Monday 25 September 2017

In the world

(AFP )

The success of the right-wing populist AfD in Germany's weekend elections was met in Israel with a mix of concern and restraint, with the two countries' close relations a factor.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated German Chancellor Angela Merkel on winning a fourth term in Sunday's elections but made no mention of the rise of the hard-right.

(AFP )

The Brazilian government backed off a controversial proposal to authorize private companies to mine a sprawling Amazon reserve Monday after blistering domestic and international criticism.

President Michel Temer's office will issue a new decree Tuesday that "restores the conditions of the area, according to the document that instituted the reserve in 1984," the Ministry of Mines and Energy said in a statement.

(AFP )

French President Emmanuel Macron is to make a keynote speech on his vision for the European Union on Tuesday -- aimed more at German politicians across the border than the French public.

Macron came to power in May promising to strengthen the institutions of the eurozone and deepen the integration of the EU bloc as it prepares for Britain's departure.

He is desperate for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's endorsement of his reform agenda, which includes plans for a new finance minister position, budget and parliament for the 19-member eurozone.

(AFP )

Notorious hate preacher Abu Walaa, described as the Islamic State group's de facto leader in Germany, goes on trial Tuesday accused of radicalising young men and running a jihadist network linked to the Berlin Christmas market attacker.

Nicknamed "the faceless preacher" for showing his back to the camera in propaganda videos, the 33-year-old Iraqi was arrested last November on suspicion of being the "central figure" in an IS recruitment ring.

(AFP )

Chinese authorities appear to have severely disrupted the WhatsApp messaging app in the latest step to tighten censorship as they prepare for a major Communist Party congress next month.

Users in China have reported widespread disruptions in recent days to the Facebook-owned service, which previously malfunctioned in the country over the summer.

Text messaging, voice calls and video calls appeared to be working again on Tuesday, though voice messages and photos were not going through.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump will host Thai junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha at the White House on October 3 as the pair seek to enhance warming ties and cooperation.

Ties between the countries had been strained following a coup orchestrated by former Thai army chief Prayut three years ago, although he met Trump's predecessor Barack Obama during a ASEAN-US summit in California last February.

(AFP )

President Donald Trump acknowledged late Monday that Puerto Rico was "in deep trouble," after facing blistering criticism for focusing much of his attention on a bitter feud with NFL players instead of the devastated US territory.

Hurricanes Maria and Irma killed 13 people on the island -- with Maria almost completely destroying telecommunication networks last week.

"Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble," Trump tweeted.

(AFP )

Prince Harry and his girlfriend Meghan Markle made their first official public appearance together Monday, arriving hand in hand for a wheelchair tennis match at Toronto's Invictus Games.

Wearing a black "Invictus Games" polo shirt and jeans, the British royal and American actress Markle -- also dressed down in jeans and a white shirt -- enjoyed the sun together as they watched the action on court.

(AFP )

The Brazilian government backed off a controversial proposal to authorize private companies to mine a sprawling Amazon reserve Monday after blistering domestic and international criticism.

President Michel Temer's office will issue a new decree Tuesday that "restores the conditions of the area, according to the document that instituted the reserve in 1984," the Ministry of Mines and Energy said in a statement.

(AFP )

The White House on Monday batted back allegations that Donald Trump is not focused on the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, which has been clobbered by a series of deadly hurricanes.

Hurricane Maria hit the US island territory before dawn Wednesday as a Category Four storm, leaving vast tracts of the island with power or telephone coverage.

The five living former US presidents extended their "One America Appeal" -- set up in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey in Texas and Irma in Florida -- to help with the devastation in Puerto Rico.

(AFP )

One week before the announcement of the 2017 Nobel prizes begins, the Nobel Foundation said Monday that this year's winners will receive a larger monetary award worth over a million dollars.

"The Board of Directors of the Nobel Foundation decided at its meeting on September 14 that the 2017 Nobel Prize will amount to SEK 9 million ($1.1 million, 944.000 euros) per prize category," the private institution based in Stockholm said in a statement.

(AFP )

Spain's chief public prosecutor on Monday refused to rule out ordering the arrest of Catalonia's president as Spanish authorities continued a crackdown against a banned independence referendum in the region.

Jose Manuel Maza said Carles Puigdemont could be charged with civil disobedience, abuse of office and misuse of public funds for pressing ahead with preparations for the October 1 referendum.

