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Car torching, lynching mar New Year’s Eve in France

New Year revelers gather on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris on Dec. 31, 2017. AFP

PARIS, France — France saw a jump in arrests on New Year’s Eve as well as an increase in the number of cars torched by vandals, a ritual among revelers in the country’s high-rise suburbs.

The number of vehicles set alight on the night of December 31 climbed from 935 a year ago to 1,031, while arrests rose from 456 to 510, the interior ministry said on Monday.

Violence also marred celebrations in the Paris suburb of Champigny-sur-Marne, where two police officers were attacked by a large group of people at a party.

French President Emmanuel Macron took to Twitter to denounce the “cowardly and criminal lynching of police officers doing their duty” and warned that the culprits would be “found and arrested”.

“I regret that incidents like yesterday can happen but overall people were able to enjoy New Year’s Eve in a peaceful manner,” Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said Monday.

Some 140,000 security and emergency forces were deployed across France on New Year’s Eve.

The country has been on alert following a wave of jihadist attacks that have killed 241 since 2015. /cbb

 

Robert Mugabe resigns as Zimbabwe’s president after 37 years

Zimbabweans celebrate in the streets of Harare, after President Robert Mugabe resigned in Harare, Tuesday, Nov, 21, 2017. Zimbabwe’s Parliament erupted in cheers Tuesday after the speaker announced the resignation of President Robert Mugabe after 37-years in power. (Photo bu TSVANGIRAYI MUKWAZHI / AP)

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe resigned as president Tuesday after 37 years in power, as parliament began impeachment proceedings against him.

“My decision to resign is voluntary on my part and arises from my concern for the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe and my desire for a smooth, non-violent transfer of power,” said Mugabe in his letter which was read out in parliament, sparking cheers and dancing.

Cars began honking horns and people cheered in the streets, as the news spread like wildfire across the capital, Harare.

Mugabe, who had been the world’s oldest head of state at 93, said that proper procedures should be followed to install new leadership.

Mugabe’s resignation brought an end to the impeachment proceedings brought by the ruling ZANU-PF party after its Central Committee voted to oust the president as party leader and select recently fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa as his replacement, a move that eventually could lead to Mnangagwa becoming head of state.

Currently in exile, Mnangagwa served for decades as Mugabe’s enforcer, with a reputation for being astute and ruthless, more feared than popular.

Before the resignation, crowds rallied outside Parliament, dancing and singing. Some people placed photos of Mugabe in the street so that cars would run over them. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC party said the culture of the ruling party “must end” and everyone must put their heads together and work toward free and fair elections.

Earlier Tuesday, Mnangagwa said in a statement that Mugabe should acknowledge the nation’s “insatiable desire” for a leadership change and resign immediately.

Mnangagwa added to immense pressure on Mugabe to quit after nearly four decades in power, during which he evolved from a champion of the fight against white minority rule into a figure blamed for a collapsing economy, government dysfunction and human rights violations.

“The people of Zimbabwe have spoken with one voice and it is my appeal to President Mugabe that he should take heed of this clarion call and resign forthwith so that the country can move forward and preserve his legacy,” Mnangagwa said in his statement, after more than a week of silence.

Mnangagwa, who fled the country and has not appeared in public during the past week’s political turmoil, said Mugabe had invited him to return to Zimbabwe “for a discussion” on recent events. However, he said he will not return for now, alleging that there had been plans to kill him at the time of his firing.

“I will be returning as soon as the right conditions for security and stability prevail,” said Mnangagwa, who has a loyal support base in the military. “Never should the nation be held at ransom by one person ever again, whose desire is to die in office at whatever cost to the nation.”

Zimbabwe’s polarizing first lady, Grace Mugabe, had been positioning herself to succeed her husband, leading a party faction that engineered Mnangagwa’s ouster.

