Tuesday 26 September 2017

In the world

(AFP )

A first group of refugees left Australia's remote Pacific detention camps for the United States Tuesday to be resettled under a deal that angered President Donald Trump.

Twenty-four asylum-seekers held on Manus Island off mainland Papua New Guinea flew to Manila en route to an undisclosed American location, the US embassy in Port Moresby told AFP.

"They're the first group that have been approved, that have gone through the extreme vetting process and have met all the requirements for resettlement," said the embassy's public affairs officer Beverly Thacker.

(AFP )

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has called a snap election, first came to power in 2006-2007. He returned as prime minister in 2012, a rare comeback in Japanese politics.

Here are five key events that have defined Abe's career.

- Blue blood, bad bowels -

Abe is a third-generation politician groomed from birth for the job by his elite, conservative family. His grandfather served as prime minister and his father as foreign minister.

(AFP )

Seeking to capitalise on a fractured and weak opposition and a healthy lead in the polls, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stunned Japan by gambling on a snap election more than a year before it was due.

The parallels with another world leader -- Britain's Theresa May -- are striking.

In April, May caught the country off guard by calling an election, hoping to take advantage of a 20-point poll lead over the opposition Labour party and secure her own mandate to take Britain out of the European Union.

(AFP )

Bashar Hammoud thought he knew his native Raqa like the back of his hand, but a months-long offensive against the Islamic State group has scarred the Syrian city so badly he can barely recognise it.

Hammoud, a 26-year-old member of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, was floored when he entered the battered northeastern district of Al-Rumeilah on Monday for the first time in years.

"I used to come here a lot because my uncles lived here and the college of literature, where I studied, was here," the bony member of the SDF's media office tells AFP.

(AFP )

French President Emmanuel Macron's government is set to unveil its first budget on Wednesday, balancing tricky priorities as it seeks to cut taxes while also slashing the deficit.

The young centrist president has pledged to find 16 billion euros ($20 billion) of savings next year, seeing cutting the deficit as key to boosting France's credibility in Europe as he eyes a shake-up of the European Union.

(AFP )

Two hours' walk from the nearest road, with no toilets or clean water and little proper shelter, the vast area of scrubland Bangladesh has set aside for more than 400,000 Rohingya refugees is a miserable place to call home.

Over the last week, Bangladesh authorities have cleared hundreds of thousands of newly-arrived refugees from roadsides and private land near the border with Myanmar where they had set up camp, and ordered them to head for the 2,000-acre site, an extension of the largest existing camp at Kutupalong.

But almost nothing has been set up for them there.

(AFP )

After the Taliban closed his local health clinic, Afghan farmer Haji Fazel Ahmad was forced to rent a car to take his sick wife to the nearest hospital six hours away. To his dismay the insurgents had shut that too.

It is a scenario being played out across Afghanistan as medical facilities and workers come under attack from all sides of the bloody conflict, denying ordinary people access to even the most basic healthcare.

(AFP )

A summit of European Union leaders in Estonia intended to chart out a digital future for the continent is set to be upstaged by less utopian issues including Brexit and the unexpected rise of the far right in Germany.

The EU's 28 leaders, including British Prime Minister Theresa May, are to meet for two days in Tallinn starting Thursday to discuss how Europe can more efficiently transform to the digital age.

(AFP )

Violent crime jumped nearly 15 percent in America's biggest cities last year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced Monday, amid an increase in murders in large cities ravaged by gangs.

In its annual "Crime in the United States" report, the FBI counted an estimated 1,248,185 violent crimes last year, a 4.1 percent increase from 2015.

(AFP )

Critics of outgoing Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos accuse him of stripping his country of much of its vast oil wealth to enrich himself and his family.

Dos Santos, who will step down on Tuesday after 38 years of iron-fisted rule, has appointed several family members to key economic jobs during his presidency.

Banking, telecoms, media and most significantly oil are among the industries that have felt the far-reaching influence of the Dos Santos brood.

(AFP )

Angola's incoming president Joao Lourenco faces a slew of challenges that include dwindling oil prices, rampant poverty, soaring unemployment and the long shadow cast by his predecessor and his family.

These are the key tasks that will confront him on his first day in the job on Tuesday:

- Fix the economy -

Angola has been in the grip of an unprecedented economic crisis for three years as the global price of oil has remained flat.

(AFP )

The success of the right-wing populist AfD in Germany's weekend elections was met in Israel with a mix of concern and restraint, with the two countries' close relations a factor.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated German Chancellor Angela Merkel on winning a fourth term in Sunday's elections but made no mention of the rise of the hard-right.

