Monday 21 August 2017

In the world

(AFP )

Chile's Constitutional Court Monday approved a measure to ease the country's strict abortion ban by decriminalizing the procedure in certain cases.

The bill will allow abortion in cases of rape, threat to the mother's life or deadly birth defects.

Judges voted by six to four to dismiss challenges brought by conservative parties opposed to the reform, the court's secretary-general Rodrigo Pica told a news conference.

The bill can now be signed into law by socialist President Michelle Bachelet, who launched the reform in 2015.

(AFP )

Croatian firefighters and armed forces were fighting dozens of wildfires on Monday along the Adriatic coastline and on the popular tourist islands of Hvar and Brac, officials said.

The situation was most severe in the mountains around the mainland city of Zadar, where 32 fires have broken out since late Sunday, according to Slavko Tucakovic, chief commander of Croatia's firefighters.

(AFP )

Court documents on Monday identified the suspect in a stabbing spree in a Finnish city last week as 18-year-old Abderrahman Mechkah, with the country's intelligence agency saying he may have been radicalised.

The stabbing is being probed as the country's first-ever terror attack.

Police had previously described the suspect as an asylum seeker from Morocco, though court documents did not mention his nationality.

He targeted women in the attack at a market square in the southwestern port city of Turku on Friday. Two people were killed and eight were injured.

(AFP )

Colombia offered asylum Monday to Venezuela's sacked chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega, who fled her country after defying President Nicolas Maduro as a deadly political crisis rages on.

"Luisa Ortega is under the protection of the Colombian government. If she asks for asylum, we will grant it to her," Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos said on Twitter.

A former loyalist of the socialist leadership, the 59-year-old Ortega had become Maduro's most high-ranking critic in Venezuela.

(AFP )

A strong explosion at a house in Alcanar in southern Catalonia which was initially treated as a random gas blast was in fact the trigger to the twin vehicle attacks which shook Spain, and unified it in defiance.

The accident deprived a jihadist cell of bomb material they planned to use in a larger attack and prompted them to instead use vehicles to plough into pedestrians, killing 14 people.

(AFP )

Disgraced ex-IAAF president Lamine Diack's son Papa Massata Diack, former Russian athletics chief Valentin Balakhnichev and coach Alexei Melnikov lost their appeals Monday against life bans imposed over corruption.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport said the evidence presented against the trio showed that the charges were "established beyond reasonable doubt and that the sanctions imposed should be upheld."

(AFP )

Court documents on Monday identified the suspect in last week's stabbing spree in a Finnish city as 18-year-old Abderrahman Mechkah, with the country's intelligence agency saying he may have been radicalised.

The stabbing is being probed as the country's first-ever terror attack.

Police had previously described the suspect as an asylum seeker from Morocco, though the court documents did not mention his nationality.

He targeted women in the attack at a market square in the southwestern port city of Turku on Friday. Two people were killed and eight were injured.

(AFP )

London landmark Big Ben fell silent for four years in front of a reverential crowd on Monday amid an outcry over the temporary loss of a cherished symbol of stability at a time of national uncertainty.

At midday, 12 bongs from the famous bell rang out in front of around 1,000 local residents, tourists and MPs who came out to mark Big Ben's longest silence in its 157-year history for extensive repair work.

The atmosphere was sombre as the hour chimes heralded the final bongs.

The 12th and final bong was followed by sustained applause and cheering.

(AFP )

A Turkish-born German writer stuck in Spain because of an Ankara arrest warrant said Monday he never imaging being pursued in an EU country by those who want to "silence" him.

Dogan Akhanli, 60, said his arrest Saturday at Turkey's behest was a "terrifying experience because I thought I was safe in European countries and that the long arm of arbitrariness and arrogance would not reach that far".

(AFP )

Iraqi forces closed in Monday on Tal Afar on the second day of an offensive against the last major bastion of the Islamic State group in the country's north, seizing several villages around the city.

In the desert plains around Tal Afar, convoys of tanks and armoured vehicles could be seen heading for the jihadist-held city, raising huge clouds of dust.

The offensive launched at dawn Sunday comes only weeks after Iraqi forces retook second city Mosul from IS and as the jihadists also face assaults on their positions in neighbouring Syria.

(AFP )

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday warned a top Turkish general who played a key role in defeating last year's failed coup and led a cross-border operation in Syria that he must accept a surprise demotion without rancour.

