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Date: Mon, 16 Jan 2017 10:59:32 +0100

Maiduguri, Nigeria, Jan 16, 2017 (AFP) - At least three people were killed and 15 others were injured in a suicide bomb attack on a university campus in northeast Nigeria, police said on Monday.   The blast happened at a mosque in the staff quarters area of the University of Maiduguri and is thought to have been carried out by a teenage girl, a local resident and a lecturer told AFP.   There was no immediate claim of responsibility but suspicion will likely fall on the Islamist group Boko Haram, which has repeatedly used young women and girls as human bombs.

Borno police spokesman Victor Isuku said that before the blast at the mosque, police on patrol shot a girl aged about 12 as she tried to get into the university at about 5:15 am (0415 GMT).   "The IED (improvised explosive device) strapped to her body exploded, killing her instantly," he said in a statement.   "Shortly after that a second explosion occurred in a mosque inside the university.   "Four persons, including a professor and the second suicide bomber, died, while 15 persons sustained various degrees of injuries and were rushed to UMTH (University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital)."  

One local resident, who asked not to be identified, said he heard two explosions at 5:25 am as he was leaving the mosque in his neighbourhood.   "I rushed to the university, which is not far from my house. On entering, I saw the mosque in a mess. Three people lay dead, including a young girl, whose body was badly mutilated," he said.   "Thirteen other worshippers were injured."   A university lecturer who lives on site confirmed the resident's account.

- No let-up in attacks -
Access to the university campus has been strictly controlled, with checkpoints and searches at the gates.    But the site, on one of the main thoroughfares leading in to and out of the city, is vast and most areas are badly lit.   At least 20,000 people have been killed in the conflict since it began in 2009 and more than 2.6 million others made homeless.    Nigeria maintains the insurgency is in its final stages.

Last month said it had flushed out Boko Haram fighters from their stronghold in the Sambisa Forest area of Borno state, of which Maiduguri is the capital.   Yet there has been no let-up in attacks both on troops and civilians. On January 8, at least five soldiers were killed when rebels targeted a base in Buni Yadi, in neighbouring Yobe state.   The following day, suicide bombers killed three in Maiduguri.
Date: Sun, 15 Jan 2017 16:03:47 +0100

Kampala, Jan 15, 2017 (AFP) - Uganda announced Sunday it had detected bird flu among migratory birds, without specifying whether it was the particularly virulent H5 strain detected this season in countries worldwide.   The agriculture ministry said bird flu had been detected in two spots, one near Entebbe, on the banks of Lake Victoria, and another in the Masaka distict about 120 kilometres (75 miles) west of Kampala.

Five domestic ducks and a hen in Masaka were also infected, leading authorities to call for all poultry to be kept inside to avoid further contagion from migratory birds, it said.   In a statement, Christopher Kibazanga, minister for agriculture, animals and fisheries, said local wildlife authorities on January 2 had reported the "mass death of wild birds, seen by fishermen at Lutembe beach at the shores of Lake Victoria near Entebbe".

Another report arrived on January 13 from the Masaka district, and in both cases the specimen tested positive for "the highly pathogenic avian influenza that affects both humans and animals and which causes a high number of deaths in both species", the statement added.   The ministry said the outbreak was a first for Uganda but did not specify which flu strain it was.

In 2016 51 countries declared the outbreak of one of the virulent H5 and H7 strains of bird flu, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). These include H5N1, H5N2, H5N5, H5N6, H5N9, H7N1, H7N3, H7N7 et H7N8.   Europe is battling the spread of H5N1, culling millions of birds on farms and moving them indoors to avoid contagion from infected wildlife.   The strain can be transmitted to humans, and is held responsible for the deaths of several hundred people since 2003.
Date: Sun, 15 Jan 2017 11:00:02 +0100

Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Jan 15, 2017 (AFP) - At least seven civilians, including a women and three children, were killed when their truck hit a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday, officials said.   The villagers were travelling from Pacheer Agam district to a nearby village in Nangarhar province, Hijratullah Rahmani district governor of Pacheer Agam told AFP.   "Unfortunately, in the blast, seven civilians, including a woman and three children were killed and one wounded," he said.   No one claimed responsibility, but the interior ministry in a statement blamed "enemies of peace and stability," a term Afghan officials use to refer to Taliban.