The prospect of a dynastic succession alarmed the military, which confined Mugabe to his home last week and targeted what it called “criminals” around him who allegedly were looting state resources – a reference to associates of the first lady.

Mnangagwa was targeted by US sanctions in the early 2000s for undermining democratic development in Zimbabwe, according to the Atlantic Council, a US-based policy institute. However, J. Peter Pham, an Africa expert at the council, noted that some Zimbabwean opposition figures have appeared willing to have dialogue with Mnangagwa in order to move the country forward and that the international community should consider doing the same.

“We’re not saying whitewash the past, but it is in the interests of everyone that Zimbabwe is engaged at this critical time,” Pham said in a statement.

Regional leaders continued efforts to find a solution to the political turmoil, with South Africa’s state-run broadcaster reporting that the presidents of South Africa and Angola would travel to Zimbabwe on Wednesday to meet with “stakeholders” in the political crisis, including Mugabe and the military.

Impeachment proceedings began days after huge crowds surged through the capital, Harare, to demand that Mugabe quit. The ruling party had instructed government ministers to boycott a Cabinet meeting that Mugabe called for Tuesday morning at State House, the president’s official residence, and instead attend a meeting at party headquarters to work on the impeachment.

It was not clear how long the impeachment process could take. The ruling party has said Mugabe could be voted out as early as Wednesday but some analysts believe the impeachment process could take weeks and would, if conducted properly, allow Mugabe to make a case in his defense.

Mnangagwa called for unity and appeared to embrace the prospect of taking over power.

“I will not stand in the way of the people and my party,” he said.

Australians decisively support same-sex marriage

Australians have voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage in a historic non-binding poll.

The vote showed 61.6% of people favour allowing same-sex couples to wed, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said.

More than 12.7 million people - about 79.5% of eligible voters - took part in the eight-week postal survey.

PM Malcolm Turnbull said the "overwhelming" result meant his government would aim to change the law in parliament before Christmas.

"[Australians] have spoken in their millions and they have voted overwhelmingly yes for marriage equality," he said after the result was announced.

"They voted yes for fairness, yes for commitment, yes for love. And now it is up to us here in the parliament of Australia to get on with it."

Supporters began celebrating the result in public spaces across Australia on Wednesday, waving rainbow flags and singing and dancing.

Mr Turnbull, a same-sex marriage supporter, is facing debate within his government over what the parliamentary bill should include.

Some conservative MPs are pushing for the the bill to include exemptions that would allow businesses opposed to same-sex marriage to refuse goods and services for weddings.

This breaking news story is being updated and more details will be published shortly. Please refresh the page for the fullest version.

Tens of thousands in HK march vs China’s ‘authoritarian rule’

Pro-democracy activists carry a banner reading "no fear", during a protest on China's National Day in Hong Kong, China October 1, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip
HONG KONG — Tens of thousands marched in China-ruled Hong Kong on Sunday in an “anti authoritarian rule” march that called for the resignation of the city’s top legal official over the recent jailing of young democracy activists.

The march, an annual fixture over the past few years on China’s October 1 National Day, comes at a time of nascent disillusionment with Hong Kong’s once vaunted judiciary.

“Without democracy, how can we have the rule of law,” the crowds yelled as they marched through sporadic downpours, from a muddy pitch to the city’s harbor-front government headquarters.

Organizers estimated about 40,000 people joined the march.

Many protesters, some clad in black, expressed dismay with Hong Kong’s Secretary of Justice, Rimsky Yuen, who Reuters reported had over-ruled several other senior public prosecutors to seek jail terms for three prominent democrats: Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow.

“We believe he (Yuen) has been the key orchestrator in destroying Hong Kong’s justice,” said Avery Ng, one of the organizers of the rally that drew a coalition of some 50 civil and political groups.

Around one hundred Hong Kong activists are now facing possible jail terms for various acts of mostly democratic advocacy including the “Umbrella Revolution” in late 2014 that saw tens of thousands of people block major roads for 79 days in a push for universal suffrage.

