Saturday 25 November 2017

In the world

(AFP )

The Islamic State group may be on the run from its last bastion in Syria but the United States is gearing up for a longer stay in the country.

And if US forces are to counter Iranian and Russian influence as Syria struggles to emerge from civil war, they will need Turkey's help.

But Washington's relations with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's testy government have been strained of late, posing a diplomatic challenge.

So when US President Donald Trump called his counterpart Friday, he needed to make a significant gesture -- and he seems to have delivered.

(AFP )

Pakistani forces fired rubber bullets and lobbed tear gas at protesters in Islamabad Saturday as they moved to disperse an Islamist sit-in that has virtually paralysed the country's capital for weeks.

The roughly 8,500 elite police and paramilitary troops in riot gear began clearing the 2,000 or so demonstrators soon after dawn, with nearby roads and markets closed.

(AFP )

Syria's opposition on Friday selected a chief negotiator for a unified delegation to next week's UN-brokered peace talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime in Geneva.

Nasr al-Hariri, head of the opposition High Negotiations Committee, was picked to lead a 36-member negotiating team for the talks on November 28, after three days of intense negotiations between various opposition groups in Riyadh.

"Hariri was selected as the head of the delegation today," opposition member Jamal Suleiman told reporters.

(AFP )

As 200 armed men surrounded their house on a hot August night in 2005, Nazo Dharejo and her sisters grabbed their Kalashnikov and puny stock of ammunition and climbed to the roof.

The gunfight which followed earned her the moniker "Pakistan's toughest woman", and became the subject of a film which has been entered in next year's Academy Awards, vying for glory alongside heavy-hitters such as Angelina Jolie's "First They Killed My Father" and Joachim Trier's "Thelma".

(AFP )

The Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington can remain open to discuss peace with Israel and may be able to resume full operations soon, the State Department said Friday.

The comment came one week after US officials said the diplomatic mission would have to close because of a law stipulating that Palestinian leaders must not call for Israelis to face international prosecution.

(AFP )

An investigation into a former Albanian interior minister and his alleged links to international cannabis trafficking is ill-timed for the Balkan country bidding to join the European Union.

A candidate for membership in the bloc since 2014, Albania intends to convince Brussels to open accession negotiations early next year.

But the scandal involving Saimir Tahiri, 38, interior minister until March and a close ally of socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama, has forced the country to defend its history with drug trafficking.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump on Friday said he turned down being named Time's "Person of the Year" after the magazine asked him for an interview and photo shoot but did not confirm he would be chosen.

He tweeted: "Time Magazine called to say that I was PROBABLY going to be named 'Man (Person) of the Year,' like last year, but I would have to agree to an interview and a major photo shoot.

"I said probably is no good and took a pass. Thanks anyway!"

(AFP )

Voters in the Australian state of Queensland went to the polls Saturday in a snap election seen as a test of support for the far-right One Nation party ahead of possible national elections next year.

Final opinion polls showed a tight race between the governing Labor Party and the centre-right Liberal National Party for control of the state, home of the Great Barrier Reef and a major tourist destination.

(AFP )

Honduras is going into elections on Sunday that, if voter surveys are right, will see current President Juan Orlando Hernandez given a new four-year mandate -- despite a one-term limit in the constitution.

His conservative National Party contends that a 2015 Supreme Court ruling voided that restriction. But the opposition disputes that, saying the court does not have the power to overrule the constitution.

(AFP )

An indigenous rights activist found dead in an Argentinian river 78 days after he went missing died by drowning, a judge said Friday.

Santiago Maldonado, 27, disappeared on August 1 following a paramilitary police operation to disperse a protest march by the Mapuche indigenous group in Chubut province, Patagonia, around 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) southwest of Buenos Aires.

The case has embroiled President Mauricio Macri's government in a political storm and revived dark memories of the country's years of dictatorship and forced disappearances of opponents.

(AFP )

Colombia on Friday marked a year since the signing of a landmark peace deal with Marxist FARC rebels, which President Juan Manuel Santos said had saved thousands of lives.

Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londono returned to the same Bogota theater where they signed the deal a year ago to end Latin America's longest war.

The mood was considerably less festive, however.

Londono, who for years as guerrilla leader went by the name of Timochenko, said the deal had failed to live up to the "immense expectations" it had raised.

(AFP )

President Donald Trump told Ankara on Friday that the US will no longer supply arms to the Syrian Kurdish militia Washington has used against the Islamic State, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Friday.

Trump delivered the message during what the Turkish presidency called a "productive" phone call with his counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the White House hailed as reaffirming a "strategic partnership."