Nangarhar is also home to Islamic State group fighters, who are trying to expand their presence in Afghanistan by winning over sympathizers, recruiting followers and challenging the Taliban on their own turf.   Afghan civilians are paying a heavy price for the escalating conflict across the country. A total of 2,562 civilians were killed and another 5,835 wounded in the first nine months of 2016, according to a UN report.   Last week, over 50 people, mostly civilians, were killed in multiple Taliban bombings across Afghanistan.
Date: Sun, 15 Jan 2017 10:25:48 +0100

Manila, Jan 15, 2017 (AFP) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to impose martial rule to prosecute his deadly war on drugs, three decades after the nation shed dictatorship with a famous "People Power" revolt.   "If I wanted to, and it (the illegal drugs problem) will deteriorate into something really very virulent, I will declare martial law if I wanted to. No one will be able to stop me," Duterte said in a speech on Saturday night.   The 71-year-old former state prosecutor said the aim would be "to preserve the Filipino people and the youth of this land".

Duterte won elections in May last year on a pledge to wipe out illegal drugs, promising an unprecedented crackdown to stop the Philippines from becoming what he termed a narco state.   The crackdown has left at least 5,700 people dead in just over six months, raising concerns of a breakdown in the rule of law with security forces and vigilantes carrying out extrajudicial killings.

The Philippines' longtime ally, the United States, has led international criticism of the killings, with outgoing President Barack Obama urging Duterte to prosecute his war "the right way".   Duterte has reacted furiously to the criticism and vowed to continue his war until illegal drugs are eradicated.    Duterte has raised the prospect of imposing martial law previously.

However Saturday's comments were the most direct threat.   Martial rule would allow Duterte to use the military to enforce civilian law and detain people at length without charging them.   The Philippines last endured martial law during the 20-year rule of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was accused of plundering billions of dollars from state coffers and overseeing widespread human rights abuses.   Marcos declared martial law in 1972, invoking the threats of crime and a communist insurgency, and lifted it in 1981.   His rule ended in 1986, when millions took to the streets in the largely bloodless military-backed "People Power" revolt.

A new constitution drawn up in 1987 in an effort to avoid another dictatorship specified a single six-year presidential term.   It also said the president could impose martial rule for just 60 days and only to stop an invasion or a rebellion.    Parliament can revoke the measure within 48 hours while the Supreme Court can review its legality.

But Duterte, speaking to local businessmen in his southern home town of Davao city, warned he could ignore the 60-day limit.   "The 60-day (limit) will be gone," he said.   "And I'd tell you now, if I have to declare martial law, I will declare it -- not about invasion, insurrection, not about danger. I will declare martial law to preserve my nation -- period," he said.

Also on Saturday Duterte said he has ordered the military to "blast" Islamic militants who have been on a kidnap-for-ransom spree, even if hostages would also be killed.   "They say, 'What about the hostage?' Sorry, collateral damage. Then if they are blasted everyday, that (kidnappings) would stop, or, at least, places us in a very -- and into a parity -- So better not get yourselves kidnapped."

The Abu Sayyaf, a loose network of militants formed in the 1990s with seed money from Al-Qaeda, preys on southern Philippine waters and has earned millions of dollars from kidnappings-for-ransom.   It beheaded two Canadian hostages last year after demands for millions of dollars were not met.
Date: Sun, 15 Jan 2017 05:48:38 +0100

Panama City, Jan 15, 2017 (AFP) - Most EU visitor visas will no longer be accepted for entry into Panama under a new decree highlighting a general tightening of migration restrictions in Central America.   The sudden change in policy, reported in Panamanian media Saturday, comes a month after a similar step in neighboring Costa Rica.   Both countries will continue to accept visitor visas issued by the United States, as well as those issued by Britain, which is outside the EU's visa-free internal Schengen zone and which is due to soon leave the European Union entirely.

