Sunday 22 October 2017

In the world

(AFP )

Authorities in Bangladesh were bracing Sunday for another possible surge in Rohingya refugee arrivals, with thousands from the Muslim minority believed stranded along the border with Myanmar waiting to cross.

Border guards are also concerned that the relaxing later Sunday of a temporary ban on fishing in the Bay of Bengal could see a surge in people-smuggling along the coast as unscrupulous captains return to the seas.

(AFP )

Indonesia said Sunday its military chief had been refused entry to the United States and asked Washington for an explanation.

General Gatot Nurmantyo was due to attend a conference in Washington at the request of General Joseph F. Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, but the military said he was unable to board his Emirates flight in Jakarta on Saturday.

Military spokesman Brigjen Wuryanto said the general was refused entry by the US Customs and Border Protection agency.

(AFP )

Catalonia's separatists were planning their response Sunday after Spain took drastic steps to stop the region from breaking away by dissolving its separatist government and forcing new elections.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and his regional executive -- who sparked Spain's worst political crisis in decades by holding a banned independence referendum on October 1 -- will be stripped of their jobs and their ministries taken over under measures announced Saturday by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

(AFP )

Thousands of demonstrators marched Sunday in Berlin, in protest against the far-right Alternative for Germany's debut in parliament next week.

Bearing posters with slogans like "Stop AfD", "My voice against incitement" or "My heart beats for diversity", the demonstrators rallied two days before AfD lawmakers will join other MPs at the first sitting of Germany's newly-elected parliament.

The Islamophobic and anti-migrant AfD garnered 12.6 percent of the vote in the watershed general election in September and became the country's third biggest party.

(AFP )

Voters in the northern Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto were voting Sunday in referendums on autonomy, against the backdrop of Catalonia's push for independence from Spain.

The consultative votes are only the beginning of a process which could over time lead to powers being devolved from Rome.

Secessionist sentiment in the two wealthy regions is restricted to fringe groups with little following.

(AFP )

A note that Albert Einstein gave to a courier in Tokyo, briefly describing his theory on happy living, has surfaced after 95 years and is up for auction in Jerusalem.

The year was 1922, and the German-born physicist, most famous for his theory of relativity, was on a lecture tour in Japan.

He had recently been informed that he was to receive the Nobel Prize for physics, and his fame outside of scientific circles was growing.

(AFP )

The head of the World Health Organization on Sunday reversed his decision to name Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe as a goodwill ambassador, following widespread uproar.

"Over the last few days, I have reflected on my appointment of H.E. President Robert Mugabe as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for (Non-communicable diseases) in Africa. As a result I have decided to rescind the appointment" the head of the UN agency, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in a statement.

(AFP )

As Catalonia's independence crisis deepens, here are the key events that have rocked the region since this month's referendum on splitting from Spain.

- October 1: Violence-hit referendum -

Hundreds of thousands of Catalans vote in an independence referendum that goes ahead despite a court ban deeming it unconstitutional.

Spanish riot police try to block the vote. Shocking footage emerges of them using batons and rubber bullets on crowds and roughing up voters.

(AFP )

Faf du Plessis led another South African assault on Bangladesh's bowlers before he was forced to retire hurt nine runs short of a century in the third and final one-day international at Buffalo Park on Sunday.

The South African captain made 91 off 67 balls as South Africa piled up 369 for six, their highest one-day total against Bangladesh and the highest total at the ground.

(AFP )

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny walked free on Sunday after a 20-day jail term for organising protests against President Vladimir Putin.

Navalny, who has declared his intention to stand for president in 2018, was released in a secret location in Moscow early Sunday to evade media attention.

"Hi. I'm out," Navalny wrote on Instagram, posting a picture of himself on a street. A photographer working for his team later posted photographs of him meeting colleagues at the office of his anti-corruption foundation.

(AFP )

European Parliament chief Antonio Tajani said Europe should "fear" the spread of small nations as Spain struggled Sunday with the Catalonia crisis and the Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto voted in referendums on greater autonomy.

In an interview with the Rome daily Il Messaggero, the Italian politician said Europe must "of course fear" the proliferation of small nations.

"That's why nobody in Europe intends to recognise Catalonia," he said.

(AFP )

Russia on Sunday accused the US-led coalition in Syria of having flattened Raqa with a Dresden-like bombing campaign and masking the destruction with a rush of humanitarian aid.

In a statement, the defence ministry said that Raqa -- the capital of the Islamic State group's self-proclaimed caliphate -- "inherited the fate of Dresden in 1945, razed to the ground by Anglo-American bombings."

US-backed Kurdish-led forces last week recaptured Raqa, the capital of IS's self-proclaimed caliphate and its last major stronghold in Syria.