RULE OF LAW

While the October 1 march is a regular annual fixture, this was the first time the rule of law has been scrutinized like this, with the judiciary — a legacy of the British Common Law system — long considered one of the best in Asia and a cornerstone of Hong Kong’s economic success.

“It’s like mainland (Chinese) laws have intruded into Hong Kong,” said Alex Ha, a teacher of classical guitar, who was walking alone in the crowd.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index last week downgraded Hong Kong’s judicial independence ranking by five spots to number 13 in the world.

In response, however, Yuen stressed at the time that Hong Kong’s judiciary remained strong and independent.

“We cannot rely on subjective perceptions, we have to look at the facts,” he told reporters.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise that Beijing would grant the city a high degree of autonomy and an independent judiciary under a so-called “one country, two systems” arrangement.

But over two decades of Chinese rule, differences have deepened between Communist Party leaders in Beijing and a younger generation of democracy advocates, some of whom are now calling for the financial hub to eventually split from China.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam spoke of a need for unity during a speech to assembled dignitaries at a National Day reception to mark the 68th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China by the Communists.

“As long as we capitalize on our strengths, stay focused, seize the opportunities before us and stand united, I am sure that Hong Kong can reach even greater heights,” she said.

Mexico: Strong earthquake topples buildings, killing scores

A strong earthquake has struck central Mexico, killing more than 130 people and toppling dozens of buildings in the capital, Mexico City.
Rescuers are searching for survivors and there are reports of children trapped in a partly collapsed school.
The 7.1 magnitude quake caused damage in Morelos and Puebla states and in Mexico State.
It struck while many people took part in an earthquake drill exactly 32 years after a quake killed thousands.
The country is prone to earthquakes and earlier this month an 8.1 magnitude tremor in the south left at least 90 dead.
The epicentre of the latest quake was next to Atencingo in Puebla state, about 120km (75 miles) from Mexico City, with a depth of 51km, the US Geological Survey said.
At least 64 people were killed in Morelos state alone, south of the capital, and 29 reported killed in Puebla state. Thirty-six are confirmed dead in Mexico City with another nine in Mexico State.
Close-up map of affected regions
About two million people in the capital were without electricity and phone lines were down. Officials also warned residents not to smoke on the streets as gas mains could have been ruptured.
Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera told TV network Televisa that rescue services were dealing with collapsed or badly damaged buildings at 44 locations.
The earthquake drill was being held in Mexico City on the 32nd anniversary of a quake that killed up to 10,000 people.
Earthquake alarms did sound, correspondents say, but some residents apparently thought they were part of the day of drills.
Mexico City is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, with more than 20 million people living in the metropolitan area.The prolonged tremor hit at 13:14 local time (18:14 GMT) and sent thousands of residents into the streets.
Jennifer Swaddle, a teacher at the British International School in Mexico City, told the BBC that part of her classroom collapsed after the earthquake hit.
"Something that started as a tremor quickly escalated into something where the classroom shook," she said.
"As we were leaving, the outside of my classroom wall fell, so there was a big pile of rubble. Luckily, fantastically, nobody was hurt, but it was incredibly frightening."
A six-storey blocks of flats, a supermarket and a factory were said to be among the collapsed buildings in Mexico City.
Mexican media also reported that some children had been rescued from the partially collapsed Enrique Rebsamen school, in Mexico City's southern Coapa district, but that others were still trapped.
Across the city, teams of rescue workers and volunteers clawed through the rubble with picks, shovels and their bare hands.
"My wife is there. I haven't been able to communicate with her," said Juan Jesus Garcia, 33, choking back tears next to a collapsed building.
"She is not answering and now they are telling us we have to turn off our mobile phones because there is a gas leak."
President Enrique Peña Nieto urged people to avoid the streets so emergency services could reach the most affected areas.Panic on the streets
By Juan Paullier, BBC News, Mexico City
Mexico City is a city all too used to earthquakes. But this tremor, on the anniversary of another one that left thousands dead in 1985, was especially powerful.
It sent thousands of people into the streets, trembling, shaking, crying, and trying to reach their loved ones by phone.
As time passes it is becoming clear that there are going to be many victims. In the capital alone, about 30 buildings collapsed.
In one of the worst-affected areas I saw dozens of people desperately removing rubble because they believed someone was trapped.
Alfredo del Mazo Maza, governor of the State of Mexico, said schools would be closed on Wednesday. He also ordered all public transport to operate services for free so that people could travel home.
Foreign leaders sent messages of support to Mexico as the scale of the disaster became clear.
US President Donald Trump, who has courted controversy with his plans for a border wall with Mexico, tweeted: "God bless the people of Mexico City. We are with you and will be there for you."
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also tweeted his support following the "devastating news".

