Saturday 16 December 2017

In the world

(AFP )

The UN Security Council is considering a draft resolution finding any change to the status of Jerusalem has no legal effect and must be reversed, after the US recognized the city as Israel's capital.

Egypt circulated the draft text on Saturday, and diplomats said the council could vote on the proposed measure as early as Monday.

Breaking with the international consensus, US President Donald 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 )

Investigators probing a deadly collision between a train and a school bus in the south of France were on Saturday looking at competing witness accounts to determine whether a safety barrier malfunction caused the disaster.

Five children were killed and 20 people injured, several seriously, when an express train smashed into a school bus on Thursday evening at a level crossing in the village of Millas near the city of Perpignan.

As villagers came to terms with the tragedy, police continued to interview eyewitnesses.

(AFP )

Protesters again took to the streets of Togo's capital Lome on Saturday to demonstrate against the rule of President Faure Gnassingbe, who was in Nigeria chairing a summit of West African leaders.

Anti-government marches have been held across the country nearly every week since August, attracting hundreds of thousands of protesters demanding the exit of Gnassingbe, who has ruled for more than 15 years.

(AFP )

Europe's far-right leaders including Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders on Saturday hailed as "historic" the government coalition deal struck by their Austrian Freedom Party (FPOe) peer with the conservatives.

At a triumphant gathering of some of the continent's most prominent far-right personalities, leaders urged closer cooperation to build upon recent electoral gains.

"This is great news for Europe," said Le Pen, who made it to May's presidential run-off in France before losing to Emmanuel Macron.

(AFP )

The Vatican museum has returned a shrunken head to Ecuador, relinquishing the wizened cranium of an Amazon warrior nearly 100 years after it was taken by a missionary.

The grisly body part -- which belonged to the Shuar indigenous people -- was handed over during Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno's visit to Pope Francis on Saturday after months of negotiations, the Vatican said.

It is very rare for a historical artifact to be returned by the Vatican museums, which boast one of the largest collections of art and archaeology in the world.

(AFP )

California is battling its third-largest wildfire since 1932, and winds and dry conditions may help the blaze grow even further, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Saturday.

The so-called Thomas fire has burned 259,000 acres (105,000 hectares) of land, destroyed over 1,000 structures and cost more than $100 million since it broke out on December 4, and conditions including winds, dry fuel and low humidity "will continue to support fire growth," Cal Fire said.

More than 8,000 people are involved in battling the blaze.

(AFP )

French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday celebrated his birthday at the iconic chateau of King Francois I, a choice denounced by critics as an example of how he is "cut off from the people".

Macron, who turns 40 on Thursday, is spending the weekend with his wife Brigitte and extended family at the chateau of Chambord in France's Loire Valley, local French newspaper La Nouvelle Republique reported.

(AFP )

Those looking for gifts for Catholic loved ones this Christmas should steer clear of websites and shops peddling saintly remains, with the Vatican reminding sellers Saturday that hawking relics is forbidden.

"Trading in" or "selling relics is absolutely forbidden," the Catholic Church's saint-making office said in a new guide on how to verify relics' authenticity and preserve them.

(AFP )

Austrian conservative "wunderkind" Sebastian Kurz, 31, secured his path to becoming Europe's youngest leader on Saturday with a coalition agreement with the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe).

Once officially sworn in next week, Kurz will be chancellor and his People's Party (OeVP) will occupy the finance, economy and justice ministries, among others.

The head of the populist FPOe, Heinz-Christian Strache, will be vice-chancellor and his party has secured the interior, defence and foreign ministries.

Here are the main FPOe figures:

- The statesman -

(AFP )

Heinz-Christian Strache, the head of Austria's far-right party and the next vice-chancellor, dismisses his youthful dalliance with neo-Nazism as when he was "stupid, naive and young".

Now, three decades after German police detained him at a torch-lit protest by a group aping the Hitler Youth, Strache is the besuited, statesmanlike head of the Freedom Party (FPOe), rejecting all extremism.

But it remains to be seen how the man who in 2016 called German Chancellor Angela Merkel "the most dangerous woman in Europe", will act, and whether he can keep the party behind him.

(AFP )

A former CEO of French-Swiss cement maker LafargeHolcim said he was made aware of payments to the Islamic State group in August 2014, contradicting an account by another top executive, a source close to the case said Saturday.

Lafarge is accused of paying the terrorist group and other militants $12.9 million between 2011 and 2015 so that the company's factory in Jalabiya, northern Syria, could continue to operate despite the war.

(AFP )

Thousands of Romanians Saturday joined European royalty for the state funeral of Romania's former king Michael, one of the last surviving heads of state from World War II, who died last week aged 96.

The guests included Britain's Prince Charles, Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden, Spain's former king and queen Juan Carlos and Sofia, and other former and current royals.

