Sunday, September 24, 2017

Six injured in suspected acid attack in London


London. A suspected acid attack in east London injured six people, police said Sunday adding that they had arrested a 15-year-old male.

Police were called late Saturday to the Stratford Centre near London's Olympic Stadium after a noxious substance was sprayed during an argument between two groups of males.

They said the incident was not terror related.

There were 431 acid attacks in London last year, 398 of which were carried out in Stratford's borough of Newham.

Police said "the injuries sustained were not "life-threatening or life-changing".

"We are working with the Home Office to explore possible restrictions around the sale of corrosive substances in conjunction with retailers and manufacturers."

Witnesses told the Press Association that an argument had broken out shortly beforehand.

Burger King employee Hossen, 28, said a local homeless man came into the fast food outlet "to wash acid off his face". (AFP)


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Trump urges fans to boycott football league over anthem protests

Washington. US President Donald Trump on Sunday urged fans to boycott National Football League games to pressure the league to fire or suspend players who show disrespect for "Flag and Country."

Trump's latest Twitter salvo was the latest blow in an escalating war of words with some of professional sports' biggest stars over his condemnation of NFL players protesting the national anthem.

"If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag and Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!" he said.

"NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.," he said.

The row began on Friday at a Republican rally in Alabama when Trump attacked activist National Football League players -- mostly African Americans -- as "sons of bitches" for kneeling or sitting during renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

On the same day, basketball star Stephen Curry, the top player for California's Golden State Warriors, said he would not attend a traditional White House reception honoring the winning basketball team.

Several hours later, Trump hit back with an early-morning Twitter salvo.

- 'You bum' -

"Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!" he wrote.

Trump's outburst drew a stinging response from across the NBA, with Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James among the first to weigh in.

"U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain't going!" James wrote on Twitter. "So therefore ain't no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up."

The protests began last year when quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers refused to stand for the anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality.

Several more players have since joined in, nearly all of them black.

Kaepernick, who was unable to land a job with a team this season, has attracted support from his peers but also some backlash.

The 29-year-old said he started his protests because he wanted to spark a nationwide debate on racial injustice and police brutality.


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Vatican says it axed chief auditor for spying


Rome. The Vatican said Sunday it had been forced to oust its former auditor general -- who resigned without explanation in June -- because he had been spying on senior officials.

In the latest scandal to embroil the centuries-old institution, Libero Milone had accused the Vatican of getting rid of him because his investigations into possible illegal activity had hit too close to home.

Just hours after the story broke, the Vatican issued a furious response.

"Milone's office illegally appointed an external company to carry out investigations into the private lives of members of the Holy See," it said in a statement.

It is very rare for the secretive seat of the Roman Catholic Church to comment in public about internal affairs.

Milone had given an interview published earlier Sunday to four media outlets including Italy's Corriere della Sera daily in which he said: "I did not voluntarily resign. I was threatened with arrest".

The auditing wizard, who spent much of his career with the audit firm Deloitte & Touche and was hired to much fanfare in 2015, said high-ranking figures in the Vatican wanted to scupper Pope Francis's financial reform efforts.

"I feel very sorry for the pope. I had a splendid, indescribable relationship with him, but over the last 18 months they stopped me seeing him. Obviously they didn't want me telling him about some of the things I'd seen," he said.

While he said a non-disclosure agreement prevented him from giving details of the irregularities he uncovered, his troubles began when he hired an outside firm to check whether the computers of his team had been bugged.

That was the company the Vatican believes was spying for Milone.

"They accused me of having improperly looked for information on Vatican members. I found out they had been investigating me for seven months," he added.

"I was only doing my job".

- 'Trust broken' -

When he was hired, Vatican officials said Milone would be "completely independent" and would have the power to look through the books of every department in the tiny city state, reporting only to the pope.

But the Vatican said Sunday that not only had Milone broken an agreement for both parties to remain quiet about his dismissal, he had been acting like a secret agent in the tiny city state.

"The job of the auditor general is to analyse the balance sheets and accounts of the Holy See and connected bodies.

"It turns out unfortunately that the office led by Milone, going outside its jurisdiction, illegally appointed an external company to carry out investigations into the private lives of members of the Holy See.

"As well as being a crime, this irreparably damaged the trust placed in Milone who, when confronted with his responsibilities, accepted freely to hand in his resignation," it said.

Pope Francis was elected in 2013 on a mandate to clean up the Vatican, including its financial house.

Accelerating moves started under his predecessor Benedict XVI, he streamlined the Vatican bureaucracy and brought 21st-century auditing to the Holy See's tainted banking system.

But it has struggled to shake off the whiff of scandal.

The Vatican's bank, known as the Institute of Religious Works (IOR), became notorious after the 1982 death of Italian banker Roberto Calvi, whose corpse was discovered hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London.

Prosecutors believe it was a mafia killing linked to money laundering via the Vatican bank.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Trump weighs replacing his travel ban with tailored restrictions


Washington. President Donald Trump is weighing replacing his ban on travelers entering the US from six predominantly Muslim nations with a set of more specific and tailored restrictions based, in part, on how much information countries share with the U.S.

The Department of Homeland Security has sent Trump recommendations for entry restrictions and additional visa requirements based on shortcomings in the information each country shares with the US and an assessment of the risk of terrorist infiltration the nation poses, administration officials told reporters on Friday. The changes could be put in place as soon as this weekend, with a new proclamation from Trump, officials said.

“The acting secretary has recommended actions that are tough and that are tailored, including travel restrictions and enhanced screening for certain countries,” said Miles Taylor, a counselor to acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke.

Taylor and other officials on a conference call for reporters declined to say what countries would be affected or even whether it would be fewer or more than the six cited in the president’s original travel ban. They said the decisions would be left to the White House.

Taylor said the Homeland Security Department concentrated in its assessment on factors such as terrorist and criminal history information each country shares with the U.S., the security of passports issued and how well each country established identity of passport-holders. The US notified all countries in July of “baseline” standards they would need to meet to avoid travel restrictions.

While some countries were unable or unwilling to meet the guidelines, most provided the necessary information to meet the baseline, Taylor said. The State Department made clear to countries that they could face penalties if they did not provide the necessary information, he said.

The president received a decision briefing on the travel ban Friday, led by Duke. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and White House Counsel Don McGahn also participated, White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters said.

The State Department will issue guidance to consular offices next week with information about how to implement the new restrictions, said Carl Risch, assistant secretary for consular affairs at the State Department.

“We regularly send guidance to the field and we would expect to do that next week if there’s any ambiguity about how a visa applicant is to be interviewed,” Risch told reporters Friday.

The travel restrictions could further inflame geopolitical tensions around the world as Trump is engaged in heated rhetoric against the governments of Iran, North Korea and Venezuela. Several countries did not respond to the U.S. requests for more information.

“Some countries didn’t even have the courtesy to say ‘fly a kite’,” Taylor said. “We’re talking about countries that were willfully non-compliant and refused to engage with the United States. Some of those, perhaps, wouldn’t surprise you.”

He declined the identify those countries.


The US continued negotiating with some of the nations affected right up until September 15, when Duke submitted her report to the White House. Taylor said some of them provided enough information or made changes to get removed from the list of countries with inadequate security.

“There were indeed a higher number of inadequate countries” at the beginning of the process than at the end, Taylor said.

A central portion of Trump’s travel ban is set to expire on Sunday, 90 days after the Supreme Court allowed the restrictions to go forward.

The Department of Homeland Security sent Trump a classified report Sept. 15 with details on its review of the vetting process for people entering the U.S., Taylor said. The report included a list of countries recommended for travel restrictions going forward.

Ban expires

The current order bans entry by people from Iran, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Syria. It was scheduled to expire on Sunday after the Supreme Court’s ruling in June, which tailored the ban to only include those who have no “bona fide relationship” to the U.S. The original travel restrictions, which caused confusion at U.S. ports of entry and set off spontaneous protests at airports when it was unveiled in January, led to sharp criticism of the administration from corporate leaders.

Trump suggested last week after a terror attack in London that the current restrictions on travel to the US don’t go far enough.

“The travel ban into the United States should be far larger, tougher and more specific,” Trump tweeted September 15, hours after a homemade bomb on a city subway injured dozens. “But stupidly, that would not be politically correct!”

On March 6 Trump signed an executive order that was the second version of the ban first unveiled in January, which had been quickly blocked by courts and criticized by leaders from both parties.

During his presidential campaign, Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Opponents have used that language in court challenges against the current travel ban.

The new restrictions could have implications for a scheduled Oct. 10 argument at the Supreme Court, possibly even prompting the justices to cancel the hearing. The high-court case centers on the existing travel ban, including the part that expires Sunday and a separate provision that suspends refugee admissions until October 24.

Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Flores said government lawyers would continue to “vigorously defend” the travel restrictions, but she wouldn’t comment on how the new policy might affect the Supreme Court case.(Bloomberg)



Saturday, September 23, 2017

Britain's May asks for transition deal after Brexit


Florence. British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday called for a two-year transition after Brexit in which Britain would largely maintain its current ties with Brussels, in a charm offensive intended to unlock stalled negotiations with the European Union.

In a major speech in Florence, May promised to meet Britain's existing EU budget commitments until 2020 and outlined new legal guarantees for the rights of around three million EU nationals living in Britain.

She also committed to maintaining Europe's security, saying in a direct pitch to EU leaders: "We want to be your strongest friend and partner as the EU and UK thrive side by side."

A fourth round of negotiations with the European Commission is due to start next week, with London keen to make progress on the terms of the divorce so that talks can move on to trade.

"While the UK's departure from the EU is inevitably a difficult process, it is in all of our interests for our negotiations to succeed," she said.

May said she wanted a transition period after Brexit in March 2019 of "around two years" during which "access to one another's markets should continue on current terms" for Britain and the EU.

She also promised to honour Britain's financial commitments for the remainder of the EU's current budget plan.

Britain's contributions for two years would be at least 20 billion euros (£18 billion, $24 billion) -- though this falls well below European estimates of Britain's total Brexit bill.

Within hours, Moody's Investors Service cut its long-term credit rating for Britain, citing the economic uncertainty sparked by the Brexit negotiations and the likelihood of weaker public finances.

Moody's dropped its grade by one notch, to Aa2 from Aa1 with a stable outlook, which reflects expectations Britain's debt will "continue to rise" and worries that any UK-EU trade agreement "would not award the same access to the EU... that the UK currently enjoys".

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier welcomed the "constructive spirit" of the speech, but said he would wait to hear the "concrete implications" -- particularly on the money.

He said that if Britain wanted to continue to benefit from access to the single market after it leaves the EU, all existing rules must apply.

French President Emmanuel Macron noted "advances" and "openings" in May's speech.

"The signals sent by the British prime minister show a willingness" ahead of next week's round of negotiations, he told reporters.

But Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage expressed outrage at the idea, saying: "Theresa May's Brexit vision is that we leave the EU in name only. All areas of integration we have currently will be rebadged."

- EU citizens' rights -

May's speech came 15 months after Britain's referendum vote to leave the EU and six months after she triggered the two-year Brexit process, amid increasing demands by Brussels for more clarity.

One problem was that her own government is still divided -- a fact highlighted this week when Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson laid out his own vision for life outside the EU.

After the speech, he said May's words were "uplifting".

Although May did not rule out her previous threat of walking away from the talks, she expressed optimism that a deal could be done.

On the issue of EU citizens' rights, she sought to break the deadlock over the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as the arbiter in any disputes.

She said the final deal agreed with Brussels would be fully incorporated into British law.

A small group of British expatriates had gathered outside the Santa Maria Novella church complex where May spoke, holding up signs saying "Hands off our rights".

- 'Creative and practical' -

May is hoping her speech will be enough to unlock the talks in time for an EU leaders meeting on October 19-20, when her 27 counterparts will decide if talks can move onto trade.

Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform said May was "right to adopt a positive tone", but added that her offers were "not enough to unblock" the talks.

The shape of that future trade deal remains elusive, though the prime minister insisted there could be no role for the ECJ -- a totemic issue for eurosceptics in Britain.

She rejected the idea that Britain could adopt a model similar to that enjoyed by Norway, or a free-trade agreement like the one recently struck between the EU and Canada.

"Instead let us be creative as well as practical in designing an ambitious economic partnership," she said. (AFP)


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Six numbers to watch for in Germany's polls


Berlin. As Germany heads to the polls on Sunday, here are six numbers to watch for -- from pints to percentages and parliamentary debuts.

