Saturday 24 June 2017

In the world

(AFP )

Hollywood star turned activist Arnold Schwarzenegger joined politicians and legal experts in Paris Saturday to launch a campaign for a global pact to protect the human right to a clean, healthy environment.

French President Emmanuel Macron promised to present the pact which its supporters want to see become an international treaty to the United Nations in September.

(AFP )

Anti-racism activists from across Europe on Saturday demanded the removal of a pig farm from a Holocaust memorial site where hundreds of Roma perished in a Nazis concentration camp during World War II.

The leftist-led Czech government promised in 2016 to buy out the farm before elections this October, but infighting among the three coalition parties could scupper a deal.

Activists also began lobbying the European Union in May last year to halt subsidies paid to the farm in Lety, a village 75 kilometres (47 miles) south of the capital Prague.

(AFP )

The UN Security Council on Saturday urged Haiti's government to take on a more active role in the country's development, as international peacekeepers prepare to pull out after a 13-year mission.

"It is important to stress that we expect a stronger level of national ownership and leadership from the government and authorities in Haiti," said Bolivian envoy Sacha Sergio Llorenty Soliz, as the Security Council wrapped up a 48-hour visit to Haiti.

(AFP )

President Vladimir Putin on Saturday praised Russia's network of intelligence officers as "unique people" who are devoted to the country.

"To give up their life, their nearest and dearest and leave the country for many years, and to dedicate one's life to the Fatherland, not everyone is capable of doing that," the former KGB officer said on state television.

"These are people not like the rest," who have qualities, convictions and character out of the ordinary, Putin added on the Russia-1 channel.

(AFP )

French President Emmanuel Macron tried his hand at sports including boxing and wheelchair tennis to support Paris' bid to host the 2024 Olympics on Saturday.

Paris and Los Angeles are vying for the Games and as part of the French capital's campaign organisers staged an Olympic Day where fans could try out various sports.

"Paris 2024 is a project supported by the whole of France," said Macron. "And it is important to send out the message that the head of state is fully on board."

(AFP )

The Eid al-Fitr feast marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan is to start on Sunday in Saudi Arabia and neighbouring Gulf states, the religious authorities announced.

The authorities in the kingdom said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency that the new moon had been sighted, marking the end of the month of fasting.

News agencies in the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait also announced that Sunday will mark the beginning of Eid al-Fitr, and other countries in the region are expected to follow suit.

(AFP )

An Israeli aircraft carried out a strike on Syria after 10 projectiles fired from the war-torn country hit the occupied Golan Heights on Saturday, an army spokesman said.

The Israeli Air Force also targeted two Syrian regime tanks in the northern part of the Golan, the spokesman said, adding the projectiles did not cause any casualties.

"Because of the unacceptable violation of Israeli sovereignty", Israel has protested to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) which monitors a 1974 ceasefire between the two countries, he added.

(AFP )

Thousands of Venezuelans marched Saturday in a new flare-up of months-long protests against embattled President Nicolas Maduro, as the head of the Organization of American States dug in his heels in a war of words with Caracas, brusquely rejecting its demand that he resign.

Protesters in the Venezuelan capital and other cities marched on military installations, where they demanded an end to "brutal repression" and called for Maduro's resignation and new elections.

(AFP )

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday visited Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula Moscow annexed in 2014, a trip quickly denounced by Kiev as a violation of Ukraine's sovereignty.

Putin made a stop at the legendary Artek holiday camp for young people, dating from Soviet times, on the shores of the Black Sea, the Kremlin said in a statement.

Founded in 1925 based on an idea from Lenin, the father of Russian communism, Artek went from a sanitorium for children with tuberculosis to a camp for "pioneers", the communist youth organisation for children aged 10 to 14.

(AFP )

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ratified a treaty that hands over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia in a deal that had sparked protests and a police crackdown, the cabinet said Saturday.

Sisi ratified the maritime border treaty days after parliament approved the deal, which has been the subject of a confusing legal battle with one court annulling the treaty and another upholding it.

The treaty, first announced in April 2016, had fuelled rare protests and police have arrested dozens of activists over the past week after calls for more demonstrations.

(AFP )

Tattooed and wearing a black t-shirt emblazoned with a wolf paw, Patrick Beaudry admits being in the second year of a political movement "that is perhaps more radical" than others.

La Meute, a far-right group in Quebec of which he is a founder, does not promote extremist or racist views, he insists, while confessing a liking for the French National Front of Marine Le Pen.

His motivation, however, is unequivocal.

"Our fight is with radical Islam," Beaudry told AFP.

(AFP )

Hollywood star turned activist Arnold Schwarzenegger joined politicians and legal experts in Paris Saturday to launch a campaign for a global pact to protect the human right to a clean, healthy environment.

"Less talk, more action," urged former French prime minister Francais Laurent Fabius, who also presided over the 2015 Paris COP 21 conference on climate change.

