Thursday 22 March 2018

In the world

(AFP )

Dashcam footage of the first fatal self-driving car crash involving a pedestrian shows the Uber vehicle operator gasping in horror seconds before the impact.

The driver can be seen looking down at something for nearly five seconds before finally gazing up the instant before the car hit a woman in Tempe, in the US state of Arizona on Sunday.

Police there released the footage on Wednesday, along with dashcam video of the road in the final seconds before the pedestrian, who was walking with a bicycle, is struck on a poorly lit highway.

(AFP )

On a winding Hong Kong street where shops keep a dizzying array of dried produce, one highly valued ingredient is still being sold despite being subject to an international ban: deep-fried scales of endangered pangolins.

The reclusive pangolin, also known as the scaly anteater, has become the most trafficked mammal on earth due to soaring demand in China and Vietnam.

While its scales are prized for their supposed medicinal properties in treating everything from acne to liver disease and cancer, its flesh is considered a delicacy.

(AFP )

Safa al-Hussein comes into the consultation room with her four-year-old daughter, Ahed, who has a leg injury she suffered during an attack on the northern Syrian city of Raqa.

She is treated by a doctor and nurse, who are both Syrian like her.

But this healthcare centre is hundreds of kilometres (miles) from their native country, in the heart of the Turkish capital, Ankara.

Turkey has taken in more than 3.5 million refugees from Syria since the conflict began in March 2011.

(AFP )

British Prime Minister Theresa May will on Thursday seek to unite EU leaders in condemnation of Moscow over the poisoning of a former Russian spy, but she faces resistance from states keen to protect their Kremlin ties.

May will brief her colleagues at a Brussels summit on the progress of the investigation into the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury using a deadly Soviet-developed nerve agent.

(AFP )

A wave of industrial action is set to hit France starting Thursday including rail strikes expected to create headaches for commuters as labour unions lash out at President Emmanuel Macron's string of reforms.

Here is what's at stake, and the likely consequences:

- Who's going on strike? -

Seven trade unions have called on public sector workers to strike on Thursday, including school and hospital staff, civil servants and air traffic controllers.

(AFP )

As unions unleash protests and strikes on Thursday and rail workers threaten rolling action afterwards, here is a look back at the most significant episodes of labour action to hit strike-prone France.

- May 1968 -

The country's biggest strike ever comes amid the upheaval of the May 1968 uprising by students who occupy universities and battle police as part of demands for more freedoms.

(AFP )

Thousands of French train drivers, teachers and air traffic controllers were set to go on strike on Thursday in a major day of protest against French President Emmanuel Macron's reform drive.

The walk-outs and demonstrations are the latest test of strength for the 40-year-old centrist leader as he pushes ahead with a new phase of his agenda to overhaul the state railways and other public services.

(AFP )

An asylum seeker claiming to be from Afghanistan faces his verdict in Germany on Thursday for the rape and murder of a student that fuelled a backlash against a mass migrant influx.

A court in Freiburg was due to announce the verdict and sentence from 0830 GMT in a case that also highlighted shortcomings in cooperation between EU security and immigration authorities.

Hussein Khavari, of uncertain age and origin, has admitted to the deadly night-time attack on medical student Maria Ladenburger, 19, in October 2016 in the university town near the French border.

(AFP )

Finns have long been perceived as taciturn and introverted people in a country known for its dark, cold winters and high suicide rate. Today, they are also considered the world's happiest.

In the just released 2018 UN World Happiness Report, Finland took the top spot followed by its Scandinavian neighbours and Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

"When we heard about it, we thought it was a mistake," laughed Ulla-Maija Rouhiainen, a 64-year-old retiree living in Helsinki.

(AFP )

US congressional budget negotiators said Wednesday they had reached a deal on federal spending for the remainder of fiscal 2018, two days before a deadline to fund the government or risk a shutdown.

The $1.3 trillion spending bill was hailed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, Congress's top Republican, as marking "the beginning of a new era for the United States military," while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said it would fulfill Democratic goals.

"This critical funding bill fulfills our pledge to rebuild the nation's military," Ryan said.

(AFP )

A British firefighter has described discovering the charred remnants of a young French nanny, during the trial of a couple accused of killing her and disposing of the body in a bonfire in their garden.

The remains of 21-year-old Sophie Lionnet were discovered by responders from the London Fire Brigade on September 20, in the back garden of the southwest London home where she cared for two children.

Parents Sabrina Kouider, 35, and her partner Ouissem Medouni, 40, are accused of torturing and then murdering their au-pair but deny the charges.

