29 Aug 2019

Thursday's world news: What's making headlines

7:28 pm on 29 August 2019

The stories that have been making headlines around the globe.

Boris goes for broke on Brexit

The UK Parliament will be suspended just days after MPs return to work next week - just weeks before the Brexit deadline.

Anti-Brexit demonstrators march from Britain's Houses of Parliament to Downing Street in protest at Prime Minister Boris Johnson's announcement that Parliament will be suspended for more than a month.

Anti-Brexit demonstrators marched from Britain's Houses of Parliament to Downing Street. Photo: AFP

Boris Johnson said a Queen's Speech would take place after the suspension, on 14 October, to outline his "very exciting agenda".

But it means the time MPs have to pass laws to stop a no-deal Brexit on 31 October would be cut.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said it was a "constitutional outrage".

The Speaker, who does not traditionally comment on political announcements, continued: "However it is dressed up, it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of [suspending Parliament] now would be to stop [MPs] debating Brexit and performing its duty in shaping a course for the country."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: "Suspending Parliament is not acceptable, it is not on. What the prime minister is doing is a smash-and-grab on our democracy to force through a no deal"

He said when MPs returned to the Commons next week "the first thing we'll do is attempt legislation to prevent what [the PM] is doing" followed by a vote of no confidence "at some point".

Hundreds of protesters gathered in Westminster as evening fell, chanting "stop the coup" and carrying anti-Brexit placards and EU flags.

The demonstration, which was organised hours beforehand, started outside Parliament before spreading towards Downing Street.

At the scene, BBC correspondent Richard Galpin described the atmosphere as peaceful and lively.

He said "good-natured" protesters on College Green broke through barriers which had been in place to separate live TV crews from members of the public - before traffic on Parliament Square was blocked by some people who sat down in the road.

Several protesters he spoke to indicated this was only the beginning of the disruption, with more demonstrations being organised for the weekend.


US should honour nuclear deal if it wants talks: Iran foreign minister

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday the United States must observe the 2015 nuclear deal and stop engaging in "economic terrorism" against the Iranian people if Washington wants to meet for talks.

Tensions between Tehran and Washington have risen since US President Donald Trump's administration last year quit an international deal to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions and began to ratchet up sanctions.

Iran, which has slowly been breaching the nuclear deal in retaliation for US sanctions, has threatened further violations in early September unless it receives sanctions relief.

"The United States is engaged in an economic war against the Iranian people and it won't be possible for us to engage with the United States unless they stop imposing a war and engaging in economic terrorism against the Iranian people," Mr Zarif told reporters in Kuala Lumpur after addressing a forum on security in the Islamic world.

"So if they want to come back into the room there is a ticket that they need to purchase and that ticket is to observe the agreement," he said, referring to the 2015 nuclear deal.

Mr Zarif said Iran does not want to meet for the sake of meeting. "We need to meet if there is a result," he said.

Mr Trump said this week he would meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani under the right circumstances to end the confrontation over the 2015 deal and that talks were underway to see how countries could open credit lines to keep Iran's economy afloat.

Mr Rouhani has said Iran would not talk to the United States until all sanctions were lifted.

- Reuters

China rotates troops to Hong Kong

China rotated troops in its People's Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong on Thursday, days before protesters planned to hold a march calling for full democracy for the Chinese-ruled city after three months of sometimes violent demonstrations.

Chinese state media described the troop movement in the early hours as routine, and Asian and Western diplomats watching PLA movements in the former British colony had been expecting it.

But, even if routine, the timing is likely to hit nerves in the "special administrative region" of Hong Kong, which returned to China in 1997.

The Chinese statement last year said the number of soldiers and amount of equipment of the troops stationed in Hong Kong "was maintained with no change".

That was not in Thursday's announcement.

China's military will make even greater "new" contributions to maintaining Hong Kong's prosperity and stability, state news agency Xinhua cited the People's Liberation Army garrison in the territory as saying.

The military has completed a routine troop rotation in Hong Kong, with air, land and maritime forces having entered the territory, the report said.

Observers estimate the Hong Kong garrison numbers between 8000 and 10,000 troops split between bases in southern China and a network of former British army barracks in Hong Kong.

