Saturday 17 March 2018

In the world

(AFP )

Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi was pressed about the Rohingya crisis at an ASEAN summit in Sydney Sunday, but the regional bloc stressed it could not intervene and "force an outcome".

Suu Kyi has been under intense global criticism for her public silence amid a brutal military crackdown that has forced nearly 700,000 of the Muslim-minority Rohingya to flee Myanmar's Rakhine state for Bangladesh.

The humanitarian crisis was one of the key topics at a three-day special summit between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Australia.

(AFP )

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels have taken "total" control of the centre of Afrin, a Kurdish-majority city in northern Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday.

"Units of the Free Syrian Army, which are backed by Turkish armed forces, took control of the centre of Afrin this morning at 8:30 am (0530 GMT)," Erdogan said, adding that de-mining operations were under way.

(AFP )

Turkish-backed rebels have seized the centre of Afrin city in northern Syria, Ankara said Sunday, as they made rapid gains in their campaign against Kurdish forces.

"Units of the Free Syrian Army, which are backed by Turkish armed forces, took control of the centre of Afrin this morning at 8:30 am (0530 GMT)," said President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has vowed to oust Kurdish militia from areas along the Turkish border.

(AFP )

An Arab Israeli suspected of having stabbed to death a rabbi near a settlement in the occupied West Bank last month has been arrested, Israeli authorities said Sunday.

Abed Hakim Assi, born in 1998, is believed to have stabbed to death Itamar Ben Gal, 29, near the settlement of Ariel on February 5 before going into hiding in the northern West Bank.

Israel's Shin Bet domestic security agency announced the overnight arrest in a statement.

Palestinians who were with Assi during his arrest were also taken for questioning, the statement said.

(AFP )

From frustration with corruption and poverty to Moscow's showdown with the West, Russians shared their concerns as they voted in Sunday's presidential election that is set to extend President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin term to 2024.

"I am for Putin. There is no alternative to him," said Valentina Popova, a 77-year-old Moscow retiree.

"I respect him for his foreign policies, otherwise Russia would perish. There's a lot that needs to be done inside the country."

(AFP )

The United States beat Canada with a dramatic overtime goal to win sledge hockey gold in Pyeongchang Sunday, a fitting finale to high-octane sporting action at the Winter Paralympics.

The curtain was due to fall on the Paralympics at a closing ceremony in the evening, capping the nine-day Games that have featured sports ranging from vision-impaired skiing to wheelchair curling.

Team USA topped the medals table, with a total of 36 medals including 13 golds. Canada also did well, picking up eight golds while France and Germany won seven each.

(AFP )

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday urged other nations to follow his move to quit the International Criminal Court, which is examining his deadly drug war.

Duterte lashed out at the war crimes tribunal days after his government notified the United Nations of his decision to withdraw the Philippines from the Rome Statute which set up the court.

"I said withdraw simply because to announce to the world, and I will convince everybody now who (is) under the treaty: get out, get out. It is rude," Duterte said in a speech to Philippine Military Academy graduates.

(AFP )

Israel and Jordan have long pursued a common goal to stop the Dead Sea from shrinking while slaking their shared thirst for drinking water with a pipeline from the Red Sea some 200 kilometres away.

Geopolitical tensions have stalled efforts to break ground on the ambitious project for years, but the end of the latest diplomatic spat has backers hoping a final accord may now be in sight.

The degradation of the Dead Sea, on the border of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian West Bank, began in the 1960s when water began to be heavily diverted from the Jordan River.

(AFP )

The only UN-approved financial mechanism to curb deforestation, a key driver of global warming, has bulldozed the rights of forest-dwelling peoples on three continents and needs to be fixed, experts say.

The latest sign that these schemes -- which pay to restore tropical forests rather than cut them down -- are falling short comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where 20 pilot projects in Mai-Ndombe province have upended indigenous communities, according to a detailed report from the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a Washington DC-based research group.

(AFP )

Millions of Chinese public sector workers will be exposed to the harsh policing tactics of the Communist Party as President Xi Jinping brings his corruption crackdown to China's sprawling bureaucracy.

The campaign to clean up the party's pervasive corruption has arguably been Xi's most popular initiative, pressuring its 89 million members to toe the line -- with more than 1.5 million officials punished in the past five years.

(AFP )

Spanish entry Mapfre led the seven-yacht fleet out of Auckland Harbour on Sunday as the gruelling Volvo Ocean Race resumed with its toughest leg across the tempestuous Southern Ocean.

The 7,600 nautical miles (14,075 kilometres) seventh leg of the race takes the yachts on a three-week voyage across inhospitable waters from New Zealand to Cape Horn and then up South America's eastern coast to the Brazilian city of Itajai.