(AFP )

A senior minister vowed Thursday to press on with a plan to bring white South African farmers to Australia, hitting out at criticism from "crazy lefties" who he said were "dead to me".

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton sparked uproar last week by singling out the farmers' need to flee "horrific circumstances" for a "civilised country".

He is examining whether they deserve "special attention" for acceptance on refugee or humanitarian grounds, which led to South Africa hauling in Australia's envoy to Pretoria for a dressing down and a demand that he retract the comments.

(AFP )

President Donald Trump is poised on Thursday to unveil sanctions against China for the "theft" of US intellectual property, a White House official said, teeing up a second potential confrontation in as many months.

Spokesman Raj Shah told AFP that Trump will announce actions following an "investigation into China's state-led, market-distorting efforts to force, pressure, and steal US technologies and intellectual property."

Beijing has already warned the Trump administration against the move, urging him not act "emotionally."

(AFP )

EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova warned Wednesday that data protection scandals such as that currently engulfing Facebook would become "very expensive" for companies from May under new EU regulations.

"If some company tried this in Europe after May 2018, very likely this drastic sanction will be applied," said Jourova, who is in charge of consumer and personal data protection, at the end of a visit to Washington.

(AFP )

Catalonia's parliament is to hold a debate and vote Thursday on a new candidate for regional president, Jordi Turull, who risks being disqualified from holding office over his role in the region's separatist drive.

"I will propose to the chamber that Jordi Turull be candidate for president," Catalan parliament speaker Roger Torrent told reporters late Wednesday, just hours after Turull was summoned to appear in court on Friday.

Turull, a former Catalan government spokesman, is under investigation over Catalonia's secession drive but remains free under bail.

(AFP )

The UN Security Council on Wednesday told the peace envoy for Western Sahara to press on with talks on relaunching negotiations to settle the dispute over the North African territory.

Horst Koehler met with the council behind closed doors to report on his meetings with representatives from Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania as well as the Polisario Front seeking independence for Western Sahara.

(AFP )

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was charged with corruption and illegal campaign financing on Wednesday over allegations that the late Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi helped fund his 2007 election campaign.

After five years of investigation and two days of questioning the rightwinger in police custody, judges looking into France's most explosive political scandal decided they had enough evidence to charge the 63-year-old.

(AFP )

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg broke his silence Wednesday on the data scandal rocking the social media giant, admitting mistakes that led to a "breach of trust" with its two billion users, and vowing to step up.

In his first public comments on the uproar over the harvesting of data on 50 million users by a British firm linked to Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, Zuckerberg told Facebook users the firm had "a responsibility to protect your data."

"If we can't then we don't deserve to serve you," he wrote on his Facebook page.

(AFP )

The leader of Romania's ruling Social Democrats party (PSD), Liviu Dragnea, claimed to be innocent on Wednesday during his trial over the creation of fictitious jobs.

"I reject categorically these accusations and declare myself innocent," he told the High Court of Cassation and Justice in Bucharest.

Dragnea is accused of "abuse of power" between 2006 and 2012 by creating fake jobs when he was chairman of the departmental council in Teleorman.

(AFP )

Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski announced his resignation Wednesday in an address to the nation, the day before he was to face an impeachment vote in Congress.

The 79-year-old former Wall Street banker, under fire over his links to Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, denied allegations of bribe-taking but said his resignation was "the best thing for the country."

(AFP )

He grew up in the Amazonian jungle, worked as a banker on Wall Street and is the cousin of famed French director Jean-Luc Godard -- now Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has stepped down in ignominy after a little over 18 months in power.

Elected in June 2016, Kuczynski was accustomed to life at the top, having held key positions in both private and public spheres throughout his career, insisting "I am not a politician."

"I am an economist who wants to do something for his country," he says.

But Kuczynski has a long history in politics.

(AFP )

EU proposals for a digital tax targeting US tech giants could reap rewards for the block and help overcome the hole left by Britain's departure, French President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday.

Such a tax could bring in "half of the financial needs" after Brexit, he told reporters in The Hague citing European Commission figures and adding there may be no need to boost members' contributions.

(AFP )

Pressure mounted on Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to resign Wednesday after the opposition alleged the embattled president was trying to buy votes ahead of an impeachment ballot.

Lawmakers from Keiko Fujimori's Popular Force party released recordings of her brother Kenji and others apparently negotiating public works contracts with a government official, and said it was proof that Kuczynski was trying to buy votes to defeat impeachment.

The images "show the government buys MPs to stay in power," said Moises Mamani of the Popular Force party.

(AFP )

Tear gas was repeatedly lobbed into the Kosovo parliament on Wednesday but it did not stop MPs ratifying a border agreement with Montenegro seen as key for Pristina's bid to join the EU.

