Tuesday 25 July 2017

In the world

(AFP )

France asked for Europe's help Tuesday in fighting wild fires that have consumed swathes of forest in the southeast, one of which is raging near the popular resort of Saint-Tropez.

Over 4,000 firefighters and troops backed by 19 water bombers have been mobilised to extinguish the flames. At least seven firefighters have been injured since the fires broke out on Monday, according to the authorities.

(AFP )

A US Navy patrol ship fired warning shots at an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps vessel in the Persian Gulf Tuesday after it approached within 150 yards (137 meters), a US defense official said.

"The IRGCN boat was coming in at a high rate of speed. It did not respond to any signals, they did not respond to any bridge-to-bridge calls, they felt there was no choice except to fire the warning shots," the defense official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

(AFP )

The Polish president's surprise veto Monday of two controversial judicial reforms opens a period of political turbulence in Poland.

Polish analysts told AFP why the implications are hard to predict, including the impact on Warsaw's relations with Brussels.

- What prompted veto? -

President Andrzej Duda is a close ally of the ruling rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) party that had pushed the reforms, and as a result many assumed he would approve them.

(AFP )

Global ransomware attacks soared by over 11 percent in the 12 months to March, Europol reported Tuesday, but specialist tools developed with its partners had helped unlock some 28,000 encrypted devices.

"Ransomware has soared since 2012, with criminals lured by the promise of profit and ease of implementation," the European police agency said in a statement.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump touted the prospects of a "very big" trade deal with Britain on Tuesday as the minister tasked with clinching accords for the post-Brexit era met officials in Washington.

"Working on major Trade Deal with the United Kingdom. Could be very big & exciting. JOBS!" Trump tweeted.

"The E.U. is very protectionist with the U.S. STOP!" he added, repeating a common line of attack against trading partners for what he says are unfair policies that hurt US businesses.

(AFP )

Angolan presidential candidate Joao Lourenco, who appears set to win next month's election, launched his campaign on Tuesday with a speech vowing to tackle corruption and spread wealth.

Defence minister Lourenco, 63, is the chosen successor of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, whose decision to not contest the August 23 vote will bring to an end his 38 years in power.

"Corruption is a great evil that will not go unpunished," Lourenco told thousands of ruling MPLA party supporters in Huambo, Angola's second city.

(AFP )

South Africa's has insisted memories of an inspired innings will play no part when he returns to one of his favourite venues for the third Test against England at The Oval.

Five years ago at the south London ground, Amla made South Africa's highest individual Test score of 311 not out, his marathon effort playing a key role in an innings and 12-run win.

(AFP )

A US Navy patrol ship fired warning shots at an Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel in the Persian Gulf Tuesday after it approached within 150 yards (137 meters), a US defense official said.

"The IRGCN boat was coming in at a high rate of speed. It did not respond to any signals, they did not respond to any bridge-to-bridge calls, they felt there was no choice except to fire the warning shots," the defense official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

(AFP )

Sri Lanka's government Tuesday approved the sale to China of a majority stake in a loss-making but strategically-sited deep sea port for more than a billion dollars, the ports minister said.

The cabinet gave final approval to sell a 70 percent stake in Hambantota port for $1.12 billion to state-owned China Merchants Port Holdings, minister Mahinda Samarasinghe told reporters.

The Chinese will manage the port operations and the Sri Lankans the port security, the minister said. That, he added, should allay fears that the port could be misused by the Chinese.

(AFP )

The historic fountains in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican lay empty Tuesday after the tiny city state turned them off as Italy struggles with a prolonged draught.

The dry basins of the two fountains by 17th-century sculptors Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini were symbolic of a period of sweltering temperatures which have devastated farms and forced Rome to consider water rationing.

(AFP )

A far cry from the 1990s "ABC" campaign promoting abstinence and monogamy as HIV protection, scientists reported on new approaches Tuesday allowing people to have all the safe sex they want.

Moving away from the message to "Abstain, Be faithful, Condomise", modern prevention strategies include drug-doused vaginal rings, male circumcision, and taking anti-retroviral therapy (ART) medication, experts said at a HIV science conference in Paris.

(AFP )

EU member states on Tuesday extended the landmark Sophia rescue operation in the central Mediterranean for another 18 months amid growing concern at the huge number of migrants crossing to Europe.

More than 100,000 from North Africa and the Middle East have made the trip so far this year, often in flimsy boats run by unscrupulous people smugglers, according to UN figures.

