Iran, Qatar voice support for Saudi after Mecca suicide bombing

Both Iran and Qatar on Saturday voiced support for Saudi Arabia over a suicide bombing near Islam’s holiest site in Mecca despite their severed ties.”Iran… as always expresses its readiness to assist and cooperate with other countries to confront the…

Both Iran and Qatar on Saturday voiced support for Saudi Arabia over a suicide bombing near Islam's holiest site in Mecca despite their severed ties.

"Iran... as always expresses its readiness to assist and cooperate with other countries to confront these criminals, who deal death and ignorantly spread hate," foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi said.

The Qatari foreign ministry expressed "solidarity with the brotherly kingdom of Saudi Arabia".

Six foreign pilgrims were wounded when a suicide bomber blew himself up near the Grand Mosque in Mecca, where hundreds of thousands of worshippers had gathered for prayers on the last Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

The Saudi interior ministry said a wider plot had been foiled with the arrest of five suspects earlier in the day.

Since late 2014, the kingdom has faced periodic bombings and shootings claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group.

Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia are locked in a bitter battle for regional influence and have had no diplomatic relations since January last year.

Saudi Arabia and its allies severed all ties with Qatar earlier this month accusing it of supporting "terrorist groups" in the region, a charge Doha denies.

Hundreds celebrate ‘mud people’ festival in the Philippines

Filipino devotees muddied their faces and covered themselves with dried banana leaves on Saturday to celebrate a religious festival which also has roots in Japan’s occupation of the country during World War II.The annual “Taong Putik” or “Mud People” f…

Filipino devotees muddied their faces and covered themselves with dried banana leaves on Saturday to celebrate a religious festival which also has roots in Japan's occupation of the country during World War II.

The annual "Taong Putik" or "Mud People" festival, held in the town of Aliaga, 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Manila, honours John the Baptist.

Hundreds of men, women and children walked to a muddy field at dawn and covered themselves from head to toe with mud and dried banana leaves, with some residents saying their appearance was meant to evoke the attire of John the Baptist in Biblical times.

According to the Bible, the prophet John donned clothes made of camel's hair and ate locusts and wild honey as he announced the coming of Jesus Christ.

The prophet, also honoured as a saint, is revered in largely Roman Catholic Philippines.

But the celebration, which concludes with a mass at Aliaga's Saint John the Baptist church, can also be traced back to Japan's wartime occupation of the former US colony in the 1940s.

Residents say Japanese soldiers ordered all the men from one of the villages in Aliaga to be executed outside a church.

As women and children prayed to John the Baptist, there was a heavy downpour that forced the troops to scamper, and prompted the grateful villagers to roll happily in the mud.

Mongolian voters weigh love-hate relationship with China

The waving flags, triumphant song and rousing speeches of a Mongolian presidential campaign rally were interrupted by a fight that broke out in the crowd.A group of men had entered the event for Democratic Party candidate Khaltmaa Battulga on Friday ca…

The waving flags, triumphant song and rousing speeches of a Mongolian presidential campaign rally were interrupted by a fight that broke out in the crowd.

A group of men had entered the event for Democratic Party candidate Khaltmaa Battulga on Friday carrying posters denouncing the businessman, prompting his supporters to shove the interlopers and tear up their placards, all the while chanting: "You're mixed Chinese! You're mixed Chinese!"

The jeer -- intended to be an insult to the men's Mongolian heritage -- reflected the tone of an election marked by anti-Chinese sentiment and calls to protect the country's rich natural resources from foreign forces.

As Mongolia prepares to go to the polls Monday, voters are grappling with the nation's complex relationship with its powerful neighbour, characterised by centuries of historical enmity and current financial dependence.

Mongolia's financial fortunes are closely tied to China, whose slowing growth has troubled the landlocked nation's economy.

China is by far the country's largest trade partner, with 80 percent of Mongolian exports going south of the border.

Wary of this oversized influence, Mongolian presidential candidates have advocated a "third neighbour policy" for focusing Mongolia's partnerships beyond Russia and China.

- 'Biggest enemy' -

A video circulating on Mongolian social media shows black and white footage of a lively Chinese community in Ulan Bator, followed by clips of Chinese migrants protesting and scuffling with Mongolian authorities.

"Many Chinese people were expelled from Mongolia decades ago," the voiceover says, "but today the Mongolian People's Party (MPP) has lost its values and is running a half-Chinese person in the election."

The dramatic intonation refers to rumours that the candidate for the ruling MPP, Mieybombo Enkhbold, has Chinese ancestry.

"China has been Mongolia's biggest enemy since the time of Genghis Khan," Tuvshinbulag Svarikow, a 26-year-old Mongolian-Russian university student at the Battulga rally, told AFP.

"Someone with a Chinese background has no right to represent Mongolia in the presidential office."

In response to such suspicions, Enkhbold has published a family tree detailing his lineage. Sainkhuu Ganbaatar, the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party's candidate, has done the same.

This deliberate move to prove pure Mongolian origins points to a degree of nationalism absent from previous elections, University of British Columbia Mongolia scholar Julian Dierkes told AFP.

"My sense is that sentiment among voters hasn't changed, but that politicians are more and more using nationalism to distract from the real issues," he said.

Dierkes observed that this election has also seen the three candidates more frequently wearing a "deel," a traditional Mongolian outfit, and using "Mongolia" in their slogans as opposed to simply "our nation" or "our country."

Enkhbold has advocated for a "United Mongolia," while Battulga's slogan is "Mongolia will win."

All three platforms emphasise the country's territorial integrity, though its borders are not disputed.

The idea that China remains Mongolia's "enemy" is shared by only a portion of voters, while others have been frustrated by the negative campaigning.

Nor does it align with current geopolitics.

Bilateral ties have been stable for decades, receiving a boost last year through the announcement of a China-Mongolia-Russia economic corridor to be established as part of China's Belt and Road initiative, a global trade infrastructure programme.

- Rationality -

While Mongolia's $5.5 billion International Monetary Fund-fund bailout is expected to lessen its dependence on China, Beijing in February also announced additional financial assistance and favourable loan terms to the debt-wracked country.

China's central bank will extend a currency swap line to Mongolia worth 15 billion yuan ($2.2 billion).

The aid was disclosed a couple months after Mongolia pledged not to extend any more invitations to the Dalai Lama after the Tibetan Buddhist leader's visit to Ulan Bator last November angered China.

"I don't think (anti-China) sentiment can win," Gerel Orgil, a Mongolian public opinion analyst, told AFP.

"People are increasingly rational. They are not thinking about what happened with China in the past; they're thinking about what will happen in their daily lives if the economy doesn't improve."

Second North Korean soldier defects to South in a month

A North Korean soldier defected to the South after crossing the heavily fortified border, a defence ministry spokesman said on Saturday, the second soldier to defect this month.”A North Korean soldier defected to one of our Guard Posts at around 9:30 p…

A North Korean soldier defected to the South after crossing the heavily fortified border, a defence ministry spokesman said on Saturday, the second soldier to defect this month.

"A North Korean soldier defected to one of our Guard Posts at around 9:30 p.m. on Friday at the middle section of the border," the spokesman said, according to a report by the Yonhap news agency.

"He has been taken into custody for questioning," he added

There was no exchange of fire between the two sides when the North Korean soldier, a private, smuggled himself across the border to the south, the Yonhap report said.

His defection came after another North Korean soldier walked across the tense border on June 13.

On June 18, a North Korean civilian swam across a river to defect to the South, with styrofoam pieces strapped to both shoulders to stay afloat.

Early this month, two of four crew members of a North Korean fishing boat which drifted to the South refused to return home. They were allowed resettle.

Over the decades since the peninsula was divided, dozens of North Korean soldiers have fled to the South through the Demilitarised Zone, which extends for two kilometers either side of the actual border.

A North Korean soldier defected to the South in September last year, and a teenage North Korean soldier defected in June 2015.

In 2012 a North Korean soldier walked unchecked through rows of electrified fencing and surveillance cameras, prompting Seoul to sack three field commanders for a security lapse.

More than 30,000 North Korean civilians have fled their homeland but it is very rare for them to cross the closely guarded inter-Korean border, which is fortified with minefields and barbed wire.

Most flee across the porous frontier with neighbouring China.

In Argentina, music cures the soul

Picture a hospital: the bustle of harried doctors and nurses, time dragging for lonely patients, and the pervasive sadness of a place for the sick and dying.And suddenly, there’s music — live, classical music, the sounds of masters like Johannes Brahm…

Picture a hospital: the bustle of harried doctors and nurses, time dragging for lonely patients, and the pervasive sadness of a place for the sick and dying.

And suddenly, there's music -- live, classical music, the sounds of masters like Johannes Brahms and Giuseppe Verdi -- to make it all a bit more bearable.

These unannounced flash concerts are staged by an organization called Music for the Soul, and on this particular day at Alvarez Hospital in Buenos Aires the artists are 70 musicians, a choir, two sopranos and a tenor.

They perform for free, and most of the time with fellow musicians they meet for the first time right then and there.

The network was created in Argentina five years ago and now operates in 10 countries across three continents.

It is made up of professionals from prestigious orchestras who donate their time and passion to share the soothing power of music.

The organization boasts more than 2,000 performers and has given some 300 concerts in a format that has inspired similar programs in Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, Ecuador, Italy, France and Israel.

- Music in the soul -

The force behind it all was a young orchestra flutist named Eugenia Rubio, who died of cancer at the age of 24. She asked colleagues to play for her as doctors tried to keep her comfortable in the final months of her life.

"Eugenia was my partner, and although this idea was born of suffering, we realized that music is a magic channel that allows people to forget their pain, their loneliness, their incapacity," said Jorge Bergero, founder of the project and cellist for the orchestra of the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires.

After Rubio died, "we decided to carry on with 10 musicians and today there are more than 2,000 of us", he said.

The organization's web page allows musicians to volunteer and hospitals to request concerts. The only pre-requisite is that the musicians be professionals.

"The musicians come because they want to. They do not get paid. No one is looking at their watch," said Bergero.

Concerts are held on Mondays, the day that orchestras usually have off.

The musical scores are sent via email, and the musicians meet each other right before the show. They rehearse right there on the spot.

"I come to sing out of selfishness because it helps my spirit as well. It is my best therapy," said Soledad de la Rosa, a soprano.

- Silence is not healthy -

In the main lobby of the hospital in a lower middle class neighborhood, applause and shouts of "bravo!" ring out with the last notes of Verdi's La Traviata.

The idea is not to disturb the routine of the hospital but that is a tough task when the walls are reverberating with the lively sounds of Brahms' Hungarian Dances.

Some find it irritating but most people are fascinated.

"I had never heard an orchestra," says a lady named Liliana, filming what she can for her sister, who is in a bed three floors up.

The staircases are prime places to watch the concert in the lobby and they fill quickly, with many of the spectators wearing medical garb.

"Music has a healing effect because it is related to spirituality, and in patients who are approaching the end of their lives it allows them to reconnect with joy, happiness and emotion. It is absolutely therapeutic", said Ana Maria Soriano, director of palliative care in the hospital's cancer ward.

Out of nowhere, a patient asks permission to sing and surprises everybody. Claudia Llovet is a soprano who came to the hospital for treatment and knows all about how music helps fight sickness.

"I used to sing to my mother when she had Alzheimer's. She did not recognize me anymore, and this was the only way for her to connect with me," said Llovet.

- Concertino -

When the concert ends, eight musicians and two singers head off through the hallways of the hospital to hold smaller performances in patients' rooms.

Doctors get flustered when people with violins and double basses barge in. But the hospital management is OK with it all.

"Play another, please," says a man named Daniel. He is 68 years old and has been an invalid for two. "It is a joy for the soul. Classical music is better than any kind of medicine."

Further back in the room a young woman leans down toward her sick grandmother and together they make as if they were dancing to the music of Verdi.

"It touches me to see how this affects the patients. For a short while, they stop thinking about their illness and focus on the music, which fills the heart with happiness," said Laura Cordero, the director of the hospital.

Then, as if an invisible conductor waved an imaginary baton, the intimate concert ends and with a sigh a nurse says, "we are a hospital again."

Voting starts in sprawling PNG elections

Voting began in Papua New Guinea elections Saturday with the Pacific nation’s leader urging peaceful polling to show it has “come of age”, as he seeks another term to fix an economy under siege.Peter O’Neill’s People’s National Congress won the last el…

Voting began in Papua New Guinea elections Saturday with the Pacific nation's leader urging peaceful polling to show it has "come of age", as he seeks another term to fix an economy under siege.

Peter O'Neill's People's National Congress won the last election in 2012, and he has campaigned on delivering key infrastructure and providing free education and health to a country that remains mired in poverty.

He also points to more stability in a sprawling crime-ridden land where elections have been marred by violence in the past.

"I appeal to all our citizens to peacefully cast their votes," said the prime minister, with more than 3,000 candidates from over 40 political parties jostling for support.

"Let?s show the international community that PNG has come of age and will express its democratic principles in a manner acceptable to the community."

Polling for the 111-seat parliament runs for two weeks until July 8 with staggered voting across the vast and remote country. A result is not expected until late July.

There is no opinion polling in PNG, so it is unclear who holds the advantage.

But no party has ever won a majority, meaning a coalition is likely, held together by strategic political appointments.

O'Neill's main threat is seen as Don Polye's Triumph Heritage Empowerment Party.

Opponents accuse O'Neill of mismanaging an economy hurt by slumping global commodity prices, racking up debt by recklessly spending to meet his goals.

He has also been tarred by corruption allegations, surviving a no-confidence vote last year following weeks of protests and civil disobedience urging him to resign.

PNG's largest aid donor Australia has been working closely with Port Moresby to ensure the polling passes off smoothly, supplying election experts to train 30,000 local staff.

It has also provided military helicopters and planes to help transport election materials to remote areas of a mountainous country that has some of the world?s most difficult terrain.

Hundreds of observers are in the country monitoring the polls, watching for any vote-buying as candidates jockey for a position in government.

PNG villagers, who receive little from the political system, often see elections as simply a "time of food" -- a reference to the cash, pigs and other items candidates provide to win votes.

"We will consider whether the elections have been conducted according to the standards for democratic elections to which Papua New Guinea has committed itself," said Commonwealth Observer Group chair Anand Satyanand on the role his team was playing.

Panda mania hits Germany as China’s cuddly envoys arrive

Germany was bracing for panda mania as furry ambassadors arrive from China on Saturday, destined for a new life as stars of Berlin’s premier zoo.The pair, named Meng Meng and Jiao Qing, will be jetting in on a special Lufthansa cargo plane, accompanied…

Germany was bracing for panda mania as furry ambassadors arrive from China on Saturday, destined for a new life as stars of Berlin's premier zoo.

