Friday 19 January 2018

In the world

(AFP )

Trains on Germany's intercity lines began running early Friday, a day after being suspended as violent gales battered northern Europe, killing at least six people across the country.

In the south, the high-speed ICE trains were running as normal on Friday morning, although the service in the rest of the country remained subject to major disruptions, rail operator Deutsche Bahn said.

The company had on Thursday suspended all high-speed services due to storm Friedericke in the first such stoppage since 2007 when major gales battered the country.

(AFP )

The number of births in China fell last year even though the world's most populous country has relaxed its one-child policy to allow all couples to have two children.

The country saw 17.23 million births in 2017, compared to 17.86 million in the previous year, the head of the National Bureau of Statistics, Ning Jizhe, said on Thursday.

The nation of some 1.4 billion people began to phase out its one-child policy in 2015 in response to concerns about an ageing population and shrinking workforce, prompting the number of births to rise the following year.

(AFP )

Hundreds of Rohingya refugees staged protests in Bangladesh Friday against plans to send them back to Myanmar, where a military crackdown last year sparked a mass exodus.

The refugees chanted slogans and held banners demanding citizenship and guarantees of security before they return to their home state of Rakhine in Myanmar.

The protest came ahead of a visit by UN special rapporteur Yanghee Lee to the camps in southeastern Bangladesh where around a million of the Muslim minority are now living.

(AFP )

Police in the world's biggest gambling hub Macau have arrested a croupier and a security guard over a massive casino heist where almost HK$48 million ($6 million) in gaming chips were stolen from a VIP room.

Semi-autonomous Macau is the only part of China where casino gambling is legal and is a favourite haunt of mainland high rollers.

The heist happened early Tuesday morning at mega casino Wynn Macau, owned by United States gaming tycoon Steve Wynn.

(AFP )

Russian President Vladimir Putin and many Orthodox pilgrims braved a bitter winter snap overnight to take the annual plunge into icy water in a traditional ritual marking the baptism of Jesus.

In some areas, the extreme temperatures -- which in parts of Siberia dropped to minus 68 degrees Celsius (minus 90 Fahrenheit) -- the local authorities cancelled the rite which marks Epiphany.

(AFP )

The leader of North Korea's all-female Western-style Moranbong band is set to head a delegation to the South Saturday to prepare cultural performances during the Olympics, Seoul said, becoming the first North Korean official to visit for four years.

Hyon Song-Wol, reputed to be an ex-girlfriend of leader Kim Jong-Un, was the subject of lurid 2013 reports in the South that she and around a dozen other state musicians had been executed for appearing in porn movies.

The North angrily denied the claims and Hyon later appeared on state television.

(AFP )

Facebook has emerged as the top site for wildlife trafficking in the Philippines, a watchdog said Friday, with thousands of endangered crocodiles, snakes and turtles illegally traded in just three months.

Monitoring network TRAFFIC said Facebook had not done enough to shut down the trade, which saw more than 5,000 reptiles from 115 species put up for sale on its discussion groups from June to August 2016 alone.

(AFP )

Woody Allen faced widening isolation Friday over allegations that he molested his daughter more than 25 years ago, after Colin Firth joined the list of actors saying he would not work with the director again.

Allen's estranged, adopted daughter Dylan Farrow has revived claims that he sexually assaulted her as a seven-year-old in 1992, asking the world to finally believe her as the sexual harassment watershed convulses America.

(AFP )

A sudden flurry of suggestions by the EU that Brexit could be reversed has sparked questions about the bloc's motives and even accusations of a secret plot to keep Britain in the European Union.

But officials and analysts say European leaders are merely keeping the "dream" alive, after calls for a second referendum mounted in Britain, and that they hold no realistic hope of reversing its scheduled departure in 2019.

(AFP )

China has ramped up security along its border with North Korea, installing new surveillance cameras, deploying extra security forces and operating radiation detectors as it braces for a potential crisis.

Bellicose rhetoric between Washington and Pyongyang has raised fears in China of a conflict that could send millions of North Korean refugees across the 1,420-kilometre (880-mile) border, and of nuclear fallout that could hit Chinese towns.

While authorities have been coy about preparations, residents have seen an increase in patrols along the frontier.

(AFP )

A car ploughed into a crowd on Rio de Janeiro's tourist-packed Copacabana seaside promenade on Thursday, killing a baby and injuring 17 people, authorities said, with the driver telling investigators he suffered a seizure.

The black car, its windshield shattered and the front caved in, came to rest on the beach where some of the injured were frantically being treated.

The Rio de Janeiro health secretariat told AFP that a nine-month-old baby girl was killed and 17 people injured in the crash.

(AFP )

Chinese authorities detained a prominent human rights lawyer on Friday, people familiar with the case said, just hours after he provided journalists with a letter calling for constitutional reform.

