Friday 23 June 2017

In the world

(AFP )

The United States abolished the role of its special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan on Friday, just as it prepares to send thousands more troops to the region.

A senior State Department official told AFP that acting special representative Laurel Miller was stepping down and would not be replaced in the post.

The office was created when US officials decided that the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan are inextricably linked and ought to be dealt with together.

(AFP )

Residents of 800 tower block flats were being evacuated in London on Friday due to fire safety fears over their external cladding, after testing prompted by the deadly Grenfell Tower inferno.

The cladding on five of the Chalcots Estate towers is similar to the materials on Grenfell and have been widely blamed for the rapid spread of the massive blaze last week that is presumed to have killed 79 people.

(AFP )

Brazil's agriculture minister Blairo Maggi announced Friday he will travel to the United States to fight a ban on Brazilian beef imports, but the Latin American country's meat industry is already reeling.

"Brazil could lose a lot if it isn't able to get this decision reversed," Maggi announced in the wake of the US Department of Agriculture's announcement Thursday of a ban on imports of fresh Brazilian beef due to "recurring" food safety concerns.

Brazil is the world's leading beef and poultry exporter.

(AFP )

Poland's President Andrzej Duda approved on Friday a new law limiting access to the morning-after pill in the devoutly Catholic country, which already has one of the EU's most restrictive abortion rules.

The contraception method will from now on be available only by prescription, while previously it could be bought over the counter by people 15 and older, an official statement said.

The new restrictions were pushed through in May by Poland's ruling rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) party, with which Duda is closely allied.

(AFP )

A former doctor to gymnasts from successive US Olympic teams is to stand trial on charges that he sexually assaulted female athletes, one of whom was only 11, over almost two decades.

A Michigan court on Friday said Larry Nassar will face 17 counts of criminal sexual conduct, a ruling that followed three days of hearings during which six of his accusers testified.

The 53-year-old, a member of USA Gymnastics from 1996 to 2015, maintained a practice at Michigan State University before he was fired last year.

He denies abusing his position to assault young girls.

(AFP )

Chile's President Michelle Bachelet apologized on behalf of the nation Friday to the Mapuche indigenous tribe for the "horrors" of post-colonial abuse they suffered.

Considered the earliest inhabitants of parts of Chile, the Mapuche fought against the Spanish conquerors and later the Chilean army after the country's independence in the 19th century.

Their numbers were reduced to only 700,000, a fraction of Chile's current population of 17 million.

"We have failed as a country," the socialist president, who is due to leave office in seven months, said in a speech.

(AFP )

Four parties agreed Friday to try to form the next Dutch coalition government, on the 100th day of tortuous stop-start negotiations following March elections.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose Liberal VVD party emerged as the largest in the Dutch parliament in the March 15 polls, said late Friday he was confident he would be able to work with the other three parties, Dutch media reported.

(AFP )

An open-top double-decker tourist bus crashed into a central Paris bridge during an Olympic fun day on Friday, injuring at least four passengers, firefighters said.

The bus, with seating on the upper deck for sightseeing, was too high to pass under the Alexandre III bridge and scraped the roof of the tunnel before stopping after a few metres (yards).

The Paris fire service said a woman who was among those hurt had serious injuries.

(AFP )

Venezuelan demonstrators blocked streets Friday in protests over the death of a young man shot by police during an anti-government rally the night before.

Blowing horns and banging pots, protestors massed on streets in Caracas and other cities, causing traffic jams.

The 22-year-old man, recent nursing graduate David Vallenilla, was shot dead Thursday during a protest near an air force base in Caracas, officials and opposition leaders said.

He was the 75th person killed in nearly three months of unrest against President Nicolas Maduro.

(AFP )

A court on France's Indian Ocean island of Reunion on Friday sentenced a 30-year-old man to 15 years behind bars for the killing of a British ex-commando in 2011.

After a three-day trial, a jury convicted Vincent Madoure of taking part in the murder of Carl Davies, a 33-year-old former Royal Marines Commando.

Davies was found battered to death in a gutter on November 9, 2011. He suffered a fractured skull, broken bones, multiple bruising and cuts, an autopsy found.

(AFP )

Colombia's ELN rebel force said Friday it had released two Dutch journalists it kidnapped in the north of the country four days ago.

The kidnapping was the latest in a series of incidents which officials feared could disrupt peace talks the ELN is holding with the Colombian government.

"The two foreigners captured by the ELN in Catatumbo have been released in perfect condition," the National Liberation Army (ELN) said on Twitter.

(AFP )

Russian and US military officials are still using a special hotline to communicate about operations in Syria, a US official said Friday, days after Moscow said it was severing the connection.