(AFP )

Throwing punches in a gym tucked away from prying eyes, a Saudi female boxing trainer asserts a right long denied to many women in the conservative kingdom -- the right to exercise.

Halah Alhamrani, 41, runs a gym for women called FlagBoxing -- its motto is Fight Like A Girl -- in the western Red Sea city of Jeddah, offering fitness classes such as callisthenics, CrossFit, boxing and kickboxing.

(AFP )

The long journey to find peace for Rohingya refugee Kobir Ahmed can be told through the different birth countries of his eight children -- Myanmar, Malaysia and Australia -- although they remain citizens of no nation.

He now helps run a grocery store in suburban Australia where he lives in a small community of Rohingya, the persecuted Muslim minority who have fled army-led violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state in their hundreds of thousands.

(AFP )

At the heart of a Baghdad flea market, nostalgia for Iraq's royal past is on full display as collectors and investors gather to buy relics from a bygone era.

Inside the Moudallal cafe, Arabic for "pampered", a hundred men from across the country carefully follow the auction of momentos from the nearly four decades of monarchic rule that ended with a bloody coup in 1958.

"There is a feeling of nostalgia among the customers. Take the banknotes, their manufacture and quality were much better before, that's why the prices go up," says 52-year-old auctioneer Ali Hikmat.

(AFP )

China's rubber-stamp parliament gave Premier Li Keqiang a second five-year term on Sunday, but he faces a tenure deeper in the shadow of the country's powerful leader Xi Jinping.

Li was re-appointed with 2,964 votes in favour and two against during the annual session of the National People's Congress at Beijing's Great Hall of the People, one day after Xi was unanimously given a second term.

(AFP )

More than two decades after Japan's Aum Shinrikyo cult plunged Tokyo into terror by releasing a nerve agent on rush-hour subway trains, its spinoffs continue to attract new followers.

Cult head Shoko Asahara is on death row, along with 12 of his disciples, for crimes including the subway attack, which killed 13 people and injured thousands.

He was arrested in 1995 in the wake of the sarin attack, but the Aum cult survived the crackdown, renaming itself Aleph and drawing new recruits into its fold.

(AFP )

Once upon a time speaking French was easy in Brussels, but things have changed.

Bruno Le Maire, France's finance minister, felt that keenly during a recent panel event with European steel-makers after several hours of speaking English with EU counterparts.

"Maybe one in French if possible, otherwise I will run the risk of being criticised," Le Maire, who speaks perfect English, said as he scanned the audience for questions.

But raised hands quickly dropped away, leaving just one from a journalist, who asked the question in English anyway.

(AFP )

China has called on the United States to "correct its mistake" after President Donald Trump approved new rules allowing top-level US officials to travel to Taiwan to meet with their Taipei counterparts.

US representatives can already travel to democratic Taiwan and Taiwanese officials occasionally visit the White House, but meetings are usually low profile to avoid offending China.

The "Taiwan Travel Act", which Trump signed on Friday following its passage in the US Congress, encourages visits between US and Taiwanese officials "at all levels".

(AFP )

A month-long campaign of strikes and protests on the French Indian Ocean island of Mayotte has shone a light on the simmering resentment in some of France's tropical outposts over perceived neglect by the state.

Supplies of fuel, drugs and other essentials are running dangerously low on the island of 250,000 people off southeast Africa as protesters dig in for more funding -- and empathy -- from Paris.

(AFP )

Resurgent Queensland Reds defended magnificently to defeat Jaguares 18-7 in Argentina and record three consecutive Super Rugby victories for the first time in five years.

Earlier on Saturday, reigning champions Canterbury Crusaders suffered back-to-back losses for the first time in three years after going down 25-17 to Otago Highlanders in Dunedin.

(AFP )

Britain's official departure from the European Union may have to be delayed with many key negotiating issues still to be resolved, Westminster's Brexit committee suggested Sunday.

In a new report on the progress of negotiations, the Exiting the European Union Committee said there had been "little progress made" on key issues, including how to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

(AFP )

Here are five major dates in Russia since the disintegration of the USSR or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

- 1991: the Soviet Union dies -

December 8, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, elected six months earlier at the first multi-party ballot, agrees with his Belarussian and Ukrainian counterparts to replace their union, the USSR, with a commonwealth.

As the Soviet Union disintegrates, leader Mikhail Gorbachev resigns. The USSR ceases to exist in international law on December 31, 1991.

(AFP )

Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has immunity from prosecution, Australia's attorney general said Sunday after a legal bid was launched to hold her responsible for "crimes against humanity".

A group of five Australian lawyers have filed a private application in the Melbourne Magistrates Court seeking to prosecute her over the treatment of the Muslim-minority Rohingya.

It coincides with the Nobel laureate attending a special summit of Southeast Asian leaders in Sydney.

