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Tuesday, December 18 2018 @ 04:06 pm UTC

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BRITISH MINISTER PROMOTES POST-BREXIT TRADE IN ISRAEL

- GLOBAL NEWS

British minister promotes post-Brexit trade in Israel

Britain's International Trade Secretary Liam Fox in London's Downing Street on November 26, 2018.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS - British International Trade Secretary Liam Fox met Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday as his country prepares to leave the European Union and pursue an independent trade policy.

Britain's exports to Israel already grew by 75 percent in the first half of 2018 compared to the same period last year, Fox's office said, citing Israeli official figures.

Last year saw more than $9 billion in trade between the two nations, a record high, it said.

"And as we leave the European Union and Britain takes up its place as an independent state of (the World Trade Organisation), we want to push our concept of free trade even further," Fox told Netanyahu ahead of their meeting.

"In a world where the siren calls of protectionism are rising, two free-trade nations like ours need to make the case for global free trade because trade spreads prosperity."

Netanyahu said: "Britain is in fact our largest trade partner in Europe - one of our most important trading partners in the world - and we value the friendship."

Israel is notably an import market for British cars, while Scotch whiskey sales in Israel have increased by 300 percent since 2012, according to Fox's office.

Other leading British exports to Israel have included mineral products and machinery and electrical equipment, as well as chemical industry products, according to the British embassy.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is seeking to convince hostile MPs to back her draft deal for future ties with the EU after her country exits the bloc next March. A vote is scheduled for December 11.

Fox arrived in Israel on Monday and met with Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday.

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22 DEAD, SCORES FEARED DROWNED AFTER UGANDA BOAT SINKS

- GLOBAL NEWS


It is not uncommon for ferries to capsize on Lake Victoria and the number of fatalities is often high due to a shortage of life jackets and the fact many local people cannot swim.
INTERNATIONAL NEWS - Twenty-two people have died and more than 60 are feared drowned after a pleasure boat sank on Lake Victoria, Ugandan police said Sunday.

The vessel carrying close to a hundred revellers sank during bad weather on Saturday in the latest deadly incident to affect passenger boats on Africa's largest lake.

"Twenty-two bodies have been recovered and 26 people rescued," said Asuman Mugenyi, director of operations for the Uganda police. "According to one of the survivors there were more than 90 people on board."

The boat, on which party-goers were drinking, dancing and listening to music, sank a short distance from the shore off Mutima in Mukono District, close to the capital Kampala.

Mugenyi said overloading and bad weather were likely to blame.

"We expect (the number of passengers) is beyond the capacity of the boat. It was overloaded and unfortunately people were drunk," Mugenyi said. "We suspect the mechanical condition of the boat and the weather contributed to the sinking."

"A big storm hit," said local government official Richard Kikongo. "It can be fine on land but bad weather on the lake."

Kikongo said first responders were among the victims. "Fishermen on two small boats could see that the boat was sinking and went to help. People tried to jump onto the boats but they were too many and those sunk. The rescuers died too," he said.

Nearby residents said the vessel was hired out for parties every weekend and often overloaded with revellers.

The Mutima Country Haven resort had been converted to a triage centre and morgue on Sunday morning where police were collecting the swollen bodies of victims

Police spokesman Emilian Kayima said rescue efforts were continuing.

Lake Victoria is the site of many boat disasters. In September, hundreds died when the MV Nyerere passenger ferry sank on the Tanzanian side of Lake Victoria.

With a surface area of 70,000 square kilometres (27,000 square miles), oval-shaped Lake Victoria is roughly the size of Ireland and is shared by Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.

It is not uncommon for ferries to capsize on the lake and the number of fatalities is often high due to a shortage of life jackets and the fact that many local people cannot swim.

In 1966, more than 800 people lost their lives on Lake Victoria when the MV Bukoba sank off the mainland town of Mwanza, according to the Red Cross.

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Battalion installing barbed wire fences on the banks of the Rio Grande

- GLOBAL NEWS

Soldiers from the Kentucky-based 19th Engineer Battalion installing barbed wire fences on the banks of the Rio Grande in Laredo, Texas.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS - They started work in the cool of the morning and moved quickly, uncoiling reel after reel of vicious-looking fencing and tying it with barbed wire to green poles hammered into the ground.

