Wednesday 25 April 2018

In the world

(AFP )

A suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd outside a voter registration centre in the Afghan capital Kabul on Sunday, killing at least nine people and wounding dozens in the latest attack on election preparations.

The assaults underscore growing concerns about security in the lead-up to legislative elections scheduled for October 20, which are seen as a test-run for next year's presidential poll.

"It happened at the entrance gate of the centre. It was a suicide attack," Dawood Amin, city police chief, told AFP.

(AFP )

A Nicaraguan journalist was shot dead Saturday while filming a confrontation between demonstrators and the police, amid a wave of protests against the government which have left 11 people dead.

Miguel Angel Gahona was killed by a suspected sniper in the city of Bluefields, on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast, local media reported.

"We believe a sniper fired the shot, it wasn't the young people... The only people who were armed were the police and riot police," his colleague Ileana Lacayo told television station Canal 15.

(AFP )

A former Iranian prosecutor has finally been taken to prison months after being sentenced over the death in custody of a protestor, the judiciary's news agency said Sunday.

The delay in starting Saeed Mortazavi's two-year sentence had caused anger and ridicule in recent weeks, with mocked-up "Wanted" posters appearing for the notorious former prosecutor online and around Tehran.

Mortazavi's lawyer was unable to confirm whether he had been taken into custody, telling the reformist ILNA news agency: "I have no information on this issue."

(AFP )

It has been jokingly referred to as "Botmageddon". But a surge in new, anonymous Twitter accounts across swathes of Southeast and East Asia has deepened fears the region is in the throes of US-style mass social media manipulation.

Maya Gilliss-Chapman, a Cambodian tech entrepreneur currently working in Silicon Valley, noticed something odd was happening in early April.

Her Twitter account @MayaGC was being swamped by a daily deluge of follows from new users.

(AFP )

Germany's Social Democrats are Sunday expected to elect Andrea Nahles, a combative and outspoken former labour minister, as the first woman leader of the 155-year-old party.

Known for her lectern-thumping speeches and occasional outbursts of child-like humour, the 47-year-old single mother joins Chancellor Angela Merkel at the top of German politics.

Well-known for two decades in her SPD party, Nahles is expected to easily beat the only other candidate, Simone Lange, a former policewoman and mayor of the northern city of Flensburg.

(AFP )

The US-educated son of a top aide to Paraguay's late dictator is favorite to win Sunday's presidential election in one of Latin America's poorest countries.

Opinion polls give Mario Abdo Benitez of the ruling conservative Colorado party a clear lead over his centrist opponent, Efrain Alegre, in a two-horse race to succeed outgoing conservative President Horacio Cartes.

(AFP )

The foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrialized nations were gathered in Toronto on Sunday seeking a common front against what they see as provocation from Vladimir Putin's Russia.

The envoys will also be keen to glean clues from their US colleague about whether President Donald Trump plans to tear up the Iran nuclear deal and how he will handle a planned summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un.

(AFP )

An autopsy was being carried out Sunday on the body of a Palestinian professor who was gunned down in what his family claim was an assassination by Israel's Mossad spy agency.

Fadi Mohammad al-Batsh, 35, was killed in a drive-by shooting on Saturday, according to Malaysian authorities.

He was walking from his highrise apartment to dawn prayers at a local mosque in the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Gombak when he was shot by two gunmen riding a motorcycle, officials added.

(AFP )

Turkey's economy, the fastest growing in the G20 but haunted by an uncertain long-term outlook, is key to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's decision to call snap polls and will also be decisive for the outcome.

Turkey recorded stellar growth of 7.4 percent in 2017 but the data has failed to douse fears over the underlying health of the economy which is marked by double-digit inflation, a wide current account deficit, a weak currency and high corporate debt.

(AFP )

The pain of waiting 10 hours with her leg crushed by bodies under the rubble of the Rana Plaza factory was hell for Nilufer Begum. But the five-year wait for justice has been just as agonising.

Bangladesh on Tuesday marks the fifth anniversary of one of the world's worst industrial disasters, a building collapse that killed more than 1,130 workers and spotlighted the Western clothing brands benefiting from the country's low wages.

But there is mounting anger this anniversary over the glacial pace of the court case against those arrested in the aftermath of the tragedy.

(AFP )

Istanbul's bright yellow taxis, ubiquitous and perennially honking for custom, appear ingrained in the daily life of the Turkish metropolis.

But could the fast-growing ride sharing app Uber make them a thing of the past?

Uber has enjoyed soaring popularity in Istanbul, where users appreciate the cashless payment system, security and convenience of hailing a cab by phone.

But, as in several other European cities, this has stoked antagonism with official taxi drivers, who have brought legal cases in Istanbul in a bid to have the app blocked in Turkey.

