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DR Congo must identify those behind Kasai massacres: UN official

Author: 
AFP
Thu, 2017-07-13 15:08
ID: 
1499964078115825600

KINSHASA: DR Congo must identify both senior army personnel and politicians behind the massacres in the volatile Kasai region, a top UN human rights official told AFP Thursday.
Jose-Maria Aranaz, the UN human rights director in the country, was speaking just a day the UN said another 38 suspected mass graves had been discovered in this central part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“With more than 80 mass graves identified … it is essential that the inquiry goes beyond those who physically did it and identifies command responsibilities at the military and political level,” said Aranaz.
Aranaz dismissed as “unconvincing” the suggestion that rogue elements of the security forces were responsible for the violence.
“We have to stop the killing,” he said.
The international community has voiced alarm over the violence, which has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people, according to statistics compiled by the Roman Catholic church.
The UN’s MONUSCO peacekeeping mission in the country had previously spoken of “more than 400 dead” while about 1.3 million people are thought to have fled their homes.
An investigative mission this month found the latest mass graves in the Diboko and Sumbula areas of the Kamonia territory, the UN said.
The violence began last year when a tribal chieftain known as the Kamwina Nsapu openly challenged the authority of President Joseph Kabila’s government.
That provoked a crackdown by security forces and the Kamwina Nsapu was killed in a police operation in August 2016.
His armed followers fight on and some believe that their leader is still alive because authorities failed to give his body appropriate funeral rites.
In February MONUSCO accused the Kamwina Nsapu militia of “atrocities … including the recruiting and use of child soldiers,” but also condemned “a disproportionate use of force” by government troops.
Two western experts sent to investigate the conflict by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres went missing in March. Their bodies were found in a shallow grave by peacekeepers a fortnight later.
The government blamed the tribal militia for their murders.
On Tuesday, the US urged the UN Security Council to punish those responsible for the flareup of violence. It also threatened sanctions against the Democratic Republic of Congo if elections are not held this year.
President Joseph Kabila’s mandate is due to end in December.

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South Sudan’s President Kiir sacks judges over strike

Author: 
Reuters
Thu, 2017-07-13 11:42
ID: 
1499959029515197500

JUBA: South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has sacked several judges who had been on strike over poor pay and living conditions for the last two months, officials said on Thursday.
The world’s youngest country plunged into civil war in 2013 just two years after gaining independence after Kiir fired his deputy, triggering a conflict fought largely along ethnic lines.
The conflict has slashed oil revenues and paralyzed agriculture. Civil servants and soldiers go unpaid for months and hyperinflation renders money almost worthless.
On Wednesday evening, Kiir issued a decree that dismissed a group of 12 judges who went on strike in a bid to force reform in the judicial system, Deputy Information Minister Akol Paul Kordit told Reuters.
“These judges who were supposed to deliver justice obstructed justice themselves. They denied our people justice for reasons that could be resolved through administrative channels,” he said.
The group comprised of appeals court judges who demanded that the chief justice resigned on grounds that he obstructed the judicial system, as well as more judges be appointed and promoted.
“These were the demands we put forward. Now the complainers have been sacked,” said Guri Raymondo, a spokesman for the judges’ union.
“We will seat down and hear from the general assembly what is the next step,” he told Reuters.
Junior judges receive a salary of 4,000 South Sudan pounds ($25) a month in the country of 12 million people, where a kilo of rice costs 130 pounds. There are 150 pounds to the dollar on the black market.
South Sudan had only 274 judges on its payroll in its last budget, some of whom have since resigned.
War in the country has forced more than a quarter of its entire population to flee their homes and plunged parts of it into famine, creating Africa’s biggest refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

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14 dead in twin Cameroon bombings

