Friday 15 December 2017

In the world

(AFP )

Four Palestinians were killed and hundreds wounded Friday in violence with Israeli forces across the Palestinian territories, as tens of thousands of people joined new protests against Washington's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

US President Donald Trump's December 6 announcement that he would break with decades of American policy and move his embassy to Jerusalem has stirred international condemnation, as well as protests across the Palestinian territories and Arab world.

(AFP )

Another person has been charged over the suspected kidnapping of a millionaire French hotel magnate, who was found tied up in the back of a van in 2016, the prosecutor in Nice said on Friday.

Jacqueline Veyrac, 76, the owner of the Michelin-starred La Reserve restaurant in the French Riviera city of Nice was snatched last October as she was getting into her SUV.

She was discovered 48 hours later after being spotted by a passerby bound, gagged and tied to the van's floor.

(AFP )

Polish Holocaust survivor Kazimierz Piechowski, who spectacularly escaped Auschwitz by stealing the car of a Nazi SS officer, died on Friday aged 98, the state Institute for National Remembrance (INR) said.

Piechowski, who became prisoner number 918 when he was deported to the infamous death camp in 1940, escaped two years later with three fellow prisoners in one of the most daring escape efforts of World War II.

They fled with a report documenting the running of the camp, providing the exiled Polish resistance detailed evidence of the atrocities committed by the Nazis.

(AFP )

The lawyer of a Salvadoran woman who lost an appeal against a 30-year prison sentence imposed for a miscarriage Friday accused the court of acting with "flippancy."

The San Salvador court on Wednesday rejected the appeal lodged by Teodora Vasquez, 34, who has already spent a decade behind bars.

"What bothers me the most is the flippancy of the judges... they didn't take account of the errors (in her trial) despite them being demonstrated. Blindness? It's incredible," defense attorney Victor Hugo Mata wrote on Twitter.

(AFP )

Far-right Dutch MP Geert Wilders Friday withdrew a leading candidate for his Freedom Party (PVV) in next year's local elections after he praised British historian David Irving, who was briefly jailed for denying the Holocaust.

Geza Hegedus, who headed the PVV's list for seats in the Rotterdam council, wished Irving a happy birthday on his Facebook page earlier this year and hoped he would have "many more productive years", the AD Dutch daily said.

(AFP )

German authorities said Friday that Berlin's new international airport would not open before 2020, eight years behind schedule for a project that has become an enduring political scandal and national laughing stock.

Planners said after a committee meeting they were confident they now had a viable roadmap to address the technical defects that have plagued in particular the ultramodern new main terminal of the BER airport.

(AFP )

The Pentagon is voicing growing alarm that the risky flying of Russian pilots in Syria could lead to a mishap -- or even the nightmare scenario of a US jet shooting down a Russian warplane.

Defense officials this week highlighted several recent close calls with Russian planes, including one Wednesday where a pair of US F-22s intercepted two Russian jets over a part of Syria the Pentagon says they are not meant to be operating in.

(AFP )

European leaders will find it "very hard" to reach a compromise in talks on a new policy for admitting refugees by a June deadline, EU President Donald Tusk said at a summit Friday.

Tusk and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker nonetheless tried to defuse a row that had even divided them when they opened talks with the bloc's 28 leaders on Thursday.

"Mandatory quotas remain a contentious issue although its temperature has decreased substantially," Tusk told a press conference ending the last European Union summit of 2017.

(AFP )

North Korea must "earn its way back" to the negotiating table, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday, backing away from an earlier unconditional offer of talks to end the nuclear stand-off with Pyongyang.

Tillerson told the UN Security Council that a "sustained cessation of North Korea's threatening behavior must occur before talks can begin," apparently after coming under pressure from President Donald Trump's White House to toughen his stance.

(AFP )

Dutch military police on Friday opened fire on a man armed with a knife at Amsterdam's busy Schiphol airport, they said.

"Man at Schiphol shot at by the military police, after he made threats with a knife. Situation safe," the military police said in a tweet.

A second tweet said the "suspect had been overpowered and arrested and taken away".

(AFP )

A Nigerian military court on Friday sentenced a soldier to death for killing five civilians rescued from Boko Haram.

The soldier, Lance Corporal John Godwin, was convicted by the General Court Martial in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State for killing the civilians in Yamteke town.

"The civilians were earlier rescued by troops of the soldier's battalion and were taken for investigation at the time the soldier shot and killed five of them," army spokesman Kinsley Mfon Samuel said in a statement.

(AFP )

Saudi-led air strikes have killed 28 Huthi rebels around Yemen's west coast, medics and security sources close to the insurgents said Friday, as government forces reported deadly clashes in the south.

