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Macron outshines Merkel as EU’s top diplomat

Author: 
AFP
Sun, 2017-07-16 14:33
ID: 
1500205759667820300

BERLIN: Germany has for years longed for a stronger French partner, but may have got more than it bargained for as the self-confident Emmanuel Macron takes Europe’s spotlight.
Striking images from Paris this week offered signs of how Europe’s de-facto leadership has started to mutate in the two months since Macron took office.
The 39-year-old French president welcomed US President Donald Trump to Paris for dinner in the Eiffel Tower and the traditional July 14 military parade.
The smiles and glad-handing between the two men contrasts starkly with Trump’s dour relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The abiding image thus far has been his apparent refusal to shake her hand on her first Washington visit following his inauguration — and the tensions remained on display at this month’s G20 summit in Hamburg which Merkel chaired.
Macron has also reached eastwards, hosting Russian leader Vladimir Putin amid the spectacular surroundings of Versailles in late May.
Macron is showing that “France is back in the game,” said Jean-Dominique Giuliani of the Robert Schuman foundation, a specialist European think-tank.
“There’s a rebalancing — which was necessary — of the relationship with Germany,” he added.

Merkel until recently was alone on the European stage — even being hailed as the new “leader of the free world” by some English-language media after a 2016 that brought Brexit and Trump’s shock election victory.
In typically German fashion, the chancellor herself has never laid claim to leadership in Europe — a position that would instantly trigger dark accusations about the country’s past.
If she had the mantle of leadership cast upon her, it was partly because of the lack of a plausible counterweight in France, which for decades partnered Germany as Europe’s political dynamo.
Struggling economically compared with a thriving Germany and led by the unpopular Francois Hollande, France was long eclipsed by its neighbor.
Britain, the EU’s other major actor, quit the field of play with a referendum vote last year to leave the bloc.
Elsewhere, Poland’s voice holds less sway as it faces accusations of drifting toward authoritarianism, while Spain and Italy remain economically anaemic.
Macron’s arrival in the Elysee Palace as a committed pro-European has roused hopes of a return to the Franco-German double act, which forged European integration and created the world’s biggest trade bloc.
But his vibrant personal style and showcasing of France have also caused some to ask if he would really prefer to be solo.
“The Germans were surprised when Trump’s visit to Paris was announced,” a diplomatic source told AFP.
“Macron wants to use this gesture to flatter the American president and make a name for himself as leader of Europe,” commented German magazine Der Spiegel in this week’s edition.
By comparison, Merkel has opted for a somewhat tougher course with Trump, criticizing the protectionist rhetoric that brought him to power and his decision to abandon the Paris climate accords.

Macron, too, has been an open critic of Trump’s policies, especially on climate.
However, he “didn’t greet Trump by rolling his eyes and giving a sermon like Chancellor Merkel at the G20, but with a spectacular military parade, with dinner at the Eiffel Tower, with friendly words and much manly back-slapping,” commented Swiss daily Neue Zuercher Zeitung.
“It suggests that Macron could become the EU’s top diplomat, displacing Merkel from a role she never really wanted,” the paper continued.
For now, bashing the US president — a massively unpopular figure in Germany — serves Merkel’s domestic political purposes ahead of parliamentary elections in September, when she hopes for re-election to a fourth term.
And a more balanced power arrangement is a relief to Germany, conditioned by its Nazi past to shy away from sole leadership in Europe.
Macron and Merkel may have conflicting styles, but right now this does not appear to affect the substance of European leadership.
Both are wedded to the goal of consolidating the European Union, which faces internal stress from nationalism and the external challenges posed by Brexit and the “America First” Trump.
But their relationship will face a critical test after the German elections, when talks on reforming the euro single currency build up steam.
At that point, potentially deep divisions between Berlin and Paris are likely to emerge — and it will take more than media-friendly images and rhetoric to bridge them.

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UK trade minister says Brexit transition period acceptable with time limits

Author: 
Reuters
Sun, 2017-07-16 13:42
ID: 
1500205759567820000

LONDON: Trade minister Liam Fox said on Sunday he would be happy to accept a transitional period when Britain leaves the European Union but that it must be within a time limit and give Britain the freedom to negotiate its own trade deals.
Earlier on Sunday, finance minister Philip Hammond had said senior British government ministers were becoming convinced of the need for transitional arrangements to reduce disruption as Britain leaves the EU.
“I don’t have a problem with the transition period as long as is time-limited,” Fox, who supported leaving the EU at last year’s referednum, told BBC TV.
“I want in a transitional period to be able to negotiate agreements at that point, what we can’t have is a putting off of the point where we have freedom to negotiate our trade agreements.”
Fox also said it would be “foolish” to go into the Brexit negotiations without being prepared to walk away, saying Britain’s negotiating partners needed to believe Britain would do so rather than accept a bad deal.