The agreement, negotiated with Montenegro in 2015, is crucial for Kosovo to obtain visa-free travel in the European Union and eventually join the bloc.

Thick smoke had filled parliament and MPs had to evacuate, an AFP correspondent said, but at the fifth time of asking the vote finally went ahead in the evening.

(AFP )

Two astronauts, a cosmonaut and a ball set to be used in the forthcoming football World Cup in Russia blasted off Wednesday for a two-day flight to the International Space Station.

NASA's Drew Feustel and Richard Arnold lifted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for a five month mission in a Soyuz MS-08 under the command of Russian colleague Oleg Artemyev at the expected time of 1744 GMT.

(AFP )

Syrian rebels said Wednesday they have agreed to evacuate a bombed-out town in Eastern Ghouta, the first such deal since the start of the regime's month-old assault on the enclave.

In Idlib province of northwest Syria, meanwhile, an air raid near a school in the town of Kfar Batikh killed 20 civilians, including 16 children, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump stridently defended his much-criticized overtures to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin Wednesday, as White House anxiety over his embrace spilled into full public view.

After aides leaked embarrassing details of Trump's shock decision to call Putin and congratulate him on re-election, the US president blamed the media for the furor and insisted Moscow can be a solid partner.

"I called President Putin of Russia to congratulate him on his election victory," Trump tweeted. "The Fake News Media is crazed because they wanted me to excoriate him."

(AFP )

A Palestinian teenager arrested after a viral video showed her hit two Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank reached a plea deal on Wednesday that will see her serve eight months in prison.

The Israeli military court where Ahed Tamimi was being tried accepted the deal between her and prosecutors in the case that has drawn international attention.

Tamimi, 16 at the time of the incident in December, has been hailed as a hero by Palestinians who see her as bravely standing up to Israel's occupation of the West Bank.

(AFP )

EU President Donald Tusk said Wednesday he refused to congratulate Russian leader Vladimir Putin on his re-election, following the poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain that London blames on Moscow.

"After the Salisbury attack, I am not in the mood to celebrate president Putin's reappointment," Tusk told a news conference, a day after European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker sent Putin a congratulatory letter.

(AFP )

Slovak President Andrej Kiska on Wednesday approved a new cabinet after the last prime minister quit in a scandal over the murder of a journalist.

"I have decided that tomorrow I will appoint Mr (Peter) Pellegrini to the position of prime minister and I will accept his proposal for the nomination of the members of the new government," Kiska told reporters.

"I am not 100 percent satisfied with the composition of the new government. The government of Mr Pellegrini will have to fight for public confidence. In the current tense situation, it will be a very difficult task."

(AFP )

Doctors in a Russian town treated dozens of children complaining of dizziness and nausea on Wednesday because of noxious fumes coming from a local dump, authorities said.

Residents of Volokolamsk, some 120 kilometres (75 miles) west of the Russian capital, have long complained about high levels of hydrogen sulphide and nitric oxide from the Yadrovo landfill.

Riot police were called in this month to disperse a protest calling for the closure of the site.

(AFP )

A Brazilian court will rule next week on former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's appeal of his conviction and prison sentence on corruption charges, it said Wednesday.

If the three-judge Regional Federal Court in Porto Alegre, Brazil rejects Lula's appeal on Monday, it could result in his immediate incarceration. He has been sentenced to 12 years and a month in prison.

(AFP )

Donning vibrant traditional dress, thousands of Kurds in Syria's Qamishli turned their new year celebration of Nowruz on Wednesday into mass protests in solidarity with the city of Afrin.

They wore floral scarves, waved Kurdish flags, and carried posters that pledged to win back Afrin, where Kurdish fighters on Sunday were ousted by a Turkish offensive.

"Afrin's resistance will become the people's Nowruz!" read one banner, and another said, "With the spirit of Nowruz, we will ramp up our resistance and win in Afrin."

(AFP )

Voters in the hurricane-wracked twin island nation of Antigua and Barbuda headed to the polls Wednesday to elect a new government after Prime Minister Gaston Browne called snap elections.

Browne's Antigua Barbuda Labour Party, which has led the eastern Caribbean country since 2014, is widely expected to secure a second consecutive term.

The prime minister announced general elections on February 24, 15 months before a constitutionally mandated deadline, giving opposition parties less than four weeks to prepare.

(AFP )

The United States imposed restrictions Wednesday on exports of US technical support to the South Sudanese oil industry, warning that it is fuelling the bloody civil war there.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said exporters will henceforth need a license to export, re-export or transfer US technology or equipment to 15 "South Sudanese oil-related entities."