Thursday 27 July 2017

In the world

(AFP )

Two women accused of the Cold War-style assassination of the half-brother of North Korea's leader in Malaysia are expected to plead not guilty to the murder in court Friday.

Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong arrived at a heavily guarded court just outside the capital Kuala Lumpur, wearing bullet-proof vests, and were led inside ahead of the hearing.

The women, both in their 20s, are accused of rubbing banned VX nerve agent in the face of Kim Jong-Nam as he waited to board a plane at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February.

(AFP )

Hawkish Japanese defence minister Tomomi Inada on Friday announced her resignation over a long-brewing scandal involving the handling of military documents, in a political blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

"I decided to resign as defence minister," Inada told a press conference at the defence ministry. "I submitted my resignation to the prime minister and it was accepted."

Inada, a close confidante of Abe who shares his staunchly nationalist views, was appointed defence minister in August 2016, a time when she was touted as a possible future prime minister.

(AFP )

The US Senate on Thursday passed bipartisan sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea, sending the package to President Donald Trump, who must decide whether to accept the tough approach to Moscow or veto the measure.

The sanctions, which were approved on a 98-2 Senate vote and overwhelmingly passed the House on Tuesday, are sure to antagonize the Kremlin as well as European nations fearing their companies will be penalized.

(AFP )

The UN Security Council on Thursday endorsed a plan agreed by Libya's rival leaders for a ceasefire, political talks and elections, in the latest attempt to put an end to six years of chaos in the north African country.

Libya's UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar, the military commander based in the east, reached agreement on the new initiative during talks hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron.

(AFP )

Air France on Thursday said it was investigating how a passenger was put on the wrong plane, travelling with a boarding pass bearing the same name as another passenger on that flight.

Ana Maria Bittencourt Marques, a 45-year-old nursing assistant from Porto Alegre in Brazil, departed from Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport on Tuesday with the goal of flying to Copenhagen for a holiday.

Instead, she found herself in Athens after being given a boarding pass in the name of another passenger on the Greek flight, Marie-Christine Midavaine.

(AFP )

At least 10 people were hurt, two of them seriously, when a violent thunderstorm struck Istanbul on Thursday, bombarding the city with hailstones the size of golfballs, local media said.

The storm, which lasted about 20 minutes, paralysed traffic and caused flash floods that submerged cars in some streets, according to pictures on social media.

Sixteen planes which had been heading to the city's Ataturk airport were routed to other destinations, the pro-government Anadolu news agency reported.

(AFP )

A Canadian court on Thursday acquitted four Sri Lankan migrants charged with smuggling 74 of their compatriots into the country almost a decade ago.

"In October 2009, 76 young men from Sri Lanka arrived near Canadian waters on a migrant ship which had travelled for 40 to 45 days across the Pacific seeking refuge in Canada from the civil war which ravaged their homeland," Judge Arne Silverman of British Columbia's Supreme Court said.

(AFP )

The French government, sparking a row with Italy, announced plans Thursday to temporarily nationalise the country's biggest shipyard after failing to agree a deal with a prospective Italian owner.

After Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire announced the decision, saying it sought to protect France's "strategic interests," the Italian government expressed outrage, saying the move was "inexplicable".

(AFP )

British police said there may be "reasonable grounds" for bringing corporate manslaughter charges over the Grenfell Tower fire disasterm as loved ones of victims gathered for a service on Thursday.

Police wrote to residents of the London block, destroyed in a fire last month that killed at least 80 people, saying they might interview senior members of the local council and the housing association that ran the property.

(AFP )

The powerful head of Poland's governing conservatives, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, on Thursday attacked a presidential veto of plans to overhaul the judiciary as "a very serious mistake" and vowed not to back down.

"The reform of the judiciary must be radical, because partial reform won't change anything," Kaczynski said in an interview with the ultra-Catholic television station Trwam, whose audience comprises diehard supporters of the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party.

(AFP )

President Donald Trump's announcement that transgender troops are no longer welcome in the US military caught the Pentagon off guard, leaving officials scrambling for a coherent response.

Trump's tweeted decree upended years of progressive personnel reform in the military, which in recent years has opened the door for women to fight in front-line combat roles and lifted a ban on gay people openly serving.

Here's a look at the legal and political minefield the Pentagon must now clear if it is to implement Trump's ban:

- What prompted the ban? -

(AFP )

Defeated Democratic White House hopeful Hillary Clinton promises to let her guard down and explain what happened in her shock electoral defeat to Donald Trump, including the mistakes she made, in a book to published in September.