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4 killed, 6 missing in India’s Gujarat amid monsoon floods

Author: 
AFP
Sun, 2017-07-16 10:40
ID: 
1500193529587255700

INDIA: Heavy monsoon flooding has killed four people in western India, officials said Sunday, with grave fears held for at least six others still missing following torrential downpours.
Major rail networks and dozens of highways in Gujarat state have been interrupted by floodwaters, and power to more than 120 villages cut in badly-hit areas.
“Four people died after being swept away in rain waters since Saturday morning. Six others are missing,” Pankaj Kumar, a senior state government official, told AFP, adding the National Disaster Response Force was searching for survivors.
The force, plus India’s military, had rescued more than 2,000 people from the worst-hit regions and relocated them to higher ground.
The Indian Meteorological Department predicts heavy rain to batter the state for another two days, especially in coastal areas, the department’s Manorama Mohanty told AFP.
Monsoon rains have caused serious flooding in other states including Bihar in the east and Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in India’s remote northeast.
The latter two states are enduring their worst floods and landslides in years amid more than a week of incessant rain.
Nearly half a million people in Assam have been affected, and more than two dozens killed in the downpours.
India’s junior home minister Kiren Rijiju posted on Twitter from Arunachal Pradesh on Saturday that funding for medicines and relief efforts had been released to assist those struggling in the aftermath of the disaster.

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VP Pence walks high wire over Trump scandals

Author: 
AFP
Sun, 2017-07-16 08:26
ID: 
1500188993987125200

WASHINGTON: Mike Pence is the loyal wingman, the ever-discreet figure who rises above the Washington fray. But as the Russia scandal encroaches ever further on Donald Trump’s White House, the vice president is also walking a political tightrope.
The 58-year-old former governor of Indiana is currently the man closest to the US presidency — either as Trump’s immediate successor should his term end prematurely, or as his heir apparent in 2020 or 2024 elections, depending on how many terms Trump serves.
As the troubles of his boss grow deeper by the day, ensnared in a widening investigation into his campaign ties to Russia, experts say the 48th US vice president remains compelled to stand by his man — at least for now.
“Pence is in a very difficult position,” Joel Goldstein, an expert on the vice presidency at Saint Louis University School of Law, told AFP.
“A vice president is expected to be loyal to the president, but President Trump imposes a heavy burden on his subordinates by saying and doing things that often are hard to defend.”
The two men could hardly be more different: where Trump likes to blur ideological lines, Pence is a committed Christian conservative, as stiff and disciplined as his boss is exuberant and unpredictable.
While Trump tweets about a high-stakes health care bill, it is Pence who has been shuttling between the White House and Congress in a behind-the-scenes effort to rescue the imperiled legislation.
In Trump’s turbulent Washington, Pence is seen as the administration’s steadying force, the “ax behind the glass you’re supposed to break in case of emergency,” as The Daily Beast news website put it recently.

Pence offered a glimpse Wednesday of what it’s like on the Trump rollercoaster, as number two to arguably the most controversial US leader in modern times.
“You need to keep your arms and legs in the ride at all times,” he told student leaders at American University.
“Pull the roll bar down, because you just got to hang on.”
Yet Pence has taken low-key steps that suggest he could be laying the groundwork for his political future.
In an unusual move, two close advisers to Pence have founded a political action committee, The New York Times reported.
He has also begun hosting Republican mega-donors at his Washington residence, according to the daily.

As federal and congressional investigators dig deeper into allegations that Trump’s camp colluded with Russia to tilt the 2016 election, a handful of Democrats are now calling openly for the president to be impeached.
However remote the prospect of impeachment by the Republican-controlled Congress, the Russia cloud stubbornly refuses to dissipate.
Should Trump eventually be forced from office, Pence would become the 10th US vice president to assume the presidency without being elected — the first since Gerald Ford succeeded Richard Nixon following the Watergate scandal in 1974.
When Donald Trump Jr recently acknowledged that he and campaign aides met a Russian lawyer last year in hope of obtaining dirt on Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, Pence distanced himself from the snowballing scandal.
“He is not focused on stories about the campaign, particularly stories about the time before he joined the ticket,” said a statement from Pence’s office.
But the vice president has not emerged entirely unscathed so far.
As head of Trump’s transition team, he publicly backed Michael Flynn during the uproar about contacts with the Russian ambassador which cost the newly-minted national security adviser his job.
And having flatly denied any Trump campaign contacts with Russia, Pence’s credibility is further rocked with each new revelation.

