Friday 15 December 2017

In the world

(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 told the UN Security Council on Friday, backtracking on an earlier offer of unconditional talks over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.

Tillerson said a "sustained cessation of North Korea's threatening behavior must occur before talks can begin," though he insisted the lines of communication remain open.

(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 to and from Dakar's brand-new airport were cancelled on Friday after air traffic controllers went on strike just eight days after it opened.

Controllers announced they would strike for 24 hours from 0001 GMT Friday, Blaise Diagne International Airport's operators, LAS, said in a statement.

The company "deplores the consequences of this movement, which strongly impacts the image of Senegal, as well as the service provided to passengers and airlines", it 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.

(AFP )

Russia's presidential election will take place on March 18, the upper house of parliament said Friday, in polls that are all but certain to return Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin for a new six-year term.

The election campaign will kick off on Monday, agencies quoted senators as saying.

"According to our calculations there are already at least 23 people who have expressed a desire to stand," said Ella Pamfilova, head of the Central Election Committee, according to Interfax.

(AFP )

Disease, hunger and misery stalk the Rohingya living in Bangladesh's refugee camps but despite the grinding hardship, few are willing to consider the alternative -- returning home under a deal struck with Myanmar.

The arrangement signed by Myanmar and Bangladesh in November to start repatriating refugees within two months is viewed with deep suspicion and dread by Rohingya still traumatised by the violent expulsion from their homeland.

"They make deals, but they won't follow them," said Rohingya refugee Mohammad Syed, who estimated his age at 33.

(AFP )

Zimbabwe's former president Robert Mugabe, who was ousted from power last month, visited a Singapore hospital Friday during a trip to the city-state for a medical check-up.

It was the first time he has been seen in public since he was forced to resign after a military takeover brought a sudden end to his authoritarian 37-year reign.

The 93-year-old was seen leaving a lift in Gleneagles Hospital in downtown Singapore around midday (0400 GMT), wearing a white shirt and black trousers, and accompanied by eight people, AFP journalists said.

(AFP )

Hidden behind a white screen, a South Korean actress sobbed as she accused prize-winning director Kim Ki-Duk of abusing her on set -- a rare denunciation in a conservative country where victims fear public shame.

Kim is one of South Korea's most prominent film directors whose awards include a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for "Pieta" and Berlin's Silver Bear for "Samaritan Girl".

But the actress said shooting his 2013 film "Moebius" -- a thriller themed around incest -- left her "deeply traumatised".

(AFP )

The narrow alleyways of the Beijing migrant neighbourhood were once crammed with men cooking on outdoor stoves, women hanging clothes to dry and young children playing games.

Now dead leaves litter the pavement as a bitterly cold wind blows through empty lanes after authorities swept through the area in a controversial city-wide eviction campaign.

It is one of the myriad migrant neighbourhoods in the capital of 23 million people that have been turned into ghost towns as the government shuts down and demolishes illegal or unsafe structures.

(AFP )

Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson on Friday accused Harvey Weinstein of orchestrating a smear campaign decades ago against actresses who have since come forward to accuse the disgraced producer of sexual harassment.

Jackson worked with Weinstein and his brother Bob early in the development of "The Lord of the Rings", saying the pair acted like "second-rate Mafia bullies".

The New Zealand director said he had no direct knowledge of sexual misconduct allegations against Weinstein but the producer pressured him not to hire Ashley Judd or Mira Sorvino.