Monday 22 January 2018

In the world

(AFP )

Attackers on Monday killed a Rohingya representative in a Bangladesh refugee camp, the second such death in three days as tensions mount over the planned repatriation of some 750,000 refugees to Myanmar.

Sources said the dead man Yusuf Ali was a camp leader at the Balukhali camp on the border with Myanmar. Mohammad Yusuf, a leader in the neighbouring Thaingkhali camp, was shot dead last Friday.

Yusuf Ali, 60, was stabbed to death, district police chief Iqbal Hossain told AFP. Another police official described him as a Rohingya "majhi" or camp leader.

(AFP )

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson paid a discreet visit to the new US embassy in London on Monday, after President Donald Trump cancelled plans to open it himself following a series of rows.

Tillerson bucked tradition by not holding a formal meet-and-greet at the new embassy, which the State Department claimed was due to the current shutdown of the US government over a budget impasse in Congress.

(AFP )

A strike by French prison guards entered its second week on Monday, with at least 50 jails blocked over demands for better security and pay after a series of attacks on staff by inmates.

The protests, which have disrupted prisons across the country, began after a convicted Al-Qaeda extremist attacked guards in a high-security facility with a razor blade, injuring three of them.

On Monday, around 150 guards continued to block access to the Fleury-Merogis prison south of Paris -- Europe's biggest -- with tyres and pallets.

(AFP )

A year after the terror attacks that struck Paris in November 2015, Jeff Koons said he would give the city a monumental sculpture meant to honour the victims -- but critics of the project are saying 'no thanks'.

About two dozen artists, gallery owners and officials wrote an open letter Monday urging the city of Paris not to install the 12-metre-tall "Bouquet of Tulips" outside the Museum of Modern Art and adjacent Palais de Tokyo, a contemporary art centre.

(AFP )

German and French lawmakers on Monday marked the 55th anniversary of a friendship treaty between their countries with a plea for closer cooperation as Paris seeks Berlin's backing for ambitious EU reforms.

"France and Germany are not just a couple anymore. We're family," the visiting speaker of the French parliament, Francois de Rugy, told German MPs.

In simultaneous sessions, lawmakers in both countries debated a resolution for an updated Elysee Treaty to renew their bond more than half a century after the original pact sealed their nations' post-war reconciliation.

(AFP )

The European Union on Monday blacklisted seven senior Venezuelan officials over human rights violations, including the regime's intelligence chief, who the bloc accused of torture.

Interior Minister Nestor Reverol and the head of the Venezuelan Supreme Court are among those hit by asset freezes and travel bans in the EU's first targeted sanctions against members of President Nicolas Maduro's administration.

(AFP )

Suspected Ugandan Islamist rebels killed three civilians in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, despite an offensive by government troops, sources said on Monday.

The deaths occurred on Sunday in the Beni region of North Kivu province, where government forces launched a campaign against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia on January 13.

(AFP )

Taliban militants who killed at least 22 people at a luxury Kabul hotel went from room to room searching for foreigners, survivors and a security source said Monday as more details of the victims emerged.

Insurgents armed with Kalashnikovs and suicide vests attacked the landmark Intercontinental Hotel overlooking the Afghan capital late Saturday in an assault that lasted more than 12 hours and prompted questions over how the attackers breached security.

(AFP )

The Philippines said Monday it would deport an elderly Iraqi man described as a scientist for Hamas and accused of helping the Palestinian militant group lob missiles at Israel.

Iraq tipped off the Philippines about the presence of Taja Mohammad Al Jabori, who was arrested on Sunday, national police chief Ronald Dela Rosa told reporters.

However, the arrest was due to visa problems rather than any evidence of militant activity, the police chief emphasised.

"He's an illegal alien, his visa is expired so he has to be deported right away," Dela Rosa said.

(AFP )

Turkey on Monday intensified its offensive against Kurdish militia targets in Syria as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed there would be no stepping back in a campaign that has stoked concern among Ankara's allies and neighbours.

The Turkish military on Saturday launched operation "Olive Branch", its second major incursion into Syrian territory during the seven-year civil war.

(AFP )

Russia said Monday it has invited Kurds to take part in an upcoming Syrian peace congress in Sochi despite a Turkish offensive against Kurdish militia in northern Syria.

"Kurdish representatives have been included on the list of Syrians invited to participate in the Syrian National Dialogue Congress which will take place in Sochi next week," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

(AFP )

Israeli scholars have pieced together and deciphered one of two previously unread manuscripts of the Dead Sea Scrolls more than half a century since their discovery, an Israeli university has said.