(AFP )

The leader of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People's Republic in eastern Ukraine has resigned, the region's news agency said Friday, following a week of tensions between rival factions.

"Igor Plotnitsky has submitted his resignation for health reasons," the head of the region's secret police, Leonid Pasechnik was quoted as saying by the Lugansk Information Center reported.

Pasechnik said he would take control of the region ahead of a new election.

Earlier this week, Plotnitsky had sacked his interior minister and accused him of masterminding a coup attempt.

(AFP )

Police rushed to London's busy Oxford Street shopping district on Friday after reports that shots had been fired, sparking fears of a terror incident and leaving 16 people hurt in the panic.

Armed officers locked down the area for more than an hour before the Metropolitan Police said it had not found "any trace of any suspects, evidence of shots fired or casualties".

British Transport Police said they believed the security scare started with "an altercation between two men" on the platform of Oxford Circus Underground station.

(AFP )

A massive urban makeover by Macedonia's former conservative government that covered the capital Skopje with neo-classical monuments will be reviewed by the country's new ruling party.

The controversial revamp, dubbed Skopje 2014, includes a giant statue of Alexander the Great, bronze Macedonian heroes and lions, facades of ancient columns and even a triumphal arch resembling Paris's Arc de Triomphe.

In Skopje, it was either adored or blasted as "grandiose and outdated".

(AFP )

Dutch Saint Martin's Prime Minister William Marlin announced his resignation Friday after a spat with The Netherlands over aid following a devastating hurricane that hit the Caribbean island.

Marlin told a press conference in the island's capital Philipsburg he was quitting, Dutch media reports said.

"He (Marlin) said he will send his resignation letter to the governor later," Dutch public broadcaster NOS said.

Marlin will be replaced by his deputy and justice minister Rafael Boasman, NOS added.

(AFP )

S&P Global Ratings lowered South Africa's credit rating further into "junk" territory on Friday, citing the country's deteriorating public finances and weak economic growth outlook.

S&P dropped South Africa long-term foreign currency sovereign rating to "BB" after having placed it higher in the speculative category at "BB+" in April.

"Weak GDP growth has led to further deterioration of South Africa's public finances beyond our previous expectations," S&P said.

(AFP )

Kosovo police on Friday arrested three leading members of the main opposition party, including its founder, over the firing of tear gas in parliament last year.

Albin Kurti, a member of parliament who founded the nationalist leftist Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) party, was detained by police as he approached the parliamentary building in Pristina, along with two female colleagues.

Police used pepper spray against other deputies who tried to prevent the arrests, which came after they refused to attend a summons to appear in court over the accusations.

(AFP )

A Russian scientific commission will investigate reports of radioactive pollution almost 1,000 times above normal levels in the southern Urals, state nuclear company Rosatom said Friday.

The move comes despite Russia's denial that a nuclear accident had occurred at any of its nuclear facilities.

"Nuclear scientists have created a commission to discover the origin of ruthenium-106," Rosatom said in a statement, also released by the country's Nuclear Safety Institute.

(AFP )

Venezuela's state-owned oil firm PDVSA said Friday it has started to repay $233 million in interest on two bonds nearing default, days before the end of the 30-day grace period.

Writing on Twitter, the company announced "the transfer process was started to pay the interest on the PDVSA 8,5% 2020 Bonds and the PDVSA 6% 2022 Bonds."

(AFP )

The Greek government has come under fire over a planned arms sale to Saudi Arabia that fell through amid accusations of incompetence against the defence minister, a key ally of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

Opposition lawmakers say the botched deal for surplus military stock cost Greece 66 million euros ($78 million), while ruling party officials have questioned the sale of munitions to Saudi Arabia owing to its involvement in the Yemen conflict.

(AFP )

British Prime Minister Theresa May said Brexit talks with EU President Donald Tusk on Friday had been "very positive", but admitted there was still work to do to reach a deal.

"There are still issues across the various matters that we're negotiating on to be resolved, but there's been a positive atmosphere in the talks and a genuine feeling we want to move forward together," May said after talks with Tusk on the margins of an EU summit in Brussels.

(AFP )

Thousands of Poles rallied across the country Friday to denounce the latest version of controversial court reforms pushed by the ruling conservatives, which critics say threaten the rule of law.

Carrying red-and-white Polish flags and copies of the constitution, demonstrators in Warsaw gathered in front of the presidential palace calling for "Free courts, free elections, free Poland."

