Monday 19 February 2018

In the world

(AFP )

Russia's government on Monday insisted there was no evidence that it meddled in the US elections, after Washington indicted 13 Russians for alleged covert efforts to sway voters.

"There are no indications that the Russian government could be involved in this," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

It was the Kremlin's first comment since the indictments were filed on Friday by a US special prosecutor as part of a federal government probe.

(AFP )

Russia is investigating whether the gunman behind a deadly attack on an Orthodox church in the North Caucasus had extremist ties, the Kremlin said Monday after Islamic State claimed the shooting.

"There is an investigation into whether the attacker was linked to extremist organisations," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists a day after five women were shot dead near an Orthodox church in Kizlyar, a town in the Dagestan region.

(AFP )

A new anti-Brexit centrist political party holds its official launch in London Monday, one of several initiatives by pro-European Union campaigners drawing hope from a perceived shift in the British public's mood.

"We aim to reverse Brexit and restore our influential position in Europe, allowing us to focus on what really matters in the UK," the party, called Renew, said on its website ahead of the launch in central London.

(AFP )

Israeli warplanes carried out a fresh round of strikes in the Gaza Strip on Monday after a rocket fired by Palestinians slammed into southern Israel, the army said.

The cross-border exchange followed a weekend escalation in violence seen as among the most serious since Israel and the coastal enclave's Hamas rulers fought a war in 2014.

But the Islamist militant group was quick to say that it did not seek further confrontation.

(AFP )

France on Monday urged the UN's top court to throw out a case brought against it in a bitter diplomatic row with oil-rich Equatorial Guinea over French accusations of top-level corruption.

"France has not accepted the jurisdiction of this court under any title whatsoever to entertain those facts on which Equatorial Guinea seeks the court to rule," the French representative Francois Alabrune told the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

(AFP )

Former English Premier League strikers Diafra Sakho and Brown Ideye scored their first goals for new clubs on a mainly low-key weekend for Africans across Europe.

Senegalese Sakho, who joined French Ligue 1 outfit Rennes from West Ham United, equalised and then put the visitors ahead in a 2-2 draw at Caen.

Nigerian Ideye, whose many previous clubs include West Bromwich Albion, netted for Spanish La Liga strugglers Malaga in a 2-1 home defeat by Valencia.

SPAIN

BROWN IDEYE (Malaga)

(AFP )

Pro-government fighters were expected Monday to enter Syria's Afrin after talks with Kurdish forces, in a move that could pave the way for a settlement in a month-old Turkish assault on the northern enclave.

"Popular forces will arrive in Afrin within a few hours to support its people's stand against the Turkish regime's attack on the area and its people," state news agency SANA said, citing its correspondent in Aleppo.

SANA said the forces would "join the resistance against the Turkish aggression".

(AFP )

The popular female premier of tiny Saarland state is set to take over as secretary general of Angela Merkel's conservative party, sources said Monday, fuelling speculation the chancellor is lining up her potential successor.

Merkel is expected to tap Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer to take the reins from close ally Peter Tauber, who at the weekend said he was stepping down for health reasons.

The announcement will be made at a meeting of top brass from Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party later on Monday, sources close to the party told AFP.

(AFP )

A medium intensity earthquake struck southwestern Mexico early Monday morning, scaring residents already shaken by a powerful quake two days earlier, though there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

The US Geological Survey said its magnitude was 5.9 and it struck at a depth of 40.2 kilometers (25 miles), some 32 kilometers (20 miles) northeast of the town of Santa Catarina Mechoacan in Oaxaca state at 0657 GMT.

"So far, no impact has been reported," the country's Civil Protection agency tweeted.

(AFP )

They thought the worst was over.

The 7.2-magnitude earthquake that shook Mexico on Friday evening hit right near their hometown, the southern city of Santiago Jamiltepec, but the damage was minor.

No one died. People's houses were still standing.

In fact, the entire country was breathing a sigh of relief. Unlike previous earthquakes that killed hundreds or thousands of people in Mexico, this one claimed no lives and left minimal destruction.

Still, there is always the fear of aftershocks.

(AFP )

Iranian rescue teams resumed their search on Monday for a passenger plane that disappeared high in the Zagros mountains the previous day with 66 people onboard, local media reported.

State television said the weather had improved after blizzard conditions hampered search efforts Sunday, and that helicopters were now able to take part in the hunt for Aseman Airlines flight EP3704.

The authorities had called off the rescue effort overnight as heavy snow and rain made it impossible to work.

(AFP )

The couple who took in Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz after his mother's death have described him as quirky but pleasant and seemingly on the right track, saying they had no idea they had a "monster living under our roof."