(AFP )

A US-backed Arab-Kurd alliance announced on Sunday it had retaken one of Syria's largest oilfields from the Islamic State group in the east of country.

The Al-Omar oilfield in the province of Deir Ezzor produced 30,000 barrels per day before the start of Syria's conflict in 2011 and became a key source of income for the jihadists after they seized it in 2014.

US-led coalition air strikes destroyed the field in 2015, after the jihadists had reaped estimated oil sale revenues from it of between $1.7 million and $5.1 million a month, according to the coalition.

(AFP )

Shinzo Abe, on course to become Japan's longest-serving leader after Sunday's election win, is seen as a pragmatic and canny diplomat who has cozied up to Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin while pushing a nationalist agenda at home.

Groomed for power from birth, the 63-year-old is often viewed as arrogant but has also shown a self-deprecating sense of humour, dressing up as video game icon Super Mario as the Rio Olympics closed to give a zany preview of Tokyo 2020.

(AFP )

Eleven people, mostly foreign workers, were killed in a landslide at a construction site on Malaysia's Penang Island, officials said Sunday, as anger mounted among residents at the accident.

Huge mounds of earth slipped off a hillside Saturday morning and buried the men as they worked on two apartment blocks of affordable housing on the island, which is popular with tourists.

Authorities initially said that 13 foreign workers and a Malaysian supervisor were trapped under the mud and rubble at the site in Tanjung Bungah, north of Penang's historic capital George Town.

(AFP )

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe swept to a resounding victory in a snap election Sunday, winning a mandate to harden his already hawkish stance on North Korea and re-energise the world's number-three economy.

Abe's conservative coalition was on track to win 311 seats in the 465-seat parliament, according to a projection published by private broadcaster TBS, putting the blue-blooded nationalist on course to become Japan's longest-serving leader.

(AFP )

A diver separated from his boat off the coast of Australia said Sunday he was lucky to be alive after being forced to swim miles back to shore -- shadowed by a large tiger shark.

The spear fisherman, named in local media as John Craig, was underwater off Western Australia state Friday when his boat was swept away due to engine problems and strong currents.

"I put my head in the water to check I was in the same place and suddenly saw a huge four-metre (13-foot) tiger shark approaching within arm's reach," Craig told commercial broadcaster Channel Nine.

(AFP )

All five of America's living former presidents took the stage Saturday at a benefit concert in Texas to raise money for victims of the hurricane-ravaged southern United States and Caribbean.

Former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter appeared together onstage at Texas A&M , praising Americans for their willingness to help fellow citizens and urging them to do more.

(AFP )

Chancellor Angela Merkel hails from Germany's ex-communist East, yet it is here where the anger against her runs deepest and the far-right protest party AfD has celebrated its strongest gains.

The electoral success of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany, which scored 12.6 percent in September 24 elections, stunned much of the country.

But in Cottbus, located in the Lusatia coal mining region near the Polish border, many cheered the strong result for the party whose battle cry is "Merkel must go".

(AFP )

The lights go out, the projector whirls and entertainment-starved Saudis sink into plush seats to soak up an experience they have been denied for decades —- a trip to the cinema.

The rare movie night this week in Riyadh was a precursor to an expected formal lifting of the kingdom's ban on cinemas, long vilified as vulgar and sinful by religious hardliners.

Following a decree allowing women to drive, authorities have hinted cinemas would soon be permitted as part of ambitious reforms for a post-oil era that could shake up the austere kingdom's cultural scene.

(AFP )

While Chinese President Xi Jinping and his cohorts chart the nation's future at their leadership conclave in Beijing, his citizen army of red-armbanded foot soldiers are keeping an eye out for trouble outside.

Stationed on street corners, in front of shops and outside bars, civilians with armbands labelled "Public Security Volunteer" have deployed across the capital as the Communist Party holds its crucial five-yearly gathering.

(AFP )

Citizens mourning the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia are calling for Malta's deeply-ingrained tribal politics to be put aside so the shaken island nation can begin healing its wounds.

The initial shock at Monday's car bomb assassination is now turning into demands for a united front -- with tens of thousands, party allegiance aside, expected at a national rally on Sunday demanding justice for the journalist.

(AFP )

After prayers at the Chantelle Abbey in Allier, central France, a marketing meeting between the abbey's nuns and their employees discusses the latest orders for its on-site soap and cosmetics products, the delivery destination: Germany.

The community of Benedictine sisters has been manufacturing cosmetics since 1954, after two sisters, a chemist and a mathematician, began the practice.

Body lotions, shower gels and moisturisers are among the products made in the abbey's own laboratory, where the nuns acknowledge they must now make time for prayer and business.