Author: 
AFP
Thu, 2017-07-13 12:09
ID: 
1499958977725184400

Yaoundé: Two bombers blew themselves up in northeastern Cameroon killing 14 people and injuring 30 people in an attack likely staged by Boko Haram militants, security sources said Thursday.
The bombings, which took place on Wednesday evening in Waza near the Nigerian border, targeted a busy area in the market town, the sources said.
The bombers struck an area with “restaurants, telephone cabins and kiosks,” a local official said.
“The town has been sealed off. Nobody can enter and nobody can leave,” the source said, adding that some of the wounded were in “quite serious” condition.
Though Boko Haram was born in Nigeria, the Daesh-affiliated group has carried out frequent attacks in Cameroon, Chad and Niger, prompting the formation of a regional force to fight back.
Cameroon’s Far North region, which borders Nigeria, has seen a resurgence in attacks blamed on Boko Haram after months of relative calm.
Six civilians were killed in mid-June in a double suicide attack in Kolofata, and two others died in Limani at the start of last month when a female bomber blew herself up near the town’s public school.
Some 200,000 Cameroonians from the Far North region have fled their homes in fear of the violence.
Meanwhile, 19 people have now been confirmed dead after four female suicide bombers detonated their explosives in Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria, police said.
Borno state police commissioner Damian Chukwu said the bombers had targeted mourners at a funeral ceremony in the suburb of Molai Kolemari on Tuesday night.
Most of the victims were from a vigilante group called the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), which assists the military in the hunt for Boko Haram.
“In all, 12 Civilian JTF members lost their lives with seven villagers and the four female suicide bombers, bringing the total number of deaths to 23,” said Chukwu.
Another 23 people were injured and taken to hospital for treatment, he added in a statement on Wednesday night.
Maiduguri is the capital of Borno state and has been repeatedly attacked during the eight-year Boko Haram insurgency, which has killed at least 20,000.
Women and young girls have increasingly been deployed as suicide bombers to hit crowded civilian “soft” targets such as mosques, markets and bus stations.

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Taiwan lawmakers go for the jugular in Parliament brawl

Author: 
AFP
Thu, 2017-07-13 12:43
ID: 
1499958940515173300

TAIPEI: Taiwanese lawmakers tried to choke each other and threw water bombs during a chaotic session at the island’s Parliament Thursday as the government of President Tsai Ing-wen pressed ahead with controversial reforms.
Female legislators from opposing camps had their hands on each other’s throats as a dozen colleagues pushed and shouted trying to separate them in the main chamber during a review of the budget for a major infrastructure project.
The opposition Kuomintang party is against the plan, saying it favors cities and counties faithful to Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and has been devised to secure support for the party ahead of next year’s regional elections.
The project includes light rail lines, flood control measures and green energy facilities.
Critics have also questioned whether the whopping Tw$420 billion ($14 billion) cost of the project is really worthwhile.
The morning review hearing was suspended following the brawl as Kuomintang lawmakers occupied the podium.
Lunch failed to calm tensions and the clashes continued into the afternoon when opposition lawmakers honked air horns and tried to throw balloons filled with water at Premier Lin Chuan.
One of the balloons flew near Lin and burst mid-air. He was forced to leave the chamber without delivering a report on the budget and the session was again abandoned.
The DPP condemned what it called the KMT’S “violent boycott” and demanded an apology.
“We call for rational discussions … to resolve differences,” it said in a statement.
Tsai has seen her popularity plummet to under 40 percent from nearly 70 percent when she took office in May last year as her government attempts to tackle a range of controversial issues from gay marriage to pension and judicial reforms.
Violent protests erupted outside the Parliament in April when opponents of pension reforms attacked politicians and scuffled with police, prompting Tsai to call for calm and restraint.
Parliament was also plunged into chaos late last year when opposing lawmakers brawled in the chamber, as labor activists set off smoke bombs outside in protest at proposed holiday cuts.