Cruz, 19, moved in with James and Kimberly Snead of Parkland, Florida in late November after his adoptive mother died earlier that month from complications of pneumonia, they told the South Florida Sun Sentinel in an interview published Sunday.

He was a friend of their son.

(AFP )

British aid charity Oxfam on Monday released its internal report into a scandal in Haiti that has shattered its reputation, revealing that a former top official admitted to paying for sex and three staff physically threatened a witness.

The 2011 report into aid workers deployed to Haiti following the devastating earthquake the previous year, revealed that seven staff were accused of using prostitutes at an Oxfam-funded residence.

(AFP )

A fire gutted a textiles market in Haiti's capital on Sunday, less than a week after a blaze partially destroyed a historic market, underscoring authorities' failure to ensure public safety.

Officials in Port-au-Prince sent in the few fire trucks available to fight the blaze. They were reinforced by private water tankers and police and UN vehicles outfitted with water cannons, normally used for crowd control

The capital's mayor voiced regret at authorities' poor capacity to protect people in Haiti, the most impoverished nation in the Americas.

(AFP )

EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said Sunday he does not expect a "perfect" accord on reforming the single currency at an EU summit in June.

"We won't get everything, we won't have a perfect accord, but if there is progress on crisis management, the ability to combat shocks... we will have made a great step forward," he told French radio RFI on the eve of a meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels.

(AFP )

South Africa's Kevin Anderson bagged only the fourth title of his career with a three-set victory over Sam Querrey to claim the ATP Tour New York Open on Sunday.

Anderson played flawlessly in the third set tie-break to win 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7/1) in two hours and 13 minutes, ending Querrey's hopes of a title on home soil.

The 31-year-old Anderson -- who lost in the final of the US Open in New York last September -- expressed delight at bucking a trend which has seen him lose in 11 finals before Sunday.

(AFP )

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said Sunday his country and Kosovo could one day have a single president as a "symbol of national unity" between Tirana and Pristina.

In a remark certain to anger Belgrade, Rama noted that the two neighbours, both predominantly ethnic Albanian, already share diplomatic missions around the world, adding: "Why not a single president, as a symbol of national unity?"

(AFP )

A leader in one of Brazil's most powerful criminal gangs implicated in cocaine trafficking has been murdered along with another gang member, local media reported on Sunday.

Rogerio Jeremias de Simone, a chief in the First Capital Command crime group, was found dead in the northeastern state of Ceara, the reports said.

State authorities confirmed to AFP the discovery on Friday of two unidentified corpses at an indigenous reserve.

(AFP )

Bosnian Roma actor Nazif Mujic, who won a Silver Bear acting award at the Berlin Film Festival in 2013, has died aged 48, following a harrowing descent into extreme poverty despite his film success.

"We were together yesterday, he was all right, and then this morning I received a call and I was told he was dead," the actor's brother, Suljo Mujic, told AFP on Sunday.

The actor, who died in the impoverished hamlet of Svatovac, had been suffering from ill health in recent months.

(AFP )

Students who survived a mass shooting at their Florida school on Sunday announced plans to march on Washington in a bid to "shame" politicians into reforming laws that make firearms readily available.

The "March for Our Lives" will take place on March 24, with sister rallies planned across the country, a group of students told ABC News' "This Week."

They pledged to make Wednesday's slaughter in Parkland, Florida a turning point in America's deadlocked debate on gun control.

(AFP )

Noted French jazz violinist Didier Lockwood, a disciple of the late Stephane Grappelli, has died of a heart attack in Paris, his agent said.

Lockwood, who turned 62 on February 11, died early on Sunday morning. The night before his death, he had performed at Paris jazz venue Bal Blomet.

"His wife, his three daughters, his family, his agent, his co-workers and his record label are sad to announce the sudden passing of Didier Lockwood," his agent said in a statement.

(AFP )

Peter Tauber, secretary-general of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative CDU party, will step down from his post for health reasons, party sources said Sunday.

Tauber, 43, will announce his decision on Monday, the sources said, with a successor to be named at an extraordinary party congress on February 26.

Although Tauber is seen as a close associate of Merkel's, infighting within the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) led the chancellor to designate another party stalwart to draft the party's electoral platform last year.

(AFP )

The death toll from a helicopter crash that followed a strong earthquake in southern Mexico rose to 14 Sunday, as the defense minister said the government assumed full responsibility.

The tragedy struck Friday night as a military helicopter flew the interior minister and other officials to an area near the epicenter of a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that shook Mexico earlier that evening.

(AFP )

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Sunday ratcheted up his fierce anti-immigration rhetoric as he urged voters to reelect him in April for a third term, branding the opposition as out of touch and "hopeless".

