Thursday 29 June 2017

In the world

(AFP )

President Xi Jinping arrives in Hong Kong on Thursday to mark 20 years since it was handed back to China by Britain, with leading democracy activists already in police custody after a protest in the politically divided city.

The three-day visit is Xi's first since becoming leader in 2013 and comes at a time when there are growing fears that Beijing is threatening semi-autonomous Hong Kong's freedoms.

(AFP )

Among many people mourning the death of a child in street protests against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro is his former boss, from back when the president was a bus driver.

The mourner is David Vallenilla, whose son David died last Thursday when he was hit with buck shot fired by a soldier at point blank range.

He remembers Maduro back in the day as a reasonable guy, one who was easy to get along with. Vallenilla says he has been told Maduro the president will call him. But so far the president has not placed that call.

(AFP )

British Prime Minister Theresa May's government faces a vote of confidence on Thursday, three weeks after a disastrous election left her authority in tatters and her Brexit strategy in doubt.

Members of the House of Commons will vote on the Conservative leader's legislative plans -- the Queen's Speech -- in a key test of whether she can stay in power.

The government is expected to pass its programme after forming a deal with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), whose 10 MPs will vote with 317 Conservatives.

(AFP )

Football and showbiz stars gather in northern Argentina on Friday for Latin America's celebrity wedding bash of the decade when Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi marries his childhood sweetheart Antonella Roccuzzo.

Pop star Shakira and her husband, Messi's teammate Gerard Pique, are expected among the 260 guests, according to media and locals close to the event.

They will join old friends of the couple and footballers such as his Barcelona strike partners Luis Suarez and Neymar.

(AFP )

As the chatter of customers and the smell of warm bread fill the Holey Artisan Bakery it is easy to forget the scenes of horror that unfolded at the upscale Dhaka cafe. But a year on the impact of the deadly siege is still being felt.

Five young men armed with guns and knives stormed the cafe on July 1, taking dozens hostage and killing 22 people. Most of the victims were foreigners, and many were brutally hacked to death.

A year later the bakery, which has reopened in a new location, throngs with customers hungry for its famous breads, cookies and pastries.

(AFP )

South Korea's President Moon Jae-In arrived in Washington Wednesday on his first overseas trip since taking office, for planned talks with his US counterpart Donald Trump.

Moon, who backs engagement with nuclear-armed North Korea, was to meet Thursday with Trump during his first foreign outing since being sworn in last month after a landslide election win.

Late Wednesday, he was scheduled to take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at a war memorial in Quantico, Virginia, and later was to attend a summit with Korean and American business leaders.

(AFP )

A deal on cutting nearly $600 million from the UN peacekeeping budget was reached Wednesday following weeks of negotiations over US demands for sharp cost reductions, UN diplomats said.

Under the deal reached by a General Assembly budget committee, the United Nations will spend $7.3 billion on peacekeeping in the coming year, down from the current $7.87 billion -- roughly a seven percent cut -- according to diplomats familiar with the negotiations.

(AFP )

From country priest to trusted top Vatican aide, the rise of Australia's most senior Catholic cleric George Pell has been plagued in its twilight by sordid controversies from the past.

To his admirers the 76-year-old cardinal embodies the orthodox traditions of Australian Catholicism, but to his critics he represents an institution that has failed to properly deal with child sex abuse allegations.

(AFP )

Cardinal George Pell, one of the most powerful figures in the Vatican and Australia's most senior Catholic, was Thursday charged with historical child sex offences, which he "strenuously denied".

Pell, the Vatican's finance chief and the highest-ranking Catholic cleric to face such charges, had been interviewed in Rome by Australian police last October over the allegations.

"Victoria Police have charged Cardinal George Pell with historical sexual assault offences," Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton told reporters.

(AFP )

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is blunt. When he wanted to make a political statement about crackdowns on dissent, he brought portraits of 176 political prisoners to one of America's most infamous high-security federal prisons.

"Trace," first shown at Alcatraz prison off the San Francisco Bay in 2014, opened Wednesday in Washington for a six-month run at the Hirshhorn museum.

More than 1.2 million Lego bricks were assembled by hand to form the individual portraits, arranged on the floor in Ai's latest subversion of readymade materials.

(AFP )

South Korea's President Moon Jae-In arrived in Washington on his first overseas trip since taking office, for planned talks with his US counterpart Donald Trump.

Moon, who backs engagement with nuclear-armed North Korea, was to meet Thursday with Trump during his first foreign outing since being sworn in last month after a landslide election win.

Late Wednesday, he was scheduled to take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at a war memorial in Quantico, Virginia, and later was to attend summit of Korean and American business leaders.

(AFP )

Venezuela's Supreme Court slapped an asset freeze and travel ban Wednesday on Attorney General Luisa Ortega, a top critic of President Nicolas Maduro, after she accused him of creating a climate of terror.