The pair, named Meng Meng and Jiao Qing, will be jetting in on a special Lufthansa cargo plane, accompanied by two Chinese panda specialists, the Berlin Zoo's chief vet and a tonne of bamboo.

Berlin's mayor, China's ambassador to Germany and a gaggle of journalists will greet the VIPs as LH8415 pulls to a stop on the tarmac of Schoenefeld airport.

After just over a week's acclimatisation, they will be unveiled to the public by no less than Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping, most likely two days before the G20 summit of world leaders hosted by Germany.

Famed for its "panda diplomacy", China has dispatched its national treasure to only about a dozen countries as a symbol of close relations.

Export giants Germany and China have nurtured increasingly close economic ties, and over the last year the have also taken on the leading role in championing free trade as Donald Trump shifts the US away from market liberalisation with his "America First" push.

"The Chinese see the pandas as Chinese brand ambassadors. China obviously has an image problem in Europe and giving pandas is a very smart and easy way to win hearts," said Bernhard Bartsch from the Bertelsmann Foundation think tank in Berlin.

The "pandas will lend a very positive spin in German media to the visit by Xi Jinping in July," he added.

- Bamboo snacks, absorbent mats -

The excitement over the two bears is evident in the run-up to their arrival, with the zoo publishing a daily updated blog about the pair.

"We are obviously nervous now because everything must go well," Berlin Zoo director Andreas Knieriem told SWR radio on Friday.

"There's a plane flying them in exclusively, and the flight route -- Chengdu to Berlin -- is not a usual route. But I think we are well prepared," he said.

The 12 hour, 20 minute journey to Germany has been carefully prepared, with "bamboo snacks" to keep the pandas happy and absorbent mats to ensure the transport box stays dry and odourless.

And their new home at Berlin's zoo will measure about 5,500 square metres (59,000 square feet) and comes fitted with a wooded climbing area and an artificial stream.

Meng Meng means "dream" in Chinese, while Jiao Qing translates as "darling", though the Chinese characters are a composite of "tender" and "festive" or "celebration".

But the honour of hosting them does not come cheap.

The zoo will pay $15 million (13.4 million euros) for a 15-year contract to host them, with most of the money going towards a conservation and breeding research programme in China.

And the pandas' main dish -- bamboo -- will cost tens of thousands of euros each year.

The zoo will probably look to offset part of its outlays through panda-themed merchandising.

Ultimately, it hopes that the pair will produce babies, even if experts have warned that panda reproduction is a fine art.

Panda expert Jerome Pouille said that "the female is only receptive to a male for about 24 to 48 hours a year", adding that there was little chance of a cub within the first three years.

China has previously given three pandas to Germany, but the last one, 34-year-old Bao Bao, died in Berlin in 2012, having become the oldest male panda in the world.

About 1,864 pandas remain in the wild in China, up from around 1,000 in the late 1970s, according to the environmental group WWF.

Just over 400 pandas live in zoos around the world, in conservation projects set up with Beijing.

Gripping tales lure war-weary Syrians to Damascus cafe

With a slender sword in one hand and an antique storybook in the other, Ahmad al-Lahham captivates a packed Damascus coffeehouse with tales of ancient kingdoms and brave conquerers.Every evening, the 58-year-old heads to the cosy Nawfara cafe in the Ol…

With a slender sword in one hand and an antique storybook in the other, Ahmad al-Lahham captivates a packed Damascus coffeehouse with tales of ancient kingdoms and brave conquerers.

Every evening, the 58-year-old heads to the cosy Nawfara cafe in the Old City of Syria's war-torn capital to perform as a traditional Arabic storyteller or "hakawati".

He sheds his furniture maker's outfit and dons a bright red Ottoman-style cap, or tarboosh, reading out handwritten stories from the curling, yellowing pages of an old book.

"This occupation is steadily going extinct. I am the only hakawati left in the Old City," he says. "If I stop, there will be no storytellers left."

Lahham, who also goes by the stage name "Abu Sami", settles into an ornately-carved wooden chair on a raised platform overlooking the cafe, where young men sip tea and smoke on bubbling water pipes.

Clearing his throat, he opens with a well-known tale of 13th-century ruler Baibars before moving on to the heroic antics of Antarah Ibn Shaddad, a pre-Islamic knight.

He says such tales of courage and conquest have become much more popular, at the expense of traditional poems or romantic stories, since Syria's war erupted in 2011.

"We went through a period where we wouldn't come out much, but the owner of this coffee shop insisted that hakawatis continue to tell stories -- even if he and I were the only ones left," Lahham says.

"But today, as you can see, the situation is much better, and dozens of people wait for me every night."

- 'We come to forget' -

The storytelling nights usually happen once a week but during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends this weekend, the show is daily.

Listeners pack the cafe in the shadow of the famed Ummayad mosque late in the evening after breaking their fast.

Many stay until the early hours of the morning to enjoy some sustenance before the fast resumes at dawn.

Damascus residents have grown accustomed to regular rocket and mortar fire from rebel-held districts on the edges of the capital, with occasional rounds even reaching the Old City.

But those fronts have calmed since a May deal that saw opposition fighters withdraw from several neighbourhoods, along with a separate agreement on "de-escalation" zones -- including one in a rebel stronghold just outside the capital.

Even so, the war is never far away, and listeners at Nawfara say the hakawati nights help them escape it, even if just for a few hours.

"We're living every little part of the crisis everywhere we go. Every media outlet broadcasts tragedies. So we come to the coffee shops to forget -- the hakawati's tales help us do that," 49-year-old Mohammad Duyub says.

A regular at Nawfara for over 20 years, he occupies a prime seat in the corner of the cafe, a ribbon of smoke curling up from his water pipe as he watches the storyteller.

"His performance takes us back to the past to escape the reality we're living," he says. "The hakawati gives us space to breathe."

- 'Preserving the tradition' -

Mohammad Jaafar, 57, closes his eyes and focuses on Abu Sami's booming voice.

"Since Ramadan started, I've made sure to follow the story of Sultan Baibars because it's exciting and beautiful. It reminds us of the powerful history that we're proud of -- compared to our current situation," he says.

Nawfara's wood-panelled walls and ceiling are decorated with Damascene mosaics which, its owner says, date back to the 17th century.

One wall features rows of framed photographs of historical figures who feature in Abu Sami's tales -- as well as a simple portrait of an elderly man in a red tarboosh and white robe.

The Arabic caption reads: "Abdelhamid al-Hawari, the first hakawati of Damascus, born 1885."

But the art of public storytelling is on the decline, says Wassim Abdalhay.

The 32-year-old was once a full-time hakawati but financial woes forced him to take a day job at a local power station.

During Ramadan, he performs each evening at a luxurious downtown restaurant under the stage name Abu Shadi, sporting loose black pants, a white cap and his own thick storybook.

"Before the crisis, there was a huge group of us who would travel to Gulf countries and perform Damascene folklore. But because of the situation, we weren't able to travel -- so we focused on preserving the tradition here," Abdalhay tells AFP.

"We're currently suffering a hakawati shortage. I could count those that are left in the country on one hand."

Climate change more important than partisan politics: Schwarzenegger

Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger urged people from both ends of the political spectrum to join a “crusade” to save the planet, after a Friday meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.”It is absolutely imperative that we not make it…

Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger urged people from both ends of the political spectrum to join a "crusade" to save the planet, after a Friday meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.

"It is absolutely imperative that we not make it a political issue," he said.

"This is not the right versus the left because there is no liberal air or conservative air. We all breathe the same air. There is no liberal water or conservative water, we all drink the same water," the star of "The Terminator" movies said.

Just a few weeks after US President Donald Trump announced he was pulling America out of the Paris Climate accord, Schwarzenegger said all countries had to work together in order to protect the environment.

"It is extremely important in order for us to be successful in creating a green and clean future for our children and grandchildren, which is a responsibility that we have, to hand the world in better shape to the next generation than we inherited it," he said.

"We all have to work together in order to get this done," he said, adding that he and Macron had discussed the climate issue in depth during their meeting.

He praised the French leader as a formidable force for France and for the world, particularly on environmental issues, which were something that "we both feel very passionate about."

Brazil defends meat against US ban, but image tattered

Brazil’s agriculture minister Blairo Maggi announced Friday he will travel to the United States to fight a ban on Brazilian beef imports, but the Latin American country’s meat industry is already reeling.

“Brazil could lose a lot if it isn’t able to get this decision reversed,” Maggi announced in the wake of the US Department of Agriculture’s announcement Thursday of a ban on imports of fresh Brazilian beef due to “recurring” food safety concerns.

Brazil is the world’s leading beef and poultry exporter.

Officials spent Friday defending the quality of the country’s beef, part of one of the economy’s most important sectors.

“We know what we are doing and the federal inspection system is robust,” the agriculture secretary, Eumar Novacki, told a press conference.

Although the United States imports only a sliver of Brazil’s fresh beef exports, it is a prestigious market.

“In the short term, the scale of purchases by the United States is not that great but it sends a very important signal, telling other international buyers that there are problems,” said Cesar de Castro Alves, an analyst at the MBAgro consultancy.

The image problem is especially acute since Brazil had just been getting over a major scandal in March when 21 meat processors were accused by Brazilian police of adulterating bad quality meat and bribing inspectors.

That prompted some 20 countries — including chief beef markets China and Hong Kong — to suspend all Brazilian meat imports. The bans caused havoc in the $13 billion a year industry, which employs some six million people, before being finally lifted.

– Trade maneuvers? –

The United States had imposed inspections on 100 percent of Brazilian meat imports since the March row, with US inspectors rejecting 11 percent of the products — compared to one percent from other countries.

In Brazil, the US clampdown is seen as partly influenced by trade rivalries, as well as health concerns. The United States is the world’s top beef producer.

“We do have a sanitation problem but also big pressure from US producers who don’t want to see Brazilian beef there. We are major competitors on the world stage and we are selling them meat,” Maggi said.

This comes on the back of a breakthrough for the United States in May when China authorized US beef imports for the first time in 13 years.

That may be coincidental, analysts say, but there’s no question that Brazil’s industry feels it’s taking hits from several directions.

“The US (ban) decision threatens Brazilian farmers even more when they are facing a series of difficulties,” the Confederation of Agriculture said.

– JBS a target –

At the eye of the turbulent Brazilian meat industry is the giant meatpacker JBS, which was caught up in the rotten meat and bribery scandal.

It has taken on an even higher profile after a top company executive accused President Michel Temer of corruption.

Temer was secretly recorded by the owner of JBS parent company J&F, Joesley Batista, allegedly agreeing to pay hush money to a politician.

The recording was handed over to prosecutors, who are pushing to bring Temer to trial, as part of a plea bargain over massive corruption by J&F.

Batista and his brother avoided jail but J&F must pay a record 10.3 billion reais (approximately $3 billion) in fines over 25 years.

Brazil's agriculture minister Blairo Maggi announced Friday he will travel to the United States to fight a ban on Brazilian beef imports, but the Latin American country's meat industry is already reeling.

"Brazil could lose a lot if it isn't able to get this decision reversed," Maggi announced in the wake of the US Department of Agriculture's announcement Thursday of a ban on imports of fresh Brazilian beef due to "recurring" food safety concerns.

Brazil is the world's leading beef and poultry exporter.

Officials spent Friday defending the quality of the country's beef, part of one of the economy's most important sectors.

"We know what we are doing and the federal inspection system is robust," the agriculture secretary, Eumar Novacki, told a press conference.

Although the United States imports only a sliver of Brazil's fresh beef exports, it is a prestigious market.

"In the short term, the scale of purchases by the United States is not that great but it sends a very important signal, telling other international buyers that there are problems," said Cesar de Castro Alves, an analyst at the MBAgro consultancy.

The image problem is especially acute since Brazil had just been getting over a major scandal in March when 21 meat processors were accused by Brazilian police of adulterating bad quality meat and bribing inspectors.

That prompted some 20 countries -- including chief beef markets China and Hong Kong -- to suspend all Brazilian meat imports. The bans caused havoc in the $13 billion a year industry, which employs some six million people, before being finally lifted.

- Trade maneuvers? -

The United States had imposed inspections on 100 percent of Brazilian meat imports since the March row, with US inspectors rejecting 11 percent of the products -- compared to one percent from other countries.

In Brazil, the US clampdown is seen as partly influenced by trade rivalries, as well as health concerns. The United States is the world's top beef producer.

"We do have a sanitation problem but also big pressure from US producers who don't want to see Brazilian beef there. We are major competitors on the world stage and we are selling them meat," Maggi said.

This comes on the back of a breakthrough for the United States in May when China authorized US beef imports for the first time in 13 years.

That may be coincidental, analysts say, but there's no question that Brazil's industry feels it's taking hits from several directions.

"The US (ban) decision threatens Brazilian farmers even more when they are facing a series of difficulties," the Confederation of Agriculture said.

- JBS a target -

At the eye of the turbulent Brazilian meat industry is the giant meatpacker JBS, which was caught up in the rotten meat and bribery scandal.

It has taken on an even higher profile after a top company executive accused President Michel Temer of corruption.

Temer was secretly recorded by the owner of JBS parent company J&F, Joesley Batista, allegedly agreeing to pay hush money to a politician.

The recording was handed over to prosecutors, who are pushing to bring Temer to trial, as part of a plea bargain over massive corruption by J&F.

Batista and his brother avoided jail but J&F must pay a record 10.3 billion reais (approximately $3 billion) in fines over 25 years.

Poland approves restrictions on morning-after pill

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda approved on Friday a new law limiting access to the morning-after pill in the devoutly Catholic country, which already has one of the EU’s most restrictive abortion rules. The contraception method will from now on be ava…

Poland's President Andrzej Duda approved on Friday a new law limiting access to the morning-after pill in the devoutly Catholic country, which already has one of the EU's most restrictive abortion rules.

The contraception method will from now on be available only by prescription, while previously it could be bought over the counter by people 15 and older, an official statement said.

The new restrictions were pushed through in May by Poland's ruling rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) party, with which Duda is closely allied.

Last year, the PiS also tried to tighten the already restrictive abortion law but buckled under pressure from tens of thousands of black-clad women who protested nationwide.

The parliament wound up rejecting the controversial bill that would have allowed abortions only if the woman's life was at risk and increased the maximum jail term for practitioners from two years to five.