China has denounced the protests and accused the United States and Britain of interfering in its affairs in Hong Kong. It has sent clear warnings that forceful intervention is possible.

Beijing warned again this week against foreign governments interfering in the Hong Kong protests, after the G7 summit of leaders of seven industrialized nations called for violence to be avoided.

- Reuters

Greta Thunberg arrives in New York after Atlantic yacht voyage

Teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg has arrived in New York after a 15-day, 4800km voyage across the Atlantic.

She will be participating in UN climate summits in New York City and Chile.

The 16-year-old Swede sailed from Plymouth in the UK on a zero-emissions yacht in order to minimise the carbon footprint of her travel.

"Our war on nature must end," she told reporters shortly after arriving.

"I want to thank everyone ... who is involved in this climate fight, because this is a fight across borders, across continents," she said.

When asked about the fires that have ravaged the Amazon rainforest in recent weeks, she said they were a "clear sign we need to stop destroying nature".

On arrival in New York, she had a message for President Donald Trump: "My message for him is listen to the science and he obviously doesn't do that."

She will be present at the UN climate summit on 23 September and the COP25 climate conference in Chile in December.

She said she had not finalised plans on how she intended to travel to Chile.


Italy has a new coalition government

The leaders of Italy's centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and populist Five Star Movement have agreed to form a coalition government.

"We consider it worthwhile to try this experience," the PD's Nicola Zingaretti said after meeting the president on Wednesday - the deadline for any deal.

It was agreed that Giuseppe Conte should stay on as prime minister.

The planned joint administration will serve until the next scheduled elections in 2023.

Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio welcomed what he referred to as the PD's willingness to accept Mr Conte's reappointment.

The two parties, traditionally staunch rivals, have been holding tense talks following the collapse of the previous coalition government last week.

This coalition agreement represents a major setback for the League's leader Matteo Salvini.

For 14 months, he was the dominant figure in Italian politics. But a share of power wasn't enough for him - he wanted outright power.

This led him to overreach. Mr Salvini brought down the government last week in the hope of winning a potential snap election.

But it turns out that his gamble had a fatal flaw. The League Party's leader did not count on the possibility of his opponents teaming up to stop him.


Deadly gang attack on Mexican bar

At least 26 people were killed in an arson attack by suspected gang members on a bar in the southern Mexican port of Coatzacoalcos, in a fresh blow to the government's efforts to curb violence.

Calling the attack "horrendous" President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the deaths occurred after the suspected gangsters closed the emergency exits of the bar in Coatzacoalcos and set fire to it.

The attack was one of the worst mass killings since the veteran leftist Lopez Obrador took office in December pledging to pacify Mexico by battling corruption and inequality.

So far, however, the number of murders has continued to rise after hitting record levels in 2018.

The attorney general's office of the state of Veracruz said in a statement that 10 women and 16 men died in the "Caballo Blanco" bar, while another 11 people were being treated at nearby hospitals.

Meanwhile, Veracruz state Governor Cuitlahuac Garcia suggested in a post on Twitter that the attack was the result of a dispute between local gangs.

- Reuters

New find upends assumption in human palaeontology

Researchers have discovered a nearly complete 3.8-million-year-old skull of an early ape-like human ancestor in Ethiopia.

An analysis of the new specimen challenges ideas about how the first humans evolved from ape-like ancestors.

The current view that an ape named Lucy was among a species that gave rise to the first early humans may have to be reconsidered.

The discovery is reported in the journal Nature.

The skull was found by Prof Yohannes Haile-Selassie at a place called Miro Dora, which is in the Mille District of Ethiopia's Afar Regional State.

The scientist, who's affiliated to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Ohio, US, said he immediately recognised the significance of the fossil.

"I thought to myself, 'oh my goodness - am I seeing what I think I am seeing?'. And all of a sudden I was jumping up and down and that was when I realised that this was what I had dreamt."

Prof Haile-Selassie said the specimen was the best example yet of the ape-like human ancestor called Australopithecus anamensis - the oldest known australopithecine whose kind may have existed as far back as 4.2 million years ago.

It had been thought that an anamensis was the direct ancestor of a later, more advanced species called Australopithecus afarensis, which in turn has been considered a direct ancestor of the first early humans in the grouping, or genus, known as homo, and which includes all humans alive today.