled to remove tons of rubble at dozens of collapsed buildings in the capital and across several central states, most of the country's attention focused on a school in the south of Mexico City.

(AFP )

A top Saudi relief official called Thursday for Myanmar to take back Rohingya refugees and let them live in peace.

Dr. Abdullah al-Rabeeah, former health minister and now leading the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre, said major global powers need to press Myanmar to stop its violent expulsion of the Muslim ethnic minority into Bangladesh.

(AFP )

The United States said Thursday it will spend another $575 million dollars to help the millions facing starvation and violence amid wars and unrest in Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Somalia.

"This additional funding brings the total US humanitarian assistance to nearly $2.5 billion for these four crises since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2017," the US Agency for International Development announced.

(AFP )

Supporters of Hassan Diab, a Canadian professor suspected in a deadly 1980 attack on a Paris synagogue, asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Thursday to encourage French authorities to release him.

"We urge you to intervene and bring Hassan home," said a letter to Trudeau signed by more than 600 people and organizations.

A petition delivered to the Canadian parliament calling for his release was also signed by thousands more.

Diab, 63, has been in pre-trial detention in France since being extradited from Canada in November 2014 and charged with the attack.

(AFP )

A Frenchman who allegedly shot dead four people at a Jewish museum in Brussels was denied medical care in prison for a suspected brain tumour and is unfit for trial, his lawyers said Thursday.

Mehdi Nemmouche, who allegedly carried out the May 2014 jihadist attack at the museum in Brussels, will refuse to appear at his trial if treatment is denied, lawyer Sebastien Courtoy told reporters.

Nemmouche, held in solitary confinement in a Belgian prison for three years, is exhibiting symptoms of "a brain tumour."

(AFP )

The translator of "Harry Potter" and a Congolese priest are but some of the 2,200 residents in the Catalan town of L'Esquirol, the region's most enthusiastically separatist town.

And they are determined to vote in an independence referendum in Catalonia slated for October 1 deemed illegal by Madrid.

During Catalonia's last regional election in 2015, pro-separatist parties captured 91.6 percent of the vote in L'Esquirol, which is nestled in the middle of corn fields some 90 kilometres (55 miles) north of Barcelona and is home to around 2,200 people.

(AFP )

Anonymous threatening letters in Arabic containing white powder and razor blades have been sent to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's home and other politicians before Sunday's election, police said.

First analysis of the substance suggested it was harmless soda powder, police said Thursday.

The text contained spelling errors, raising doubt whether it was sent by Islamists or far-right activists trying to stoke fear, said one of the recipients, Greens party lawmaker Hans-Christian Stroebele.

(AFP )

Bangladesh said Thursday it had treated more than 2,350 Rohingya refugees for serious injuries sustained during ethnic violence in Myanmar, including bullet and machete wounds and trauma from landmines.

About 422,000 refugees from the stateless Muslim minority have fled Myanmar's westernmost Rakhine State since August 25, overwhelming camps along the border ill-prepared for an influx of desperate civilians.

(AFP )

Syrian fighters backed by US special forces were on Thursday clearing the last remaining Islamic State group jihadists from their Syrian bastion Raqa, a monitor said.

"The Syrian Democratic Forces and American special forces began a mopping up operation in Raqa," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Britain-based monitor said jihadists were still hiding in underground shelters in a part of the city centre, where a football stadium and former government buildings are located.

(AFP )

A large majority of Muslims in Europe feel closely connected to the country they live in and trust public institutions despite facing "widespread discrimination", a study suggested Thursday.

The findings come ahead of elections in Germany on Sunday and in Austria next month when rightwing parties critical of Muslim immigration are expected to perform well.

(AFP )

US efforts to train Afghanistan's security forces are being hampered by slapdash instruction, shoddy oversight and failures in governance, a watchdog warned Thursday as America sends thousands more troops to the war-torn nation.

American assistance to the Afghan army and police has topped $70 billion since efforts to build the security forces began following the 2001 US-led invasion, but 16 years later they are still struggling to contain a Taliban-led insurgency.

(AFP )

The European Union's chief Brexit negotiator said Thursday there could be a quick deal on the conditions of Britain's departure as he urged London to table new proposals next week.

"I am convinced that a rapid agreement on the conditions of the UK's orderly withdrawal, and a transition period, is possible," former French minister Michel Barnier told an Italian parliamentary commission in Rome.

"For that to happen, we would like the United Kingdom to put on the table, as soon as next week, proposals to overcome the barriers."

(AFP )

The UN Security Council on Thursday unanimously decided to set up an investigation team to collect evidence on the massacres of Iraq's Yazidi minority and other atrocities committed by the Islamic State group in Iraq.

Britain drafted the resolution to help bring perpetrators of IS war crimes to justice -- a cause championed by international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who was present for the vote.

The Lebanese-British lawyer represents Yazidi women who were taken hostage and used as sex slaves by IS as it swept into Iraq's Sinjar region in August 2014.

(AFP )

An attack on an aid shipment in Myanmar's violence-wracked Rakhine state and a deadly Red Cross truck crash in Bangladesh on Thursday hampered desperately needed relief efforts for Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution.