Russia on Monday said it would stop using the so-called "deconfliction" line in response to a US pilot shooting down a regime war plane in northern Syria, with Moscow accusing Washington of failing to issue a warning.

But Colonel Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the US-led coalition, told reporters in a video call that "the deconfliction line is in use."

(AFP )

Jason Roy's bizarre dismissal turned the second Twenty20 international's South Africa's way as the Proteas won by just three runs at Taunton on Friday.

The narrow victory at Somerset's headquarters saw South Africa level the three-match series at 1-1 as bounced back from a nine-wicket defeat by England at Southampton two days earlier to set-up a winner-takes-all clash in Cardiff on Sunday.

England were on course for an unbeatable 2-0 lead while Roy (67) and Jonny Bairstow (47) shared a second-wicket stand of 110.

(AFP )

Qatar on Saturday confirmed it had received a 13-point list of demands from Saudi-led allies in a major escalation of the ongoing diplomatic crisis in the Gulf.

The list -- which apparently includes a call for Qatar to close down broadcaster Al-Jazeera -- are the demands that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt want met to end a diplomatic and trade "blockade" of Qatar, lasting almost three weeks.

Doha has been told that it faces "divorce" from its Gulf neighbours unless it takes their demands seriously.

(AFP )

EU countries have fallen far short of their duty to an African economic development fund designed to help discourage mass migration to Europe, Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker charged Friday.

Juncker reprimanded EU member states at a summit in Brussels for having pledged only 200 million euros of the 1.8 billion euros ($2 billion) they are expected to contribute to the trust fund launched in 2015.

(AFP )

Politicians, legal experts and activists will launch a campaign in Paris on Saturday for a global pact to protect the human right to a clean, healthy environment.

The end goal, organisers said this week, is a legal treaty under which states can be brought to justice for flouting the rights of a group or individual.

The initiative comes just weeks after President Donald Trump announced that he would pull the United States out of the 196-nation Paris Agreement on curbing dangerous global warming.

(AFP )

From her 18th floor flat, Pippa Wordsworth has a grim view of Grenfell Tower that has become bleaker after she was told her building has the same flammable cladding as on the burnt-out hulk.

"I'm very frightened when I'm in the building now," the bleached-blonde grandmother told AFP at her home on the Chalcots Estate in Camden in north London.

"This cladding looks nice. We had no idea it could be so dangerous," she said, following reports that the cladding may have helped spread the flames.

(AFP )

Peru's president has hinted he may pardon jailed ex-leader Alberto Fujimori -- but denied any backroom deal with the party that controls Congress, led by the former strongman's daughter.

Fujimori, president from 1990 to 2000, is serving a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses and corruption in special housing set up at a police headquarters in a suburb of Lima.

Now 78, Fujimori has suffered a series of health setbacks that has seen him in and out of hospital.

(AFP )

Multiple blasts and a gun attack killed more than 50 people and wounded at least 170 in three Pakistani cities on the last Friday of Ramadan, Islam's holiest month, as officials warned the toll could rise.

Authorities said 37 people were killed and more than 150 wounded when twin blasts tore through a market in Parachinar, capital of Kurram district, a mainly Shiite area of Pakistan's tribal belt.

Local official Nasrullah Khan told AFP that the first blast detonated as the market was crowded with shoppers preparing for the Eid ul-Fitr festival marking the end of Ramadan.

(AFP )

The CIA had top-level intelligence last August that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered an operation to help Donald Trump win the US presidential race, the Washington Post reported Friday.

The intelligence shocked the White House and put US security chiefs on a top-secret crisis footing to figure out how to react.

(AFP )

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is gearing up to run for the presidency, is ineligible to stand for office, the country's central electoral commission announced Friday.

A firebrand speaker and anti-corruption campaigner with a savvy grasp of social networks, Navalny declared his intention last December to stand for president. He is already mounting a campaign to gain public support for a bid.

(AFP )

Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel used the French president's first Brussels summit Friday to deliver an unmistakeable message: their countries intend to lead the EU's post-Brexit revival.

The Franco-German power couple held an unusual joint press conference after meeting their 26 European Union counterparts, against a backdrop of their respective flags and the bloc's blue banner with yellow stars.

(AFP )

The UN Human Rights Council on Friday decided to send a group of experts to Democratic Republic of Congo to help investigate an explosion of deadly violence in the Kasai region.

A council resolution called on the UN rights office to dispatch a team of international experts to help Kinshasa investigate gross rights violations in the region, including extrajudicial killings, torture, rape and the use of child soldiers.

(AFP )

EU leaders warned Friday that Britain's plans to protect the rights of European citizens post-Brexit risked leaving them worse off, after Prime Minister Theresa May made what she insisted was a "fair" offer.

"My first impression is the UK offer is below our expectations and this risks worsening the situation of our citizens in the UK," EU President Donald Tusk told a news conference after the second day of a Brussels summit.

