Monthly Archives: January 2017

Turkey dismissed more than 90,000 public servants in post-coup purge – minister

ANKARA: Turkish authorities have dismissed more than 90,000 public servants for alleged connections to a coup attempt in July as part of a purge critics say has broadened to target any political opposition to President Tayyip Erdogan.

Speaking to reporters at a roundtable interview broadcast on television, Labour Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu said 125,485 people from the public service had been put through legal proceedings after the coup attempt, and that 94,867 of those had been dismissed so far.

Turkey has been rooting out followers of the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom it accuses of having infiltrated state institutions and plotted to overthrow the government. Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, has denied the charge and condemned the coup.

Some 40,000 people from the police, the military, the judiciary, the civil service or the education system, have been remanded in custody pending trial for alleged connections with the coup attempt, during which at least 240 people were killed.

Emergency rule declared after the failed coup attempt enables the government to bypass parliament in enacting new laws and to limit or suspend rights and freedoms when deemed necessary.

Rights groups and some of Turkey’s Western allies fear that President Tayyip Erdogan is using the coup as a pretext to stifle dissent, from state institutions to political parties.

NATO member Turkey has been hit by a spate bombings and shootings in the past year, claimed by Kurdish and Islamic State militants, on top of July’s failed coup, in which soldiers commandeered tanks and fighter jets in a bid to seize power.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Ece Toksabay and Ralph Boulton)

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Leverkusen sign Jamaican teenager Bailey from Genk

BERLIN: Bayer Leverkusen have signed 19-year-old Jamaican winger Leon Bailey from Belgium’s Racing Genk on a contract to 2022, the German club said on Tuesday.

Bailey, who played for Genk in the Europa League and scored four goals in six matches, is also eligible for the Champions League, the German club said.

Leverkusen are through to the round of 16 in Europe’s top club competition and face Spain’s Atletico Madrid next month.

“He is an unusually quick and very cunning player, who gives our attack an added push,” Leverkusen sports director Rudi Voeller said in a statement.

“We are certain he will prove to be a huge win for us.”

Bailey, who joined Genk in 2015 and has played once for Jamaica’s under-23 team, was reportedly a target for several top European clubs before being signed by Leverkusen.

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

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Britain rebuffs calls to cancel Trump's state visit

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday (Jan 30) she was looking forward to hosting US President Donald Trump in a state visit, after more than a million people signed a petition demanding the invitation be withdrawn following his controversial travel ban.

Already under pressure over her ties to Trump, May is also facing calls by members of her own Conservative party to reconsider the visit, which would see Trump honoured by parliament and Queen Elizabeth II.

May’s Downing Street office said she does not agree with the US ban on refugees and citizens of seven mainly Muslim countries, but still refused to back down on the visit.

“The prime minister extended an invitation on behalf of the queen, and she was very happy to do so. The USA is one of this country’s closest allies, and we look forward to hosting the president later this year,” a spokesman said.

May announced the state visit during a meeting with Trump at the White House on Friday, which was intended to reaffirm the “special relationship” and boost trade ties after Britain leaves the European Union.

But her closeness to the erratic billionaire drew fire at home, particularly when she initially failed to condemn the travel ban, saying it was a US affair.

By Monday morning, more than one million people had signed an online petition calling for the state visit to be cancelled because his “well-documented misogyny and vulgarity disqualifies him” from meeting the queen.

Set up several months ago, the number of signatories has surged since Trump signed his contentious executive order on Friday – a move that triggered global protests, with more expected in Britain later Monday.

“You are not welcome here, Mr President,” the Daily Mirror tabloid said in a headline.

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the smaller Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party have all called for the state visit to be cancelled, as have some from May’s own party.

“We have to question whether … this is something that Britain should be doing for a man who has no respect for women, disdain for minorities, little value for LGBT communities, no compassion for the vulnerable and whose policies are rooted in divisive rhetoric,” Sayeeda Warsi, a Muslim member of the upper House of Lords for the Conservatives, told BBC radio.

Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said the visit should not go ahead “while a cruel and divisive policy which discriminates against citizens of the host nation is in place”.