Over the course of three days, a gleaming, shoulders-high barrier of concertina-wire emerged like a silver snake along a lush riverbank, stretching as far as the eye could see.

This was the work of 100 or so American troops from the 19th Engineer Battalion, based in Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Rather than finding themselves in a far-off warzone, the soldiers are in Laredo, a busy border town overlooking a stretch of the Rio Grande river in southwest Texas, carrying out controversial orders from President Donald Trump.

He has sent about 5,800 troops to the border to forestall the arrival of large groups of Central American migrants traveling through Mexico and towards the US, in a move critics decry as a costly political stunt to galvanize supporters ahead of midterm elections earlier this month.

Before the election Trump called the matter a "national emergency" and warned that so-called migrant caravans were an "invasion" with "some very bad thugs and gang members."

So far at least, the most visible aspect of Trump's deployment is the fence, a visible deterrent and physical obstacle to migrants, designed to corral would-be asylum seekers towards organized points of entry into the US.

Residents with cakes

Over the weekend, Lieutenant Alan Koepnick's platoon could be seen stringing concertina wire, which is built to snag clothing, along one edge of a quiet riverside park near downtown Laredo.

As families walked dogs, grilled sausages and relaxed, the soldiers mounted the wire, occasionally ripping their camouflaged uniforms on its metal barbs.

Koepnick said some Laredo residents had voiced disquiet about the fencing and the presence of US troops.

"But there's also been a lot of support, people coming in, vets shaking our hands, bringing us cakes, water, things like that," Koepnick told AFP.

About 100 yards (meters) behind him, a group of people on the Mexican side of the river could be seen standing on the bank.

"You'll see people across the river cursing at us in Spanish, throwing bottles at us. But on this side it's more positive," Koepnick said.

He and his soldiers were unarmed, but a group of armed military police officers stood by to provide "force protection."

Under US law, the military is not allowed to conduct domestic law enforcement in most cases, so soldiers here will not have any direct interactions with migrants.

Trump created a media whirlwind by sounding the alarm about the migrant caravans before the November 6 elections. He has mainly stopped raising it since, though last week he praised the military's work.

"They built great fencing, they built a very powerful fence," said Trump, who wants to build a hardened wall along the entire 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border.

Laura Pole, a British tourist visiting Laredo for the third time, was less enthusiastic.

"It reminds me of Hitler and the concentration camps," she said, but added: "I really don't know what's the best thing to do."

No risk of combat

The border mission has put the supposedly non-political military in an uncomfortable spotlight.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has hit back at critics who say the Pentagon should not be doing Trump's political bidding, saying "we don't do stunts".

He visited troops on the border last week and reiterated that their job in the short term was to assist under-resourced Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents and put up physical obstacles.

But "longer term, it's somewhat to be determined," he said.

After some rank-and-file troops grumbled about the purpose of the mission to US media last week, they are now under strict instructions not to voice personal opinions to the press.

Several soldiers AFP spoke to said their time on the border provided valuable real-world training, albeit without the risks of combat.

"We have a very large group of brand-new soldiers and it's really good for them," Corporal Samuel Fletcher said, citing a chance for the green troops "to do real work and put their skills to use."

Focus on Tijuana

In Laredo, large groups of migrants from the caravans in Mexico had not arrived.

Instead they were mainly headed to Tijuana, about 1,300 miles away in San Diego, where authorities say more than 3,000 have already arrived.

Still, a CBP agent, who was not authorized to give his name, said he was glad of the military assistance as each day, "hundreds" of migrants attempt to cross the approximately 30-mile stretch of border he patrols.

The military deployment is set to wrap up December 15 and it is not clear what will become of the wire fencing.

Already, the winds whistling down the Rio Grande valley are strewing trash, clothing and plastic bags along the jagged wire.

"Nobody seems to know when it's coming down. It's not really our decision," said Koepnick.

"If we are told to take it down, we will take it down with a smile on our faces, like good soldiers."

