• Russia and West trade gas, sanctions threats over Ukraine

    AFP News - Fri, Apr 11, 2014

    Russia warned Europe Thursday its gas supplies would be in peril unless it helped pay Ukrainian debts, while the US threatened Moscow with more sanctions in a further escalation of the crisis over Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin's most direct warning about Russian gas deliveries -- vital to the health of the European Union economy -- came as Ukraine faced a new secession crisis and relations between Moscow and the West plumbed new post-Cold War lows. US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew countered the threat to halt gas deliveries by telling Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov that Washington would hit Moscow with a new round of sanctions if it "continues to escalate" the situation in Ukraine. Ukraine's embattled leaders, scrambling to hold their splintered country together after Russia's annexation of Crimea, offered amnesty Thursday to pro-Russian separatists occupying eastern state buildings if they laid down their arms and halted a four-day seige. More »Russia and West trade gas, sanctions threats over Ukraine

  • Child custody case jolts French leader's Mexico trip

    AFP News - Fri, Apr 11, 2014

    France's president traveled to Mexico to bury diplomatic tensions, but his ex-partner jarred his visit Thursday by championing the cause of a Frenchwoman's child custody battle with a former Mexican governor. President Enrique Pena Nieto treated French leader Francois Hollande to the full honors of a state visit, with cannon salvos at the Campo Marte military field in Mexico City. They both agreed on a fresh start in relations after past tensions caused by the case of Florence Cassez, a Frenchwoman accused of kidnapping who was released in January 2013 after seven years in a Mexican prison. But a tweet by Hollande's jilted former partner Valerie Trierweiler supporting a woman who says her Mexican ex-husband abducted their children threw a new spanner in the works. More »Child custody case jolts French leader's Mexico trip

  • Aid groups take emergency steps against Ebola onslaught

    AFP News - Fri, Apr 11, 2014

    International aid organisations launched a series of emergency measures across west Africa on Thursday in a bid to contain one of the worst ever outbreaks of the deadly Ebola virus, which is threatening every country in the region. The tropical bug is thought to have killed more than 110 people in Guinea and Liberia since January, with suspected cases reported in Mali and Sierra Leone and aid workers warning that vital hygiene products could run out. The Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) announced emergency training for 70 people who would fan out across the Guinean capital Conakry to track people who have had close contact with Ebola patients. The UN agency is also setting up a special alert and response operation centre within the Guinean health ministry and training staff at Guinea's main hospital and other health facilities. More »Aid groups take emergency steps against Ebola onslaught

  • Drug cartel internal feud leaves 28 dead in Mexico

    AFP News - Fri, Apr 11, 2014

    An internal power struggle within the once-powerful Gulf drug cartel has left 28 people dead in gunfights on Mexico's northeastern coast this week, authorities said Thursday. Ten suspected criminals were arrested after a series of shootouts rocked the Gulf of Mexico towns of Tampico and Ciudad Madero, in the state of Tamaulipas, between Saturday and Tuesday. Authorities also seized cocaine, 16 high-caliber rifles, three handguns and 11 vehicles, said the Tamaulipas Coordination Group of federal and state security forces. The head of the federal police, Monte Alejandro Rubido, said the violence stemmed from an internal dispute that followed three "significant" arrests, though he did not name the suspects or criminal organizations. More »Drug cartel internal feud leaves 28 dead in Mexico

  • Little trust as Venezuela, opposition prepare for talks

    AFP News - Fri, Apr 11, 2014

    Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was to sit down for the first time Thursday with opposition leaders, in a bid to end weeks of deadly street protests against his beleaguered government. Just one year after succeeding his late mentor, iconic leftist leader Hugo Chavez, Maduro agreed to an unprecedented face-to-face meeting with the opposition, after the regional group Unasur -- the Union of South American Nations -- offered to mediate. Maduro this week suggested that the talks should be in the form of a "debate" rather than negotiations, since concluding a deal with the opposition would make him a "traitor to Chavismo." His Vice President, Jorge Arreaza, expressed a similar sentiment, declaring that the government is not going to the talks "to strike a deal -- we're going to be heard." Speaking for the other side, Julio Borges, an opposition member of parliament, told local radio that he would attend the talks "without the slightest feeling of trust" toward the Maduro government. The dialogue seeks to end violent protests that began in early February as an expression of public unhappiness with Venezuela's soaring crime, high inflation and a shortage of basic goods. More »Little trust as Venezuela, opposition prepare for talks

  • Italy's Berlusconi headed for community service

    AFP News - Fri, Apr 11, 2014

    Italian prosecutors on Thursday approved a request by Silvio Berlusconi's lawyers for the three-time prime minister to do community service rather than face house arrest following a tax fraud conviction. A spell of community service will likely spare him house arrest but a final ruling is due in the coming days. Meanwhile, his top supporter in parliament likened Berlusconi to Myanmar pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi who was under house arrest for two decades. Berlusconi himself was not present for the hearing, while stock in his Mediaset business empire fell sharply by 3.1 percent to four euros a share. More »Italy's Berlusconi headed for community service

