Monday 24 July 2017

In the world

(AFP )

Germany said Monday Turkey had informed it that Ankara had dropped accusations of "terrorism" funding against major German companies, amid a raging dispute between the NATO partners.

After the reported claims against nearly 700 German firms including giants Daimler and BASF added further tensions to the dispute, the German and Turkish interior ministers held talks aimed at clearing up the issue.

(AFP )

Russia has deployed military police to monitor two safe zones being established in Syria, it was announced on Monday, with officials touting it as a new era of US cooperation.

Senior commander Sergei Rudskoi said Russian forces had set up checkpoints and observation posts around a zone in the south-west and in another covering Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus.

The two areas are part of a broader Moscow-backed plan to create four "de-escalation zones" in rebel-held parts of Syria.

(AFP )

The US military is preparing to conduct another test of a missile-intercept system in Alaska, the Pentagon said Monday, amid continued tensions with North Korea over its ballistic missile program.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said a routine test of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system had been scheduled to go ahead "soon."

"These tests are done as a routine measure to make sure that the system is ready," he said.

"They are scheduled well in advance of any other real world geopolitical events going on."

(AFP )

US authorities on Monday charged the driver of the overheated truck found in Texas packed with migrants with one count of transporting "illegal" immigrants, prosecutors said, as the death toll rose to 10.

The tenth migrant, an adult man, died at the hospital overnight, according to the US Attorney's office, which charged James Mathew Bradley Jr, 60, with one count of "transporting illegal aliens."

The federal charge is punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty, officials said.

(AFP )

Only 30 percent of $1.4 billion aid needed in 2017 for refugees fleeing the conflict in South Sudan has been raised, a UN official said Monday, raising fears of aid cuts.

Nearly two million South Sudanese have fled, and tens of thousands have been killed, since the country descended into civil war nearly four years ago.

In May, the United Nations said it needed $1.4 billion this year alone to help people who have sought refuge in Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

(AFP )

The parents of British baby Charlie Gard on Monday abandoned their legal fight to take him to the United States for experimental treatment in a case that has attracted global attention.

A lawyer representing Gard's parents Connie Yates and Chris Gard told judge Nicholas Francis at London's High Court that "time had run out" and that they had made their decision after seeing the 11-month-old's latest brain scans.

"We have decided it is no longer in Charlie's best interests to pursue treatment and we will let our son go," Gard said outside court.

(AFP )

Colombia's leftist FARC rebels will officially transform into a political party on September 1, a major step in reintegrating the former guerillas into civilian life as part of a historic peace deal.

"We will publicly launch the party on September 1 in the Plaza de Bolivar," in Bogota, FARC commander Carlos Antonio Lozada told AFP after a news conference by the group, almost a month after it completed its disarmament.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is the largest and oldest rebel group in the country's long-running civil war.

(AFP )

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Monday demanded Russia's Vladimir Putin halt arms supplies to rebels as the leaders of France and Germany tried to revive a peace plan.

After a spike in violence, the four leaders discussed the Ukraine crisis for two hours by telephone in the latest round of talks aimed at stilling a conflict that has killed 10,000 people since April 2014.

The conversation was the first to involve French President Emmanuel Macron since he came to power in May, becoming the main international moderator on the crisis along with Germany's Angela Merkel.

(AFP )

Spain's Balearic Islands on Monday banned the killing of bulls in corridas in a decision feted by animal rights activists but decried by supporters of the controversial, centuries-old tradition.

While not prohibiting bullfighting outright, the regional parliament of the Spanish archipelago voted an animal protection law banning the use of "sharp implements that can injure and/or kill the bull" in the ring, effectively outlawing the slaughter of the animal.

(AFP )

A new public bathing area on a Paris canal that has been helping residents keep cool during the summer was temporarily closed Monday due to pollution concerns just a week after opening.

The City of Paris tweeted that three floating pools on the Canal de l'Ourcq were closed because the water quality was "unsatisfactory".

The authorities said the site would remain closed until the situation returned to normal.

The cause of the pollution was not clear.

(AFP )

An explosion claimed by the Pakistani Taliban killed at least 26 people and injured dozens in a busy vegetable market in the Pakistani city of Lahore Monday, officials said.

The powerful blast hit a bustling main road in the south of Lahore and blew out windows in nearby buildings.

"A suicide bomber of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) used a motorcycle bomb to kill dozens of policemen," TTP spokesman Muhammad Khurasani said in a statement emailed to local media.

(AFP )

Colombia's leftist FARC rebels announced Monday they will launch as a political party on September 1, a major step as the group transitions into civilian life as part of a historic peace agreement.