Passed in 1993, the current legislation bans all abortions unless there was rape or incest, the pregnancy poses a health risk to the mother or the foetus is severely deformed.

Home to 38 million people, Poland sees fewer than 2,000 legal abortions a year, but women's groups estimate that another 100,000 to 150,000 procedures are performed illegally or abroad.

US ends role of special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan

The United States abolished the role of its special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan on Friday, just as it prepares to send thousands more troops to the region.A senior State Department official told AFP that acting special representative Laurel Mille…

The United States abolished the role of its special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan on Friday, just as it prepares to send thousands more troops to the region.

A senior State Department official told AFP that acting special representative Laurel Miller was stepping down and would not be replaced in the post.

The office was created when US officials decided that the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan are inextricably linked and ought to be dealt with together.

But President Donald Trump came to office planning to slash diplomatic spending and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to cut several special envoy roles.

Miller's responsibilities will now fall under the department's South and Central Asian Affairs Bureau, which has a much bigger footprint that includes India.

But this bureau is itself leaderless, with no assistant secretary appointed to lead it and no-one nominated by the new administration for Senate approval.

When news site Politico broke the news that the envoy post had gone, it cited diplomats complaining of a rushed process and a dangerous leadership vacuum.

But, also speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior official told AFP the decision was part of a broader policy review.

Tillerson thinks the issue is best handled at a regional level, the official said, arguing that it made sense to consider India part of the equation.

Trump has given the Pentagon and US commanders wide latitude to decide on the future of Washington's longest ever war -- the 16-year slog in Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is reportedly planning to deploy up to 5,000 extra troops to bolster efforts to train Afghan forces to repel a resurgent Taliban insurgency.

dc/ec

Venezuelans rally in anger at death of young protestor

Venezuelan demonstrators blocked streets Friday in protests over the death of a young man shot by police during an anti-government rally the night before.Blowing horns and banging pots, protestors massed on streets in Caracas and other cities, causing …

Venezuelan demonstrators blocked streets Friday in protests over the death of a young man shot by police during an anti-government rally the night before.

Blowing horns and banging pots, protestors massed on streets in Caracas and other cities, causing traffic jams.

The 22-year-old man, recent nursing graduate David Vallenilla, was shot dead Thursday during a protest near an air force base in Caracas, officials and opposition leaders said.

He was the 75th person killed in nearly three months of unrest against President Nicolas Maduro.

"Maduro, coward, murderer of students," yelled some of the protestors in Caracas.

"This is a protest against the brutality with which they are murdering our young people," said one demonstrator, Rina Torres.

Interior Minister Nestor Reverol admitted that the man was shot by a military police officer after media published videos of the killing.

Maduro had insisted in a news conference on Thursday that police were only allowed to use water cannon and tear gas -- not bullets or shot cartridges -- against protestors.

Near-daily protests against Maduro began April 1, with demonstrators demanding his removal and new elections.

The protests have often turned violent, with more than 1,000 people injured so far, prosecutors say. More than 3,000 have been arrested, according to the NGO Forum Penal.

Maduro's opponents blame him for an economic crisis that has caused desperate shortages of food, medicine and other basic goods.

The socialist leader says the crisis is a US-backed conspiracy.

He launched a plan to rewrite the constitution, which the opposition brands a ploy to cling to power.

Opposition leaders called for a "big march" on Saturday in various cities, including one near the Carlota air base where the latest victim was killed.

Chile apologizes to tribe for historic ‘horrors’

Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet apologized on behalf of the nation Friday to the Mapuche indigenous tribe for the “horrors” of post-colonial abuse they suffered.Considered the earliest inhabitants of parts of Chile, the Mapuche fought against the S…

Chile's President Michelle Bachelet apologized on behalf of the nation Friday to the Mapuche indigenous tribe for the "horrors" of post-colonial abuse they suffered.

Considered the earliest inhabitants of parts of Chile, the Mapuche fought against the Spanish conquerors and later the Chilean army after the country's independence in the 19th century.

Their numbers were reduced to only 700,000, a fraction of Chile's current population of 17 million.

"We have failed as a country," the socialist president, who is due to leave office in seven months, said in a speech.

"I therefore wish to apologize to the Mapuche people for the mistakes and horrors that have been committed or tolerated in our relations with them and their communities."

Her speech marked the launch of a development scheme for impoverished Mapuche communities in the southern Araucania region.

Mapuche in Araucania are campaigning to recover territory they say was confiscated from them.

Bachelet said a ministerial committee would review indigenous land rights in the region.

"It is clear that from the time when our republic was formed, the Mapuche people's identity, culture, territory and livelihood were not protected as they should have been," Bachelet said.

"Over more than a century and a half of national history, these people were treated as though they were invisible and their communities were disrespected and discriminated against."

Mapuche land rights campaigners have also been jailed under a terrorism law dating to Chile's 1973-1990 dictatorship.

Tourist bus hits Paris bridge, at least four injured

An open-top double-decker tourist bus crashed into a central Paris bridge during an Olympic fun day on Friday, injuring at least four passengers, firefighters said.The bus, with seating on the upper deck for sightseeing, was too high to pass under the …

An open-top double-decker tourist bus crashed into a central Paris bridge during an Olympic fun day on Friday, injuring at least four passengers, firefighters said.

The bus, with seating on the upper deck for sightseeing, was too high to pass under the Alexandre III bridge and scraped the roof of the tunnel before stopping after a few metres (yards).

The Paris fire service said a woman who was among those hurt had serious injuries.

However, Big Bus Tours, which offers sightseeing trips around Paris on open-top buses, denied there were any major injuries and promised a thorough probe.

"No victims are in a serious condition," it said in a statement. "We are currently conducting a thorough investigation into this incident and are working closely with the police."

The crash came during a large-scale event on the Seine to promote the French capital's bid to host the 2024 Olympics, with a floating running track installed across the river just next to the bridge.

A police source said the bus was not travelling along its usual route, having been diverted because of the Olympic event.

Paris police said signs warned drivers that oversized vehicles were not allowed under the bridge, and an alternative route was provided.

"Despite the presence of the signs the driver continued on toward the underpass," police said.

The ornate Alexandre III bridge over the River Seine is a magnet for tourists, especially honeymooners keen to take selfies with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

In 2008, a six-year-old boy and a 45-year-old man died after a tourist pleasure boat carrying 12 people sank in the Seine after hitting a bridge.

Small Christian party to join talks on forming Dutch govt

Four parties agreed Friday to try to form the next Dutch coalition government, on the 100th day of tortuous stop-start negotiations following March elections.Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose Liberal VVD party emerged as the largest in the Dutch parliam…

Four parties agreed Friday to try to form the next Dutch coalition government, on the 100th day of tortuous stop-start negotiations following March elections.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose Liberal VVD party emerged as the largest in the Dutch parliament in the March 15 polls, said late Friday he was confident he would be able to work with the other three parties, Dutch media reported.

A first attempt to include the left-wing ecology GroenLinks party in a four-way coalition broke down in May amid differences over immigration, leaving a political stalemate and causing the first person tasked with trying to form a government to step down.

New experienced pointman, Herman Tjeenk Willink, has since then led weeks of closed-door talks to try to find a fourth partner needed to ensure a parliament majority.

Rutte's VVD won 33 seats, far short of the 76 needed for a majority in the 150-seat lower house of parliament.

But he has already agreed to work with the progressive Democracy D66 party, and the conservative Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) both of which have 19 seats.

Now the small, more conservative Christian Union (CU) is to sit at the negotiating table next week and try to hammer out a common agenda to govern the lowlands country, one of the EU's leading economies.

"We have determined that we can go forward with these conversations," Rutte said, according to the Dutch news agency ANP, as he emerged from the first talks between all four parties.

The CU's five seats would give the new coalition exactly 76 seats.

D66 leader Alexander Pechtold had been reluctant initially to work with the CU, fearing the party could pull a new coalition more to the right.

Waiting in the wings though has been the far-right, anti-Islam Freedom party of Geert Wilders, which came second in March winning 20 seats. To his frustration, the other parties have refused to work with him, turned off by his incendiary agenda.

Coalition governments and arduous negotiations are common in The Netherlands. Rutte took 54 days in 2012 to form his coalition, while the record stands at 208 days in 1977.

Colombia rebels free kidnapped Dutch journalists: ELN

Colombia’s ELN rebel force said Friday it had released two Dutch journalists it had kidnapped in the north of the country four days ago.”The two foreigners captured by the ELN in Catatumbo have been released in perfect condition,” the National Liberati…

Colombia's ELN rebel force said Friday it had released two Dutch journalists it had kidnapped in the north of the country four days ago.

"The two foreigners captured by the ELN in Catatumbo have been released in perfect condition," the National Liberation Army (ELN) said on Twitter.

It did not say where they were released.

In the Netherlands, a Dutch foreign ministry spokeswoman told AFP she was not able to confirm the release.

The kidnapping was the latest in a series of incidents which officials feared could disrupt peace talks the ELN is holding with the Colombian government.

Derk Johannes Bolt, 62, and his cameraman Eugenio Ernest Marie Follender, 58, were kidnapped Monday near the Venezuela border.

The governor of the surrounding the Norte de Santander district, William Villamizar, had said on Thursday that a humanitarian commission was mediating the journalists' release.

"The release does not affect the dialogue being carried out with the ELN," he said.

On Tuesday, the government's chief negotiator with the guerrillas, Juan Camilo Restrepo, had warned the kidnapping complicated negotiations with the ELN that began in February.

Villamizar said the military and the ELN had been asked to reduce their operations in the area "so as not to endanger the lives of the Dutch journalists" so they could be released safely.

The Dutch journalists work for Spoorloos, a program on Kro-Ncrv TV that helps Dutch people trace their biological relatives around the world.

The program says it has received more than 1,000 requests every year for help since it launched in 1990.

Colombia's biggest rebel group, the FARC, is scheduled to complete its disarmament by June 27 under a peace deal it signed last year.

In May 2016, ELN rebels kidnapped in the same region a Colombian-Spanish journalist and two Colombian TV reporters. The journalists were handed over to intermediaries a few days later.

Killer of British ex-commando on French island gets prison

A court on France’s Indian Ocean island of Reunion on Friday sentenced a 30-year-old man to 15 years behind bars for the killing of a British ex-commando in 2011.After a three-day trial, a jury convicted Vincent Madoure of taking part in the murder of …

A court on France's Indian Ocean island of Reunion on Friday sentenced a 30-year-old man to 15 years behind bars for the killing of a British ex-commando in 2011.

After a three-day trial, a jury convicted Vincent Madoure of taking part in the murder of Carl Davies, a 33-year-old former Royal Marines Commando.

Davies was found battered to death in a gutter on November 9, 2011. He suffered a fractured skull, broken bones, multiple bruising and cuts, an autopsy found.

He had arrived on the island two days earlier aboard a merchant vessel where he was working as a security guard.

Investigators suspected Davies was assaulted by a group after he left a nightclub, possibly to mug him.

Authorities only started to make headway in their investigation after a violent gang operating near the venue was arrested the following year.

Three of its members were charged with Davies's death, two of whom were acquitted for lack of evidence -- a decision that the lawyer for Davies's relatives lashed as a judicial error.

His family was in court for the trial.

Madoure, who maintained he was innocent of the crime, will file an appeal, his lawyer Henri Moselle said.

Reunion was claimed by France in the mid-17th century and is one of the country's five overseas departments. It has the same administrative structure as departments, or counties, in metropolitan France.

Hezbollah says ‘thousands’ of fighters to respond if Israel attacks

The head of Lebanese movement Hezbollah on Friday warned Israel against attacking Lebanon or Syria, saying “hundreds of thousands” of Arab and Muslim fighters would be ready to strike back.”The Israeli enemy should know that if it launches an attack on…

The head of Lebanese movement Hezbollah on Friday warned Israel against attacking Lebanon or Syria, saying "hundreds of thousands" of Arab and Muslim fighters would be ready to strike back.

"The Israeli enemy should know that if it launches an attack on Syria or Lebanon, it's unknown whether the fighting will stay just between Lebanon and Israel, or Syria and Israel," Hassan Nasrallah said.

"I'm not saying countries would intervene directly -- but it would open the door for hundreds of thousands of fighters from all around the Arab and Islamic world to participate in this fight -- from Iraq, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan," he said.

Nasrallah made the remarks in a speech broadcast on television to mark Jerusalem (Quds) Day, an annual show of solidarity with the Palestinians.

The commemoration was first launched by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the late revolutionary leader of Iran -- a main sponsor of Hezbollah and staunch rival of Israel.

Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon, and others from Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, are battling alongside regime forces in Syria to defend the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

The powerful Shiite movement and Israel have fought many battles including a devastating 34-day war in 2006 that killed 1,200 people in Lebanon, mainly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Border skirmishes have broken out occasionally since then, and Nasrallah on Friday said any future confrontation would be "very costly for Israel".

Tensions were rising this week along the frontier, with Israel accusing Hezbollah of expanding observation posts to conduct reconnaissance missions across the border.

Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, denounced the "dangerous provocation" and sent a letter of protest to the Security Council.

And the head of Israel's air force said it would have "unimaginable" military power at hand in any future conflict with Hezbollah.

"What the air force was able to do quantitatively in the... Lebanon war over the course of 34 days we can do today in 48-60 hours," Major General Amir Eshel said on Wednesday.

"This is potential power unimaginable in its scope, much different to what we have seen in the past and far greater than people estimate."

Syria hotline for US and Russia still in use: US

Russian and US military officials are still using a special hotline to communicate about operations in Syria, a US official said Friday, days after Moscow said it was severing the connection.Russia on Monday said it would stop using the so-called “deco…

Russian and US military officials are still using a special hotline to communicate about operations in Syria, a US official said Friday, days after Moscow said it was severing the connection.

Russia on Monday said it would stop using the so-called "deconfliction" line in response to a US pilot shooting down a regime war plane in northern Syria, with Moscow accusing Washington of failing to issue a warning.

But Colonel Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the US-led coalition, told reporters in a video call that "the deconfliction line is in use."

"It is in use to make sure that... our air crews and ground forces are safe," he said.

The Russian defense ministry said Friday it had conducted a "surprise mass missile strike" against IS targets, using cruise missiles fired from the Mediterranean.

Dillon would not say if Russia had used the line to warn the Americans ahead of the strike, but a US defense official confirmed to AFP that it had.

Sunday's shoot-down saw a US pilot fire on a regime warplane as it "dropped bombs" on US-backed local forces.

Moscow quickly said it would stop using the line, but the reality is that the communication channel is a vital link between Russia and the United States to make sure the two powers avoid mishaps in Syria's confusing battlespace.