Trump’s order suspended the arrival of all refugees for at least 120 days, Syrian refugees indefinitely, and barred citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days.

The British foreign minister Boris Johnson told parliament on Monday that it was “divisive and wrong to stigmatise because of nationality”, confirming that, after talks with the US administration, most Britons would be exempt.

However, Johnson said there was “no reason” why Trump shouldn’t receive a state visit, calling the US-UK relationship the “single most important geopolitical fact of the last 100 years.”

High-profile British citizens briefly caught up in the new US rules included Somali-born Olympic champion Mo Farah, who slammed a policy based on “ignorance and prejudice” that could keep him apart from his US-based family.

The Foreign Office later announced the order would only apply to individuals travelling directly to the United States from one of the seven listed countries.

However, there was some confusion when the US embassy in London said that anyone with a passport from those countries would not get a visa there.

Trump, whose mother was born in Scotland, has made clear his fondness for Britain and has said last summer’s Brexit vote was a “smart” move.

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India names former gold medallist Bindra in task force

MUMBAI: India’s only individual Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra was named on a panel entrusted with the task of preparing the blueprint for the country’s success at the next three Games, the sports ministry said on Monday.

The world’s second-most populous country sent more than 120 athletes to Rio de Janeiro last year with hopes of exceeding the six medals won at London in 2012, but returned with only a silver in badminton and a wrestling bronze.

National badminton coach Pullela Gopichand and former India hockey captain Viren Rasquinha were also named in the eight-member task force which will help identify core medal prospects for the Tokyo Games in 2020 and nurture talents for the next two editions of the quadrennial event.

The task force will also recommend ways to improve the coaching standards and sports infrastructure in the country of 1.3 billion people.

India have won 28 medals since first competing at the Olympics in 1900 but Bindra remains the only individual gold medallist with his victory in the men’s 10 metre air rifle in Beijing in 2008.

The Indian men’s hockey team won the Olympic gold medal eight times, most recently in 1980.

(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Ed Osmond)

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Trump, South Korea's Hwang agree to strengthen defences against North Korea – White House

WASHINGTON: U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn agreed to take steps to strengthen joint defence capabilities to defend against North Korea’s nuclear threat, the White House said on Sunday after a telephone call between the two leaders.

“President Trump reiterated our ironclad commitment to defend (South Korea), including through the provision of extended deterrence, using the full range of military capabilities,” the White House said in a statement.

It also said Trump and Hwang discussed the upcoming visit by the new U.S. defence secretary to Japan and South Korea, where shared concerns about North Korea will top the agenda.

The United States and South Korea have agreed to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system designed to protect against North Korea’s growing nuclear and ballistic capabilities despite objections from China, which says the radar could penetrate Chinese territory.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said on Jan. 1 his country was close to test-launching an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), and state media has said a launch could come at any time.

North Korea has maintained its nuclear and missile programs in violation of repeated rounds of international sanctions.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Will Dunham)

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Andre Ayew penalty sends Ghana into semi-finals

OYEM, Gabon: Ghana’s Andre Ayew converted a late penalty to earn a 2-1 win over the Democratic Republic of Congo and a place in the African Nations Cup semi-finals after a bruising match on Sunday.

Ayew sent Ley Matampi the wrong way in the 78th minute after Christian Atsu fell under a clumsy Joyce Lomalisa challenge to set up a clash with Cameroon in the last four on Thursday.

The game burst into life after a dismal first half with Jordan Ayew, Andre’s brother, giving four-times champions Ghana the lead with a superbly-taken goal in the 63rd minute.

DR Congo hit back five minutes later through Paul-Jose Mpoku’s swerving 30-metre shot that beat Brimah Razak after they caught Ghana napping with a quickly-taken free kick.

(Writing by Brian Homewood; editing by Ken Ferris)

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Germany's SPD leaders nominate Schulz as chancellor candidate – sources

BERLIN: Leaders of Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) on Sunday unanimously nominated former European Parliament President Martin Schulz to run against conservative Angela Merkel in a national election in September, sources familiar with the decision said.

The decision is to be formalised at a special party conference to be held on March 19, the sources told Reuters.

