Thursday 18 January 2018

In the world

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump warned Thursday of the "devastating" consequences of a government shutdown even as he lobbed wrenches into intense Republican maneuvering to avoid a politically embarrassing funding debacle.

With the federal government set to run out of money at midnight Friday, the president added to the chaos with a burst of early morning tweets.

He second-guessed Republican leaders in Congress and slapped down his own chief of staff who had been leading a White House push on Capitol Hill for a budget compromise.

(AFP )

IMF chief Christine Lagarde has joined calls on Germany to invest in future economic growth even at the cost of relaxing its cherished budgetary discipline, raising hackles in Europe's powerhouse.

"There is an excess of savings over investments which suggests that Germany can afford to spend and invest more" Lagarde said at a Thursday conference with top economists and policymakers from around Europe hosted in Frankfurt by the IMF and the Bundesbank, Germany's central bank.

(AFP )

Canadian energy company TransCanada has secured 20-year oil supply contracts allowing it to move forward with the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, it announced Thursday in a statement.

The agreements set out the transportation of around 500,000 barrels per day for two decades, a volume sufficient to confirm the pipeline's construction.

In November, the US state of Nebraska granted the last major permit needed to authorize construction of the pipeline -- but required it be built along a different route to that originally put forward.

(AFP )

Indigenous leaders from the Amazon who will meet Pope Francis in Peru on Friday will present him with a bow and arrow, a gift rich in symbolism for a vulnerable people clinging to a simple past, facing an uncertain future.

"We are a people who have been stripped of their original lands," summed up Cesar Jojaje Eriney, the 43-year-old head of the Ese Eja tribe.

(AFP )

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic made an unexpected visit Thursday to the site of a massacre of Muslim civilians by Bosnian Croats during the country's 1990s war, an atrocity that led to several war crimes convictions.

Grabar-Kitarovic, on an official visit to Bosnia, paid her respects to 116 Muslim civilians, among whom 33 children and women, killed by Bosnian Croats in the village Ahmici in central Bosnia in April 1993.

Such gestures are still rare among leaders in the former Yugoslavia, torn apart by a series of bloody wars in the 1990s.

(AFP )

Russia on Thursday warned at the UN Security Council that the collapse of the Iranian nuclear deal would send an "alarming" message to the world and compromise efforts to persuade North Korea to scrap its nuclear arsenal.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a council meeting on non-proliferation that the 2015 deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was a major diplomatic achievement.

(AFP )

The UN's agency for Palestinian refugees is the only reason Umm Mohamed could afford a C-section delivery, send her five children to school or have her rubbish collected.

So the massive funding cuts to UNRWA announced this week by the United States' pro-Israeli administration mean nothing less than catastrophe for the 42-year-old and her family.

"People are going to suffer a lot. We have no money for education or health care. Our only hope is UNRWA," said Umm Mohamed, standing in her living room in Burj al-Shmali camp, in southern Lebanon.

(AFP )

Spanish authorities have detained two men allegedly responsible for a boat carrying migrants to the Canary Islands, seven of whom drowned or died from "hypothermia, exhaustion and hunger", a court said Thursday.

The inflatable boat was found Monday off a beach at the popular resort of Costa Teguise in Lanzarote in Spain's Canary Islands with five bodies inside. Two others were found dead outside the boat.

(AFP )

Opposition lawmakers in Burundi on Thursday said 42 activists had been arrested for illegally contesting an upcoming referendum that could let President Pierre Nkurunziza extend his stay in office.

Those arrested "were held arbitrarily and have been imprisoned on the accusation of campaigning for a No vote," Pierre-Celestin Ndikumana, who heads a coalition called Amizero y'Abarundi ("Hope of the Burundians"), told AFP.

(AFP )

The International Monetary Fund does not want austerity in Tunisia, and in fact proposed programs to protect the poor from the impact of economic reforms, a Fund spokesman said Thursday.

Several hundred people have been arrested in Tunisia since social unrest erupted a week ago, fuelled by unemployment, corruption and austerity measures in the 2018 budget.

"The frustration the Tunisian people are feeling is understandable," said IMF spokesman Gerry Rice, speaking on the anniversary of the 2011 Tunisian uprising that launched the Arab Spring.

(AFP )

The former CIA agent arrested in the United States earlier this week on suspicion of helping Chinese spies was a security guard at Christie's in Hong Kong, the auction house said Thursday.

Hong Kong resident Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a naturalised US citizen also known as Zhen Cheng Li, was arrested late Monday after he arrived at JFK International Airport in New York.

His arrest was reportedly linked to Beijing's brutal dismantling five years ago of the CIA's network of undercover operatives and informants inside China.

(AFP )

The last three years were the hottest on record, the United Nations weather agency said Thursday, citing fresh global data underscoring the dramatic warming of the planet.