Pence’s defense will look increasingly questionable, especially if Trump’s troubles worsen. But it is survivable, said Michael Munger, director of the politics program at Duke University.
“Pence was probably not lying. He was lied to, and he took the party line and then kept his mouth shut when they cut him off at the knees,” the professor said.
“He is losing credibility, I suppose, but he gets extra points for doing his job.”
Yet Pence’s close ties to the president — as recently as last month he said serving with Trump has been “the greatest privilege of my life” — may yet prove an albatross around his neck.
“None of the last seven vice presidents have been so willing to be so sycophantic in their praise and have said so many significant things that later turned out to be untrue,” the expert Goldstein said.
Striking the balance between loyalty to an embattled leader and avoiding getting caught up in scandal is a fierce challenge.
Pence has “juggled” well, said Paul Beck of Ohio State University.
“But if this Russia controversy really gets the Trump administration into deep, deep trouble… then Pence is kind of trapped out there as one of the team.”

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Pre-dawn house fire in eastern China kills 22 residents

Author: 
AP
Sun, 2017-07-16 03:00
ID: 
1500188993967125100

BEIJING: A pre-dawn fire in a two-story house in eastern China on Sunday killed 22 people and injured three, authorities said.
The city of Changshu in Jiangsu province, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Shanghai, said in a brief social media post that the fire broke out around 4:30 a.m. It said authorities put out the fire and finished cleaning the scene.
The cause remains under investigation.
It’s not clear how many residents survived.
An earlier report by the official Xinhua News Agency said more than 20 people lived in the house, citing unnamed sources.
Phones at the city’s publicity department rang unanswered.

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Australian malls turn to village life as retailers feel pinch

Author: 
AFP
Sun, 2017-07-16 07:38
ID: 
1500188994177125700

SYDNEY: As Australia’s local merchants struggle with an influx of global names, leading malls are considering returning to their village center roots to woo new tenants by moving away from shops and offering medical facilities, more restaurants and even amusement parks.
Several top retailers have recently succumbed to pressure from foreign giants such as Japan’s Uniqlo and Sephora of France and with Amazon plotting its debut in the country, the future looks tough.
The response from developers has been to redefine the mall away from a “shopping” focus to become a more community-driven service and entertainment space.
While cafes and restaurants have long helped attract shoppers to malls, they are now filling shopping centers, providing some buzz even as an eerie quiet fills some nearby clothing stores.
With the big global names pouring huge sums of cash into the country, once popular clothing chains such as David Lawrence, Pumpkin Patch, Herringbone, and Rhodes & Beckett have bitten the dust, while others scramble to reduce costs.
This has included cutting back on bricks and mortar stores, and steering center owners toward food, entertainment, health care and childcare providers.
Major landlords such as Vicinity and Westfield spin-off Scenter, which this year have seen their share prices slip to one or two-year lows, are already redeveloping their arcades.
Vicinity’s Chadstone Shopping Center in Melbourne, Australia’s largest mall, is now the site of the southern hemisphere’s first massive amusement park Legoland.
The company is also tapping into newer technologies such as facial recognition to identify consumers through their age and gender and analyze their shopping habits.
“What we are seeing is the malls starting to pivot away from commodity-type products… toward retailers that offer a service which isn’t physical,” real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield’s retail investments head Nick Potter told AFP.
“Shopping centers are the modern village, it’s where everyone comes together. These centers are typically located in the center of towns, they’ve got strong infrastructure… and that offers up the ability to move with the times.”

The move is a return to the vision of Victor Gruen, an Austrian-born American who in the 1950s developed the concept of the arcade as a public space akin to the market place of centuries past, where civic life played a central role.
Adding to the shift is the growth of online shopping, which offers shoppers the same options but with the added bonus of not being subject to general sales tax (GST) for anything below Aus$1,000 ($760).
Canberra has sought to end the loophole by imposing a 10 percent levy from next July but the lower margins for online store such as eBay and ASOS still makes them attractive.
While online shopping is estimated to make up a little more than 10 percent of total retail sales, future arrivals such as Amazon could change that.
“If (online shopping) jumps up in a big way, how does that affect bricks and mortar? Maybe all shopping centers just become cafes,” University of Technology Sydney accounting expert David Bond told AFP.
“You’ll probably see it move more toward just products being sold online, versus services, cafes, cinemas, game centers and creches (at malls).”
The University of Canberra’s Lisa Scharoun, who analyzes the cultural role of shopping centers in societies, has seen the changes first-hand, with more than half of a local mall now filled with restaurants and cafes.
Scharoun said developers were moving away from hosting consumption-driven stores and were more willing to lease space to other users such as churches and libraries.
“I think that the mall is evolving back to what it was actually intended to be when it was first conceived,” she told AFP. “It was supposed to be like an enclosed community space… a utopian vision of Victor Gruen.”

