Friday 24 November 2017

In the world

(AFP )

North Korea has replaced dozens of guards and fortified a section of its border with South Korea following the dramatic defection of one of its soldiers last week, a report said Friday.

The 24-year-old soldier, identified only by his surname, Oh, is recovering in a South Korean hospital after being shot at least four times by his comrades as he dashed across the border.

(AFP )

British Prime Minister Theresa May holds a crunch meeting with European Union President Donald Tusk on Friday as hopes mount that she will offer compromises to secure a Brexit deal in December.

The talks, on the sidelines of a summit with ex-Soviet states in Brussels, come a week after Tusk gave May until the start of December to make "much more progress" on divorce terms in order to unlock trade negotiations.

(AFP )

China has traditionally rejected US-style interventionism, but its deepening economic involvement in volatile countries like Myanmar and Zimbabwe is thrusting Beijing towards a more assertive global role, analysts say.

China's foreign policy has been guided by its principle of "non-interference in other countries' internal affairs", which emerged in 1954 when it was a much weaker nation.

While Beijing remains rhetorically committed to the stance, it is now a very different power, boasting the world's largest standing army and the second biggest economy.

(AFP )

South Africa return to Italy for the first time on Saturday since their historic defeat by the Azzurri in Florence in November 2016, which coach Allister Coetzee called the darkest moment of his career.

The 54-year-old Coetzee knows that his future could depend on how the Springboks perform in the north-eastern city of Padua, not far from Venice.

At the time of Italy's historic 20-18 victory it had looked that Coetzee would not see out 2016, but he survived and has rebuilt a squad which in Italy has just five players from that fateful day last November.

(AFP )

Kyrgyzstan's new president Sooronbai Jeenbekov was inaugurated Friday in a ceremony marking the first peaceful transfer of power between elected leaders in the Central Asian country.

Jeenbekov, 59, a close ally of outgoing Almazbek Atambayev, swore to protect the "unity of the country" as he accepted the national flag and donned a breastplate signifying the presidency.

The boom of artillery fire marking the power transfer was audible across Bishkek, the capital of the majority-Muslim country of six million.

(AFP )

The mayor of Japan's second city of Osaka said Friday he would end sister-city relations with San Francisco after the US city decided to accept a donated memorial to wartime sex slaves.

Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura said trust between the two, which have been "sister" cities for 60 years, had been "completely destroyed" by the incident.

"The sister city relationship with San Francisco will be terminated," said Yoshimura, adding that the split will be formalised in December.

(AFP )

Nepal on Sunday votes in historic elections for new national and provincial assemblies that many hope will bring much-needed stability to the desperately poor country, which has cycled through 10 leaders in the last 11 years.

The elections are the first under a new post-war constitution that paved the way for a sweeping overhaul of the political system intended to devolve power away from a top-heavy central government to seven newly created provinces.

(AFP )

Papua New Guinea police wielding metal rods cleared the final 320 holdouts from a shuttered Australian refugee camp Friday, ending a 24-day standoff that put a global spotlight on Canberra's tough policy on asylum-seekers.

Videos and photos posted by the detainees showed police moving through the camp on Manus Island, swinging long metal batons and pushing men towards buses bound for PNG-run centres elsewhere on the island.

Photos showed men with some scrapes and cuts they said came from being hit and dragged by PNG police, but no serious injuries were reported.

(AFP )

The US will send F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets to South Korea for a joint drill, reports said Friday, in a new show of force aimed at Pyongyang.

Six fighter jets, normally based in Okinawa, Japan, will be deployed to the South for a five-day joint military exercise, Vigilant Ace, starting December 4, local media reported.

A South Korean Air Force spokesman said an "unspecified number" of F-22s would take part in the drill.

A US Air Force spokesman declined to give details.

(AFP )

Coin-operated telephone boxes, a capital without a cash machine and a local shop with a wooden floor: St. Helena is Britain of yesteryear, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

"I don't think I would fit in the outside world," said Ivy Robinson, who runs the Wellington House bed and breakfast, complete with a pale blue Georgian facade, in the village-sized capital Jamestown.

The accommodation, attentively run by the fifty-something proprietor, has no internet connection just like all but one of her competitors.

(AFP )

Pope Francis plunges into a diplomatic minefield next week with visits to under-fire Myanmar and neighbouring Bangladesh amid mounting outrage over the plight of persecuted Rohingya Muslims.

Some 620,000 Rohingya, more than half their total number, have fled from Myanmar's Rakhine state to Bangladesh since August as a result of violence that the UN and the United States have described as ethnic cleansing.

