Sunday, 21 July, 2019
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Nigerian President Buhari sworn in for second term


Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in for a second term in office on Wednesday, vowing once more to tackle crippling security threats and root out corruption in Africa’s key economy.

The 76-year old leader, in power since 2015 and re-elected in February, took the oath of office for a second four-year term in the capital Abuja.

“I do solemnly swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” Buhari said, dressed in simple white robes and traditional embroidered cap. “I will preserve, protect and defend the constitution.”

Buhari took the oath of office at what officials called a “low-key” ceremony.

It included red-carpet arrival flanked by bagpipers into a stadium packed with dignitaries and military guard of honour.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was also sworn into office.

Buhari was re-elected with 56 percent of the vote in Africa’s most-populous nation — and top oil producer — after a delayed poll that angered voters.

His rival, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who came second with 41 percent of the vote, has along with other opposition leaders launched an ongoing legal challenge to the victory.

They allege irregularities in the vote and have called it a “sham” result.

Buhari, a former army general who led a tough military government in the 1980s, campaigned on a promise to make the country safer.

He begins a final four-year term beset with numerous challenges.

Nigeria is struggling from multiple conflicts, including an Islamist insurgency in the northeast of the country.

His time in power has also been dogged by questions about his medical fitness. He has spent several months abroad for treatment for an unspecified condition.

Buhari has touted himself as a “converted democrat” to persuade those with misgivings that his military past was history.

But in office he has struggled to shake off claims of authoritarianism — particularly in his fight against corruption which critics say has been one-sided against perceived political opponents.

Iran ‘almost certainly’ behind ship attacks off UAE, says Bolton


US National Security Advisor John Bolton accused Iran Wednesday of “almost certainly” being behind sabotage attacks on oil tankers off the UAE coast this month, as he visited Abu Dhabi amid soaring tensions between Washington and Tehran.

The accusation, which follows a US military buildup in the Gulf, came on the eve of emergency Arab and Gulf summits called by Iran’s regional arch-rival Saudi Arabia to discuss the standoff.

Bolton said that additional US forces in the region were sent as a “deterrent” and that Washington’s response will be prudent.

The four ships, including two Saudi tankers, were attacked by “naval mines almost certainly from Iran”, Bolton told a press conference in the UAE capital.

“There’s no doubt in anybody’s mind in Washington who’s responsible for this,” Bolton said in a clear reference to Iran.

US experts are part of a five-nation team that is investigating the May 12 attacks that damaged the four vessels in the Sea of Oman off the UAE emirate of Fujairah.

Two days later Yemen’s Houthi rebels accused by Abu Dhabi and Riyadh of being proxies of Tehran hit a strategic diversionary pipeline in Saudi Arabia with two drones.

The east-west pipeline, which has the capacity to carry some five million barrels per day from the oilfields of the kingdom’s Gulf coast to the Red Sea, was shut for two days as a result of the attack.

Bolton said that there has also been “an unsuccessful attack on the Saudi port of Yanbu a couple of days before the attack on tankers”.

Yanbu is Saudi Arabia’s largest oil terminal on the Red Sea and is home to oil refineries and export facilities.

Bolton has been accused of having a dangerous “obsession” with Iran.

‘Trying to be prudent’

Bolton said he would meet Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan as well as his UAE counterpart, Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, to discuss relations and regional tensions.

“We are responding and consulting more closely with our allies in the region to discuss what to do next.”

“We are trying to be prudent and responsible. We gathered evidence about the nature of attacks on the tankers and the East-West pipeline, and sent additional forces to act as a deterrent.”

Washington has reimposed tough sanctions against Tehran and ordered the deployment of 1,500 more troops to the Middle East.

Tehran called the attacks on the ships “alarming and regrettable”, and warned of “adventurism” by foreign players to disrupt maritime security.

Fujairah, where the attacks took place, is a key oil export terminal on the Sea of Oman that spares tankers the need to enter the Gulf through the strategic Strait of Hormuz, which Iran has repeatedly threatened to close.

Almost a third of the world’s oil supplies pass through the narrow strait between Iran and Oman which is the sole shipping lane into and out of the Gulf.

