Thursday 18 January 2018

In the world

(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 keep direct control over Catalonia if Puigdemont tries to govern from Belgium, where he and other ousted 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 three people dead, all killed by falling trees.

The Netherlands bore the brunt of the severe winter storms -- the second this month -- as bitter winds barrelled off the North Sea to hit the low-lying country with full force.

Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, one of the continent's busiest travel hubs, was forced to briefly cancel all flights as winds gusted up to 140 kilometres (86 miles) an hour in some areas.

(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 on Thursday began a complex operation to lift with two cranes a passenger plane which skidded off the runway at a provincial to a precarious position just metres from the sea.

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.

(AFP )

A mother and daughter polio vaccination team were gunned down Thursday in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta as they were immunizing children, police said, the latest deaths in the country's long campaign against the disease.

The duo were killed in a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city, capital of restive Balochistan, Pakistan's largest and poorest province.

"Sakina Bibi, 38 and her daughter Rizwana Bibi, 16, were killed by unknown assailants while they were administering polio drops to children," senior police official Aitzaz Ahmed Goraya told AFP.

(AFP )

A pair of Australian swimmers on Thursday became the first people to be rescued in the ocean by a drone when the aerial lifesaver dropped a safety device to distressed teens caught in rough seas.

Australia is leading the use of the technology in surf lifesaving, with dozens of drones being trialled on beaches around the country.

In what is believed to be a world-first drone surf rescue, two boys on Thursday got caught in three-metre (10-foot) swells while swimming off Lennox Head in New South Wales, near the border with Queensland.

(AFP )

European authorities should not be sending migrants trying to reach the continent back to Libya until the security situation there has stabilised, the chief of Human Rights Watch said.

"The way migrants are treated in Libya is horrendous, where we hear over and over stories of forced labour, forced sexual abuse, torture," Kenneth Roth said in an interview as the group released its annual report on risks around the globe.

(AFP )

Fifty-two people were killed Thursday when the Russia-bound bus they were travelling on caught fire in Kazakhstan, the central Asian nation's emergency services ministry said.

"On January 18 at 10:30 am (0430 GMT), a bus caught fire ... 55 passengers and two drivers were on board. Five people who managed to escape are receiving medical assistance. The rest died on the spot," the ministry said, without elaborating on the cause of the blaze.

(AFP )

Prime Minister Theresa May welcomes her French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on Thursday for a high-profile summit, preceded by a British promise to pay more for border security in the migrant hot-spot of Calais.

In what will be the French president's first official trip across the Channel, Macron will meet May at an army base near London for wide-ranging talks.

His arrival comes hours after the UK government pledged an extra £44.5 million (50 million euros, $62 million) to boost security around Calais following a request from Macron.

(AFP )

Israeli forces raided a Palestinian city in the occupied West Bank overnight to arrest suspects in the recent murder of an Israeli, leaving one of them dead and sparking clashes, officials said.

Two Israeli special forces members were wounded during the raid on Jenin that began late Wednesday and continued into Thursday morning, the Israeli military said. A number of arrests were made.

The Palestinian health ministry confirmed a Palestinian was killed in the operation, naming him as Ahmed Ismail Jarrar, 31.

(AFP )

A California couple arrested on suspicion of torture was due in court on Thursday after investigators discovered they were holding their 13 malnourished children captive in a suburban home.

David Allen Turpin, 57, and his wife Louise Anna Turpin, 49, had registered their home as a school, but instead of teaching materials, investigators found signs of torture inside.

County officials investigating the case announced a press conference for 1500 GMT Thursday. The court was expected to announce charges a few hours later.

(AFP )

British and French leaders aim to deepen cooperation in tackling terrorism and the migration crisis at a bilteral summit near London Thursday, as Britain tries to strenghten ties before leaving the European Union next year.

Prime Minister Theresa May will meet President Emmanuel Macron -- on his first official trip across the Channel -- at an army base close to the capital, with an agenda intended to "reflect the broadness of the UK-France relationship," British officials said.

