Saturday 24 June 2017

In the world

(AFP )

South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Saturday invited North Korea to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, saying sports could serve as a peace maker.

The South and nuclear-armed North Korea are separated by one of the world's most heavily armed borders and remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.

But the centre-left Moon is known to favour engagement with the North to bring it to the negotiating table in a break from his conservative predecessors who took a hardline stance.

(AFP )

Journalist Veronique Robert, wounded in the same landmine blast that killed two colleagues in the Iraqi city of Mosul earlier this week, has died, employers France Televisions announced Saturday.

Robert had been operated on in Iraq and then flown back for treatment in France overnight Thursday to Friday, but died of her wounds, the public broadcaster said in a statement.

French colleague Stephan Villeneuve, 48, and Iraqi Kurdish reporter Bakhtiyar Addad, 41, were also killed in Monday's blast.

(AFP )

Spanish coastguards rescued more than 200 migrants on Saturday as they attempted to make the perilous sea crossing from north Africa to Europe.

A spokesman for Spain's state maritime rescue service told AFP that 224 people had been rescued from five vessels in the Strait of Gibraltar and the Alboran Sea, which separate Spain from Morocco.

The first rescues occurred in the early hours, the spokesman said, with dozens rescued south of Gibraltar from three boats.

(AFP )

British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has vowed to "try to force an early general election" after Prime Minster Theresa May lost her parliamentary majority, in an interview published Saturday.

Corbyn's Labour Party outperformed expectations in this month's election, turning what was predicted to be a procession for May into a disaster, severely weakening her authority as Britain kicks off crucial Brexit talks.

(AFP )

Thousands of residents from 650 London flats were evacuated Saturday due to fire safety fears in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, but dozens refused to leave their homes, according to local officials.

Four of the five Chalcots Estate towers in Camden, north London, were deemed unsafe after they were found to use cladding similar to that on Grenfell, widely blamed for the rapid spread of the massive blaze last week that is presumed to have killed 79 people.

(AFP )

Qatar said Saturday that a 13-point list of demands made by Saudi Arabia and its allies impinged on its sovereignty and failed to meet US expectations they be "reasonable".

The four Arab governments delivered the demands to Qatar through Kuwait on Thursday, more than two weeks after severing all ties with the emirate and imposing an embargo.

The document has not been published but has been widely leaked and the demands are sweeping in their scope.

They require Doha to join Riyadh and its allies in outlawing the Muslim Brotherhood, which it has long supported.

(AFP )

Thousands of protesters marched near the US embassy in Seoul on Saturday, accusing President Donald Trump of "forcing" South Korea to deploy a controversial American missile defence system opposed by China.

The protest came as South Korea's new president Moon Jae-In heads to Washington next week for his first summit with Trump amid soaring tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

Around 4,000 people participated in the demonstration, the largest since South Korea and the United States agreed to deploy the system, known as Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence (THAAD).

(AFP )

Journalist Veronique Robert, wounded in the same landmine blast that killed two colleagues in the Iraqi city of Mosul earlier this week, has died, employers France Televisions announced Saturday.

Robert had been operated on in Baghdad and then flown back for treatment in France overnight Thursday to Friday, but died of her wounds, the public broadcaster said in a statement.

French colleague Stephan Villeneuve and Iraqi Kurdish reporter Bakhtiyar Addad were also killed in Monday's blast.

(AFP )

Filipino devotees muddied their faces and covered themselves with dried banana leaves on Saturday to celebrate a religious festival which also has roots in Japan's occupation of the country during World War II.

The annual "Taong Putik" or "Mud People" festival, held in the town of Aliaga, 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Manila, honours John the Baptist.

(AFP )

The waving flags, triumphant song and rousing speeches of a Mongolian presidential campaign rally were interrupted by a fight that broke out in the crowd.

A group of men had entered the event for Democratic Party candidate Khaltmaa Battulga on Friday carrying posters denouncing the businessman, prompting his supporters to shove the interlopers and tear up their placards, all the while chanting: "You're mixed Chinese! You're mixed Chinese!"

(AFP )

Both Iran and Qatar on Saturday voiced support for Saudi Arabia over a suicide bombing near Islam's holiest site in Mecca despite their severed ties.

"Iran... as always expresses its readiness to assist and cooperate with other countries to confront these criminals, who deal death and ignorantly spread hate," foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi said.

The Qatari foreign ministry expressed "solidarity with the brotherly kingdom of Saudi Arabia".

(AFP )

One of America's most wanted terrorists may have escaped a five-week battle with Islamist militants in a southern Philippine city, which began with a raid to capture him, the military said Saturday.

Isnilon Hapilon, a veteran Filipino militant said to be the leader of the Islamic State (IS) group in Southeast Asia, has not been seen in the battle zone in Marawi City, said Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez, head of the military's Western Mindanao Command.

