In the world | Africatime
Thursday 30 March 2017

In the world

(AFP )

The tally of refugees who have fled the war in Syria now exceeds five million, the United Nations said Thursday.

"As the number of men, women and children fleeing six years of war in Syria passes the five million mark, the international community needs to do more to help them," the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said in a statement.

The total of Syrian refugees abroad stood at 4.6 million at the end of 2015 and rose to 4.85 million by the end of last year, according to the agency's data.

(AFP )

French President Francois Hollande said Thursday that Britain must agree on the conditions of its exit from the EU before the bloc's members discuss other issues such as a trade deal.

"First we must begin discussions on the modalities of the withdrawal, especially on the rights of citizens and the obligations arising from the commitments that the United Kingdom has made," Hollande said.

"On the basis of what progress is made, we could open discussions on the framework of the future relations between the United Kingdom and the European Union," he added.

(AFP )

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Ankara on Thursday for talks on the Syria conflict, just a day after Turkey announced that its military offensive was over.

Tillerson, the most senior US official to visit Turkey since President Donald Trump took office in January, is seeking to turn around recently rocky relations between the NATO allies.

He met with Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and was also due to talk to Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

(AFP )

Dutch doctors have come out against a controversial proposed law that would allow assisted suicide for those who feel their lives are complete, and not just for people in unbearable suffering.

"Such a radical proposal is not desirable for practical reasons and for reasons of principle," the Dutch Doctors Federation, representing some 59,000 practitioners and students, said in a statement late Wednesday.

The Netherlands and neighbouring Belgium became the first countries in the world to legalise euthanasia in 2002.

(AFP )

Greece is close to a long-delayed deal with its creditors after months of tough talks that have held up the payment of vital loans, a senior official has said.

"We are close to an agreement in coming days," Greek parliament chief Nikos Voutsis told a European Left meeting late on Wednesday.

"All indications show that a deal is imminent," he added, according to the state Athens News Agency.

Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos has said that reaching an agreement in time for a scheduled April 7 meeting of eurozone ministers is "feasible."

(AFP )

South African President Jacob Zuma has vowed to sack his respected finance minister, a government coalition party confirmed Thursday, in a move which could split the African National Congress (ANC).

Zuma has been at loggerheads with Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan for months, and this week abruptly ordered him to return home from a foreign investment trip as speculation rose of a dramatic political showdown.

(AFP )

Ethiopia's parliament on Thursday approved a four month extension of a state of emergency that was first imposed in October to quell nearly a year of anti-government protests.

"The House unanimously voted to extend the state of emergency," said a report carried by state media.

Defence minister Siraj Fegessa said the "extension is needed so as to take the prevailing relatively good peace and security situations to the point of no return," it said.

(AFP )

A Boko Haram faction led by the son of the group's founder is trying to win over civilians by shunning the indiscriminate violence of its longtime figurehead that has alienated locals.

Eyewitnesses to a spate of recent raids attributed to Islamist fighters loyal to Abu Musab Al-Barnawi in northeast Nigeria have said they repeatedly told villagers they would not be harmed.

Others say mass violence has been reduced in parts of the northern Borno state around Lake Chad now controlled by Barnawi and Mamman Nur, his right-hand man who is seen by some as the real leader.

(AFP )

China's President Xi Jinping will meet Donald Trump next week at the US leader's Florida golf resort, the first face-to-face meeting between the heads of the world's two most powerful nations.

The visit, which will take place at Trump's luxury Mar-a-Lago club, follows a rocky start to US-China relations under the billionaire politician, who has repeatedly blasted Beijing for its trade policies and reluctance to bring pressure on North Korea over its nuclear and missile programmes.

(AFP )

UN chief Antonio Guterres called Thursday for protection of civilians to be the "absolute priority" as he visited Iraq, where hundreds of thousands are caught up in the battle for Mosul.

More than 200,000 people have fled west Mosul since the operation to oust the Islamic State group began last month, and officials and witnesses say that air strikes have taken a devastating toll on civilians who remained in the city.

(AFP )

Britain sought to downplay a row over future security ties with the EU on Thursday, as London and Brussels drew up the first battle lines at the start of their two-year divorce.

France and Germany also put up a common front against Prime Minister Theresa May's call to negotiate the exit and the new relationship at the same time, setting up a major stumbling block before negotiations even begin.

(AFP )

A Hong Kong democracy activist was jailed Thursday over Umbrella Movement mass protests while nine more campaigners face charges, as fears grow that freedoms are under threat in the semi-autonomous city.

The cases come days after pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam was selected as city leader by a committee skewed towards the mainland camp.