"We will publicly launch the party on September 1 in the Plaza de Bolivar," in Bogota, guerrilla commander Carlos Antonio Lozada told AFP after a news conference by the group, almost a month after it completed its disarmament.

Lozada, whose real name is Julian Gallo, said the group had been working on the details of the "great political-cultural act."

(AFP )

The parents of British baby Charlie Gard on Monday abandoned their legal fight to take their son to the United States for experimental treatment in a case that has attracted global attention.

A lawyer representing Gard's parents Connie Yates and Chris Gard told judge Nicholas Francis at London's High Court that "time had run out" and they had made their decision after seeing the 11-month-old's latest brain scans.

(AFP )

The Chinese Communist Party's anti-graft watchdog has launched an investigation into a Politburo member once seen as a contender for a top leadership post, just months before a major political congress.

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection is investigating Sun Zhengcai, who some 10 days ago was ousted as party chief in the major city of Chongqing, for "serious discipline violation", the official Xinhua news agency said.

(AFP )

A man armed with a chainsaw injured at least five people in Switzerland on Monday and is on the run after a rampage that police said was not "a terrorist act".

Officers have identified the assailant as a 52-year-old man with a criminal history and no fixed address who reportedly has spent significant time living in a forest.

The attack began shortly after the suspect entered an office building in the northern town of Schaffhausen at 10:30 am (0830 GMT), local police said in a statement.

(AFP )

The Kremlin on Monday warned that new US sanctions on Russia would hit the interests of both sides as Congress gears up to approved fresh punitive measures.

"We consider such a continuation of the rhetoric of sanctions counter-productive and harmful to the interests of both countries," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

In mid-June, the US Senate overwhelmingly passed tough sanctions, but the text stalled in the House of Representatives, until agreement was reached on Saturday.

(AFP )

Protesters in a town in southwest France have built a nearly-two-metre-high wall around the entrance to a disused hotel to try to prevent it being turned into a migrant shelter.

Working under cover of darkness, a few dozen residents of Semeac in the Pyrenees mountains erected a wall 18 metres (60 feet) long and 1.8 metres high barring access to the Formule 1 hotel, a spokesman for the group confirmed.

"We not against taking in migrants," Laurent Teixeira told AFP. "But you have to take account of the citizens."

(AFP )

Donald Trump's son-in-law and top White House advisor Jared Kushner forcefully denied colluding with Moscow to sway the 2016 election Monday, insisting a string of undisclosed meetings with Russian officials were "proper."

"Let me be very clear -- I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so," Kushner said after giving testimony to a Congressional inquiry.

(AFP )

Swaziland, which bears the world's heaviest HIV burden, has almost halved the rate of new infections in five years by boosting access to virus-suppressing drugs, researchers said Monday.

The country -- where one in three adults is infected with the AIDS-causing virus -- has vastly expanded public programmes to test people for HIV infection and put them on life-saving anti-retroviral treatment (ART).

"The rate of new HIV infections has been reduced by half," Velephi Okello of the Swazi health ministry told journalists at an HIV science conference in Paris.

(AFP )

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed Monday to press on with his drug war that has claimed thousands of lives, as he urged lawmakers to endorse "eye-for-an-eye" death penalties.

Duterte devoted large chunks of his annual State of the Nation Address to pushing his law-and-order policies that have made him hugely popular with many Filipinos but have been condemned by human rights groups and other critics.

(AFP )

Staff from one of Turkey's most respected opposition newspapers on Monday rejected as absurd "terror" charges laid against them, on the first day of a trial which has intensified alarm over press freedom under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The 17 defendants from Cumhuriyet daily were detained from October last year and a dozen of them have now spent more than eight months in jail without being convicted of any crime.

(AFP )

China on Monday defended its repatriation of North Koreans who have escaped across its border after a United Nations envoy voiced concern about increasing detentions and expulsions.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN's special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, said last week he had shared his concerns with Chinese officials in recent months.

But foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Monday that "the persons who illegally trespassed into China are not refugees" and would be handled according to "international law and humanitarian need".

(AFP )

At least 26 people were killed and 41 wounded Monday after a Taliban-claimed car bomb struck a bus carrying government employees through a Shiite neighbourhood in Kabul, raising fears of sectarian violence in the Afghan capital.

The assault came as a presidential spokesman said the Taliban also killed at least 35 civilians in an attack on a hospital in central Ghor province over the weekend.

(AFP )

Polish President Andrzej Duda on Monday vetoed controversial judicial reforms that had prompted huge street protests and threats of unprecedented EU sanctions.

