Monday 22 May 2017

In the world

(AFP )

A bomb struck a Bangkok military hospital on Monday and wounded 21 people -- one seriously -- three years to the day after the Thai army seized power in the politically unstable kingdom.

The small device -- which police said was potentially deadly -- went off near the VIP section of King Mongkut hospital as patients and their families waited for prescriptions, shattering glass and sending smoke into the corridors.

Hospital director Saroj Keokajee said the "low intensity bomb" injured 21 people, among them retired military officers.

(AFP )

Despite impassioned pleas from several countries, the World Health Organization's annual assembly refused Monday to even discuss admitting Taiwan to the meeting, under pressure from China.

Self-governing Taiwan, which China sees as a renegade province awaiting reunification, has been invited to attend the WHO's main annual meeting as an observer every year since 2009, but this year it did not receive an invitation.

(AFP )

Istanbul authorities on Monday demolished the Reina nightclub that was hit by a deadly jihadist gun attack on New Year revellers, saying the venue had violated Turkish legislation.

Once the favoured glamour haunt of the city's monied elite, the waterside Bosphorus nightclub was the scene of horror in the early hours of January 1 when an Uzbek gunman went on the rampage, killing 39 people, most of them foreigners.

The bloodshed was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, the first clear claim it had made for an attack in Turkey.

(AFP )

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday amended an unpopular campaign proposal for elderly care just days after unveiling it, prompting accusations that she could not be relied upon in upcoming Brexit negotiations.

May came under fire following a speech in Wales, where her Conservatives are hoping to make historic gains against the opposition Labour party in the June 8 general election.

In the speech she announced a cap on the amount people would be asked to pay, which was in response to a backlash against proposals in her party's manifesto on paying for elderly care.

(AFP )

Donald Trump was on Monday to become the first serving US president to visit the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, located in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

The city is revered by three major faiths but mired in political, as well as religious, disputes and its status is one of the thorniest issues of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

- Whose capital? -

(AFP )

EU ministers on Monday unanimously gave Michel Barnier the green light to start Brexit talks, with the Frenchman hoping to sit at the table from June 19 after Britain's general election.

Barnier said the backing of the remaining 27 countries was a further show of "determination and confidence" in what promise to be two years of bruising negotiations with London.

(AFP )

China and Russia on Monday launched an ambitious project to jointly develop a long-haul jet to challenge Boeing and Airbus, just two weeks after the successful test flight of the first made-in-China large passenger plane.

State-run Chinese manufacturer Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) and Russia's United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) said they formally established the previously announced joint venture in Shanghai on Monday.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump spoke of a "rare opportunity" to bring stability to the region as he landed in Israel on Monday to seek ways to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

Trump also hailed the "unbreakable bond" between the United States and Israel as he spoke at a brief ceremony at the airport in Tel Aviv after landing.

"On my first trip overseas as president, I have come to this sacred and ancient land to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and the state of Israel," Trump said.

(AFP )

The yawning gap between Tehran and Washington has grown even wider with US President Donald Trump's latest efforts to isolate Iran, which accused the United States of "milking" Saudi Arabia for petro-dollars.

Trump's choice of Saudi Arabia, Iran's bitter regional rival, for his first official foreign visit reflects the deep antagonism of his administration towards the Islamic republic.

(AFP )

More than 220 suspects, including over two dozen former Turkish generals, went on trial Monday accused of being among the ringleaders of the attempted coup last year aimed at ousting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Furious protesters outside the court called for the death penalty for the accused and flung rope nooses at the defendants as they were paraded into court handcuffed and held by the security forces.

(AFP )

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, America's best-known circus, has staged its final show after 146 years, marking the end of an era brought on by animal rights advocates.

The final performance of "the greatest show on earth" took place on Sunday at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island, New York State.

"It's sad," said Angel, son of the general manager, after taking a selfie in front of the circus's famous logo on the side of a truck. "It's all my life."

(AFP )

China on Monday sidestepped claims by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte that it had threatened to go to war over the disputed South China Sea.

Duterte, who met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing last week, said Friday the leaders had raised conflict as an option to resolving their competing claims to the waters.

"I really said it to their face. That is ours and we intend to drill oil there," said Duterte, who claimed he made the comments public in response to domestic criticism he was being too weak with China over the row.

(AFP )

Philippine authorities have banned hanging rosaries and religious icons off car dashboards because of safety concerns, prompting an outcry from the Catholic Church which insists they offer divine intervention on the nation's chaotic roads.

The ban, which will take effect on Friday, is part of a wide-ranging new law aimed at eliminating distractions for drivers.