(AFP )

South Sudan, the world's youngest nation gripped by civil war, has cancelled its official independence day celebrations for the second year running.

"We are not celebrating... because our situation does not require us to celebrate at a time when there are people in need of these funds," explained government spokesman Michael Makuei of the cancellation.

South Sudan split with Sudan on July 9, 2011 but has been engulfed by civil war since 2013.

Violence and subsequent famine have killed tens of thousands and forced 3.7 million people from their homes.

(AFP )

They all say they are back from "hell". Quivering and emaciated, the civilians emerging from Mosul's Old City have survived famine but often lost relatives and sometimes their sanity.

They come in small groups, dropped off by the armoured vehicles of the Iraqi security forces on dusty, deserted streets where emergency field clinics are set up.

A few hundred metres away, fighting rages in the alleyways of old Mosul, where die-hard Islamic State group jihadists are mounting a desperate defence of their last redoubt in the city.

(AFP )

Pakistan has issued its first third-gender passport to a transgender activist, who hailed the move as a step forward for the marginalised community in the deeply conservative South Asian country.

Farzana Riaz, a transgender in northwestern Peshawar city, said the new passport would help her campaign globally on behalf of her community, who are also known as khawajasiras -- an umbrella term in Pakistan denoting a third sex that includes transsexuals, transvestites and eunuchs.

(AFP )

Afghanistan has suffered its deadliest Ramadan since the US-led invasion in 2001 with over 200 killed and hundreds wounded, according to an AFP count based on official figures.

The streets of Kabul were quiet on Saturday ahead of the Eid-ul-Fitr festival, which marks the end of Islam's holiest month, amid fears of further attacks.

Militants believe they will go to paradise if they die during Ramandan or on Eid, a day when millions of Muslims break their fasts and visit mosques for prayers and celebrations.

(AFP )

The death toll from multiple attacks in Pakistan rose to 57, officials said Saturday, a day after the bomb and gun assaults in three cities shook the country as it prepared to mark the end of Ramadan, Islam's holiest month.

Officials in Quetta said the number of dead had risen by one to 14 after a blast in the southwestern city which targeted police. Ten policemen were among those killed.

(AFP )

South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Saturday invited North Korea to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, saying sports could serve as a peace maker.

The South and nuclear-armed North Korea are separated by one of the world's most heavily armed borders and remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.

But the centre-left Moon is known to favour engagement with the North to bring it to the negotiating table in a break from his conservative predecessors who took a hardline stance.

(AFP )

Journalist Veronique Robert, wounded in the same landmine blast that killed two colleagues in the Iraqi city of Mosul earlier this week, has died, employers France Televisions announced Saturday.

Robert, 54, who held Swiss nationality, had been operated on in Iraq and then flown back for treatment in France overnight Thursday to Friday, but died of her wounds, the public broadcaster said in a statement.

French colleague Stephan Villeneuve, 48, and Iraqi Kurdish reporter Bakhtiyar Addad, 41, were also killed in Monday's blast.

(AFP )

Spanish coastguards rescued more than 200 migrants on Saturday as they attempted to make the perilous sea crossing from north Africa to Europe.

A spokesman for Spain's state maritime rescue service told AFP that 224 people had been rescued from five vessels in the Strait of Gibraltar and the Alboran Sea, which separate Spain from Morocco.

The first rescues occurred in the early hours, the spokesman said, with dozens rescued south of Gibraltar from three boats.

(AFP )

British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has vowed to "try to force an early general election" after Prime Minster Theresa May lost her parliamentary majority, in an interview published Saturday.

Corbyn's Labour Party outperformed expectations in this month's election, turning what was predicted to be a procession for May into a disaster, severely weakening her authority as Britain kicks off crucial Brexit talks.

(AFP )

Thousands of residents from 650 London flats were evacuated Saturday due to fire safety fears in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, but dozens refused to leave their homes, according to local officials.

Four of the five Chalcots Estate towers in Camden, north London, were deemed unsafe after they were found to use cladding similar to that on Grenfell, widely blamed for the rapid spread of the massive blaze last week that is presumed to have killed 79 people.

(AFP )

Qatar said Saturday that a 13-point list of demands made by Saudi Arabia and its allies impinged on its sovereignty and failed to meet US expectations they be "reasonable".

The four Arab governments delivered the demands to Qatar through Kuwait on Thursday, more than two weeks after severing all ties with the emirate and imposing an embargo.

The document has not been published but has been widely leaked and the demands are sweeping in their scope.

They require Doha to join Riyadh and its allies in outlawing the Muslim Brotherhood, which it has long supported.

(AFP )

Thousands of protesters marched near the US embassy in Seoul on Saturday, accusing President Donald Trump of "forcing" South Korea to deploy a controversial American missile defence system opposed by China.

