Sunday 20 August 2017

In the world

(AFP )

A rescue operation is under way after a US destroyer was damaged in a collision with a tanker east of Singapore on Monday, the US Navy said, in the second accident involving an American warship in two months.

Guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with the merchant vessel Alnic MC east of Singapore and near the Straits of Malacca in the early hours, it said a statement.

"Initial reports indicate John S. McCain sustained damage to her port side aft. Search and rescue efforts are underway in coordination with local authorities," it said.

(AFP )

Clashes erupted Sunday between police and dozens of anti-racist activists on the sidelines of a pro-immigration rally in Quebec City, an AFP journalist witnessed, while a demonstration organized by extreme-right activists gained little traction.

A few hundred people gathered in Quebec City's center early afternoon to counter-protest a planned far-right rally, supporters of which spent much of the day stuck in a parking lot.

(AFP )

Colombians in the city of Itagui hauled mattresses and hammocks into the streets Sunday to mark the annual "World Laziness Day," a quirky effort to urge overstressed workers to slow down.

The daylong celebration of relaxation has been held annually since 1985 in this small city of some 200,000 in northwestern Colombia.

The city is known, rather paradoxically, for its bustling commerce and its thriving industrial park.

(AFP )

President Donald Trump will announce his decision on America's strategy in Afghanistan in an address to US troops and the nation Monday night, almost 16 years after the war began.

The US leader will "provide an update on the path forward for America's engagement in Afghanistan and South Asia" in an address to be delivered at 9 pm (0100 GMT Tuesday) from the military base at Fort Myer southwest of the capital, the White House said in a statement.

(AFP )

In a little Spanish town by the Pyrenees mountains, a Moroccan imam has come under intense scrutiny, accused of creating the terror cell that allegedly launched the twin attacks in Spain.

Those who knew him described Abdelbaki Es Satty as a discreet and religious man, who had recently asked for a holiday from the mosque he was preaching in, apparently to return to Morocco for personal business.

But police believe he may have been among those blown up in an accidential explosion Wednesday in the house where the suspected attackers were believed to be building bombs.

(AFP )

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday warned Turkey not to "misuse" Interpol to pursue its critics after a Spanish court ordered the conditional release of a Turkish-German writer wanted by Ankara.

Dogan Akhanli, who writes about Turkey's human rights record, was arrested Saturday while on holiday in Granada on an Interpol red notice, similar to an international arrest warrant, from Ankara.

(AFP )

Martine Groby rues the day when she ignored her father who told her: "They are terrorists, take down their number plates."

"I should have listened to him," said Groby, who saw all the windows of her home in Spain shatter when a massive explosion detonated in the house next door on Wednesday.

It turned out that house hidden behind olive trees was likely the bomb factory of suspected jihadists who used vehicles to mow down pedestrians in Barcelona on Thursday and the nearby seaside resort of Cambrils hours later.

(AFP )

The very thought that Lula might go to prison causes Maria Helena da Conceicao to break into tears. To her, the former Brazilian president is much more than just a politician facing corruption charges and fighting to regain power.

The fortyish Maria Helena is one of the many people who benefited from the social policies of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a hugely popular leader who in his two terms as president (2003-2010) pulled millions of Brazilians out of lives of barefoot poverty.

(AFP )

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday she was glad a Spanish court had ordered the conditional release of a Turkish-German writer wanted by Ankara and warned Turkey not to "misuse" Interpol to pursue its critics.

"That's not on. We must not misuse international organisations such as Interpol" in such cases, she said on RTL television about the case of writer Dogan Akhanli, who was arrested Saturday at Turkey's request while holidaying in Spain.

(AFP )

A British-Australian boy aged seven who had been reported as missing by his grandfather was killed in the vehicle rampage in Barcelona, his family and Spanish officials said Sunday.

Julian Cadman was among 14 people killed in the twin assaults in Spain, according to Catalonia's civil protection agency, which also confirmed on Twitter the deaths of an Italian and a Belgian national.

In a heart-wrenching statement, Julian's family described him as "a much loved and adored member of our family".

(AFP )

Qatar has blocked Saudi planes from transporting hajj pilgrims, Saudi state media said Sunday, after Riyadh reopened the border despite a major diplomatic crisis roiling the Gulf.

Riyadh last week reopened its land border with Qatar and allocated seven flights of the Saudi national carrier to bring pilgrims from Doha, in a temporary lifting of a weeks-long boycott of its Gulf neighbour.

"Qatari authorities have not allowed the aircraft to land as it did not have the right paperwork, although the paperwork was filed days ago," the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.

(AFP )

Traces of the easy-to-make but deadly explosive TATP -- known as the "mother of Satan" -- have been found in a house where the alleged attackers in the twin assaults in Spain were believed to be building bombs, police said Sunday.

