conflict

Israel pounds Gaza as Iran attack threat puts region on edge

court

'Face justice': New Yorkers ready for Trump criminal trial

BY GREGORY WALTON

  • "He hasn't a lot of supporters in New York City though, but I'm confident, New York City... is very upfront, and I'm pretty sure justice is going to be made."
  • Donald Trump made his name and fortune in New York, but supporters of the former president are thin on the ground in the city that never sleeps ahead of his historic trial that opens Monday. 
  • "He hasn't a lot of supporters in New York City though, but I'm confident, New York City... is very upfront, and I'm pretty sure justice is going to be made."
Donald Trump made his name and fortune in New York, but supporters of the former president are thin on the ground in the city that never sleeps ahead of his historic trial that opens Monday. 
"He has to face justice, right?" said Valmir Do Carmo, 30, a babysitter, as he walked his dogs on Court Street in the city's Brooklyn borough.
"He hasn't a lot of supporters in New York City though, but I'm confident, New York City... is very upfront, and I'm pretty sure justice is going to be made."
Trump has repeatedly claimed that he will be unable to get a fair trial in New York which leans Democratic in local and national elections, and because of the intense media scrutiny his cases have attracted.
Comic Stephen Colbert, who shoots his late night TV show in the city, joked this week that Trump was seeking "an impartial jury who knew nothing about the events in America over the last nine years." 
"I don't know if he'll get a fair trial, but whatever happens, he caused it on himself. Because everything he does, he likes to put it on the news or TV," said carer Alberto Vasquez, 45.
"Whether it's good or bad, he likes to get a lot of attention. So he did it to himself. Whatever the outcome is, he did it to himself."
Trump's past judicial appearances in New York have sparked spirited protests.
Demonstrators brandishing placards emblazoned with the words "lock him up!" have faced off against pro-Trump supporters, separated by large numbers of armed police.
New York's police department has promised a major deployment to ensure the trial passes off safely, with the force's head of intelligence John Hart calling it a "major challenge."
"New Yorkers are tough and we are not scared," said dog trainer Lee Cahill-Trebing, 36, on the prospect of Trump backers seeking to intimidate those opposed to the former president. 
"We will not be bullied out of taking him out of power or upholding the law. So yeah, bring it."
If convicted, Trump faces up to four years in jail on each of the 34 counts of falsifying business records.
He is accused over an alleged scheme to cover up an alleged sexual encounter with porn star Stormy Daniels so as not to doom his 2016 election.
The judge in the case, Juan Merchan, will begin to assemble a jury of 12 New Yorkers, with both the prosecution and defense able to challenge the panelists on impartiality grounds.
But not all New Yorkers are excited about the prospect of the former president, who made his name as a property developer and reality TV star in the city, potentially being jailed.
"I don't really think he should go to prison," said retiree Porter Bell, 83. "I think right now this country is just too divided."
Trump is no stranger to courtrooms in the city after his civil fraud trial which saw him handed a $355 million penalty -- which he is appealing -- and during his sex assault defamation case that saw a jury order him to pay $83 million.
gw/bjt

intelligence

Former US ambassador who spied for Cuba sentenced to 15 years

  • Rocha pleaded not guilty in February to charges of conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government but later accepted a plea deal with federal prosecutors.
  • A former US ambassador who pleaded guilty to spying for Cuba for over four decades was sentenced in federal court on Friday to 15 years in prison.
  • Rocha pleaded not guilty in February to charges of conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government but later accepted a plea deal with federal prosecutors.
A former US ambassador who pleaded guilty to spying for Cuba for over four decades was sentenced in federal court on Friday to 15 years in prison.
Victor Manuel Rocha, 73, was arrested in December for what US officials called "one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the United States government by a foreign agent."
Rocha pleaded not guilty in February to charges of conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government but later accepted a plea deal with federal prosecutors.
Judge Beth Bloom, after a three-and-a-half hour hearing in Miami on Friday, told Rocha she would give him "the maximum penalty permitted by law."
In addition to the 15-year sentence, Rocha was given a $500,000 fine.
Rocha, a naturalized US citizen originally from Colombia, allegedly began aiding Havana as a covert agent of Cuba's General Directorate of Intelligence (DGI) in 1981, and his espionage activities continued until his arrest, according to US authorities.
Attorney General Merrick Garland, announcing Rocha's arrest in December, said he had "repeatedly referred to the United States as 'the enemy'" and "repeatedly bragged about the significance of his efforts."
Rocha joined the State Department in 1981 and rose through the ranks as a career diplomat, serving in posts in Havana, Buenos Aires, Mexico City and Washington.
Rocha served on the National Security Council from 1994 to 1995 in the administration of president Bill Clinton, and was the ambassador to Bolivia from 2000 to 2002 under Clinton and George W. Bush. He also served as an advisor to the US military command responsible for Cuba.
The criminal complaint against Rocha details how, over multiple meetings with an undercover FBI agent beginning in November 2022, he "behaved as a Cuban agent," praising the communist-ruled island's late leader Fidel Castro and "using the term 'we' to describe himself and Cuba."
"Despite swearing an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, Rocha betrayed the US by secretly working as a Cuban agent for decades," said Larissa Knapp, executive assistant director of the FBI's National Security Branch.
"After years of lying and endangering national security and US citizens, he finally accepted responsibility for his actions and received the maximum prison sentence."
Numerous espionage cases have marred relations between the two countries, which have been enemies since Cuba's Communist revolution in 1959, at the height of the Cold War.
Rocha's arrest and conviction come around 15 years after the indictment of Walter Kendall Myers and Gwendolyn Myers, an American couple who spied for Cuba for nearly 30 years.
Kendall Myers was sentenced to life imprisonment, while his wife was sentenced to over five years.
And in 2001, military intelligence analyst Ana Montes was arrested on espionage charges, later admitting that she had been gathering intelligence for Cuba for almost a decade.
Cuba has been under a US embargo since 1962, and is on a State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism.
gma/des/dw