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Melania Trump tours French pediatric hospital

Author: 
AP
Thu, 2017-07-13 03:00
ID: 
1499934107512717000

PARIS: First Lady Melania Trump has arrived at France’s biggest pediatric hospital on her first engagement in the two-day French visit.
The sprawling Necker Hospital is one of Paris’ oldest and was founded in 1778. American artist Keith Haring gave a large, multicolored totem sculpture to the hospital in 1987, called “The Tower.”
Melania Trump is touring the hospital shortly after her arrival in France with President Donald Trump aboard Air Force One.
The first lady was greeted by senior Paris medical officials during the tour and later met with some of the hospital’s young patients.
President Donald Trump will be meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron (eh-mahn-yoo-EHL’ mah-KROHN’) as part of his visit to France for Bastille Day celebrations in Paris.
Trump arrived in Paris on Thursday morning, and was traveling to the US Ambassador’s residence and then attending a luncheon with US military leaders. He’s also expected to tour the museums at Les Invalides (lehz ahn-vah-leed) with Macron and then holding meetings with the French leader.
Trump and Macron are expected to discuss possible solutions to the crisis in Syria and counterterrorism.
The two leaders will appear later in the day for a joint news conference. Trump will be attending the Bastille Day celebrations on Friday before returning to the United States.
President Donald Trump and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron (eh-mahn-yoo-EHL’ mah-KROHN’), are looking to set aside differences on trade and climate change and find common ground as they meet ahead of Bastille Day celebrations in Paris.
Trump arrived in the French capital Thursday morning, hours before he meets with Macron to tackle potential solutions to the crisis in Syria and broader counterterrorism strategies.
Trump’s decision last month to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord sparked outrage across Europe and anti-Trump protests are planned while he is in Paris.
The leaders plan to hold a news conference after their talks. Trump may face tough questions about e-mails revealing that his eldest son welcomed the prospect of receiving Russian government support in last year’s presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton.

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Former Brazil leader Lula gets nearly 10 years in jail for graft

Author: 
AFP
Thu, 2017-07-13 10:58
ID: 
1499934107492716900

BRAZIL: Brazil’s former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison for graft in a stark fall from grace for the iconic leftist leader.
Lula, who ruled Brazil from 2003-2010, was convicted and handed a 9.5-year prison term on Wednesday for accepting a luxury seaside apartment and $1.1 million, the latest twist in a giant corruption probe engulfing Latin America’s largest economy.
But anti-corruption judge Sergio Moro said the 71-year-old Lula would remain free pending an appeal — something his lawyers immediately said they would lodge.
“We are appealing and will prove his innocence,” the lawyers said in a statement sent to AFP.
The conviction nevertheless landed a heavy blow on the prospect of Lula making a political comeback in presidential elections due in October next year.
The verdict also sent a dramatic message to much of Brazil’s political class that they, too, risked falling afoul of the anti-graft drive.
Even the current president, Michel Temer, has been charged with taking bribes and several of his ministers have resigned after corruption claims were made.
The sea change has come about because of Operation “Car Wash,” a sweeping probe looking into a giant embezzlement and kickbacks scheme involving state-owned oil group Petrobras, construction firms and several political parties — Lula’s Workers’ Party chief among them.

But while many Brazilians welcome the long-overdue clean-up, the uncertainty is hobbling their country’s struggle to exit from a historic recession.
The verdict against Lula “all but rules him out of the running for next year’s presidential election,” said Capital Economics, an economic analysis firm.
It said the court’s decision was “likely to give a near-term boost to Brazilian markets” as the likelihood waned of Lula, a former union leader, returning to power and quashing needed economic reforms championed by Temer.
Lula has repeatedly denied taking any bribes during or after his presidency.
He has described the investigation against him as a campaign to prevent his return to power.
The Workers’ Party called Lula’s conviction and sentence “an attack on democracy” and Brazil’s constitution, accusing the judge of bias.
Lula was “serene” upon receiving the news, though he felt “a natural indignation, like anyone convicted without proof,” said one of his lawyers, Cristiano Zanin Martins.
Another lawyer, Valeska Zanin Martins, added: “They want to leave Lula out of the presidential race, and Lula leads the polls.”
The conviction focused on allegations that Lula received the triplex apartment and cash as bribes from one of Brazil’s biggest construction companies, OAS.
The judge ordered that the apartment be confiscated.
“Between the crimes of corruption and money laundering, there are sufficient grounds for sentences totaling nine years and six months of incarceration,” Moro said in his verdict.