(Reporting by Holger Hansen; Writing by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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Senegal's Mane misses in shoot-out as Cameroon reach Nations Cup last four

FRANCEVILLE, Gabon: Senegal’s Sadio Mane missed the vital spot-kick in a shoot-out as Cameroon produced a smash-and-grab performance to win 5-4 on penalties following a 0-0 draw in their African Nations Cup quarter-final on Saturday.

A pulsating match produced a host of chances, mostly for a dominant Senegal, but no goals as a combination of poor finishing and some excellent goalkeeping meant the tie had to be decided by a shoot-out.

The first eight penalties were scored but Liverpool’s Mane saw his tame effort beaten away by Cameroon goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoa before Vincent Aboubakar slotted home his effort to send Cameroon into the semi-finals.

They will play the winners of Sunday’s third quarter-final between Democratic Republic of Congo and Ghana in the next round in Franceville on Thursday.

The result meant more heartache for Senegal, one of the pre-tournament favourites, whose 52-year search for a maiden continental title goes on.

The first half of the match was characterised by frenzied tackling and wild shooting as Senegal monopolised ball possession but created little in the way of clear-cut opportunities.

Cameroon were happy to sit back and allow their opponents to push forward, hoping to unleash swift counter-attacks, but the tactic produced no chances for them.

Senegal skipper Cheikhou Kouyate had the best opportunity of the opening period. Keita Balde’s cross fell to Kouyate after Cameroon keeper Fabrice Ondoa failed to connect with an attempted punch but the lanky midfielder put his header over the bar.

Senegal continued on the front foot in the second half and Mane’s cross from the byline was met by the head of Mame Biram Diouf but Ondoa made a good reaction save.

Cameroon’s first opening came on 66 minutes as Christian Bassogog fed Benjamin Moukandjo eight metres out but the latter’s low shot was well saved by Senegal keeper Abdoulaye Diallo.

Idrissa Gueye forced a stop from Ondoa in the final five minutes of ordinary time as Mane put the rebound the wrong side of the post.

Cameroon got a rare opportunity seconds before halftime in extra time as substitute Jacques Zoua found himself one-on-one with Diallo but his shot was beaten away by the keeper.

Balde and Moussa Sow had further chances to win the game for Senegal but both shot wildly to send the match into penalties where it was Cameroon who held their nerve.

(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Clare Fallon)

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The Knights of Malta-Vatican feud: a tale of chivalry and sovereignty

VATICAN CITY: On the afternoon of Jan. 24, a black BMW pulled out of a 16th century palace in Rome, crossed the Tiber River and headed for the Vatican, a short trip to end a brazen challenge to the authority of Pope Francis.

Inside the car was 67-year-old Englishman Matthew Festing, the head of an ancient Catholic order of knights which is now a worldwide charity with a unique diplomatic status.

Festing was about to resign, the first leader in several centuries of the Order of Malta, which was founded in 1048 to provide medical aid for pilgrims in the Holy Land, to step down instead of ruling for life.

The move was aimed at ending a highly-public spat between Festing and the reformist pope over the running of the chivalric institution. The weeks-long conflict had become one of the biggest internal challenges yet to Francis’ efforts to modernize the 1.2 billion member Roman Catholic Church.

At issue was the Order’s reaction to the discovery that condoms had been distributed by one of its aid projects in Myanmar. The Order had fired its Grand Chancellor, Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, whom it held responsible for the condom distribution. Von Boeselager declined to comment for this article.

Though condom use goes against Catholic teaching, the Vatican had ordered an investigation into the firing of von Boeselager. It subsequently publicly castigated Festing, who had refused to cooperate with the investigation.

Backing down, Festing – a former Sotheby’s art auctioneer – gave a hand-written resignation letter to Francis in the pope’s private residence, according to a senior Vatican source. Festing, who has the title of prince, declined an interview request.

Instead of quelling the conflict, however, Festing’s resignation was followed by yet another challenge to Francis’ authority – led by vocal pope critic American Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, according to Vatican and Knights sources.

In particular: Burke tried to convince Festing to withdraw his resignation and keep fighting the pope, these sources say. On Saturday, the Knight’s Sovereign Council accepted Festing’s resignation and re-instated von Boselager, a clear defeat for Burke.