unrest

Transitional ruling council finally forms in anarchic Haiti

BY JEAN DANIEL SENAT WITH GERARD MARTINEZ IN MIAMI

  • "These developments represent a positive step toward restoring security, paving the way for free and fair elections, and to re-establishing democracy and inclusive governance in Haiti," a US State Department spokesperson said Friday.
  • A governing council tasked with filling a leadership vacuum in Haiti and restoring a semblance of order was formally established Friday in the Caribbean nation, which has been rocked by an explosion of gang violence.
  • "These developments represent a positive step toward restoring security, paving the way for free and fair elections, and to re-establishing democracy and inclusive governance in Haiti," a US State Department spokesperson said Friday.
A governing council tasked with filling a leadership vacuum in Haiti and restoring a semblance of order was formally established Friday in the Caribbean nation, which has been rocked by an explosion of gang violence.
A decree in Haiti's official gazette "Le Moniteur" announced the council's formation, a month after Prime Minister Ariel Henry said he would step down amid a wave of attacks by armed gangs in the capital.
The Friday announcement, which had been delayed for weeks by political squabbling, is a hopeful step in efforts to establish conditions for deployment of a UN-approved international police force, which Kenya has agreed to lead.
The decree tasks the council with "rapidly" appointing a new prime minister and a government "inclusive" of Haiti's various political factions.
Crucially, the formation of the US-backed council is also a first step toward holding a presidential election by early 2026.
However, questions remain over whether the interim government -- dubbed a Presidential Transitional Council -- will be able to impose its authority over the gangs that control much of Port-au-Prince.
"The Presidential Transition Council exercises specific presidential powers during the transition period until the investiture of the elected President, which must take place no later than February 7, 2026," the decree on Friday said.
Haiti has not held elections since 2016 and has been without a president since Jovenel Moise was assassinated in 2021.
Henry was in Kenya in February, trying to organize the international police force deployment, when gangs launched a coordinated attack and demanded the 74-year-old's resignation.
Some 4,000 inmates were released in gang raids on Haiti's two biggest prisons. Police stations came under assault and attacks on the country's airport resulted in Haiti being largely cut off from the outside world.
Countries including the United States and EU members evacuated their diplomats and nationals as security conditions worsened.
UNICEF, the UN children's agency, warned that serious hunger and malnutrition were taking hold in Haiti, which has struggled to recover from a 2010 earthquake which saw an estimated 220,000 people killed.
After intense US and regional pressure, Henry agreed to step aside and facilitate the formation of the transitional council. He had been Haiti's unelected leader since 2021, when he was appointed by then-president Moise.
Under the text, Henry will formally resign following the council's appointment of a new prime minister.

New council vs gangs

The Caribbean regional body CARICOM, which has played a high-profile role in efforts to create the transitional council, said it "signals the possibility of a new beginning for Haiti."
The United Nations' Haiti office said it would "continue to closely follow the Haitian political process," adding that "international support for Haiti's national police remains essential for restoring security and the rule of law."
"These developments represent a positive step toward restoring security, paving the way for free and fair elections, and to re-establishing democracy and inclusive governance in Haiti," a US State Department spokesperson said Friday.
The transition council is made up of seven voting members selected across Haiti's political spectrum and two non-voting observers.
Negotiations to appoint the transition council were marked by infighting and forced the intervention of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who urged stakeholders to put aside their differences.
Powerful gang leader Jimmy "Barbecue" Cherizier, whose 1,000-member G9 alliance controls parts of Port-au-Prince, was among those excluded from the new government due to conditions banning those facing UN sanctions.
Anyone charged with or convicted of a crime was also blacklisted, along with those planning to take part in the coming elections and anyone who has opposed plans for the international security force.