- Four -

Angela Merkel is seeking four more years and a fourth term as chancellor. If she wins, as widely projected by opinion polls, she would be on track to rival the record held by Helmut Kohl, who served 16 years as chancellor.

- Five - 

Smaller parties in particularly will be anxiously watching to see if they can garner enough votes to cross the five-percent threshold to enter parliament.

Liberal party FDP, which in 2013 humiliatingly crashed out of the Bundestag after failing to meet the mark, is hoping for a comeback.

- Seven - 

For the first time since the 1950s, a record seven parties are expected to enter parliament. The main newcomer is likely to be the hard-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) which could also become the third-strongest party.

- 23 - 

Junior partners in Merkel's outgoing coalition, the Social Democratic Party, will be hoping for a score that's as far as possible from their all-time low of 23 percent -- which they took in 2009.

Opinion polls suggest their support level is currently hovering even lower -- at around 22 percent.

- 35 - 

Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union may also be looking at their lowest score of 35.1 percent, a figure which in 1998 ended Helmut Kohl's reign and ushered in an SPD-led coalition with the Greens.

- 76.7 -

Since Merkel took power in 2005, drinkers at the Oktoberfest have downed 76.7 million litres of beer at the annual festival -- the equivalent of around 30 Olympic-sized swimming pools. (AFP)


Saturday, September 23, 2017

McCain opposes Republican effort to repeal Obamacare


Washington. US Senator John McCain announced Friday his opposition to the latest Republican attempt to replace Barack Obama's signature health care law, likely dooming the repeal effort.

It is the second time in two months that he has defied his party and President Donald Trump over efforts to replace the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as "Obamacare," which has long been in Republicans' sights.

"I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal," McCain said of the bill proposed by fellow Republican senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy, adding he believed health reform legislation needed to be a bipartisan effort. 

President Trump, speaking in Alabama late Friday, acknowledged the setback but vowed to fight on. 

"I have to tell you, maybe -- it's a little tougher without McCain's vote," he said at a rally in Huntsville.

"You get knocked down and then the bad ones stay on the stool and they say 'We quit, we quit.' The great ones get up and they end up winning. That's what we are going to do."

In July, McCain made a dramatic return to Washington from Arizona after a brain cancer diagnosis to become one of three Republican senators who helped sink their party's earlier bid to replace Obamacare.

Now, rebels within the party ranks appear set to torpedo what may be the party's last chance to make good on a longstanding Republican goal, and a signature pledge of the president.

With both McCain and the conservative Rand Paul opposed, it would take just one more Republican defector to prevent the bill's passage before a deadline of September 30, the end of the fiscal year. At least two party moderates -- Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski -- are known to have serious reservations.

The bill's collapse would be yet another blow to the president and the Republican leadership, who have been unable to move forward on repealing Obamacare despite controlling Congress and the White House.

In coming out against the latest bill, McCain criticized the fact that it had bypassed regular Senate order, and noted that it would not be fully reviewed by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) before the end of the month.

The senator said he could not "support it without knowing how much it will cost, how it will effect insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it."

- Trump targets defectors -

The bill's supporters might be eager to avoid a CBO score. In July, the non-partisan body projected that the ranks of the uninsured would grow by 23 million Americans, and premiums would rise 20 percent annually, over the next decade if the previous Obamacare repeal bill became law.

The White House scrambled earlier this week to win over Republicans skeptical of Graham-Cassidy, with Trump himself phoning lawmakers and state governors seeking to tilt the scales in favor of the bill.

And Trump made his position on Republican defectors clear on Friday, writing on Twitter that those who vote against Graham-Cassidy "will forever... be known as 'the Republican who saved Obamacare.'"

While Republicans have pledged to repeal the Obama-era health care reforms, they have struggled to secure enough support to do so amid fears that proposed alternatives would dramatically increase the number of Americans without health insurance.

The American Medical Association has issued scathing criticism of the latest repeal effort, warning it "would result in millions of Americans losing their health insurance coverage, destabilize health insurance markets, and decrease access to affordable coverage and care."

McCain's rejection of the latest Obamacare replacement bill is yet another slight against the current president, someone he has repeatedly challenged from within the ranks of the Republican Party.

Trump, for his part, had mocked McCain's war hero status as a former prisoner of war in Vietnam as he ran for president, declaring: "I like people who weren't captured." (AFP)


Friday, September 22, 2017

World's richest woman dies at 94


L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, the world's richest woman whose old age was clouded by dementia, has died at the age of 94, her family said Thursday.
"Liliane Bettencourt died last night at home," her daughter Francoise Bettencourt Meyers said in a statement. "My mother left peacefully."

Bettencourt, the cosmetics giant's principal shareholder, was the 14th richest person in the world, according to Forbes magazine, which estimated her net worth in March at $39.5 billion (33 billion euros).
She was rarely seen in public since leaving the L'Oreal board in 2012, but her name remained in the headlines as members of her entourage were charged with exploiting her failing mental health.

Bettencourt had been declared unfit to run her own affairs in 2011 after a medical report showing she had suffered from "mixed dementia" and "moderately severe" Alzheimer's disease since 2006.
The complex legal case involved a bitter feud with her only daughter and unscrupulous friends, and even dragged in former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Patrice de Maistre, who managed Bettencourt's vast fortune, was accused of getting her to hand over envelopes of cash to members of Sarkozy's right-wing UMP party during his 2007 presidential campaign.
The charges against Sarkozy were dropped in October 2013 due to lack of evidence. (AFP)



Friday, September 22, 2017

Mugabe struggles to walk after addressing UN General Assembly


Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Thursday further exposed his frailty at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) where he staggered off the conference room after giving his speech at the 72nd session of the world body.

This came only two days after he was shown by international channels sleeping most of the time at the gathering of world leaders when President Donald Trump was giving his first address at the UNGA since his election into office last year.

The 93- year-old leader, who took to the podium with speed, found the going tough as he stepped down from the podium and got the assistance of aides to walk him out of the conference room. Television visuals showed Mugabe being held on one hand while his other hand sought balance from a wall as he staggered off the conference of the UNGA.


Most Zimbabweans who watched Mugabe’s address at the United Nations said it was high time the nonagenarian stepped down to pave way for fresh blood.


Jacob Mafume, spokesperson of the opposition People’s Democratic Party, said Mugabe was now a liability.


"We should hang our heads in shame. As Zimbabweans we have failed to retire this old man. We also allow this old man to parade himself on world stage giving stale speeches to an ignoring world. The man should be in an old people’s home," said Mafume.


Zimbabwe National Students Union secretary general Makomborero Haruzivishe concurred with Mafume, saying  Mugabe was an embarrassment to Zimbabwe adding that Zimbabweans were now appearing like people who could find a replacement for Mugabe.


"It is a clarion call for us Zimbabweans to rise up and save our nation and future which is now in [a] staggering mode for it is all clear that he (Mugabe) is staggering with whole nation to his grave," said the student leader.



Friday, September 22, 2017

Full text of N. Korean leader's message to Trump


North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un Friday warned he would make US President Donald Trump "pay dearly" for threatening the destruction of his country at the United Nations.

Here is the full text of his statement as published by the official KCNA news agency: 

"The speech made by the US president in his maiden address on the UN arena in the prevailing serious circumstances, in which the situation on the Korean peninsula has been rendered tense as never before and is inching closer to a touch-and-go state, is arousing worldwide concern. 

"Shaping the general idea of what he would say, I expected he would make stereotyped, prepared remarks a little different from what he used to utter in his office on the spur of the moment as he had to speak on the world's biggest official diplomatic stage. 

"But, far from making remarks of any persuasive power that can be viewed to be helpful to defusing tension, he made unprecedented rude nonsense one has never heard from any of his predecessors. 

"A frightened dog barks louder. 

"I'd like to advise Trump to exercise prudence in selecting words and to be considerate of whom he speaks to when making a speech in front of the world. The mentally deranged behaviour of the US president openly expressing on the UN arena the unethical will to 'totally destroy' a sovereign state, beyond the boundary of threats of regime change or overturn of social system, makes even those with normal thinking faculty think about discretion and composure.

"His remarks remind me of such words as 'political layman' and 'political heretic' which were in vogue in reference to Trump during his presidential election campaign. After taking office Trump has rendered the world restless through threats and blackmail against all countries in the world. He is unfit to hold the prerogative of supreme command of a country, and he is surely a rogue and a gangster fond of playing with fire, rather than a politician. 

"His remarks which described the US option through straightforward expression of his will have convinced me, rather than frightening or stopping me, that the path I chose is correct and that it is the one I have to follow to the last. 

"Now that Trump has denied the existence of and insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world and made the most ferocious declaration of a war in history that he would destroy the DPRK, we will consider with seriousness exercising of a corresponding, highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history. 

"Action is the best option in treating the dotard who, hard of hearing, is uttering only what he wants to say. 

"As a man representing the DPRK and on behalf of the dignity and honour of my state and people and on my own, I will make the man holding the prerogative of the supreme command in the US pay dearly for his speech calling for totally destroying the DPRK. 

"This is not a rhetorical expression loved by Trump. 

"I am now thinking hard about what response he could have expected when he allowed such eccentric words to trip off his tongue. 

"Whatever Trump might have expected, he will face results beyond his expectation. 

"I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire." (AFP)


Friday, September 22, 2017

Kenya electoral body’s legal head retires


IEBC Director of Legal and Public Affairs Praxedes Tororey has retired after attaining the age of 60.

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Communications Manager Andrew Limo on Friday confirmed the retirement, saying she had even completed all formal procedures with the commission.

“Yes it is true that Ms Tororey has retired,” Mr Limo told Nation.

However, Mr Limo dismissed claims that Ms Tororey resigned due to the current turmoil at the commission following the nullification of the August 8 presidential election results by the Supreme Court.

The commission is preparing to conduct a repeat of the presidential poll on October 26.

“It is just coincidence that her retirement time has come at this particular time when there is heightened political activity ahead of the fresh poll,” Mr Limo said.

Ms Tororey was among the six IEBC officials whom the opposition had accused of electoral malpractices.

Others include CEO Ezra Mr Chiloba, voter registration and electoral operations director Immaculate Kasait, head of operations Betty Nyabuto, ICT director James Muhati and Commissioner Yakub Guliye. (NMG)


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Nine dead as Red Cross Rohingya aid truck crashes in Bangladesh


Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh  /AFP/.  A Red Cross truck carrying aid for Rohingya Muslim refugees crashed in Bangladesh on Thursday killing at least nine people, police said.

The accident highlighted difficulties faced by aid agencies as they struggle to reach some 420,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled violence in Myanmar.

Officials said the truck was carrying food to some of the several thousand refugees stranded in a no-man's-land on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.

The driver lost control of the truck on a rain-soaked narrow road and went into a ditch near the Chhakdala border post, some 50 kilometres (32 miles) from Cox's Bazar, they said.   

"Nine people were killed including six on the spot and three in a hospital," Yasir Arafat, deputy police chief of the Bandarban border district, told AFP.

At least 10 people were injured.

"The victims were labourers sitting on top of 10 tonnes of food items," Border Guard Bangladesh commander Lieutenant Colonel AnwarulAzim told AFP.

"The road was narrow and was damaged by rain from the past few days," he said.

The truck was taking rice, salt, sugar and other supplies to Rohingya Muslims as part of the International Red Cross Committee and local Red Crescent Society's massive aid operation.

"It was carrying 21 days' food to some 500 (Rohingya) Muslim families who fled violence in Myanmar and were now stranded on the border," ICRC spokeswoman Rayhan Sultana Toma told AFP.

Toma said the workers on the truck were porters, needed to carry the food on their heads to the border because the road ends two kilometres from the frontier.

"It is a very remote area. It is very challenging to carry the food and other supplies to these thousands of people stranded on this part of the border," she said.

Aid agencies have launched a huge relief operation in the border districts of Cox's Bazar and Bandarban but they say they have been taken by surprise by the scope of the influx from Myanmar.

"We're providing aid for 50,000 people, many of them in desperate need for food and basic items for survival," Red Crescent society general secretary MozaharulHaq said.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Trump says friends going to Africa to 'get rich'


New York, United States | US President Donald Trump hailed Africa's business potential Wednesday, telling several leaders of African nations he has many friends going there to "get rich."

At a lunch with the leaders amid the UN General Assembly, Trump mused about the vast continent's opportunities and challenges.

"Africa has tremendous business potential," he said. "I have so many friends going to your countries, trying to get rich. I congratulate you.  They're spending a lot of money," he said.

"For American firms it's really become a place that they have to go -- that they want to go."