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Border attack from Pakistan kills 2 Iranians: Guards

Author: 
AFP
Sun, 2017-07-16 10:05
ID: 
1500188994207125800

TEHRAN: Two Iranian civilians were killed in a cross-border attack by Pakistani insurgents, the Revolutionary Guards said.
“On Saturday evening, a terrorist team… fired (ammunition) from within Pakistani territory toward the Iranian border region of Saravan” in Sistan-Baluchistan province, the Guards said in a statement on their Sepahnews website.
“Two local workers in the region were martyred in this terrorist attack,” it added.
Forces from the Quds force — the Guards’ foreign operations wing — killed one of the attackers and wounded two, while others fled back into Pakistani territory, the statement said.
The insurgent group was not identified, but for years the region has been the site of frequent attacks by the Jaish Al-Adl jihadist group, which Tehran says has links to Al-Qaeda and is based in the restive Pakistani province of Balochistan.
Jaish Al-Adl was blamed for an attack in April that killed 10 Iranian border guards in the nearby Mirjaveh region.
President Hassan Rouhani wrote to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif calling for greater efforts to prevent insurgent attacks along the border.
The Guards also said on June 19 that they had killed the leader and four members of another jihadist group called Ansar Al-Furqan in the Iranian port city of Chabahar in Sistan-Baluchistan province.

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Refugee fears over Australia-US resettlement plan

Author: 
AFP
Sun, 2017-07-16 08:06
ID: 
1500188994097125500

SYDNEY: The abrupt departure of American officials from an Australian Pacific island refugee camp has fanned fears among asylum-seekers that plans to resettle them in the US may not go ahead, an activist group said Sunday.
Canberra sends asylum-seekers who try to enter Australia by boat to camps on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, but the conditions there have been criticized by refugee advocates and medical professionals.
The Australian government struck a deal with Washington under former president Barack Obama to resettle some of those refugees in the US.
But doubts over the arrangement have persisted after President Donald Trump this year reportedly lambasted his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull during a phone call and attacked it as a “dumb deal,” before agreeing to go ahead with the proposal.
US Department of Homeland Security officials had been assessing the asylum-seekers at Nauru as part of the arrangement when they abruptly left the island on Friday and Saturday, Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said, days after the US passed its annual 50,000-refugee intake cap.
“They’ve (the DHS officials) given the people on Nauru no indication that they are coming back,” Rintoul told AFP.
About 200 refugees on Nauru have undergone interviews and medical check-ups, while on Manus, some 70 had been through a similar process, Rintoul said.
“People are becoming increasingly doubtful that there is any deal,” he added.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Sunday she was confident the deal was still in place, adding that the “matter is progressing as we expected.”
“We have been given assurances by President Trump and Vice President Pence and others, that the agreement will be adhered to,” Bishop told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“And the (refugee cap) quota will roll over again on October 1.”
The situation is particularly acute on Manus, with the camp set to close by October after a PNG Supreme Court ruling declared that holding people there was unconstitutional.
Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has said those on Manus would not be moved to Australia and instead relocated to third countries such as the US and Cambodia or resettled in PNG.
“News like this makes us feel dead. It defuses the spark of hope that we try to hold on to,” Manus refugee detainee Imran Mohammad, from Myanmar, said in a statement Sunday via Australia’s Human Rights Law Center.
More than 800 men are being held on Manus, and 370 men, women and children are detained on Nauru, according to Australian immigration data ending May 31.

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Eight dead in Senegal football stadium crush: minister