Around a dozen people, including a SWAT team, seized Yu Wensheng as he left his Beijing apartment to walk his child to school, two sources told AFP.

Local police said they were unaware of his detention.

(AFP )

The woman appointed to try to reverse the world's lowest birth rates knows better than most why billion-dollar campaigns to encourage South Korea's female populace to procreate have failed -- she is among the millions who have chosen to remain childless in the face of traditionalist social expectations.

A history professor at a Seoul University before joining the government, family minister Chung Hyun-Back says she remained single to pursue her professional ambitions.

(AFP )

The year 2018, barely underway, has already dealt a series of disheartening blows to the quest for an Alzheimer's cure.

Within the first three weeks, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer abandoned the costly and frustrating field of dementia drug development, and two promising treatments stumbled in patient trials.

Alzheimer's support groups are putting on a brave face, but the collective disappointment is palpable as the global cost of caring for some 50 million dementia sufferers is set to reach $1 trillion (819 billion euros) this year.

(AFP )

Leading Zimbabwe opposition figure Roy Bennett, one of long-time president Robert Mugabe's most outspoken critics, has died in a helicopter crash in a remote area of the US state of New Mexico, authorities said Thursday. He was 60.

Bennett was killed along with his wife Heather and three other people after the helicopter went down on Wednesday, New Mexico state police said.

(AFP )

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Friday she is expecting her first baby, and is set to become the country's first leader to give birth while in office.

The 37-year-old, who was sworn in last October, made global headlines when she slapped down pre-election questions over whether she intended to start a family, insisting pregnancy had no bearing on a woman's career opportunities.

Ardern was all smiles Friday as she appeared with partner Clarke Gayford at their home to announce the "unexpected but exciting" news of their first baby.

(AFP )

Olympian gymnast McKayla Maroney on Thursday told of the "scars" left by alleged sexual abuse by the former national team doctor Larry Nassar, as a report claimed officials at an American university long knew he was suspected of misconduct.

More than 100 victims have accused the ex-USA Gymnastics doctor of sexual assault and dozens have delivered harrowing testimony since Tuesday, as a Michigan state judge weighs what Nassar's sentence should be.

(AFP )

US Ambassador Nikki Haley expressed regret on Thursday to African ambassadors who were outraged by President Donald Trump's alleged description of African countries as "shithole" nations, the head of the African Group said.

Haley asked to meet the African ambassadors at the United Nations after they released a joint statement on Friday demanding an apology from Trump for his "outrageous, racist and xenophobic remarks."

(AFP )

Several dozen Haitians protested outside the US embassy in Port-au-Prince on Thursday, recalling their country's heritage after President Donald Trump reportedly called Haiti a "shithole."

The Caribbean island nation was the first country in the world to abolish slavery, when it declared independence from France in 1804.

"See how we fought to raise up the Black race," said one protester, Clermont Berthony.

"We are not a country of shit. We are a country that made history in the world. We don't deserve that," he said.

(AFP )

A French woman dubbed the "Black Widow of the Riviera" was jailed for 22-years Thursday for poisoning four wealthy elderly men, two of whom died.

Patricia Dagorn, 57, was convicted of killing two men found dead in 2011 on the Cote d'Azur and of drugging two others. Prosecutors say she attempted to enrich herself by seducing older men she met mostly through a dating agency.

The "Black Widow", who denied all the charges against her, did not flinch as the verdict was handed down.

(AFP )

Austria's new far-right interior minister was quoted as saying Thursday that he has ordered the creation of a "border protection unit" in case of a major new influx of migrants, like the one in 2015.

"A repeat of 2015 cannot be allowed to happen. Therefore I have given instructions for the creation of a border protection unit," said Herbert Kickl, of the anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPOe).

"The aim is to ensure an orderly border management within a few hours," the 49-year-old former speechwriter for late FPOe chief Joerg Haider told the Tiroler Tageszeitung daily.

(AFP )

More than a third of senior administrators at the governing foundation of France's Alliance Francaise, a worldwide network promoting French language and culture, announced on Thursday their resignation over a budgetary spat.

"Noting that the financial situation of the foundation does not permit establishing a 2018 budget giving it the means to pursue its activities, its chairman, Jerome Clement, and five other administrators have handed in their resignation," said a foundation statement.

(AFP )

Hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats could be sent home if the US government shuts down at midnight Friday, but the military and other crucial functions would continue if previous shutdowns are a guide.

The US government will run out of money unless Congress either approves a 2018 budget or a short-term funding resolution.

Republican leaders were focused Thursday passing a resolution that would continue funding until February 16, allowing more time for negotiations on a 2018 budget.

(AFP )

An espionage campaign using malware-infected messaging apps has been stealing smartphone data from activists, soldiers, lawyers, journalists and others in more than 20 countries, researchers said in a report Thursday.