Trump announced that he was dispatching US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley to Africa "to discuss avenues of conflict and resolution and, most importantly, prevention." 

South Africa's Jacob Zuma and Nigeria's Muhammadu Buhari were among the leaders at the lunch.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Key players in the New Zealand election


Wellington, New Zealand | AFP | New Zealand goes to the polls on Saturday to elect a new government. Here are the key players in a closely-fought election.

- Bill English -

English took over as prime minister last December following John Key's shock resignation.

The 55-year-old has never matched Key's personal popularity but is seen as a steady hand after eight years as finance minister in the ruling National Party.

A staunchly Catholic father-of-six, the former farmer describes himself as a social conservative.

His message through the campaign has been about stability, urging voters to stick with a government that has delivered healthy economic growth throughout nine years in office.

The election is his chance to gain a mandate after serving for so long as Key's loyal deputy.

English's last leadership foray in 2002 ended in disaster for National. The party suffered a record loss, taking barely 20 percent of the vote against Helen Clark's Labour government.

It was a setback that would have ended many careers but the then 40-year-old vowed to continue, later saying: "You learn more from losing than you do from winning."

- Jacinda Ardern -

The stellar rise of the Labour opposition since Ardern became leader last month has been the defining element of the election.

The 37-year-old has given the centre-left party an injection of charisma and youthful enthusiasm that has seen it rocket 20 points in opinion polls to become a genuine contender.

The woman behind "Jacinda-mania" is a career politician who describes herself as a policy nerd and says she always envisaged herself working behind the scenes, not running for the top job.

Ardern grew up in the North Island hinterland, where her father was a police officer. She credits the poverty she saw there with shaping her beliefs.

Raised as a Mormon, she left the faith in her 20s due to its stance against homosexuality.

After completing a communications degree, Ardern started out in Helen Clark's office before heading to Britain to work as a policy adviser in Tony Blair's government.

Ardern was elected to New Zealand's parliament in 2008 and has long been seen as Labour's rising star, although most pundits considered her a leader for the future, not this campaign.

But she has risen to the challenge, remaining calm and articulate in the heat of the election battle and matching English in some feisty TV debate exchanges.


- Winston Peters -

For decades New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has been known as "The Kingmaker" -- a role the populist anti-immigration campaigner could play again if the election is deadlocked.

New Zealand's complex proportional voting system means minor parties usually hold the balance of power, allowing Peters to carve out a parliamentary niche as the man in the middle of the major parties.

The polls have English and Ardern in a dead heat, meaning both could seek to form a coalition government with the 72-year-old political veteran.

Peters' fiery rhetoric has seen him compared to US President Donald Trump but he is also pragmatic and would support either side with the right offer.

He served as deputy prime minister from 1996 to 1998 under a National-led government, then as foreign minister from 2005 to 2008 as part of a Labour-led coalition.

Peters, who is of mixed Maori and Scottish descent, entered parliament in 1978.

He is a long-time critic of high immigration levels and also rails against foreign investment and political elites.

Peters has given nothing away about who he would prefer to deal with in the event of a stalemate.

"If you go into negotiations preferring anyone you're leaving your team behind, you're not giving your country a chance and you're putting your personal bias out there," he said this week.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Airbus opens first plane-completion centre in China

The first Airbus A330 plane to be delivered

The first Airbus A330 plane to be delivered from Airbus' Chinese completion plant for A330 jets to Tianjin Airlines, is seen during the inauguration ceremony of the plant, in Tianjin, China September 20, 2017. PHOTO|REUTERS 

Tianjin, China | AFP | Airbus on Wednesday inaugurated its first completion centre for large aircraft in China, a new asset for the European manufacturer in heated competition with American rival Boeing.

China is one of the Western manufacturers' key battlegrounds, with its travellers taking to the skies in ever-growing numbers.

In Tianjin, a port city 150 kilometres (93 miles) from Beijing, Airbus already has an assembly line for the single-aisle aircraft A319 and A320, the first of its kind outside Europe.

Now the same site hosts a completion centre for long-haul A330 and its first aircraft was delivered to the local company Tianjin Airlines on Wednesday, accompanied by the playing of cymbals and banging of drums.

"This is the perfect illustration of mutual trust" and "our willingness to embark on a new stage in the Franco-Chinese relationship," said French junior finance minister Benjamin Griveaux, the first member of President Emmanuel Macron's government to visit China.

The 200-million-euro ($240 million) facility will receive A330s assembled in France and will prepare the cabins and apply exterior painting. Two aircraft will be delivered every month.

The A330, operated by nine Chinese airlines, is the most popular wide-body aircraft in the country.

"The inauguration of our (centre) in Tianjin, together with the first of many deliveries, marks a new milestone for Airbus' international footprint," Fabrice Bregier, Airbus chief operating office, said at one of the site's giant halls alongside leaders of the aviation manufacturer Avic, the European firm's Chinese partner.

The majority of Airbus orders in China remain its A320 single-aisle jetliner. But with about 200 A330s in the country's skies, the aircraft manufacturer also controls 61 percent of the long-haul market.

According to the company, China will need about 6,000 airliners over the next two decades, and its demand for large carriers will be boosted by the explosion of Chinese passenger traffic abroad that is increasing at 14 percent per year, said Eric Chen, president of Airbus China.

Having doubled its market share in the space of a decade, Airbus is now on par with Boeing in China. But the American aircraft maker does not intend to be left behind. Next year it will open its own finishing centre for the medium-haul B737 in China.

For its part, the Chinese state aircraft manufacturer Comac intends to jostle the Airbus-Boeing duopoly with its medium-haul C919, which took its maiden flight in May.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Bangladesh army takes bigger role in Rohingya aid operation


Dhaka, Bangladesh | AFP | Bangladesh's army was Wednesday ordered to take a bigger role in helping hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who have fled ethnic violence in Myanmar, by distributing relief aid and building shelters.

Troops would be deployed immediately in Cox's Bazar near the border where more than 420,000 Rohingya have arrived since August 25, said road transport minister Obaidul Quader, who is also deputy head of the ruling Awami League party.

Soldiers would mainly distribute relief and carry out rehabilitation, as well as ensuring order, Quader told AFP.

"The army presence is especially needed on the spot to construct their shelters, which is a very tough task, and ensure sanitation," he said.

The latest order came from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Quader said. 

Previously troops had been tasked with transporting foreign relief supplies from Chittagong airport to Cox's Bazar.

The minister said heavy rain for the past 24 hours was intensifying the misery of the Rohingya, tens of thousands of whom have set up shelters on hills around Cox's Bazar despite the risk of landslides.

Authorities have so far set up 12 relief centres and eight emergency kitchens for the Rohingya refugees.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Britain to promise 20 billion euros in Brexit bill: FT

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street to attend Prime Ministers Questions at Parliament in London, Britain, 13 September 2017 

London, United Kingdom | AFP | British Prime Minister Theresa May will promise to pay a Brexit divorce bill of at least 20 billion euros (£18 billion, $24 billion), according to officials cited by the Financial Times.

May's EU adviser Olly Robbins has informed his counterparts in various European capitals of the offer, the newspaper said in its online edition late Tuesday, citing unnamed officials briefed on the discussions.

The announcement will be formally made by May on Friday, when the prime minister delivers a highly-anticipated Brexit speech in the Italian city of Florence, the FT said.

Britain is yet to put forward a figure to meet its financial obligations to the European Union when it leaves the bloc, currently set for March 29, 2019.

The lack of agreement on a divorce settlement has proven a major stumbling block in the Brexit talks.

While Brussels has not made public its own figure, EU senior officials have told AFP the preliminary evaluation is between 60 to 100 billion euros.

Britain's net contribution in 2015, the last year for which figures were available, was 10.75 billion euros, according to European Commission and European Parliament documents.

The 20 billion euros figure therefore points to payments to meet the UK committment to the EU's seven-year budget, which runs to 2020, and could be paid during a transitioned departure from the bloc.

"Transition payments do not cancel the bill," a senior EU diplomat told the Financial Times.

May's office did not immediately comment on the newspaper report and the government's position has previously been that it is up to the EU to come up with a figure, which London will then challenge.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Angela Merkel, Germany's 'eternal chancellor'


Berlin, Germany | AFP | Angela Merkel has been derided as Europe's "austerity queen", cheered as a saviour by refugees and hailed as the new "leader of the free world".

But as the pastor's daughter raised behind the Iron Curtain heads toward a likely fourth term at the helm of Europe's biggest economy, many Germans simply call her the "eternal chancellor".

"Mutti" (Mummy) Merkel, with her pragmatic, modest and reassuringly bland style, has perfected the art of staying in power in a wealthy, ageing nation that tends to favour continuity over change.

In the turbulent times of Trump, Brexit and multiple global crises, the 63-year-old has become the bedrock in a country concerned with maintaining its enviable growth and employment rates.

If there is one conviction Merkel holds dear, it is a lesson from her upbringing in communist East Germany -- a firm belief that Germany and Europe must stay competitive and debt-free in a rapidly changing global economy.

Germans have thanked her by keeping her in power ever since she became their youngest and first female chancellor in 2005, a contemporary of long-gone leaders George W. Bush, Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac.

Seemingly devoid of vanity and indifferent to the trappings of power, she lives in a Berlin flat with her media-shy scientist husband Joachim Sauer, shops in a local supermarket and spends holidays hiking in the Alps.

When international newspapers, after Trump's surprise victory last year, declared Merkel the new torch-bearer of liberal democracy, she waved off the accolade as "grotesque and absurd".

- 'Sphinx, diva, queen' -

Though frequently criticised for sitting out tough challenges, Merkel has punctuated her reign with bold and surprising decisions -- from scrapping nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima disaster to opening German borders to more than a million asylum seekers since 2015.

The migrant influx cost her dearly, both with voters and EU neighbours, and led many to predict her demise.

But as the number of new arrivals eased off and her government pushed through tougher asylum policies, her poll ratings have edged back up to pre-crisis levels.

So strong is her support that German media reports tend to ridicule her centre-left challengers as luckless operators on political suicide missions, destined to be roadkill as the Merkel juggernaut powers forward.


Merkel herself usually refuses to mention her rivals by name or engage in spirited political dialogue, lending a slightly dreamy atmosphere to recent election campaigns and infuriating her shadow-boxing opponents.

Martin Schulz, her temperamental challenger, lashed out in June, labelling Merkel's apparent tactic of keeping politics as unexciting as possible "an attack on democracy" -- a comment that earned him stern rebukes from legions of the chancellor's supporters.

But many political commentators also charge that Merkel has plunged Germany into an apolitical slumber while seeming to grow ever more remote.

Der Spiegel's Alexander Osang recently labelled her the "woman in amber", as impenetrable "as a sphinx, diva or queen", whose speeches were akin to "mass hypnosis".

- 'Merkelvellian' -

Merkel was born Angela Dorothea Kasner in 1954 in the port city of Hamburg.

Weeks later her father, a leftist Lutheran clergyman, moved the family to a small town in the communist East at a time when most people were headed the other way.

Biographers say life in a police state taught Merkel to hide her true thoughts behind a poker face.

Like most students, she joined the state's socialist youth movement, but rejected an offer to inform for the Stasi secret police while also staying clear of risky pro-democracy activism.

A top student, she excelled in Russian, which would later help her keep up the dialogue with President Vladimir Putin, who was a KGB officer in Dresden when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

During that momentous upheaval, Merkel joined the nascent Democratic Awakening group, which later merged with the Christian Democrats of then-chancellor Helmut Kohl, who fondly if patronisingly dubbed Merkel "my girl".

But Merkel's mentor was not the last politician to underestimate her and pay the price.

When Kohl became embroiled in a campaign finance scandal in 1999, Merkel openly urged her party to drop the self-declared "old warhorse".

The move, which has been described as "Merkelvellian", kicked off her meteoric rise.

As an outsider, she remade the Christian Democratic Union, anchoring it in the political centre by pushing progressive social policies, abolishing compulsory military service and scrapping nuclear power.

She emerged as Europe's go-to leader during the sovereign debt crisis, though she was derided as a puritanical "austerity queen" in crisis-wracked southern countries.

A decade on, she is still there, and her reign may yet exceed that of her one-time mentor Kohl, especially as no serious challenger from within her party has managed to emerge so far.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Merkel soup, beer and nudism: When Germany's election got weird


Berlin, Germany | AFP | Boring? What's boring? The punters may have already placed firm bets on Chancellor Angela Merkel to win her fourth term on Sunday, but Germany's general election is still turning up surprises.