  • French industrialist Dassault denies vote buying charges

    AFP News - Fri, Apr 11, 2014

    French billionaire industrialist and senator Serge Dassault denies with "the greatest strength" charges of vote buying in his former fiefdom close to Paris, his lawyer said on Thursday. Dassault, 89, is accused of operating an extensive system of vote buying that influenced the outcome of elections in Corbeil-Essonnes, where he was mayor from 1995 to 2009. A judicial source told AFP on Thursday that Dassault had been charged with vote buying, complicity in illegal election campaign financing and exceeding campaign spending limits. "Serge Dassault disputes with the greatest strength the merits of this indictment which has no serious foundation, and is based only on the accusations of individuals against whom he has filed complaints of repeated malicious phone calls and attempted extortion against him," his lawyer, Pierre Haik, said in a statement. More »French industrialist Dassault denies vote buying charges

  • Italian navy op has rescued nearly 20,000 migrants

    AFP News - Fri, Apr 11, 2014

    The Italian navy said on Thursday it had rescued nearly 20,000 migrants since launching a Mediterranean operation following two deadly shipwrecks in October 2013. Navy chief Giuseppe De Giorgi said the rate of arrivals was increasing "and we are following six boats today". We have cancelled military exercises to make up the expense," De Giorgi told reporters. "Mare Nostrum" (Our Sea) -- a Latin reference to the Mediterranean -- was launched on October 18 after twin tragedies off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa that left more than 400 boat people dead. More »Italian navy op has rescued nearly 20,000 migrants

  • French priest charged with rape, torture during exorcisms

    AFP News - Fri, Apr 11, 2014

    A priest in an ultra-conservative Catholic sect has been charged with rape and torture for acts allegedly committed during exorcisms involving three schoolteachers. Versailles prosecutor Vincent Lesclous told AFP the 40-year-old priest with the Society of Saint Pius X, whose identity has not been released to protect the victims, was charged on Wednesday and is being held without bail. The prosecutor refused to provide further details, but newspaper Le Parisien reported Thursday that the assaults took place in the autumn of 2010 at the Notre-Dame de la Sablonniere school run by the sect. He then used his "spiritual influence" to convince two other female teachers to undergo similar exorcisms, Le Parisien said. More »French priest charged with rape, torture during exorcisms

  • Spain ex-policeman denies Franco-era torture claim

    AFP News - Fri, Apr 11, 2014

    A retired Spanish policeman denied Thursday torturing people during the country's Franco dictatorship and repeated his refusal to be extradited to Argentina for trial on alleged crimes against humanity. A judge in Argentina in September 2013 called for the extradition of Antonio Gonzalez Pacheco, known as "Billy the Kid", along with another former Spanish policeman, accusing them of torturing prisoners in the latter years of General Francisco Franco's regime. The judge accused Gonzalez Pacheco, 67, who earned his nickname for allegedly spinning a gun around his finger as he beat his victims, of torturing 13 people between 1971 and 1975. "We deny the charges," Gonzalez Pacheco's lawyer said during his extradition hearing at the National Court in Madrid as dozens of angry supporters of alleged victims of Franco-era abuses protested outside. More »Spain ex-policeman denies Franco-era torture claim

  • UN approves peacekeepers for Central African Republic

    AFP News - Fri, Apr 11, 2014

    The Security Council voted unanimously Thursday to send 12,000 UN peacekeepers to the Central African Republic, where violence between Christians and Muslims has triggered fears of genocide. The resolution, submitted by France, will deploy up to 10,000 military personnel and 1,800 police to the former French colony, where sectarian violence has killed thousands in the last year. The UN peacekeeping mission is scheduled to take over on September 15 from 2,000 French and 6,000 African Union soldiers already in place as humanitarian needs in CAR escalate. The mandate of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) is to protect civilians and humanitarian convoys, maintain order, support a political transition and promote human rights. More »UN approves peacekeepers for Central African Republic

  • Suu Kyi in Germany hopes Myanmar can overcome strife

    AFP News - Fri, Apr 11, 2014

    Myanmar pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi said on a trip to Germany Thursday that she hoped her country could also overcome its internal divisions amid deadly Buddhist-Muslim strife. Suu Kyi, 68, said ahead of her first face-to-face talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Myanmar sought the support of "all countries that believe in democracy" as it makes it transition from iron-fisted military rule. "For me Berlin is not just a symbol of success in development but success in political negotiation, a success in achieving unity," Suu Kyi, who has said she is considering a bid for the presidency next year, told reporters. "Because our country, Burma, is a union and we would like it to be a truly democratic union," she said, where it is possible for "our people to overcome all differences that may exist between us and be the kind of nation that will ensure security, freedom and hope for all of us who live there." Myanmar, formerly called Burma, has been shaken by religious unrest in recent years with at least 250 people killed in Buddhist-Muslim clashes since 2012. More »Suu Kyi in Germany hopes Myanmar can overcome strife

