Monday 18 December 2017

In the world

(AFP )

Francisco Alfonso had never voted or taken part in a demonstration before, but that all changed when Catalonia's leaders tried to break the wealthy northeastern region away from Spain.

"Before, you kept quiet, you didn't say anything," said the 37-year-old plumber, a pro-unity supporter from the working-class town of Santa Coloma de Gramenet near Barcelona.

(AFP )

For years, Abu George's bar in Damascus's Old City served imported beers under portraits of famous foreigners Che Guevara and Marilyn Monroe -- but the brews on offer now are Syrian-made.

When war broke out in 2011, Syria's two main breweries halted production, leaving consumers sipping on foreign, and more expensive, beers.

But as fighting has subsided across much of the country this year, a new pair of local lagers has hit the markets.

(AFP )

A mudslide that buried much of a village in southern Chile has killed 11 people while another 15 are still missing, authorities said Sunday.

The tragedy struck a picturesque village of Villa Santa Lucia in the southern Los Lagos (Lakes) region where heavy rain triggered mudslides that swallowed up most of the homes in the village of 300.

Ten families have been evacuated, Onemi added.

The town was unable to vote in Sunday's presidential runoff won by conservative ex-president Sebastian Pinera.

The toll surged from a previous count of eight dead and 12 injured.

(AFP )

Mention Nigerian literature and the first names likely to spring to mind are Chinua Achebe, the author of "Things Fall Apart", or the venerable Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka.

But Africa's most populous nation has a new crop of writers whose work is a far cry from the post-colonial era of their esteemed predecessors.

Olumide Popoola's novel "When We Speak Of Nothing", for example, tells the story of a gay teenager seeking the father he never knew in the southern oil city of Port Harcourt.

(AFP )

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez was declared Sunday the winner of a heavily disputed presidential election held three weeks ago, despite mounting protests and opposition claims of fraud.

Electoral authorities made the announcement the day that Hernandez's leftist opponent, Salvador Nasralla, left for the United States to highlight what he said was ballot tampering in the November 26 poll.

The declaration could deepen a spiral of violence that has occurred since the election, as anti-Hernandez protesters and police have squared off repeatedly.

(AFP )

Toronto's homicide unit has taken over a probe into the "suspicious" deaths of Canadian pharmaceutical billionaire Barry Sherman and his wife Honey, police said Sunday after finding they had died of strangulation.

"The cause of death for both deceased was ligature neck compression," Toronto police said in a statement following post-mortem investigations of the bodies of the 75-year-old chairman of the board of Apotex and his 70-year-old wife.

"Toronto Police Service Homicide has taken the lead in this suspicious death investigation."

(AFP )

The head of Austria's far-right hailed on Sunday plans by his incoming government to slash benefit payments for immigrants, a day before he was due to be sworn in as vice-chancellor.

"It will no longer happen for migrants who have never worked here a single day or paid anything into the social system to get thousands of euros in welfare!" Heinz-Christian Strache said.

In a post to his 750,000 followers on Facebook, the head of the Freedom Party (FPOe) called it "very important point when it comes to fairness for the Austrian population."

(AFP )

Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked his US counterpart Donald Trump on Sunday for the CIA's help in thwarting a planned attack in Saint Petersburg, the second time in a week that the leaders have exchanged praise.

Putin spoke by phone with Trump to convey his gratitude for intelligence supplied by the CIA which allowed Russia's FSB security service to break up a "terrorist cell" that was planning attacks in Russia's second city, according to the Kremlin.

(AFP )

French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday predicted the Islamic State group would be crushed in Syria by February, pushing for the Syrian government and opposition to come together for fresh peace talks early next year.

"We have just won the war in Iraq with the coalition," Macron said in an interview with France 2 television.

"And I think that by the middle to the end of February, we will have won the war in Syria."

Macron described President Bashar al-Assad as "an enemy of the Syrian people", but insisted: "We have to speak to Assad and his representatives."

(AFP )

The congress of Ecuador voted Sunday to open proceedings on whether to fire Vice President Jorge Glas, who has been convicted of corruption.

A planning committee called the Legislative Administrative Council voted 4-3 to put Glas on trial in the congress.

The case now goes to the Constitutional Court and if it agrees, another panel in the National Assembly must vote on whether to let the entire body vote on dismissing Glas. A two-thirds majority is required.

(AFP )

Germany should appoint an anti-Semitism commissioner to counter growing hate speech against Jews and Israel from both its home-grown far right and the immigrant community, the interior minister said Sunday.

Thomas de Maiziere spoke days after protesters in Berlin burnt Israeli flags to protest the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

"Every criminal act motivated by anti-Semitism is one too many and a shame for our country," de Maiziere, the caretaker minister since inconclusive September elections, told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

(AFP )

The UN Security Council will vote Monday on a draft resolution that would reject US President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, diplomats said.