(AFP )

Seven candidates are lined up to run against Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sunday's election, but his primary political opponent will not be on the ballot.

Facing competitors such as a former reality TV star and a director of a fruit farm, Putin is all but guaranteed to win the vote and extend his Kremlin stint to 2024 with a fourth term in office.

- Alexei Navalny: elephant in the room -

Alexei Navalny, a charismatic anti-corruption blogger turned opposition politician who has organised several large anti-Kremlin protests, has been barred from running.

(AFP )

US Vice President Mike Pence told Pakistan's Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi that his country "must do more" against the Taliban and other militants, the White House said on Saturday.

"Vice President Pence reiterated President (Donald) Trump's request that the Government of Pakistan must do more to address the continued presence of the Taliban, Haqqani Network, and other terrorist groups operating in their country," the White House said in a statement on the Friday call.

"Pakistan could and should work closer with the United States," Pence said.

(AFP )

Pope Francis has sent a letter to the Argentine people asking them to defend life, at a time when the Congress of the South American country is considering a bill to decriminalize abortion.

The five-paragraph letter, released Saturday by the Argentine Bishops' Conference, urges Argentines to "make a contribution in defense of life and justice."

The pope asks the Argentines to "improve the world with your work (and) to take care of the weakest."

The church vehemently opposes the legalization of abortion.

(AFP )

The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo are set to meet in Brussels next week for the first time in more than a year as part of re-launched EU-sponsored talks on normalising ties.

"I am going to resume dialogue with (the Kosovans) to try to work out our problems, even if I don't trust them... we have no choice," Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told reporters in Belgrade.

He said will meet his Kosovan counterpart Hashim Thaci on March 23.

(AFP )

A coalition of Venezuelan opposition groups organized rallies across the country on Saturday to protest May 20 presidential elections it considers fraudulent and to demand "free and transparent" elections at a future date.

"The assemblies are a show of resistance against a regime that wants to deny us our rights," parliamentarian Delsa Solorzano told AFP. "We have to salvage the right to vote freely."

(AFP )

Syria's regime retook two more towns in Eastern Ghouta on Saturday, a war monitor said, pressing an offensive to capture the rebel enclave on the doorstep of Damascus.

Government forces seized Kafr Batna and Sabqa in the south of the enclave, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, as thousands of civilians fled into regime-held territory.

Russia-backed regime forces have retaken more than 80 percent of the last opposition bastion outside the capital since launching a blistering air and ground offensive on February 18, the Observatory says.

(AFP )

A toddler was among three people killed during a clash between a drug gang and police in a sprawling Rio de Janeiro favela, police said Saturday.

The bloodshed late Friday in the Alemao district of slums and working-class communities, or favelas, added to tension in a city still reeling from the apparent assassination Wednesday of a prominent activist who has protested police brutality.

(AFP )

At least 16 people, including six children, drowned Saturday after a migrant boat capsized in the Aegean Sea, the deadliest disaster in the area since a controversial deal two years ago between the EU and Turkey to try to stem the flow of migrants to Europe

Another three people are missing after the boat went down overnight off the island of Agathonissi as it was carrying migrants from Turkey to Greece, police said.

(AFP )

The British Council, whose activities in Russia were suspended by the Kremlin on Saturday, is a registered charity that uses education and culture to spread British soft power internationally.

The group said Saturday it was "profoundly disappointed" by the decision, taken amid escalating tensions over the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England.

The British Council is a network of cultural and linguistic institutes, with 179 branches in 107 countries, according to its 2017 annual report.

(AFP )

Crooks are impersonating top personalities in Monaco, including even Prince Albert II, to scam money from high-flying victims, according to reports Saturday in the Mediterranean principality.

A Prince Albert lookalike had used a video contact supposedly from the ruler's own office to target the Riviera elite, the Monaco-Matin newspaper said.

The government of the millionaires' playground issued a statement confirming such hi-tech stings but without naming the prince, who boasts a fortune estimated at some two billion euros ($2.4 billion).

(AFP )

British Prime Minister Theresa May took aim at Russia at a major speech to her Conservative Party on Saturday, cutting a stronger figure as internal Brexit divisions took a back seat.

Amid escalating tensions with Moscow over the poisoning of a former double agent on British soil, May warned that she would "never tolerate a threat to the life of British citizens and others on British soil from the Russian government," to strong applause from party members.

(AFP )

Tens of thousands of Spaniards rallied across the country Saturday to demand better pensions as unions accused the government of seeking to privatise retirement benefits.

Pensioners braved rain and snow showers as they poured onto the streets of the capital Madrid and second city Barcelona from mid-morning to vent their ire at conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

"Rajoy, thief, you are stealing my pension," read one placard, while other slogans accused the government of wantonly ramping down pension benefits.