Tuesday 12 December 2017

In the world

(AFP )

A British banker jailed for life for the horrifying murder of two Indonesian women at his upscale Hong Kong apartment in a cocaine-fuelled rampage appealed against his conviction Tuesday.

Cambridge University graduate Rurik Jutting tortured Sumarti Ningsih for three days -- filming parts of her ordeal on his phone -- before slashing her throat with a serrated knife and stuffing her body into a suitcase.

(AFP )

Charles Jenkins, a US Army deserter who spent four decades in communist North Korea and married a Japanese woman abducted by Pyongyang, has died at the age of 77, officials said on Tuesday.

According to the Asahi Shimbun daily, his daughter found him collapsed outside their house on Monday and called the emergency services.

He later died of heart problems at a hospital in the northern city of Sado, according to the local government.

He deserted during a drunken night in 1965, crossing the heavily fortified border into North Korea from the South.

(AFP )

French President Emmanuel Macron will meet with world leaders on Tuesday, two years to the day since 195 nations adopted the climate-rescue Paris Agreement -- this time to talk about money.

Without trillions of dollars of investment in clean energy, the pact's goal to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels will remain a pipedream, observers and participants warned on the eve of the Paris summit.

(AFP )

An Australian senator quit parliament Tuesday over his links with China in a scandal that coincided with Canberra proposing new foreign interference laws that have sparked fierce criticism from Beijing.

Labor opposition politician Sam Dastyari, a one-time high-profile powerbroker, has been under heavy scrutiny over his relationship with a wealthy political donor associated with the Chinese Communist Party.

(AFP )

The European Central Bank will highlight economic strength in the eurozone in new forecasts Thursday, analysts expect, while avoiding spooking markets with talk of further cuts to its massive support for the economy.

ECB economic growth forecasts could be in for an upgrade this week, after the European Commission last month sharply lifted its predictions to a 2.2 percent expansion in 2017, the fastest pace in a decade.

Brussels predicts the 19-nation currency area will go on to add some 2.1 percent in 2018 and 1.9 percent in 2019.

(AFP )

To many German Social Democrats it sounds like a monster that will destroy their party if not democracy itself: the GroKo.

The term is shorthand for "grand coalition", the mega-alliance of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and their own SPD labour party that has ruled Europe's top economy for the past four years.

"Never. Again. GroKo," read a pin-on button handed out by the party's youth wing at a fractious party congress in Berlin last week that was dominated by painful soul-searching over its worst election result in post-war history.

(AFP )

French police charged a man on Monday in connection with the jihadist murder of a police couple after his DNA was matched to traces found in their home near Paris, legal sources said.

Mohamed Lamine Aberouz, 24, has been linked to Larossi Abballa, the Islamic State extremist who claimed the June 2016 attack in a live video from the murder scene before being killed by police in a shootout, the sources added.

(AFP )

Workers used sonar equipment Monday to get the facts on objects found 26 days after an Argentine sub went missing with 44 crew members aboard.

President Mauricio Macri and the navy consider the crew to have been tragically lost.

But family members desperate for closure have been pushing for the search to continue until the vessel is located and questions about its fate are answered, despite a series of false hopes.

(AFP )

The top US trade representative launched a broadside at the World Trade Organization on Monday, accusing it of losing its focus on trade negotiation and becoming a "litigation-centered" body.

"Too often members seem to believe they can gain concessions through lawsuits that they could never get at the negotiating table," Robert Lighthizer told the WTO ministerial conference in Buenos Aires.

He also criticized special treatment given to some countries because of their allegedly dubious development status.

(AFP )

The White House on Monday rejected calls for a congressional investigation of claims Donald Trump sexually harassed women, saying the American people had spoken on the matter by electing him president.

Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand called on Trump to resign, meanwhile, echoing a demand made the previous day by two other Senate Democrats.

Three women who claim they were sexually harassed by Trump before he ran for president urged Congress on Monday to investigate his behavior and allegations of misconduct.

(AFP )

Candidates in Alabama's intensely-watched Senate race made their final pitches to voters late Monday, after President Donald Trump urged loyalists to elect the firebrand Republican Roy Moore despite accusations he molested minors decades ago.

The two protagonists in the race, Moore and Democrat Doug Jones, headlined competing rallies where they implored their supporters to march to the polls and vote Tuesday, on perhaps the most closely watched US election day of 2017.

(AFP )

The finance ministers of the European Union's five biggest economies wrote to their American counterpart Monday to voice concerns over a US tax overhaul, saying Washington should adhere to "international obligations to which it has signed up".

The letter, signed by the British, French, German, Italian and Spanish finance ministers, warned that "certain less conventional international tax provisions could contravene" tax treaties and could have "a major distortive impact on international trade".