(AFP )

The UN Human Rights Council on Friday decided to send a group of experts to the Democratic Republic of Congo to help investigate an explosion of deadly violence in the Kasai region.

A council resolution called on the UN rights office to dispatch a team of international experts to help Kinshasa investigate gross rights violations in the region, including extrajudicial killings, torture, rape and the use of child soldiers.

(AFP )

The British van driver suspected of mowing down Muslim worshippers near a London mosque appeared in court on Friday charged with terrorism-related murder and attempted murder.

Darren Osborne, 47, appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court in central London, speaking to confirm his name, age and that he had no fixed address.

The Crown Prosecution Service said it would argue that Osborne, "motivated by extreme political views and a personal hatred of Muslims, acted to kill, maim, injure and terrify as many people as possible" during this week's attack.

(AFP )

Colombia's FARC rebels will complete their historic disarmament on Friday, ending half a century of war, President Juan Manuel Santos said during an official visit to France.

"This June 23, the United Nations mission in Colombia will announce that the FARC has handed over 100 percent of its weapons," Santos told an economic forum in Paris.

"Today the FARC, the most powerful and oldest guerrilla movement in Latin America, will cease to exist," he said to warm applause.

This date "changes the history of Colombia," Santos said.

(AFP )

A double-decker tourist bus became stuck under a central Paris bridge on Friday, injuring at least four passengers, firefighters said.

The bus crashed into the Alexandre III bridge, a tourist magnet due to its ornate structure and views over the Eiffel Tower and River Seine. The Paris fire service said one of the injured was seriously hurt.

The crash came during a large-scale event on the Seine to promote the French capital's bid for the 2024 Olympics, with a floating running track installed across the river just next to the bridge.

(AFP )

US social media giant Facebook launched a campaign in Britain on Friday to counter the spread of online extremism following warnings from Prime Minister Theresa May after four terror attacks in three months.

Facebook said it would seek to educate charities and other organisations on how to fight hate speech, in the wake of recent terror attacks in Belgium, Britain and France.

(AFP )

North Korea on Friday accused the US of waging a "smear campaign" over the death of a student who was sent back home in a coma, denying he was tortured or abused.

President Donald Trump has slammed the treatment of 22-year-old American Otto Warmbier, who spent more than a year in detention in the secretive state, as "a total disgrace".

"The smear campaign against (North Korea) staged in the US compels us to make firm determination that... we should further sharpen the blade of law", the foreign ministry spokesman said according to state media.

(AFP )

The US navy said Friday it will hold a memorial ceremony for seven sailors killed when their destroyer collided with a container ship off Japan's coast last weekend.

The service will be held on Tuesday at the naval base in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo, where the badly damaged destroyer USS Fitzgerald is based, a navy spokeswoman said.

The sailors' relatives, US military officials and some 300 crew members of the guided-missile warship will join the private event, she added, without releasing other details.

(AFP )

EU leaders gave a distinctly cool response Friday to Britain's plans to protect the rights of European citizens living there after Brexit, after Prime Minister Theresa May set out what she said was a "fair" offer.

"That's a first step but this step is not sufficient," European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters as he arrived for the second day of an EU summit in Brussels.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said the proposal outlined by May over an EU leaders' dinner on Thursday was "particularly vague".

(AFP )

Manslaughter charges could be filed over London's deadly tower blaze, police said Friday after finding that exterior cladding on the building had failed safety tests and that the fire started with a faulty fridge.

The government ordered immediate checks on the Hotpoint FF175BP fridge freezer model blamed for the June 14 blaze in west London, which left 79 people presumed dead.

Hotpoint-branded fridge freezers were manufactured by Indesit between 2006 and 2009, before Indesit was bought by current owner Whirlpool.

(AFP )

A cholera outbreak in war-ravaged Yemen could infect more than 300,000 people by the end of August, up from nearly 193,000 cases today, the United Nations said Friday.

"Probably at the end of August we will reach 300,000" cases, UN children's agency spokeswoman Meritxell Relano told reporters in Geneva during a conference call.

Since the outbreak was declared in April, an estimated 1,265 people have died, she said.

"The number of cases continue to increase," Relano said, adding that all of Yemen's 21 governorates have been affected.

(AFP )

EU migrants to Britain said Friday that far from being "generous", Prime Minister Theresa May's offer for their post-Brexit future was stingy and would leave them prey to Britain's unforgiving bureaucrats.

Some migrants worried that the proposals meant their rights would no longer be protected by the European Court of Justice after an EU membership referendum last year in which they had no say.

"There's nothing special in her offer," Spanish nurse Joan Pons, one of 60,000 Europeans working for the National Health Service (NHS) in England alone, said.