Regional tensions have spiked since US President Donald Trump’s administration reimposed sanctions against Iran after unilaterally pulling out of a multilateral 2015 nuclear accord signed with the Islamic republic.

Regional summits are planned on Thursday and Friday in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, as Riyadh seeks to further isolate Tehran.

The Trump administration has ordered non-essential diplomatic staff out of Iraq, citing threats from Iranian-backed Iraqi armed groups, and sent an aircraft carrier and heavy B-52 bombers to the region.

Four poachers shot dead in Bangladesh mangrove gunfight


Four people accused of poaching threatened Bengal tigers were shot dead by Bangladesh police on Wednesday during a gunfight in a mangrove forest, officials said.

Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) police challenged armed men on a boat in the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest, spokesman Mizanur Rahman said.

The poachers opened fire sparking the battle, Rahman told AFP. Four bodies, guns and ammunition were found on the boat.

The four were identified as members of a gang accused of poaching in one of the largest habitats for endangered Bengal tigers and Irrawaddy dolphins, local RAB official Tajul Islam told AFP.

“These gangs have become a major threat to wildlife conservation,” in the mangroves, Islam said.

The Sundarbans, much of which is a UNESCO world heritage site, is swarming with people accused of murders and abductions as well as poaching.

At least 120 people have been killed in clashes with the RAB since 2004, while another 400 have been arrested on the rivers and canals that cross the mangrove.

Some 200 surrendered their weapons to police in exchange for cash, legal aid and mobile phones. That led Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to last year declare the campaign against the outlaws as a success.

Last week, authorities said the tiger population in the Sundarbans, which also includes parts of India, has grown for the first time in two decades.

A tiger census released by the forestry department showed the number of the big cats on the Bangladeshi side of the border to have increased to 114 from 106 four years ago.

Numbers had fallen from 440 in 2004 to 106 tigers in a 2015 census.

Transport strike forces flight cancellations in Netherlands


A strike by public transport workers in the Netherlands forced the cancellation of dozens of flights at the country’s main airport on Tuesday as passengers faced difficulties reaching the airport.

“Several airlines cancelled their flights,” said Willemeike Koster, spokeswoman of Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.

Dutch carrier KLM, along with budget airlines Ryanair and EasyJet, were among the airlines cancelling some 80 flights overall. Several other flights were delayed.

“It’s busy on the roads to the airport due to the strike because there is very limited train traffic between Schiphol and Amsterdam,” she said. “There are four trains per hour today instead of the usual 25.”

Once passengers reach the airport, services are functioning normally, she added.

Dutch trade unions called the strike to secure better pension benefits and to call for the country’s retirement age to be fixed at 66 years.

The FNV, the largest trade union in the Netherlands, also plans for brief strike actions among security and cleaning staff at Schiphol airport on Wednesday.

Israeli election rerun looms as Netanyahu talks falter


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urgently worked to break a deadlock in coalition negotiations Tuesday as the once far-fetched possibility of fresh general elections only months after April polls loomed ever larger.

Netanyahu has until Wednesday night to reach a coalition deal, but he has been unable to convince ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman to abandon a key demand and allow a government to be formed.

Failing to do so would be a major setback for Netanyahu, and the stakes are especially high with the premier facing possible indictment for corruption in the months ahead.

There have been reports that Netanyahu is seeking legislation in the new parliament that would result in him receiving immunity from prosecution, and new elections would delay those efforts and may make it impossible.

Beyond that, he faces the risk of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin opting to give the task of forming a new government to someone other than him.

Late Monday and overnight, Israel’s parliament took its first steps toward dissolving itself and holding new elections. Two further votes are needed to finalise it.

The prime minister has sought to pile pressure on Lieberman, whose nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party’s five seats are crucial to the coalition Netanyahu wants to form, but he has refused to back down.

On Monday night, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party called on its parliament members to attack Lieberman.

The dispute hinges on Lieberman’s demand that legislation he supports aimed at having ultra-Orthodox Jews perform mandatory military service like other Jewish Israelis be approved without changes.

The issue is highly sensitive in Israel and the legislation is opposed by ultra-Orthodox parties, who control 16 seats in parliament and are set to become a key member of Netanyahu’s coalition.