After the United States launched a cruise missile attack on a regime air base in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons strike on civilians, Moscow made a similar threat in April.

But it later emerged that Russia and the United States continued to use the hotline even after Moscow said it was hanging up.

Bid for environmental rights pact to kick off in Paris

Politicians, legal experts and activists will launch a campaign in Paris on Saturday for a global pact to protect the human right to a clean, healthy environment. The end goal, organisers said this week, is a legal treaty under which states can be brou…

Politicians, legal experts and activists will launch a campaign in Paris on Saturday for a global pact to protect the human right to a clean, healthy environment.

The end goal, organisers said this week, is a legal treaty under which states can be brought to justice for flouting the rights of a group or individual.

The initiative comes just weeks after President Donald Trump announced that he would pull the United States out of the 196-nation Paris Agreement on curbing dangerous global warming.

The new pact, being blueprinted by top legal minds from several countries, should eventually be put to the United Nations for adoption, and impose legally-binding obligations on signatory states, its drafters say.

"We already have two international (human rights) pacts... The idea is to create a third, for a third generation of rights -- environmental rights," said French judicial expert Laurent Fabius, who will chair Saturday's meeting.

The earlier covenants -- one for social, economic and cultural rights, the other for civil and political rights -- were adopted by the UN in 1966.

Fabius, who chaired the 2015 UN conference that approved the hard-fought Paris Agreement, said the new text should outline rights and duties, provide for reparations to be made in case of a breach, and introduce the "polluter pays" principle.

It would mean that people can bring states to court, "to have them held responsible or to compel them to adopt laws that are more protective of the environment," explained Yann Aguila of the French Club des Juristes, a think-tank involved in the project.

Participants in Saturday's meeting would include ex-California governor-turned climate campaigner Arnold Schwarzenegger, former UN chief Ban Ki-moon, as well as high court judges from several countries.

The meeting will be closed by President Emmanuel Macron of France, which after Trump's announcement pledged 30 million euros ($34 million) to fund the work of foreign climate researchers on French soil.

Fear spreads in UK tower blocks with ‘deathtrap’ cladding

From her 18th floor flat, Pippa Wordsworth has a grim view of Grenfell Tower that has become bleaker after she was told her building has the same flammable cladding as on the burnt-out hulk.”I’m very frightened when I’m in the building now,” the bleach…

From her 18th floor flat, Pippa Wordsworth has a grim view of Grenfell Tower that has become bleaker after she was told her building has the same flammable cladding as on the burnt-out hulk.

"I'm very frightened when I'm in the building now," the bleached-blonde grandmother told AFP at her home on the Chalcots Estate in Camden in north London.

"This cladding looks nice. We had no idea it could be so dangerous," she said, following reports that the cladding may have helped spread the flames.

Now the modern covering on her 1965 tower reminds her of the early hours of June 14 when she saw Grenfell Tower on fire, with residents on the upper floors shouting for help before the flames overcame them.

Seventy-nine people were killed or are missing presumed dead in the fire and police have warned the toll could rise further.

Britain is now carrying out emergency checks on cladding installed on social housing tower blocks across the country, with 600 identified as potentially dangerous in England alone.

Cladding on 14 towers in different parts of the country has so far been found to be "combustible" and the government has warned residents may have to be rehoused or the cladding removed as soon as possible.

Camden council, which runs the Chalcots Estate, has promised to take it off the five towers and has met residents to try to reassure them.

"The people are scared. They don't sleep very well," Casey Oppong, head of the residents' association for Wordsworth's tower, told AFP.

Oppong said the council has tried to assure them the cladding would be replaced, although this is not expected to happen for another six weeks at least.

In the meantime, the council is sending fire stewards who will patrol the area around the clock.

Oppong said residents had also asked the council to install sprinklers and fire alarms, which are currently absent in the high-rise apartments, as well as provide residents with fire blankets.

- 'Living in deathtraps' -

Wearing yellow high-visibility vests marked "Camden", three fire stewards could be seen standing guard at the Chalcots Estate next to their electric car.

They smiled at residents and said they would remain in place until the cladding is removed but locals said they were still worried.

"The scariest thing to know is that if it happened to Grenfell, it can happen to us," Oppong said.

He blamed the use of multiple subcontractors for work on council tower blocks for putting fire safety at risk, saying that "in the end there is no control".

Police on Friday said they were considering charges of manslaughter in an investigation that would include companies taking part in the refurbishment.

They said the cladding on Grenfell Tower had not passed safety tests, adding that the fire had started with a faulty Hotpoint fridge freezer.

Frederica Otokunuy, 40, said she had just been visiting her elderly parents on the 15th floor of one of the towers.

"My parents are so scared! If it's the same shit, they wish it could be changed. We had no idea.

"It could be so dangerous but it looks so beautiful!"

In its Friday edition, the left-wing Daily Mirror tabloid referred to buildings with potentially dangerous cladding bluntly as "tower deathtraps".

EU states slammed for lack of support to Africa fund

EU countries have fallen far short of their duty to an African economic development fund designed to help discourage mass migration to Europe, Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker charged Friday.Juncker reprimanded EU member states at a summit in Bruss…

EU countries have fallen far short of their duty to an African economic development fund designed to help discourage mass migration to Europe, Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker charged Friday.

Juncker reprimanded EU member states at a summit in Brussels for having pledged only 200 million euros of the 1.8 billion euros ($2 billion) they are expected to contribute to the trust fund launched in 2015.

"Member states are not delivering at a sufficient degree when it comes to pledges and commitments to the African Trust Fund," Juncker told a press conference ending the summit of 28 leaders.

"This is not acceptable and I urge colleagues to do more," Juncker said.

During a summit with their African counterparts in Malta in November 2015, EU leaders agreed to set up a trust fund underpinned by 1.8 billion euros from the common EU budget.

Member states are supposed to match that amount, but since then they have only pledged 200 million euros and disbursed just 89 million euros, according to commission figures.

The Commission increased its share to 2.6 billion euros in the interim to make up part of the shortfall.

The fund is meant to help finance development projects and so ease the poverty driving migrants to Europe, which faces the biggest migration crisis since World War II.

Juncker has also lashed member states for failing to live up to their obligation to admit their share of asylum seekers, who have overwhelmed Greece and Italy since 2015.

The two-year plan is to relocate 160,000 Syrians and others fleeing war and persecution by September. Until now, only around 20,000 have been relocated to other member states.

The European Commission, executive of the 28-nation EU, earlier this month launched legal action against Hungary and Poland for refusing to take any asylum seekers and against the Czech Republic for effectively dropping out of the plan.

The move starts a long process that could result in fines.

Peru’s president hints at pardon for jailed ex-leader Fujimori

Peru’s president has hinted he may pardon jailed ex-leader Alberto Fujimori — but denied any backroom deal with the party that controls Congress, led by the former strongman’s daughter.Fujimori, president from 1990 to 2000, is serving a 25-year senten…

Peru's president has hinted he may pardon jailed ex-leader Alberto Fujimori -- but denied any backroom deal with the party that controls Congress, led by the former strongman's daughter.

Fujimori, president from 1990 to 2000, is serving a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses and corruption in special housing set up at a police headquarters in a suburb of Lima.

Now 78, Fujimori has suffered a series of health setbacks that has seen him in and out of hospital.

His adult children -- especially Keiko Fujimori, who currently heads Fuerza Popular (Popular Force), the party that has a lock on the single-chamber legislature -- have long campaigned to get him released.

On paper at least, both the "Fujimoristas" and President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's Peruvians for Change party share a center-right ideology.

However, strong opposition from Fujimori supporters has thwarted many of Kuczynski's government plans, and has even toppled three of his cabinet ministers.

The latest to bite the dust was finance minister Alfredo Thorne, forced to resign on Wednesday after a no-confidence vote.

Kuczynski, a former World Bank economist, Wall Street banker and ex-finance minister, said Thursday that it is now time "to look at" a pardon for Fujimori.

Peruvian law allows the president to offer pardons for Independence Day -- celebrated here on July 28 -- and for Christmas.

Kuczynski said his government has "always been evaluating" a pardon for Fujimori, and now those talks are "advancing."

- Kuczynski cornered -

The bad blood between the two leading politicians goes back to the 2016 election, when Keiko Fujimori and Kuczynski both ran for president.

Keiko Fujimori won a majority of votes in the first round of balloting and her party won control of Congress.

But she lost narrowly to Kuczynski in the second round when the smaller left and right-wing parties coalesced in an anti-Fujimori vote.

Keiko had also failed to win a runoff vote in the 2011 presidential election.

Alberto Fujimori remains a controversial figure in Peru, and memories of his corruption-riddled, iron-fisted rule -- and his successful crackdown on the country's two leftist guerrilla movements -- are still fresh.

Kuczynski initially opposed pardoning Fujimori -- and now that he's considering the move, the parties that helped pushed him into the presidency are upset.

"They're cornering him and instead of going out to fight like a statesman, he's caving to pressure from the Fujimoristas," said Geronimo Lopez, head of the CGTP, Peru's most powerful labor union.

- No quid pro quo -

"The only thing that I want to say is that there is no connection between a humanitarian pardon and Peruvian politics," Kuczynski said.

"Politics is one thing, and the health of a person is another," said Kuczynski, who like Fujimori senior is 78.

The ex-president's youngest son, Congressman Kenji Fujimori, thanked Kuczynski on Twitter.

"It's time to turn the page. I will be eternally grateful," he wrote. Kenji is one of the few Fujimoristas that is in contact with the Kuczynski administration.

Just last week, Keiko Fujimori failed in a legal attempt to get her father released from prison.

She pressed Kuczynski in a Twitter message: "You have been evaluating the case for months, now the time to act has come. Use your authority as president. Pardon him."

Polls show that nearly 60 percent of Peruvians support a humanitarian pardon.

The ex-leader's health has deteriorated in the past three years, with hospital visits to treat ailments that include hypertension and recurring problems with a cancerous tongue lesion.

In 2013 the government of President Ollanta Humala said that Fujimori did not qualify for a humanitarian pardon.

Kuczynski earlier said he supported home arrest for the ex-leader, but Fujimori's supporters in Congress rejected the proposal, insisting on a pardon.

Fujimori was jailed in 2007 for his role in killings by a death squad targeting supposed guerrillas in the 1990s. He was also convicted of embezzlement and bribery.

Tanzania president says teen mothers should quit school

Tanzania President John Magufuli said students who become pregnant should not be allowed to finish their studies after giving birth, sparking outrage from women’s rights campaign groups. “I give money for a student to study for free. And then, she gets…

Tanzania President John Magufuli said students who become pregnant should not be allowed to finish their studies after giving birth, sparking outrage from women's rights campaign groups.

"I give money for a student to study for free. And then, she gets pregnant, gives birth and after that, returns to school. No, not under my mandate," the president said Thursday while visiting Chalinze, around 100 kilometres (62 miles) west of the economic capital Dar es Salaam.

According to a report by Human Rights Watch published last week, school officials in Tanzania were conducting pregnancy tests in order to expel pregnant students, thus depriving them of their right to an education.

Magufuli hit back, saying if Tanzanians listened to western human rights organisations, "all the students in an entire class could have babies".

"In that case, what would happen? While the teacher is conducting class, they'll all leave to nurse their babies? Never under my mandate", he said.

"If the NGOs really love these students they should open special schools for mothers."

Several members of the government have publicly defended the right for teens to continue their secondary school education after having children.

Magufuli's comments drew the ire of the African organisation for women's rights FEMNET, which called them "unacceptable" and "disgusting".

"With all the work we have done to emancipate Africa's girl-child from the shackles of discrimination and violation, a sitting president turns-around and... (treats) their situation like a terrible infectious disease which other girls must be protected from," said Dinah Musindarwezo, who heads FEMNET.

"It is unfortunate that instead of addressing sexual violence in schools (which is why girls are getting pregnant) President Magufuli aims to re-victimize young girls by denying them their right to education," said campaign group Equality Now director Faiza Mohammed.

An online petition Friday gathered more than 300 signatures calling for Magufuli to retract his statement and set up a legal structure to allow pregnant students to continue their studies after giving birth.

UAE warns Qatar over neighbours’ demands

The United Arab Emirates on Friday warned of “divorce” with Qatar unless it takes seriously a list of demands including the closure of Al-Jazeera television, as a diplomatic crisis drags on.Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s state minister for foreign affairs, i…

The United Arab Emirates on Friday warned of "divorce" with Qatar unless it takes seriously a list of demands including the closure of Al-Jazeera television, as a diplomatic crisis drags on.

Anwar Gargash, the UAE's state minister for foreign affairs, issued the warning more than two weeks into the oil-rich region's worst crisis in years.

The affair has also drawn in the United States, whose Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called for Gulf unity.

Qatar is the world's leading LNG exporter and hosts the biggest American airbase in the Middle East.

Gargash accused Qatar of leaking a document containing the demands by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, which have cut diplomatic ties and accused Qatar of sponsoring terrorism.

Qatar strongly denies such charges.

The demands have not been officially unveiled but Doha-based Al-Jazeera news channel said overnight Thursday they were handed to Qatar by Kuwait, which is mediating the dispute.

According to the document posted on social media, the four countries demand that Qatar closes Al-Jazeera, downgrades diplomatic ties with Iran and shuts a Turkish military base in the emirate.

The list of demands has not been officially confirmed.

"The leak (of the demands by Qatar) is an attempt to abort the mediation in a childish act that we have grown accustomed to from our brother," Gargash wrote on Twitter.?

"It would be wiser that (Qatar) deal seriously with the demands and concerns of the neighbours or a divorce will take place," he said.

The demands confirm that "the crisis is profound," Gargash added.

Qatar faces a choice of either stability and prosperity, or isolation, he said.

"Perhaps the solution is in parting ways."

Qatar is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council with Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

-- US 'mystified' --

On June 5, Saudi Arabia and the UAE led a severing of all links with Qatar for allegedly supporting groups, including some backed by Iran, "that aim to destabilise the region".

Other allies, including Egypt and Bahrain, followed.

Saudi Arabia regularly accuses Iran, its regional rival, of interference throughout the Middle East.

As well as cutting diplomatic ties, Qatar's neighbours closed their air space to Qatari carriers and blocked the emirates' only land border, vital for its food imports.

The list of 13 demands circulating on social media also says Qatar must cut ties to extremists including the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State group, Al-Qaeda and Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah movement.

Qatar is also required to hand over opposition figures wanted by its three neighbours and Egypt.