Used by jihadists everywhere from Paris and Brussels to the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, the dangerously unstable TATP has become the explosive of choice for the Islamic State group, which claimed the attacks in Barcelona and the seaside resort of Cambrils.

(AFP )

Five people were reported dead Sunday when a rocket hit near an international trade fair in Syria's capital Damascus being held for the first time in five years.

The Damascus International Fair was once the leading event on Syria's economic calendar but had not been held since shortly after the outbreak of the country's war in March 2011.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war, said five people were killed and around a dozen more injured in the rocket fire near the entrance to the fair.

(AFP )

The confirmed death toll passed 700 and more than a million were driven from their homes as large swathes of South Asia reeled under monsoon floods Sunday, officials said.

At least 100 deaths were reported overnight across India and Bangladesh following the latest in a series of deluges since August 10, as the annual monsoon hit the north and east of the region.

Anirudh Kumar, a top disaster management official in India's eastern state of Bihar, said 53 bodies were recovered as water levels started to recede in some areas.

(AFP )

Italy on Sunday boosted terror prevention measures surrounding the country's architectural and artistic treasures and major pedestrian areas in response to the attacks in Spain, Finland and Russia.

Italy has not suffered any jihadist attacks on its territory but has been repeatedly warned by Islamic State (IS) propagandists that the country and the Vatican are on its hit list, most recently in messages relayed over the Telegram messaging service this weekend.

(AFP )

Russia said Sunday that a stabbing which injured seven people and was claimed by the Islamic State group is being probed by top investigators in Moscow, as new details emerged.

IS claimed responsibility for the attack in the remote city of Surgut along with the attacks in Spain that killed 14 through its Amaq propaganda agency, calling the attacker "a soldier of the Islamic State."

(AFP )

Thousands of supporters of three jailed young democracy activists took to the streets in Hong Kong Sunday to protest their sentences.

Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, leaders of the 2014 Umbrella Movement rallies, were sentenced to six to eight months in jail Thursday for their role in a protest that sparked the months-long demonstrations calling for democratic reforms.

People took on the scorching summer heat to stream from the district of Wan Chai to the Court of Final Appeal in the heart of Hong Kong Island, protesting the jail terms.

(AFP )

A Spanish court on Sunday ordered the conditional release of German-Turkish writer Dogan Akhanli a day after police had arrested him at Ankara's request, his lawyer said.

Berlin -- which sees Turkey's bid to have the writer extradited as a politically-motivated move by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- hailed the Spanish court's decision.

"It would be terrible if, even on the other side of Europe, Turkey succeeded in having people who raise their voices against President Erdogan arrested," said German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.

(AFP )

At least 14 people were killed and more than 100 injured in twin attacks in which vehicles were used to mow down pedestrians on Barcelona's most popular street and in a busy seaside resort town.

- What happened? -

Around 4:50 pm (1450 GMT) on Thursday, a white van ploughed into a crowd of pedestrians on the famous Las Ramblas boulevard in Barcelona.

One of the city's busiest streets, the promenade is normally thronged with tourists and street performers until well into the night.

(AFP )

Iraqi forces on Sunday pounded the Islamic State group in Tal Afar, one of its last bastions in the country, in a new assault just weeks after ousting IS from second city Mosul.

Once a key IS supply hub between Mosul -- around 70 kilometres (45 miles) further east -- and the Syrian border, Tal Afar is the last major population centre in northern Iraq under jihadist control.

Weeks after recapturing Mosul in a major blow to the jihadists, convoys of Iraqi forces around Tal Afar began pounding IS positions from three sides at dawn Sunday.

(AFP )

Indonesia's president expressed concern on Sunday after Malaysia's Southeast Asian Games organisers mistakenly published the Indonesian flag upside-down in a commemorative magazine, prompting anger amongst fans.

Malaysia's foreign ministry and the Games organisers apologised profusely for the gaffe but it was not enough to quell a wave of complaints online, with #ShameOnYouMalaysia becoming Indonesia's top trending topic on Twitter.

(AFP )

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said Sunday the top foreign policy priority for his new government was to protect the nuclear deal from being torn up by the United States.

"The most important job of our foreign minister is first to stand behind the JCPOA, and not to allow the US and other enemies to succeed," Rouhani told parliament, using the technical name for the 2015 deal that eased sanctions in exchange for curbs to Iran's nuclear programme.

(AFP )

Finland observed a minute of silence on Sunday for the victims of a stabbing attack that left two people dead in what is being investigated as the country's first-ever terror attack.

Another eight people were wounded in the stabbing spree, which took place on Friday in the southwestern port city of Turku.

At the market square where the attack happened, several hundred people gathered to hold a minute of silence at 10:00 am (0700 GMT).

(AFP )

Thousands of anti-racism demonstrators flooded the streets of Boston Saturday, dwarfing a gathering of white nationalists in the city and triggering scuffles with police but avoiding the serious violence that marred a similar event a week earlier in Virginia.