"It's a decision that is possible but we have not considered that we should take it," Maza said during an interview with Onda Cero radio.

(AFP )

As thousands of volunteers gather to dig out victims of Mexico's devastating earthquake, rescuers have started organizing crash courses to stop well-meaning but inept helpers from making the situation worse.

Professional rescuers warned of chaos in the dangerous rubble piles, saying blundering volunteers could cause further collapse in unstable structures.

"You don't save lives with your heart, you save them with organization," said rescue worker Juan Carlos Gutierrez, his voice rising almost to a shout.

(AFP )

An Istanbul court on Monday ordered the release of leading Turkish journalist Kadri Gursel in the controversial trial of staff from the Cumhuriyet opposition newspaper, but ruled that four other detained suspects must stay in jail.

The judge ruled that Gursel, one of Turkey's most respected journalists, could go free after 11 months in jail though he remains on trial on charges of links to terror groups, an AFP correspondent said.

(AFP )

South Korea urged the United States to help dial down tensions with the North on Monday, after Pyongyang accused President Donald Trump of declaring war.

"It is very likely that North Korea will conduct further provocations," South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said in a speech in Washington.

"It is imperative that we, Korea and the US together, manage the situation... in order to prevent further escalation of tensions or any kind of accidental military clashes which can quickly go out of control."

(AFP )

A female US Marine on Monday became the first woman to complete the Corps' notoriously rigorous training course for infantry officers.

Many women serve in the Marines and other branches of America's armed forces but the woman, who has requested that her name not be released, is the first to make it through the Marine Corps' 13-week infantry officer training course.

"I am proud of this officer and those in her class," Marine Corps commandant General Robert Neller said.

(AFP )

As thousands of volunteers gather to dig out victims of Mexico's devastating earthquake, rescuers have started organizing crash courses to stop well-meaning but inept helpers from making the situation worse.

Professional rescuers warned of chaos in the dangerous rubble piles, saying blundering volunteers could cause further collapse in unstable structures.

"You don't save lives with your heart, you save them with organization," said rescue worker Juan Carlos Gutierrez, his voice rising almost to a shout.

(AFP )

Former Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Monday he would sue Russia in the European Court of Human Rights over allegations that he fought Kremlin forces in Chechnya.

His spokeswoman Olga Lappo wrote on Facebook that Yatsenyuk intended to prove "the entire absurdity of Russia's justice system".

Yatsenyuk headed the Kiev government from Ukraine's ouster of its Russian-backed leadership in a February 2014 revolution until his resignation over a seeming failure to fight corruption in April 2016.

(AFP )

Israel continues to build settlements "at a high rate," the UN envoy for the Middle East said Monday, in defiance of Security Council demands for an end to the expansion of Jewish outposts.

Reporting to the council, envoy Nickolay Mladenov accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government of using provocative rhetoric to shore up the drive for new settlements.

From June to September, new construction was mostly in east Jerusalem, with plans for some 2,300 new housing units -- a 30 percent increase from last year, he said.

(AFP )

Iraq has hanged 42 prisoners condemned to death for crimes including kidnapping, killing members of the security forces, car bombings and other attacks, a justice ministry statement said on Monday.

It said Sunday's executions were carried out in Nasiriyah prison in the south and that those put to death were convicted under Iraq's counter-terrorism law.

(AFP )

Interpol said Monday that it seized a record total of 25 million illicit and counterfeit medicines worth more than $51 million (42 million euros) in a weeklong worldwide operation.

Dietary supplements, pain killers, fake contact lenses, epilepsy medication and 1.2 tonnes of erectile dysfunction pills were among the drugs seized, the agency, based in Lyon, France, said in a statement.

Operation Pangea X was carried out by police, customs and health authorities across a record 123 countries and led to more than 400 arrests from September 12 to 19.

(AFP )

Spain's chief public prosecutor refused on Monday to rule out the arrest of Catalan president Carles Puigdemont for pushing ahead with an independence referendum deemed illegal by Madrid.

"Legally the conditions may be met" for Puigdemont's arrest, Jose Manuel Maza said during an interview with radio Onda Cero.

"It's a decision that is possible but we have not considered that we should take it," he added.

(AFP )

The controversial trial of 17 journalists and staff from the Turkish opposition daily Cumhuriyet began hearing witness testimony on Monday, with a key witness dismissing charges that the accused are linked to terror groups.

Five top figures from the newspaper, which has been deeply critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, remain in custody, though the remainder are now free while on trial.