Burke declined to comment for this article.

The tussle suggested Francis is still battling to consolidate his power over the Church almost four years into his tenure, Vatican insiders say.

Beyond a fight over condoms, the clash pointed to lingering divisions between the Church’s conservatives and more progressive factions who support the pope’s reformist agenda, they add.

Francis is trying to make the Church less dogmatic and more welcoming to whose who have felt excluded, such as homosexuals and the divorced.

“While this whole saga was an internal matter that probably should have stayed that way, it metamorphosed into a clash that showed the divide between conservatives and progressives,” said Andrea Tornielli, author of several books on Pope Francis.

The Vatican declined to comment on the clash and on Pope Francis’ efforts to consolidate his power.

It directed Reuters to two public statements. One, on Dec. 22, relates to the Vatican order to investigate the firing of von Boeselager. The second, on Jan. 17, followed a pledge by Festing on the Knights’ web page not to cooperate with the Vatican. It decried his resistance and ordered members of the order to cooperate.


The all-male top leaders of the Knights of Malta are not clerics, but they take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to the pope.

A German aristocrat whose father participated in a failed plot to kill Hitler in World War Two, von Boeselager was fired by Festing in December, and accused of having allowed the use of condoms while he was head of the Knights’ global humanitarian projects.

Festing fired him in Burke’s presence, arguing that the German had hidden the condom use from the order’s leaders when he was named Grand Chancellor, according to Knights and Vatican sources.

Immediately, the firing set off the conflict between the Knights’ hierarchy and the Vatican.

Von Boeselager , a devout Catholic, said in a statement on Dec. 23 that he was fully behind Church teachings. He closed two projects in the developing world when he discovered condoms were being distributed but kept a third running in Myanmar for a while because closing it would have abruptly ended all basic medical services to poor people.

The Church does not allow condoms as a means of birth control and says abstinence and monogamy in heterosexual marriage is the best way to stop the spread of AIDS.

    In the same statement, von Boeselager said Festing and Burke told him the Vatican wanted him to resign and that there would be “severe consequences” for the Order if he did not.

The Vatican denied, in a letter from its secretary of state to the Order and seen by Reuters, that it had mandated the resignation, saying it had told the Knights the pope wanted a solution through dialogue.

The German said his sacking was against the Knights’ constitution and appealed to the pope, who ordered the investigation.

Festing refused to cooperate, issuing a series of increasingly strident public statements. In one, he called the papal commission that was investigating the firing “legally irrelevant”.

In a Jan. 14 confidential letter to the top echelons of the order and seen by Reuters, Festing wrote: “In refusing to acknowledge this group of people’s jurisdiction, I am trying to protect the order’s sovereignty”.

The institution has the status of a sovereign entity, maintaining diplomatic relations with over 100 states and the European Union and permanent observer status at the United Nations.

The pope was irritated by Festing’s defiant stand, a senior Vatican source said, and the Vatican shot back with a public statement ordering the Knights to obey.

After that public order, Festing changed his tune and resigned in the pope’s residence a week later.

Festing’s resignation came as a shock for many inside the Knights: some of them told Reuters it was akin to the resignation of Pope Benedict in 2013.

Four sources said that for many others in the order, it came as a relief. They feared the clash was damaging the image of the institution whose 13,000 members, 80,000 volunteers and 20,000 paid medical staff help the neediest around the world.

The day after Festing handed his resignation to the pope, Cardinal Burke drove to the order’s headquarters from his apartment near the Vatican and sought to persuade Festing to withdraw his resignation, a source from the Vatican and one from the Knights said.

Burke declined to comment on his meeting with Festing.

Burke has long been leading challenges against the pope. Pope Francis demoted him from a top Vatican job in 2014 with no official explanation and assigned him to be the “patron” of the Order of Malta.

Such “patron” positions are usually given to older cardinals after they retire at 75. Burke was only 66 then and the demotion was widely seen as a sign of the pope’s irritation with the cardinal’s constant sniping over Francis’ reforms.