Author: 
Agence France Presse
Sun, 2017-07-16 03:25
ID: 
1500176289506902100

DAKAR: Eight people were killed during Senegal’s football league cup final in Dakar on Saturday, the sports minister told AFP, as a wall collapsed onto clashing supporters triggering a panicked stampede.
Sports minister Matar Ba said a young girl was among the dead, while around 60 injured fans had been taken to health facilities in Dakar.
He vowed “strong measures so that such an event will never be repeated in Senegal,” speaking to AFP by phone.
A mass deployment of firefighters and ambulances remained at the scene late Saturday.
An AFP journalist who attended the match described a stadium full to bursting with people for the long-awaited clash between local teams US Ouakam and Stade de Mbour.
At 2-1 during extra time, US Ouakam supporters began throwing stones at Stade de Mbour fans, causing spectators to begin vacating their seats in a rush, the journalist said.
Part of a wall supporting bleachers seating fans from both sides then collapsed, while police had begun firing tear gas and panic spread in the stadium leading to a crush.
“All of a sudden when the wall fell… we knew exactly that some of our own had lost their lives because the wall fell directly onto people,” said Cheikh Maba Diop, a witness who helped evacuate victims from the stadium and lost a friend in the tragedy.
Also speaking at the scene, football fan Mara Die Diouf said policing at the stadium had been inadequate.
“What I find terrible is that we have this kind of final in this kind of stadium here where there isn’t enough security,” he said.
Diouf described police retreating from an area separating the two teams’ supporters once projectiles began being thrown, triggering dangerous movements by spectators unable to defend themselves.
AFP journalists at the scene saw belongings covered in blood at the site, with a pair of glasses and clothing strewn among broken pieces of concrete.
Campaigning for Senegal’s legislative elections due on July 30 would on Sunday be suspended in respect for the victims, said a spokesman for President Macky Sall.
Sall also wanted “punishments serving as a warning,” following the tragedy, spokesman El Hamidou Kasse said on TFM television.
Senegal’s safety record at large gatherings has been heavily criticized this year after the death of dozens of people at a religious retreat in April when a fire ripped through makeshift shelters.

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Maduro urges ‘peaceful’ opposition vote in Venezuela

Author: 
Agence France Presse
Sun, 2017-07-16 06:02
ID: 
1500176057766893800

CARACAS: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Saturday urged citizens taking part in a vote organized by the opposition the next day to do so “peacefully,” as concerns simmered of worsening political violence.
Sunday’s polls are meant to gauge public support for Maduro’s plan to rewrite the constitution by electing a citizens’ body on July 30.
But with authorities refusing to greenlight Sunday’s vote and pro-Maduro supporters boycotting it, voters seemed set to reject the president’s scheme.
Likewise, the opposition has told its supporters to stay away from the July 30 election.
The cross-purpose initiatives have given rise to international worries — voiced by the Catholic Church and the head of the UN, Antonio Guterres — that the chances of bringing both sides together for dialogue has become more remote.
That, in turn, is stoking fears of more protests and running street battles with police, which have been persistent for the past three and a half months. Nearly 100 people have died in the unrest since the beginning of April.
While Maduro is deeply unpopular — with 80 percent of Venezuelans criticizing his rule, according to the Datanalisis survey firm — he enjoys backing from some, mostly poor, parts of the population and, most importantly, from the military.
Many Venezuelans, though, are less focused on the political powerplay than they are on getting by day by day under their country’s crushing economic crisis, which has meant shortages of food and medicine.
The opposition, which accuses Maduro of trying to gather dictatorial powers with the constitutional rewrite and other steps, said all was prepared for Sunday’s vote.
“Everything is ready,” one opposition figure, Maria Corina Machado, told AFP.
She predicted Sunday’s vote would “not only reject the Constituent Assembly” — the body Maduro is seeking to have elected to come up with a new constitution — “but will give a mandate for a change of the regime, the end of the dictatorship and the start of a transition with a government of national unity.”
But Maduro, giving a national radio and TV broadcast, portrayed the vote as merely an “internal consultation by the opposition parties” with no electoral legitimacy.
“I call on all Venezuelans to participate peacefully in political events tomorrow, with respect for others’ ideas, with no incidents. Peace is what I ask,” he said.
He directed his followers instead toward a rival poll exercise that, unlike that of the opposition, has been approved by electoral authorities: a dry-run simulation of the election to take place on July 30.
He also repeated claims the opposition was tied to foreign powers — implied to be the “imperialist” United States — with the aim of toppling his government.
The international media, he railed, was covering the opposition vote in a way to justify foreign intervention.
According to Datanalisis, 70 percent of Venezuelans reject Maduro’s idea of a Constituent Assembly.
An opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, said “we’re expecting 62 percent turnout on Sunday — we could get 11 million people” out of the country’s population of 30 million.
Five former Latin American presidents — from Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico and two from Costa Rica — were in Venezuela at the opposition’s invitation to act as observers of the vote, alongside electoral experts from various countries.
Former Mexican leader Vicente Fox said on arriving in Caracas that the vote could be the “beginning of the end” of Maduro’s government.
The head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, called on Venezuelans to take part in Sunday’s vote “to prevent the definitive collapse” of the country’s institutions.
On Friday, UN Secretary General Guterres said talks were “urgently” needed between the opposition and government to stem the violence and find a “constitutional path” to peace.
Sunday’s vote was being held in 2,000 polling stations across the country, and in 80 countries for Venezuelans abroad.

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