They also precede an expected visit by China's President Xi Jinping in July to mark the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong back to China by Britain in 1997.

(AFP )

Lawmakers in the US state of North Carolina have reached an agreement to repeal a controversial law setting rules on which bathrooms transgender people can use in public buildings.

But the deal reported by US media still has to pass a series of hurdles in the state legislature on Thursday.

And gay and lesbian groups complained that even the new arrangement is unfair to them.

The initial legislation in the generally conservative southern state was a highlight of the broader cultural war between conservatives and liberals in contemporary America.

(AFP )

Torrential rain hampered relief efforts Thursday after a powerful cyclone wreaked havoc in northeast Australia, with floods sparking emergency rescues as fed-up tourists began evacuating from resort islands.

Cyclone Debbie has pummelled Queensland state since crashing ashore as a category four storm on Tuesday between Bowen and Airlie Beach, ripping up trees, washing boats onto land and causing widespread damage.

(AFP )

UN chief Antonio Guterres arrived in Baghdad on Thursday to review the humanitarian situation, calling for protection of civilians to be the "absolute priority" as Iraqi forces battle to retake Mosul.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians remain in Mosul, which was seized by the Islamic State group in 2014, and officials and witnesses have said that air strikes have taken a devastating toll on civilians in the city this month.

(AFP )

The Waikato Chiefs have been told to get their act together for their Super Rugby clash with the Northern Bulls after an unconvincing win over the struggling Melbourne Rebels.

Coach Dave Rennie read the riot act to the two-time champions after they needed a late burst to overcome Australia's bottom-placed team in their last outing.

"There were some carefully chosen words," Rennie said, after showing his players images from the Rebels match. "When the guys looked at it, they were pretty embarrassed."

(AFP )

One year after Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party was sworn in as Myanmar's first elected government in half a century, opinions are mixed on its performance.

Many have a saint-like adoration for "The Lady", who championed a decades-long democracy struggle against the country's former military oppressors.

But after 12 months with dubious progress on economic reform and repressive legislation still on the books, some supporters are starting to lose patience.

Here are some views from Myanmar:

'Penis poet' Maung Saungkha

(AFP )

An Israeli minister has gone against the tide in proposing a way he says would alleviate conditions in the Gaza Strip while maintaining his country's security control -- build an island nearby.

The unusual proposal has gained backing among some in the Israeli security establishment, but he is a long way from convincing everyone.

(AFP )

The judge who halted President Donald Trump's revised travel ban on refugees and arrivals from six mainly Muslim countries has extended his order, dealing another blow to the White House.

After a hearing lasting several hours, US District Judge Derrick Watson in Hawaii said Wednesday he had turned his original temporary restraining order into a preliminary injunction.

Such an injunction generally has no set expiration date, said Hawaii state Attorney General Doug Chin, meaning Trump will be barred from enforcing the ban while it is contested in court.

(AFP )

It feels strange, but a few times each year Vietnamese bodybuilder Kendy Nguyen must strap a bikini top over his rock-hard pecs and pretend for a day he is once again a woman.

He's not happy about the official rules that force him to compete with other women, but it's a small price to pay to live the rest of his life as a man, says Vietnam's first openly transgender competitive bodybuilder.

(AFP )

With the clock ticking on Britain's EU membership, the bloc's leadership vowed unity while in London the government was set to begin the arduous task of disentangling itself from Brussels.

"This is a moment to unite," European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said on Wednesday, hours after Britain formally started procedures to end its 44-year membership of the EU.

With just two years foreseen for negotiations, Juncker said the rights of EU citizens will be top of the agenda.

(AFP )

First daughter Ivanka Trump is about to take on another title as an unpaid adviser to her father President Donald Trump, the White House announced on Wednesday.

Ivanka, whose husband Jared Kushner also works as a senior aide to the president, will not receive a salary for her work as a federal employee. Kushner, a real estate developer, is also unpaid.

"We are pleased that Ivanka Trump has chosen to take this step in her unprecedented role as first daughter and in support of the president," a White House statement said.

(AFP )

South Korea's ousted president Park Geun-Hye was grilled for nearly nine hours in court Thursday as a judge deliberated whether she should be arrested over the corruption and abuse of power scandal that brought her down.

Looking grim-faced and pale, Park ignored a barrage of press flashbulbs and did not speak when she arrived at the Seoul Central District Court, nor when she left.

She was taken to a prosecutor's office to await the judge's decision, which was not expected until late into the night.

(AFP )

The answer to the question of whether Britain's exit process from the European Union is revocable is simple: it just depends who you ask.