Most have landed in Italy which complains bitterly that its EU partners have not done enough to share the burden.

(AFP )

A five-month legal battle over the fate of a terminally-ill British baby that drew the attention of Pope Francis and US President Donald Trump has also stoked an often angry debate about medical ethics and the courts.

Charlie Gard's parents waged a high-profile campaign with the help of social media and Britain's tabloids for him to receive experimental treatment in the United States, striking a chord worldwide.

(AFP )

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has demanded the United States return church bells seized by American forces in a bloody campaign more than a century ago, in another blast at his country's traditional ally.

American forces took three bells from the Catholic church of Balangiga town on the eastern island of Samar in 1901 as war booty in what historians said was a particularly brutal military operation in the new US colony.

(AFP )

Washington's ban on US citizens travelling to North Korea will have no effect on the country's tourism industry and Pyongyang does not care about it "at all", a senior development official insisted Tuesday.

The measure is due to be enacted this week and once it goes into force US passports will no longer be valid for travel to the isolated country, which is subject to multiple sets of United Nations sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes.

(AFP )

Thousands of firefighters battled forest fires in large areas of southeast France Tuesday, with one "extremely virulent" inferno raging near the jetset resort of Saint-Tropez, emergency services said.

The blazes have consumed 3,000 hectares (11 square miles) of land along the Mediterranean coast, in the mountainous hinterland and on the island of Corsica -- at the height of the region's holiday season.

Over 2,000 firefighters and 19 aircraft, including 10 Canadair water bombers, have been mobilised to quench the flames.

(AFP )

The two main rivals in conflict-ridden Libya are committed to a ceasefire and holding elections "as soon as possible", according to a draft statement released before they began talks brokered by French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday.

The communique says Libya's UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar, the military commander based in the remote east of the vast country, accept that only a political solution can end the crisis.

(AFP )

France is hosting a rare meeting on Tuesday between Libya's UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and military strongman Khalifa Haftar who backs a rival administration in the east.

The French government hopes the meeting will help clinch a political agreement to end years of chaos that has gripped Libya since a 2011 uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Here are some of the key challenges facing Libya, also bedevilled by jihadism and people smuggling.

- Establishing one central government -

(AFP )

Libya's UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and military strongman rival Khalifa Haftar are set to meet near Paris on Tuesday for talks aimed at easing tensions in their violence-wracked country.

It is their first encounter since a rare meeting in Abu Dhabi in May.

The talks come as Europe struggles to secure a political settlement in Libya after years of chaos since the NATO-backed uprising that ousted and killed veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

(AFP )

China on Tuesday called on the United States to stop "unfriendly" and "dangerous" military flights after two Chinese fighter jets intercepted an American surveillance plane over the East China Sea.

The US Navy EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft took evasive action Sunday after a Chinese J-10 warplane zoomed underneath it, slowed down and pulled up in front of it, the Pentagon said earlier.

China's defence ministry said the action of its pilots was "legal, necessary and professional".

(AFP )

Washington's ban on US citizens travelling to North Korea will have no effect on the country's tourism industry and Pyongyang does not care about it "at all", a senior development official insisted Tuesday.

The measure is due to be enacted this week and once it goes into force US passports will no longer be valid for travel to the isolated country, which is subject to multiple sets of United Nations sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes.

(AFP )

Beijing urged Southeast Asian nations on Tuesday to unite and "say no" to outside forces seeking to interfere in the South China Sea dispute, in an apparent swipe at the United States ahead of a regional summit.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the statement in Manila where he hailed the "strong momentum" in improving ties with the Philippines, a longstanding American ally which has moved closer to China under President Rodrigo Duterte.

(AFP )

Anger was growing in Pakistan Tuesday as the grief-stricken relatives of 26 people killed by a suicide bomber in Lahore a day earlier buried their loved ones and demanded the government publicly hang the masterminds of the attack.

Families and residents in the bustling eastern city demanded action as they attended funeral prayers, and as the chief minister of Punjab province Shahbaz Sharif -- brother of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif -- visited survivors in hospital.

(AFP )

Greece returned to the debt markets for the first time in three years on Tuesday, with reports saying it was on track to raise funds at a lower cost, marking a symbolic victory for the beleaguered eurozone nation.

The Greek news agency ANA said that initial transactions for the five-year government bonds put the yield -- the financing cost for the government or the rate of return for investors -- at 4.875 percent.