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PERU POLICE BUST ALLEGED BABY TRAFFICKING GANG

- GLOBAL NEWS


Peruvian police also rescued a five-month-old baby that was set to be sold for 4,000 Peruvian soles ($1,200)


INTERNATIONAL NEWS - Authorities in Peru said Thursday they had busted an alleged baby trafficking ring that included the country's former police chief. Police arrested 14 people and carried out raids on 18 properties in the southern city of Arequipa, prosecutor Rosmery Palomino said in a video posted on Twitter.

They also rescued a five-month-old baby that was set to be sold for 4,000 Peruvian soles ($1,200).

The gang, which included doctors, sought out women who were seeking abortions to persuade them to carry their pregnancies to term so that they could sell their babies.

Civil registry officials who were part of the ring would then help carry out the necessary paperwork.

The swoop was the result of an investigation that began in May and involved extensive wiretapping.

The alleged ringleader was a model Cinthia Tello, whose partner, retired General Raul Becerra, was director of Peru's National Police in 2010.

Tello, who was also a beauty pageant producer in Arequipa, "is the leader - she would receive babies in her house, before handing it over to the adopter," prosecutor Miriam Hernandez told reporters.

Among those arrested were a gynecologist and a pediatrician, as well as three women whose job it was to contact pregnant women who were seeking abortions.

Peru has one of the strictest set of laws governing abortion in South America, with the procedure only legal in cases where a pregnancy presents a danger to the life of the mother.

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US TO DENY ASYLUM TO ILLEGAL BORDER CROSSERS

- GLOBAL NEWS


US President Donald Trump campaigned on a vow to clamp down on illegal immigration, including a signature promise to build a wall on the Mexican border
INTERNATIONAL NEWS - The United States will no longer allow people who enter the country illegally to claim asylum, officials said Thursday, unveiling a controversial new crackdown on immigration.

The restriction on asylum claims will seek to address what a senior administration official called the "historically unparalleled abuse of our immigration system" along the border with Mexico.

The new rule was published by the Department of Homeland Security and is expected to get President Donald Trump's signature shortly - as well as face court challenges.

The American Civil Liberties Union said that the right to request asylum must be granted to anyone entering the country, regardless of where they were.

"US law specifically allows individuals to apply for asylum whether or not they are at a port of entry. It is illegal to circumvent that by agency or presidential decree," the ACLU said.

But according to the new rule, Trump has authority to restrict illegal immigration "if he determines it to be in the national interest."

Trump's administration argues that he has the executive power to curb immigration in the name of national security, a power he invoked right after taking office with a controversial ban on travelers from several mostly-Muslim countries - the final version of which was upheld by the US Supreme Court on June 26 after a protracted legal battle.

"Today's rule applies this important principle to aliens who violate such a suspension or restriction regarding the southern border," Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker said.

Those seeking political or other kinds of asylum - nearly all of them coming from impoverished and violent crime-plagued countries of Central America - will be heard exclusively at the border crossings, administration officials told journalists.

This is expected to put a dent in those streaming into an already overburdened system, officials said, noting that there is a backlog of more than 700,000 cases in the immigration courts.

Campaign controversy
Many politicians on both sides of the aisle agree that the US immigration system is hugely inefficient and unable to cope with demand. However, Trump's focus on the issue during campaigning for Tuesday's hotly contested midterm congressional elections was criticized as veering into immigrant-bashing and even racism.

In speeches and on Twitter, Trump hammered away nearly daily at "caravans" of a few thousand impoverished Central Americans that periodically attempt to walk up through Mexico and then gain entry to the United States.

He called a current caravan, which is still hundreds of miles from the US border and dwindling in numbers, an "invasion" and said it would bring hardened criminals to US streets.

Administration officials say that aside from the rhetoric the border really does have a problem, given that anyone who manages to get across can request asylum and subsequently often vanish while their case sits in the court system.

"The vast majority of these applications eventually turn out to be non-meritorious," a senior administration official said, asking not to be identified.

Less than 10 percent of cases result in asylum being granted, the government says.