The sentence by Moro — whose wide popularity in Brazil for his anti-corruption work has prompted some to see him as a possible presidential candidate — fed into broader political ructions in Brazil.
Lula’s chosen successor, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached and booted from office last year, with Temer, her vice president, taking over.
Two weeks ago, Moro sentenced an influential minister in the Lula and Rousseff governments, Antonio Palocci, to 12 years in prison for corruption.
Palocci played a central role in the “Car Wash” scheme, most of which unfolded when Lula’s Workers’ Party was in power from 2003 to 2016.
Prosecutors said Palocci was a pointman in the flow of “bribes between the Odebrecht construction group and intermediaries of the Workers’ Party,” laundering more than $10 million used for party campaign finances.
Odebrecht, an industrial conglomerate with projects around the world, named Palocci “the Italian” in its list of code names for politicians regularly taking bribes in exchange for lucrative contracts with Petrobras and other favors.
The apartment bribe is one of five corruption cases stacked against Lula.
Others include allegations that Odebrecht gave $3.7 million to Lula so he could buy land to build the Lula Institution highlighting his political legacy, and that he received a kickback in Brazil’s purchase of Swedish warplanes.

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Floods in India’s northeast kill 40; endanger rare one-horned rhinos

Author: 
Reuters
Thu, 2017-07-13 10:37
ID: 
1499934107582717200

INDIA: Floods in northeast India that have killed at least 40 people and displaced nearly 1.5 million have also inundated a national park that is home to the world’s largest concentration of one-horned rhinoceros.
The Brahmaputra river, which flows from China down to India and then through Bangladesh, has burst its banks after torrential monsoon rains, swamping more than 2,500 villages in India’s Assam state over the past two weeks.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expressed his anguish over the human suffering, with thousands of people seeking shelter in more than 300 relief camps. Authorities have declared a “maximum health alert” to stop the spread of disease.
Efforts are also underway to help the rhinos and other wildlife put in danger when flood waters swamped the Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site.
“More than 90 percent of the Kaziranga National Park is under water,” Assam Forest Minister Pramila Rani Brahma told Reuters.
The 430 sq km park is home to the world’s largest number of the one-horned rhinoceros, with an estimated 2,500 out of a total population of some 3,000.
“Two rhino calves have drowned and up to 15 deer perished in the high floods,” Brahma said.
Animals are seeking refuge on high ground, including hills outside the park, she said.
But when the animals move to smaller areas of higher ground to escape the floods they become more vulnerable to poachers. They also face increasing danger of being hit by vehicles if they take refuge on roads that often run along embankments.
“Special barricades have been put along the highway and forest guards are asking drivers to drive under 40 km an hour,” a park warden said, adding that a few deer had been hit by speeding trucks.
The water level in the Brahmaputra is expected to keep rising until the end of this week and should then stabilize, provided there is no more heavy rain, the Central Water Commission said.

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Trump arrives in Paris with Russia scandal in tow

Author: 
AFP
Thu, 2017-07-13 10:48
ID: 
1499933110142683700

PARIS: Donald Trump arrived in Paris on Thursday for a presidential visit filled with Bastille Day pomp and which the White House hopes will offer respite from rolling scandal back home.
Air Force One touched down at Paris’ Orly airport shortly after 0630 GMT, with US president beginning a 24-hour trip that coincides with France’s national day on Friday and the 100th anniversary of US involvement in World War I.
Accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump, the 71-year-old stepped onto French soil for the first time as president hoping the visit will distract from weighty allegations that his family and inner circle colluded with Russia to win the 2016 US election.
The scandal has put his son and top aides in legal jeopardy and cast a pall over his efforts to remake American politics.
During the lightning visit, Trump — who sees himself as a transformative figure in US politics — will be the guest of honor festivities marking a pivotal point in the French Revolution, after a trip to Napoleon’s tomb and a Michelin-starred dinner at the Eiffel Tower.
Trump and his host, recently-elected French President Emmanuel Macron, will watch troops parade down the Champs-Elysees and mark 100 years since America entered World War I on France’s side.
Macron, 39, is hoping to use the weight of history and French grandeur to charm the unpredictable Trump — six weeks after welcoming Russia’s Vladimir Putin at the grandiose Palace of Versailles.
In London, Berlin, Brussels and Paris, European leaders are wondering how best to handle the US president, whose nationalist “America First” agenda has upended transatlantic relations.
Macron hopes to build a relationship with the new occupant of the White House that might enable him to influence US policy or, at the least, help avoid serious strains between the EU and Washington.
There are already tensions over climate change and trade, while Trump was openly critical of the EU last year and snubbed a handshake with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during their first meeting in March.
“It’s very difficult to play chess with a man whose strategy is a complete mystery and whose only consistency is his pursuit of American national interest,” foreign affairs expert Bertrand Badie of Sciences Po university in Paris told AFP.
“To imagine that you might change his mind on something is simply mad.”