“We are not looking to bring down Netanyahu and we are not looking for an alternative candidate, but we will not give up our principles and promises to the citizens of the state of Israel,” Lieberman wrote on his Facebook page on Tuesday.

Netanyahu said in an address late Monday that Lieberman was being unreasonable and that there was “no reason to drag the country to unnecessary elections that will cost a fortune and paralyse us all for another half a year.”

– Long rivalry –

But while Lieberman has made his stand on the military conscription issue — one he has long championed — his dispute with Netanyahu also runs much deeper.

The two men have been both allies and rivals for much of both of their political careers, with Lieberman serving as head of the prime minister’s office during part of Netanyahu’s first term beginning in 1996.

He later broke away from the Likud to form his own party, which relies in large part on votes from Israelis who, like him, have roots in the former Soviet Union.

He has served in a range of ministerial positions both under Netanyahu and others.

His party’s five seats won in April 9 elections are just enough to torment Netanyahu.

Likud and its right-wing and religious allies won a total of 65 seats in the 120-seat parliament in the polls. Without Lieberman, Netanyahu will struggle to form an effective coalition.

Leaders of the main opposition Blue and White, a centrist alliance, have called on Likud to turn against Netanyahu and line up behind another leader who could form a unity government with them instead.

Together, Likud and Blue and White would control 70 seats — a powerful majority.

Blue and White’s leaders say they cannot join a government led by Netanyahu due to the corruption allegations he faces, and the premier is seen as wanting partners willing to support legislation that could result in his immunity.

If a deal is not reached by Wednesday night’s deadline, Rivlin could give Netanyahu another two weeks if he concludes the premier is the only person capable of forming a government.

Alternatively, Rivlin could ask another member of parliament to take on the task.

Netanyahu is widely seen as preferring new elections rather than leaving the choice up to Rivlin, due to the possibility someone else could be selected.

He could also seek to form a minority government.

Italy braced for 3 billion-euro Brussels fine: Salvini


Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said Tuesday he expected Brussels to slap Rome with a three billion-euro ($3.36 billion) fine over the country’s rising debt and structural deficit levels.

“At a time when youth unemployment touches 50 percent in some regions… someone in Brussels is demanding, under the old rules, a fine of three billion euros,” he told RTL 102.5 radio.

“All my energy will go into changing these rules from the past,” said Salvini, whose far-right League party won Sunday’s European Parliament elections in Italy.

“We will see if this little letter from Brussels in which they sanction us for debt accumulated in the past arrives,” he said.

The European Commission is expected to start disciplinary steps against Italy on June 5 by opening an excessive deficit procedure which could hand Italy a fine of up to 0.2 percent of the nation’s GDP.

Italy’s public debt is a big problem, sitting at 132.2 percent of the country’s GDP in 2018 — way above the 60 percent EU ceiling.

The League and its Five Star Movement coalition partner rowed bitterly with Brussels at the end of last year over their big-spending 2019 budget, which the European Commission rejected in a historic first.

Both sides then made compromises to get the budget over the line.

But in the Commission’s latest economic forecasts, published in early May, Italy is ranked as the eurozone’s worst performer, with growth well below other countries and debt at a record level.

Brussels is set to send a letter to Rome on Wednesday calling on the government to explain itself, a European source said.

Hamilton talent saved us from defeat says Mercedes boss


Lewis Hamilton?s individual ability ‘saved’ Mercedes and delivered the team?s emotional tribute victory to Niki Lauda at Sunday’s dramatic Monaco Grand Prix, according to team chief Toto Wolff.

Without his “performance of a champion” drive on badly-worn and incorrectly-chosen medium compound tyres, in which he resisted near-incessant pressure from Max Verstappen?s Red Bull, the Silver Arrows? season-opening winning streak may have been over.

“Obviously, it was the wrong call,” admitted Wolff, referring to the decision to fit ?mediums? instead of ?hards? at Hamilton?s pit-stop after only 10 laps.

“We thought the tyre would make it to the end.

“But, of course, it didn?t. He saved us. His driving saved us. It is something that we really need to analyse now.