The protest came as South Korea's new president Moon Jae-In heads to Washington next week for his first summit with Trump amid soaring tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

Around 4,000 people participated in the demonstration, the largest since South Korea and the United States agreed to deploy the system, known as Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence (THAAD).

(AFP )

Journalist Veronique Robert, wounded in the same landmine blast that killed two colleagues in the Iraqi city of Mosul earlier this week, has died, employers France Televisions announced Saturday.

Robert had been operated on in Baghdad and then flown back for treatment in France overnight Thursday to Friday, but died of her wounds, the public broadcaster said in a statement.

French colleague Stephan Villeneuve and Iraqi Kurdish reporter Bakhtiyar Addad were also killed in Monday's blast.

(AFP )

Filipino devotees muddied their faces and covered themselves with dried banana leaves on Saturday to celebrate a religious festival which also has roots in Japan's occupation of the country during World War II.

The annual "Taong Putik" or "Mud People" festival, held in the town of Aliaga, 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Manila, honours John the Baptist.

(AFP )

The waving flags, triumphant song and rousing speeches of a Mongolian presidential campaign rally were interrupted by a fight that broke out in the crowd.

A group of men had entered the event for Democratic Party candidate Khaltmaa Battulga on Friday carrying posters denouncing the businessman, prompting his supporters to shove the interlopers and tear up their placards, all the while chanting: "You're mixed Chinese! You're mixed Chinese!"

(AFP )

Both Iran and Qatar on Saturday voiced support for Saudi Arabia over a suicide bombing near Islam's holiest site in Mecca despite their severed ties.

"Iran... as always expresses its readiness to assist and cooperate with other countries to confront these criminals, who deal death and ignorantly spread hate," foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi said.

The Qatari foreign ministry expressed "solidarity with the brotherly kingdom of Saudi Arabia".

(AFP )

One of America's most wanted terrorists may have escaped a five-week battle with Islamist militants in a southern Philippine city, which began with a raid to capture him, the military said Saturday.

Isnilon Hapilon, a veteran Filipino militant said to be the leader of the Islamic State (IS) group in Southeast Asia, has not been seen in the battle zone in Marawi City, said Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez, head of the military's Western Mindanao Command.

(AFP )

A North Korean soldier defected to the South after crossing the heavily fortified border, a defence ministry spokesman said on Saturday, the second soldier to defect this month.

"A North Korean soldier defected to one of our Guard Posts at around 9:30 p.m. on Friday at the middle section of the border," the spokesman said, according to a report by the Yonhap news agency.

"He has been taken into custody for questioning," he added

(AFP )

Rescuers pulled 15 bodies from an avalanche of rocks that buried a mountain village in southwest China on Saturday as an increasingly bleak search for some 100 people carried into the night.

Only three survivors -- a couple and their one-month-old baby -- have been found so far after 62 homes in Xinmo village vanished under a mass of mud and rocks in Sichuan province.

Heavy rain caused the side of the mountain to collapse onto the riverside village in the early morning, according to authorities.

(AFP )

Voting began in Papua New Guinea elections Saturday with the Pacific nation's leader urging peaceful polling to show it has "come of age", as he seeks another term to fix an economy under siege.

Peter O'Neill's People's National Congress won the last election in 2012, and he has campaigned on delivering key infrastructure and providing free education and health to a country that remains mired in poverty.

He also points to more stability in a sprawling crime-ridden land where elections have been marred by violence in the past.

(AFP )

Picture a hospital: the bustle of harried doctors and nurses, time dragging for lonely patients, and the pervasive sadness of a place for the sick and dying.

And suddenly, there's music -- live, classical music, the sounds of masters like Johannes Brahms and Giuseppe Verdi -- to make it all a bit more bearable.

These unannounced flash concerts are staged by an organization called Music for the Soul, and on this particular day at Alvarez Hospital in Buenos Aires the artists are 70 musicians, a choir, two sopranos and a tenor.

(AFP )

Germany had its first taste of panda mania on Saturday as two furry ambassadors arrived from China to begin a new life as stars of Berlin's premier zoo.

The pair, named Meng Meng and Jiao Qing, jetted in on a special Lufthansa cargo plane, accompanied by two Chinese panda specialists, the Berlin Zoo's chief vet and a tonne of bamboo.

A crowd of journalists and officials on hand to welcome the VIPs let out an "ooooh" as Meng Meng raised a paw after flight LH8415 made an especially gentle touchdown at Schoenefeld airport.

(AFP )

With a slender sword in one hand and an antique storybook in the other, Ahmad al-Lahham captivates a packed Damascus coffeehouse with tales of ancient kingdoms and brave conquerers.

Every evening, the 58-year-old heads to the cosy Nawfara cafe in the Old City of Syria's war-torn capital to perform as a traditional Arabic storyteller or "hakawati".

He sheds his furniture maker's outfit and dons a bright red Ottoman-style cap, or tarboosh, reading out handwritten stories from the curling, yellowing pages of an old book.