The veto came as a surprise move from Duda, a close ally of the ruling rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) party that had pushed the reforms.

Duda said he had made his decision after extensive consultations with legal experts at the weekend, when thousands of people took to the streets across Poland urging him to veto proposals that have led critics to accuse the government of threatening the rule of law.

(AFP )

Seventeen directors and journalists from Turkey's opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper went on trial Monday charged with terror-related offences in what is seen as a key test of press freedoms under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The trial got underway at the vast main courthouse in Istanbul with defendants reading out their identities inside a courtroom crammed with supporters, an AFP journalist said.

Earlier, supporters had let dozens of multicoloured balloons go into the air outside the courthouse, chanting: "Don't be silenced! A free media is a right!"

(AFP )

A top aide to US President Donald Trump was due in Israel Monday in a bid to ease tensions over new security measures at a highly sensitive Jerusalem holy site after a weekend of deadly violence.

Jason Greenblatt's visit comes after more than a week of tensions over the Haram al-Sharif mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel installed metal detectors at entrances to the site, which includes Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, following an attack on July 14 that killed two policemen.

(AFP )

Venezuela's angry opposition is pushing for a boycott of an upcoming vote that it dismisses as a ploy by President Nicolas Maduro to cling to power.

Ahead of next Sunday's election for a 500-plus member assembly to rewrite the constitution and give the president more power, the opposition also plans a general strike -- the second in weeks -- on Wednesday and Thursday and a big protest march on Friday.

(AFP )

Japan on Monday launched a national exercise to encourage tens of thousands of commuters to work from home, in a bid to ease rail and road congestion before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and reform the country's workaholic culture.

About a quarter of the population of 127 million live in Tokyo and surrounding prefectures.

The congested megalopolis thus faces a serious need to ease rush-hour crowds to accommodate tourists for the Olympics.

(AFP )

The UN accused Australia Monday of backtracking on a deal to relax its strong stance on asylum-seekers and resettle some refugees now held in overseas detention on home soil.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it had agreed last November to help relocate the boatpeople to the United States on the basis that Canberra would accept some of them who have links to Australia.

(AFP )

A two-drug cocktail injected every month or two may be just as effective as a daily pill at keeping the AIDS virus under control, said a study Monday that promised relief for millions.

At present people have no option but to take lifelong, daily doses of anti-retroviral therapy (ART) which keeps the HIV virus under control, but does not kill it.

People who forget to take their medication run the risk of the virus rebounding to make them ill, or developing resistance to the drugs they were using -- which would require a more expensive replacement.

(AFP )

China warned on Monday that it will step up its troop deployment in a border dispute with India, vowing to defend its sovereignty at "whatever cost".

The standoff started more than a month ago after Chinese troops started building a road on a remote plateau, which is disputed by China and Bhutan.

Indian troops moved in to the flashpoint zone to halt the work, with China accusing them of violating its territorial sovereignty and calling for their immediate withdrawal.

(AFP )

A South African girl has become only the third child to beat the AIDS virus into long-term remission -- almost nine years and counting -- after receiving a drug cocktail in infancy, researchers announced Monday.

The child was given a ten-month course of anti-AIDS medicine until she was one year old, then taken off the drugs as part of a medical trial.

Eight years and nine months later, the virus is still dormant and the girl healthy without needing treatment, a research team reported at the International AIDS Society conference on HIV science in Paris.

(AFP )

East Timor is set for another coalition after the two governing parties in Asia's youngest democracy clinched a majority of the votes in a trouble-free contest praised Monday as "remarkable" by observers.

The poll came at a tough time for the tiny, impoverished country, with key oil reserves running dry while the government struggles to resolve a long-running row with Australia over lucrative energy fields.

(AFP )

Libya's UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj will hold talks near Paris on Tuesday with Khalifa Haftar, the powerful military commander based in the country's east, the French presidency said.

French President Emmanuel Macron will host the meeting, the presidency said in a statement on Monday.

"France intends, through this initiative, to facilitate a political agreement" between the two rivals as the newly appointed UN envoy for Libya, Ghassam Salame, takes office, the statement said.

(AFP )

A gang of 44 people from China and Taiwan have been arrested in Thailand for running an elaborate phone scam that conned $3 million from scores of victims, police said Monday.

Raids on houses in the capital Bangkok and the sleazy resort town of Pattaya snared the well-organised gang, whose targets were mainly based in China.

Police seized homemade sound-proof booths used to call the victims, who were carefully selected for their vulnerability.