Talks between the two leaders are expected to focus on joint efforts to combat the Daesh group in Iraq and Syria, where American and French troops are in action side-by-side.
They will dine together at the Jules Verne restaurant up the Eiffel Tower, enjoying stunning views of the French capital along with their wives Melania and Brigitte.
Trump and Macron appear to have little in common, with their views at odds on everything from globalization to immigration.
Macron was even described as the “anti-Trump” during his run for the French presidency this year.
As well as a huge generational gap — Trump at 71 is almost twice Macron’s age — there is scant evidence of any overlap of interests in their personal lives.
Macron also criticized Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the global Paris climate change agreement last month and used the American’s own slogan against him, saying: “Make our planet great again.”
Macron told regional newspaper Ouest-France on Thursday that Paris and Washington had “an essential point of convergence: fighting terrorism and protecting our vital interests.”
However, he also lamented “a protectionist tendency (which) has resurfaced in the United States.”
“I want to defend free and fair trade,” he added.
But sources in the French presidency insist ties are healthy even after a muscular handshake seen as a battle of wills between the two of them when they first met at a NATO summit in May.
“The relationship is excellent,” said one member of Macron’s team.

Manuel Lafont-Rapnouil, an expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank, said Macron had no choice but to try to build ties with the US president.
“Whatever you think, the United States is still the United States and we need them on lots of issues. You can’t just say ‘Trump is there so let’s wait until he’s gone’,” he told AFP.
“Even if it is very difficult to handle someone as unpredictable as him, you need to try to salvage what you can.”
Nearly 11,000 police officers will be on duty, with France in its highest state of alert after a string of terror attacks since 2015 that have killed more than 300 people.
And in early July, police charged a 23-year-old suspected far-right activist with plotting to assassinate Macron at the Bastille Day parade.
It is also just one day shy of one year ago when on July 14 the country was plunged into mourning again after a truck plowed into families enjoying a fireworks display in the southern Riviera city of Nice, leaving 86 dead. The Daesh group claimed responsibility.

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Once-loyal prosecutor emerges as hero in Venezuela protests