British Prime Minister Theresa May insisted after triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on Wednesday that it was a "historic moment from which there can be no turning back".

But hours later European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said the clock could in theory be reversed, if only with the approval of the other 27 member states.

(AFP )

Argentina's Senate voted unanimously to legalize medical marijuana, joining the lower house and setting the country on course to become the latest to relax its laws on pot.

President Mauricio Macri is all but certain to sign the bill, which garnered an unusual level of cross-party support and was applauded by patients and their families.

A group of mothers with sick children burst into tearful applause in the Senate as lawmakers voted 58-0 to pass the bill.

(AFP )

At least 10 bodies were found in a ravine in western Mexico, authorities said, the latest mass grave discovered in a country haunted by a grisly drug war.

The bodies were found at the bottom of a deep gully near the town of Queseria, on the border between the states of Jalisco and Colima, said Colima Governor Jose Ignacio Peralta.

"Some of them are already in an advanced state of decay. Some are practically just skeletons," he told journalists.

"An investigation will have to be carried out. We have counted 10 so far, but that's a preliminary report."

(AFP )

A Lithuanian historian on Wednesday claimed to have found a rare original copy of the country's 1918 act of independence, which reestablished the Baltic state after more than a century of Russian rule.

Lithuanian officials responded with cautious applause, while a photo of the document shared by Professor Liudas Mazylis, who unearthed the act inside the German foreign ministry's archives in Berlin, immediately went viral on social media.

(AFP )

A fierce Russian opponent of President Vladimir Putin who was poisoned in his homeland told US lawmakers Wednesday it was imperative that Washington remain engaged with that country's pro-democracy movement.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian human-rights champion, also urged US President Donald Trump's administration to keep pressure on Moscow, warning that ignoring evidence that Russia interfered in last year's US election would only hand the Kremlin an invitation to ramp up its domestic oppression and its aggression abroad.

(AFP )

Lawyers for a German-Turkish journalist detained by Ankara on terrorism-related charges have lodged an appeal for his release with Turkey's highest court, his employer said Wednesday.

A court in Istanbul on Monday ordered provisional detention for Deniz Yucel, 43, a correspondent of the German newspaper Die Welt who holds dual German and Turkish nationality.

Yucel has been in custody since February 18 over reports on an attack by hackers on the email account of Turkey's energy minister Berat Albayrak, who also is President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's son-in-law.

(AFP )

The head of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee warned Wednesday that Russia is interfering in the French election just as it did in the US presidential campaign last year.

Senator Richard Burr, who has access to some of the most highly classified US intelligence, said Moscow has shown a clear will and ability to disrupt elections in Western democracies.

"What we might assess was a very covert effort in 2016 in the United States, is a very overt effort, as well as covert, in Germany and France," he told reporters.

(AFP )

Nicaragua has restored diplomatic ties with Israel suspended nearly seven years ago when the Jewish state sent commandos to attack a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.

The normalization was announced by both countries in statements on Tuesday.

Nicaragua, which is led by former leftist guerrilla-turned-president Daniel Ortega, also recognizes Palestine as a state.

(AFP )

The people who stripped naked at the former German Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau last week before slaughtering a lamb were trying to take a stand against war, a statement said Wednesday.

The group of seven men and four women -- Poles, Belarussians and one German -- carried out the unprecedented stunt on Friday in front of the camp's infamous "Arbeit macht frei" ("Work makes you free") gate, where they draped a white banner with "love" written in red.

(AFP )

Turkey on Wednesday announced its military campaign inside northern Syria was over, without specifying whether it will pull its troops out from the neighbouring country.

Turkey's top advisory national security council chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the half-year long offensive in Syria has been "concluded successfully," in a statement.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim also said the operation has been completed but did not rule out new military campaigns inside Syria under a different name.

(AFP )

Brazil may be in the midst of an economic storm, but sitting back in a leather seat on Embraer's latest luxury jet, Gustavo Teixeira says the aviation industry is dodging the turbulence.

The crisis "is on our radar but hasn't hurt us," the Embraer executive said in an interview aboard a glistening Legacy 500 jet displayed at the inaugural International Brazil Air Show, held at Rio de Janeiro's Tom Jobim Airport.

(AFP )

South African coach Russell Domingo is uncertain about his future and said Thursday he has not yet decided whether he will apply to renew his contract after the July-August Test series in England.

As the South African side prepared to fly home following their 1-0 series win over New Zealand, Domingo reflected on the past year in which he guided the Proteas from seventh to second in the world rankings.

But what happens next "is out of my control", he said. "At the moment, I'm going fishing for a couple of weeks so it's the last of my worries.