That is slightly below the 4.95 percent in Greece's last auction of five-year bonds in 2014, which was reportedly the target the Greek government had set.

(AFP )

An air strike killed eight civilians, half of them children, and wounded dozens more late Monday in a rebel-held region near the Syrian capital where a fragile truce was declared at the weekend.

A Russian military official said there were no air strikes in the ceasefire zone in the Eastern Ghouta region, calling reports to the contrary "a complete lie".

The strike hit the town of Arbin in the Eastern Ghouta rebel enclave at around 11:30 pm (2030 GMT), residents said.

(AFP )

A knife-wielding man shouting "Allahu Akbar" entered the border post between Morocco and the Spanish territory of Melilla on Tuesday, threatening police who wrestled him to the ground.

The man is in custody, Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido tweeted, without indicating whether the incident was an attempted terror attack.

Zoido posted security camera footage of the drama -- which took place on Spanish soil -- showing the man in a blue top walking slowly through the border post holding a knife, police closing in on him.

(AFP )

At least 10 journalists were killed in Afghanistan in the first half of 2017, a 35 percent surge from last year, a media watchdog said Tuesday, with rampant violence on the rise in the war-torn country.

Taliban militants and the Islamic State group were behind most of the "direct and indirect" attacks on media workers in Afghanistan, the Afghan Journalists' Safety Committee (AJSC) said in a new report.

"In the first six months of 2017, 73 cases of violence against journalists were recorded, including 10 cases of killings, 19 beatings and 12 injured," the report said.

(AFP )

Israel removed metal detectors from a highly sensitive Jerusalem holy site Tuesday after their installation triggered deadly violence, but Muslim worshippers suspicious over what would come next kept up a boycott.

Israel's move came in the face of intensive international diplomacy seeking to prevent the dispute over the Haram al-Sharif mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, from sparking wider Palestinian unrest.

(AFP )

Rescuers were frantically searching for up to 40 people feared trapped in a four-storey building that collapsed Tuesday in India's financial capital of Mumbai, officials said.

The city's chief fire officer, Prabhat Rahangdale, said nine people had been rescued but dozens more were believed missing under rubble after the structure gave way mid-morning in the northern suburb of Ghatkopar.

(AFP )

Japan aims to cut suicides by 30 percent over 10 years, with the government Tuesday approving a plan which seeks to curb extreme work hours seen as contributing to one of the world's highest suicide rates.

Japan has the highest suicide rate among Group of Seven (G7) advanced countries and the government describes the situation as "critical" in a country where more than 20,000 people kill themselves every year.

The suicide rate -- the ratio per 100,000 people -- was 18.5 in 2015 and the government wants to reduce it below 13.0 in 2025.

(AFP )

Speculation intensified Tuesday that North Korea is preparing another missile launch to coincide with a military anniversary, just weeks after conducting its first successful test of an ICBM that experts warned could reach Alaska.

US and South Korean media reports cited intelligence and military officials as saying transporter vehicles carrying launching equipment had been seen on the move.

(AFP )

An air strike killed eight civilians late Monday in a rebel-held town east of Damascus where a truce was supposed to have taken effect at the weekend, a monitor said.

Three children and a woman were among the dead in the 11:30 pm (2030 GMT) strike on Arbin in the Eastern Ghouta rebel enclave where the government declared a ceasefire on Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said either government warplanes or those of its Russian ally carried out the strike, which also wounded at least 30 people.

(AFP )

A plan for mainland border staff to be stationed on Hong Kong soil as part of a new rail link to China sparked a backlash Tuesday as concern grows about Beijing's reach into the city.

It is illegal for mainland law enforcers to operate in semi-autonomous Hong Kong under the city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

But there are already concerns that Chinese operatives are working undercover after the alleged abductions of a city bookseller and a reclusive Chinese businessman.

(AFP )

Doctors on Wednesday will examine a 10-year-old raped by her uncle as India's top court considers whether she should be allowed to have an abortion despite strict laws.

The girl's parents went to the Supreme Court after their appeal to abort the 26-week foetus was rejected by a lower authority, despite warnings her body was not ready for childbirth.

Indian law does not allow medical terminations after 20 weeks unless there is a threat to the mother's life.

(AFP )

Saudi Arabia and its allies unveiled a "terrorist" blacklist on Tuesday of 18 organisations and individuals suspected of links with Islamist extremism that they said had ties with regional rival Qatar.

The move by the four Arab governments came despite mounting international pressure to compromise in their weeks-old boycott of their fellow US ally.