(AFP )

The Brazilian government backed off a controversial proposal to authorize private companies to mine a sprawling Amazon reserve Monday after blistering domestic and international criticism.

President Michel Temer's office will issue a new decree Tuesday that "restores the conditions of the area, according to the document that instituted the reserve in 1984," the Ministry of Mines and Energy said in a statement.

(AFP )

French President Emmanuel Macron is to make a keynote speech on his vision for the European Union on Tuesday -- aimed more at German politicians across the border than the French public.

Macron came to power in May promising to strengthen the institutions of the eurozone and deepen the integration of the EU bloc as it prepares for Britain's departure.

He is desperate for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's endorsement of his reform agenda, which includes plans for a new finance minister position, budget and parliament for the 19-member eurozone.

(AFP )

Notorious hate preacher Abu Walaa, described as the Islamic State group's de facto leader in Germany, goes on trial Tuesday accused of radicalising young men and running a jihadist network linked to the Berlin Christmas market attacker.

Nicknamed "the faceless preacher" for showing his back to the camera in propaganda videos, the 33-year-old Iraqi was arrested last November on suspicion of being the "central figure" in an IS recruitment ring.

(AFP )

Chinese authorities appear to have severely disrupted the WhatsApp messaging app in the latest step to tighten censorship as they prepare for a major Communist Party congress next month.

Users in China have reported widespread disruptions in recent days to the Facebook-owned service, which previously malfunctioned in the country over the summer.

Experts said the problems began on Sunday, but text messaging, voice calls and video calls appeared to be working again on Tuesday, though voice messages and photos were not going through.

(AFP )

US President Donald Trump will host Thai junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha at the White House on October 3 as the pair seek to enhance warming ties and cooperation.

Ties between the countries had been strained following a coup orchestrated by former Thai army chief Prayut three years ago, although he met Trump's predecessor Barack Obama during a ASEAN-US summit in California last February.

(AFP )

President Donald Trump acknowledged late Monday that Puerto Rico was "in deep trouble," after facing blistering criticism for focusing much of his attention on a bitter feud with NFL players instead of the devastated US territory.

Hurricanes Maria and Irma killed 13 people on the island -- with Maria almost completely destroying telecommunication networks last week.

"Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble," Trump tweeted.

(AFP )

Prince Harry and his girlfriend Meghan Markle made their first official public appearance together Monday, arriving hand in hand for a wheelchair tennis match at Toronto's Invictus Games.

Wearing a black "Invictus Games" polo shirt and jeans, the British royal and American actress Markle -- also dressed down in jeans and a white shirt -- enjoyed the sun together as they watched the action on court.

(AFP )

The Brazilian government backed off a controversial proposal to authorize private companies to mine a sprawling Amazon reserve Monday after blistering domestic and international criticism.

President Michel Temer's office will issue a new decree Tuesday that "restores the conditions of the area, according to the document that instituted the reserve in 1984," the Ministry of Mines and Energy said in a statement.

(AFP )

The White House on Monday batted back allegations that Donald Trump is not focused on the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, which has been clobbered by a series of deadly hurricanes.

Hurricane Maria hit the US island territory before dawn Wednesday as a Category Four storm, leaving vast tracts of the island with power or telephone coverage.

The five living former US presidents extended their "One America Appeal" -- set up in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey in Texas and Irma in Florida -- to help with the devastation in Puerto Rico.

(AFP )

One week before the announcement of the 2017 Nobel prizes begins, the Nobel Foundation said Monday that this year's winners will receive a larger monetary award worth over a million dollars.

"The Board of Directors of the Nobel Foundation decided at its meeting on September 14 that the 2017 Nobel Prize will amount to SEK 9 million ($1.1 million, 944.000 euros) per prize category," the private institution based in Stockholm said in a statement.

(AFP )

Spain's chief public prosecutor on Monday refused to rule out ordering the arrest of Catalonia's president as Spanish authorities continued a crackdown against a banned independence referendum in the region.

Jose Manuel Maza said Carles Puigdemont could be charged with civil disobedience, abuse of office and misuse of public funds for pressing ahead with preparations for the October 1 referendum.

"It's a decision that is possible but we have not considered that we should take it," Maza said during an interview with Onda Cero radio.

(AFP )

As thousands of volunteers gather to dig out victims of Mexico's devastating earthquake, rescuers have started organizing crash courses to stop well-meaning but inept helpers from making the situation worse.

Professional rescuers warned of chaos in the dangerous rubble piles, saying blundering volunteers could cause further collapse in unstable structures.