Consolidated data from five leading international weather agencies shows that "2015, 2016 and 2017 have been confirmed as the three warmest years on record", the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said.

(AFP )

Turkey has ramped up its rhetoric to threaten an imminent cross-border incursion against Kurdish militia in Syria but the attitude of Russia and to a lesser extent the United States will determine the nature of the operation, analysts say.

The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia controls key northern Syrian towns including Manbij and Afrin, and is an ally of the US but Ankara accuses the group of being a terror organisation.

(AFP )

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said Thursday that police were raiding his campaign headquarters in Saint Petersburg as he pressed ahead with a call for a boycott of presidential polls.

"Right now a search is going on in our Saint Petersburg headquarters," Navalny wrote on Twitter, posting a video of uniformed police and non-uniformed officials with his staff.

The charismatic politician, who has called a major protest on January 28, is urging voters to boycott the March election in which President Vladimir Putin is expected to win a fourth Kremlin term.

(AFP )

Hungary published details Thursday of tough anti-immigration laws named after "public enemy" George Soros amid a row over claims Budapest covered up a hike in refugee arrivals.

Hungarian-born US billionaire Soros has been called "a public enemy" by Prime Minister Viktor Orban who accuses the 87-year-old of orchestrating migration into Europe since the refugee crisis began in 2015.

Hungary erected fences on its southern borders in 2015 and last year began holding all adult asylum-seekers in guarded border camps.

(AFP )

A three-month old baby has died after being picked up by rescuers at sea off Libya, because bad weather and a lack of boats made a medical evacuation impossible, aid organisations said Thursday.

Over 1,650 migrants have been rescued in the Mediterranean since Tuesday, including many women and children. While some were brought to land Thursday, hundreds of others could be trapped for days yet by stormy seas.

(AFP )

US officials mis-spoke about a plan to set up a 30,000-strong militia in eastern Syria and owe angry ally Turkey an explanation, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson admits.

On Sunday, the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Syria announced that it was training local fighters, including Kurdish militia, as a "border security force."

Turkey, which regards the US-backed YPG militia as a faction of the outlawed Kurdish separatist PKK and thus a terrorist group, reacted with fury and vowed to destroy the new unit.

(AFP )

Pope Francis on Thursday strongly defended a Chilean bishop accused of covering up a priest's sexual abuse of minors.

"The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, then I will speak," the pope said in response to a journalist's question about the 61-year-old bishop, appointed by Francis in 2015 despite being accused of covering up another priest's abuse of boys.

"There is not a single piece of proof against him. Everything is slander. Is this clear?" the pope said before celebrating open-air mass in the northern city of Iquique.

(AFP )

The policies of US President Donald Trump and his embrace of populist strongmen have dealt a blow to rights campaigns around the world but resistance is building, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.

In its annual report, the group denounced rights abuses in unstable states like Syria and Myanmar as well as authoritarian trends in powers like Turkey and China -- while also weighing in on the first year of Trump's term.

(AFP )

Temperatures in Siberia fell to extremely low levels on Thursday as Russian Christians prepared to plunge into ice holes in traditional celebrations marking the baptism of Jesus Christ.

In the Sakha Republic, a region in Russia's Far East around 5,300 kilometres (3,300 miles) east of Moscow, temperatures dropped to minus 68 degrees celsius (minus 90 Fahrenheit).

Local authorities had already ordered schools closed when temperatures reached minus 65 celsius on Wednesday. The republic includes the village of Oymyakon, considered the coldest inhabited place on Earth.

(AFP )

The new pro-independence speaker of Catalonia's parliament on Thursday started meeting party representatives to pick a regional president, with exiled former leader Carles Puigdemont in the lead for the post.

The central government in Madrid has already warned it will take the matter to court and keep direct control over Catalonia if Puigdemont tries to govern from Belgium, where he and other ousted regional ministers fled after declaring independence from Spain in October.

(AFP )

Violent gales battered northern Europe and beyond Thursday, snapping air and train links and leaving six people dead.

Germany halted all long-distance rail traffic for at least a day, while numerous domestic flights were scrapped as hurricane-force winds lashed the country.

A 59-year-old man was killed instantly when a tree fell on him in North Rhine-Westphalia state, German police said, as wind speeds attained a high of 203 kilometres an hour (126 mph) at the Brocken -- the highest peak of northern Germany.

(AFP )

Czech President Milos Zeman will accept the resignation of the minority Czech government led by billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis on January 24, the president's office said on Thursday.

Babis, whose ANO (YES) movement scored a landslide win in a general election last October, formed a cabinet comprising ANO members and unaffiliated experts, but the team lost a parliamentary confidence vote on Tuesday.

(AFP )

Germany's far-right AfD party will decide Friday whether to adopt a think-tank named after Nobel peace laureate Gustav Stresemann, despite anger from the former chancellor's descendants who have threatened legal action.