The more than 60 tiny fragments of parchment bearing encrypted Hebrew writing had previously been thought to come from a variety of different scrolls, a Haifa University spokesman told AFP on Sunday.

(AFP )

Indian state governments made a last-ditch attempt Monday to ban a Bollywood film about a mythical Hindu queen which has sparked violent protests by radical groups.

The Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh governments asked India's top court to retract a ruling ordering states to show the film "Padmaavat", which is due to hit screens on Thursday.

The urgent petitions, which the Supreme Court will hear on Tuesday, were lodged a day after Hindu extremists set fire to buses and blocked roads in Gujarat state.

(AFP )

Tourist Muskan Mahuwakar pictured the Taj Mahal as a dazzling vision of symmetry and beauty but upon reaching the monument, she -- like thousands of other visitors -- was disappointed to find it covered in scaffolding, its once white marble now yellowing due to pollution.

Building restoration at India's most popular tourist attraction is now into its fourth year, with work yet to even begin on its imposing dome.

(AFP )

President Emmanuel Macron's campaign for a "French Renaissance" kicks into overdrive Monday as he welcomes 140 multinational business leaders before this week's jamboree of the rich and powerful in Davos.

The business-friendly president will host executives at the grand Versailles chateau near Paris for an event billed as a warm-up for Tuesday's opening of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss mountains.

(AFP )

Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont arrived in Copenhagen on Monday, defying a threat by Madrid to issue a warrant for his arrest if he leaves Belgium, where he has been in exile since a failed independence bid.

Danish broadcaster TV2 released an image on its website of Puigdemont being surrounded by reporters after his plane landed in Copenhagen Airport.

A source in his entourage also confirmed his arrival in the Danish capital.

Puigdemont is to take part in a debate on Catalonia at the University of Copenhagen later Monday.

(AFP )

Turkish authorities have detained 24 people on suspicion of disseminating "terror propaganda" against Turkey's military operation inside Syria, state media said on Monday.

The suspects are being held in a nationwide crackdown on those posting social media messages deemed to be supportive of terror groups, the state-run Anadolu news agency said, quoting the interior ministry.

The arrests come after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged national unity over the operation, warning those who respond to calls for protests will have to pay a "heavy price".

(AFP )

The repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled violence in Myanmar will not begin as planned, Bangladesh said Monday, with authorities admitting "a lot of preparation" was still needed.

Bangladesh had been due to start the huge process on January 23, after agreeing a two-year timeframe with Myanmar.

But Bangladesh's Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam announced Monday there was much more work to be done.

(AFP )

At least 22 people are now known to have died when Taliban militants slaughtered guests at a luxury Kabul hotel, Afghan officials said Monday, as fears grew that the attackers may have had inside help.

Authorities warned they were still investigating how militants breached security, which was taken over by a private company three weeks ago, at the landmark Intercontinental Hotel late Saturday.

(AFP )

A giant mushroom-shaped cloud shot up from the Philippines' most active volcano on Monday, darkening the skies and raining ash on communities where tens of thousands have fled after warnings of an impending eruption.

Mayon volcano's new activity prompted state volcanologists to raise the alert level one notch higher than the initial warning scientists issued last week, meaning a hazardous eruption is possible within days.

(AFP )

A motorcycle bomb killed three civilians and wounded two dozen others on Monday at a bustling morning market in Thailand's insurgency-hit south, the first such attack by suspected militants on a 'soft target' in the Muslim-majority region for months.

A rebellion against Thai rule in the country's culturally distinct "Deep South" bordering Malaysia has left nearly 7,000 dead -- the majority civilians -- since 2004.

(AFP )

The president of Ecuador Lenin Moreno on Sunday described WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as an "inherited problem" that has created "more than a nuisance" for his government.

"We hope to have a positive result" on the issue, he said in an interview with television networks.

Earlier this month, Ecuador announced it had granted citizenship to Assange, in an unsuccessful attempt to provide him with diplomatic immunity and usher him out of its London embassy without the threat of arrest by Britain.

(AFP )

The spill from a sunken Iranian tanker off China's east coast has more than trebled in size, just over a week after the ship sank in a ball of flames.

Authorities spotted three oil slicks with a total surface area of 332 square kilometres (128 square miles), compared to 101 square kilometres reported on Wednesday, the State Oceanic Administration said in a statement late Sunday.

(AFP )

South Korea's efforts to bring the North to its Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang next month are provoking a backlash among its own people, with accusations that Seoul risks turning the Games into a "Pyongyang Olympics".