- Cook like the chancellor -

Eight years after she revealed that she can whip up a "really good potato soup", Merkel has finally disclosed her recipe.

"I always pound the potatoes with a potato masher, not a blender," Europe's most powerful woman told Bunte magazine in August.

"Then there'll always be a few lumps left," said Merkel, known affectionately to Germans as "Mutti" (Mummy).

- Playing favourites -

She has had heated exchanges with political opponents, fielded thousands of questions from journalists, but never has Merkel revealed so much about herself as she did in a unique press conference on Sunday.

Through 57 questions fired off by children, many aged under 12, we learnt that Merkel's favourite animals are "hedgehogs, elephants and hares", her favourite food is "spaghetti bolognese", and her favourite hobby is "growing potatoes".

She prefers to dress in a "nice cardigan" and "very comfortable shoes" and would have liked to be an "astronaut flying over the Earth".

- Diet like a poster boy -

The leader of the liberal Free Democratic Party, Christian Lindner, whose moody black-and-white campaign posters have been compared to Calvin Klein advertisements (or mocked as promotions for dating websites), has revealed how he fought teenage flab.

"At 14, I weighed almost 100 kilos (220 pounds), but was at least 10 centimetres (four inches) smaller than today," the 38-year-old told newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

After a strict regimen of jogging in forests and a radical crispbread diet, Lindner said he shed 30 kilos.


"I'm now 1.86 metres and weigh 80 kilos," said Lindner, whose campaign posters have also been turned into memes by social media users with slogans like "Every 11 seconds, a liberal falls in love with himself".

Even Social Democratic Party candidate Martin Schulz, Merkel's main rival, joined in poking fun at Lindner's campaign posters, saying "he is always looking down in such a funny way on the posters".

"Almost like he is ashamed. That can be somewhat understandable, when one is being photographed in his undershirt."

- Naked ambition -

Far-left Linke candidate Gregor Gysi has bemoaned the demise of nudism in Germany and is campaigning for its revival, he told Playboy magazine in August.

"I'll check with our local politicians to see if they are offering nudism in their localities," he told the Bild daily, complaining that naturists were increasingly under threat.

But when asked if he would shed his clothes to sunbathe by a Berlin lake, Gysi said: "There are limits to everything."

"If at all, nudism would only take place for me at home."

The nudist movement known in German as "FKK" -- short for Frei-Koerper-Kultur or free body culture -- was especially popular in former communist East Germany, where people celebrated it as a rare expression of personal liberty in an otherwise highly oppressive society.

Beaches along the northern coast of Germany still offer "FKK areas".

- Beer price brakes -

Want a cap on beer prices or feel the urge to blame Russia for everything -- from broken mobile phones to train delays and unpaid rent?

Then satirical outfit Die Partei (The Party) might be for you, after it made these promises, along with dismantling taxes, in its manifesto for its third attempt to win a seat in the Bundestag.

The party started in 2004 and founder Martin Sonneborn won a seat in the European Parliament in 2014 with absurdist slogans like "No to Europe, Yes to Europe".

Its candidate for chancellor, comedian Serdar Somuncu, has promised to rebuild the Berlin Wall with funds from east Germans, as well as orchestrate a fake coup in order to consolidate power.

With jibes against US President Donald Trump and Turkey's leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Die Partei lets voters decide whether to take it seriously.

- Dance, dance, dance -

Upstart Berlin party The Urban are seeking to draw votes through the love of hip-hop.

"It's not about screaming 'Yo!' or drawing graffiti on the party programme," said the party, calling itself a "global movement of emancipation" that seeks social justice and equality.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Israel's Netanyahu vows to fight 'Iranian curtain'


United Nations, United States | AFP | Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Tuesday to fight an "Iranian curtain" descending on the Middle East, pledging to prevent Tehran from ever establishing a permanent foothold in Syria.

Netanyahu -- who in recent years has coined his own sort of theater at the annual United Nations speech marathon with podium props and dramatic warnings -- was in a lighter mood for 2017, cracking jokes and rejoicing over the rise of US President Donald Trump.

But his message was ultimately no less severe as he chose to echo Winston Churchill's 1946 speech that declared that communist Eastern Europe had come under an "Iron Curtain" of Soviet subjugation.

"From the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean, from Tehran to Tartus, an Iranian curtain is descending across the Middle East," Netanyahu warned the General Assembly.

"Those who threaten us with annihilation put themselves in mortal peril. Israel will defend itself with the full force of our arms and the full power of our convictions.

"We will act to prevent Iran from establishing permanent military bases in Syria for its air, sea and ground forces," he said, also vowing to prevent Iran from producing any weapons that could hit the Jewish state.

Iran has been aiding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iraq's government in their fights against the Islamic State group, which has claimed responsibility for a slew of bloody attacks around the world.

Iran's ruling Shiite clerics are also sworn foes of Israel and have supported the militant movements Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

Netanyahu has long insisted that Iran, which also has tense relations with major Sunni Arab states, is the pre-eminent threat and unsuccessfully fought to scuttle Iran's 2015 deal with global powers to give up its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.

Netanyahu said he was proven right and that Iran since the agreement has been "like a hungry tiger unleashed, not joining the community of nations but devouring nations, one after the other."

- High praise for Trump -

The right-leaning Israeli leader heaped praise on Trump, who in his own speech hours earlier said the deal with Iran championed by his predecessor Barack Obama was an "embarrassment" and separately threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea if the regime attacks.

In years of listening to UN speeches, "none were bolder, none were more courageous and forthright than the one delivered by President Trump today," Netanyahu said.


UN inspectors say Iran has fulfilled its commitments to give up its nuclear activities under the agreement, which was reached with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.

Netanyahu has doubted Iranian intentions and voiced concern that some provisions on curbing uranium enrichment do not go beyond 2025.

Netanyahu directed his barbs at Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iranians in May overwhelmingly re-elected President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who has campaigned on the nuclear deal and better relations with the West.

The Israeli leader drew a distinction between Iranians and their government, saying in Farsi to the Iranian people: "You are our friends."

Iran, unlike Israel's Arab neighbors, still has a thriving Jewish community. Until the 1979 Islamic revolution overthrew the US-allied shah, Iran was Israel's primary ally in the region.

Netanyahu opened his speech not with his often booming voice but a grin. He boasted of further breaking his country's diplomatic isolation by visiting six continents in the past year -- a first for a prime minister of Israel.

"Now, it's true, I haven't yet visited Antarctica, but one day I want to go there too because I've heard that penguins are also enthusiastic supporters of Israel," he said, explaining that the birds can see black-and-white moral distinctions.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

21 schoolchildren among nearly 250 dead in powerful Mexico quake

Firefighters, policemen, soldiers and

Firefighters, policemen, soldiers and volunteers remove rubble and debris from a flattened building in search of survivors in Mexico City 

Mexico City, Mexico | AFP | At least 248 people were killed when a powerful 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck Mexico on Tuesday, including 21 children crushed beneath an elementary school that was reduced to rubble.

The destruction revived horrific memories in Mexico on the anniversary of another massive quake in 1985, the disaster-prone country's deadliest ever.

One of the most gut-wrenching scenes was at the Enrique Rebsamen primary school on Mexico City's south side, whose three floors collapsed into one, trapping students and teachers inside.

Twenty-one children and five adults were killed, said Major Jose Luis Vergara of the Mexican navy, who was coordinating a rescue effort that involved hundreds of soldiers, police, civilian volunteers and rescue dogs.

He said another 30 to 40 people remained trapped inside, while 11 children have been rescued so far.

Emergency workers found a teacher and a student alive beneath the rubble and are trying to get them out, he said.

But the situation was precarious. Late into the night, part of the wreckage collapsed as rescuers continued their search.

Local media reports said soldiers had administered oxygen to one trapped child through a tube.

President Enrique Pena Nieto, who rushed to the site, warned the death toll could rise.

"Unfortunately, many people have lost their lives, including children, in schools, buildings and homes," he said in a national address.

The devastation struck across a swath of central states and the death toll as of early Wednesday was 248, the head of the national disaster response agency, Luis Felipe Puente, said on Twitter.

In addition to Mexico City, people were also killed in Puebla, Morelos, Mexico state and Guerrero, said Interior Minister Miguel Osorio Chong.

- 'Nightmare' -

Well after nightfall, rescue crews and volunteers in Mexico City -- home to 20 million people -- were still clawing through the rubble of dozens of collapsed buildings looking for survivors and bodies.

Local media reported that families were getting WhatsApp messages pleading for help from desperate relatives trapped under debris.

Memories of the devastating 1985 earthquake, which killed at least 10,000 people, surged to the surface on what was meant to be a low-key 32nd anniversary.


Adding to the national sense of vulnerability, the quake also came just 12 days after another temblor that killed nearly 100 people and left more than 200 injured, mainly in the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas.

Many in the capital ran outdoors when walls around them swayed and cracked.

"I'm so worried. I can't stop crying. It's the same nightmare as in 1985," Georgina Sanchez, 52, sobbed to AFP in a plaza in the capital.

The quake -- which occurred in the early afternoon, hours after city authorities had conducted an earthquake drill -- caused massive damage in the bustling center of the city.

"It was horrible," said resident Leiza Visaj Herrera, 27. "I had to hold on to the ground."

Scenes of chaos erupted in the quake's aftermath. Traffic jammed to a standstill before blanked-out stop lights, and anxious people ran between vehicles as ambulances tried to make headway, sirens blaring.

In several locations, large crowds of people clambered on buildings that were now piles of stone and tangled metal, trying to pull people out.

Emergency workers held up signs commanding "Silence" so crews could listen for the sounds of any survivors.

- 'Everyone was frantic' -

Jorge Lopez, a 49-year-old Spaniard living in Mexico City, said he raced to his children's school in the central Roma district, to find it collapsed but his offspring safe but terrified.

"We arrived at the school and everyone was crying, everyone was frantic, and the kids were holding on to a rope," he said.

Patients were evacuated from a nearby hospital, wheeled out on beds and wheelchairs.

Pena Neto said on Twitter he had ordered the evacuation of damaged hospitals.

At one collapsed building in the Roma district, dozens of people dug through rubble as they waited for the arrival of heavy machinery to move the massive chunks of stone. Officials called out for more volunteers, and for water.

A woman standing and watching the efforts with her husband, a doctor, turned to him and said, "Darling, if you want to help, go ahead. Just give me your glasses, and be careful."

Mexico City's international airport closed for more than three hours following the quake. The stock market was forced to shut.

Fearful residents whose homes were damaged were preparing to spend the night on the street or in parks.

On the clogged and darkened roads, muggers came out at night to assault motorists.

- Trump's prayers -

Officials in several other countries responded to the quake with offers of help.

Honduras sent a 36-strong rescue team.

US President Donald Trump, who has forged an antagonistic relationship with Mexico, tweeted: "God bless the people of Mexico City. We are with you and will be there for you."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted: "Devastating news from Mexico City. My thoughts are with those affected by today's earthquake -- Canada will be ready to help our friends."


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Trump's fiery UN address redefines US role in the world


United Nations, United States | AFP | President Donald Trump's debut speech at the United Nations featured saber-rattling aplenty, but it also showed glimmers of a Trump doctrine that could transform America's place in the world.

It was described by one observer as a "42-minute tweetstorm" and by another as president George W. Bush's "'axis of evil' speech on steroids."

But in most respects, Trump's first stint before the green marble rostrum was everything you might expect from the truculent, norm-shattering businessman-turned-politician.

It was decidedly not what anyone would have expected from any of his 44 predecessors as president of the United States, and heralded a new style of American leadership in the global arena.

Trump's rhetoric -- dubbing Kim Jong-un a "rocket man" on a "suicide mission" -- was lapped up by supporters at home, but left allies around the world bewildered at the change that has gripped the world's only superpower.

Beyond the bellicose style, Trump demanded a change in substance, making it clear he wants to turn the clock back on the last half-century's growth of global rules and global institutions and return to the primacy of the nation state.

Trump's remarks used the words "sovereign" or "sovereignty" 21 times, rhetoric more often deployed in modern times by China to deflect criticism of a domestic crackdown or by Russia to deride US interference in domestic affairs.

Aides say Trump's call for a strong nation state was not a rejection of multilateralism per se, but rather a rejection of a globalism that dilutes the will of the people.

Allies were left with a renewed sense that "America First" will mean America alone.

"In America, we do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to watch," Trump said.

Top Trump advisors had billed the address as "deeply philosophical," setting out an intellectual framework for the president's long-held world view.