The security sources said air strikes on Thursday and Friday hit five towns controlled by the Huthis around 70 kilometres (45 miles) south of Hodeida.

Medical sources said 28 Huthis were killed and 17 wounded in the attacks.

(AFP )

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday opened the country's first driverless metro line, an eagerly awaited project expected to relieve congestion in a traffic-choked area of Istanbul.

Erdogan is already gearing up for November 2019 legislative and presidential elections and a host of new infrastructure projects are being prepared across the country.

(AFP )

Saudi Arabia's hefty donation to a new anti-terror force in west Africa's Sahel region is a conspicuous attempt by Riyadh to show it is serious about fighting extremism, analysts say.

The new G5 Sahel force pools troops from Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger in an area of desert the size of Europe where extremist groups have been thriving.

Money had been a major obstacle to getting it off the ground, meaning Riyadh's pledge of 100 million euros ($118 million) is a relief for former colonial power France, which has spearheaded the project.

(AFP )

A Dutch-Ethiopian man was sentenced to life in jail on Friday after Dutch judges found him guilty of war crimes committed during Ethiopia's bloody purges in the late 1970s, a period known as the "Red Terror".

Eshetu Alemu, 63, was "guilty of war crimes and treated his fellow citizens in a cold and calculating manner... including robbing them of their right to life," presiding judge Mariette Renckens told the court in The Hague.

The tribunal "sentences him to life in prison, because this is the only appropriate measure of punishment that can be given," the judge said.

(AFP )

Flights between Russia and Egypt will resume in February, the Russian transport ministry announced Friday, after they were suspended in 2015 following an airliner bombing claimed by the Islamic State group.

Russian transport minister Maksim Sokolov and Egyptian civil aviation minister Sherif Fathy signed an agreement on aviation security that "is the first step for the resumption of flights between our countries," the Moscow ministry said.

(AFP )

Germany and France will offer their joint vision for reforming the eurozone by March, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday, in an effort to bridge divisions over the future of the single currency.

Meeting without departure-bound Britain, the bloc's 27 leaders were tasked by EU President Donald Tusk to speak freely about their often clashing visions for the single currency's future at a summit widely expected to be dominated by Brexit.

(AFP )

Germany's Social Democrats agreed Friday to open exploratory talks on building a government with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, taking Europe's biggest economy a small step closer towards a new coalition.

The leader of Germany's second biggest party SPD, Martin Schulz, said he and other leading Social Democrats would meet Merkel next Wednesday to draw up a timetable on talks, due to start in early January.

But he stressed that his party had no plans to simply sign up to extending a lease on the right-left "grand coalition" that has governed Germany since 2013.

(AFP )

Catalonia's pro-independence parties could win the most seats in next week's knife-edge regional elections but fall short of an absolute majority in parliament, according to the final polls before the vote.

Five new polls published on Friday put the three separatist lists on course to win 63 to 69 seats in the 135-seat parliament on December 21, with 68 seats needed to control the assembly. They won 72 seats in the 2015 election.

(AFP )

Austria's far-right was reportedly set Friday to secure the interior and defence ministries as coalition talks entered the final straight, with negotiators hopeful for a deal later in the day.

The agreement will crown Sebastian Kurz, 31, as the world's youngest leader at the head of a coalition of his conservative People's Party (OeVP) with the nationalist Freedom Party (FPOe).

Gernot Bluemel, an OeVP negotiator, said that he was "hopeful that we can reach a deal today (Friday)" and, in a skiing analogy, that the talks were in the "final slalom".

(AFP )

After European Union leaders agreed Friday to begin talks on the bloc's future relationship with Britain, here is an outline of what we know so far about the UK's departure from the EU:

- Timing -

Following Britain's vote to leave the EU in a June 2016 referendum, Prime Minister Theresa May officially gave notice to the 28-member bloc on March 29.

This set the clock ticking on a two-year process that should see Britain withdraw on March 29, 2019.

(AFP )

The runoff in Liberia's presidential elections will be held on December 26, the country's electoral overseer announced on Tuesday, clearing a last hurdle in a protracted saga.

It means the final round of voting between the two leading candidates -- ex-footballer George Weah and Vice President Joseph Boakai -- can go ahead.

"I am pleased to announce that the 2017 presidential runoff elections will be conducted on Tuesday December 26, 2017," the president of the National Elections Commission (NEC), Jerome Korkoya, said.

(AFP )

International war crimes judges on Friday awarded $10 million in landmark reparations to "hundreds or thousands" of former child soldiers left brutalised and stigmatised after being conscripted into a ruthless Congolese militia.