Many are fuming over what they see as exploitation of the South's own athletes for political purposes, and accusing President Moon Jae-In's government of making too many concessions to please its hostile, unpredictable neighbour.

(AFP )

A Saudi-led military coalition on Monday announced $1.5 billion in new humanitarian aid for Yemen, after the United Nations made what it called a record appeal for assistance for the war-ravaged country.

The coalition also said it would also "increase the capacities of Yemeni ports to receive humanitarian" imports, as it faces mounting criticism for imposing a crippling blockade on the country.

(AFP )

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas will seek EU support in Brussels on Monday amid bitter acrimony with the United States, but he looks unlikely to get much in the way of concrete commitments.

In an interview with AFP on Sunday in Brussels, Palestinian foreign minister Riad al-Malki said Abbas would urge the European Union to officially recognise the state of Palestine "as a way to respond" to US President Donald Trump's declaration of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

(AFP )

American painter and sculptor Jack Whitten has died at the age of 78, his gallery announced on Sunday.

The black artist was known for continually evolving over his five-decade career -- from painting to sculpture and from figurative to abstract.

Born in Bessemer, Alabama on December 5, 1939, he grew up in the segregationist south of the United States, where he was an activist in the civil rights struggle, before moving to New York in 1960.

(AFP )

For three years, jihadists made life in Iraq's Mosul impossible. Now, six months after their defeat, even their corpses are polluting everyone's existence as no one wants to move them.

The rare few who dare to venture into Mosul's historic centre do so with their nose and mouth firmly covered with masks or scarves to keep out the stench.

Amid the rubble-strewn alleys overlooking the River Tigris, unburied human remains are rotting.

(AFP )

A Vietnamese former state oil executive who was allegedly kidnapped from Germany was jailed for life on Monday for embezzlement, in the highest-profile corruption trial to target the communist country's business and political elite.

The case -- also involving 21 other officials, including a former party politburo member -- has captivated a country where the affairs of the powerful are normally kept secret and the downfall of senior politicians rarely happens in public.

(AFP )

Spinner Jon Holland and paceman Jhye Richardson are the surprise selections in a 15-man Australia squad named Monday for the tour to South Africa next month.

Victorian left-arm spinner Holland, 30, played two Tests for Australia against Sri Lanka in mid-2016, but was passed over in the recent 4-0 Ashes Test series win over England.

Richardson, 21, is one of five pace bowlers in the Australian touring party for the four-Test series against the No.2 ranked South Africans.

(AFP )

Two prison guards were hospitalised on Sunday after being assaulted with a table leg by an inmate at a jail in northern France, the latest in a spate of prison attacks that has led to nationwide strike action.

Guards across the country have downed tools following a string of attacks by inmates and scuffles at jails, including Europe's biggest, Fleury-Merogis just south of Paris.

Unions pushing for better safety and wages have vowed a "total blockade" of prisons on Monday as their dispute with the government worsens.

(AFP )

Pope Francis took a tough stand against political corruption on Sunday, and wrapped up his Latin American trip with a mass at an air base before more than a million faithful.

It was the second time since arriving in Peru on Thursday that the leader of the world's Catholics attacked the "virus" of graft.

"There are exceptions. But by and large, Latin America's political culture is sicker than it is healthy," the pontiff told bishops earlier Sunday from across Peru, a country whose political parties and presidents have been plagued by dishonesty and kickbacks.

(AFP )

France was an unlikely choice of location for Mark Heath's new start-up, given that the American's mastery of the French language is, by his own cheerful admission, "atrocious".

But the fast-talking New Yorker is among a growing crowd of British and American entrepreneurs drawn to France by an optimistic mood under President Emmanuel Macron and political worries at home.

"Every man has two countries -- his own and France," said Heath, quoting his favourite old expression.

(AFP )

President Emmanuel Macron's campaign for a "French Renaissance" kicks into overdrive Monday as he welcomes 140 multinational business leaders before this week's jamboree of the rich and powerful in Davos.

The business-friendly president will host executives at the grand Versailles chateau near Paris for an event billed as a warm-up for Tuesday's opening of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss mountains.

(AFP )

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas will ask the EU to officially recognise the state of Palestine when he meets foreign ministers from the bloc on Monday, a senior official told AFP Sunday.

Palestinian foreign minister Riad al-Malki said Abbas will tell the EU it should take the step "as a way to respond" to US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

Abbas will also "reiterate his commitment to the peace process" in the Middle East, Malki said in an interview with AFP in Brussels.