(AFP )

Donald Trump said during his election campaign he wanted to improve relations between the US and Vladimir Putin's Russia. But a year on from his inauguration, ties between Washington and Moscow are at Cold War lows.

As American investigators continue to probe Russian involvement in Trump's shock 2016 election victory over Hillary Clinton, Moscow talks of the US president as a hostage to internal political struggles who is unable to improve ties.

(AFP )

The spill from a sunken Iranian tanker off China's east coast has spawned four oil slicks as authorities prepared to send robots to the wreckage to assess the environmental damage.

The Sanchi, which was carrying 136,000 tonnes of light crude oil from Iran, sank in a ball of flames in the East China Sea on Sunday, a week after colliding with Hong Kong-registered bulk freighter the CF Crystal.

The bodies of only three out of 30 Iranian and two Bangladeshi crew members have been found.

(AFP )

Officials from North and South Korea meet with the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne on Saturday to set the seal on Pyongyang's participation in its neighbour's Winter Games.

It is a rare moment of positive diplomatic publicity for the Olympics and founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin's notion of forging peace through sports.

But analysts question whether detente with the isolated, nuclear-armed North will be sustainable once the show in Pyeongchang is over.

(AFP )

Britain is set to send helicopters to bolster a key French counter-terrorism operation in Mali in a package of measures to be agreed at a summit near London on Thursday.

The commitment will come as Prime Minister Theresa May meets French President Emmanuel Macron at an army base near the British capital, with immigration and global aid also on their agenda.

(AFP )

Dirty money from eastern Europe is flowing through companies registered to nondescript properties across Scotland in a practice that has alarmed global campaigners and policymakers, experts say.

The first Scottish Limited Partnerships (SLPs) were set up a century ago when they were widely used to register contracts for tenant farmers, but today organised crime gangs and corrupt politicians are exploiting the system with them.

(AFP )

Barely a month after Baghdad declared victory over the Islamic State group, the jihadists could still recapture areas of Iraq, especially near the border with Syria, experts and officials say.

Ali al-Bayati, a commander of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary units which fought alongside Iraqi security forces in a gruelling battle against the group, said the Nimrud region of northern Iraq could "fall at any time because security there is fragile".

Last July, the authorities in Baghdad announced with much fanfare the "liberation" of nearby Mosul, Iraq's second city.

(AFP )

Pope Francis closes his visit to Chile on Thursday with an open-air mass on the beach, before leaving for Peru on the last leg of his South American trip.

The pope's homily at the mass for tens of thousands of pilgrims expected at Lobitos Beach, near the northern city of Iquique, will focus on immigration.

Overnight, worshippers camped out on the sand, waiting for the pope's final mass in Chile.

(AFP )

Britain is set to send Royal Air Force helicopters to bolster a key French counter-terrorism operation in Mali, in a package of measures to be agreed at a bilateral summit near London on Thursday.

The commitment will come as Prime Minister Theresa May meets French President Emmanuel Macron at an army base near the British capital, with immigration and global aid also on their agenda.

The issue of Brexit is not scheduled for formal discussion but will likely be touched upon in talks on other topics, a British government spokesman said.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday accused Russia of undermining international sanctions against North Korea and weakening efforts to curb Kim Jong-Un's nuclear weapons program.

"Russia is not helping us at all with North Korea," Trump told the Reuters news agency.

"What China is helping us with, Russia is denting."

Last month, Trump had already denounced Russia for "not helping" global efforts to pressure Pyongyang to halt the development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile delivery systems that have increased tensions with Washington.

(AFP )

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday warned that any bid to address concerns about Iran should not jeopardize the hard-won nuclear deal after US President Donald Trump demanded changes to the accord.

The United States is concerned the deal, thrashed out over 12 years of talks, does nothing to punish Iran over its ballistic missile programme, interference in regional conflicts or human rights abuses at home.