(AFP )

A North Korean soldier defected to the South after crossing the heavily fortified border, a defence ministry spokesman said on Saturday, the second soldier to defect this month.

"A North Korean soldier defected to one of our Guard Posts at around 9:30 p.m. on Friday at the middle section of the border," the spokesman said, according to a report by the Yonhap news agency.

"He has been taken into custody for questioning," he added

(AFP )

At least six people were found dead and over 100 remained missing hours after a massive landslide buried a mountain village in southwest China on Saturday as rescuers frantically scoured through rocks for survivors.

A couple and a baby were rescued and taken to hospital after 62 homes in Xinmo village were swallowed by boulders when the side of a mountain collapsed, according to the Maoxian, or Mao county, government.

(AFP )

Voting began in Papua New Guinea elections Saturday with the Pacific nation's leader urging peaceful polling to show it has "come of age", as he seeks another term to fix an economy under siege.

Peter O'Neill's People's National Congress won the last election in 2012, and he has campaigned on delivering key infrastructure and providing free education and health to a country that remains mired in poverty.

He also points to more stability in a sprawling crime-ridden land where elections have been marred by violence in the past.

(AFP )

Picture a hospital: the bustle of harried doctors and nurses, time dragging for lonely patients, and the pervasive sadness of a place for the sick and dying.

And suddenly, there's music -- live, classical music, the sounds of masters like Johannes Brahms and Giuseppe Verdi -- to make it all a bit more bearable.

These unannounced flash concerts are staged by an organization called Music for the Soul, and on this particular day at Alvarez Hospital in Buenos Aires the artists are 70 musicians, a choir, two sopranos and a tenor.

(AFP )

Germany was bracing for panda mania as furry ambassadors arrive from China on Saturday, destined for a new life as stars of Berlin's premier zoo.

The pair, named Meng Meng and Jiao Qing, will be jetting in on a special Lufthansa cargo plane, accompanied by two Chinese panda specialists, the Berlin Zoo's chief vet and a tonne of bamboo.

Berlin's mayor, China's ambassador to Germany and a gaggle of journalists will greet the VIPs as LH8415 pulls to a stop on the tarmac of Schoenefeld airport.

(AFP )

With a slender sword in one hand and an antique storybook in the other, Ahmad al-Lahham captivates a packed Damascus coffeehouse with tales of ancient kingdoms and brave conquerers.

Every evening, the 58-year-old heads to the cosy Nawfara cafe in the Old City of Syria's war-torn capital to perform as a traditional Arabic storyteller or "hakawati".

He sheds his furniture maker's outfit and dons a bright red Ottoman-style cap, or tarboosh, reading out handwritten stories from the curling, yellowing pages of an old book.

(AFP )

Rebels with Colombia's National Liberation Army (ELN) group have freed two Dutch journalists snatched days ago in the country's northeast, officials said Saturday.

Colombia's ombudsman office, which handles human rights issues, wrote on Twitter that the rebel group freed reporter Derk Johannes Bolt, 62, and his cameraman Eugenio Ernest Marie Follender, 58, in a rural area of Norte de Santander state.

The office posted an accompanying photo purporting to show the pair, pictured with some of the rebels, along with Colombian human rights officials.

(AFP )

Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger urged people from both ends of the political spectrum to join a "crusade" to save the planet, after a Friday meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.

"It is absolutely imperative that we not make it a political issue," he said.

"This is not the right versus the left because there is no liberal air or conservative air. We all breathe the same air. There is no liberal water or conservative water, we all drink the same water," the star of "The Terminator" movies said.

(AFP )

US media went back to the past on Friday to cover the daily White House press briefing, after President Donald Trump's administration banned cameras from the event.

Cable news channel CNN sent sketch artist Bill Hennessy to the famous West Wing press room, a change from the American courtrooms where he normally works.

Instead of broadcasting the briefing live, CNN carried only audio of White House spokesman Sean Spicer's session with journalists.

(AFP )

The United States abolished the role of its special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan on Friday, just as it prepares to send thousands more troops to the region.

A senior State Department official told AFP that acting special representative Laurel Miller was stepping down and would not be replaced in the post.

The office was created when US officials decided that the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan are inextricably linked and ought to be dealt with together.

(AFP )

Residents of 800 London flats were hurriedly evacuated Saturday due to fire safety fears over their tower blocks' external cladding, after urgent testing prompted by the deadly Grenfell Tower inferno.

The cladding on the five Chalcots Estate towers is similar to that used on Grenfell, widely blamed for the rapid spread of the massive blaze last week that is presumed to have killed 79 people.

(AFP )

Brazil's agriculture minister Blairo Maggi announced Friday he will travel to the United States to fight a ban on Brazilian beef imports, but the Latin American country's meat industry is already reeling.

"Brazil could lose a lot if it isn't able to get this decision reversed," Maggi announced in the wake of the US Department of Agriculture's announcement Thursday of a ban on imports of fresh Brazilian beef due to "recurring" food safety concerns.