Milling crowds earlier spent hours in line to pay their last respects before the coffin, draped in the regal coat of arms, in the throne room of the palace.

(AFP )

"Whizz-kid", "Basti Fantasti" and "Messiah" are just some of the monikers given to Austrian conservative Sebastian Kurz, set to become the world's youngest leader at just 31.

His People's Party (OeVP), revamped by Kurz as a more hardline "movement", agreed late on Friday a coalition deal with the far-right that will see him sworn in as chancellor next week.

"Our aims are quite clear. We want to ease the tax burden for people, we want to strengthen our economy, which will bolster our social system," Kurz said late Friday.

(AFP )

Saudi Arabian women will be able to drive trucks and motorcycles, officials have said three months after the kingdom announced a historic decision to end a ban on women driving.

In September, King Salman issued a decree saying women will be able to drive from next June as part of an ambitious reform push in the conservative kingdom.

The Saudi General Directorate of Traffic gave details of the new regulations that will follow the lifting of the ban on the official Saudi Press Agency late on Friday.

(AFP )

Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) was in triumphant mood Saturday after agreeing a coalition deal with the conservatives, capping a year of successes for Europe's nationalist movements.

As the parties met to rubber-stamp the accord struck the previous day, Herbert Kickl, the FPOe's secretary general and Austria's next interior minister, said he had "very, very good feeling".

(AFP )

Australia's first gay weddings took place Saturday, ushering in a new era after the country's marriage equality law came into effect this month.

The historic reforms were given royal assent on December 8, the final step in a process that began with a national postal vote in September.

There was supposed to be a 30-day waiting period after couples registered to marry, with the first weddings expected on January 9.

But some sought an exemption due to their circumstances, and the first ceremonies went ahead on Saturday, one in Sydney and one in Melbourne.

(AFP )

Canada's global pharmaceutical giant Apotex has confirmed the death of its billionaire founder Barry Sherman, after police reported two "suspicious" deaths at the couple's upscale Toronto home.

Police did not identify the victims, who were found on Friday, but Canadian media named them as Sherman and his wife Honey, prominent Canadians whose deaths sparked an outpouring of grief among the country's political elite.

(AFP )

A Turkish court on Saturday ordered the release of seven suspects in the trial over the deadly New Year attack on an Istanbul nightclub following an initial series of hearings.

The court in Silivri outside Istanbul ruled that 44 suspects -- including the self-confessed attacker Uzbek citizen Abdulkadir Masharipov -- must stay in jail.

But it said seven could go free under judicial control. This means that they remain charged and will have to regularly report to the authorities.

(AFP )

Peru's Congress voted overwhelmingly on Friday to consider impeaching President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski next week over allegations he received bribes from Brazilian contractor Odebrecht.

Ninety-three of the 118 legislators present supported the proposal to debate impeachment on December 21.

"This decision will be communicated to the president to exercise his right to defense (during the next session) and assist with a lawyer if required," said Luis Galarreta, the head of Peru's single-chamber Congress.

(AFP )

India's Rahul Gandhi took over Saturday as president of the main opposition Congress, becoming the sixth member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to head the party that has ruled the country for much of its independent history.

Fireworks erupted over the party headquarters in New Delhi drowning out the voice of his mother Sonia Gandhi as she handed over the reins of power to her 47-year-old son, who now faces the tough task of ousting the right-wing government of premier Narendra Modi.

(AFP )

Sonia Gandhi stepped down as head of India's opposition Congress party Saturday after an extraordinary odyssey that transformed her from a shy housewife into the country's most powerful politician and a torchbearer for the iconic Gandhi-Nehru dynasty.

The Italian-born Gandhi, 71, was thrust into the cauldron of Indian politics after marrying Rajiv Gandhi, scion of India's political first family, in February 1968.

(AFP )

At least three people have been killed following a strong 6.5-magnitude earthquake on Indonesia's main island of Java, an official said Saturday.

The quake struck at a depth of 91 kilometres (56 miles) just outside the coastal town of Cipatujah on Java island late Friday, the US Geological Survey said.

The tremor was felt across the island including in the capital Jakarta, some 300 kilometres (190 miles) from the epicentre.

(AFP )

India's Rahul Gandhi took over Saturday as president of the main opposition Congress, becoming the sixth member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to head the party that has ruled the country for much of its independent history.

Fireworks erupted over the party headquarters in New Delhi drowning out the voice of his mother Sonia Gandhi as she handed over the reins of power to her 47-year-old son.

Rahul, wearing a long flowing white kurta, smiled and waved from the dais adorned with posters of his late grandmother and father, former prime ministers Indira and Rajiv Gandhi.

(AFP )

At least three people were killed and tens of thousands were driven from their homes by floods as Tropical Storm Kai-Tak pounded the eastern Philippines on Saturday, cutting off power and triggering landslides, officials said.