(AFP )

Voters in the northern Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto vote Sunday in autonomy referendums attracting additional interest against the backdrop of Catalonia's push for independence from Spain.

The consultative votes are only the beginning of a process which could, over time, lead to powers being devolved from Rome. Secessionist sentiment in the two wealthy northern regions is restricted to fringe groups with little following.

(AFP )

A spate of deadly Taliban attacks targeting Afghan forces this week was a show of strength against Donald Trump's new strategy, and signalled a push to strike security bases rather than cities, analysts said.

In three of the four ambushes since Tuesday, militants used bomb-laden Humvees to blast their way into targets, seeking to demoralise war-weary security forces, and steal weapons and vehicles to fuel their insurgency.

(AFP )

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said Sunday he had been released from the Moscow detention centre where he had served a 20-day term for organising protests against President Vladimir Putin.

"Hi. I'm out," Navalny wrote on Instagram, posting a picture of himself on a street. His release was arranged by police to evade crowds of journalists waiting outside the detention centre.

(AFP )

"Special operations by the Caliphate's soldiers!" boasts a torn, blood-stained pamphlet at a bombed-out media kiosk in Syria's Raqa, a symbol of the Islamic State group's once fearsome propaganda machine.

As well as serving as the Syrian capital of IS's "caliphate," Raqa was the beating heart of much of its media output and was painstakingly portrayed as a jihadist paradise where Islamic law had finally been applied.

But since a US-backed offensive brought IS's three-year reign over the city to an end, the backbone of the jihadists' macabre marketing now lies in ruins.

(AFP )

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is to launch a fresh bid Sunday to ease a crisis between Riyadh and Doha, both allies of Washington, but without high hopes of a breakthrough.

Apart from the months-long crisis, Iran's rising influence in the Middle East is also expected to figure high on the agenda of America's top diplomat during talks in the two capitals.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut ties with Qatar and imposed an embargo in June, accusing it of supporting terrorism and cosying up to Iran.

(AFP )

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's Brexit coordinator, told British Prime Minister Theresa May on Sunday to confront the Brexiteers in her cabinet and offer greater concessions to the EU.

Verhofstadt told The Mail on Sunday newspaper that May should confront Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and other Brexit cheerleaders and outline what sort of trade deal she wants, following this week's summit in Brussels.

(AFP )

Australian police divers have recovered the bodies of two fishermen from a sunken trawler and were Sunday searching for four others missing since the boat capsized nearly a week ago.

The commercial fishing trawler with seven on board sank in rough seas off the coast of central Queensland state on Monday.

Rescuers have been scouring the waters near Middle Island, north of the town of Seventeen Seventy, but just one crew member has been found alive.

(AFP )

More than 1.1 billion people worldwide officially don't exist -- going about their daily lives without proof of identity.

The issue leaves a significant fraction of the global population deprived of health and education services.

Among these "invisible people" -- many of whom live primarily in Africa and Asia -- more than one third are children susceptible to violence whose births have not been registered, the World Bank's "Identification for Development" (ID4D) program recently warned.

(AFP )

Inside a locked room in an office building in Caracas, 20 humming computers use their data-crunching power to mine bitcoins, an increasingly popular tool in the fight against Venezuela's hyperinflation.

In warehouses, offices and homes, miners are using modified computers to perform complex computations, essentially book-keeping for digital transactions worldwide, for which they earn a commission in bitcoins.

(AFP )

France has charged eight men, including three minors, following an investigation into far-right activists allegedly plotting to target politicians and mosques, prosecutors announced Saturday in Paris.

The men -- aged between 17 and 29 -- are accused of being party to a "criminal terrorist conspiracy", and of links to Logan Alexandre Nisin, a militant who was arrested near Marseille in June.

Nisin is the founder of a group dubbed OAS. He was detained after posting that he planned to attack blacks, jihadists, migrants and "scum".

(AFP )

A Chinese whistleblower, now seeking political asylum in Germany, has claimed there was a systematic doping programme in China during the 1980s and 1990s across a range of sports.

In a television interview with German broadcaster ARD, Chinese doctor Xue Yinxian, 79, claims more than 10,000 athletes in different sports were involved in a state-backed doping programme.

(AFP )

With Karl Marx looking on from an image on the wall, convicted killer-turned-novelist Cesare Battisti says tension is high as a Brazilian court prepares to consider his possible extradition to Italy.

His four-year-old son Raul runs around him and Battisti, 62, seems marked by the nearly four decades he has spent on the run from murder charges in his native Italy.

The fugitive is wanted in connection with four killings -- including of two policemen -- attributed to a far-left extremist group active in the 1970s.