Communal tensions remain high across Rakhine where raids by Rohingya militants at the end of last month sparked a massive army crackdown, driving more than 420,000 people into Bangladesh in what the UN has called a campaign of "ethnic cleansing".

(AFP )

The world's cereal production is headed for a bumper 2017, with total output on track for a record, the United Nation's food agency said Thursday.

The increase will not, however, automatically alleviate world hunger, as conflicts and weather disasters continue to threaten food security in many regions, the Food and Agriculture Organisation said in a report.

"Global cereal production is forecast to reach a record level in 2017," the FAO said.

(AFP )

British ministers put on a show of unity Thursday as they met on the eve of Prime Minister Theresa May's major speech on Brexit, which has been overshadowed by cabinet divisions.

May is hoping her speech in Florence on Friday will break the deadlock in negotiations with the European Union, before talks resume next week.

But the run-up to the event has been dominated by an intervention by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who last week laid out his own vision for life outside the EU.

(AFP )

Unions staged new protests Thursday against an overhaul of France's labour laws, hoping to build pressure on President Emmanuel Macron days before his flagship reforms are expected to enter into force.

The marches and strikes come a week after hundreds of thousands of people -- 200,000 according to police, half a million according to organisers -- demonstrated against the measures in the first major challenge to Macron since he was elected in May.

(AFP )

Standard & Poor's slashed China's credit rating on Thursday over warnings that its ballooning debt had raised "economic and financial risks", marking the country's second downgrade this year.

The decision by S&P, which downgraded China's debt from AA-minus to A-plus, follows a similar decision in May by Moody's, which had also raised concerns about the growing debt of the world's second largest economy.

(AFP )

The United States and the European Union on Thursday moved to impose new unilateral sanctions on North Korea as South Korea warned the United Nations of the risk of accidentally igniting a war.

After threatening to "totally destroy North Korea" in his first address to the General Assembly, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order targeting foreign companies doing business with North Korea, ratcheting up pressure on Pyongyang.

In Brussels, the 28-country EU agreed to a ban on investments in North Korea and on EU exports of oil, diplomatic sources said.

(AFP )

The Catalan government acknowledged Thursday that its plans to hold an independence referendum on October 1 had been dealt a blow by a crackdown by Spanish authorities against the vote which Madrid deems illegal.

"It is obvious that the rules of the game have been changed," Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras told Catalonia's TV3 a day after police detained 14 Catalan officials suspected of preparing the vote slated for October 1.

(AFP )

British Prime Minister Theresa May gathered her ministers Thursday on the eve of a major speech on Brexit, seeking to restore cabinet unity after a damaging intervention by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

May flew home with Johnson overnight from New York, where they had attended the UN General Assembly, landing at dawn before holding a special cabinet meeting in Downing Street.

(AFP )

Syria's Kurds are poised to hold their first local elections, a move that has annoyed Damascus and Ankara and comes days before a controversial independence referendum by Iraq's Kurds.

Kurds made up around 15 percent of Syria's pre-war population and were long oppressed by the central government.

But they largely stayed out of the uprising that erupted in March 2011, instead quietly building local control in Kurdish-majority areas after the withdrawal of most government troops.

(AFP )

In a suite at the harbourside Mandarin Oriental hotel in Hong Kong, Chris Patten is whipping through rounds of interviews before an important visit from his tailor.

Having lost weight recently he needs new suits and running them up in the city, famous for its speedy and affordable couture, was preferable to taking them for alterations in London, he says.

Britain's last governor in Hong Kong was given the affectionate nickname "Fat Pang" during his five-year tenure and was known for his love of its ubiquitous egg tarts.

(AFP )

As thousands of Rohingya flee ethnic violence in Myanmar, Bangladesh's small Buddhist community fears the crisis could spark a violent backlash from their Muslim neighbours.

Many Bangladeshis are angry over the treatment in Buddhist-majority Myanmar of the Rohingya, a persecuted stateless minority who they see as Muslim brethren.

The anger is particularly acute in the southern district of Cox's Bazar near the border with Myanmar, where many people have close links with the Rohingya and share linguistic and cultural roots.

(AFP )

Russia warned the United States of reprisals Thursday after artillery fire from an area controlled by US-backed fighters in eastern Syria targeted government troops.

A military spokesman in Moscow blamed Syrian Democratic Forces and said future attacks would be repelled.

"Syrian regime forces were twice targeted with massive fire from mortar launchers and rocket artillery from areas east of the Euphrates river where SDF forces and US special forces are," Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.

(AFP )

A top aide to French far-right leader Marine Le Pen quit the National Front on Thursday, laying bare a deep split over Europe and immigration after the party's election defeat this year.

Florian Philippot, architect of the party's pledge to quit the euro and of Le Pen's drive to detoxify the National Front (FN) brand among voters, announced his departure on France 2 television, after Le Pen stripped him of most of his responsibilities.

(AFP )

Climbing onto a pile of rubble that used to be a building may not seem the most obvious thing to do for someone who has just survived an earthquake.

But that is how thousands of Mexicans have reacted to the deadly 7.1-magnitude quake that rocked the country Tuesday, killing more than 200 people.