In addition to Al-Jazeera, it must shut online information sites that it supports, according to the reported demands.

"The brother (Qatar) must realise that the solution for its crisis lies not in Tehran or Beirut or Ankara or Western capitals or in media outlets, but in regaining the trust of its neighbours," Gargash said.

"It is not possible to accept that the brother continues as the Trojan horse" in the Gulf or as a funder and "platform for an extremist agenda", he added.

Earlier this week, a foreign diplomat told AFP the crisis had reached a "stalemate" and "won't end soon".

Tillerson said on Wednesday that Washington had been pushing for a clear list of grievances that are "reasonable and actionable".

"Our role has been to encourage the parties to get their issues on the table, clearly articulated, so that those issues can be addressed and some resolution process can get underway to bring this to a conclusion," he said.

His spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tuesday the United States was "mystified" that Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies had failed to present details justifying their embargo on Qatar.

US President Donald Trump, however, has made statements siding with Saudi Arabia in the crisis.

UN to send experts to probe DR Congo violence

The UN Human Rights Council on Friday decided to send a group of experts to Democratic Republic of Congo to help investigate an explosion of deadly violence in the Kasai region.A council resolution called on the UN rights office to dispatch a team of i…

The UN Human Rights Council on Friday decided to send a group of experts to Democratic Republic of Congo to help investigate an explosion of deadly violence in the Kasai region.

A council resolution called on the UN rights office to dispatch a team of international experts to help Kinshasa investigate gross rights violations in the region, including extrajudicial killings, torture, rape and the use of child soldiers.

More than 3,300 people have been killed in eight months of spiralling unrest in the central Kasai region, the papal envoy to the country said earlier this week.

The violence has so far forced about 1.3 million people to flee their homes, according to UN figures.

Adopted by the 47-member council, the resolution, however, fell short of a call from UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein for a fully-fledged "independent, international investigation" following attacks in the region that he qualified as "horrific".

The European Union, supported by the United States and others, had initially presented a draft resolution urging such an international probe.

But faced with harsh opposition from Kinshasa, they opted for a compromise, withdrawing their resolution and joining one presented by Tunisia on behalf of a group of African countries.

That text calls for the team of international experts, including ones from the region, "to collect and preserve information to determine the facts and circumstances... in cooperation with the (DRC) government".

- Crucial compromise -

The experts must forward their conclusions to the DRC authorities, the resolution says, stressing that "the perpetrators of deplorable crimes are all accountable to the judicial authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo".

And it calls on Zeid to present a comprehensive report on the team's findings at the council's session in June next year.

DRC Ambassador Zenon Mukongo Ngay told the council his government would "accommodate the investigative team on its soil" but stressed the experts would only provide "technical and logistic support" and that "the Congolese judiciary will maintain the leadership in the investigation".

Although the resolution did not go as far as some had hoped, Zeid welcomed the text Friday.

"We fully support the establishment of an international investigation by the Human Rights Council as a step forward in identifying the perpetrators of gross violations and bringing them to justice," he said in a statement.

The unrest in Kasai began when a local tribal chieftain who was rebelling against the authority of President Joseph Kabila's government, was killed during clashes with the security forces in August 2016.

The death of this tribal chief, known as the Kamwina Nsapu, sparked a wave of violence which has not stopped.

- Mutilating babies -

Earlier this week, Zeid accused Congolese authorities of creating and arming a militia that has carried out "horrific attacks" on civilians, including destroying entire villages, mutilating babies and toddlers and slicing open pregnant women.

He also accused the Kamwina Nsapu rebels of committing serious abuses, including targeted killings and using child soldiers as young as seven.

His office has documented the existence of at least 42 mass graves in the region.

Two UN rights experts, American Michael Sharp and Swedish-Chilean Zaida Catalan, were brutally murdered in March while gathering evidence about the mass graves.

On Friday, Tunisian representative Walid Doudech told the council the final text had been subject to "intense negotiations" and thanked the EU for enabling the "crucial compromise".

A Western diplomat close to the negotiations said the EU had preferred finding a compromise to pushing through an investigation sure to be boycotted by Kinshasa.

The negotiations "were not easy. But it was better to find a balanced solution with the participation of the country," the diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Not everyone was happy with the compromise.

"In recognition of the concerning deterioration of the human rights situation in the DRC, the United States hoped that today's resolution would be even stronger," US representative Jason Mack told the council.

The United States joined the consensus behind the resolution, he said, but emphasised that Washington expected Kinshasa to "cooperate fully with this team, provide it unhindered access to all areas of the country," and help ensure the safety of investigators and anyone cooperating with the probe.

The deputy head of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Paul Nsapu, also warned in a statement that Friday's resolution "risks not being enough to avert massacres."

"Only a truly independent investigation will make it possible to end the cycle of violence in the Kasais," he said.

Colombia’s FARC to finish disarming on Friday: president

Colombia’s FARC rebels will complete their historic disarmament on Friday, ending half a century of war, President Juan Manuel Santos said during an official visit to France.”This June 23, the United Nations mission in Colombia will announce that the F…

Colombia's FARC rebels will complete their historic disarmament on Friday, ending half a century of war, President Juan Manuel Santos said during an official visit to France.

"This June 23, the United Nations mission in Colombia will announce that the FARC has handed over 100 percent of its weapons," Santos told an economic forum in Paris.

"Today the FARC, the most powerful and oldest guerrilla movement in Latin America, will cease to exist," he said to warm applause.

This date "changes the history of Colombia," Santos said.

The 2016 Nobel Peace laureate is in France to promote post-conflict Colombia as an investment destination.

Under a historic peace agreement reached in November 2016 with the Colombian government, the FARC committed to surrendering its weapons to the UN mission in Colombia before the end of May. Because of logistical problems the deadline was delayed to June 20.

The Colombian conflict erupted in 1964 when the FARC and the ELN -- a smaller rebel group -- took up arms for rural land rights.

The violence drew in various rebel and paramilitary forces and drug gangs as well as state forces.

The conflict has left at least 260,000 people dead and displaced more than seven million, according to the authorities.

Tourist bus hits Paris bridge, at least four injured: fire service

A double-decker tourist bus became stuck under a central Paris bridge on Friday, injuring at least four passengers, firefighters said.The bus crashed into the Alexandre III bridge, a tourist magnet due to its ornate structure and views over the Eiffel …

A double-decker tourist bus became stuck under a central Paris bridge on Friday, injuring at least four passengers, firefighters said.

The bus crashed into the Alexandre III bridge, a tourist magnet due to its ornate structure and views over the Eiffel Tower and River Seine. The Paris fire service said one of the injured was seriously hurt.

The crash came during a large-scale event on the Seine to promote the French capital's bid for the 2024 Olympics, with a floating running track installed across the river just next to the bridge.

A police source said the bus was not travelling along its usual route, having been diverted because of the Olympic event.

The Big Bus Tours company, which offers sightseeing trips around Paris on open-top buses, confirmed to AFP that one of its vehicles had been involved in the accident, without giving further details.

London mosque driver charged with ‘terrorism-related murder’

The British van driver who mowed down Muslim worshippers near a London mosque this week was charged Friday with terrorism-related murder and attempted murder, officials said.Darren Osborne, 47, will appear before magistrates in central London later Fri…

The British van driver who mowed down Muslim worshippers near a London mosque this week was charged Friday with terrorism-related murder and attempted murder, officials said.

Darren Osborne, 47, will appear before magistrates in central London later Friday in relation to the charges, police and prosecutors said.

One man died in the incident early Monday near Finsbury Park Mosque in north London, and another 11 people were injured.

Makram Ali, 51, died from multiple injuries following Monday's attack.

He had collapsed with a leg problem and was being attended to by fellow worshippers leaving late-night Ramadan prayers at the mosque when the hired van careered into them.

Ali came to Britain from Bangladesh when he was 10. He was married with four daughters and two sons, and had two grandchildren.

His family has said they were "devastated" by his death. "Our father was a quiet, gentle man," they said in a statement.

The attack was the fourth in Britain in three months, killing a total of 36 people and injuring around 200.

The three previous attacks were all Islamist-linked.

Germany warns Turkey against meddling in religious affairs

Berlin on Friday warned Ankara against interfering in how people in Germany practised their religion, as a new row erupted over a new “liberal” mosque in the German capital.Diyanet, which oversees religious activity in Turkey, on Wednesday voiced dista…

Berlin on Friday warned Ankara against interfering in how people in Germany practised their religion, as a new row erupted over a new "liberal" mosque in the German capital.

Diyanet, which oversees religious activity in Turkey, on Wednesday voiced distaste over the Berlin mosque where men and women pray side-by-side, saying it was incompatible with the principles of Islam.

Diyanet's criticism sparked strong words from Germany, with foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer firmly rejecting the Turkish agency's comments "which are targeted at limiting people's right to practise their religion and freedom of opinion".

"How, where, when and in which manner people worship is not a matter for the state," said the spokesman.

"According to our understanding, the state has absolutely no authority over the assessment of theological questions. Rather, it has the duty to protect freedom of religion as well as freedom of opinion or press," stressed Schaefer.

Interior ministry spokesman Tobias Plate added that comments that "endanger domestic peace in Germany is something that cannot be accepted."

"We will be sure to express that bilaterally in every channel of dialogue that the interior ministry is responsible for," he added.

Berlin's new mosque, located in a rented room on the third floor of the Protestant Johanniskirche (St. John's Church) building, welcomes all Muslims -- Sunni or Shia, Alawite or Sufi, and comes complete with female imams.

Ties between Ankara and Berlin have been strained since the failed coup in Turkey, and tensions have worsened over multiple issues including a referendum campaign to expand President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's powers.

Relations plunged further after Turkey imprisoned Deniz Yucel, a German-Turkish journalist with Germany's Die Welt daily, on terror charges earlier this year.

At refugee summit, UN chief urges ‘solidarity’ with Uganda

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Friday called for international solidarity with Uganda at a fundraising summit to help the country deal with nearly a million South Sudanese fleeing war.Held in Entebbe, Uganda, the summit hopes to raise at leas…

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Friday called for international solidarity with Uganda at a fundraising summit to help the country deal with nearly a million South Sudanese fleeing war.

Held in Entebbe, Uganda, the summit hopes to raise at least $2 billion (1.8 billion euros) to help tackle the world's fastest-growing refugee crisis triggered by continuing civil war in South Sudan.

Guterres said Uganda's "exemplary refugee policy" stood out in a world where many countries are turning their backs on foreigners in need.

On Thursday, he visited refugee camps in northern Uganda, close to the South Sudan border, which have popped up over the last year, quickly becoming the largest in the world.

Speaking to delegates, Guterres said the refugees were not living in camps but in settlements which were more like proper villages.

"They are allowed to farm the land, allowed to build the same schools, the same hospitals, the same health centres, to get jobs, to have a noble life, to live in dignity," the UN chief said.

"It is necessary for the international community to recognise that Uganda has had an exemplary refugee policy in the past.

"And even today, faced with the largest refugee inflow, Uganda remains a symbol of the integrity of the refugee protection regime that unfortunately is not being respected everywhere in the world," he said.

- 947,000 S.Sudanese in Uganda -

On Friday, European nations pledged 125 million euros on top of 85 million euros pledged by the EU on Thursday, but summit organisers say $8 billion -- or 7.2 billion euros -- is needed to deal with the crisis for the coming four years.

Appealing for funds, Guterres said international solidarity with Uganda was "not a matter of generosity, it is a matter of justice."

According to the UN refugee agency more than 947,000 South Sudanese refugees are sheltering in Uganda, bringing the total number of refugees in the east African nation to more than 1.2 million.

South Sudan, the world's youngest nation, achieved independence in 2011.

Civil war broke out in 2013 after President Salva Kiir accused his rival and former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup against him.

In August 2015, a peace deal was signed but it collapsed in July last year when fighting broke out in Juba, spreading violence across the country.

It was this fighting that led to the biggest exodus, with some 743,000 South Sudanese arriving in Uganda since July 2016 -- or about 2,000 a day.

There were already some 200,000 living in Uganda due to the initial outbreak of fighting in 2013, with the latest influx pushing the overall number close to a million.

More than 270,000 of them are housed in Bidibidi settlement, which overtook Kenya's Dadaab earlier this year as the biggest refugee camp in the world.

The UN estimates that another 500,000 South Sudanese will arrive in Uganda this year.

The summit will not include discussions on how to end the ongoing fighting, but Guterres insisted that the violence stop.

"Everything must be done to end the war in South Sudan," he said.

EU migrants decry British PM May’s Brexit offer as stingy

EU migrants said Friday that far from being “generous”, Prime Minister Theresa May’s offer for their post-Brexit residency was niggardly and left them prey to the whims of British lawmakers.The offer outlined by the beleaguered May at an EU summit was …

EU migrants said Friday that far from being "generous", Prime Minister Theresa May's offer for their post-Brexit residency was niggardly and left them prey to the whims of British lawmakers.

The offer outlined by the beleaguered May at an EU summit was also condemned by London Mayor Sadiq Khan as woefully insufficient.

"The PM's plan doesn't come close to fully guaranteeing the rights of the 3 million EU nationals living in the UK," Khan tweeted, although British officials said further details would come on Monday.

Over dinner Thursday with her 27 EU counterparts, May promised EU citizens living in Britain that they could stay after Brexit, with permanent rights to healthcare, education, welfare and pensions equivalent to British nationals.

"The UK's position represents a fair and serious offer and one aimed at giving as much certainty as possible to citizens who have settled in the UK," May told her colleagues.

The prime minister said she expected any offer by Britain to be matched by the EU for the 1.2 million Britons living on the continent, a government source said.

But May, having pledged a "generous" offer heading into the summit, refused to let the EU's top court oversee the process and any resulting disputes.

That led some migrants to worry that they would enjoy fewer rights than the food and wine traded under rules of international arbitration.

"There's nothing special in her offer, it's what anyone wanting the (non-EU) residency permit will go through," Spanish nurse Joan Pons, one of 60,000 Europeans working for the National Health Service (NHS) in England alone, said.

"It's not a 'generous' offer. It's rather ridiculous," he told AFP.

- 'Bargaining chips' -

Frenchman Nicolas Hatton, head of the EU migrant lobby group "the3million", noted it had taken the government almost exactly 12 months to unveil the offer after Britain's Brexit referendum on June 23 last year.

"Twelve months for that! It's pathetic that the UK government is playing with our lives in the most backward proposal for EU citizens we could have imagined," he said.