"You don't save lives with your heart, you save them with organization," said rescue worker Juan Carlos Gutierrez, his voice rising almost to a shout.

(AFP )

An Istanbul court on Monday ordered the release of leading Turkish journalist Kadri Gursel in the controversial trial of staff from the Cumhuriyet opposition newspaper, but ruled that four other detained suspects must stay in jail.

The judge ruled that Gursel, one of Turkey's most respected journalists, could go free after 11 months in jail though he remains on trial on charges of links to terror groups, an AFP correspondent said.

(AFP )

South Korea urged the United States to help dial down tensions with the North on Monday, after Pyongyang accused President Donald Trump of declaring war.

"It is very likely that North Korea will conduct further provocations," South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said in a speech in Washington.

"It is imperative that we, Korea and the US together, manage the situation... in order to prevent further escalation of tensions or any kind of accidental military clashes which can quickly go out of control."

(AFP )

A female US Marine on Monday became the first woman to complete the Corps' notoriously rigorous training course for infantry officers.

Many women serve in the Marines and other branches of America's armed forces but the woman, who has requested that her name not be released, is the first to make it through the Marine Corps' 13-week infantry officer training course.

"I am proud of this officer and those in her class," Marine Corps commandant General Robert Neller said.

(AFP )

As thousands of volunteers gather to dig out victims of Mexico's devastating earthquake, rescuers have started organizing crash courses to stop well-meaning but inept helpers from making the situation worse.

Professional rescuers warned of chaos in the dangerous rubble piles, saying blundering volunteers could cause further collapse in unstable structures.

"You don't save lives with your heart, you save them with organization," said rescue worker Juan Carlos Gutierrez, his voice rising almost to a shout.

(AFP )

Former Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Monday he would sue Russia in the European Court of Human Rights over allegations that he fought Kremlin forces in Chechnya.

His spokeswoman Olga Lappo wrote on Facebook that Yatsenyuk intended to prove "the entire absurdity of Russia's justice system".

Yatsenyuk headed the Kiev government from Ukraine's ouster of its Russian-backed leadership in a February 2014 revolution until his resignation over a seeming failure to fight corruption in April 2016.

(AFP )

Israel continues to build settlements "at a high rate," the UN envoy for the Middle East said Monday, in defiance of Security Council demands for an end to the expansion of Jewish outposts.

Reporting to the council, envoy Nickolay Mladenov accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government of using provocative rhetoric to shore up the drive for new settlements.

From June to September, new construction was mostly in east Jerusalem, with plans for some 2,300 new housing units -- a 30 percent increase from last year, he said.

(AFP )

Iraq has hanged 42 prisoners condemned to death for crimes including kidnapping, killing members of the security forces, car bombings and other attacks, a justice ministry statement said on Monday.

It said Sunday's executions were carried out in Nasiriyah prison in the south and that those put to death were convicted under Iraq's counter-terrorism law.

(AFP )

Interpol said Monday that it seized a record total of 25 million illicit and counterfeit medicines worth more than $51 million (42 million euros) in a weeklong worldwide operation.

Dietary supplements, pain killers, fake contact lenses, epilepsy medication and 1.2 tonnes of erectile dysfunction pills were among the drugs seized, the agency, based in Lyon, France, said in a statement.

Operation Pangea X was carried out by police, customs and health authorities across a record 123 countries and led to more than 400 arrests from September 12 to 19.

(AFP )

Spain's chief public prosecutor refused on Monday to rule out the arrest of Catalan president Carles Puigdemont for pushing ahead with an independence referendum deemed illegal by Madrid.

"Legally the conditions may be met" for Puigdemont's arrest, Jose Manuel Maza said during an interview with radio Onda Cero.

"It's a decision that is possible but we have not considered that we should take it," he added.

(AFP )

The controversial trial of 17 journalists and staff from the Turkish opposition daily Cumhuriyet began hearing witness testimony on Monday, with a key witness dismissing charges that the accused are linked to terror groups.

Five top figures from the newspaper, which has been deeply critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, remain in custody, though the remainder are now free while on trial.

In a case that has caused an international outcry, the staff members are charged with supporting in their coverage three groups that Turkey considers terror groups.

(AFP )

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Monday signed into law a controversial language bill which has sparked a standoff with Romania and other east European states.

The law states that starting in September 2020, students will be taught exclusively in Ukrainian from the fifth grade onwards, though they can still learn their native languages as a separate subject.

But Romanian President Klaus Iohannis has said the bill "drastically limits" the access of minorities to education in their native language, and cancelled a planned trip to Kiev this month.