Egypt requested the vote Sunday, a day after it presented the measure that is likely to be vetoed by the United States.

Breaking with international consensus, Trump this month announced that he would recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, sparking protests and strong condemnation.

(AFP )

A British woman employed at the UK embassy in Lebanon has been found murdered, a senior official said Sunday, adding that the crime did not appear to be political.

"Our first impression is that it's not politically motivated," the official, who is involved in the investigation, told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

He confirmed that the victim's name was Rebecca Dykes but could not elaborate on the exact circumstances of her death.

A statement from the Foreign Office and the family provided no further details.

(AFP )

Egypt's Raneem El Welily ended a three-year wait for atonement when she won the world title by upsetting her compatriot Nour El Sherbini 3-11, 12-10, 11-7, 11-5 in Sunday's final.

World number two Welily made up for the loss of four match points against Nicol David in the 2014 final in front of her home crowd in Cairo by beating Sherbini, who had been in fine form and was looking to become the first Egyptian to win three successive world squash titles.

(AFP )

A lawyer for Donald Trump's transition team has alleged special counsel Robert Mueller unlawfully received tens of thousands of emails, in the latest attack on the credibility of the probe into Russian meddling in the US election.

With the ex-FBI director's investigation making inroads into the president's inner circle in recent weeks, Republicans have cast doubt on its impartiality and pressed for a new independent prosecutor to investigate anti-Trump bias.

This in turn has led to speculation that the administration could be laying the groundwork for firing Mueller.

(AFP )

Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked his US counterpart Donald Trump on Sunday for the CIA's help in thwarting a plot to attack the city of Saint Petersburg, the Kremlin said.

It was the second time in a week that the world's most powerful leaders have exchanged messages of praise.

Putin spoke by phone with Trump to convey his gratitude for intelligence supplied by the CIA which allowed Russia's FSB security service to break up a "terrorist cell" that was planning attacks in Russia's second city, the Kremlin said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.

(AFP )

The union representing Ireland-based Ryanair pilots said on Sunday it had agreed to talk with the no-frills airline but warned that the meeting could be too late to avert a strike set for Wednesday.

The Irish airline on Friday offered to recognise unions for the first time after pilots in Ireland, Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal threatened walkouts, throwing Christmas travel plans into chaos.

(AFP )

At least 11 Afghan policemen were killed on Sunday when Taliban fighters attacked two checkpoints in the volatile southern province of Helmand, authorities said.

The assaults were the latest in a series of deadly attacks claimed by the Taliban on Afghan police and troops.

Taliban insurgents launched the assaults in the early morning in the Qalai Sang area of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah.

(AFP )

Several hundred protesters led by former Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili stormed Kiev's performing arts centre on Sunday, some hurling rocks, smoke bombs and firecrackers at the windows and doors.

Police who surrounded the building used fire extinguishers against the demonstrators who attacked the October Palace during an afternoon performance by the Glenn Miller Orchestra.

A few made it into the building, but they did not disrupt the concert.

(AFP )

Turkey on Sunday slammed the incoming Austrian government, a coalition between conservatives and the far-right, for "discrimination" and "racist approaches" after its programme pledged Vienna would not agree to Ankara joining the EU.

The landmark coalition deal, marking the return to power in Austria of the Freedom Party (FPOe), has sparked ripples of concern throughout Europe after a year of successes for far-right movements.

(AFP )

Flights at Israel's main airport were suspended for several hours on Sunday as part of a strike against plans by pharmaceutical giant Teva to shed employees.

The four-hour halt hit international routes at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv from 0600 GMT, but Israeli army radio said services started returning to normal in the early afternoon.

The strike was part of a wave of "solidarity" industrial action called by the Jewish state's powerful Histadrut union, and intended to also target ports, banks, ministries, and other sectors.

(AFP )

A suicide bomb attack on a Pakistan church claimed by the Islamic State group killed at least eight people and wounded 30 during a service on Sunday, just over a week before Christmas.

Two women were among the dead at a Methodist church in the restive southwestern city of Quetta in Balochistan province, said provincial Home Secretary Akbar Harifal.

Several of the wounded were in serious condition, police added.

(AFP )

Billionaire Sebastian Pinera will return to power as Chile's president next year, according to virtually complete results from a runoff election held Sunday.

Electoral authorities said the 68-year-old conservative, who previously led the South American nation from 2010-2014, had 55 percent of the vote, with 98 percent of ballots counted.

His leftist rival Alejandro Guillier, a 64-year-old TV presenter turned senator who ran as an independent backed by outgoing center-left President Michelle Bachelet, conceded after receiving 45 percent.

