Sunday 18 March 2018

In the world

(AFP )

President Vladimir Putin on Sunday rubbished claims that Russia poisoned a former spy in Britain, on the eve of international chemical weapons experts heading to the UK to probe the attack.

"It's complete drivel, rubbish, nonsense that somebody in Russia would allow themselves to do such a thing ahead of elections and the World Cup," Putin told supporters after winning a fourth term as president.

(AFP )

Donald Trump will host Saudi Arabia's crown prince in Washington Tuesday, giving the president a receptive audience to denounce rival Iran and a chance to take stock of significant changes the prince is engineering in the kingdom.

Ten months after the last face-to-face meeting between Trump and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in Riyadh, the 71-year-old president and the 32-year-old strongman prince are expected to deepen an already warm and congenial relationship.

(AFP )

ASEC Mimosas of the Ivory Coast flopped at home and fellow former African title winners V Club of the Democratic Republic of Congo also bowed out of the CAF Champions League Sunday.

The Abidjan club, winners of the competition in 1998, looked set to succeed in a last-32 tie against Zesco United of Zambia after building a 1-0 lead on the road last week.

In a dream start to the return match, ASEC doubled their overall advantage when Gbagnon Badie converted a penalty after just seven minutes.

(AFP )

Vladimir Putin won Russia's presidential election on Sunday, giving him a fourth term that will take him to nearly a quarter-century as the head of state or government.

Here are some of the world leaders who have held power the longest -- excluding monarchs enthroned for life.

- More than four decades -

Topping the list with 49 years in power is Cuba's revolutionary hero Fidel Castro, who handed over to his brother Raul in 2008 when he was in his early 80s.

(AFP )

Jose Antonio Meade formally registered Sunday as the Mexican governing party's presidential candidate, promising to end the immunity that has long shielded corrupt officials from prosecution.

"To the Mexican people, who are angry about corruption, we are committed to leading an honest government," the former foreign minister said after registering his candidacy for the July 1 elections with the National Electoral Institute (INE).

(AFP )

In power for almost two decades, Vladimir Putin predictably won a fourth Kremlin term in Russia's presidential election on Sunday, extending his long rule for another six years.

With no successor and no political competition, what are the possible scenarios when his term ends in 2024?

- Leaving power -

Without constitutional reform, Putin will not be able to run for a fifth time -- Russian law forbids serving more than two consecutive terms.

(AFP )

Syrian Turkish-backed forces went on the rampage in Afrin on Sunday, pillaging shops and homes after taking control of the northern city, AFP correspondents and a monitor said.

After chasing Kurdish fighters from Afrin, the pro-Ankara fighters broke into shops, restaurants and houses and left with foodstuff, electronic equipment, blankets and other goods, the correspondents said.

They placed the loot in cars and small trucks and drove them out of the city, they added.

(AFP )

The capture of Afrin from the Kurds by Turkish-led fighters on Sunday could have major repercussions for Syria's protracted war.

Here we look at what it means for Turkey, the Syrian regime and the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia who were in control of the city.

- What has Erdogan won?

Forces led by Turkey launched an offensive on January 20 to retake the enclave of Afrin from the YPG, which Ankara considers to be a "terrorist" offshoot of its own outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

(AFP )

With little doubt that Vladimir Putin would win with a landslide in Russia's presidential poll on Sunday, attention turned to whether the Kremlin could rally a large turnout for the strongman.

For the liberal opposition, the vote was a test of whether celebrity candidate Ksenia Sobchak had enough support to head a new party, while for the Communists, the question was whether a fresh face could revive the party's fortunes.

- Turnout -

(AFP )

A Palestinian stabbed and seriously wounded an Israeli security guard in Jerusalem's Old City on Sunday before being shot dead by a police officer, Israeli authorities said.

The stabbing came with concerns over the potential for an upsurge in unrest in the coming weeks as the United States prepares to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

The security guard was taken to hospital in serious condition suffering a stab wound to his torso, medics said.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld confirmed the assailant had been shot dead.

(AFP )

About 2,000 people marched through the Mare favela in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday in memory of human rights activist Marielle Franco, who was gunned down in an apparent assassination.

The march was the latest in a string of rallies expressing defiance and sorrow at Wednesday's slaying in the center of Rio.

"Marielle's voice will not be silenced," a march leader shouted through a megaphone.

(AFP )

"The voices of 50,000 deported Thessaloniki Jews must not be forgotten. It is time for Greece to delve back into its memory."

Those are the heartfelt words of David Saltiel, president of Thessaloniki's Jewish community which today numbers barely a thousand, three-quarters of a century after it was nearly wiped out by the Nazis.

Sunday saw residents gather at the city's old railway station in memory of the first of 19 convoys of Jewish residents deported to Auschwitz under Nazi occupation.