(AFP )

All that glitters is definitely gold in a new exhibition at Germany's central bank that lifts the veil on the nation's massive reserves of the precious metal, partly to reassure sceptics that the prized ingots are really there.

Europe's top economy and export powerhouse has the world's second-largest gold reserves after the United States, but for decades almost none of the roughly 3,400 tonnes of yellow metal, worth a staggering 117 billion euros ($145 billion) today, could be found on German soil.

(AFP )

When elite North Korean soldier Joo Seung-hyeon made his way through the Demilitarized Zone, avoiding minefields and watchtowers to defect to the South, he thought he was going to a prosperous new life.

The reality was more complicated than that.

Ostracised by Southerners who he says see their Northern cousins as "poor, uncivilised barbarians", he was dismissed at countless interviews for menial jobs as soon as he revealed his thick accent. One restaurant paid him half the wages of Southerners.

(AFP )

Iran warned Saturday it is ready to "vigorously" resume nuclear enrichment if the United States ditches the 2015 nuclear deal, and said further "drastic measures" are being considered in response to a US exit.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters in New York that Iran is not seeking to acquire a nuclear bomb, but that its "probable" response to a US withdrawal would be to restart production of enriched uranium -- a key bomb-making ingredient.

(AFP )

An incumbent prime minister, his ousted predecessor and a paramilitary chief instrumental in defeating the Islamic State group are the three favourites vying for Iraq's premiership.

Since Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled in the US-led invasion of 2003, the constitution has vested key powers in the prime minister, a post reserved for the majority Shiite population.

(AFP )

French President Emmanuel Macron seems, as much as any world leader, to have developed some kind of rapport with his American counterpart Donald Trump.

But will their apparent bond prove productive as European capitals struggle to save the Iran nuclear deal from Trump's impulsive wrath?

The idea will be tested Monday when the young French leader begins a state visit in Washington, and European diplomats have a lot invested in what seems a tricky task.

(AFP )

More than 300 French dignitaries and stars have signed a manifesto denouncing a "new anti-Semitism" marked by "Islamist radicalisation" after a string of killings of Jews, to be published in Le Figaro newspaper Sunday.

The country's half-a-million-plus Jewish community is the largest in Europe but has been hit by a wave of emigration to Israel in the past two decades, partly due to the emergence of virulent anti-Semitism in predominantly immigrant neighbourhoods.

(AFP )

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says Tehran is open to prisoner swap negotiations with the US if the Trump administration shows a "change of attitude."

Negotiations are a "possibility certainly from a humanitarian perspective, but it requires a change of attitude," Zarif said in an interview with CBS television's "Face the Nation" set to air Sunday.

Five Americans are held in Tehran, including 81-year-old Baquer Namazi, who is in failing health.

(AFP )

World Bank shareholders approved a "historic" increase in the bank's lending capacity Saturday after the United States backed a reform package that curbs loans and charges more for higher income countries like China.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said neither China nor any middle income countries was happy about the prospect of paying more for loans, but they agreed because of the overall increase in funds available.

(AFP )

Dozens of bodies, including those of jihadists and civilians, have been found in a mass grave in the former Islamic State group stronghold of Raqa in Syria, a local official said on Saturday.

The former de facto "capital" of the group in northern Syria, Raqa saw the jihadists ousted by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in October 2017.

Nearly 50 bodies had already been recovered from the mass grave, which could contain up to 200 bodies, Abdallah al-Eriane, a senior official with Raqa Civil Council now running the city, said,

(AFP )

The EU and Mexico said Saturday they had reached an "agreement in principle" to modernise a free-trade deal sealed in 2000 between Brussels and the Latin American country.

"Our negotiators will now continue their work to resolve the remaining technical issues and finalise the full legal text so that our citizens and enterprises can start reaping its benefits as soon as possible," said a statement co-signed by EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, her agriculture counterpart Phil Hogan, and Mexico's Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal.

(AFP )

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Saturday criticised Austria for planning to ban any possible campaigning for the June elections, saying that countries attempting to undermine his country's democratic struggle would "pay a price".

Erdogan this week called snap elections for June 24, bringing the polls forward by a year and a half.

Both Austria and the Netherlands have announced their governments would not look warmly to any possible campaigning on their soil by Turkish politicians.

(AFP )

Luxury furniture auctioned off by the legendary Ritz hotel in Paris sold for 7.3 million euros ($9 million), a world record in the industry, auction house Artcurial said Saturday.

The Paris hotel, home for a while to Ernest Hemingway, Marcel Proust and Coco Chanel, sold off all 10,000 pieces of furniture and decor.

They included stools from the Hemingway Bar, a 19th-century bathtub, and sofas and a harp from the Proust Lounge.