  • Al-Jazeera journalists back in Cairo court

    AFP News - Thu, Apr 10, 2014

    A Canadian-Egyptian journalist for Al-Jazeera English on trial in Egypt pleaded for his release Thursday, as the prosecution submitted footage and pictures as evidence in the unprecedented trial of reporters. Three detained journalists with the Qatar-based broadcaster and 17 others are on trial for alleged links to the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood movement. The three have been in detention for more than 100 days, despite an international outcry and amid fears of a crackdown on the media after the army overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July. The court on Thursday studied prosecution charges that the defendants had misrepresented Egypt's political crisis in their broadcasts. More »Al-Jazeera journalists back in Cairo court

  • First major voting in India as anti-graft party faces test

    AFP News - Thu, Apr 10, 2014

    Voters went to the polls in New Delhi Thursday on the first major day of India's marathon national election, with the capital a key battleground for an anti-corruption party which shot to fame last year. As well as the capital and its 17 million residents, ballots were cast in densely populated rural constituencies in northern India where the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) -- seen as the election frontrunner -- is expected to poll strongly. But Thursday was of particular importance for the 18-month-old anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which triumphed in the Delhi state election last December and is now contesting more than 400 parliamentary seats nationally. Seen as a potential challenge to India's established political parties earlier this year, there were signs of disillusionment among some early voters after AAP's troubled time running the Delhi government. More »First major voting in India as anti-graft party faces test

  • Greece ends market exile with triumphant bond auction

    AFP News - Thu, Apr 10, 2014

    Bailed-out Greece returned to bond markets with a bang on Thursday after a four-year exile, raising 3.0 billion euros and sending a major signal that the eurozone debt crisis is fading. Greece's EU-IMF creditors hailed the move which the Greek prime minister said had "opened the way for cheaper borrowing" for the recession-hit country. "We have opened the way for cheaper borrowing on the markets tomorrow," Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said in a televised address. In Washington, IMF chief Christine Lagarde said the bond issue showed Greece was headed in the "right direction." "I see the issuance that took place today, which was massively oversubscribed, as an indication that Greece is heading in the right direction," Lagarde told reporters at the World Bank/International Monetary Fund annual spring meetings. More »Greece ends market exile with triumphant bond auction

  • Russian MPs want Gorbachev probed for treason over USSR breakup

    AFP News - Thu, Apr 10, 2014

    A group of Russian MPs has formally requested that prosecutors investigate former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for treason over the breakup of the Soviet Union, one lawmaker said Thursday. Ivan Nikitchuk, a deputy with the Communist party, said recent events and the Ukraine crisis in particular have led five MPs, including two from the ruling United Russia party, to ask Prosecutor General Yury Chaika to probe Gorbachev, 83. "We asked to prosecute him and those who helped him destroy the Soviet Union for treason of national interests," Nikitchuk told AFP, adding that Soviet citizens in 1991 were against the country's breakup. Seeking to create a more open and prosperous Soviet Union through glasnost and perestroika, Gorbachev ended up inadvertently unleashing forces that swept the country he had sought to preserve from the map and himself from power. More »Russian MPs want Gorbachev probed for treason over USSR breakup

  • Charity linked to Erdogan's son received $100 mn in aid

    AFP News - Thu, Apr 10, 2014

    A charity at which Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's son sits on the board received more than $100 million of aid over a four-year period, the government said on Thursday amid graft claims roiling the government. In a written answer to a parliamentary question, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said that Turgev received $99 million (72 million euros) of financial aid from abroad between 2008 and 2012. The revelation comes after dozens of Erdogan's key business and political allies were rounded up in December over allegations of bribery. More »Charity linked to Erdogan's son received $100 mn in aid

  • New signal detected in search for MH370 black boxes

    AFP News - Thu, Apr 10, 2014

    Searchers engaged in a race against time to pinpoint "pings" from a missing Malaysian airliner's black boxes on Thursday detected a possible fifth signal, fuelling hopes that wreckage will soon be found. The Perth-based Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) said the latest ping was detected Thursday afternoon by an Australian air force P-3C Orion surveillance plane, which has been dropping dozens of sonar buoys into the remote waters of the search zone. "The acoustic data will require further analysis overnight but shows potential of being from a made-made source," JACC chief Angus Houston said in a statement. The Australian ship Ocean Shield, bearing a special US Navy "towed pinger locator", is now focused on a far smaller area of the Indian Ocean 2,280 kilometres (1,400 miles) northwest of Perth where it picked up two fresh signals Tuesday. More »New signal detected in search for MH370 black boxes