These include talking or sending messages on mobile phones, putting on make-up, and eating or drinking coffee while driving, according to Aileen Lizada, spokeswoman for the national transport regulatory agency.

(AFP )

The trial opened on Monday of more than 220 suspects, including over two dozen former Turkish generals, accused of being among the ringleaders of the attempted coup last year aimed at ousting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey blames the attempted July 15 putsch on the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, a claim he strongly denies. But Gulen is one of the 221 suspects named in the indictment.

Gulen -- who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States -- is among nine of the 221 suspects who remain on the run with the remainder appearing in court.

(AFP )

Hollywood star Rebel Wilson on Monday accused an Australian publisher of portraying her as a serial liar in a series of articles she said cost her lucrative movie roles.

On day one of a defamation trial in Victoria state's Supreme Court, Wilson's barrister Matthew Collins told the jury that Bauer Media "tore down an Australian star to sell magazines".

"They refused to let the facts get in the way of a good story," he said, The Age newspaper reported.

"This defendant knows that what it wrote was simply false."

(AFP )

Workaholic Japan is known for long office hours and stressed out employees, but one company claims to have a cure: Cats.

A total of nine fluffy felines eat, sleep and walk freely in the small office of IT firm Ferray in Tokyo.

Hidenobu Fukuda, who heads the firm, introduced an "office cat" policy in 2000 upon request from one of his employees, allowing staffers to bring their moggies to work.

"I also give 5,000 yen ($45) a month to those who rescue a cat," he said of his charges.

(AFP )

Dozens of students at Indiana's Notre Dame University protested White House policies on Sunday by walking out of a commencement speech by Vice President Mike Pence, who criticized political correctness at American colleges.

The members of the graduating class -- dressed in cap and gowns together with some two thousand classmates -- stood up and quietly left the school's football stadium when Pence began delivering his speech, videos posted online showed. Others cheered and some booed.

(AFP )

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte flies to Russia on Monday to meet his hero, seek arms and steer his nation's foreign policy course further away from longtime ally the United States.

The five-day trip will cement a dramatic improvement in ties between the two nations since Duterte came to power last year and began unravelling the Philippines' decades-long alliances with the United States, which he accuses of hypocrisy and bullying.

(AFP )

A court ruling in Taiwan this week could make the island the first place in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage, in a decision that would give activists around the region new hope in their quest for equality.

A panel of grand justices will announce its verdict on Wednesday in a landmark case that centres on whether Taiwan's current law on the issue is unconstitutional.

Campaigners are nervous but optimistic after years of court appeals and lack of progress in parliament.

For one man, the battle has lasted decades.

(AFP )

More than 31 million people were displaced in their own countries by conflict, violence and disasters in 2016, with China and the Democratic Republic of Congo among the worst affected, a new report by a monitoring center said Monday.

The Democratic Republic of Congo had a spike of 922,000 new displacements caused by conflict last year, more than Syria with 824,000 and Iraq with 659,000, said the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump travelled to Jerusalem on Monday to seek ways to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace, but also used the visit to again lash out at Iran.

Trump's visit is part of his first trip abroad as president and follows an initial stop in Saudi Arabia, where he urged Islamic leaders to confront extremism while also criticising Iran.

It also comes as he contends with a raft of problems back home, including a special counsel investigating whether his associates colluded with Russia.

(AFP )

North Korea on Monday declared its medium-range Pukguksong-2 missile ready for deployment after a weekend test, the latest step in its quest to defy UN sanctions and develop a weapon capable of striking US targets.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency said the North's leader Kim Jong-Un oversaw Sunday's launch, which sparked a fresh chorus of international condemnation and threats of tougher sanctions.

(AFP )

Rescuers on Everest found the body of a missing Indian climber on Monday, taking the toll from a deadly weekend on the world's highest peak to four.

Three other climbers died on Everest over the weekend, one of the deadliest episodes since an avalanche swept through base camp two years ago, killing 18. All the fatalities appear to be related to altitude sickness.

Indian climber Ravi Kumar, 27, reached the summit on Saturday but lost contact shortly after. His Nepali guide managed to reach Camp 4, just below 8,000 metres, but sustained severe frostbite.

(AFP )

Having famous parents can be a mixed blessing, but Austrian musician Franz Xaver Mozart had it tougher than most.

Born months before Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died in 1791, Franz Xaver spent his life trying -- and failing -- to step out of his genius father's shadow.

"A child that disappoints their parents... will encounter disgrace and misery. Let these words be a warning to my lovely (son)," his mother Constanze wrote in 1801 to her nine-year-old son.