For the White House, that idea is a useful counterpoint to critics who say Trump has no intellectual heft, and a beginning to build an ideological legacy that could survive beyond one presidency.

But it also reflects the continued influence of nationalist ideas inside Trump's White House, even after the departure of controversial aide Steve Bannon.

The speech also showed the continued influence of advisors like Stephen Miller, who played a major role in drafting the address, and appears to be following in the footsteps of Barack Obama aide Ben Rhodes, who developed a huge amount of power by wielding the speechwriter's pen.


But Washington's foreign policy establishment -- not predisposed to praise Trump -- pointed to numerous contradictions that put a question mark over the creation of any cohesive "Trump doctrine."

While insisting that America no longer builds democracies, Trump called for democracy to prevail in Iran and Venezuela.

- A man with no plan? -

Trump trashed the deal to curb Iran's nuclear program, but the White House has offered no clear attainable alternative beyond extending it in perpetuity.

US officials privately admit that any military option against North Korea would be potentially disastrous for allies in South Korea, within range of Pyongyang artillery loaded with chemical weapons.

"He comes across as a man with no plan," said Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution. "It will be seen as weak and directionless and full of bluster."

Above all, Trump's critics question whether the clock can be rolled back to philosophies that dominated the less globalized world of the early 1900s.

"Sovereignty in our era fundamentally requires close cooperation with other nations and with strong global institutions, which President Trump rejects," said Barry Pavel, a veteran of policymaker in Republican and Democratic administrations now with the Atlantic Council.

That thinking still resonates with many of the diplomats, commanding officers and spooks -- those dubbed the deep state by Trump supporters -- who have largely continued with business as usual, despite the new White House occupants.

Even Trump's closest lieutenants, from Defense Secretary James Mattis to Vice President Mike Pence, have -- without directly contradicting Trump -- shaved off the rougher edges of his rhetoric.

And, so far, Trump's actions do not match his words. He has ripped up a trans-Pacific trade pact, but despite criticism has not yet left left the Paris climate accord or collapsed the Iran accord by reintroducing sanctions.

That may change in the coming months as Trump's team transposes speeches like that at the UN or in Warsaw and Riyadh into a formal National Security Strategy.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Plane stuck in mud as rain causes Mumbai airport chaos


Mumbai, India | AFP | Dozens of flights were diverted from Mumbai after a SpiceJet plane overshot the runway and became stuck in the mud as heavy rain lashed India's financial capital and caused travel chaos Wednesday.

Schools and colleges also closed for the day as a precaution after severe monsoon rain late Tuesday and overnight led to fears of widespread flooding.

The storms came three weeks after ten people were killed when torrential rain deluged Mumbai, flooding homes and railway lines and shutting down the city for two days.

On Wednesday airport officials were trying to move the SpiceJet plane which skidded on landing at around 10:00 pm on Tuesday and forced the closure of the main runway.

All 183 passengers were safely evacuated from the Varanasi to Mumbai flight after it missed the runway and "skidded off into the unpaved surface" due to wet conditions, the airline said in a statement.

"The main runway is out of use due to heavy rains. Only the secondary runway is operational and it can only handle a limited number of flights," Veena Chiplunkar, a spokeswoman for the international airport, told AFP.

Some 56 flights were diverted due to Tuesday night's thunder and lightning storms, she added.

Several other flights had been cancelled while travellers were told to expect delays to departures while the main runway remained closed.

The plane was still stuck Wednesday morning.

Officials had warned of flooding if heavy rain coincided with a high tide, expected around midday, but India's Meteorological Department said the worst had passed.

Railway officials said trains were running normally but many residents decided not to take the risk, opting to work from home.

The city's famed dabbawallahs, who take hundreds of thousands of hot lunches from commuters' homes to offices every day, cancelled their delivery service Wednesday.

Mumbai is regularly deluged by rain between June and September.

In 2005 around 950 millimetres (37 inches) fell on the city in just 24 hours, killing around 500 people.




Wednesday, September 20, 2017

First wave of refugees to US from Pacific camps imminent


Sydney, Australia | AFP | A first wave of refugees will leave remote Pacific detention camps and be resettled in the United States in coming weeks, Australian authorities said Wednesday, under a deal that has rankled President Donald Trump.

Canberra sends asylum-seekers who try to enter the country by boat to processing facilities on Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island, with those found to be refugees barred from resettling in Australia.

They are instead relocated to third countries, or resettled elsewhere in PNG.

The Australian government struck a pact with Washington under former president Barack Obama to resettle some of them in the United States in return for taking an unspecified number of asylum-seekers from Central America.

Doubts over the arrangement surfaced after Trump took office and attacked it as a "dumb deal" in a heated phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, before begrudgingly agreeing to honour it.

New concerns were raised in July by the sudden withdrawal from PNG of American officials assessing the refugees, days after the US passed its annual 50,000-refugee intake cap.

But Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the first group were expected to depart PNG and Nauru "in coming weeks".

"The refugees will receive notification of the outcome of their application to resettle under the US Refugee Admissions Programme in coming days," he said.

"Processing of other individuals continues and further decisions by US authorities are expected in due course. As we have made clear from the outset the resettlement arrangements will take time and will not be rushed."

Turnbull added that this was the "first stage".

"About 25 from both Manus and Nauru will be going to the United States. I just want to thank again President Trump for continuing with that arrangement," he said.

Their move was subject to Washington's "very, very thorough vetting, their extreme vetting," he added.

"But we look forward to more refugees, people who have been judged to be refugees on Nauru and Manus, to be taken to the United States."

- 'Don't leave them in limbo' -

Nearly 800 men are being held on Manus, and 371 men, women and children are detained on Nauru, according to Australian immigration data as of July 31.


The camps' conditions have been widely criticised by refugee advocates and medical professionals, who say some asylum-seekers suffer from mental health problems due to their prolonged detention.

A PNG court ruled last year that holding people on Manus was unconstitutional, and Canberra is set to shut the camp in October, but it remains unclear what will happen to those not taken by the United States.

Amnesty International urged Washington to take as many refugees as possible to ensure "not a single person is left behind".

"Amnesty International acknowledges the US for giving people a genuine chance at settling and restarting their lives in a safe place," said the group's refugee coordinator Graham Thom.

"But for the sake of those still living in the harmful conditions on Nauru and Manus we are urging the US to take as many people off these islands as possible."

The Human Rights Law Centre echoed these sentiments, saying while some now had hope, the majority remained in limbo.

"In signing the US deal our government was rightly conceding that it couldn't just abandon people on Nauru and Manus forever," said the centre's director of legal advocacy Daniel Webb.

"That was an important and long overdue concession. Now, it is our government's responsibility to make sure not a single person is left behind. Not one life can be abandoned in limbo."


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Indian brick workers treated 'worse than slaves': NGO


New Delhi, India | AFP | Millions of Indian brick workers are trapped in bonded labour and regularly cheated out of their wages, an anti-slavery group said Wednesday as it demanded government action.

A study by Anti-Slavery International in the northern state of Punjab said workers are often rescued by NGOs only to return to the kilns, needing back wages owed to them or lacking other opportunities.

There are an estimated 10 million workers toiling amid punishing heat and life-threatening pollution at tens of thousands of small-scale brick kilns in India.

The kilns have become part of the underbelly of India's economic miracle, producing building materials for gleaming offices, factories and call centres sprouting up across the world's seventh largest economy.

Impoverished families are often forced to involve their children in hard labour since workers are paid by the number of bricks made.

The "Invisible Chains" report found 65 to 80 percent of children under 14 working for an average of nine hours a day over the hot summer months.

"We have found appalling levels of bonded labour and child labour... young children are working for nine hours a day in a dusty air filled with chemicals rather than going to school," Sara Mount, the group's Asia programme manager, said.

"Often brick kiln workers are rescued from a situation of bonded labour in brick kilns in one season but then have little choice in the following season but to work in the brick kilns again," she said in the report.

Bonded labour is illegal in India but rules are regularly flouted to maximise profits with little fear of the law.

Scenes of sweaty bare-footed workers hauling heavy loads and hacking at clay show the economic benefits of India's speedy growth are yet to reach the marginalised sections of the society.

- Locked up at night -

The report is based on testimonies from families who have worked in the kilns in squalid conditions.

"We toiled day and night for five months but we were barely paid the wages," said Nohar Bai, a 35-year-old worker.

"Together with my husband we would make some 1,400 bricks in a day. We were a group of 23 people and at night they would lock us all up in a small room. We were treated worse than slaves," she told AFP by phone.

Rinky, a 26-year-old mother of one, said her employers owed her family 32,000 rupees ($498) -- a fortune for many in a country where millions live on less than $2 a day.


"We will not go back again to work there even if it means we will have to forgo what is our rightful earning," she said.

Tejinder Singh Dhaliwal, Punjab's labour commissioner, denied rules were being flouted with impunity at the kilns.

"Whenever we get any complaint we act promptly. On the whole conditions are not too bad," he told AFP.

"Even otherwise we conduct our own surveys and wherever needed we take action. I don't think rules are being flouted."

Figures cited in the report said nearly 90 per cent of the kilns do not have access to running water and an average family lives in a cramped 7.6 square metre room at the site.

Volunteers for Social Justice, Anti-Slavery International's partner in the research, said systemic changes were needed to overhaul the exploitative industry.

"The government must ensure workers are paid minimum wages regularly. This would help reduce poverty and vulnerability of families, so there is less need for children to work," said Jai Singh, director of the group.

"It is time the government takes responsibility and ends this exploitation that shouldn't be taking place in the 21st century."


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Trump decries threats to sovereignty in Ukraine, S. China Sea


US President Donald Trump on Tuesday decried threats to sovereignty in Ukraine and the South China Sea.

In his maiden speech to the UN General Assembly, Trump did not explicitly mention Russia or China, but the comment was clearly aimed at Moscow and Beijing.

"We must reject threats to sovereignty from the Ukraine to the South China Sea," Trump said. "We must uphold respect for law, respect for borders, and respect for culture, and the peaceful engagement these allow."


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

SA prosecutors want Pistorius jail term extended


South Africa's state prosecutors are appealing to extend the six-year murder sentence handed to Paralympian champion Oscar Pistorius last year.

The Supreme Court is set to hear the state’s appeal against the former athlete’s murder sentence on November 3.

National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Luvuyo Mfaku confirmed the date for the hearing by the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein.

“The state, in the papers, we stipulate clearly that the sentence imposed is shockingly low,” said Mr Mfaku.

The Paralympian champion was sent to jail for a second time in June 2016 to start serving his six-year term for the Valentine’s Day 2013 killing of his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

He had initially been found guilty of culpable homicide and received a five-year prison sentence, but on appeal by the state, was found guilty of murder.

His case was transferred back to the original judge and he was sentenced to six years. (NMG)



Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Saudi Arabia raises $1.87 bn in Islamic bond issue


Saudi Arabia has raised $1.87 billion in a new Islamic bond issue as the kingdom bids to finance a budget deficit resulting from low oil prices.

Demand was strong for the third sale of Islamic bonds, known as sukuk, this year with orders exceeding 24 billion riyals ($6.4 billion), the finance ministry said in a statement cited by the SPA state news agency.

The first two issues were made in April and July and were worth a total of $13.5 billion. The kingdom had also issued conventional domestic and global bonds.

The largest Arab economy is suffering from a sharp slide in oil revenues since crude prices plummeted in mid-2014, forcing Riyadh to cut subsidies and delay projects.

The kingdom has forecast a budget deficit of $53 billion this fiscal year, down slightly from last year's shortfall.


Riyadh has also withdrawn more than $230 billion from its fiscal reserves since the end of 2014 to finance the budget deficit. Its reserves now stand at just over $490 billion.


Economic growth in Saudi Arabia is expected to hit just 0.1 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.


That would be the country's worst growth since 2009, when its economy contracted by 2.0 percent as oil revenues slumped following the global financial crisis.




© Agence France-Presse


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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Migori police in Kenya arrest men found with schoolgirls in lodging

A secondary school teacher and a trader have been arrested in Migori County after they were found in a lodging with primary school girls from Tanzania.

Police acting on a tip-off from members of the public picked up the two on Tuesday morning from a guest house at Nyabohanse trading centre in Kuria West Sub-County.

The two men had walked into the guest house in the company of the Tanzanian girls aged 15 and 16, forty minutes before the police swung into action.

The suspects were taken to Isebania Police Station where they were locked up for interrogation.


Kuria West police boss Benson Kyalo said the girls were taken for medical tests whose report will be used to prosecute the suspects.