Hurricane Maria batters Dominica as category five storm

Hurricane Maria, strengthened to a "potentially catastrophic" category five storm, has torn into the Caribbean island of Dominica with sustained winds of 260km/h (160mph).

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit posted on Facebook that his roof had been torn off and he was "at the complete mercy of the hurricane".

He said his house had flooded, later adding that he had been rescued.

Dominica's airport and ports have been closed.

Maria is moving roughly along the same track as Irma, the hurricane that devastated the region this month.

The nearby island of Martinique has declared a maximum-level alert while another French island, Guadeloupe, ordered evacuations.

Hurricane warnings are also in place for:

Puerto Rico: The US territory expects Maria to make landfall as a category three on Tuesday. It escaped the worst of Irma and has been an important hub for getting relief to islands more badly affected. Governor Ricardo Rossello urged islanders to seek refugeUS Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands: Both island chains suffered severe damage from Irma and President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for the US territories on Monday. British authorities fear debris left behind by Irma could be whipped up by the new storm and pose an extra threat.

Warnings are also in effect for St Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat and St Lucia while hurricane watches are in place for St Martin, Saba, St Eustatius and Anguilla.

The islands bearing the brunt of Maria are part of the Leeward Islands chain and include Antigua and Barbuda. The latter was evacuated after being devastated by Irma.

Forecasters warned that heavy rainfall caused by the hurricane "could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides".

All ports and airports are closed and residents near the coast have been ordered to go to authorised shelters.

Curtis Matthew, a journalist based in the capital, Roseau, told the BBC that conditions went "very bad, rapidly".

"We are not able to even see properly what is happening on the road. The winds are very, very strong, we can hear the noise on the outside. We still don't know what the impact is going to be when this is all over. But what I can say it does not look good for Dominica as we speak," he said.

Martinique raised its alert status to "violet", the highest level, and ordered its population to seek shelter.

In Guadeloupe, schools, businesses and government buildings have all been closed and severe flooding is predicted. The French government has ordered low-lying areas on the islands to be evacuated, AFP reports.

Image captionThe Leeward Islands - where Maria will first strike - includes Antigua and BarbudaThe British government said more than 1,300 troops were staying put in the region and an additional military team had been deployed to the British Virgin Islands where entire neighbourhoods were flattened by Irma.

Virgin boss Richard Branson, who has a home in the Virgin Islands, has been tweeting ahead of the Maria's predicted arrival, warning people to stay safe.

Media captionA BBC team visited Caribbean islands that have been devastated by Hurricane IrmaIrma also hit the US, where several dozen deaths were linked to the hurricane. Nearly 6.9 million homes were left without power in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama.

Barbuda after Hurricane IrmaIn Pictures: Irma devastates British Virgin Islands

A second hurricane, Jose, is also active in the Atlantic, with maximum sustained winds of 90mph.

The centre of Jose was about 265 miles east-south-east of Cape Hatteras in North Carolina, the NHC said in its advisory at 18:00 GMT on Monday.

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