  • Francis looks to heal Church with two pope saints

    AFP News - Thu, Apr 10, 2014

    Pope Francis aims to unite conservative and reformist strands of Catholicism with the first canonisation of two popes this month -- an impressive masterstroke that has already stirred dissent in some quarters. Conferring sainthood on John XXIII and John Paul II means bringing together two distinct schools of thought on what a pope should be -- a humble parish priest figure or a globetrotting, charismatic superstar. John Allen, a Vatican affairs expert at the Boston Globe in the United States, has written that the joint canonisation shows Francis's "inclusive spirit". "Francis is speaking not just to the outside world but to rival camps within the Catholic fold who see John XXIII and John Paul II as their heroes -- meaning liberals and conservatives, respectively," he said. More »Francis looks to heal Church with two pope saints

  • Hagel pushes US military ties with China's neighbour Mongolia

    AFP News - Thu, Apr 10, 2014

    Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel Thursday endorsed stronger military ties with Mongolia as it seeks a US partnership as a counterweight to its powerful neighbours Russia and China. Hagel and his Mongolian counterpart Dashdemberel Bat-Erdene signed a "joint vision" statement in Ulan Bator calling for expanding military cooperation through joint training and assistance. The document is mostly symbolic but is likely to irritate Beijing, which has accused Washington of trying to hold back its rise by cultivating military ties with smaller Asian neighbours. "A strong US-Mongolia defence relationship is important as part of the American rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region," Hagel told a joint press conference, referring to a strategic "pivot" that China has eyed with concern. More »Hagel pushes US military ties with China's neighbour Mongolia

  • Argentina hit by strike over inflation, crime

    AFP News - Thu, Apr 10, 2014

    A strike against the policies of Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner halted trains and buses on Thursday amid growing public discontent over high inflation and crime. In Buenos Aires and its suburbs, long lines of commuters formed as workers left earlier than usual on Wednesday to try to get home. Kirchner's center-left government is being blamed for an annual inflation rate of over 30 percent. We have arranged to get to work (Thursday) in a taxi," said Diana Gonzalez, 26, who works in a pharmacy in Buenos Aires. More »Argentina hit by strike over inflation, crime

  • New Israeli spy satellite enters orbit

    AFP News - Thu, Apr 10, 2014

    A new Israeli spy satellite entered orbit early Thursday, the defence ministry said, boosting the Jewish state's ability to monitor arch-foe Iran. More »New Israeli spy satellite enters orbit

  • In Mongolia, Hagel looks to bolster US military ties

    AFP News - Thu, Apr 10, 2014

    Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel flew to Mongolia Thursday to endorse stronger military ties with a government eager for US partnership as a counterweight to its powerful neighbours, Russia and China. Hagel's trip to Mongolia, only the second by a US defence secretary and the first in nine years, will feature the signing of a "joint vision" statement between the two sides that calls for expanding military cooperation through joint training and assistance, US officials said. The visit came after a three-day swing through China that was marked by public clashes over Beijing's territorial disputes with its neighbours and its relations with North Korea. The mostly symbolic document to be signed in Ulan Bator is likely to irritate China, which has accused the Americans of seeking to hold back its rise by cultivating military ties with smaller Asian neighbours. More »In Mongolia, Hagel looks to bolster US military ties

  • French leader in Mexico to kick-start strained ties

    AFP News - Thu, Apr 10, 2014

    French President Francois Hollande arrived in Mexico City for a trip aimed at renewing relations that were rocked by the case of a Frenchwoman accused of kidnapping. Hollande landed in the Mexican capital just before midnight for a two-day state visit that will include talks with President Enrique Pena Nieto, a visit to pre-Hispanic pyramids and a tour of a French aviation industry factories in central Mexico. It is a great reunion between Mexico and France," Mexican Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos de Icaza told reporters on Tuesday. French officials say a key part of the trip will be to turn the page for good on the strains caused by the arrest of Florence Cassez in 2005, when different governments were in power in both nations. More »French leader in Mexico to kick-start strained ties

  • 20 hurt in mass stabbing at US high school

    AFP News - Thu, Apr 10, 2014

    At least four students were critically injured in the shocking assault at Franklin Regional High School, said Thomas Seefeld, chief of police in Murrysville, an outer suburb of Pittsburgh. The 16-year-old boy walked down a hallway flashing two knives, stabbing fellow pupils and the guard as they began arriving for what should have been a routine school day, Seefeld said. The school principal and another member of staff tried to overpower the suspect who was then arrested, Seefeld said. Doctor Mark Rubino at Forbes Regional Hospital, which is treating eight of the victims, said he expected everyone to survive despite what he called "deep penetrating" stab wounds. More »20 hurt in mass stabbing at US high school

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