Kai-Tak, packing gusts of up to 110 kilometres (62 miles) an hour, hit the country's third-largest island Samar in the afternoon and tore through a region devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan four years ago, the state weather service said.

(AFP )

Chilean voters will decide their next president on Sunday in a run-off election whose outcome is far from certain after an unexpectedly strong surge for the left.

Sebastian Pinera, a conservative billionaire former president who ruled from 2010-2014, is trying for a comeback to succeed center-left incumbent leader Michelle Bachelet, who is constitutionally excluded from standing again.

But his plan could be upset by Alejandro Guillier, a senator and veteran TV presenter who is Bachelet's candidate.

(AFP )

It is already the fairy tale of this year's Oscars race: A little film about homeless children living in the shadow of Walt Disney World in Florida that threatens to turn the tables on the big-budget favourites.

Director Sean Baker, who shot his last film on an iPhone, has scored a surprise hit with a gritty yet heartwarming tale, "The Florida Project".

It has already been showered with prizes by US critics, usually reliable pointers for the Oscars, and has made the lists for best film of the year on both sides of the Atlantic.

(AFP )

In what has become a grim ritual, Tony Jenkins examines the mutilated remains of a domestic cat -- and says the south London serial killer has struck once again.

Nobody is surprised when Jenkins, the co-founder of Snarl, a local animal rescue and rehabilitation shelter, arrives at a veterinary surgery to confirm the grisly find.

In the last two years, Snarl has identified more than 400 suspected victims: mostly cats, but also some foxes and rabbits.

Jenkins enters a small examination room where a plastic bag lies on the table.

(AFP )

After a turbulent few months when some predicted she could be gone by Christmas, British Prime Minister Theresa May finally has some good news with a deal on Brexit -- but any reprieve will likely be short-lived.

The EU's decision Friday to move to the next stage of negotiations with Britain was a much-needed success for May, whose leadership has been dogged by doubts since a disastrous snap election in June.

(AFP )

Europe's far-right leaders including Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders will gather for a controversial conference in Prague on Saturday held under tight security amid protests planned to counter groups spreading xenophobia.

Allied within the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), a European Parliament group established two years ago, the parties -- espousing strong anti-migrant and anti-EU views -- say they plan to focus on cooperation within Europe outside EU bodies at the conference.

(AFP )

It is the most intense, critically-acclaimed role of her career, but Diane Kruger hardly had to act at all to play a grief-stricken woman robbed of her family in a bombing.

Kruger was filming "In the Fade" -- Fatih Akin's German thriller about a woman who seeks revenge on the neo-Nazis who killed her husband and son -- when she was told her stepfather had died.

(AFP )

An estimated 40,000 people traveled from around the world to take up arms for the Islamic State group as it occupied territory in Syria and Iraq and declared a caliphate in 2014.

A few hundred are believed to still be fighting as IS struggles to survive, having lost most of its territory to campaigns by Western-backed Syrian and Iraqi coalition armies.

But what happened to the rest?

Many thousands were certainly killed in the intense fighting, but US experts believe many have survived, posing a formidable threat going ahead.

(AFP )

Voting got under way in a by-election Saturday that could have serious ramifications for the Australian government, which faces losing its majority in parliament.

The poll in the suburban Sydney seat of Bennelong was triggered by a constitutional crisis that has seen eight parliamentarians resign over a once-obscure rule barring dual citizens from federal office.

They included Bennelong MP and former tennis star John Alexander, from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's Liberal-National coalition, who stepped down after saying he was most likely a dual British citizen.

(AFP )

A far-right Brazilian party on Friday denied reports that World Cup-winning footballer Ronaldinho is to be one of its candidates in elections for the Senate.

"There is no agreement between the party and Ronaldinho for him to launch a bid for a Senate seat," the party, Patriota, said.

Patriota is led by Jair Bolsonaro, a firebrand former army officer dubbed the "Brazilian Donald Trump" who is riding high in opinion polls ahead of next year's presidential elections.

(AFP )

A US federal judge on Friday sentenced a two-times former presidential candidate from Honduras to three years in an American prison for laundering drug proceeds from his country's Cachiros cartel.

Yani Rosenthal, 52, surrendered to US justice in October 2015, and in July pleaded guilty to money laundering while a congressman in Honduras between 2010 and 2014, and a presidential candidate from 2012 to 2013.

He was also ordered to forfeit $500,000 and pay a $2.5 million fine.

(AFP )

Egypt's Karim Gawad surprisingly relinquished his squash world championship crown when he lost to Marwan Elshorbagy, his sixth-seeded compatriot, in the quarter-finals on Friday.

Elshorbagy's 11-8, 11-5, 11-9 success was reward for a well-disciplined ability to play tightly and accurately, and for making good choices about when to attack Gawad.

The approach denied opportunities to one of the most dangerously offensive players, and helped Elshorbagy gain a psychological edge after grabbing a close first game.