(AFP )

Arnold Schwarzenegger has four Hummers and likes nothing better than getting up at 5am to ride his Harley Davidson to the beach for breakfast.

Yet "The Terminator" star insists that should not stop him being an environmental evangelist.

"Saving the planet is also about technology," the former California governor told AFP, putting his foot on a chair and wagging a skull-ringed finger to make his point.

Three of his Hummers run on hydrogen, vegetable oil and bio-diesel and he's hoping to put an electric engine into the fourth.

(AFP )

Amnesty International on Monday accused Turkey of implementing "arbitrary dismissals" of public sector workers in a series of purges since last year's failed coup.

Over 100,000 people from the public sector including members of the judiciary and armed forces have been dismissed since the attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July, the rights group said.

They have all been dismissed by decree under the state of emergency put into force a few days after the failed putsch bid.

(AFP )

North Korea on Monday confirmed the "successful" launch of a medium-range ballistic missile, Pyongyang's state media reported, adding the weapon was now ready to be deployed for military action.

State-run Korean Central News Agency said the North's leader Kim Jong-Un oversaw Sunday's missile test, which has sparked a fresh chorus of international condemnation and threats of tougher UN sanctions.

The missile tested was the Pukguksong-2, a land-based version of Pyongyang's submarine-launched weapon, using solid-fuel that allows for immediate firing, KCNA said.

(AFP )

Pedro Sanchez, re-elected Sunday as leader of Spain's Socialists just seven months after he was ousted, has vowed to step up opposition to the country's minority conservative government.

His detractors labelled him "stubborn" after he repeatedly refused to allow the Popular Party (PP) to be sworn in for a second term following two inconclusive general elections held in 2015 and 2016.

High-ranking party members rebelled in October, replacing Sanchez with a caretaker administration which promptly let the PP form a new government.

(AFP )

Senior batsmen Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis both hit half-centuries as South Africa completed their preparations for a one-day international series against England with a narrow 13-run win over Northamptonshire at Wantage Road on Sunday.

Amla made 59 and du Plessis 50, with David Miller's 51 the other main contribution to a modest Proteas total of 275 for seven.

Northamptonshire then slumped to 215 for eight before Tim Sole's 54 gave them a chance of victory.

(AFP )

Hollywood screen legend Clint Eastwood said Sunday that he isn't ruling out a return to acting -- at the age of 86.

The actor-turned-director told an audience at the Cannes film festival that he occasionally missed performing, adding: "I did a lot of it for a long time. I'll visit it again someday."

Eastwood, who made his name in Westerns in the 1960s, has focused in recent years on directing movies, including "American Sniper" and "Sully".

(AFP )

The Swiss voted Sunday in favour of a massive overhaul of the country's energy system by gradually replacing the power from its ageing nuclear reactors with renewable sources.

A full 58.2 percent of Swiss voters supported the shift, according to a final tally after Sunday's referendum, with only four of the country's 26 cantons voting "no".

The move has been in the making since shortly after Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant was destroyed in the March 2011 tsunami disaster, when the Swiss government decided to gradually close its nuclear plants.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump made a 30-minute speech on Sunday in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh on his first foreign visit since taking office.

Trump's speech, preceded by a traditional Koranic reading, held Iran responsible for global extremism, urged the international community to isolate Iran and called on Arab and Muslim states to freeze channels of funding for groups including the Sunni Muslim Islamic State and Shiite Hezbollah.

Here are key highlights:

(AFP )

Brazil's President Michel Temer appeared to win a reprieve Sunday when a key coalition partner cancelled a meeting on whether to withdraw support for him over an explosive corruption scandal.

Temer has been fighting for his political life since being placed under investigation for allegedly obstructing a corruption probe by paying hush money to jailed former speaker of the house Eduardo Cunha.

(AFP )

Saudi Arabia's King Salman on Sunday accused regional rival Shiite Iran of exporting extremist Islamic movements to the world and vowed to eliminate the Islamic State group.

"The Iranian regime has been the spearhead of global terrorism since the (Ayatollah Ruhollah) Khomeini revolution" in 1979, King Salman said in a speech to leaders including US President Donald Trump.

"We did not know terrorism and extremism until the Khomeini revolution reared its head," he said.

(AFP )

Brazil's embattled President Michel Temer won a small reprieve Sunday when a key coalition partner delayed a decision on whether to abandon him over an explosive corruption scandal.

Nationwide street protests called by leftist groups also had only a modest impact, with no more than a few hundred people in each major city, further easing the sense of intense crisis for the center-right president.