The moves however do not affect most European citizens, who are able to enter both Central American countries without visas for short stays. Americans can also visit visa-free.   Under the decree signed in Panama by President Juan Carlos Varela on December 28, a previous measure which allowed visitors with a multiple-entry EU visa to also use it to enter Panama was scrapped. EU residency was also insufficient to enter.

- Panama, a flight hub -
The new decree says tourists requiring a visa to Panama must have a Panamanian visa, or residency or a multiple-entry visa valid for more than a year from Australia, Britain, Canada or the United States.   Panama said the change was made to better focus resources and to boost checks on nationalities that have "the biggest incidence on the security index" in the country.

It was not clear if the policy change had been communicated in advance to EU embassies in Panama, a Latin American flight hub where many planes from Europe land.   In Costa Rica, the French embassy said neither it nor the EU diplomatic mission in the country had been notified ahead of a December 13 change of policy in that country getting rid of entry for holders of EU Schengen visas.

The tightening visa restrictions in both countries coincides with moves by the United States to tamp down on the flow of migrants through Central America and Mexico to its territory.   On Thursday, US President Barack Obama scrapped a decades-old policy that gave all Cuban migrants near-automatic entry.

The United States has also allocated $750 million in aid to violence-wracked northern Central American countries to improve security and conditions and thus reduce the flow of US-bound migrants.   On Friday, Obama will be succeeded by Donald Trump, whose campaigning included promises of curbing immigration into the United States.
Date: Sat, 14 Jan 2017 22:30:41 +0100

Santiago, Jan 14, 2017 (AFP) - Chile on Saturday declared a local state of emergency over wildfires plaguing the landmark tourist-draw city of Valparaiso.   The hilly Pacific city, part of which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been put under military authority to coordinate firefighting and government asset deployment efforts.

Located 120 kilometres (75 miles) northwest of the capital Santiago, Valparaiso is the seat of the Chilean Congress and spans 40 hills, offering stunning views of the sea.   Thousands of tourists stroll its narrow cobblestone streets and ride cable cars up the steep hills each year.   At the moment, 19,000 hectares (73 square miles) of mostly woodlands have been lost, officials said.

The city was a famous port of call in its heyday, from the mid-19th century to the early 20th.   But the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 brought its glory days to an abrupt end.   Today, it relies heavily on tourism, and living standards are lower than average in Chile.
Date: Sat, 14 Jan 2017 08:34:50 +0100

Suva, Fiji, Jan 14, 2017 (AFP) - A shallow 6.1-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Fiji on Saturday, the US Geological Survey said, but there were no immediate reports of damage.   The quake, recorded at 6:11 pm (0611 GMT) was centred 152 kilometres (94 miles) southwest of Nadi and 238 kilometres from the capital Suva at a depth of 10 kilometres.

A 7.2-magnitude earthquake was recorded in the same region a week ago.    That tremor was felt in Nadi but did not cause any damage.   The area lies on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", a highly active tectonic zone that frequently experiences earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Date: Thu, 12 Jan 2017 19:36:37 +0100

London, Jan 12, 2017 (AFP) - A group of British Airways cabin crew will strike again next week in an ongoing pay dispute, trade union Unite announced on Thursday.   More than 2,900 cabin crew will walk out for 72 hours from January 19, after two days of industrial action this week, Unite said in a statement.  It said there was "continuing and deepening" anger among so-called mixed fleet crew, who have joined British Airways since 2010 and work a combination of short and long-haul flights.