(AFP )

Briton Andria Zafirakou, who works in a school in one of the UK's poorest areas, on Sunday won the $1 million Global Teacher Prize for 2018 at a star-studded ceremony in Dubai.

The arts and textiles teacher from the Alperton Community College of Brent, an inner-city school in London, was among 10 finalists from around the globe for the annual award. Thirty thousand candidates were in the running.

Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum and British Prime Minister Theresa May were among the first to congratulate her.

(AFP )

Vladimir Putin, who exit polls say won a fourth term as Russian president in Sunday's election, has tightened the Kremlin's grip on society since taking power 18 years ago.

Here are key dates in the life of the 65-year-old former KGB officer:

- October 7, 1952: Putin is born into a poor working-class family in Leningrad, now called Saint Petersburg.

- 1998: He is named head of the FSB security service, the successor to the KGB, having joined the service in 1975.

(AFP )

President Donald Trump Sunday intensified his attacks on Robert Mueller's Russia investigation as biased against him, but stopped just short of targeting the special counsel -- whose ouster lawmakers warned would cross a "massive red line."

In a morning flurry on Twitter, Trump insisted that Mueller's team of investigators is staffed with "hardened" Democrats biased against him.

"Does anyone think this is fair? And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!" Trump wrote. The night before, he had tweeted, "The Mueller probe should never have been started."

(AFP )

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is "taking stock" of US President Donald Trump's surprise decision to accept his invitation for talks on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, South Korea's foreign minister said in an interview that aired Sunday.

There has been no public North Korean response to Trump in the nearly two weeks since he stunned the world by agreeing to meet with Kim, a diplomatic gambit with huge stakes for both countries.

"We believe the North Korean leader is now taking stock," South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

(AFP )

David Sepashvili went to Russia's mountainous Dagestan region to work in a polling station and prevent violations in Sunday's presidential election, but said a group of thugs physically stopped him from doing his job.

About 50 muscular men entered polling station 1126 in the city of Makhachkala and assaulted the independent observer stationed there before telling Sepashvili to get outside too, leaving the ballot box unobserved.

(AFP )

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde cautioned the United States against putting up barriers to trade in an interview published Sunday.

"Trade wars leave no winners," she said in the interview with Argentine daily La Nacion, responding to a question about President Donald Trump's decision to slap tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.

She said poor countries and poor people in rich countries have benefited from the surge in global trade over the past decade, but acknowledged that some regions and industries have suffered.

(AFP )

There's no escaping water rationing in Brazil's drought-hit capital Brasilia -- unless you're attending an international conference on global water supply problems, local media reported.

Brasilia has been on a schedule of rolling cuts to fresh water supply, neighborhood by neighborhood, since January 2017.

But the estimated 40,000 people expected to attend the 8th World Water Forum starting Sunday will be able to turn the taps on full, Folha de S.Paulo newspaper reports.

(AFP )

A KGB officer turned world leader, Vladimir Putin stamped his total authority on Russia, silencing opposition and reasserting Moscow's lost might abroad while building a strongman image through macho stunts.

Putin, 65, who extended his long rule to 2024 in Russia's presidential election on Sunday, has reimposed the Kremlin's grip on society since taking power 18 years ago after a lawless but relatively free decade following the demise of the USSR.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump on Sunday attacked special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's election meddling as unfair, insisting the probe is staffed with "hardened" Democrats.

"Does anyone think this is fair? And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!" Trump tweeted.

The salvo was the latest in an intensifying confrontation over Mueller's probe into whether Trump's campaign colluded with Russian attempts to sway the 2016 election in his favor.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump "will not succeed" in dividing European nations against one another over trade, German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier warned Sunday ahead of a visit to Washington.

In the European Union "we are a customs union and act collectively. It cannot be in the interest of the US government to divide Europe, nor will it succeed," Altmaier told German business daily Handelsblatt.

(AFP )

International Paralympic Committee (IPC) president Andrew Parsons on Sunday declared the Pyeongchang Winter Paralympics closed, and paid tribute to late British physicist Stephen Hawking as an "inspiration".

At a spectacular ceremony that featured dancing, music and light shows, the curtain was officially brought down on nine days of sporting action.

"The time has come for me to declare the Pyeongchang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games closed," Parsons said.

(AFP )

Norway's right-wing government could resign this week if the justice minister loses a no-confidence vote after she triggered outrage among survivors of a 2011 gun massacre, media reported Sunday.

In a Facebook post on March 9, Sylvi Listhaug, a member of the populist and anti-immigration Progress Party (FrP), had accused the opposition Labour Party of considering "the rights of terrorists (to be) more important than the security of the nation".