Ortega has emerged as the most critical voice within the Venezuelan government as the authorities have cracked down on anti-Maduro protests, leaving a death toll of 77 people in just under three months.

(AFP )

Record-setting Wayde van Niekerk could be the athlete to take over track and field from Usain Bolt, according to the Jamaican sprint star himself.

Bolt is in his final season of a glittering career that has seen him win eight Olympic and 11 world gold medals with a charisma and charm that have made him one of the most recognisable faces in world sport.

The massive void his absence will leave looks most likely to be filled by South African Van Niekerk, whose personality remains considerably less than Bolt's larger-than-life version.

(AFP )

North Korea on Wednesday delivered a rare statement at the UN Security Council, accusing the United States of attaching "unjust" conditions to its offer of talks on Pyongyang's military programs.

Deputy Ambassador Kim in Ryong said it would be a "fatal miscalculation" by countries to believe that the latest sanctions imposed by the council will deter North Korea from developing its nuclear forces.

(AFP )

Four Nigerian women are taking legal action in the Dutch courts against Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell accusing it of complicity in the 1990s executions of their husbands by the Nigerian military, Amnesty International said Thursday.

The civil case has been brought by Esther Kiobel, the widow of Barinem Kiobel, who was hanged in 1995 along with writer and campaigner Ken Saro-Wiwa and seven others. Three other widows are also joining the action in The Hague.

(AFP )

The United States announced Wednesday it would implement tough new security rules for all airlines flying into the country, but held off from a threatened expansion of its carry-on laptop ban.

Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly said evolving terror threats made it imperative to raise overall security standards, rather than take a piecemeal approach on personal electronics.

"Make no mistake: our enemies are constantly working to find new methods for disguising explosives, recruiting insiders, and hijacking aircraft," Kelly said.

(AFP )

Thousands of revellers, many draped in rainbow flags, packed a Madrid square on Wednesday for the official launch of WorldPride festivities, one of the biggest celebrations of lesbian, gay and transgender rights.

"We want to shout to the world our joy of being different, our celebration of diversity," Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar told the crowd.

Masses of merrymakers then danced and sang along to a recording of a 1986 song by veteran Spanish pop singer Alaska, "A Quein Le Importa" or "Who Cares?", which has become a gay anthem in the Spanish-speaking world.

(AFP )

An elite cop-turned-film star became the man of the hour Wednesday in the disaster movie that is Venezuela's political crisis.

With his tan and muscles, 36-year-old Oscar Perez may seem to have more in common with action fantasy idols like Vin Diesel than with your average Venezuelan cop.

Now Venezuela is wondering whether his alleged "coup" attempt in a stolen helicopter in the skies over Caracas on Tuesday night was scripted or real.

- Action man -

(AFP )

Shipping giant FedEx said Wednesday that deliveries were slowed at its Dutch unit TNT Express after the firm was hit by the latest major computer virus attack.

Trading in FedEx shares was halted for nearly an hour Wednesday ahead of the announcement, although operations of the parent company and other units were not impacted.

FedEx said TNT's operations were "significantly affected" by the information system virus, which was causing delays at TNT Express' domestic, regional and inter-continental services.

(AFP )

Wayde van Niekerk had promised to get "ridiculous" and the South African tyro hailed as Usain Bolt's likely successor did just that when sprinting to a world record in the rarely-run 300m on Wednesday.

The 24-year-old raced home at the Golden Spike meet at the Mestsky Stadium in the northeastern Czech city of Ostrava in an outstanding 30.81 seconds.

The previous world record of 30.85sec was set at altitude in Pretoria in 2000 by American Michael Johnson.

(AFP )

Thousands of computer users across the globe scrambled to reboot on Wednesday as calls grew to step up defences after a fresh wave of ransomware cyberattacks spread from Ukraine and Russia worldwide.

The virus, which demanded a payment worth $300 as it locked up files at companies and government agencies including the Chernobyl nuclear site, was reminiscent of the WannaCry ransomware that swept the world last month, hitting more than 200,000 users in more than 150 countries.

(AFP )

Mexican journalists protested Wednesday after a colleague's charred body was found -- the sixth murder of a reporter this year in one of the world's most dangerous countries for the media.

Colleagues of slain journalist Salvador Adame painted the words "SOS Press" in giant letters on the ground in Michoacan -- the western state where he was abducted and killed -- as well as the capital Mexico City and six other states around the country.

(AFP )

Russia "assumes" that President Vladimir Putin will meet his US counterpart Donald Trump during next week's G20 summit in Germany, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday.

Any such meeting would see the presidents address "several questions", Lavrov said, without elaborating other than to add that "above all, we must normalise dialogue" with Washington.

(AFP )

A new court established to try crimes committed in the 1990s Kosovo conflict took a step closer Wednesday to receiving its first indictments, with fierce speculation over who could be targeted.