Warlord Thomas Lubanga, 56, was jailed for 14 years after being convicted in 2012 at the International Criminal Court (ICC) of abducting boys and girls and press-ganging them into his Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) in the eastern Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

(AFP )

Indian police detained dozens of Catholics singing Christmas carols for allegedly trying to convert people, officials said Friday, as fears grow over religious freedom in the South Asian nation.

Police said 32 people were detained for trying to convert people to Christianity in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh late Thursday, with a leading Catholic association condemning the accusations as "laughable".

(AFP )

Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, on Friday opposed calls to disband a controversial paramilitary force which was instrumental in defeating the Islamic State group in the country.

Iraq is "always in desperate need of heroic men who have backed up the army and federal police and who fought alongside them on different fronts", said Abdel Mahdi al-Karabalai, the ayatollah's representative.

(AFP )

European Union leaders agreed Friday to open crucial talks on a future relationship with Britain once it leaves the bloc, but warned it would be "dramatically difficult" to reach a deal before Brexit in 2019.

The leaders of the 27 other member states met without British Prime Minister Theresa May to endorse an interim deal on the terms of the separation, and approve the next stage of discussions.

EU President Donald Tusk said afterwards that the bloc would open "exploratory contacts with the UK to get more clarity on their vision" for ties after Brexit.

(AFP )

Lebanon's ability to survive the crisis sparked last month by the premier's now rescinded resignation has increased confidence in its economy, the governor of the country's central bank said Friday.

Lebanon, chronically feared to be on the brink of default, was shaken last month by an unprecedented crisis that saw Prime Minister Saad Hariri resign from Saudi Arabia in mysterious circumstances before a Western diplomatic effort and subsequent national consultations saved his job.

(AFP )

A Conservative MP who led a rebellion against Prime Minister Theresa May over Brexit legislation says he has been receiving death threats and has passed them on to the police, British media reported Friday.

Dominic Grieve, a former attorney general, told the Guardian newspaper that such threats have "no part in the political process of a democracy" and said he was disturbed by the bitterness of the political atmosphere.

(AFP )

International war crimes judges awarded $10 million in landmark reparations to "hundreds or thousands" of former child soldiers conscripted into a Congolese militia and left brutalised by the horrific experience.

Warlord Thomas Lubanga, 56, was jailed for 14 years after being convicted in 2012 at the International Criminal Court (ICC) of abducting boys and girls and press-ganging them into his Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) in the eastern Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

(AFP )

American Nancy Kissel, dubbed the "milkshake murderer" for one of Hong Kong's most notorious crimes, was back in court Friday to challenge her life sentence for murdering her banker husband.

Kissel lost an appeal in 2014 against a conviction for drugging her husband -- a senior executive at US bank Merrill Lynch -- with a sedative-laced strawberry drink before clubbing him to death with a lead ornament in their luxury home in the southern Chinese city.

She is currently serving a life sentence at Hong Kong's high-security Tai Lam Centre for Women.

(AFP )

International judges on Friday awarded $10 million (8.5 million euros) in damages to child soldiers recruited into the ranks of a brutal Congolese militia by former warlord Thomas Lubanga.

The judges at the International Criminal Court set "the sum of reparations for which Mr Lubanga is liable as the total sum of $10 million," presiding judge Marc Perrin de Brichambaut said.

The court formally acknowledged 425 victims, setting the amount of harm they suffered at an average of $8,000 each, for a total of $3.4 million.

(AFP )

Austria's incoming right-wing chancellor Sebastian Kurz joined eastern and central European countries on Friday in backing EU President Donald Tusk's rejection of mandatory refugee quotas.

Tusk called the troubled scheme "ineffective" and "highly divisive", in a letter to EU leaders before a summit in Brussels that entered its second day Friday.

Eastern European states like Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, which have refused to take part, agree with Tusk but others including Germany and Greece do not.

(AFP )

The death toll from a crash between a school bus and a train in southern France rose to six Friday as two 11-year-old girls succumbed to their injuries, a police source said.

Four teenagers had died on Thursday in the accident at a level crossing in Millas, a village near the city of Perpignan. Eighteen others were injured, 14 of them children.

Authorities are investigating whether human error or a technical fault was to blame for one of the worst accidents involving a school bus in France for 30 years.

(AFP )

The top US envoy for North Korea said Friday that "real dialogue" is needed to gauge what Pyongyang wants from its accelerated drive towards nuclear weapons statehood.

Joseph Yun's comments came after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson created a stir by appearing to open a door to direct talks with the North without preconditions -– a major policy shift that the White House swiftly rowed back on.

(AFP )

Fraud squad detectives questioned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his Jerusalem residence on Friday, the seventh time in a nearly year-long corruption probe, reports said.

Public radio and two privately-owned TV channels said that investigators arrived at the house shortly before 9:00 am (0700 GMT).

Police policy is not to comment until the day's questioning has been completed.