The trade union claims they are on "poverty" pay, with many forced to take on second jobs or turn up for shifts if they are sick because they cannot afford to be off ill.   "British Airways should be under no illusion about our members' determination to secure a settlement that addresses their concerns over poverty pay," said Unite national officer Oliver Richardson.   Unite claimed that a strike this week on Tuesday and Wednesday was strongly supported.

However, British Airways -- which is owned by International Airlines Group (IAG) -- claimed that more than 70 percent of the crew had reported for work as normal.   "We operated nearly 1,600 flights over the two days, as planned, and transported all 210,000 customers to their destinations," BA said.   "So it is bizarre, as well as regrettable, that mixed fleet Unite branch has announced further strike dates," it added.

Britain's transport network faced transport chaos this week as a result of a number of strikes.   On Monday, industrial action shut down most of the London Underground network in a dispute over job cuts and staffing levels.   There was further disruption on Tuesday and Wednesday as workers on Southern Rail trains staged a strike, with another walkout due Friday.

The service, which runs between London and the south English coast, has been plagued by industrial action in a bitter dispute over the operator's plans to downgrade the role of the train conductor.   Southern wants drivers to be able to operate train doors, not conductors, as is the case on many trains in Britain. But unions say this risks passenger safety.   With no sign of the dispute ending, the RMT union announced Thursday that its members would stage another 24-hour walkout on January 23, the day before drivers are due to strike again.
Date: Thu, 12 Jan 2017 13:47:19 +0100

Denpasar, Indonesia, Jan 12, 2017 (AFP) - Hundreds of tourists stranded on the resort island of Bali following the suspension of Tigerair Australia flights this week were given the green light to fly out Thursday after Indonesian officials grounded the carrier for violating regulations.

Officials granted Tigerair Australia permission to depart from Bali to Australia, the company said in a statement, adding that the airline would only be able to do so until January 16.   Hundreds of Tigerair Australia passengers have been forced to remain on Bali following a decision by authorities Wednesday to ground flights with the carrier after the airline allegedly broke Indonesian regulations.

The budget carrier said six of its services between Australia and the Indonesian island were axed on Thursday and Friday a day after the disruption began with the cancellation of several flights.   About 700 passengers were affected by the cancellations Thursday, and a similar number were affected Wednesday, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.   Tigerair said the chaos was caused by the Indonesian government's decision to "impose new administrative requirements for the operation of its flights between Bali and Australia".

However the Indonesian transport ministry said it made the move after administrative violations by the airline.   It said Tigerair should not have been selling tickets within Indonesia for its chartered flights. Only Virgin Australia, Tigerair Australia's parent company, was authorised to sell the tickets, it said.   "All foreign airlines must comply with our regulations," ministry spokesman Agoes Soebagio said in a statement, adding all Tigerair Australia flights would be cancelled until requirements had been fulfilled.

Tigerair said Virgin Australia was sending two flights to Bali to bring affected customers back.   Bali, a pocket of ancient Hindu culture in Muslim-majority Indonesia, attracts millions of foreign tourists every year to its palm-fringed beaches and is a particular favourite with visitors from neighbouring Australia.   However travel disruptions are common. Bali airport was forced to close several times last year due to floating clouds of ash from nearby erupting volcanoes.
Date: Wed, 11 Jan 2017 22:28:54 +0100

Bamako, Jan 11, 2017 (AFP) - Five Malian soldiers were killed when their vehicle hit a landmine in the centre of the country on Wednesday, military sources told AFP.   The explosion occurred between the central Segou and Mopti regions.   "We have lost five men. Their vehicle set off a mine. They were all in the same vehicle," a Malian military official said.

Another Malian military source confirmed the blast and blamed "terrorists" for the killings, without naming any group.   Explosive devices and ambushes have been frequently used against Malian and UN forces, which arrived in 2013 to fight Islamists.   Northern Mali fell to jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda from March 2012. These forces were driven out of key towns by a French-led military intervention the following year.   Barely a week goes by without attacks on security forces despite a peace pact signed following lengthy negotiations between the government, groups backing it and ethnic Tuareg rebels.