(AFP )

Turkey's army launched a major operation in northern Syria on January 20 in a bid to oust a US-allied Kurdish militia that Ankara sees as a terror group.

The offensive followed an announcement by a US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group that it would create a thousands-strong border force in northern Syria.

Around half of that force would be retrained fighters from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which is mainly made up of fighters from the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia.

Here is a timeline of the main events since:

(AFP )

Rohingya holed up in a border "no man's land" after fleeing Myanmar will only accept repatriation to their home villages, a local leader said Sunday, rejecting any move to transit camps for fear of long-term confinement.

Some 700,000 Rohingya have been driven into neighbouring Bangladesh since last August by a major army crackdown -- purportedly intended to "clear" northern Rakhine state of militants from the Muslim minority.

The UN describes it as a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Muslim Rohingya, an allegation staunchly denied by mainly Buddhist Myanmar.

(AFP )

Turkish forces and their rebel allies were in control of the Kurdish-majority city of Afrin in northwestern Syria on Sunday, AFP journalists on the ground reported.

The journalists in Afrin saw Ankara-backed Syrian Arab fighters and Turkish soldiers in every neighbourhood of the city.

Turkish flags had been raised on buildings, alongside the flags of Syrian rebel groups.

Two Turkish tanks stood outside an official building and shots of celebration were being fired into the air.

(AFP )

Catalonia's deposed leader Carles Puigdemont said in an interview published Sunday that he should have declared independence earlier, as delaying the call in hopes of starting dialogue with Madrid proved futile.

Puigdemont moved to Belgium after the Catalan parliament unilaterally declared independence on October 27 following a banned referendum on the Spanish region's secession.

He is in Geneva this weekend to attend a human rights film festival.

(AFP )

Abu Dhabi state energy company ADNOC said Sunday it had awarded French oil giant Total stakes in two offshore oil concessions, as it looks to boost production by year's end.

Total now holds a fifth of the Umm Shaif and Nasr concession and 5 percent of the Lower Zakum concession, together worth some 5.3 billion dirhams ($1.4 billion, 1.2 million euros), ADNOC said in a press release.

Both concessions are effective March 9 for a duration of 40 years and are operated by ADNOC Offshore, a subsidiary of ADNOC, according to the statement.

(AFP )

As Russia-backed Syrian regime forces chip away at what remains of the last opposition bastion outside Damascus, experts say the future looks bleak for rebels there.

What is likely to happen to these opposition fighters, most of whom hail from the area, as well as tens of thousands of civilians still inside the besieged enclave?

- How do things stand on the ground? -

Government forces have retaken 80 percent of the former rebel bastion since launching a blistering air and ground assault to retake it on February 18, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

(AFP )

Israel's military carried out an air raid overnight against an underground Hamas facility in the Gaza Strip and destroyed a separate tunnel under construction that could be used for attacks, it said Sunday.

No casualties were reported in either operation, which came after an explosive device was detonated near the Gaza border with Israel, the latest in a string of such incidents.

Israel's military said the operation to destroy the tunnel involved new technology it has been developing to detect them.

(AFP )

Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi was pressed about the Rohingya crisis at an ASEAN summit in Sydney Sunday, but the regional bloc stressed it could not intervene and "force an outcome".

Suu Kyi has been under intense global criticism for her public silence amid a brutal military crackdown that has forced nearly 700,000 of the Muslim-minority Rohingya to flee Myanmar's Rakhine state for Bangladesh.

The humanitarian crisis was one of the key topics at a three-day special summit between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Australia.

(AFP )

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels have taken "total" control of the centre of Afrin, a Kurdish-majority city in northern Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday.

"Units of the Free Syrian Army, which are backed by Turkish armed forces, took control of the centre of Afrin this morning at 8:30 am (0530 GMT)," Erdogan said, adding that de-mining operations were under way.

(AFP )

Turkey's flag was flying over Afrin on Sunday after its troops and Ankara-backed rebels chased out Kurdish militia forces to seize control of the Syrian city.

In a major victory for Ankara's two-month operation against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria, Turkish-led forces pushed into Afrin apparently unopposed, taking up positions across the city.

The advance came as Syria's civil war entered its eighth year this week with heavy fighting on two fronts -- around Afrin and in the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.

(AFP )

An Arab Israeli suspected of having stabbed to death a rabbi near a settlement in the occupied West Bank last month has been arrested, Israeli authorities said Sunday.

Abed Hakim Assi, born in 1998, is believed to have stabbed to death Itamar Ben Gal, 29, near the settlement of Ariel on February 5 before going into hiding in the northern West Bank.

Israel's Shin Bet domestic security agency announced the overnight arrest in a statement.

Palestinians who were with Assi during his arrest were also taken for questioning, the statement said.