Publishers Simon and Schuster revealed Thursday that the previously unnamed tome would be entitled "What Happened" and would be the former secretary of state's "most personal memoir yet."

(AFP )

Nearly three months after Russia, Iran and Turkey reached a deal on de-escalating the war in Syria, hundreds of thousands of civilians have yet to receive desperately needed aid, a senior UN official said Thursday.

The agreement by Syrian allies Russia and Iran, along with Turkey, which backs opposition groups, was to establish safe zones to ease fighting and allow deliveries of aid to Syrians, now in their seventh year of war.

(AFP )

The Turkish parliament on Thursday voted to strip two pro-Kurdish lawmakers of their status of MP on the grounds of "absenteeism", their party said.

Peoples' Democratic Party's (HDP) Faysal Sariyildiz and Tugba Hezer Ozturk were removed from office by a large majority.

They are accused of "absenteeism", a party official told AFP.

"This is the first time that a member of parliament has lost his/her seat because of this reason," she added.

(AFP )

Turkish Cypriot authorities on Thursday released the captain and crew of a boat hired by far-right activists to prevent would-be migrants from reaching Europe, local media reported.

Kibris Postasi reported earlier that the captain, his second-in-command, the vessel's owner and seven crew members had been detained over accusations of "using and publishing false documents".

The arrests came after Turkish Cypriot authorities stopped their vessel, the "C-Star", at the port of Famagusta on Tuesday.

(AFP )

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday called for the execution of a Palestinian who stabbed to death three Israelis last week as tensions rose over new security measures at a Jerusalem holy site.

"The death penalty for terrorists –- it's time to implement it in severe cases," he said while speaking with family members of the victims, a video of which was posted on Netanyahu's Twitter account.

(AFP )

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Moscow will ultimately have to respond to sanctions imposed by the United States that he condemned as insolent towards Russia.

"We are behaving in a very restrained and patient way, but at some moment we will need to respond," Putin said at a news conference after talks with his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto.

He complained that "it's impossible to endlessly tolerate this kind of insolence towards our country," referring to tougher US sanctions that were backed by the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

(AFP )

Nobel peace prize winner Muhammad Yunus Thursday cancelled an international conference of social business entrepreneurs outside the Bangladeshi capital after it failed to get police security.

Yunus, 77, has been at odds with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina since 2007 when he made a brief foray into the country’s highly polarised politics.

In 2011, he was sacked as the head of pioneering micro-lender, Grameen Bank, in a move widely believed to have been orchestrated by Hasina.

(AFP )

Sugar may be bad not only for your teeth and your waistline, but also your mental health, claimed a study Thursday that was met with scepticism by other experts.

Researchers at University College London (UCL) compared the reported sugar intake of more than 8,000 people in a long-term British study, to their mood.

The study participants, civil servants, were monitored from 1985-1988, and filled out a questionnaire every few years thereafter.

(AFP )

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim met with German business executives on Thursday to reassure them following a bitter row between Ankara and Berlin that threatened to drag them into a terror funding crackdown.

Yildirim held the breakfast meeting in Ankara with 19 executives from companies -- including Bosch, Siemens, Mercedes and BASF -- telling them they were valued in Turkey.

"It is very important for us that you are not hurt at all by recent developments, that you are not part of this tension," Yildirim said during the meeting, according to Anadolu news agency.

(AFP )

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Moscow will ultimately have to respond to sanctions imposed by the United States that he condemned as insolent towards Russia.

"We are behaving in a very restrained and patient way, but at some moment we will need to respond," Putin said at a news conference after talks with his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto.

He complained that "it's impossible to endlessly tolerate this kind of insolence towards our country," referring to tougher US sanctions that were backed by the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

(AFP )

Oil field services giant Halliburton will pay nearly $30 million to resolve allegations of bribery in Angola, US regulators announced Thursday.

Former Halliburton vice president Jeannot Lorenz also agreed to pay a $75,000 fine for falsifying the company's books and circumventing internal controls, the Securities and Exchange Commission said in a statement.

Lorenz steered $13 million in contracts to a local company owned by a former Halliburton employee with ties to an official at the Angolan state oil company Sonangol.

(AFP )

British miner Anglo American has set aside $101 million (87 million euros) to cover potential damages for former South African staff who contracted the fatal lung disease silicosis at work, it said Thursday.

The news came after Johannesburg's High Court ruled in May to allow former and current mine workers, employed by South Africa's main gold mining firms since 1965, to proceed with a class action against those companies.