(AFP )

Press freedom advocates called Monday for US authorities to release from custody a Mexican journalist facing deportation to his home country where he says his life is endangered.

Members of news organizations and at least one lawmaker drew attention to the case of Emilio Gutierrez, who arrived in the United States a decade ago after reporting on abuses by Mexican military authorities.

Gutierrez spoke to a Washington news conference at the National Press Club via telephone from a detention center in Texas where he has been held since last week.

(AFP )

French rock icon Johnny Hallyday was laid to rest in a private ceremony in the West Indies on Monday despite his first wife and many of his fans bemoaning a burial so far from mainland France.

Hundreds of thousands of people had thronged the centre of Paris on Saturday for a "people's tribute", with at least 12 million people watching the ceremony for the star on television.

France has not seen such an outpouring of emotion for a singer since the death of Edith Piaf.

(AFP )

Roberto Borge, a former Mexican state governor wanted for corruption and detained in Panama, has failed in a bid to halt extradition proceedings, Panama's Supreme Court said Monday.

It was deemed there were no legal obstacles for Borge, who used to run southern Quintana Roo state, to be sent back to his home country to face justice, the court said in a statement.

"The extradition of Mr Borge will depend on the presidency of the republic" of Panama, it said, noting that no further appeals were possible.

(AFP )

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday that Turkish and Russian officials would meet in the coming days to finalise the deal for Russia to supply its latest S-400 air-defence system to Ankara.

"Officials will come together in the coming week to finalise the necessary work on the S-400 issue I wish them success," Erdogan said during a press conference with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Ankara. He did not give further details.

(AFP )

The EU on Monday opened new chapters in its membership talks with Serbia and Montenegro, countries which European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker says he expects to join the bloc by 2025.

Accession negotiations, which typically take years, are split into 35 "chapters" covering areas such as the economy, energy, rule of law and human rights, to help the joining country align its practices with European Union standards.

The bloc opened two new chapters for Montenegro, covering freedom of movement for workers and services. It means Montenegro now has 30 chapters open.

(AFP )

Thousands of firefighters were battling one of the most destructive wildfires in California's history Monday as it crept relentlessly up the Pacific coast and forced new evacuations.

As a wildfire near Los Angeles was brought under control, fire crews were being redeployed to battle the Thomas Fire northwest of America's second-largest city.

Fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters were assisting nearly 6,400 firefighters trying to keep the Thomas Fire away from beachfront towns south of the historic city of Santa Barbara, the California Fire Department (Cal Fire) said.

(AFP )

Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday hailed an interim Brexit deal as proof that Britain could leave the European Union in a "smooth and orderly way", although she warned that payment of the divorce bill was dependent on a final trade agreement.

The government struck a deal with Brussels last week on three priority separation issues, paving the way for EU leaders meeting on Thursday and Friday to approve the start of trade talks.

(AFP )

A Ukrainian court on Monday released arrested former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, who vowed to "pressure the authorities" to end corruption.

Ukrainian prosecutors had sought house arrest for Saakashvili, who is accused of trying to stage a coup sponsored by Russia.

But judge Larysa Tsokol ruled not to grant this request, letting the opposition politician go free for the duration of the probe, a decision met with applause from supporters in the courtroom and Saakashvili, who called the judge "courageous."

(AFP )

The US accused Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro on Monday of a dictatorial bid to wipe his opponents off the political map following his latest poll victory, after he announced the main opposition is barred from next year's presidential election.

Maduro's ruling socialists triumphed as expected in mayoral polls Sunday, taking 300 of the country's 335 mayorships after a boycott by the main opposition parties.

(AFP )

Soldiers and police on Monday moved to clear roads across Honduras of demonstrators protesting alleged fraud in a presidential election held two weeks ago, which they said was won by leftist opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla.

The action was taken as the country is stuck in a political impasse and amid unrest after President Juan Orlando Hernandez claimed victory in the November 26 poll.

Electoral authorities have not yet declared a winner from the election, despite full results and a partial recount showing a slight lead for Hernandez, 49.

(AFP )

Polish Finance Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was sworn in as prime minister on Monday, replacing Beata Szydlo who will be his deputy in a rightwing government at odds with the EU over judicial reforms.

The governing rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) party tapped ex-banker Morawiecki, 49, as the administration focuses more on the economy and seeks to mend ties with Brussels.

Morawiecki, who retains his finance and development portfolio, vowed to continue the government's generous social welfare measures.

(AFP )

The European Union on Monday warned Democratic Republic of Congo it would cut off help to hold elections next year if the authorities failed to end "harassment" of the opposition and civil society.