“We calculated that the medium would make it, if we changed on lap 15 or 16, with the right management. It seemed a straightforward strategy.

“It didn?t seem like a huge stretch, but then we realised 20 laps into it that some graining was appearing on the front left ? and he started to complain.

“Under-steer resulted from the graining and it was clear it would be very, very difficult to make it to the end?.

“Everybody knew it would be a huge stretch and, probably 20 laps from the end, he had nought percent rubber left and with massive under-steer at slow speeds.

“You could see that around the Loews hairpin ? the car wouldn?t turn anymore? We were close to losing and if it was a normal track ? like in Montreal ? you lose that race.”

Hamilton secured his third Monaco victory career 77th by resisting every attack from Verstappen, behind him on hard tyres, with one of the greatest stints of defensive racing ever seen on the unforgiving streets of the Mediterranean circuit.

His agitated radio exchanges with engineer Pete Bonnington punctuated the contest and allowed him relief from his concentration during what he later described as the hardest race of his life.

“It’s just difficult when you’re out on your own for so long and ?Bono? can’t say anything,” said Hamilton.

“Nothing he can say, or anyone can say, or do to help ? it was all down to me to bring it home for the team and for Niki. The just felt immense.”

Three-time world champion Austrian Lauda, Mercedes non-executive chairman, died last Monday, aged 70.

It was a measure of his achievement that Hamilton?s former team-mate and rival Nico Rosberg gave him unstinting praise.

“Even in qualifying, he wasn?t the fastest guy, but he got the pole,? said the 2016 champion. “Today, he was massively struggling out there, but Lewis just managed it in a world champion?s manner and even fended off that challenge from Max Verstappen in a proper way.”

Hamilton celebrated by leaping into the harbour swimming pool and later promised himself a rare glass of wine after extending his lead in the drivers? championship to 20 points ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

The Finn finished third behind Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari after Verstappen was dropped to fourth with a five-second penalty for his pit-lane brush with Bottas after an unsafe release by Red Bull.

Among many other incidents, Racing Point’s Sergio Perez revealed he had almost hit two marshals during the Safety Car period when they ran into the track.

“What?s wrong with those marshals?” he said. “I nearly killed them?.”

Later, he told reporters: “They were just running across and I was coming out of the pits. I had to brake and they were very lucky that I avoided them.”

Nasdaq withdraws offer to acquire Oslo stock exchange


US stock market operator Nasdaq said Monday it was withdrawing its offer of nearly 700 million euros ($784 million) to acquire the Oslo Stock Exchange, clearing the way for its European competitor Euronext.

“This decision has been made because under the current circumstances the minimum acceptance condition for completion of the offer is incapable of being satisfied,” the company said in a statement.

Nasdaq, which controls all the other Nordic stock exchanges, has been battling with Euronext to acquire the stock exchange since the start of the year.

Nasdaq had the blessing of the bourse’s board and management, but Euronext gained an advantage by securing the support of a majority of the Oslo exchange’s shareholders.

The US stock operator’s hopes were dashed on May 13 when the Norwegian government declared that both Euronext and Nasdaq were “suitable owners”.

Euronext already manages the stock exchanges of Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Lisbon and Dublin and aims to complete the transaction by the end of June.

‘On my mind’: Trump meets relatives of Japanese abducted by N.Korea


US President Donald Trump on Monday told relatives of Japanese abducted by North Korea that their loved ones were “very much on my mind” and promised to work to bring them home.

The US leader made the comments during a brief meeting with around a dozen relatives as part of a state visit to Japan, the second time he has met with the families of the missing.

“The stories are very sad,” he said at the sombre gathering, surrounded by family members, some clutching framed photographs of their missing loved ones.

Japan suspects dozens of its citizens were abducted in the 1970s and 1980s by North Korean agents to train their spies in Japanese language and culture.

The abductions are a potent and emotional issue in Japan, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe even promising to meet North Korea’s Kim Jong Un if it would help resolve the long-running question.

“I can see why your great prime minister feels so strongly about it,” Trump told the gathered family members.

“I can tell you that it is very much on my mind,” he added.

“And we will be working together to bring the relatives, children, sons, your mothers, home.”