“They are going to face relevant charges in court. Adults must respect the rights of children,” he said.


The incident attracted a crowd of on-lookers as the duo and their victims were being bundled into a police vehicle.


The girls said they came from Tarime District in Tanzania.


“The police found us relaxing with Guinness and Coca Cola drinks which the men had bought us,” said one of the girls. (NMG)


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Kenya's electronic voting system won't be ready, says French firm


The electronic voting system due to be used in a re-run of Kenya's presidential poll will not be ready in time, the French biometrics firm behind it said Monday.

OT-Morpho provided Kenya's Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) with equipment to identify voters biometrically in the August 8 election.

The result of the vote was annulled by the Supreme Court, and a re-run has been scheduled for October 17, when the system is to be deployed again.


But in a statement, OT-Morpho cautioned that it was unable to deploy the same equipment that was used on August 8.


It was leaving the computer system and its data untouched to enable a possible external audit, in the light of the disputed outcome, it said.


"As a consequence, in the scope of the fresh elections, OT-Morpho has to reinstall a fresh new RTS system as well as all 45,000 KIEMS kits," it said, referring to the computer system for transmitting provisional results and to the laptops used for biometric ID.


"This represents a very significant amount of work, which can not be secured by October 17th," the company said, adding it had "previously informed the IEBC of this information."


The opposition, whose leader Raila Odinga lost out to incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta, has alleged that the August vote was rigged and the electronic vote-tallying system was hacked.


OT-Morpho, in its statement on Monday, reiterated that an internal audit of its system showed no intrusion or manipulation of data.


It repeated that it was willing to have its equipment scrutinised "as quickly as possible" by outside experts, working under the IEBC's authority.


Voting on August 8 was carried out on ballot papers that were then manually counted. The results were then collected electronically, backed on paper by so-called 34A tallying forms.


But the opposition said many 34A forms were delayed and often had not been signed or stamped, or were illegible or lacked serial numbers or watermarks.


OT-Morpho pointed to a further hurdle in its ability to collaborate in the October rerun -- "the detailed conclusions of the Supreme Court, specially on the technical aspects of the systems, which are still unknown at this time."


Odinga has threatened to boycott the re-run, notably unless several IEBC members step aside, insisting the transmission system inflated Kenyatta's score.


Under Kenya's constitution, the IEBC has until October 31 to hold the new election.


It was the first time a presidential election result has been overturned on Africa, and follows three previous failed bids by 72-year-old Odinga for the presidency -- in 1997, 2007 and 2013.


After the 2007 vote, Odinga's supporters took to the streets, and a resulting crackdown coupled with a wave of politically motivated tribal violence left over 1,100 dead.




© Agence France-Presse


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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Protesters back on St Louis streets after violence, arrest


By Nova SAFO

Protests simmered for the fourth straight day Monday in St Louis, Missouri amid outrage over the acquittal of a white former police officer in the shooting death of a black man.

Dozens marched peacefully, some carrying "Black Lives Matter" signs, through the Midwestern city's downtown streets and in front of city hall, while some 250 high school students also briefly marched out of school.

After dark, a large crowd of demonstrators gathered outside the St Louis City Justice Center, a prison.

Police said there were no arrests or incidents, after a weekend in which dozens were arrested as largely peaceful protests turned violent three days running. On Sunday alone, police booked 123 demonstrators.

"The days have been calm and the nights have been destructive," Mayor Lyda Krewson said at an early morning news conference.


"After the demonstration, organizers announced that the daytime protest was over. But a group of agitators stayed behind, apparently intent on breaking windows and destroying property. This is not acceptable."


The public outcry is over a judge's ruling Friday that there was not enough evidence to convict former police officer Jason Stockley of murdering Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man, following a 2011 car chase.

Protesters have marched through city streets, clashed with police, thrown bricks through the windows of businesses and overturned trash cans.

Protesters broke a window and splattered paint on the mayor's home as well.

The violence led to the cancellations of several cultural events over the weekend -- including concerts by rock giants U2 and pop star Ed Sheeran.

Police suffered minor injuries and responded with force, appearing in riot gear and arresting protesters.

- Journalist arrested -

"Once again, a group of criminals set out to break windows and destroy property. Tonight, those criminals are in jail," acting police chief Lawrence O'Toole said.


"Some criminals assaulted law enforcement officers and threw chemicals and rocks at them."


But activists and observers fired back on social media, claiming police had been excessively aggressive toward protesters.


They also challenged reports of confiscated chemicals, claiming the substances were merely apple cider vinegar used to counteract weapons such as pepper spray.


Among those arrested Sunday was a journalist for the St Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper, who was caught up with a crowd as police corralled about 100 people who they said had not complied with orders to disperse.


"We are closed in on all four sides now I have no idea where people are supposed to go. People freaking out," Mike Faulk wrote in one of his final dispatches on Twitter prior to his arrest. He was released more than 13 hours later Monday afternoon.


In an account published by the newspaper, Faulk said several officers knocked him down and a foot pushed his head into the pavement before an office squirted pepper spray in his face.


It cited other witnesses as saying police hit and roughed up people who would not obey orders to keep their hands behind their backs.


The police union, meanwhile, was taking donations for officers working long shifts during the turbulence.


The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the St Louis police response, saying officers have at times acted illegally.


"From eyewitness and filmed accounts, we continue to see the St Louis Metropolitan Police Department engage in unacceptable, unlawful and unconstitutional behavior," the civil rights group said.


- 'Why?' -

The ACLU claimed an officer dangerously drove a police car backwards into a crowd, and that other officers used excessive force and unlawfully detained people.


"We urge everyone to ask themselves a bigger question: Why are these protests happening?" the rights group said.


Stockley's acquittal was the latest example of the difficulty US prosecutors face in charging law enforcement officers following controversial deaths of citizens.


A number of cases brought against officers in various US cities have failed to send officers to jail -- including in the nearby states of Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.


St Louis has a history of tension between police and its black communities. The city and its suburb Ferguson became the focus of national attention following the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown, which sparked protests and disturbances.


Brown, an 18-year-old African American, was shot to death by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.


Wilson was not charged by local or federal prosecutors, but the incident led to a Justice Department investigation that found a pattern of civil rights violations by the Ferguson police.


Eric Holder, president Barack Obama's attorney general, concluded that Ferguson police "routinely violate" constitutional rights, including unjustified arrests and unreasonable use of force.




© Agence France-Presse


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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Suu Kyi 'burying head in sand' over Rakhine crisis: Amnesty


Aung San Suu Kyi and her government are "burying their heads in the sand" over the violence in Rakhine state, Amnesty International said Tuesday, criticising Myanmar's leader for failing to condemn the army's alleged abuses in a televised speech.

The United Nations, rights groups, and a tide of Rohingya refugees pouring into Bangladesh have accused Myanmar's military of using bullets and arson to wage an "ethnic cleansing campaign" against the Muslim minority.

In her speech Tuesday, Suu Kyi expressed sympathy for the "suffering of all people" swept up in the violence but did not address accusations of ethnic cleansing.

She instead said only that anyone guilty of rights abuses would be brought to justice.


"Aung San Suu Kyi today demonstrated that she and her government are still burying their heads in the sand over the horrors unfolding in Rakhine State. At times, her speech amounted to little more than a mix of untruths and victim blaming," Amnesty said.


The rights group blasted Suu Kyi for remaining "silent about the role of the security forces", whom they have accused of being "engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing".


The watchdog also criticised Suu Kyi's call for international observers to visit Myanmar to assess its troubles for themselves, citing her government's blocking of a UN fact-finding mission to probe alleged army atrocities in Rakhine.


"Aung San Suu Kyi's claims that her government 'does not fear international scrutiny' ring hollow... If Myanmar has nothing to hide, it should allow UN investigators into the country, including Rakhine state," Amnesty said.




© Agence France-Presse


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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Trump UN speech to slap 'rogue regimes', embrace nationalist tone


By Andrew BEATTY

US President Donald Trump will take aim at Iran and North Korea and strike a stridently nationalistic tone in his maiden address to the UN General Assembly Tuesday, rejecting the half-century-old drive toward global governance.

A top aide said Trump will take aim at "rogue regimes that threaten world stability and peace," singling out Pyongyang and Tehran during his half hour remarks and arguing responsible nations must step in to curb their behavior.

Trump has warned North Korea faces "fire and fury" if it does not abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and argued a global deal to curb Iran's uranium enrichment must be reworked.

In both instances, Trump's "America first" stance faces significant pushback from international partners -- from Russia to China to European allies -- who aides say Trump is likely to press to be tougher, but perhaps not name explicitly.


When he steps up to the famous green marble rostrum, Trump will also set out his vision for a world shorn of what one senior advisor familiar with the speech called the overarching "global bureaucracy."


Trump will argue nation states should be free to pursue their interests unfettered -- a contentious message for delegates to the world's foremost multilateral forum.


Since coming to office in January, Trump has sought to unravel US involvement in multilateral deals from the Paris climate accord to an agreement curbing Iran's nuclear program.


He has cancelled a major trans-Pacific trade pact, sought to renegotiate a free trade deal with Mexico and Canada and even threatened to leave the World Trade Organization.


Aides said Trump will not rule out accords between sovereign states -- such as those that underpin security in Europe and Asia -- but will argue against overbearing global governance.


- Nation-state -

"It's an appeal to each nation to use sovereignty as the basis for mutual cooperation, the idea being that rather than appealing to a top-down model of global bureaucracy, it's a model that's from the nation-state up," a senior official said.


"It is about the nation-state being the best vehicle, as the president has said before, for the elevation of the human condition."


During his first day at the UN General Assembly Trump warned that "bureaucracy" was holding the United Nations back, a barbed message to the world body he once derided as a talk shop.


Trump warned that as chief executive of the United States -- a founding member of the UN and its biggest financial contributor -- he wants a better return on his investment.


"The United Nations was founded on truly noble goals," he said, adding that while progress has been made, "in recent years the United Nations has not reached its full potential, because of bureaucracy and mismanagement."


- Low bar -

Allies and foes alike will rummage through Trump's speech on Tuesday for a better idea of how this lurching superpower foresees its future place in the world.


"The bar for success, as usual, is very low," said Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution. "If the president can make a half decent attempt at playing the role of the leader of the free world, everyone will breathe a sigh of relief."


"The risk, also as usual, is that he goes off script and says what he really thinks."


More tub-thumping at the UN would thrill his diehard fans at home, but bellicose warnings to North Korea would undoubtedly make Tokyo and Seoul -- both well within range of North Korean ballistic missiles -- uneasy.


Shredding the "bad deal" that curbs Iran's nuclear program could burnish Trump's hard-charging businessman brand, but would infuriate European allies and risk setting loose havoc across the Middle East.




© Agence France-Presse


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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

US Senate passes $700 bn defense spending bill


The US Senate overwhelmingly authorized $700 billion in defense spending Monday, a substantial increase over 2017 funding and nearly five percent more than President Donald Trump had requested.


The National Defense Authorization Act of 2018 allows for increased spending on new F-35 fighter jets, ships and M1 Abrams tanks, raises military pay by 2.1 percent and authorizes nearly $5 billion for Afghanistan security forces, including a program integrating women into the country's national defense.


It also authorizes $8.5 billion to boost US missile defense -- a full $630 million above Trump's baseline request -- at a time of heightened tensions with North Korea over its testing of nuclear devices and ballistic missiles.


The bill provides for $60 billion in war funding known as Overseas Contingency Operations, and boosted military enlistment figures by 7,000.


The legislation, one of the cornerstones of congressional bipartisanship over the decades, passed 89 to 8.


The House of Representatives passed its version in July, and the two chambers will now need to thrash out a compromise bill.


"It keeps faith with our men and women in uniform," Republican John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said of the bill he shepherded through the chamber.


McCain was quick to point to the increasing number of training accidents within the military, saying the lack of force readiness was a result of ever-tightening budgets that left the army, navy and other branches depleted.


"My friends, more of our men and women in uniform are now being killed in totally avoidable training accidents and routine operations than by our enemies in combat," McCain told his colleagues.


"Where is the outrage about this? Where is our sense of urgency to deal with this problem?"


The $700 billion is $91 billion beyond the spending caps outlined in the 2011 Budget Control Act, which demanded a "sequestration" of military spending in order to rein in federal costs.


McCain said it was imperative that Congress lift the spending caps on a bipartisan basis in order to fully fund military operations.


The legislation also funds European security programs with US allies, arguing that deterring "malign" Russian activities and aggression there "is an enduring function."