In a statement, the 28-nation bloc said it was "critical" for the Kinshasa government to uphold the timetable of the much-delayed elections.

It also detailed a long list of abuses, including "acts of harassment toward opposition political figures, representatives of the media and civil society and defenders of human rights."

(AFP )

Egypt star Mohamed Salah won the prestigious BBC African Player of the Year award on Monday, rewarded for a 2017 packed with sparkling displays for Liverpool, Roma and his national team.

The 25-year-old topped a poll that saw a record number of votes cast after firing Egypt to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations and almost single-handedly taking Egypt to their first World Cup finals since 1990, scoring five and setting up their other two goals in qualifying.

(AFP )

President Donald Trump on Monday denied a New York Times story on his daily White House life that says he watches up to eight hours of cable TV news a day.

"Another false story, this time in the Failing @nytimes, that I watch 4-8 hours of television a day - Wrong!" the US president wrote on Twitter.

"Also, I seldom, if ever, watch CNN or MSNBC, both of which I consider Fake News," he added.

Trump then described CNN news anchor Don Lemon as a person "I once called the 'dumbest man on television!'"

(AFP )

A 27-year-old immigrant from Bangladesh detonated a homemade pipe bomb strapped to his body in a crowded New York subway passage during the morning rush hour Monday, injuring three people and putting the city on edge just six weeks after a deadly truck attack.

Akayed Ullah told police investigators he wanted to avenge US airstrikes on the Islamic State group and was also inspired by Christmas terror plots in Europe, and chose the location for his attack by the Christmas posters on the subway walls, US media reported.

(AFP )

The UN rights chief told the Security Council on Monday that tough sanctions imposed on North Korea are complicating the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid and called for an assessment.

An estimated 18 million North Koreans, or 70 percent of the population, suffer from acute food shortages and aid agencies provide "literally a lifeline" for 13 million of them, said UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein.

"But sanctions may be adversely affecting this essential help," he told a special Security Council meeting on human rights in North Korea.

(AFP )

Swedish police on Monday said they are probing an attempted arson against a Jewish chapel after a similar attack against a synagogue, which came in the wake of the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Two burning objects had been thrown at chapel, located at a Jewish cemetery, in Sweden's third largest city of Malmo, the Jewish assembly said in a statement on Monday.

Malmo police spokesman Lars Forstell told AFP that the incident is being investigated "as an attempted arson" and that the motive is unclear.

(AFP )

Dutch value-for-money retailer Kruidvat pulled some of its own-brand infant milk off the shelves Monday following an international recall by French baby milk maker Lactalis amid a salmonella scare.

"As a precautionary measure Kruidvat has stopped the sale of Kruidvat Extra Care H.A.1 and Kruidvat follow-on Extra Care H.A.2," which had been for available for sale since July, the retailer said in a statement.

(AFP )

Sicily on Monday welcomed nearly 900 migrants rescued in Mediterranean waters off the coast of Libya in the past few days, with many expressing relief at having escaped the "Libyan hell".

More than 330 migrants rescued by Italian coast guard and other European vessels have already disembarked at Sicilian ports, Italian media reported.

(AFP )

Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday hailed the deal struck on the first stage of Brexit talks, saying it proved Britain could leave the European Union in a "smooth and orderly way".

She said the agreement reached in Brussels last Friday, on Britain's financial settlement after Brexit, EU expatriate rights and the future of the Irish border, should be welcomed by people who backed and opposed leaving the bloc.

(AFP )

Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks with his Turkish counterpart in Ankara on Monday for the last leg of a day-long diplomatic dash, during which he ordered the partial withdrawal of Russia's troops from the war-torn country.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Putin at his presidential complex in Ankara for a closed-door meeting.

This is the eighth face-to-face meeting between Putin and Erdogan this year, a sign of the intensity of a relationship that had hit rock bottom in November 2015 when Turkey shot down a Russian war plane over Syria.

(AFP )

High winds and heavy snow in Europe on Monday stranded thousands of travellers, kept schoolchildren at home and even played havoc with international diplomacy.

It was the second day running of fierce weather across the continent, with Britain still digging out from its deepest snowfall in four years.

The snowed-over runways in Brussels led to about 300 flight cancellations on Monday -- with Brussels airport saying the number amounted to half of those scheduled -- and some 100 delays, including for the plane carrying Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu back home.

(AFP )

The EU said Monday that last week's Brexit agreement was a "deal between gentlemen" and not legally binding, but insisted that it had the full backing of the British government.

The comments came after Britain's Brexit minister David Davis caused a row with Ireland by suggesting that Friday's interim divorce deal was "more a statement of intent than it was a legally enforceable thing".