In a rare show of tension between the military and Erdogan, Turkish media reported that Lieutenant General Zekai Aksakalli had wanted to resign from the armed forces after he was moved from special forces chief to a less significant position.

(AFP )

British goods placed on the market before Brexit should be sold in EU countries under current conditions even after the UK leaves the bloc, the British government said on Monday.

The government also emphasised that current negotiations about the divorce are "inextricably" linked to future trade arrangements and should therefore be discussed at the same time.

(AFP )

A Danish inventor accused of killing a Swedish journalist on board his homemade submarine claims she died in an accident before he dumped her body in the sea, Danish police said Monday.

Peter Madsen initially claimed that he last saw Kim Wall when he dropped her off on the tip of an island in Copenhagen late on August 10 after she had interviewed him aboard the do-it-yourself craft.

(AFP )

Emotional sky-gazers stood transfixed across North America Monday as the Sun vanished behind the Moon in a rare total eclipse that swept the continent coast-to-coast for the first time in nearly a century.

Eclipse chasers and amateur star watchers alike converged in cities along the path of totality, a 70-mile (113-kilometer) wide swath cutting through 14 US states, where the Moon briefly blocked out all light from the Sun.

(AFP )

US-led coalition strikes on Sunday killed 27 civilians in part of Syria's Raqa city held by the Islamic State group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

Seven children were among the dead in the strikes that "hit the densely-populated Al-Badu area in the centre of the city," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said on Monday.

Once a jihadist stronghold, more than half of Raqa city has fallen to the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters that entered the city in June.

(AFP )

Brazil's army went into action again Monday to support police in raids on some of Rio de Janeiro's most violent favelas -- but not before a rogue soldier allegedly tipped off the drug gangs.

In the third such operation in just over two weeks, about 5,000 marines, army soldiers, air force personnel, police and agents from the elite federal intelligence service launched raids at dawn in seven neighborhoods, an army spokesman and the Rio state security office said.

(AFP )

Kyrgyzstan's Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov announced his resignation on Monday, saying he planned to run for the presidency in a hotly contested poll in the ex-Soviet Central Asian country in October.

"I am resigning due to the fact that I am running for the presidency. I do not have the moral right to remain in this post," Jeenbekov said in a speech to parliament shown by state broadcaster KTR.

(AFP )

Veteran diplomat Anatoly Antonov, appointed Russia's new ambassador to the US Monday at a time when ties are at dangerously low ebb, has the reputation of being a tough negotiator with a deep suspicion of Washington.

But he is also a seasoned pragmatist able to adapt to sudden shifts in relations with the West.

The 62-year-old deputy foreign minister will need all his skills and experience if he is to help pull US-Russia ties out of the deep freeze.

(AFP )

Two of 114 egg samples tested in Italy have shown traces of the insecticide fipronil, Italy's health ministry said Monday, making the country the latest to become embroiled in a Europe-wide scandal.

The ministry did not specify where the insecticide traces were found. The samples came from Italian and imported eggs or from food containing eggs.

Fipronil is commonly used to get rid of fleas, lice and ticks from animals but the European Union has banned its use in the food industry.

(AFP )

The US destroyer John S. McCain collided with a tanker early Monday as the warship prepared to make a routine port call in Singapore, leaving a gaping hole in its hull and 10 sailors missing.

It was the second recent accident involving an American warship after a collision off Japan in June, raising questions about the US Pacific fleet and whether it is taking on too much as it tackles multiple challenges.

Here are some questions and answers about collision avoidance procedures and what may have caused the latest accident:

(AFP )

Angola goes to the polls Wednesday in a historic election marking the end of President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos's 38-year reign, with his party set to retain power despite the country's economic crisis.

The MPLA (People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola), which has ruled the country since its 1975 independence from Portugal, is expected to defeat opposition parties that struggle under an authoritarian regime.

(AFP )

Hong Kong's leader Monday defended a court's decision to jail three leading democracy activists including Joshua Wong after the move triggered international criticism and a major protest march.

Their imprisonment has been slammed by international rights groups and politicians and prompted accusations that the independence of Hong Kong's courts has been compromised under pressure from Beijing.

Tens of thousands took to the streets of the semi-autonomous Chinese city Sunday to condemn the prison terms.

(AFP )

One person was killed and another seriously injured in the southern French city of Marseille on Monday after a convicted criminal with psychiatric problems drove a van into people waiting at two bus stops, police said.

The incident comes with Europe on high alert following last week's car ramming attacks in northeastern Spain.