© Agence France-Presse


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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Tommy Hilfiger picks London for first show outside US


Designer Tommy Hilfiger will present his first catwalk show outside the United States on Tuesday, closing London Fashion Week with a collection taking inspiration from the British music scene.

The much-anticipated showcase of Hilfiger's Spring/Summer 2018 collection will bring a touch of sportswear chic to Fashion Week, closing the five-day event with a high-profile bang.

The 66-year-old American designer, king of a fashion empire which last year saw sales of $6.6 billion, has picked the Roundhouse as a venue, an arts space known for concerts by legendary stars like Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and David Bowie.

The choice recalls Hilfiger's early experiences of seeking inspiration in the British capital.


"I started to come to London when I was a teen because I wanted to explore the whole lifestyle and I was obsessed with fashion. I wanted to see what was going on in London," he told AFP at the fashion house's London showroom.


He found flair in British bands of the period -- naming the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Eric Clapton and Small Faces as influences.


"They had a sense of style that was very different to anyone else," said Hilfiger, dressed in jeans and a gilet.


It is this "heritage of British rock" that the designer will celebrate Tuesday with a show created in collaboration with model Gigi Hadid.


"Gigi is very involved with designing the Gigi Tommy collection with us. So a lot of the ideas came from her style," he said, describing Hadid's taste as street, sport and fun.


The collaboration will also promote the brand's online presence thanks to the social media profile of the model, who boasts nearly 36 million Instagram followers.


- Embracing the digital age -

Tuesday will mark the third time Hilfiger presents his "TOMMYNOW" concept, an on-the-road catwalk similar to a band tour.


The idea has already proven successful on home soil, with stops in New York last year and Los Angeles in February, each bringing with it extravagance and extraordinary costs.


Hilfiger has been able to make them profitable, adopting the "see now, buy now" immediate sale approach which has emerged over the past few seasons -- a trend which he is certain will not be going away.


The designer has taken the idea even further by creating an app which enables guests to take a photo of a model and buy their outfit instantly.


"Young people especially, they see something on the runway or they see something that looks cool, they want to wear it the next day. They don't want to see it on the runway and wait six months to buy it," said Hilfiger.


The designer sees the digital age -- and the social media hype that comes with it -- as an irreversible trend and an opportunity to be seized.


"I think we have to continue to move forward and we have to embrace it," he said.


Other than Hilfiger, London Fashion Week saw another big name hit the catwalk on Sunday: Giorgio Armani.


The involvement of both designers in this year's event has been a boost for the British fashion scene, which is well-known for bold young designers but has, apart from Burberry, often lacked major brands.


Their presence is especially welcome in light of Brexit, which has prompted fears of a flight of talent and capital from the UK and has exposed the country to considerable economic uncertainty.




© Agence France-Presse


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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Merchants say Egypt tourism revival steady but slow


By Bassem Aboualabass

Pummelled by political unrest and jihadist attacks, Egypt's tourism industry is slowly growing again, but too slowly for thousands of bazaar workers who fondly recall when tourists thronged their stores.

Abu Aya owns a souvenir shop in the southern city of Luxor which is home to ancient pharaonic monuments, and he fondly remembers the days when the front pocket of his traditional Arabic robe sagged with cash.

"Before 2011 it was filled with dollars and euros. Today the sellers just sit in front of their stores reading the papers because there are so few customers," the 47-year-old said.

In the promenade bazaar lined with shops selling souvenirs and incense, every business seemed to be suffering from the downturn.


For years the North African nation had worked to attract more tourists to its famed ancient sites and pristine Red Sea beaches, a policy that resulted in a record 14.7 million visitors in 2010.

Tourism in the Arab world's most populous country has long provided much-needed revenues.

But an uprising that unseated autocrat Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, followed by years of political unrest, rolled back the gains in a disaster to the four million people whose jobs at the time relied on the tourism industry.

A jihadist insurgency that erupted in 2013 also took its toll. Two years later, security forces mistakenly killed eight Mexican tourists they thought were "terrorists".

- Public relations blitz -

In October 2015, the Islamic State group said it downed a Russian airliner in the Sinai after it took off from a Red Sea resort, killing all 224 people on board.

Visitor numbers plunged from 9.3 million in 2015 to 5.3 million the following year.

A public relations blitz by the tourism industry including international events and slick advertisements has had some effect, tourism officials say.

Hotel occupancy rates in Luxor are expected to reach 30 percent by the end of the year, compared with 23 percent in 2016 and 17 percent in 2015, said Maher Abdel Hakim, an expert on the hospitality industry who runs a tourism promotion group.

But there is still a long way to go, as suggested by the desperate shop owners and drivers of horse-drawn carriages who resort to pleading for business.

"I'll accept whatever you pay -- I just want to buy fodder for the horse," one yelled at potential clients outside the colossus-flanked entrance of the ancient Luxor Temple.

Sites such as Luxor -- once a pharaonic capital that still boasts stunning ancient temples -- have been hardest hit, compared with the beach resorts that continue to attract a diminished but steady flow of holidaymakers.

"Before the 2011 revolution, 1,500 French tourists would come to Luxor in just a week," said Ahmed Mahmoud, a 35-year-old former tourism industry worker who has since switched to teaching.

- 'The people are great' -

Abdel Hakim said the city's population and its tourism workers were suffering.


"Tourists in the past would walk around the historic sites, and ride carriages and buy souvenirs... everyone would profit," he said.


Abu Aya accepts that tourists have indeed begun to return. But "this hasn't yet been felt by the owners of bazaars and residents of the city".


He says that despite a bungled attack in a Luxor temple in 2015, the city is safe, a view Chinese tourist Ann Zhu agreed with.


"I feel Luxor is safer than Cairo, and the people here are great," said the 28-year-old who had just visited the Karnak temple where the attack was foiled.


Tourists from China have been among the most drawn to the ancient Egyptian sites over the past two years.


China's top public travel agency, China International Travel Service, reported a 58 percent increase in the number of tourists flying to Egypt compared with 2015.


"I've started speaking Chinese," said Ahmed Hassan, who operates a hot-air balloon that gives tourists the chance to experience a different perspective of the area's famous sites.




© Agence France-Presse


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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Japan deploys missile defence to northern island: minister


Japan deployed Tuesday an additional missile defence system on its northern island of Hokkaido, days after North Korea launched a missile over the island, sparking emergency warnings to take cover.

"As part of measures to prepare for emergencies, we will today deploy a PAC-3 unit" to a base of the nation's Ground Self-Defense Force in the southern tip of Hokkaido, Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters.

The Patriot Advanced Capability-3 system arrived at the base later on Tuesday, a local defence official told AFP.

The move came with tensions on the Korean peninsula at fever-pitch after Pyongyang carried out its sixth nuclear test and fired two missiles over Japan in the space of less than a month.

North Korea "may take further provocative actions including launching ballistic missiles that would fly over Japan again in the future", Onodera said, adding that his ministry "would take appropriate measures to protect people's safety".


According to local officials, Japan has already deployed the PAC-3 system to another part of Hokkaido.


But defence officials declined to confirm where in Japan other systems were deployed, citing the sensitive nature of defence information.


North Korea has threatened to "sink" Japan into the sea and said Saturday it sought military "equilibrium" with arch-enemy the United States by developing a full nuclear arsenal.


Hawkish Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he would "never tolerate" the North's "dangerous provocative action" and has urged the international community to ramp up pressure on Pyongyang.


The UN Security Council, which condemned the launch as "highly provocative," will hold a new ministerial-level meeting Thursday on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, focused on enforcing sanctions on the North Korean regime.




© Agence France-Presse


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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Front row for N. Korea, beef for lunch: a look at the UN gathering


It's been dubbed the Super Bowl of diplomacy, the Oscars of world statesmanship: the UN General Assembly kicks off on Tuesday with US President Donald Trump in the spotlight as he makes his first address to the 193-nation body.

Here are a few fun facts about this year's gathering:

- Who's coming -

There are 90 heads of state, five vice presidents, 39 heads of government, three deputy prime ministers and 52 ministers.

At the rostrum for the first time will be Trump as well as France's Emmanuel Macron and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who has been in the top job for nine months.

Gambia's Adama Barrow is making his international debut after trouncing long-serving leader Yahya Jammeh.

Among the heavy hitters are Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and British Prime Minister Theresa May.

- North Korea gets front-row seat -

As luck would have it, North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Yong-Ho is getting a front-row seat at this year's General Assembly, sitting to the right of the rostrum.

Every year, the name of a country gets pulled out of a box to determine the alphabetical order of the seating arrangement.

This year's winner was the Czech Republic, which means the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as North Korea is formally known, got the second seat in the front row.


- Beef and potatoes for lunch - 

Are UN cooks pandering to Trump's love of meat? One glance at the menu for the state luncheon on Tuesday and the question does comes to mind.

World leaders will enjoy pan-seared Japanese Wagyu beef tenderloin, Yukon gold potatoes, roasted asparagus and baby carrots.

The starters include roasted chanterelle mushrooms, haricots and grilled stone fruit served on a bed of lettuce.

The power lunch in a UN meeting hall will be crowned with a selection of chocolate mousses, fresh raspberries and passion fruit coulis.

A French Sancerre wine will be served at the start, followed by a California Cabernet Sauvignon and -- in a nod to Guterres' native land -- there will be a 40-year-old porto from Portugal on offer at the end.

Trump will be seated next to Guterres during the luncheon.

Also at the table will be Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Swiss President Doris Leuthard, Ecuador's Lenin Moreno, South Korea's Moon Jae-In, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Liberia's Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Recep Tayyip Erdogan from Turkey, Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania and Alpha Conde of Guinea.

- New York traffic mayhem -

For New Yorkers, the annual week-long UN General Assembly means traffic chaos as thousands of police are deployed and streets are shut down to make way for presidential motorcades.

Hotel prices are also at a premium.

Trump is staying at his Manhattan Trump Tower, which means that area is on lockdown.




© Agence France-Presse


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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Dominica has lost 'all what money can buy' in Hurricane Maria: PM


The residents of Dominica have "lost all what money can buy and replace" after Hurricane Maria pounded the tiny Caribbean island, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said early Tuesday.

Maria, a monster Category Five storm with winds of 160 miles (257 kilometers) per hour, made landfall on Dominica around 0115 GMT Tuesday.

The hurricane was traveling on a path along eastern Caribbean islands still reeling from Irma.

"Initial reports are of widespread devastation. So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace," Skerrit said in a Facebook post, calling the damage "devastating... indeed, mind boggling."


"The winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with. The roof to my own official residence was among the first to go."


He appealed for "help of all kinds" but noted specifically that helicopters will be needed so that authorities can survey the damage.


Though there were no initial reports of casualties, Skerrit said his fear was that heavy rains will set off dangerous landslides.


The prime minister said authorities would set out in the morning, once it was deemed safe to venture out, to search for people who were injured or trapped in rubble.


Prior to the storm, Dominica residents flocked to supermarkets to stock up on essentials as island officials warned people living in low-lying areas or along rivers to move to high ground. All of the island's shelters were opened.


The airport and ports were closed and the local water company shut down its systems to protect intake valves from debris churned up by the storm.


Islanders still remember the massive destruction and death caused by David, another Category Five hurricane that struck in 1979.




© Agence France-Presse


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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Australia bolsters efforts to tackle spiralling meth problem


Cooperation with China and other key drug-producing nations will be bolstered under a new strategy unveiled Tuesday to combat a flood of crystal meth into Australia that has seen ice use triple in five years.

With its street prices soaring, Australia has become an increasingly attractive destination for drug-smugglers, which has made it the highest per capita consumer of methamphetamine in the world.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan said it was evident more needed to be done to halt narcotics reaching Australia and that could only be achieved by boosting ties with overseas agencies.

"We need to not sit here in Australia waiting for these drugs to hit our shores but we need to go offshore and do what we can to disrupt supply," he said.


"The demand remains so high in Australia that organised criminals from all over the globe are keen to get involved in the market."

An Australian Crime Commission report in 2015 found that while US$80 bought one gram of ice in China, the estimated 270,000 users in Australia had to pay US$500 for the same amount.

Keenan said intelligence showed China and India were key sources of the precursor chemicals needed to make ice, while China and Myanmar were notable manufacturers of the end product.


Distribution networks thrived in Vietnam, Cambodia and other parts of Southeast Asia.


The new strategy will involve reinforcing information-sharing arrangements with Interpol and Europol to better pinpoint organised crime groups.