(AFP )

India on Thursday freed Frenchwoman Marie-Emmanuelle Verhoeven, wanted in Chile in connection with the assassination of a senator, and put her on a plane to France, sources told AFP.

The Indian foreign ministry said Verhoeven, who had been held in the country since February 2015, was released at France's request on health grounds.

Verhoeven's Indian lawyer confirmed that proceedings against her had been halted.

"The government withdrew the extradition proceedings against her and the matter was closed," Ramni Taneja, Verhoeven's lawyer, told AFP.

(AFP )

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has warned that the start of trade talks may be pushed back to December because Britain is stalling on its exit bill, diplomats said Thursday.

Barnier told EU diplomats there was growing uncertainty that talks on divorce issues would make "sufficient progress" by October to move on to negotiations on a future relationship as planned then, they said.

(AFP )

It's a problem many people will be familiar with: forgetting to turn your phone off during an important meeting, then it rings with a call from home.

Except that for European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker it apparently turned out to be from another key power player -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Juncker was caught out during a press conference in Brussels with visiting Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico, when his mobile went off in his suit jacket pocket.

(AFP )

Brazilian federal police on Thursday arrested a former head of Petrobras and the Banco do Brasil, marking a new phase of a sweeping graft probe into the state-owned oil company.

Three people were detained in the operation, the prosecutor's office said in a statement, as part of the "Car Wash" investigation that has uncovered systemic corruption and ensnared many of Brazil's political and business elites.

(AFP )

Singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran was nominated Thursday for the prestigious Mercury Prize for his third album "Divide", going up against breakthrough grime star Stormzy and former winners Alt-J and The xx.

"What these artists have in common is an infectious pleasure in music making and an arresting sense of urgency about the music they make," the jury said in a statement announcing the 12 shortlisted albums.

"They delight in exploring musical possibilities and refusing to be pinned down by genre conventions".

(AFP )

The International Monetary Fund on Thursday weighed into the US health care debate, urging the Trump administration to "protect" the gains achieved under President Barack Obama.

As the US Senate continues the heated debate over repealing the Affordable Care Act implemented under Obama, the IMF released its annual report on the US economy and warned about the potential damage threatened by the proposed replacement.

(AFP )

The family of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II before disappearing under Soviet rule, are suing Russia's security service for access to its files, their lawyer said Thursday.

"The relatives of Wallenberg filed the lawsuit at the Meshchansky court in the Russian capital on Wednesday," their lawyer Ivan Pavlov told AFP.

The Wallenberg family "wants to force the FSB (the successor to the KGB) to give it access to the originals of the documents" that concern Wallenberg's fate, Pavlov said.

(AFP )

A Bangladeshi woman whose daughter was sold off by her drug-addicted husband described her joy Thursday at being reunited with the infant.

The 10-month-old was returned to her mother in emotional scenes after a court in Chittagong ruled the child had been taken without her permission and sold to a childless couple.

"I am extremely happy that I got my daughter back," the girl's mother, Nusrat Jahan, told AFP.

"I could not sleep all these months after she was snatched from my lap."

(AFP )

An Italian government plan to deploy vessels in Libyan territorial waters to help fight human trafficking will be presented to parliament early next week, Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said Thursday.

He said the cabinet was "discussing the details" of a request from Tripoli for help and "will present them on Tuesday", adding that he was "sure parliament will vote in favour".

(AFP )

Vernon Philander again proved a thorn in England's side as Alastair Cook eyed a hundred against South Africa in the third Test on Thursday.

England were 171 for four at stumps, having won the toss, with 31 of the scheduled 90 overs lost to bad weather on the opening day of the 100th Test at The Oval.

Pace bowling all-rounder Philander had superb figures of two wickets for 17 runs in 12 overs, including five maidens, despite a stomach bug.

(AFP )

The United States donated surveillance aircraft and began delivering weapons to the Philippines on Thursday to help its Asian ally fight Islamist militants.

The two Cessna C208B planes, which together with their equipment are worth more than $30 million, will track Islamic State group-styled gunmen as well as patrol maritime borders, US ambassador Sung Kim and Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.

(AFP )

Pakistan police on Thursday arrested four more men involved in the rape of a teenage girl as punishment for a rape committed by her brother.

The latest arrests, which include the man who allegedly committed the 'revenge rape', brings the told number detained to 18, a police source confirmed.

A jirga (village council) in a suburb of the central city of Multan had ordered the rape of the 16-year-old girl as a punishment after her brother sexually assaulted a 12 year-old.