Human rights campaigners and other critics of the Trump crackdown say that by restricting asylum seekers to the narrow border crossing points - which are already under enormous pressure - the government is effectively shutting the door on people who may truly be fleeing for their lives.

"The government cannot abdicate its responsibility towards migrants fleeing harm," the New York Immigration Coalition advocacy group said. "We will resist this."

But the administration official argued that "what we're attempting to do is trying to funnel credible fear claims, or asylum claims, through the ports of entry where we are better resourced."

That way, he said, courts will "handle those claims in an expeditious and efficient manner, so that those who do actually require an asylum protection get those protections."

In 2018, border patrols registered more than 400,000 illegal border crossers, homeland security said. And in the last five years, the number of those requesting asylum has increased by 2,000 percent, it said.

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CAMILA CABELLO COMES OUT TOP AT MTV EUROPE MUSIC AWARDS

- GLOBAL NEWSCabello, 21, urged her fans in the United States to vote in the 2018 midterm elections as she walked the red carpet in the northern Spanish city of Bilbao.

Camila Cabello comes out top at MTV Europe Music Awards



Camila Cabello

ENTERTAINMENT NEWS - Cuban-American singer Camila Cabello was the top winner at the MTV Europe Music Awards on Sunday night, with Best Song, Best Artist, Best Videoand Best US Act in a show that featured a stellar performance from Janet Jackson.

Cabello, 21, who already led the pack at the MTV Video Music Awards in August, urged her fans in the United States to vote in the 2018 midterm elections as she walked the red carpet in the northern Spanish city of Bilbao.

The singer, who rose to fame as a member of the girl group Fifth Harmony, formed on the US edition of the X-Factor, said she relished being seen as a role model.

“I feel like the message for me has always been just like do what makes you happy, even if it’s scary, it’s worth it to take the risk because your happiness is your responsibility,” Cabello said.

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3 DEAD AS STRONG QUAKE HITS INDONESIA

- GLOBAL NEWS


3 Dead as strong quake hits Indonesia

A 7.5-magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami struck off the Indonesian island of Sulawesi in September, killing more than 2,000 people.
INTERNATIONAL NEWS - An earthquake Thursday killed three people in Indonesia and rattled hotels where IMF delegates are attending a major summit, a fortnight after a quake-tsunami killed more than 2,000 elsewhere in the archipelago.

The 6.0-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Indonesia's Bali and Java islands in the early hours, jolting residents awake and sending them rushing into the streets.

Some attendees in Bali for the International Monetary Fund and World Bank annual meetings this week evacuated their hotels as the quake shook the island.

"I felt the quake for at least 30 seconds and I panicked. At first I didn't want to go out but then I decided to leave," Katharina Sudiyono, an Indonesian attendee at the summit, told AFP.

Peter Jacobs, head of the Indonesian Central Bank's IMF-World Bank taskforce, said delegates in Bali's Nusa Dua district for the summit were quickly informed of the situation.

"Many summit participants woke up and asked questions, but we immediately sent out information to them that there had been an earthquake and the impact in Nusa Dua," he told AFP.

There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries in Bali and the summit proceeded Thursday uninterrupted.

"We send our condolences to those affected by the earthquake. Here in Bali, the earthquake has not caused significant damage nor any disruption to the meetings," an IMF spokesman said.


The conference centre was designed to withstand seismic events, and participants had been told to remain there in the event of a quake.

In case of tsunami risk, attendees would be evacuated to a nearby building.

Holidayers in the island's popular tourist districts also rushed into the streets as buildings swayed.

"Wow, that was really strong and it lasted a long time," said one woman who took refuge in a hotel parking lot in Nusa Dua, a few kilometres from where the IMF and World Bank are holding their meetings.

Others in Nusa Dua, south of Bali's main international airport, also panicked.

"The quake was very big. I immediately woke up and took my little kids out of the house," Ni Komang Sudiani told AFP.

"All my neighbours were also running, said the mother of two.



Dwikorita Karnawati, the head of Indonesia's geophysics agency who was also in Nusa Dua for the IMF summit, said no tsunami warning was issued.

"I felt the quake too," she told AFP. "We are also still gathering data from our team in East Java.'