Author: 
AP
Thu, 2017-07-13 03:00
ID: 
1499891922749148100

CARACAS, Venezuela: Opponents of President Nicolas Maduro who have taken to the streets day after day in Venezuela now find themselves rallying in support of an unexpected hero: The chief prosecutor who helped throw many of them into jail.
Until recently, Luisa Ortega was seen as a hard line loyalist of the socialist administration, responsible for dozens of arrests on trumped-up charges against anti-government protesters. But now she is being lionized by the opposition and disaffected supporters of the late Hugo Chavez alike for her decision to break with Maduro, the hand-picked successor to “El Comandante.”
Roberto Marrero, a lawyer for the nation’s most-emblematic political prisoner, Leopoldo Lopez, found himself among thousands at a recent street demonstration in support of Ortega, whose office prosecuted Lopez.
“Every Mandela needs a De Klerk,” he said, referring to the white president who oversaw the end of apartheid in South Africa.
The Venezuelan opposition’s embrace of Ortega, however tactical and awkward, underscores a stark truth after three months of paralyzing but so far unsuccessful protests: Removing Maduro will require winning over some of his backers.
Ortega, the most prominent defector so far, brings a unique combination of impeccable revolutionary credentials, intimate knowledge of the government’s inner workings and a semi-autonomous post with which to challenge the government’s moves to centralize power and crush the opposition.
“What most worries the government is a schism inside the ruling movement,” said Francisco Toro, editor of pro-opposition blog Caracas Chronicles. “In that regard she’s more of a threat than 200,000 people on the street.”
Until recently, Venezuelans knew little about the bespectacled 59-year-old lawyer other than watching her on state TV for years closely toeing the government line.
The daughter of a cattle rancher from Venezuela’s central plains, Ortega studied law in the city of Valencia, where she helped organize protests of students and textile workers in the late 1970s as a member of the legal wing of a clandestine guerrilla group known as the Party of Venezuelan Revolution.
Douglas Bravo, who led the now-disbanded Marxist group, remembers her as hard-working and talented foot soldier.
“She was always someone who stood for the principles of democracy, respect for human rights and anti-imperialism,” he said.
After Chavez took office in 1999, Ortega moved to Caracas to work as legal adviser to a state-owned TV channel. She became a federal prosecutor in 2002 and was handed some of the highest-profile cases, including prosecution of people who organized a brief coup against Chavez that year.
She was named chief prosecutor in 2007 and was re-elected to the post by the then pro-Maduro National Assembly in 2014 over a rival candidate reportedly close to First Lady Cilia Flores. Her transformation occurred gradually, according to her husband, socialist party lawmaker German Ferrer.
After Chavez’s death in 2013, Ortega was irked when top government officials moved to stifle some corruption probes, he said. She also began to distance herself, sometimes publicly, from Maduro’s increasingly heavy-handed approach to policing in poor neighborhoods, as well as the use of firearms and pro-government militias to control protests. In 2016, she shocked many by publishing homicide statistics — something that had not been done in years by the government, which was embarrassed by spiraling violence.
“The moment we stuck our neck outs we knew what the consequences were going to be,” said Ferrer, a partner in his wife’s carefully planned rebellion.
An opening came when the government-stacked supreme court gutted the now opposition-led National Assembly of its last powers in late March, triggering protests that have so far left more than 90 dead and 1,500 injured.
Ortega broke her silence, accusing the government of a democratic “rupture.”
Since then, she has sharpened her criticism, accusing the government of “state terrorism” and Maduro of dismantling Venezuela’s democracy with plans to rewrite the constitution that was sponsored by Chavez.
She has also brought charges against the head of the national guard and intelligence police alleging human rights abuses in the crackdown on protests.
Many in the opposition suspect she has access to damaging information about corruption in Maduro’s inner circle. On Tuesday, she said she plans to bring charges against officials tied to a corruption scandal involving Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, which has admitted to paying almost $100 million in bribes to Venezuelan officials as part of a plea agreement with the US Justice Department last year.
Ortega couches her criticism in the language of Chavez when speaking to Venezuelans, many of whom still revere the charismatic leader. Polls say they are fed up with Maduro but also distrust the traditionally elite-dominated opposition.
The government has retaliated with attempts to discredit and oust Ortega.
Ferrer said that in the days after his wife broke with Maduro, the government removed her security detail of 10 armed bodyguards and cars from the feared intelligence police appeared parked outside her office.
When she asked the supreme court to nullify the previous legislature’s rushed, lame-duck appointment of 13 magistrates, socialist party leaders called for her to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. They also initiated Supreme Court proceedings to remove her from office in apparent violation of the constitution, which says only congress has the right to hire and fire the nation’s top law enforcement official.
Not everyone is convinced of her transformation. Some in the opposition say she was looking to whitewash her record on the eve of retirement and avoid being targeted by US sanctions imposed on other Venezuelan judges and prosecutors. They also have not forgiven her role in prosecuting demonstrators during crackdowns on anti-government protests in 2014.
“Her current actions do not magically erase her responsibility for abuses committed under her watch,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “But her past does not tarnish the relevance of the exceptional contribution she’s making today by using the power of her office to help expose Maduro’s repressive machinery.”

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