(AFP )

British Prime Minister Theresa May holds a crunch meeting with European Union President Donald Tusk on Friday as hopes mount that she will offer compromises to secure a Brexit deal in December.

The talks, on the sidelines of a summit with ex-Soviet states in Brussels, come a week after Tusk gave May until the start of December to make "much more progress" on divorce terms in order to unlock trade negotiations.

(AFP )

Cuba commemorates the first anniversary of the death of revolutionary father Fidel Castro on Saturday as it looks ahead to the post-Castro era.

Ceremonies marking the anniversary are scheduled across the Caribbean island.

President Raul Castro will lead a ceremony in the southeastern city of Santiago de Cuba, where his brother's ashes are interred.

Since his death at the age of 90 on November 25 last year, his wishes have been respected. No street, square or building bears his name, and no statue or monument has been erected in his honor.

(AFP )

Syria's disparate opposition groups announced an agreement early Friday to send a united delegation to next week's UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva, as international diplomatic efforts intensify to end the six-year conflict.

The announcement came on the second day of a Saudi-sponsored meeting in Riyadh, where around 140 opposition figures are gathered to unify their ranks before direct talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime on November 28.

(AFP )

The avalanche of sexual misconduct allegations that has rattled Hollywood, US media and beyond is just beginning, says the head of UN Women, who expects many more women to come forward before behaviors change.

The wave of scandals in the United States has felled the careers of some of the most high-profile men in entertainment and compelled companies to take a second look at their policies against sexual harassment in the workplace.

(AFP )

Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, enmeshed in a corruption scandal which has shaken Latin America's political establishment, gave millions of dollars to Lima's mayor in a recall referendum, Peruvian media reported Thursday.

Susana Villaran, a leftist and the first woman to hold the mayor's post, in 2013 faced the recall vote halfway through her four-year term.

Odebrecht's former Peruvian boss Jorge Barata said that his company supported Villaran at her request, according to testimony he reportedly gave prosecutors in Brazil.

(AFP )

Leaders from the EU and six former Soviet states meet in Brussels on Friday for the latest summit aimed at deepening ties, but thorny subjects like Russian influence and the war in Ukraine are off the agenda.

The set-piece will focus on 20 "deliverables" -- plans to help Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus tackle corruption, improve the rule of law and modernise their economies.

(AFP )

Former AC Milan and Real Madrid striker Robinho was sentenced to nine years in prison in Italy on Thursday after he was convicted of gang rape, according to local media reports.

The alleged incident occurred in January 2013, when Robinho was playing for Milan in Serie A. He was found guilty in absentia by an Italian court for sexually assaulting a 22-year-old Albanian woman.

Five other people were also accused of the same crime, but their sentences are not yet known.

(AFP )

Russia's military plans to reduce its involvement in Syria this year as it is nearing the completion of its goals there, the General Staff chief told journalists Thursday.

"Of course, there will be a decision taken by the commander in chief and the group (working in Syria) will be decreased," said Valery Gerasimov when asked whether Russia would be scaling back its forces in Syria by the end of the year.

"When we complete our tasks, military tasks. There is only a little left," Gerasimov said.

(AFP )

Canadian officials held crisis talks Thursday as new figures showed that most border jumpers who flooded into the country from the United States this year were granted asylum.

Only 1,572 refugee claims out of 14,467 have been heard so far, but of these 941 or 60 percent have been accepted, according to the Immigration and Refugee Board.

The majority of claims made by Syrian, Eritrean, Yemeni, Sudanese, Djiboutian and Turkish nationals who arrived via the United States were accepted.

(AFP )

A Mexican once certified as the heaviest man in the world is recovering from a second stomach-reduction surgery that doctors hope will help him shed more than 200 kilograms (440 pounds), the medical center treating him reported Thursday.

Juan Pedro Franco, 33, who once weighed in at a stunning 595 kilos -- about the same as a male polar bear -- began a weight-loss program a year ago, bringing his current weight to 366 kilos.

(AFP )

Relatives of the 44 crewmembers aboard Argentina's missing submarine erupted in a welter of anger and grief Thursday after the navy released news of an explosion onboard, effectively ending hopes of survival.

Eight days after the last reported communication from the submarine, a navy spokesman said an unusual noise detected near the sub's last known position was likely an explosion.

(AFP )

Fans of Coca-Cola in gas-rich Turkmenistan's capital Ashgabat are complaining they can no longer "taste the feeling": their favourite drink has disappeared from shop shelves amidst a sharpening economic crisis.

"You used to be able to find it in every shop, but now only a few are selling it and the price has increased significantly," Mergen Kakayev, a 24-year-old taxi driver told AFP.