A report authored by digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation and mobile security firm Lookout detailed discovery of "a prolific actor" with nation-state capabilities "exploiting targets globally across multiple platforms."

(AFP )

The Bayeux Tapestry will return to British shores in 2022, Prime Minister Theresa May announced Thursday at a summit with French President Emmanuel Macron.

France has agreed to loan to Britain the fragile artwork depicting the 1066 Norman conquest of England.

"Our shared history is reflected in the loan of the Bayeux Tapestry to the UK in 2022; the first time it will be on British soil in more than 900 years," May said at a press conference with Macron at the Sandhurst elite military academy in Berkshire, southwest of London.

(AFP )

A last-ditch battle to avert a looming US government shutdown moved to the Senate on Friday, where Democrats angered by the collapse of immigration talks have vowed to block a stop-gap funding bill.

With the federal government set to run out of money Friday at midnight -- the eve of the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump's inauguration -- the bill cleared the House with a 230-197 vote.

But prospects appeared gloomy in the Senate, where Democrats eager for leverage on budget and immigration deals were intent on shooting it down.

(AFP )

IMF chief Christine Lagarde has joined calls on Germany to invest in future economic growth even at the cost of relaxing its cherished budgetary discipline, raising hackles in Europe's powerhouse.

"There is an excess of savings over investments which suggests that Germany can afford to spend and invest more" Lagarde said at a Thursday conference with top economists and policymakers from around Europe hosted in Frankfurt by the IMF and the Bundesbank, Germany's central bank.

(AFP )

Canadian energy company TransCanada has secured 20-year oil supply contracts allowing it to move forward with the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, it announced Thursday in a statement.

The agreements set out the transportation of around 500,000 barrels per day for two decades, a volume sufficient to confirm the pipeline's construction.

In November, the US state of Nebraska granted the last major permit needed to authorize construction of the pipeline -- but required it be built along a different route to that originally put forward.

(AFP )

Indigenous leaders from the Amazon who will meet Pope Francis in Peru on Friday will present him with a bow and arrow, a gift rich in symbolism for a vulnerable people clinging to a simple past, facing an uncertain future.

"We are a people who have been stripped of their original lands," summed up Cesar Jojaje Eriney, the 43-year-old head of the Ese Eja tribe.

(AFP )

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic made an unexpected visit Thursday to the site of a massacre of Muslim civilians by Bosnian Croats during the country's 1990s war, an atrocity that led to several war crimes convictions.

Grabar-Kitarovic, on an official visit to Bosnia, paid her respects to 116 Muslim civilians, among whom 33 children and women, killed by Bosnian Croats in the village Ahmici in central Bosnia in April 1993.

Such gestures are still rare among leaders in the former Yugoslavia, torn apart by a series of bloody wars in the 1990s.

(AFP )

Russia on Thursday warned at the UN Security Council that the collapse of the Iranian nuclear deal would send an "alarming" message to the world and compromise efforts to persuade North Korea to scrap its nuclear arsenal.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a council meeting on non-proliferation that the 2015 deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was a major diplomatic achievement.

(AFP )

The UN's agency for Palestinian refugees is the only reason Umm Mohamed could afford a C-section delivery, send her five children to school or have her rubbish collected.

So the massive funding cuts to UNRWA announced this week by the United States' pro-Israeli administration mean nothing less than catastrophe for the 42-year-old and her family.

"People are going to suffer a lot. We have no money for education or health care. Our only hope is UNRWA," said Umm Mohamed, standing in her living room in Burj al-Shmali camp, in southern Lebanon.

(AFP )

Spanish authorities have detained two men allegedly responsible for a boat carrying migrants to the Canary Islands, seven of whom drowned or died from "hypothermia, exhaustion and hunger", a court said Thursday.

The inflatable boat was found Monday off a beach at the popular resort of Costa Teguise in Lanzarote in Spain's Canary Islands with five bodies inside. Two others were found dead outside the boat.

(AFP )

The International Monetary Fund does not want austerity in Tunisia, and in fact proposed programs to protect the poor from the impact of economic reforms, a Fund spokesman said Thursday.

Several hundred people have been arrested in Tunisia since social unrest erupted a week ago, fuelled by unemployment, corruption and austerity measures in the 2018 budget.

"The frustration the Tunisian people are feeling is understandable," said IMF spokesman Gerry Rice, speaking on the anniversary of the 2011 Tunisian uprising that launched the Arab Spring.

(AFP )

The former CIA agent arrested in the United States earlier this week on suspicion of helping Chinese spies was a security guard at Christie's in Hong Kong, the auction house said Thursday.

Hong Kong resident Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a naturalised US citizen also known as Zhen Cheng Li, was arrested late Monday after he arrived at JFK International Airport in New York.

His arrest was reportedly linked to Beijing's brutal dismantling five years ago of the CIA's network of undercover operatives and informants inside China.