"Dark clouds are gathering over Europe because of immigration," Orban told an audience of supporters during an annual state-of-the-nation speech in Budapest.

"Nations will cease to exist, the West will fall, while Europe won't even realise that it has been invaded," he said, claiming that large European cities could soon have Muslim majority populations.

(AFP )

The campaign for Mexico's July 1 presidential election began in earnest Sunday as the country's top parties officially nominated their candidates, with all three front-runners trying to sell a message of change.

It is still a wide-open race to succeed President Enrique Pena Nieto, who is deeply unpopular heading into the final stretch of his six-year term in a Mexico beset by endless corruption scandals and record levels of violent crime.

(AFP )

Five women were shot dead in an apparent radical Islamist attack on an Orthodox church in the North Caucasus region of Dagestan on Sunday, as the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the assault.

An unidentified gunman fired at worshippers at the church in the town of Kizlyar in the mainly Muslim region, local press reports said.

The regional internal affairs ministry said in a statement that the assailant used a hunting rifle, and that four women were killed on the spot, while the attacker was "eliminated".

(AFP )

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Tehran on Sunday over aggressions by Iran and its "proxies" in Syria, saying he would not allow them to "put a noose of terror around our neck".

Calling it "a message to the tyrants of Tehran", he warned in a speech at the Munich Security Conference: "Do not test Israel's resolve."

His fiery comments came as tensions between the arch enemies have mounted after clashes involving Syrian forces this month, sparked by Israel's downing of what it called an Iranian drone sent from Syria.

(AFP )

A Russian Olympic curler has been implicated in a doping case, sources told AFP on Sunday, in a potential setback as the country battles to recover from a major scandal which triggered its ban from the Pyeongchang Winter Games.

A source close to the matter said the case involved meldonium -- the same substance that saw Maria Sharapova banned. The World Curling Federation also said it was aware of the situation, following Russian reports which named a Russian curler.

(AFP )

Students who survived a mass shooting at their Florida school on Sunday announced plans to march on Washington in a bid to "shame" lawmakers into reforming laws that make powerful firearms readily available.

The "March for our Lives" will take place on March 24, with sister marches planned across the country, a group of students told ABC News, vowing to make Wednesday's shooting a turning point in America's deadlocked debate on gun control.

(AFP )

Poland on Sunday sought to defend remarks by its prime minister which Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu called "unacceptable" and tantamount to denying the Holocaust.

"The comments of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki during a discussion in Munich were by no means intended to deny the Holocaust, or charge the Jewish victims of the Holocaust with responsibility for what was a Nazi German perpetrated genocide," Morawiecki's spokeswoman Joanna Kopcinska said in a statement.

(AFP )

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday told his Polish counterpart that his remarks on "Jewish perpetrators of the Holocaust" were unacceptable and unfounded, Netanyahu's office said.

"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today spoke by telephone with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki," a statement said.

"He told him that the remarks that were made were unacceptable and that there was no basis for comparing the actions of Poles during the Holocaust to those of Jews."

(AFP )

President Donald Trump said Sunday that Russia was succeeding beyond its "wildest dreams" in sowing US discord but refrained once more from directly challenging Moscow on its election meddling.

In a flurry of tweets, Trump blamed former president Barack Obama for failing to stop Russia while accusing the FBI of spending "too much time trying to prove collusion with the Trump campaign."

(AFP )

The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) said Sunday that three of its foreign members were killed in Syria, including two in the northern enclave of Afrin.

The Kurdish militia, the backbone of a US-backed force that has fought the Islamic State group, named the fighters as French national Olivier Francois Jean Le Clainche, 41, Spanish national Samuel Prada Leon, 25, and Dutch national Sjoerd Heeger, 25.

The YPG said Le Clainche and Leon were killed "in the clashes with the occupiers at the Jandairis front on February 10."

(AFP )

Church spires across Britain will be used to boost broadband, mobile phone and WiFi connectivity in rural areas, under a deal struck between the government and the Church of England, it was announced Sunday.

"This agreement with the Church of England will mean that even a 15th century building can help make Britain fit for the future," said Matt Hancock, the minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

The CoE has 16,000 church buildings and around 65 percent of its churches are located in rural communities, making them ideal hosts of key digital infrastructure.

(AFP )

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Tehran on Sunday over aggressions by what he called Iran and its "proxies" in Syria, while showing what he claimed was a piece of an Iranian drone shot down in Israeli airspace.

Saying he had "a message to the tyrants of Tehran" during a speech at the Munich Security Conference, he warned: "Do not test Israel's resolve."

He brandished a rectangular piece of dark green metal which he called "a piece of that Iranian drone, or what's left of it, after we shot it down."