EU nationals must be able to continue living in Britain on the same terms as British citizens, Hatton said, and any arrangements must be ring-fenced to protect their rights in case Brexit negotiations fall apart.

He said the government was instead proposing "stripping all EU citizens of their EU rights and replace them with rights under the notoriously unfair and difficult UK immigration system with no safeguards".

That would make EU migrants liable to legislative changes in Britain with no recourse to an outside body such as the European Court of Justice.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a cautious welcome to May's offer, saying it was a "good start" but more needed to be done.

"This is a good start. But of course there are still many, many other questions," Merkel said in Brussels, in remarks echoed Friday by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

May said EU migrants who have been in Britain for five years would receive "settled status" -- but crucially, she did not specify a cut-off date.

Among other unresolved questions is the fate of partners of EU nationals who come from outside Europe. Another is what will happen to their children.

In the year since the Brexit referendum, British employers have been increasingly sounding the alarm about the impact on their businesses.

Figures in January showed a dive of 90 percent since the referendum in the numbers of EU nurses applying to work in the NHS.

The opposition Labour party, which is riding high after May suffered a disastrous general election two weeks ago, said her offer was "too little, too late".

"Labour has been clear that people should not be bargaining chips in the Brexit negotiations," the party's Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said.

Scotland Yard mull manslaughter charges over Grenfell Tower blaze

Manslaughter charges could be filed over London’s deadly tower blaze, police said Friday after finding that outside cladding had failed safety tests and that the fire started with a faulty fridge.”We are looking at every criminal offence from manslaugh…

Manslaughter charges could be filed over London's deadly tower blaze, police said Friday after finding that outside cladding had failed safety tests and that the fire started with a faulty fridge.

"We are looking at every criminal offence from manslaughter onwards," Fiona McCormack from London's Metropolitan Police said at a briefing on the June 14 blaze in west London, which left 79 people presumed dead.

Referring to the tiles and insulation on the outside of the building, which have been widely blamed for the rapid spread of the flames, she said: "All I can say at the moment is they don't pass any safety tests."

The cladding was installed on the 24-storey council-owned Grenfell Tower, which was built in 1974, as part of a refurbishment completed last year.

It has prompted a wider review of social housing which has identified at least 600 towers in England with similar cladding.

McCormack said police had also established that the fire started with a faulty fridge, a Hotpoint FF175BP model.

She said the model had not been subject to any product recall.

McCormack said police were investigating companies involved in the building and refurbishment of the tower, and possible "health and safety and fire safety offences".

She said all "complete bodies" had been removed and there was "a terrible reality that we may not find or identify everyone who died due to the intense heat".

The officer also repeated calls for any members of the public with information about people who may have been in the tower at the time of the blaze to come forward.

Police fear the toll may be higher because some residents may have been living in the tower illegally.

"Our forensic search may not be complete until the end of the year," she added.

Prime Minister Theresa May stressed on Thursday that all Grenfell victims, regardless of their immigration status, would be able to access whatever help they need.

Yemen cholera cases could pass 300,000 by September: UN

A cholera outbreak in war-ravaged Yemen could infect more than 300,000 people by the end of August, up from nearly 193,000 cases today, the United Nations said Friday.”Probably at the end of August we will reach 300,000″ cases, UN children’s agency spo…

A cholera outbreak in war-ravaged Yemen could infect more than 300,000 people by the end of August, up from nearly 193,000 cases today, the United Nations said Friday.

"Probably at the end of August we will reach 300,000" cases, UN children's agency spokeswoman Meritxell Relano told reporters in Geneva during a conference call.

Since the outbreak was declared in April, an estimated 1,265 people have died, she said.

"The number of cases continue to increase," Relano said, adding that all of Yemen's 21 governorates have been affected.

She said that children had been hit hard by the outbreak, accounting for half of the registered cases to date.

But only a quarter of the people who have died so far were children, she said.

Cholera is a highly contagious bacterial infection spread through contaminated food or water.

Although the disease is easily treatable, doing so in conflict-torn Yemen has proved particularly difficult.

Two years of war between the Huthi rebels and government forces backed by a Saudi-led Arab military coalition have killed more than 8,000 people and wounded 45,000 others.

According to the UN human rights agency, civilians account for nearly 5,000 of the recorded deaths and more than 8,500 of the injuries.

The conflict has also devastated the country's infrastructure, leaving more than half of its medical facilities out of service.

Yemen is also on the brink of famine, with about 17 million people -- two-thirds of the population -- uncertain of where their next meal will come from, according to the UN's World Food Programme.

"This is the largest humanitarian crisis happening in the world at the moment," WFP spokeswoman Bettina Luescher told reporters.

She said the agency was scaling up its response and aimed to provide food aid to 6.8 million people across the country this month alone.

But more than half of those people will receive reduced rations because of a dire funding shortage, she warned.

Kremlin woos bloggers but YouTube generation is not ‘selling out’

Russian authorities may have succeeded at quashing dissent on television and mass media but a new generation of voters has found a way to still get relevant news: on YouTube.While the older generation is exposed to the state media’s spin on current eve…

Russian authorities may have succeeded at quashing dissent on television and mass media but a new generation of voters has found a way to still get relevant news: on YouTube.

While the older generation is exposed to the state media's spin on current events and may know little of recent nationwide protests which were ignored by most broadcast channels, millennials are watching the news on social networks.

Invisible over the airwaves, opposition leader and fierce Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has stepped up his presence on YouTube this year as he campaigns ahead of the 2018 presidential elections: a new Navalny Live channel now streams daily updates about the campaign and features a morning talk show.

Not only has Navalny's video alleging corruption by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev been viewed by more than 23 million people, his call for anti-graft protests to be held on March 26 and June 12 was heard by thousands of young Russians.

Out of the 866 people detained at the June 12 protest, 136 were aged under 18, according to Moscow police.

After the demonstration, "the Kremlin realised it's powerless over the internet," said video blogger Dmitry Ivanov, whose popular YouTube channel kamikadze_d is highly critical of the government.

"Politics is a new fashion among young people," said Ivanov, 30, a lawyer by education who has more than one million subscribers between the ages of 14 and 21.

"The authorities want to take the internet under their control as they did with the media," he said.

Political analyst Olga Kryshtanovskaya said pro-Kremlin trolls are "omnipresent" in social media and leave "perhaps half of the comments on influential blogs," but there is evidence that creating original content which appeals to youth does not come easy to them.

"The Kremlin is making an effort on the web, but a decade too late, and each year the lag grows more and more," political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin said.

- 'Selling out to the Kremlin' -

In late May, the Russian parliament held a special session on youth policy and invited beauty blogger Sasha Spilberg, who is popular among 10 to 14-year-olds. She said MPs should "be as transparent" with voters as she is with her followers.

Lawmakers later organised a "council of bloggers", sending invitations to Russian YouTube stars in genres ranging from political satire to stand-up comedy in an effort to reach out to young people.

But most of the invited bloggers skipped the event, and the council had to contend with lesser-known names.

Lisa Peskova, the daughter of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov who lives in France and mostly posts selfies to her 48,000 Instagram followers, turned out to be the most famous social media star in attendance.

Those who didn't come to the council "didn't want to become an instrument of political propaganda," said Yegor Yakovlev, who was invited but did not go.

Nikolai Sobolev, who has over three million YouTube subscribers, put the idea of attending to his viewers in one clip this month, but got an overwhelmingly negative response.

After some fans accused Sobolev of "selling out to the Kremlin", he decided to opt out.

"It's because of censorship in the press and on television that political discussions have moved to the internet," political columnist Maxim Artemyev said.

But it is difficult to say how long this freedom will last.

The Kremlin has increasingly prosecuted online users for "extremism" and is looking to further restrict content. Some lawmakers have called for a ban on internet access for children and are seeking to end all anonymous online activity.

Juncker says Britain’s plan for EU citizens ‘not sufficient’

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said Friday that Britain’s proposals to protect the rights of EU nationals after Brexit were “not sufficient”, while Belgium called the plan “particularly vague”.”That’s a first step but this step is not su…

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said Friday that Britain's proposals to protect the rights of EU nationals after Brexit were "not sufficient", while Belgium called the plan "particularly vague".

"That's a first step but this step is not sufficient," Juncker told reporters as he arrived for the second day of an EU summit in Brussels.

British Prime Minister Theresa May outlined to EU leaders over dinner Thursday night her plans to grant permanent rights to an estimated three million European citizens living in Britain after Brexit.

It was her first offer on one of the most contentious issues of the negotiations on Britain's withdrawal from the European Union, which began Monday.

EU leaders have refused to debate the issue at the summit, saying it is a matter for the Brexit negotiators, but their public reaction Friday was distinctly cool.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said the proposal outlined by May was "particularly vague".

He said he looked forward to seeing the more technical details, including on judicial oversight of citizen rights, when Britain publishes a formal paper on the issue Monday.

"We don't want to buy a pig in a poke," he said, using an English expression for agreeing to buy something without inspecting it beforehand. "The rights of European citizens should be guaranteed in the long term."

The EU wants the European Court of Justice to arbitrate on any disputes over citizens' rights in Britain, a proposal London has rejected.

Austria's Chancellor Christian Kern said May's offer was a "good first proposal, which I appreciate, but it's clear that we have to invest much more work".

May promised that no EU citizen living in Britain when it leaves the bloc would have to leave, offering new permanent rights to those who arrive before a cut-off date, but without specifying when that date would fall.

"Of course, there will be details of this arrangement which will be part of the negotiation process," May said as she arrived at the summit on Friday.

But she added: "I want to reassure all those EU citizens who are in the UK, who have made their lives and homes in the UK, that no one will have to leave, we won't be seeing families split apart.

"This is a fair and serious offer. I want to give those EU citizens in the UK certainty about the future of their lives, but I also want to see that certainty given to UK citizens who are living in the EU."

Macron government takes tough line on Calais migrants

French President Emmanuel Macron’s new government took a tough line on Calais migrants Friday, with his interior minister saying he does not want the northern port to become an “abscess”.Making his first visit to a city which has for years been a magne…

French President Emmanuel Macron's new government took a tough line on Calais migrants Friday, with his interior minister saying he does not want the northern port to become an "abscess".

Making his first visit to a city which has for years been a magnet for migrants and refugees hoping to cross to Britain, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb ruled out building a reception centre for asylum-seekers in Calais, saying it would only encourage more people to come.

"We've seen this before, it starts with a few hundred people and ends with several thousand people who we can't manage," Collomb said as he met with security forces, officials and aid workers in Calais.

"That's why we don't want a centre here."

Instead, Collomb said, "we are going to reinforce security with the arrival of two additional mobile security force units to stop any new camps from forming."

Authorities shut down the notorious "Jungle" camp in Calais, which at its height was home to some 10,000 people living in dire conditions, last October.

But hundreds of migrants -- mostly Afghans, Sudanese and Eritreans -- are still at the port, clashing sporadically with police as they try every night to stow away onto trucks heading to Britain.

This week a Polish driver was killed when his truck burst into flames after hitting a roadblock, set up by migrants hoping to slow the traffic to make it easier to jump onto vehicles.

The roadblocks began reappearing in late May with a new uptick of migrants in the region -- and a surge for Europe, with Italy registering more than 65,000 arrivals since January.

While the tent city of the Jungle is gone, migrants say conditions in Calais are bleaker than ever.

"There is no tap and we cannot drink, we cannot wash. There is nowhere to sleep. At night I sleep without a tent on the 'mountain'," said Jamal, a 24-year-old Afghan, pointing to a huge rubbish dump.

- 'They are not dirt' -

Collomb pledged Friday to present Macron with a plan for asylum reforms in the next two weeks, vowing in particular to tackle African people-smuggling networks at their root.

Eleven charities went to court on Wednesday demanding the construction of a government refugee centre in Calais, deploring the miserable conditions in which migrants find themselves.

Collomb had angered aid groups with comments Thursday rejecting the proposal, saying that building such a centre would be like creating an artificial festering "abcess" that would keep growing.

"These people are not a disease, they are not dirt. They are men and women who have made a very difficult journey to flee their countries for reasons we all know about," said Hicham Aly, an aid worker at the Secours Catholique charity.

Collomb argued that past experience showed that any official asylum facility in Calais would quickly overflow with arrivals, leaving authorities unable to cope.

"I'm suspicious of centres that are supposedly ready to welcome migrants for only a few days who end up staying for a long time," he said.

He pointed to Sangatte near Calais, where a refugee centre that opened in 1999 quickly ran over its capacity of 800 residents. By the time it closed three years later, some 2,000 people were crammed into it.

US Navy to hold Japan memorial for sailors killed in crash

The US navy said Friday it will hold a memorial ceremony for seven sailors killed when their destroyer collided with a container ship off Japan’s coast last weekend.The service will be held on Tuesday at the naval base in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo, …

The US navy said Friday it will hold a memorial ceremony for seven sailors killed when their destroyer collided with a container ship off Japan's coast last weekend.

The service will be held on Tuesday at the naval base in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo, where the badly damaged destroyer USS Fitzgerald is based, a navy spokeswoman said.

The sailors' relatives, US military officials and some 300 crew members of the guided-missile warship will join the private event, she added, without releasing other details.

The memorial comes as investigators probe what happened in the early hours of June 17 when the ship collided with the Philippine-flagged ACX Crystal in a busy channel near the destroyer's home base, a gateway to container ports in Tokyo and nearby Yokohama.

There have been around 30 ship collisions over the past decade in the area, including a 2013 incident in which six Japanese crew died, according to the Japan Coast Guard.

The US sailors, aged 19 to 37, were found by divers in flooded sleeping berths a day after the collision tore a huge gash in the side of the Fitzgerald.

Japanese investigators have interviewed the Filipino crew of the 222-metre (730-foot) cargo ship, while the US authorities are also probing the deadly crash.

Rear Admiral Brian Fort has been appointed to lead the US investigation, the navy said in a statement dated Thursday.

The much-larger cargo ship's crew -- who were not injured -- apparently took nearly an hour to report the collision.

Japan's coastguard initially said the crash happened at 2:20 am Saturday (1720 GMT Friday) based on when it was reported by the Crystal's crew.

But they later told Japanese investigators the incident actually happened almost an hour earlier at 1:30 am.

Authorities are also investigating why the cargo ship made a sudden turn at about 1.30 am, and a sharp turn after it reported the accident around 2:20 am.

Mexico rejects Trump claim that it is the world’s second most violent country

Mexico may have a problem with violence, but its government says it is not the second most violent country in the world, as US President Donald Trump has claimed on Twitter.The Mexican foreign ministry pointed instead to places like Honduras, Venezuela…

Mexico may have a problem with violence, but its government says it is not the second most violent country in the world, as US President Donald Trump has claimed on Twitter.