(AFP )

A circus tiger was found wandering the streets of Paris on Friday, affecting public transport and bringing emergency services rushing to the area before being shot dead by its owner who was then taken into custody, French police said.

Firefighters were called shortly before 1700 GMT by people who saw the 200-kilogramme (440-pound) animal wandering around the 15th arrondissement in the southwest of the French capital near the office of France Televisions.

(AFP )

The mayor of Caracas, a staunch opponent of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, has applied for political asylum in Spain after fleeing to Madrid over the weekend, the Spanish government said Friday.

Antonio Ledezma, 62, "asked for political asylum in Spain after three years in prison and under house arrest in his country," government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo told reporters.

"He is a reference in the Venezuelan people's struggle to regain freedom and democratic normality," he added.

(AFP )

Russia's bobsleigh and skeleton federation responded to more Sochi doping bans on Friday by saying they were prepared to take legal action against the International Olympic Committee.

Earlier in the day, the International Olympic Committee annulled the titles Alexander Zubkov won in the two-man and four-man bobsleigh in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics following hearings by its commission into state-sponsored doping.

That followed punishments announced Wednesday for four Russian skeleton competitors.

(AFP )

Italian police on Friday launched a campaign to reduce the murder rate against women, which has remained stubbornly high despite a decline in the total number of homicides over recent years.

Entitled "This is not love", the campaign was launched on the eve of the UN-backed International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Italy recorded 149 female murder victims last year, barely changed from the 150 recorded in 2007. Femicides now account for 37 percent of the total compared to 24 percent a decade ago.

(AFP )

President Mauricio Macri on Friday ordered an inquiry to "know the truth" about what happened to Argentina's missing submarine, the San Juan, which disappeared with the loss of its 44 crew.

The 34-year-old submarine had gone through a refit and was "in perfect condition," Macri told reporters at the Argentine navy headquarters.

"My commitment is with the truth," he said, adding the tragedy "will require a serious, in-depth investigation that will yield certainty about what has happened."

(AFP )

A fiery brand of Buddhist nationalism is burning brighter than ever as Myanmar braces for its first ever papal visit, posing a challenge to the message of religious tolerance Pope Francis is expected to preach next week.

A wing of extremist monks have been stirring Islamaphobia in Myanmar for years, earning a reputation as incubators of "Buddhist terror".

But their cause has received new support since August, when the army launched a brutal crackdown on the Muslim Rohingya, expelling more than half a million from the country.

(AFP )

Having adopted hamburgers, Halloween and a host of English words, some in France are worried about the latest cultural import from America: the day of rampant consumerism known as Black Friday.

Unheard of only a few years ago, the cut-price deals made the television news bulletins Friday as local retailers copied their American counterparts in trying to lure in shoppers ahead of the Christmas season.

(AFP )

Five decapitated bodies have been found in a village of the Democratic Republic of Congo's North Kivu province, a region which has been plagued by inter-ethnic violence, local authorities said Friday.

The bodies were found Thursday in Kibirizi, a village about 200 kilometres (125 miles) northwest of the provincial capital of Goma, in the Rutshuru region near the border with Uganda.

(AFP )

China launched a nationwide investigation into its kindergartens on Friday after parents at a Beijing preschool said toddlers had apparent needle marks and were given mysterious pills -- sparking outrage days after another daycare scandal.

Security personnel installed a cordon at the gate of the RYB Education New World kindergarten on Friday after dozens of curious onlookers crowded outside the high-end, bilingual Chinese-English nursery, which was still operating.

(AFP )

Ukraine said Friday five of its soldiers had died during fighting in the east, as it accused Russia of ramping up its military presence in the region amid squabbles among warring rebel factions.

The spike in fighting came as leaders from the European Union and six former Soviet countries were meeting in Brussels for a summit aimed at deepening ties, with Moscow's role in the Ukraine conflict conspicuously off the agenda.

(AFP )

Ireland's minority government was on the brink of collapse Friday after the main opposition party submitted a motion of no-confidence in the deputy prime minister just weeks before a key summit on Brexit.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, leader of the Fine Gael party that heads the government, has ruled out the resignation of his deputy Frances Fitzgerald.

But opposition Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said there would be an election if she did not step down.

(AFP )

A French court on Friday halted sales of two pesticides made by US chemicals giant Dow after an environmental group raised fears that the substances could be harmful to bees.

The two products, Transform and Closer, are authorised for sale in 41 countries including the United States, Canada and South Africa, according to Dow.

French health authorities gave the pesticides the green light in September, but this has been suspended following the decision Friday by a court in the southern city of Nice pending a further ruling on their legality.