Relatives of the missing thanked Trump for raising the issue in two rounds of talks with Kim, including a summit in Hanoi in February that broke down without an agreement.

Trump’s efforts were producing “concrete progress towards the resolution of the abduction issue,” said Sakie Yokota, whose daughter Megumi is among the missing.

Megumi was kidnapped on her way home from school in 1977 aged only 13, and is the youngest among the 17 officially listed as abductees by the Japanese government.

In 2004, North Korea handed over cremated remains it claimed were Megumi’s. However, Tokyo said DNA tests conducted in Japan proved the claim to be untrue.

Her brother sat next to their mother during the meeting, holding a photo of his sister dressed in a pink and white checkered kimono.

“We have the greatest trust in you and also in Prime Minister Abe,” Yokota told Trump, who was sitting next to his wife Melania, along with Abe and his wife Akie.

– ‘Break this deadlock’ –

Koichiro Iizuka, whose mother Yaeko Taguchi was kidnapped in 1978, urged Trump and Abe to “break this deadlock.”

“My mother has been separated from her son, as well as her family members, for the past 41 years,” he said.

“I sincerely hope Mr. Prime Minister and President will break this deadlock… so as to bring about the return of my mother as soon as possible.”

In 2002, North Korea admitted to kidnapping 13 Japanese civilians, but the government in Tokyo believes at least 17 were taken to train Pyongyang’s agents.

A month later, five were allowed to return to Japan. Pyongyang insists the other eight are dead but has not produced cast-iron evidence.

Taguchi is among those Pyongyang says died, in a traffic accident, but a North Korean defector has cast doubt on that account.

Under an agreement brokered in Stockholm in May 2014, North Korea undertook to reinvestigate all abductions of Japanese citizens in what appeared to be a significant breakthrough on an issue that has long hampered Tokyo’s relations with Pyongyang.

But there has been little progress since then, despite new diplomatic momentum towards peace on the Korean peninsula.

India’s opposition Congress backs Gandhi after poll defeat


Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, offered to resign Saturday after his Congress party was trounced in a second straight national election but the gesture was rejected, party officials said.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi triumphantly accepted pledges of allegiance from members of allied parties after his second landslide win, Congress leaders licked their wounds at a special meeting in New Delhi.

“Party President Rahul Gandhi offered his resignation but it was unanimously rejected by the members of Congress Working Commission,” Randeep Surjewala, a party spokesman, told reporters.

Gandhi led the party campaign against Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but managed only 52 seats, barely more than the historic low of 44 in the 2014 election.

The BJP increased its majority, taking 303 of the 543 elected seats announced Friday, up from 282.

“In a democracy wins and losses keep happening but providing leadership is a different matter. He gave leadership,” senior Congress member Ghulam Nabi Azad told reporters after the meeting.

Azad said party barons at the meeting, including Gandhi’s mother Sonia and former prime minister Manmohan Singh, urged Rahul Gandhi to continue.

Gandhi led the Congress campaign in the 2014 defeat before taking over from his mother as party president in 2017.

The 48-year-old lost his constituency in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, that has been a family bastion for decades. He was allowed to contest a second seat however and won in southern India.

Experts outside Congress have strongly criticised his display against Modi, who mocked the opposition leader as a spoiled member of the family dynasty that has dominated Indian politics since independence in 1947, providing three prime ministers.

Modi was unanimously elected head of his BJP-led alliance in a special ceremonial meeting at parliament. He is to be sworn in for a new term this week.

In West Bengal state, where Modi’s BJP took seats from the regional Trinamool Congress party, supporters of the two sides fought battles that left one dead, officials said.

Paramilitary forces boosted security on Saturday because of the violence.

The BJP said a 23-year-old party worker was shot dead by Trinamool activists late Friday at Chakda, north of the regional capital Kolkata. The rival party denied any involvement.

The man’s family said he was shot in a field near his home.

Clashes between BJP and Trinamool activists were also reported in three other districts.



Israeli minister boasts his country has been ‘killing Iranians’

An Israeli minister boasted Sunday that his country was the only one that "has been killing Iranians", after tensions between Britain and Iran rose...