(AFP )

Pope Francis led a special prayer for peace in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday, saying the mass murder of women and children is where "war shows its most horrid face".

"This evening, in prayer, we want to sow seeds of peace in the lands of South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in all lands devastated by war," the pope said in a homily at St. Peter's Basilica.

(AFP )

France insisted Thursday that it was on course to wrestle its deficit back within European Union limits, after Brussels expressed concern that Paris might not meet the bloc's tough spending rules.

President Emmanuel Macron is "totally determined" to deliver a deficit below the EU-mandated three percent of gross domestic product this year for the first time in a decade, Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said.

"The France that makes light of its European commitments, that's over," Le Maire told the Senate.

(AFP )

Tensions appeared to abate Thursday in Lugansk, a stronghold of Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, two days after infighting erupted in the war-scarred region, culminating in accusations of a coup attempt.

The so-called Lugansk People's Republic, one of two regions controlled by the rebels, has for years been blighted by leadership squabbles and several senior leaders have been assassinated.

(AFP )

The British-Iranian woman serving a five-year jail sentence in Tehran for alleged sedition will appear in court on December 10 charged with spreading propaganda, her husband said Thursday.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF) -- the media organisation's philanthropic arm -- was told about the court date by the country's deputy prosecutor yesterday, Richard Ratcliffe said.

The new charge could result in a further lengthy sentence.

(AFP )

The EU said Thursday it is working without "letup" for a durable solution to the plight of migrants in Libya, adding it shared French President Emmanuel Macron's anger over slave markets there.

The US network CNN triggered a wave of condemnation when it aired footage last week of an apparent auction where black men were presented to North African buyers as potential farmhands and sold.

"I fully share the French president's indignation," European Union migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told AFP after Macron called the slave auctions a "crime against humanity."

(AFP )

Switzerland said Thursday it will provide more than a billion dollars in development aid to the European Union, as Bern seeks to stabilise its messy ties with Brussels.

The 1.3 billion Swiss francs ($1.32 billion, 1.1 billion euros) will be spread over ten years and will target lower income countries in central and eastern Europe, a statement said.

The funds are "intended to reduce economic and social disparities in Europe, which is in Switzerland's economic and political interest", it said.

(AFP )

The EU's anti-trafficking operation is working to train Libya's coastguard on how to respect the human rights of migrants recovered at sea, the mission's commander said Thursday.

The operation, dubbed Sophia, was created two years ago to combat human trafficking in the Mediterranean, and has rescued about 42,000 people attempting the perilous crossing from Africa to Europe since then.

(AFP )

The party of ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont now favours talks with Madrid to achieve independence instead of pushing to break away from Spain unilaterally, its coordinator said Thursday, the latest sign it was softening its position.

Spanish media have reported that Puigdemont's PdeCat party and its former government ally, the far-left ERC party, were planning to abandon a call for Catalonia to break away from Spain "unilaterally" in their programmes for a December 21 regional election.

(AFP )

Bangladesh and Myanmar will start repatriating refugees in two months, Dhaka said Thursday, as global pressure mounts over a crisis that has forced more than half a million Rohingya to flee across the border.

The United Nations says 620,000 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh since August and now live in squalor in the world's largest refugee camp after a military crackdown in Myanmar that Washington said this week clearly constitutes "ethnic cleansing".

(AFP )

The number of migrants who have reached Italy via Libya has dropped significantly since July, when the European Union reached a deal with Libyan authorities to stem migrant flows, the UN said Thursday.

The EU's decision to help Libya intercept migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean and return them to detention centres was condemned as "inhuman" earlier this month by the United Nations human rights chief, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein.

But a report from the UN refugee agency indicated that the pact has achieved its objective of curbing migrant arrivals in Italy.

(AFP )

German police are trying to recover numerous items stolen from the estate of the late Beatle John Lennon, prosecutors said Thursday, after the arrest of a suspect accused of handling the objects.

A 58-year-old man identified as Erhan G. was arrested in Berlin on Monday on suspicion of dealing in the stolen goods.

Prosecutors said he has "given a broad confession" in the case and provided information about stolen personal items from Lennon that remain undiscovered.

(AFP )

A man doomed to die after suffering burns across 95 percent of his body was saved by skin transplants from his identical twin in a world-first operation, French doctors said Thursday.

Consumed by flames while handling chemicals on the job, 33-year-old man Franck Dufourmantelle received life-saving grafts from his brother Eric's skull, back and thighs.

"I had a fresco-like tattoo on my arm," he recalled in a phone interview with AFP.

"But the only thing left is the word 'life'," in English, he said.