But Marseille's prosecutor Xavier Tarabeux said there was no evidence of a terror connection and that the driver -- who had several convictions for offences including robbery -- was mentally unstable.

(AFP )

India's home minister said Monday he believed a border stand-off with China would end soon, after new footage emerged showing border guards from both countries fighting on a disputed patch of land in the Himalayas.

Indian and Chinese soldiers have for more than two months been facing off on a disputed tract of land known as Doklam that India says is Bhutanese territory and China claims for itself.

Some analysts have said the dispute amounts to the worst crisis in relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbours in decades.

(AFP )

The French presidency said Monday that Brigitte Macron, the wife of President Emmanuel Macron, would have a official role representing France but would not be paid or have her own budget or staff.

A proposal by Macron during campaigning earlier this year to create a new First Lady status for her has been shelved following an outcry, but the presidency had promised to clarify her position and the resources at her disposal.

(AFP )

China's Great Wall Motor signalled on Monday its intention to make an ambitious acquisition deal with Italian-American car maker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles following a report that it wants to buy the Jeep brand.

An agreement would be a major coup for the Chinese auto industry, though it may cause political waves in the United States, where President Donald Trump has railed against his country's trade imbalance with the Asian giant.

(AFP )

Iraqi forces closed in Monday on Tal Afar on the second day of an offensive against the last major bastion of the Islamic State group in the country's north, after seizing several villages around the city.

The offensive launched at dawn Sunday comes only weeks after Iraqi forces seized second city Mosul from IS and as the jihadists also face assaults on their positions in Syria.

(AFP )

China's Great Wall Motor signalled on Monday its intention to make an ambitious offer to buy all or part of Italian-American car maker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

A deal would be a major coup for the Chinese auto industry but it may cause political waves in the United States, where President Donald Trump has railed against his country's trade imbalance with the Asian country.

"There is an intention to make the purchase," the spokeswoman told AFP, though she declined to say if the possible deal would be for the entire auto giant or just one of its brands.

(AFP )

Islamist gunmen killed nine people and injured ten others as they attacked a town in the Philippines at dawn Monday, burning houses in which women and children were sleeping, police said.

About 60 members of the notorious Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom group entered a town in their stronghold on Basilan island in the southern Mindanao region and began shooting, local police chief John Cundo told AFP.

(AFP )

More than 750 people have died in floods across South Asia, officials said Monday, with monsoon rains also causing the deaths of hundreds of animals, including rhinos and a tiger.

The human toll is steadily rising across India, Nepal and Bangladesh following the latest in a series of deluges since August 10, as the annual monsoon hits the north and east of the region.

Nearly 50 bodies were found overnight in Bihar, in India's east, taking the number of dead there to 253, a state disaster official told AFP.

(AFP )

The Danish inventor of a do-it-yourself submarine has said that a Swedish journalist missing since August 11 died in an accident on board the vessel, and that he dumped her body in the sea, Danish police said Monday.

The inventor, Peter Madsen, had initially claimed that he last saw Kim Wall when he dropped her off on the tip of an island in Copenhagen late on August 10.

(AFP )

One of Australia's top Catholics has warned the church's thousands of employees it will only tolerate traditional views on marriage, as the country prepares for a vote on whether gay couples can wed.

After years of fierce political debate, Australia will hold a non-binding, nation-wide postal vote on marriage equality next month, with the issue proving politically strenuous for the Malcolm Turnbull government.

The 'Yes' campaign has received support from both sides of politics and polls indicate it is favoured by most Australians.

(AFP )

Qatar on Monday denied it had banned Saudi Arabian flights from landing in the emirate to transport Muslim pilgrims to Mecca, after an accusation by authorities in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabian Airlines on Sunday said Qatari authorities had refused to grant a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight, scheduled to transport Qatari hajj pilgrims, permission to land at Hamad International Airport.

(AFP )

Elon Musk is leading demands for a global ban on killer robots, warning technological advances could revolutionise warfare and create new "weapons of terror" that target innocent people.

The CEO of Tesla and SpaceX joined more than 100 robotics and artificial intelligence entrepreneurs in signing a letter to the United Nations calling for action to prevent the development of autonomous weapons.

(AFP )

A Vietnamese sailor kidnapped by Islamist militants off the southern Philippines has been rescued after nine months in captivity, the military said on Monday, following the beheading of two fellow crewmen in July.

Philippine troops rescued the hostage on Sunday on Basilan island in the southern Mindanao region, a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom group, following intensified operations against the militants, authorities said.