The Mexican foreign ministry pointed instead to places like Honduras, Venezuela, Belize, Colombia and Brazil as countries with higher murder rates, in a statement released late Thursday.

Trump had posted earlier: "Mexico was just ranked the second deadliest country in the world, after only Syria. Drug trade is largely the cause. We will BUILD THE WALL!"

He appeared to be referring to a May 9 report from the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, which said that Mexico's 2016 murder rate was second only to Syria's.

The IISS pointed to Mexico's heavily militarized war on drugs and its attempts to crush powerful drug cartels.

"It is very rare for criminal violence to reach a level akin to armed conflict," the IISS report said.

Mexico's foreign ministry acknowledged that the drug trade was "the most important cause of violence in Mexico."

But it described it as "a shared problem that will end only when its root causes are dealt with: the high demand for drugs in the United States and the offer from Mexico (and other countries)."

"We must stop blaming each other," it added.

Mexico had already said in May that the IISS report was based on faulty methodology, saying such comparisons should be based on United Nations crime figures that include central and south American countries.

US-Mexico relations have been testy since Trump took office in January after a campaign in which he vowed to build a wall along the shared border, bashed Mexican immigrants as drug dealers and rapists, and promised to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada.

The wall remains a rallying cry among Trump's supporters, but the proposal -- estimated to cost anywhere from $8 to $40 billion -- has found little support in Congress.

Mexican officials have derided Trump's claim that Mexico will pay for the wall's construction.

Talks with Canada and Mexico to overhaul NAFTA are expected to start in August.

Female Japan politician resigns after attacking male aide

A female Japanese politician has resigned after an audio tape emerged of her violently attacking a male secretary, and reportedly threatening to crush his head with a lead pipe.Mayuko Toyota, a 42-year-old Harvard graduate and up-and-coming member of t…

A female Japanese politician has resigned after an audio tape emerged of her violently attacking a male secretary, and reportedly threatening to crush his head with a lead pipe.

Mayuko Toyota, a 42-year-old Harvard graduate and up-and-coming member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), can be heard screaming at the unnamed aide, saying he should die as she mocked his thinning hair.

Her 55-year-old secretary can be heard repeatedly apologising and begging the lawmaker to stop kicking and beating him.

"Don't damage my reputation anymore," Toyota screams, apparently in response to a mistake she claims the man had made.

Major Japanese media, including public broadcaster NHK, named Toyota as the woman heard on the tape. No one picked up the phone at her office on Friday.

The secretary recorded the exchange, which took place last month inside a car that he was driving, according to a weekly magazine that was given the tape and uploaded on YouTube.

The magazine wrote a story that claimed Toyota had threatened to crush the man's head with a pipe in a separate incident, and made references to the hypothetical rape and murder of his daughter.

An LDP official said Toyota submitted a letter of resignation on Thursday, but it was not clear if it would be accepted.

Toyota has been hospitalised due to an "unstable mental condition", an LDP official said -- a not uncommon turn of events for a Japanese politician at the centre of a crisis.

The incident marks the latest in a string of scandals involving younger LDP members, including one who quit over an extramarital affair and another who quit over his financial dealings.

Healing Mexico’s ‘cancer,’ with potions and politics

Maria de Jesus Patricio has a treatment for pretty much anything that ails you: “toad grass” for cholesterol, “dragon’s blood” for infections, “sacred bark” for constipation or anger.Now the traditional healer is turning her attention to her biggest pa…

Maria de Jesus Patricio has a treatment for pretty much anything that ails you: "toad grass" for cholesterol, "dragon's blood" for infections, "sacred bark" for constipation or anger.

Now the traditional healer is turning her attention to her biggest patient yet, as the first indigenous woman to run for president of Mexico -- a country she says is sick with the "cancer" of unfettered capitalism, corruption and drug trafficking.

Patricio's tiny practice in Tuxpan, a village tucked into the western mountains, seems a million miles away from Mexico City, with its graft-stained politics, back-room deals and failure to curb the violent crime racking the country.

Here, men, women and children come seeking antibiotic pomades, tinctures against indigestion and herbal remedies to ward off evil spirits.

Besides running this tin-roof clinic, Patricio, a member of Mexico's native Nahuatl people, is also the spokeswoman for the National Indigenous Congress, which represents 43 ethnicities.

Last month the group nominated her to run for president.

Thanks to a new law allowing independent candidates she plans to stand in the country's 2018 elections.

Her experience as a healer gives her a keen understanding of her nation's ills, says Patricio, 53, whose supporters affectionately know her as "Marichuy."

"I'm seeing a lot more cases of stress, of colitis. Before, we didn't even have these diseases. Now they're chronic," she told AFP from behind the counter where she sells her remedies for 10 pesos (50 US cents) each, next to a wooden sign saying "welcome" in Nahuatl.

Those problems are the product of poverty, marginalization and environmental pollution by large corporations, she explained.

"We have to look deeper. What is making people sick? It's the fact that the economy is out of balance," she said, her jet-back hair trailing down her back in a long braid.

- Herbal medicine and politics -

The idea for Patricio's candidacy was launched by the Zapatistas, a former guerrilla army that took Mexico by surprise when they declared a rebellion against the state on January 1, 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect.

Their "war" is now a symbolic one for land, housing, education and health care for Mexico's indigenous groups -- some 7.3 million people, or 6.5 percent of the population.

"We don't see traditional medicine as something separate from our struggle for autonomy, health, land, natural resources," said Patricio, speaking softly but firmly.

"Everything is linked. It is a whole that we have to defend."

Under the new law, she needs to gather some 800,000 signatures endorsing her candidacy.

But it is not about signatures, nor about winning, she said.

It is about launching a new movement that will "go far beyond 2018, and needs to go far beyond Mexico," she said.

- Trump and narcos -

The symptoms of Mexico's ills are obvious to Patricio.

She sees it in the inequality that divides Mexican society, where a dark-skinned person like her is far more likely to be a manual laborer than a manager.

She sees it in the wave of bloodshed that has left more than 200,000 people dead or missing in the past decade as rival drug cartels wage war on each other and the Mexican security forces.

She sees it in the multi-billion-dollar corruption scandals that regularly embarrass the government, but have not stopped the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) from holding power for 76 of the past 88 years.

"It's like a cancer," she said. "It's almost beyond hope."

In her home state, Jalisco, she says that mining firms have grabbed people's land backed by hired guns from the Jalisco New Generation drug cartel and in collusion with corrupt authorities.

"The people don't trust the government anymore," she said.

Turning to international politics, she condemned US President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

"He doesn't care about people's lives, about the planet," she said.

Her remedy for the "cancer," she said, will be based on the seven guiding principles of the National Indigenous Congress: "serve and not be served, build and not destroy, represent and not supplant, convince and not defeat, obey and not command, look down instead of up, propose and not impose."

China’s top diplomat holds talks with Trump on N. Korea

China’s top diplomat told Donald Trump that Beijing was willing to keep working with Washington to defuse tensions on the Korean peninsula — days after the US leader implied that Chinese efforts had failed.

The meeting between State Councillor Yang Jiechi and Trump at the White House on Thursday also came after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged China to step up diplomatic and economic pressure on the North over its nuclear weapons.

The meeting was reported by China’s foreign ministry. There was no White House statement on the get-together, which had not been mentioned in the president’s daily schedule.

“China is willing to maintain communication and coordination with relevant parties including the United States to ease tensions on the peninsula,” Yang said, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.

Trump told Yang he looked forward to “enhancing cooperation” with China on the denuclearization of the North, the ministry said in a statement.

On Wednesday Yang and top General Fang Fenghui met with Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the State Department to discuss North Korea and other regional issues.

Hours before the talks began, Trump sent a tweet that appeared to suggest China’s President Xi Jinping had come up short on reining in its neighbor.

“While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!” Trump tweeted.

Trump did not elaborate on what might happen next if China, by far the North’s most important trading and diplomatic partner, is out of ideas.

Trump, who frequently denounced China on the campaign trail, has turned to Beijing to help pressure its ally North Korea, prompting concern among Asian partners that America might go easy on Beijing over its expansive claims in the disputed South China Sea.

Trump, who met with Xi at his luxury resort in Florida in April, also confirmed he would visit China later this year, the Chinese foreign ministry said.

Tillerson said Wednesday that China had a “diplomatic responsibility to exert much greater economic and diplomatic pressure on the regime if they want to prevent further escalation in the region”.

For their part, the Chinese envoys pressed for negotiations, proposing again a “dual-track approach” in which North Korea would suspend its nuclear and missile activities while the United States and South Korea would halt large-scale military exercises.

The meetings between the two sides followed the death of Otto Warmbier on Monday, the American student returned to the US last week in a coma after being detained in North Korea for 18 months.

China's top diplomat told Donald Trump that Beijing was willing to keep working with Washington to defuse tensions on the Korean peninsula -- days after the US leader implied that Chinese efforts had failed.

The meeting between State Councillor Yang Jiechi and Trump at the White House on Thursday also came after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged China to step up diplomatic and economic pressure on the North over its nuclear weapons.

The meeting was reported by China's foreign ministry. There was no White House statement on the get-together, which had not been mentioned in the president's daily schedule.

"China is willing to maintain communication and coordination with relevant parties including the United States to ease tensions on the peninsula," Yang said, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.

Trump told Yang he looked forward to "enhancing cooperation" with China on the denuclearization of the North, the ministry said in a statement.

On Wednesday Yang and top General Fang Fenghui met with Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the State Department to discuss North Korea and other regional issues.

Hours before the talks began, Trump sent a tweet that appeared to suggest China's President Xi Jinping had come up short on reining in its neighbor.

"While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!" Trump tweeted.

Trump did not elaborate on what might happen next if China, by far the North's most important trading and diplomatic partner, is out of ideas.

Trump, who frequently denounced China on the campaign trail, has turned to Beijing to help pressure its ally North Korea, prompting concern among Asian partners that America might go easy on Beijing over its expansive claims in the disputed South China Sea.

Trump, who met with Xi at his luxury resort in Florida in April, also confirmed he would visit China later this year, the Chinese foreign ministry said.

Tillerson said Wednesday that China had a "diplomatic responsibility to exert much greater economic and diplomatic pressure on the regime if they want to prevent further escalation in the region".

For their part, the Chinese envoys pressed for negotiations, proposing again a "dual-track approach" in which North Korea would suspend its nuclear and missile activities while the United States and South Korea would halt large-scale military exercises.

The meetings between the two sides followed the death of Otto Warmbier on Monday, the American student returned to the US last week in a coma after being detained in North Korea for 18 months.

Cardinal cut: Italy’s tailor to the stars of the Church

Raniero Mancinelli cannot afford to drop a stitch. Pope Francis is creating five new cardinals next week and the race is on to have their scarlet robes ready in time.The Italian tailor’s family shop, located just outside the walls of Vatican City, hums…

Raniero Mancinelli cannot afford to drop a stitch. Pope Francis is creating five new cardinals next week and the race is on to have their scarlet robes ready in time.

The Italian tailor's family shop, located just outside the walls of Vatican City, hums to the sounds of customers from every corner of the Catholic world.

As a Filipino nun sizes up the least expensive chalice on offer from one display, a young Brazilian priest is buying reams of gold embroidery.

Nearby an Irish colleague is squeezing into a shiny liturgical robe that comes in just one size.

Mancinelli, who turns 80 next month, is on first name terms with many of his visitors. "You'll be the first black pope!", he jokes with one African bishop, who shoots back, "I hope not!"

But there is little time for tomfoolery. In the workroom at the back of the shop the veteran craftsman's trusty "Necchi" sewing machine from the 1950s is waiting, and half-finished cassocks and mozzettas (short capes) hang from a rail.

The machine runs like a "Ferrari", the outfitter says. But it still takes him at least a week to make each new bespoke robe.

Five new so-called "Princes of the Church" -- from El Salvador, Laos, Mali, Spain and Sweden -- will be created on Wednesday. Four of them have ordered their ceremonial garb from Mancinelli.

- Scarlet silk -

While some nipped over to the Italian capital after their nominations to submit to the tape measure, one future cardinal dispatched his personal secretary to the Eternal City with his measurements.

Sometimes Mancinelli's job is made easier when he has to dress longstanding customers for their big day, though he admits, "I still have to check the measurements a bit, to see if they've put on weight around the stomach!"

One key part of every outfit sits ready in a range of sizes on a shelf: the scarlet "biretta", a four-peaked hat which each new cardinal will receive from the pope, who places it on their heads as they kneel before him.

Cassock, silk belt and mozzetta must be delivered to the Vatican a few days before the big event. The light, soft fabrics used must come from official suppliers and the colour must be exact: there is no picking any old scarlet.

Little luxuries which proud servants of God may have purchased to mark the occasion in the past are not as popular since the election in 2013 of a pope who called for "a poor Church for the poor".

"They only buy the bare necessities now," Mancinelli said.

"Under Pope Francis, the cardinals want things a little simpler. Before we only used silk, whereas now we mix silk and wool, fabrics that are a bit cheaper, a bit more modest".

- Sock fashion -

When he became a bishop, the then Jorge Bergoglio sought out a simple metal cross from Mancinelli.

And since the Argentine's elevation to pope, the minimalist trend has caught on.

The heavy gold crosses set with precious stones on display in one of the shop's glass cases are on their way to becoming museum pieces. Some prelates even plump for modestly-priced wooden crosses.

Outfits generally have become less extravagant down the ages, particularly since the late 1960s.

Out have gone long capes, mantles and flat hats. Gone too are buckled shoes.

Long trains, still worn by the more audacious cardinals, are a rarity.

Most now plump for modern, plain shoes -- and even the once-obligatory matching scarlet socks are optional.

As for the black non-ceremonial cassocks, they no longer have to sport 33 buttons, especially if the cardinal is short.

Mancinelli's proudest achievement is having once decked out 12 new cardinals at once, and he is not about to hang up his scissors.

"I dress them from the North Pole to the South Pole! Why should I put my sewing machine away?" he quips.

Bollywood star Khan’s latest Eid release hits screens

Bollywood bad boy Salman Khan’s latest movie opened in Indian cinemas Friday but film analysts are sceptical it will have the same box office success as his previous Eid blockbusters.It is something of a tradition in the Hindi film industry for Khan to…

Bollywood bad boy Salman Khan's latest movie opened in Indian cinemas Friday but film analysts are sceptical it will have the same box office success as his previous Eid blockbusters.