In East Java, three people were crushed to death in their sleep when the quake brought down buildings in Sumenep district and sent people fleeing their homes.

"Everybody panicked and the entire village ran outside. We have never experienced an earthquake as strong as last night," Zainurrohman, a 21-year-old from the district told AFP.

"We stayed outside until dawn," he said. Many Indonesians go by one name.

The tremor's epicentre was in the Bali Sea around 40 kilometres (25 miles) off the eastern end of Java island, according to the United States Geological Survey.

The tremor comes after a 7.5-magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami struck off the Indonesian island of Sulawesi last month - around 1,000 kilometres northeast of the latest quake's epicentre - killing more than 2,000 people.

Thousands more remain missing since the twin disaster ravaged the city of Palu and surrounding areas. The search for the dead is expected to end Thursday.

A string of earthquakes in Lombok in eastern Indonesia killed more than 550 people over the summer.

Indonesia, one of the most disaster-prone nations on earth, straddles the so-called Pacific "Ring of Fire", where tectonic plates collide and many of the world's volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur.
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Italian bridge company under fire as rescuers toil for third day

- GLOBAL NEWSINTERNATIONAL NEWS - Italy's populist government was on a war footing Thursday with the Italian operator of the bridge that collapsed and killed dozens in the port city of Genoa as desperate efforts to find survivors in the rubble went into a third day.

Shares in Atlantia, the holding company of infrastructure giant Autostrade per L'Italia, plummeted after the government said it would seek to revoke its lucrative contracts.



On the ground, rescue workers toiled among bulldozers and cranes to find survivors amid the ruins of a vast span of the Morandi bridge that collapsed on Tuesday, sending about 35 cars and several trucks plunging 45 metres (150 feet) onto railway tracks below.

"We were unlucky last night, we did not find anyone. We are still looking for cavities that can hide people, living or not," said fire official Emanuele Gissi, adding that the unstable rubble has made the search operation "dangerous".

"We are trying to cut the big pieces of concrete that fell off the bridge, after which we will move them with the cranes and send in search dogs. Then our personnel will try to see if there are any positive signs."
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Fresh tension as Israel reimposes Gaza fuel blockade

- GLOBAL NEWSINTERNATIONAL NEWS - Israel reimposed a blockade on fuel deliveries to Gaza on Thursday citing a resurgence in kites carrying firebombs over the border and signalling a brief pause in tensions may be ending.

After two deadly military flare-ups in the Gaza Strip and a ceasefire brokered by Egypt and UN officials last month, the number of firebombs being launched over the border to burn Israeli farmland had diminished.



But Wednesday saw seven fires started by the incendiaries, and Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman later announced Israel's Kerem Shalom goods crossing with Gaza would be closed for fuel deliveries "until further notice."

"The decision was made in light of the continued terror with Molotov cocktails and the friction on the fence," Lieberman's office said, referring to months of clashes along the Gaza border between the army and Palestinian protesters.

A previous ban on fuel deliveries last month had resulted in warnings from UN officials that emergency fuel supplies were running low and the shortage was beginning to affect hospitals and water sanitation.

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ENTERTAINMENT NEWS - Due to a change in the actor’s schedule, Comic-Con attendees won’t get to meet Aquaman.

- GLOBAL NEWSIn news that will likely have nerds, geeks and cosplayers wailing and gnashing their teeth, Comic Con Africa has announced that Jason Momoa won’t be attending the event.

In a tweet sent out earlier, Comic Con Africa said that the Game Of Thrones and Aquaman star regrets he won’t be able to come to the convention due some film shoot rescheduling.



The news is something of a body blow for Comic Con Africa, since Momoa was easily the biggest draw on the convention’s line-up card.

Celebrities that are still on for the show are actors Kevin Sussman (from The Big Bang Theory and Ugly Betty) and Rick Worthy (Supernatural), Andy Diggle (comic book writer) and international cosplay star Yaya Han.

Comic Con Africa’s organisers have said that there will be ‘an additional celebrity guest’ announced soon, but whether they’ll be able to make up for Momoa’s absence is unknown at this stage.
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