Brazil is the world's leading beef and poultry exporter.

(AFP )

Poland's President Andrzej Duda approved on Friday a new law limiting access to the morning-after pill in the devoutly Catholic country, which already has one of the EU's most restrictive abortion rules.

The contraception method will from now on be available only by prescription, while previously it could be bought over the counter by people 15 and older, an official statement said.

The new restrictions were pushed through in May by Poland's ruling rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) party, with which Duda is closely allied.

(AFP )

A former doctor to gymnasts from successive US Olympic teams is to stand trial on charges that he sexually assaulted female athletes, one of whom was only 11, over almost two decades.

A Michigan court on Friday said Larry Nassar will face 17 counts of criminal sexual conduct, a ruling that followed three days of hearings during which six of his accusers testified.

The 53-year-old, a member of USA Gymnastics from 1996 to 2015, maintained a practice at Michigan State University before he was fired last year.

He denies abusing his position to assault young girls.

(AFP )

Chile's President Michelle Bachelet apologized on behalf of the nation Friday to the Mapuche indigenous tribe for the "horrors" of post-colonial abuse they suffered.

Considered the earliest inhabitants of parts of Chile, the Mapuche fought against the Spanish conquerors and later the Chilean army after the country's independence in the 19th century.

Their numbers were reduced to only 700,000, a fraction of Chile's current population of 17 million.

"We have failed as a country," the socialist president, who is due to leave office in seven months, said in a speech.

(AFP )

Four parties agreed Friday to try to form the next Dutch coalition government, on the 100th day of tortuous stop-start negotiations following March elections.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose Liberal VVD party emerged as the largest in the Dutch parliament in the March 15 polls, said late Friday he was confident he would be able to work with the other three parties, Dutch media reported.

(AFP )

An open-top double-decker tourist bus crashed into a central Paris bridge during an Olympic fun day on Friday, injuring at least four passengers, firefighters said.

The bus, with seating on the upper deck for sightseeing, was too high to pass under the Alexandre III bridge and scraped the roof of the tunnel before stopping after a few metres (yards).

The Paris fire service said a woman who was among those hurt had serious injuries.

(AFP )

Venezuelan demonstrators blocked streets Friday in protests over the death of a young man shot by police during an anti-government rally the night before.

Blowing horns and banging pots, protestors massed on streets in Caracas and other cities, causing traffic jams.

The 22-year-old man, recent nursing graduate David Vallenilla, was shot dead Thursday during a protest near an air force base in Caracas, officials and opposition leaders said.

He was the 75th person killed in nearly three months of unrest against President Nicolas Maduro.

(AFP )

A court on France's Indian Ocean island of Reunion on Friday sentenced a 30-year-old man to 15 years behind bars for the killing of a British ex-commando in 2011.

After a three-day trial, a jury convicted Vincent Madoure of taking part in the murder of Carl Davies, a 33-year-old former Royal Marines Commando.

Davies was found battered to death in a gutter on November 9, 2011. He suffered a fractured skull, broken bones, multiple bruising and cuts, an autopsy found.

(AFP )

Colombia's ELN rebel force said Friday it had released two Dutch journalists it kidnapped in the north of the country four days ago.

The kidnapping was the latest in a series of incidents which officials feared could disrupt peace talks the ELN is holding with the Colombian government.

"The two foreigners captured by the ELN in Catatumbo have been released in perfect condition," the National Liberation Army (ELN) said on Twitter.

(AFP )

Russian and US military officials are still using a special hotline to communicate about operations in Syria, a US official said Friday, days after Moscow said it was severing the connection.

Russia on Monday said it would stop using the so-called "deconfliction" line in response to a US pilot shooting down a regime war plane in northern Syria, with Moscow accusing Washington of failing to issue a warning.

But Colonel Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the US-led coalition, told reporters in a video call that "the deconfliction line is in use."

(AFP )

Jason Roy's bizarre dismissal turned the second Twenty20 international's South Africa's way as the Proteas won by just three runs at Taunton on Friday.

The narrow victory at Somerset's headquarters saw South Africa level the three-match series at 1-1 as bounced back from a nine-wicket defeat by England at Southampton two days earlier to set-up a winner-takes-all clash in Cardiff on Sunday.

England were on course for an unbeatable 2-0 lead while Roy (67) and Jonny Bairstow (47) shared a second-wicket stand of 110.

(AFP )

Qatar on Saturday denounced a sweeping list of demands from Saudi Arabia and its allies in an escalating Gulf diplomatic crisis as unreasonable and an impingement on the emirate's sovereignty.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt want Qatar to meet the 13-point ultimatum in return for an end to a nearly three-week-old diplomatic and trade "blockade" of the emirate.

Qatar has been given 10 days to meet the demands, which apparently include a call to close down broadcaster Al-Jazeera, but Doha said the requests were unrealistic.