It is something of a tradition in the Hindi film industry for Khan to star in the big release of the Eid holiday to mark the end of Ramadan, which this year is expected to fall on Monday.

Last year's "Sultan" broke opening weekend records and currently sits fifth in the all-time list of highest-grossing Hindi language films worldwide, two places behind his 2015 Eid release "Bajrangi Bhaijaan".

However this year's "Tubelight", a drama set during the 1962 India-China war, is unlikely to do quite as well, according to movie critic and Bollywood trade analyst Taran Adarsh.

"#Tubelight rests on a thin plot... Screenplay lacks the power to enthral and mesmerise... Emotions plenty, but few moments stand out..." he wrote on Twitter.

Adarsh added that it would still have an "awesome" weekend at the box office due to Monday's holiday and Khan's star power, but doubted it would eventually make three billion rupees ($46 million) internationally, the benchmark for a major hit.

"Tubelight", an adaptation of 2015 American movie "Little Boy", is Khan's fourth straight Eid release and his seventh since 2010.

"For audiences Salman Khan is synonymous with Eid and for distributors Eid is synonymous with Salman Khan," trade analyst Akshaye Rathi told AFP.

Khan -- never far from controversy -- enjoys a cult-like status in star-obsessed India, particularly among young men who regularly stand outside his house in Mumbai hoping to catch a glimpse of the superstar.

The 51-year-old body-building actor has successfully shaken off numerous scandals during his career to become one of Bollywood's most bankable stars.

He sparked uproar shortly before Sultan hit screens by saying his heavy training schedule for the film, in which he played an ageing wrestler, left him feeling "like a raped woman". The movie made around 5.8 billion rupees globally.

In 2015 Khan was cleared of killing a homeless man in a hit-and-run more than a decade earlier. That decision is now being challenged in the Supreme Court.

Indian authorities are also challenging a court's decision to acquit him over the illegal use of firearms to kill endangered antelopes in 1998.

At least five dead in SW Pakistan explosion

An explosion targeting a police vehicle in Pakistan’s southwestern Quetta city on Friday killed at least five people and injured 14 others, officials said.The explosion occurred in front of the office of the police chief in Quetta city, which is capita…

An explosion targeting a police vehicle in Pakistan's southwestern Quetta city on Friday killed at least five people and injured 14 others, officials said.

The explosion occurred in front of the office of the police chief in Quetta city, which is capital of the mineral rich southern Balochistan province rife with the separatist and Islamist insurgencies.

"We have received five dead bodies from the blast site," doctor Fareed Ahmed, Medical Superintendent at civil hospital told AFP.

"Some 14 people are brought wounded. Six of them are in critical condition," he said.

Police said that their vehicle was targeted in the attack however nature of the explosion was yet unknown.

"The blast targeted a police pick-up in front of the IG (Inspector General) office. A motorcycle was also destroyed in the explosion," Mohammed Tariq, a senior police official said.

Pakistan has been battling Islamist and nationalist insurgencies in Balochistan since 2004, with hundreds of soldiers and militants killed in the fighting.

Bordering Iran and Afghanistan, it is the largest of Pakistan's four provinces, but its roughly seven million inhabitants have long complained they do not receive a fair share of its gas and mineral wealth.

A greater push towards peace and development by Pakistani authorities has reduced the violence considerably in recent years.

The push includes starting work on a massive Chinese infrastructure project -- the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor -- which gives Beijing a route to the Arabian Sea through Balochistan's deep sea port of Gwadar.

Beijing is ramping up investment in its South Asian neighbour as part of a plan unveiled in 2015 that will link its far-western Xinjiang region to Gwadar port in Balochistan with a series of infrastructure, power and transport upgrades.

The bitter rivals contesting Albania’s election

Political players contesting Albania’s legislative election on Sunday harbour long-held animosities that border on hatred. The vote, which pitches the ruling Socialists against the opposition Democratic Party, will test the democratic maturity of a cou…

Political players contesting Albania's legislative election on Sunday harbour long-held animosities that border on hatred.

The vote, which pitches the ruling Socialists against the opposition Democratic Party, will test the democratic maturity of a country eager to join the European Union.

Here are the main players:

- Artist-turned-PM -

Albania's authoritative premier since 2013, Socialist leader Edi Rama has pledged to build a "European Albania" as a "modern state ruled by law" ever since he entered politics after the fall of Enver Hoxha's communist dictatorship in the late 1980s.

He has long sought power, declaring an election he lost in 2009 as neither free nor fair. His supporters took to the streets in 2011, and three were killed by gunfire.

The episode deepened Rama's rivalry with then-PM Sali Berisha of the Democratic Party. The pair had fallen out over an ideological dispute as students.

A former mayor of the capital Tirana, 52-year-old Rama is regularly accused by the right of links to organised crime. He has offered to step down if they provide evidence.

Often casually dressed in a T-shirt, with short hair and a regular three-day beard, Rama is seen as a dynamic and savvy communicator.

He studied at art school in Paris and his office is covered with his own paintings.

The multilingual former basketball player hopes to win a large enough majority to strengthen his grip on power and shed the need for coalition partners.

- Right's historic leader -

The first non-communist president and a former PM, Sali Berisha has dominated Albanian politics for the past two decades.

The son of a Muslim family from the northern mountains, the 72-year-old says he is now a "simple member of the Democratic Party" with no aspirations to take back power.

A cardiologist by training, he stepped down as party chief in 2013 and named close ally Lulzim Basha as his successor, but Berisha is still considered a unifying figure of the political right.

A charismatic speaker, Berisha is less present in electoral meetings but remains active in the media.

He has described Rama as "enemy" rather than an adversary, but is now less harsh in his criticism of the incumbent PM.

Berisha's opponents see him as representative of a corrupt political system and responsible for the chaos of 1997, when more than 2,000 were killed in an armed rebellion.

The unrest was triggered by the collapse of a fraudulent pyramid investment scheme that he had allowed to flourish.

- Trump-loving heir -

Lulzim Basha, the Democrats' leader since 2013, asserts that he has moved on from the tutelage of Berisha and intends to build a "New Republic".

The ambitious lawyer has had a meteoric career, serving as minister of foreign affairs, interior and transport.

The 43-year-old was also mayor of Tirana -- defeating Rama to the job in 2011 -- before Berisha named him the new party chief.

Basha boycotted parliament for several months this year and organised street protests calling for Rama's resignation and a transitional government to ensure a free and fair election.

But the two sides struck a deal in mid-May, with the Democrats given control of several ministries in the run-up to the vote.

Basha has since softened attacks against Rama and dropped his accusations that the PM was using money from the cannabis trade to manipulate the vote.

Basha's idol is US President Donald Trump.

Albania hopes for peaceful elections on path to Europe

Albania votes in parliamentary elections on Sunday with hopes that a long tradition of polling fraud, violence and disputed results will come to an end and propel the country towards EU membership.The Socialist Party of Prime Minister Edi Rama, 52, app…

Albania votes in parliamentary elections on Sunday with hopes that a long tradition of polling fraud, violence and disputed results will come to an end and propel the country towards EU membership.

The Socialist Party of Prime Minister Edi Rama, 52, appears to have just a slight advantage over the centre-right Democratic Party of Lulzim Basha, 43, according to opinion polls.

After a 2009 election, the Rama-led Socialist opposition cried fraud and urged supporters onto the streets for months of protests. Three were shot dead in 2011.

When power changed hands in 2013, the right accepted defeat but engaged in a strategy of obstruction and boycotting the work of the 140-seat parliament, where insults have been exchanged since.

Although Basha, an admirer of US President Donald Trump, has officially led the Democrats for four years, his predecessor Sali Berisha, a former Albanian president and premier, remains a powerful and unifying figure on the right.

His party had threatened to boycott the election until a month ago, raising concerns about the vote being unfree and unfair.

Although the two sides struck a deal, with the Democrats given key ministerial posts in the run-up to the vote, the rhetoric remains lively.

- Trading slurs -

"Edi Rama has supported a handful of people who... got their hands on the economy, and a handful of criminals who seized power and made Albania a drugstore," Basha told AFP, referring to Albania's illicit but lucrative cannabis trade.

Rama retorted to AFP that Basha "is an opposition leader who is not ready for the challenge of governing the country".

On the campaign trail he lampooned his rival for lacking experience, calling him "a watermelon that one must open to see if it is ripe or not".

"Everyone is good for something, but Luli (Basha's nickname) is only good for putting people to sleep," the premier joked.

But beyond these skirmishes, this campaign was "the first where the two largest parties have practically laid down their arms," ??according to political scientist Skender Minxhozi.

In the streets there are "no big banners, no posters, no flags," he said.

Another analyst, Ardian Civici, even bet on a "grand coalition" between the Socialists and Democrats.

This would allow them to oust the Socialist Movement for Integration, the party of President-elect Ilir Meta, a 48-year-old who for 10 years has played kingmaker in Albanian politics, switching his support between sides.

Beyond personal animosities, the two main sides also agree on one overriding aim, said Civici: the opening of EU accession negotiations.

- Inefficient justice -

The challenges for the next government promise to be huge.

While Rama has set a post-election target of "above five percent" growth, Albania remains one of the poorest countries in Europe, with an average monthly salary of 340 euros.

The country is being emptied of its youth, who are unable to find jobs at home. While 2.9 million Albanians live in the country, 1.2 million live abroad -- a world-record ratio.

Albania has been a candidate for EU accession since 2014, but membership remains a far-off goal.

In its last report on the country, the EU notably criticised the "slow and inefficient" judicial system in which "corruption remained prevalent", with a low number of convictions for organised crime.

Rama says ongoing judicial reform will lead to "good results", although it will take "a decade or so" to have a judicial system that meets European standards.

"Even France has not succeeded in ending corruption," he said, but the current reform is going to "bring it down to an acceptable level" in Albania.

It will also be necessary to convince foreigners of the authorities' determination to end the scourge of cannabis.

Polls will be open from 0500 GMT until 1700 GMT under the eye of 3,000 election observers, including 300 foreigners.

EU leaders seek unity on post-Trump trade dangers

EU leaders tackle the thorny topic of globalisation at a summit on Friday with deep divisions between proponents of free markets and others seeking more protections, most notably France.The election of “America First” President Donald Trump has sown co…

EU leaders tackle the thorny topic of globalisation at a summit on Friday with deep divisions between proponents of free markets and others seeking more protections, most notably France.

The election of "America First" President Donald Trump has sown confusion in Europe, with free trade advocates asking that the EU take leadership and sign new trade deals with Japan, Mexico and South America.

But French President Emmanuel Macron has warned leaders to prioritise protections for Europeans worried about globalisation or risk a spike in populist sentiment that helped Trump win the presidency and brought on Brexit.

"It's not a secret that there is not one single view on how globalisation can be better controlled," a senior EU diplomat said ahead of the summit, on condition of anonymity.

"There are quite a few nuances between those who are more free on trade and those who want to have more controls," he added.

The most divisive issue is a proposal spearheaded by pro-EU Macron to hand Brussels more powers to control Chinese investments in Europe's key industries.

"I'm in favour of fair protection... I'm in favour of free trade, not of being naive," Macron said after a first session of talks on Thursday.

Macron, who beat far-right leader Marine Le Pen in last month's run-off, is asking that the summit launch measures towards screening investments by China in Europe that have startled some Europeans.

- Anti-dumping defenses -

But according to a draft of the summit conclusions seen by AFP, opponents of Macron's efforts have so far succeeded in blocking the effort, in effect delaying discussion to an unspecified later date.

Instead, leaders will only ask the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, to "examine the need" to screen investments from countries outside the EU, with China the main target, the draft said.

Macron's idea has faced significant opposition from Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic, as well as European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem, all highly suspicious of French-style meddling in the open market.

"We don't want to hurt investment," Malmstroem told a conference organised by Politico on Monday.

Historically, export-driven Germany has steered clear of protectionism, but recently got spooked by the acquisition of leading robot-maker Kuka by Chinese firm Midea, a transaction that caused a stir domestically.

Germany for now has quietly backed Macron in his quest to screen sensitive Chinese investments and will heavily influence the final outcome of the debate.

The summit is less divided on finding ways to set up stronger anti-dumping defenses against China and other countries.

Beijing has faced international condemnation for flooding the world with super cheap steel, solar panels and other products, leaving international rivals on their knees.

EU leaders are expected to urge EU institutions to swiftly implement anti-dumping measures currently under negotiation in Brussels.

Trump nominates NFL team owner as envoy to Britain

US President Donald Trump announced Thursday he will formally nominate Republican fundraiser and American football team owner Woody Johnson to be his ambassador to Britain.

The pick had been expected since January, when the then president-elect announced his intention to tap Johnson as envoy to Washington’s closest European ally during a leadership lunch with congressional Republicans and incoming cabinet members.

Johnson, 70, owns the New York Jets, a member of the National Football League, and has an extensive record for raising cash for Republicans. Last year he was named a co-leader of Trump’s national fundraising team.

He also comes from American enterprise royalty, being the heir to a vast Johnson & Johnson fortune. His great-grandfather founded the company in 1887, and it became a health care behemoth.

Incoming presidents often reward major supporters, donors or fundraisers with plum ambassador posts.

But the Trump administration is behind on filling key jobs.

Only nine of the US State Department’s 121 political appointee positions have been taken by confirmed nominees, and only a handful of the more than 70 vacant ambassadorial roles are filled.

Johnson acquired the Jets in 2000. The team has had a winning season just once in the past six years, and their 2016 record ended with five wins and 11 losses.

US President Donald Trump announced Thursday he will formally nominate Republican fundraiser and American football team owner Woody Johnson to be his ambassador to Britain.

The pick had been expected since January, when the then president-elect announced his intention to tap Johnson as envoy to Washington's closest European ally during a leadership lunch with congressional Republicans and incoming cabinet members.

Johnson, 70, owns the New York Jets, a member of the National Football League, and has an extensive record for raising cash for Republicans. Last year he was named a co-leader of Trump's national fundraising team.

He also comes from American enterprise royalty, being the heir to a vast Johnson & Johnson fortune. His great-grandfather founded the company in 1887, and it became a health care behemoth.

Incoming presidents often reward major supporters, donors or fundraisers with plum ambassador posts.

But the Trump administration is behind on filling key jobs.

Only nine of the US State Department's 121 political appointee positions have been taken by confirmed nominees, and only a handful of the more than 70 vacant ambassadorial roles are filled.

Johnson acquired the Jets in 2000. The team has had a winning season just once in the past six years, and their 2016 record ended with five wins and 11 losses.