The Kosovo specialist chambers, funded by the European Union and set up in The Hague, was established to investigate and prosecute allegations of crimes -- including assassinations, unlawful detentions and organ trafficking -- during and after the Kosovo guerillas' war of independence from Serbia.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump has accepted an invitation to join his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron at Bastille Day celebrations in Paris on July 14, French and US officials said Wednesday.

Trump will attend the traditional military parade for France's national day on the Champs-Elysees avenue, where US soldiers will march alongside French troops to commemorate the centenary of America joining World War I, Macron's office said.

The White House confirmed the visit.

(AFP )

Humanity must put carbon dioxide emissions on a downward slope by 2020 to have a realistic shot at capping global warming at well under two degrees Celsius, the bedrock goal of the Paris climate accord, experts said Wednesday.

A world that heats up beyond that threshold will face a crescendo of devastating impacts ranging from deadly heatwaves to mass migration caused by rising seas, the experts warned in a commentary published in the science journal Nature.

(AFP )

As many as 100,000 civilians are trapped in Syria's Raqa, as US-backed fighters battle to retake the city from the Islamic State group, the UN rights chief warned Wednesday.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein voiced grave concern for the fate of civilians caught up in the anti-IS offensive in Raqa.

According to data collected by his office, at least 173 civilians have been killed by air and ground strikes in the city since June 1, but it acknowledged that that estimate was likely conservative, and the real death toll could be much higher.

(AFP )

Italy has threatened to prevent vessels flying under foreign flags from disembarking migrants rescued in the Mediterranean in its ports, a source close to the government said Wednesday.

"We can't go on like this," the source told AFP after media reported that Italy's representative to the European Union, Maurizio Massari, delivered a letter to the bloc warning that the country was considering closing its doors.

(AFP )

Barack Obama took his wife and daughters to the ancient Borobudur temple on Java on Wednesday on a family vacation to Indonesia, where the former US president spent part of his childhood.

The Obamas arrived in the city of Yogyakarta in central Java and headed straight to explore the Borobudur, an ancient Buddhist temple built in the 8th and 9th centuries.

"Obama is fascinated by Borobudur, and he remembers that he has seen this temple when he was a child," said Edy Setijono, head of the temple management complex, who accompanied the family at the site.

(AFP )

Pope Francis on Wednesday created five new cardinals in a colourful ritual ceremony at the Vatican that blended centuries of tradition with the Argentine pontiff's vision of a remodelled Church for the 21st century.

Four of the five new cardinals come from countries that have never had a cardinal before: El Salvador, Laos, Mali and Sweden. The fifth is from Spain.

In a hard-hitting homily, Francis told them they should regard themselves as servants of the most vulnerable and not be misled by the traditional description of cardinals as 'Princes of the Church'.

(AFP )

Hong Kong student pro-democracy campaigner Joshua Wong was detained by police on Wednesday after an anti-China protest ahead of a visit by President Xi Jinping.

Wong was among around 30 protesters who had staged a three-hour sit-in at a harbourfront statue and were led away into police vans.

Xi's visit this week marks 20 years since Hong Kong was handed back to China by Britain and comes at a time when fears are growing that Beijing is tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous city.

(AFP )

North Korea threatened on Wednesday to "impose the death penalty" on the South's former president Park Geun-Hye over an alleged plot to assassinate its leader Kim Jong-Un.

Park had "pushed forward" a supposed plan by Seoul's intelligence services to eliminate the North's leadership, Pyongyang's security ministry and prosecutors said in a statement carried by its official Korean Central News Agency.

"We declare at home and abroad that we will impose death penalty on traitor Park Geun Hye," it said.

(AFP )

British children's writer Michael Bond, the creator of the much-loved character Paddington Bear, has died at the age of 91, his publisher HarperCollins said on Wednesday.

Bond's famous series about a friendly teddy bear from "deepest, darkest Peru" sold more than 35 million copies worldwide and was turned into a blockbuster film in 2014.

"He was a true gentleman, a bon viveur, the most entertaining company and the most enchanting of writers," Ann-Janine Murtagh, executive publisher at HarperCollins Children's Books, said in a statement.

(AFP )

Trapped in their homes in Raqa and running out of supplies, Ahmad Shaabu, his family and their neighbours were increasingly desperate. It was the children who finally helped them to escape.

Shaabu was among some 20 civilians who managed this week to flee the northern Syrian city, which a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces are battling to take from the Islamic State group.

Tens of thousands of civilians are believed to remain in Raqa, seized by IS three years ago and turned into the jihadist group's de facto Syrian capital.

(AFP )

Kenyan literary icon Ngugi wa Thiong'o, often tipped for the Nobel literature prize, has pulled out of an annual Swedish book fair in protest at the presence of a right-wing extremist newspaper, his publisher said Wednesday.