(AFP )

SpaceX's unmanned Dragon cargo ship arrived on Sunday at the International Space Station, carrying supplies and experiments for the astronauts in orbit.

"Capture confirmed," a NASA commentator said at 5:57 am (10:57 GMT), when the space station's robotic arm, operated by one of its astronauts, attached itself to the cargo ship as it floated over Australia and Papua New Guinea.

"It's a great day to see Dragon back at ISS again," said another NASA commentator.

(AFP )

Landslides triggered by Tropical Storm Kai-Tak have killed 26 people and 23 more are missing in the eastern Philippines, authorities said Sunday.

The deaths were reported in the small island province of Biliran, a day after the storm pounded the east of the archipelago nation.

Kai-Tak tore across the major islands of Samar and Leyte on Saturday, toppling power lines in 39 towns or cities and damaging roads and bridges, the national disaster agency said.

(AFP )

At least eight people were killed and 30 wounded when two suicide bombers attacked a church in Pakistan during a service Sunday, just over a week before Christmas, police said.

Two women were among the dead at a Methodist church in the restive southwestern city of Quetta in Balochistan province, said provincial Home Secretary Akbar Harifal.

Several of the wounded were in serious condition, police added.

Officials said security forces intercepted and shot one bomber outside but the second attacker managed to reach the church's main door where he blew himself up.

(AFP )

When tourists fly into Croatia's capital, they land at the gleaming new Franjo Tudjman airport, named after the "father of the nation" -- a figure now implicated by a damning UN war crimes verdict.

Last month's final ruling at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was overshadowed by the dramatic death of Bosnian Croat Slobodan Praljak, who drank cyanide in court after judges upheld his sentence for 1990s war crimes.

(AFP )

The special counsel probing whether US President Donald Trump's campaign colluded with Russia has unlawfully received tens of thousands of emails, a lawyer for Trump's transition alleges, according to US media.

In a letter to congressional committees, Kory Langhofer says the General Services Administration (GSA) "unlawfully produced" the private materials, including privileged communications which special counsel Robert Mueller then used as part of his Russia probe, Axios news site reported on Saturday.

GSA is the government agency which supports presidential transitions.

(AFP )

A former Israeli minister on Sunday started serving a 15-month jail sentence for fraud and breach of trust, judicial sources said.

Stas Misezhnikov, who was tourism minister from 2009 to 2013, was sentenced to prison in October for handing one million shekels ($280,000) in financial support to a student festival while securing a job at the event for a woman with whom he had an intimate relationship.

(AFP )

The number of new asylum seekers in Germany has fallen for a second year in a row following the mass influx that peaked in 2015, the government said Sunday.

For all of 2017, "I presume a total of fewer than 200,000 migrants," Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere was quoted as saying by the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

The EU's top economy has taken in more than one million asylum seekers since 2015, around half from conflict-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, in a mass intake that sparked a xenophobic backlash.

(AFP )

At least five people were killed and 21 injured when two suicide bombers attacked a church in Pakistan during a service Sunday, just over a week before Christmas, police said.

Two women were among the dead at a Methodist church in the restive southwestern city of Quetta in Balochistan province, said provincial police chief Moazzam Jah, adding that five of the injured were in serious condition.

Oficials said police intercepted and shot one bomber outside but the second attacker managed to reach the church's main door where he blew himself up.

(AFP )

A three-man space crew featuring American and Japanese rookie astronauts as well as an experienced Russian cosmonaut blasted off on Sunday for a six-month mission at the International Space Station.

Scott Tingle of NASA, Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency powered into the sky in a Soyuz MS-07 spacecraft from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1:21 pm (0721 GMT).

(AFP )

Iran shut schools around Tehran Sunday and cancelled sporting events as thick smog blanketed the capital despite curbs on road traffic and industrial activity.

The authorities shuttered primary schools in the province of Tehran, home to 14 million residents, before ordering them to remain closed on Monday.

All sports competitions set for Monday were also cancelled, as restrictions on road traffic were stepped up, including a ban on trucks.

(AFP )

Tens of thousands of Indonesians protested Sunday against the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, the latest show of support for the Palestinians in the country with the world's largest Muslim population.

The rally was organised by the top Islamic authority the Indonesian Ulema Council and supported by the government as well as several other Islamic organisations.

(AFP )

With temperatures dipping below freezing in a northern Chinese village, a group of parka-clad women tried to stay warm as they played mahjong around a small gas stove in a grocery store.

Many in China have been shivering more than usual this winter as authorities have curbed coal heating to fight pollution and the switch to natural gas has been plagued by shortages.

In northern Hebei province, even a hospital and schools have struggled to heat their frigid facilities, prompting some teachers to hold classes outdoors in the sunshine.