The Ritz sale outperformed other hotels around the world, the auction house said.

(AFP )

Pyongyang's announcement it will halt nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile launches has left experts puzzling over Kim Jong Un's true intentions -- and the extent to which US President Donald Trump deserves credit.

The North Korean leader's surprising move Saturday marks another milestone ahead of his upcoming talks with Trump, who less than a year ago was threatening "fire and fury like the world has never seen" after Kim threatened to strike the US island territory of Guam.

(AFP )

The Trumps, it seems, have not forgotten their intimate meal with the Macrons on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower last July. They return the favor Monday, this time at an American landmark.

US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania have invited French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte for a private dinner at Mount Vernon, the lavish Virginia mansion of first president and founding father George Washington.

It is also a symbol of the "special relationship" between France and the United States.

(AFP )

After several days of delay, chemical weapons experts entered Syria's Douma on Saturday to investigate an alleged deadly chemical attack there on April 7.

Medics and rescuers have said more than 40 people were killed in the then rebel-held town, while Damascus and its ally Moscow have dismissed the accusations as "fabrications".

Two weeks after the alleged chlorine and sarin attack, and amid warnings Syria's regime may have attempted to tamper with evidence, what clues might the team be looking for?

- Chemical traces -

(AFP )

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Bilbao in northern Spain on Saturday, urging better conditions for jailed members or collaborators of ETA just weeks before the Basque separatist group is due to disband.

Shouting "Basque prisoners home" and waving the red, green and white Basque flag, they called for ETA prisoners to be transferred to jails closer to the northern region from where they are, hundreds of kilometres away, and freedom for those who are ill.

(AFP )

Past presidents, family and friends came together Saturday to bid a tearful farewell to Barbara Bush, the matriarch of one of America's most prominent political dynasties, at her funeral in Texas.

Bush, who died Tuesday aged 92, was wife to the 41st US president and mother to the 43rd. She was remembered for her friendship, her wit and her strength.

(AFP )

Around 100 far-right activists on Saturday tried to block a French alpine pass used by migrants in a bid to "ensure that no illegal immigrant can return to France".

Members of the rightwing Generation Identity (GI) movement trudged through the snow up to Col de l'Echelle near the border with Italy, where they erected a "symbolic border" and unfurled a huge banner telling migrants to "go back to your homeland".

The protesters also said they planned to spend the night there.

(AFP )

Tens of thousands of Hungarians took to the streets in Budapest for a second consecutive Saturday to protest against newly reelected Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The crowd, estimated at around 30,000 by a AFP photographer, marched through the city to a rally where speakers demanded a non-partisan public media.

Campaigning hard against immigration, the 54-year-old Orban's overwhelming victory April 8 saw his Fidesz party secure around half the vote.

(AFP )

Investigators from the global chemical arms watchdog collected samples Saturday from the site of a suspected gas attack in Syria two weeks ago, after security concerns delayed their probe.

Gruesome footage of the alleged toxic attack on April 7 in the town of Douma, just outside Damascus, horrified the world and prompted unprecedented Western strikes on Syrian military installations.

Just hours after the joint missile strikes, a team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrived in Syria to investigate the claims.

(AFP )

Past presidents, family and friends came together Saturday to bid farewell to Barbara Bush, the matriarch of one of America's most prominent political dynasties, at a funeral service in Texas.

Bush -- wife to the 41st US president and mother to the 43rd -- died Tuesday at her home in Texas aged 92, surrounded by her family.

(AFP )

European Parliament leader Antonio Tajani called on authorities to pursue those who ordered the killing of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia after colleagues published more of her investigations and delved into the mystery surrounding her death.

Caruana Galizia was murdered last year in a car bombing after exposing entrenched corruption among Malta's elite, and this week journalists released a series of revelations that emerged from documents she had left behind.

(AFP )

The family of a Palestinian professor and Hamas member accused Israel's Mossad spy agency of assassinating him on the streets of Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.

Malaysian authorities said Fadi Mohammad al-Batsh, 35, was killed by two suspects believed to have ties with a foreign intelligence agency in a drive-by shooting on his way to dawn Muslim prayers.

Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, quoted by the state-run Bernama news agency, said Batsh was "an electrical engineer and an expert at making rockets".

(AFP )

An actress from the popular TV series "Smallville" has been arrested on sex trafficking charges for allegedly recruiting women to a purported self-help group which forced them to have sex with its leader, US prosecutors say.

Allison Mack, 35, who was arrested Friday, recruited women for what was described as a female mentorship group, US attorney Richard Donoghue said in a statement from the Justice Department.

"The victims were then exploited, both sexually and for their labor, to the defendants' benefit," the prosecutor said.