Australia will also work more closely with counterpart law enforcement agencies in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Mekong region of Southeast Asia to smash syndicates and follow money trails.


The Australian Federal Police pointed to the success of a continuing joint operation between itself and China since 2015 which has stopped 13 tonnes of drugs, including six tonnes of methamphetamine, from reaching Australia.


But it warned the ice trade was dynamic, with new source and transit countries emerging all the time.


"Links between organised crime syndicates controlling the drug trade in Asia, Mexico and West Africa are becoming more established," it said.

Keenan said the plan was to "better focus and align agencies' resources and efforts" while helping train overseas partners and shore up political support to go after drug gangs.

"All around the world, you will find agents of the Australian Federal Police, of the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, of Australian Border Force... working side-by-side with their counterparts to stop the supply of drugs from coming into Australia," he said.



© Agence France-Presse


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Monday, September 18, 2017

Britain lowers threat level after second arrest over London attack


London, United Kingdom | AFP |Police stepped up their investigation Monday into the bombing of a packed London Underground train during rush hour after officers made a second arrest in their probe.

The bomb went off on Friday's morning in a crowded carriage and although the device is thought to have malfunctioned, it still wounded 30 people. Britain downgraded on Sunday the nation's terrorism threat from its highest level following the arrest.

It was the country's fifth terror attack in six months, a series that has claimed 35 lives.

Police said earlier Sunday that a 21-year-old man, who has not been identified, was detained late Saturday in Hounslow, on the western rim of the capital.

"The Joint Terrorist Analysis Centre, which reviews the threat level that the UK is under, have decided to lower that level from critical to severe," interior minister Amber Rudd said in a televised statement.

A critical threat level means another attack is "expected imminently" while a severe threat indicates an assault is highly likely.

A search was underway on Sunday in Stanwell, a few miles west of Hounslow, in connection with the 21-year-old's arrest, police said.

After taking into custody an 18-year-old man earlier on Saturday over the "bucket bomb" attack at the Parsons Green Underground station, police said they they were hunting for more suspects.

Rudd said the police were trying to find out how the first man arrested was "radicalised".

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for Friday's explosion.

The first arrest on Saturday took place at the Dover ferry terminal, a main link to Europe. A "number of items" were recovered during the operation and the man is now in custody in London, officers said.

Police also raided a home in Sunbury, a town west of London on Saturday. Local residents quoted in British media said the owners of the house were elderly foster parents.

CCTV footage obtained by British media on Sunday appeared to show a man walking from the property on Friday morning, carrying a bag similar to the one containing the failed device.

- Passengers flee in panic -

Now that the terror threat has been downgraded, soldiers deployed to guard key sites across the country "will return to their original positions" during the next few days, Rudd said.

The critical warning had last been used after the deadly suicide bombing at a pop concert in the northwestern city of Manchester in May, for which IS also claimed responsibility.

But Rudd voiced doubt over the IS claim that it was behind Friday's bombing.

"It is inevitable that so-called Islamic State or Daesh will try to claim responsibility but we have no evidence to suggest that yet," she told the BBC.

Rudd had earlier dismissed as "pure speculation" US President Donald Trump's claim, made Friday on Twitter, that a "loser terrorist" behind the attack was known to Scotland Yard.

The tweet had already drawn a terse rebuke from Prime Minister Theresa May, who said: "I never think it's helpful for anybody to speculate on what is an ongoing investigation."

In another security scare on Sunday, a London-bound British Airways flight was evacuated at Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport after a false bomb alert.

The improvised device at Parsons Green, a quiet and well-off residential district, failed to detonate fully.

But the blast inflicted flash burns on passengers, and prompted dozens of others to flee in panic.

- 'Fireball flew down carriage' -

Twitter user @Rrigs posted pictures of a white bucket smouldering on the train and described how a "fireball flew down carriage and we just jumped out open door".

The bucket, which was inside a frozen food bag, looked like the type used by builders, and there appeared to be wires coming from it.

Louis Hather, 21, had been travelling to work and was three carriages down from where the explosion took place.

"I could smell the burning. Like when you burn plastic," he told AFP.

He was trampled on as panicking passengers stampeded out of the station, leaving him with a bad cut and bruised leg.

The bomb's remnants were examined by forensic scientists but no further details were released.

Several victims were taken to hospital, though health authorities said none were in a life-threatening condition.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Armani lightens up London Fashion Week


London, United Kingdom | AFP |Italian labels Versus Versace and Emporio Armani brought the darkness and light to London Fashion Week on Sunday, burnishing the city's reputation as a fashion capital.

Industry icon Giorgio Armani had not displayed in London for 11 years, an eternity in the world of fashion, ending his hiatus to celebrate the label's renovated flagship London store in the upscale Mayfair neighbourhood.

The spring-summer 2018 show at Tobacco Dock, a former tobacco warehouse, was marked by light and playful creations including a lightweight windbreaker with printed crab design, small, round-collared dresses, pastel-coloured ensembles and flowing pants.

The label described the "frEAdom" collection as embodying "freedom as lightness of being and eclecticism of appearance".

The Italian fashion giant, more accustomed to the Milan catwalks, has around 3,000 points of sale worldwide, which the group is trying to consolidate.

Armani, 83, said he had chosen London "for its "dynamism, energy and cosmopolitanism".

Fellow fashion giant Tommy Hilfiger was to arrive in Britain on Tuesday in another coup for Fashion Week, which has always boasted audacious young designers but sometimes lacked big-name appeal.

Their presence is "proof that our city is an international crossroads of creativity and culture", said Caroline Rush, director of the British Fashion Council.

It is also a positive sign for the British economy, which is on uncertain foundations ahead of its departure from the European Union.

- 'Individuality, bravery, pleasure' -

Earlier, Versus Versace stuck to its roots with a daring and provocative show, a daring appetiser ahead of Armani's return.

Versus, the Italian brand's laid-back line, transformed the city's Central Saint Martins college, a hub of British design talent, into a temporary nightclub for its 2018 spring/summer collection, with bass-heavy electro music booming from a giant wall of speakers.

The collection celebrated the mini and the transparent, the provocative and the daring, with short dresses in mesh worn over the top of black bikinis and low-waist shorts with printed chain designs.

The label remained faithful to its cherished black, which it embellished with lime green earrings, handbags and belts with geometric and mottled prints of American classic cars.

"Versus is about individuality, bravery and pleasure. This is for everyone who dares to express themselves in everything they do," said chief designer Donatella Versace.


On a more demure note, Versus presented a range of comfortable trousers, jackets and dresses in grey tartans, enlivened by flashes of bright colours.

The show was also the occasion to present the Gianni Versace scholarship for students of Central Saint Martins.

"It is with great pleasure that we are funding a yearly scholarship at the College as a tribute to my brother Gianni, and in his memory we wanted to nurture the creators of tomorrow," Versace said.

"Central Saint Martins educates and trains some of the best talents in the world of fashion and many of their alumni have come to work with me over years."

But not everyone is so enthused by the event's success, with dozens of animal rights protesters holding noisy demonstrations since Friday.

Many gathered before the Versus show chanting "You have blood on your hands" and demanding a ban on labels that use fur.

The Fashion Council told AFP that it "does not dictate what designers can or cannot design" but encouraged designers to "work with reputable organisations that supply ethically sourced fur".


Monday, September 18, 2017

Hurricane Maria grows on fearsome Irma's path

Palm trees sway in the wind prior to the

Palm trees sway in the wind prior to the arrival of the Hurricane Irma in Caibarien, Cuba, September 9, 2017. —Photo|Reuters pic 

Washington, United States | AFP | Maria was forecast Sunday to surge to major hurricane strength as it nears the storm-battered eastern Caribbean with 85 mile (140 kilometer) per hour winds, the US National Hurricane Center said, on a path similar to that of mega storm Irma earlier in the month.

Storm warnings and watches went up in many of the Caribbean islands still reeling from Irma's destructive passage.

As of 0300 GMT Monday, Maria was a Category One hurricane, the lowest on the five point Saffir-Simpson scale, located 100 miles (165 kilometers) northeast of Barbados while bearing west-northwest at 13 miles (20 kilometers) an hour, the NHC said.

"On the forecast track, the center of Maria will move across the Leeward Islands Monday night and then over the extreme northeastern Caribbean Sea on Tuesday," it said.

"Rapid strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours, and Maria is expected to become a major hurricane as it moves through the Leeward Islands," the NHC warned.

Hurricane warnings were triggered for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat and Martinique.

Less urgent 'watches' were issued for the US and British Virgin Islands where at least nine people were killed during Irma; French-Dutch island St Martin where 15 people died; Saba and St Eustatius; St Barthelemy and Anguilla.

A warning is typically issued 36 hours before the first occurrence of tropical storm-force winds while watches are issued 48 hours in advance.

In the French territory of Guadeloupe, authorities announced a "red alert" from Monday with schools, businesses and government offices ordered closed as officials predicted severe flooding in the lower parts of the island and urged people living there to move to higher ground.

Meanwhile the French island of Martinique was placed on "orange alert" from Monday with high seas and heavy rain expected to cause flooding. Schools and universities will be closed, authorities said.

Tropical storm warnings were in place in Antigua and Barbuda, Saba and St Eustatius, and St Lucia. The tiny island of Barbuda was decimated by Hurricane Irma September 5-6 when it made its first landfall in the Caribbean as a top intensity Category Five storm.

- Dangerous storm surges -

The NHC said Maria could produce a "dangerous storm surge accompanied by large and destructive waves" that will raise water levels by four to six feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters) when it passes through the Leeward Islands.


It also forecast a maximum potential rainfall of 20 inches (51 centimeters) in the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico and the US and British Virgin Islands through Wednesday night -- conditions that could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.

A second hurricane, Jose, is also currently active in the Atlantic and has triggered tropical storm watches for the northeastern United States.

Irma left around 40 people dead in the Caribbean before churning east and pounding Florida, where at least 20 people were killed.

France, Britain and the Netherlands have been criticized for the pace of relief efforts in their overseas territories amid widespread shortages of food, water and electricity.

Hurricane Irma broke weather records when it sustained winds of 295 kilometers per hour (183 miles per hour) for more than 33 hours.

Many scientists are convinced that mega storms such as Irma are intensified by the greater energy they can draw from oceans that are warming as a result of global climate change.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Snapchat scrubs Al-Jazeera in Saudi Arabia


Dubai, United Arab Emirates | AFP |Global image messaging service Snapchat has scrubbed Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera from its app in Saudi Arabia at the request of Saudi authorities, the company said on Monday.

"We make an effort to comply with local laws in the countries where we operate," a spokesman for parent company Snap Inc. said.

The request to block Al Jazeera's Snapchat presence in the kingdom was made before the weekend, the company told AFP.

According to Snap Inc., the Saudi ministry of culture and information found Al Jazeera's Discover Publisher Story channel to be in violation of local laws.

Saudi Arabia and its allies the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have been boycotting Qatar since June 5 in the region's worst diplomatic crisis in years.

They sealed the emirate's only land border, ordered its citizens to leave and closed their airspace and waters to Qatari flights and shipping.

They also demanded that it close broadcasting giant Al-Jazeera.

Until now, Al Jazeera's Snapchat channel can still be viewed in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt.

Saudi Arabia, with its bulging youth population, is among the world's top users of social media per capita. The internet represents a limited space for freedom of expression in the conservative kingdom.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Tillerson meets Russia's Lavrov ahead of UN assembly

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, seen

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, seen here at a Moscow press conference, and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are to meet in New York ahead of the UN General Assembly .PHOTO|AFP 

New York, United States | AFP |US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met his Russian counterpart Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in New York on Sunday ahead of the UN General Assembly, officials said.

After the meeting, at the Russian delegation to the UN, Tillerson left without saying anything to the reporters, who were initially invited in to cover the opening of the talks but asked to leave before the US official arrived.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a reporter that "the meeting was on cooperation in Syria crisis Middle East issues and Minsk agreement," but when asked how it went said she had not been in the room.

Tillerson and Lavrov "met this evening in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly," department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

"The two recommitted to deconflicting military operations in Syria, reducing the violence, and creating the conditions for the Geneva process to move forward," she said.

Ties between Washington and Moscow are at what Tillerson has called a "historic" post-Cold War low, amid tit-for-tat cuts to each other's diplomatic missions.

But Washington wants to work with Russia to help resolve the crisis in Syria, where both have military forces deployed, and the rivals are trying to work through their differences.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin will not attend the UN General Assembly this week, but his US counterpart Donald Trump will make his much anticipated first address to the world body on Tuesday.