In particular, Burke has contested moves by the pope that would allow Catholics who have divorced and re-married outside the Church without an annulment to return to the sacrament of communion. Burke declined to comment on his demotion.

Since the demotion, Burke has become even more of a rallying point for conservatives, flying around the world to give lectures to conservative groups and often giving interviews criticising the pope’s decisions.

In November, he led a rare public challenge to the pope with three other cardinals who accused the pontiff of sowing confusion on important moral issues such as that of communion for the divorced.

Burke later said in an interview that if the pope did not respond to their letter, the cardinals might need to “correct” the pope themselves for the good of the Church.

The Vatican did not comment on the uprising at the time but many of the pope’s supporters publicly criticised the four cardinals.

The pope will now appoint a “pontifical delegate” to help run the order, at least until elections can be held for a new Grand Master.

In a personal letter to the Sovereign Council on Jan. 27 and seen by Reuters, Francis made clear that the Vatican did not want to interfere with the Order’s sovereignty but said his delegate would seek to “renew the spirituality of the Order, specifically of those members who take vows.”

(Editing by Mark Bendeich, Philippa Fletcher and Alessandra Galloni)

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Trump tussle gives unpopular Mexican leader much-needed shot in arm

MEXICO CITY: Donald Trump’s combative style has buffeted Mexico’s president for months, but deeply unpopular Enrique Pena Nieto may end up thanking the new U.S. president for prompting offended Mexicans to rally behind their leader.

From billionaire business magnate Carlos Slim to political opponents, there has been a groundswell of support for Pena Nieto, who has cut a lonely figure in months of bruising encounters with Trump.

Often referred to by his initials EPN, Pena Nieto is labouring under the worst approval ratings of any Mexican president in decades due to discontent over corruption, gang violence, sluggish growth and a jump in fuel prices.

Trump’s threats to scrap the NAFTA trade deal with Mexico and build a border wall have caused anger and left Mexicans feeling fearful for the future. His challenge to Pena Nieto on Thursday – saying he should skip a planned summit between the two leaders if Mexico wasn’t willing to pay for the wall – was the final straw.

Pena Nieto replied a couple of hours later that he had cancelled his meeting with Trump, one of the president’s biggest ever hits on Twitter, getting more “likes” than when he personally broke news of the capture of notorious drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in January of last year.

“Bravo EPN!,” cheered former President Vicente Fox, who had initially condemned Pena Nieto for inviting Trump to Mexico for talks last August, and who has waged a colourful and expletive-ridden campaign against the Republican on Twitter.

Pena Nieto and Trump talked for about an hour by phone on Friday, pledging to work out their differences and agreeing not to speak about the wall in public for now.

Meanwhile, calls for unity grew in Mexico, led by Slim, a normally media-shy 76-year-old who gave a 90-minute news conference in support of the government on Friday.

“This is the most surprising example of national unity I’ve seen in my life,” said Slim, who spent several years in the past decade as the world’s richest man. “We have to back the president of Mexico so he can defend our national interests.”

Senior opposition leaders also urged a common front.

“It’s time to show unity and our commitment to Mexico,” Alejandra Barrales, head of the centre-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), said on Twitter.

Pena Nieto’s credibility has been battered by a widespread public perception that he has failed to battle corruption and indeed even encouraged it since a conflict-of-interest row embroiled him, his wife and a top minister in late 2014.

Some opposition critics fear the government will try to use Trump as a screen to distract from its failings. However, two senior officials told Reuters they hoped Pena Nieto would seize the moment to act quickly and decisively to improve his image.

Expressions of dismay at Trump’s behaviour towards Mexico have almost become a national pastime, and talk of boycotts against U.S. companies is gathering steam on social media.

Slim, when asked about boycotting at his news conference, said it wasn’t a good idea to turn on U.S. companies, which are creating jobs in Mexico.

Some foreign companies voiced support for Mexico too.

“I feel Mexico is being subjected to terror at the moment,” said Andreas Schindler, co-owner of German fruit wholesaler Don Limon’s parent Pilz Schindler, by phone from Hamburg. “We’re right behind Mexico.”

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Simon Gardner and Mary Milliken)

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