A so-called "free speech" rally by far-right groups had been scheduled to run until 2 pm (1800 GMT), but a half-hour before that police escorted its participants -- whose numbers appeared to be in the dozens -- to safety past a throng of anti-racism protesters.

(AFP )

North Korea warned Sunday that the United States will be "pouring gasoline on fire" by conducting an annual war game in the South next week amid heightened tensions between Pyongyang and Washington.

Combative rhetoric between the nations spiked after Pyongyang tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) last month that appeared to bring much of the US within range, sparking an intense warning by President Donald Trump that Washington could rain "fire and fury" on the North.

(AFP )

Emergency crews searched mangled carriages Sunday for any further victims after a train crash in northern India killed 23 passengers, the fourth major accident this year on the crumbling network.

Another 156 people were injured when 14 carriages came off the tracks in Muzaffarnagar district in Uttar Pradesh state, 130 kilometres (80 miles) from New Delhi, on Saturday evening.

The coaches were left piled atop each other after the express train derailed at 100 kilometres per hour, crashing into nearby houses and a college.

(AFP )

US comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory, who broke barriers as a performer in the era of segregation and challenged racism through searing humor, died Saturday night, his family said. He was 84.

In a Facebook post, Christian Gregory did not give the cause of death but said his father started feeling ill on August 9, and was admitted to a hospital on August 12. He died in Washington.

"A life well-lived but heavily sacrificed, has definitively taken its toll," the son said. More details were to be released in the coming days.

(AFP )

Lebanese soldiers renewed fire on Islamic State group positions on the country's eastern border with Syria on Sunday after capturing a third of the territory held by jihadists in the area.

Lebanon's army began its operation in the Jurud Ras Baalbek and Jurud al-Qaa region early on Saturday, and in the first day captured around 30 square kilometres (11 miles square) of territory, a military spokesman said.

"That is around a third of the area controlled by the terrorists," Brigadier General Nazih Jreij said late Saturday.

(AFP )

Kosovo's failure to establish a government two months after an election is stalling its bids for greater international recognition and blocking funds for the poverty-stricken country.

A coalition led by President Hashim Thaci's PDK party -- itself in power since 2007 -- topped early parliamentary polls held on June 11, but the alliance did not win the absolute majority needed to govern alone.

Made up of the old guard of ex-guerrilla fighters, the coalition can only form a government after nominating and winning support for a parliamentary speaker.

(AFP )

The brightly coloured minivan that pulls into Athens' food market, drawing a group of refugees around it, is not carrying something edible.

The contents -- hundreds of books -- are there to satisfy a different sort of hunger.

For tens of thousands of refugees stuck in Greece for the past two years after European states shut their borders in rapid succession, survival is no longer an issue.

(AFP )

Vishnu Kumar had barely reached adulthood when he lost his limbs in a freak electrical accident, seemingly condemning him to the life of penury endured by millions of amputees in India.

A year later, the 22-year-old is preparing to walk again with the aide of a "Jaipur Foot" -- a no-frills prosthetic made locally.

These prosthetics allow amputees to work in muddy fields, sit cross-legged on the floor and comfortably use Indian-style squat toilets without needing to remove the limb.

(AFP )

The head of the Philippines' powerful Catholic Church called Sunday for an end to the "waste of human lives" following a brutal week in President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war in which a 17-year-old boy was among dozens killed.

Police raids dubbed "One Time Big Time" saw at least 76 people shot dead, authorities said, as rights groups and lawmakers condemned the operation as an alarming "killing spree" in Duterte's flagship campaign.

(AFP )

Australia's top court will this week examine a constitutional crisis threatening to topple the conservative government, after parliament's attempts to deal with it ended in sheep jokes and conspiracy theories.

At least three senior government figures, including Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, have been snared by a previously obscure constitutional provision that bars dual citizens from sitting in parliament.

(AFP )

India has drawn up a shopping list for tens of billions of dollars of foreign fighter jets, armoured vehicles, submarines and helicopters but it will only sign the cheques if they are made in India.

The world's largest defence importer has announced a new policy inviting foreign defence manufacturers to set up shop as minority partners in India. It initiated the bidding process for submarines in July.

Such deals would boost job creation and bring key defence technologies into India.

Foreign companies say the opportunity is too good to miss.

(AFP )

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced early Sunday the start of a battle to retake Tal Afar, a key Northern Iraqi bastion of the Islamic State (IS) group and one of their last remaining strongholds in the region.

The announcement comes a month after the capture by Iraqi forces of second city Mosul further east in a major blow to the jihadists.

In a televised speech, Abadi, dressed in military uniform and standing in front of an Iraqi flag and map of the country, announced "the start of an operation to free Tal Afar".