In a case that has caused an international outcry, the staff members are charged with supporting in their coverage three groups that Turkey considers terror groups.

(AFP )

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Monday signed into law a controversial language bill which has sparked a standoff with Romania and other east European states.

The law states that starting in September 2020, students will be taught exclusively in Ukrainian from the fifth grade onwards, though they can still learn their native languages as a separate subject.

But Romanian President Klaus Iohannis has said the bill "drastically limits" the access of minorities to education in their native language, and cancelled a planned trip to Kiev this month.

(AFP )

Former army chief Philippe Mangou testified Monday for the first time against ex-Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, who is on trial for crimes against humanity, accused of inciting a wave of post-electoral violence.

Appearing for the prosecution at the International Criminal Court (ICC), Mangou sought to clarify his ties with the former head of state and distance himself from the bloodshed which erupted when Gbagbo refused to step down after losing the November 2010 presidential elections.

(AFP )

Britain's main opposition Labour party is performing a delicate balancing act on Brexit even as it takes on Prime Minister Theresa May's negotiating strategy.

Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer told Labour's annual conference in Brighton on Monday that the party was ready to "take charge" of negotiations with Brussels if May's government collapsed due to its own splits.

After months of bickering within the cabinet, Starmer said: "Labour are now the grown-ups in the room".

(AFP )

Anthony Weiner, the disgraced former US congressman and estranged husband of one of Hillary Clinton's closest aides, was sentenced to 21 months in prison on Monday for sexting a school girl.

The 53-year-old had pleaded guilty in May to sending explicit photographs and messages to a 15-year-old high school student last year as his wife worked on Clinton's presidential campaign.

(AFP )

North Korea's foreign minister on Monday accused US President Donald Trump of declaring war against his country and said Pyongyang was ready to defend itself by shooting down US bombers.

The latest threats stoked a week-long war of words that began when the American leader threatened in his address to the United Nations General Assembly to "totally destroy" North Korea if it launches an attack.

(AFP )

The EU and Britain resumed Brexit talks on Monday with fresh clashes, dimming hopes that a speech by Prime Minister Theresa May could provide a breakthrough in unlocking stalled negotiations.

The European Union's chief negotiator Michel Barnier insisted that he would not discuss May's call for a two-year post-exit transition deal until there was progress on key issues, including Britain's divorce bill.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump denied stoking racial tensions Monday, insisting his charged comments that prompted a wave of symbolic protests by NFL players were about patriotism.

After his verbal attacks on black athletes led players across the country to kneel in solidarity during the US national anthem at games over the weekend, the besieged US president played defense on Twitter.

Trump had sparked the furor by describing NFL players who chose to take a knee through renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner" as "sons of bitches" who should be fired.

(AFP )

Venezuela accused the United States on Monday of "psychological terrorism" designed to bring down the government after it was included in a list of eight countries targeted by a travel ban.

In a speech at the UN General Assembly, Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza described US President Donald Trump as acting like "the world's emperor."

Amid an escalating war of words, Arreaza said Venezuela would seek dialogue with Washington to "stop the madness and irrationality."

(AFP )

US rights groups on Monday pledged to keep fighting the new, open-ended version of President Donald Trump's controversial travel restrictions, insisting they remain a disguised Muslim ban.

Despite the removal of Sudan from the block on travelers from six mainly-Muslim countries, and the addition of Chad, Venezuela and North Korea to the list, activists and legal experts said Trump's intent remained the same, to sharply cut off the flow of Muslim visitors and immigrants into the United States.

(AFP )

Spain's Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis on Monday called on Catalonia's separatist leaders to "stop lying" and start talks with the central government, less than a week before a planned independence referendum.

"My message for him (Catalan President Carles Puigdemont) is that a hypothetical declaration of independence won't lead to anything because no one would recognise it," he told AFP in an interview.

(AFP )

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that Ankara would close its border with Iraq's Kurdistan region over an independence referendum and threatened the Iraqi Kurds with blocking their key oil exports.

Despite enjoying strong ties with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Turkey fears Monday's vote could stoke separatist aspirations among its own Kurdish minority. Erdogan also hinted the Turkish military were ready to act if needed.

(AFP )

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Monday received a toy table-tennis set from his Czech counterpart, a gift intended as a reflection of his country's back-and-forth talks with the EU.

Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said the German-made set, which is sold for roughly four euros ($5) in Prague and is coincidentally called "Little Boris", was a symbolic gift.