"The politics undertaken by Gustav Stresemann in his time are a perfect ideological fit with our ideas. His heritage is in the very good hands of the AfD," said Alexander Gauland, co-leader of the anti-immigration party, in an interview with Die Zeit weekly.

(AFP )

Finland on Thursday welcomed a panda pair after a long plane ride from their native China, which leased the fluffy animals to the Nordic nation to strengthen ties.

As part of "Panda Diplomacy" -- China's historic use of the charming creatures to foster relations with trade partners -- Jin BaoBao (Flurry) and Hua Bao (Snow) were greeted by a Chinese and Finnish delegation at the Helsinki Airport, before making their way to the Ahtari Zoo, 325 kilometres (200 miles) north of the capital.

(AFP )

Pope Francis has again stressed the importance of preserving the status quo in Jerusalem and urged fresh talks between Israel and Palestinians on a two-state solution, the Vatican said Thursday.

The Argentine pontiff strongly opposed United States President Donald Trump's bitterly-contested move to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his plans to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.

(AFP )

A former governor of Sri Lanka's central bank has been accused of insider trading by a damning presidential report into a high-profile bond scandal that cost the island millions.

The long-awaited inquiry recommended the state recover a $4.4 million loss caused by the actions of then bank chief Arjuna Mahendran in 2015.

He leaked sensitive information to his son-in-law Arjun Aloysius, a bond trader, according to the report released Wednesday by the president's office following an 11-month investigation.

(AFP )

India's top court on Thursday overturned a ban imposed by several states on the release of a Bollywood epic about a mythical Hindu queen.

The Supreme Court said the ban, which followed violent protests by members of the Hindu right who claimed the film falsely depicted a romance between the queen and a Muslim ruler, violated creative freedoms.

India's film censor board had cleared "Padmaavat" for release subject to certain changes, but at least four states said they would ban its screening.

(AFP )

Iraq signed a contract Thursday with British energy giant BP to develop oil fields in the northern province of Kirkuk that were retaken from the Kurds last year.

The agreement was signed by Iraqi Oil Minister Jabbar al-Luaybi in Kirkuk, north of Baghdad, where the North Oil Company has its headquarters, AFP reporters said.

Iraqi forces reclaimed a string of major oil fields in Kirkuk after Iraqi Kurds in September voted for independence in a controversial referendum opposed by Baghdad.

(AFP )

The EU agreed to add Venezuela's interior minister and six other senior officials to its sanctions blacklist on Thursday, European sources said, the first time the bloc has targeted individual members of President Nicolas Maduro's regime.

The head of the Venezuelan Supreme Court and the chief of the intelligence agency are also blacklisted, diplomatic sources said, making them subject to asset freezes and travel bans.

(AFP )

German stock market operator Deutsche Boerse said Thursday that Iran's central bank had levelled claims for billions of dollars against its Luxembourg subsidiary Clearstream, which blocked the funds after the US accused Tehran of funding terrorism.

The central bank (Bank Markazi) demands some $4.9 billion (4.0 billion euros) of assets it says are held in Clearstream accounts belonging to it and to Italian bank UBAE, plus interest, Deutsche Boerse said in a statement.

If the assets themselves cannot be recovered, the Iranian institution wants damages in the same amount.

(AFP )

Turkish engineers using two cranes on Thursday successfully lifted back to the runway a passenger plane which skidded onto a muddy embankment metres from the sea and languished there for over half a week.

The Pegasus Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane had landed normally at Trabzon airport late on Saturday on a flight from Ankara but then went off the runway just metres (feet) from the waters of the Black Sea with its wheels stuck in mud.

(AFP )

British police said Thursday they are investigating a man over a third sexual assault, with the Press Association news agency reporting that US actor Kevin Stacey is the suspected assailant.

The assault allegedly occurred in central London in 2005, during Spacey's 11-year tenure at The Old Vic theatre in the British capital.

"On 13 December we received an allegation that the man sexually assaulted a man (Victim 3) in 2005 in Westminster," a Metropolitan Police spokeswoman told AFP on Thursday.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump is "very eager" to speak to the special counsel overseeing the Russia election meddling probe into claims that he colluded with Moscow, his lawyer said.

Ty Cobb told CBS in interview excerpts released Thursday that Trump is "very eager to sit down and explain whatever is responsive to the questions" that Robert Mueller might pose.

Trump last week said he did not expect to meet with Mueller.

(AFP )

Afghanistan's top diplomat has pulled out of a high-level UN meeting about his country to help end a growing political crisis that is testing the authority of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, sources told AFP Thursday.

The eleventh-hour decision by Salahuddin Rabbani not to travel to New York comes as his Jamiat-e-Islami party holds talks with Ghani's office to resolve a dispute, involving a powerful governor in the northern province of Balkh who is refusing to stand down, which has caused concern in Washington.