Fleeing the capital

It remains unknown whether the gangs will agree to step back. UN sanctions on five of the most powerful crime group leaders have had an "extremely limited" effect, a recent report from UN experts said.
For Gedeon Jean, director of Haitian rights group CARDH, the establishment of the interim government is an "important step."
"However, this step is not an end in itself," he told AFP. "It will be necessary to create the security conditions so that the council can work, but above all to protect the population."
The new authority will also face the immediate challenge of helping ordinary Haitians escape crushing poverty, made more acute by the insecurity.
The United Nations says that out of a population of about 11.6 million, some 360,000 Haitians are internally displaced. The gang violence, according to UN experts, has forced 95,000 people to flee the capital and pushed five million into "acute hunger."
As well as targeting police stations and the airport, armed gangs have in recent days looted Haiti's National Library, two universities and numerous health care facilities and pharmacies.
burs-sms-des/bjt/dw

fashion

King of leopard print, Italy's Roberto Cavalli dies at 83

BY ALEXANDRIA SAGE

  • "It is with deep regret and a great sadness the Roberto Cavalli Maison participates in the passing of its founder Roberto Cavalli," wrote the company in a statement sent to AFP. "From humble beginnings in Florence Mr. Cavalli succeeded in becoming a globally recognised name loved and respected by all," said the company.
  • Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli, whose penchant for python and flamboyant animal prints made him the darling of the international jet set for decades, died Friday at 83, the luxury company said.
  • "It is with deep regret and a great sadness the Roberto Cavalli Maison participates in the passing of its founder Roberto Cavalli," wrote the company in a statement sent to AFP. "From humble beginnings in Florence Mr. Cavalli succeeded in becoming a globally recognised name loved and respected by all," said the company.
Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli, whose penchant for python and flamboyant animal prints made him the darling of the international jet set for decades, died Friday at 83, the luxury company said.
"It is with deep regret and a great sadness the Roberto Cavalli Maison participates in the passing of its founder Roberto Cavalli," wrote the company in a statement sent to AFP.
"From humble beginnings in Florence Mr. Cavalli succeeded in becoming a globally recognised name loved and respected by all," said the company.
First seen in the 1970s on stars such as Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot, Cavalli's skin-baring, eye-popping styles were still favoured years on by later generations of celebrities, from Kim Kardashian to Jennifer Lopez.
With a taste for Ferraris, thoroughbred horses, fat cigars and tailored shirts unbuttoned to expose his tanned chest, the designer's private life also appeared the stuff of fantasy. 
He married a Miss Universe runner-up, owned a purple helicopter and a Tuscan vineyard, and was on a first-name basis with A-listers like Sharon Stone and Cindy Crawford.
But the designer also weathered challenges, including a dry spell in the 1980s when minimalism took hold on runways and his form-fitting, feathered creations looked out of step. 
A years-long trial in Italy on tax evasion charges ultimately ended in Cavalli's acquittal, but after his eponymous fashion house began posting losses, a majority stake was sold to private equity in 2015. 
Best known for his use of printed leather and stretchy, sand-blasted jeans, Cavalli always embraced the wow factor in his designs, never encountering an animal print he did not like.
The designer was tapped in 2005 to update the Playboy Bunnies' scanty uniform -- true to form, he introduced one version in leopard print.

Party crasher

Born on November 15, 1940 in Florence, Italy's premier leatherworking centre, Cavalli began painting on T-shirts to earn money while at art school.
He recalled in his blog in 2012 how he gate-crashed a party in 1970, and, seeking to save face when he met the host, who was a designer, told him that he printed on leather. 
When the designer asked to see some of his work the next day, Cavalli hurried to find samples of thin, supple leather onto which he printed a flower design. 
The designer was impressed, and Cavalli was hooked. 
Taking his inspiration from glove design, Cavalli began working with calfskin, patenting a new way to print leather with patterns that soon caught the eye of French luxury goods maker Hermes and the late designer Pierre Cardin.
In the 1970s, he opened a shop in Saint Tropez, playground of the world's glitterati, and debuted his collection in Paris.
He went on to present for the first time in Italy at Florence's opulent Palazzo Pitti, grabbing attention with his boho-chic patchwork designs on denim that married the unpretentious fabric with expert tailoring.
 - 'I'm copying God' -
Of his ubiquitous use of prints, the animal lover -- whose menagerie once included a monkey -- told Vogue in 2011: "I like everything that is of nature."
"I started to appreciate that even fish have a fantastic coloured 'dress', so does the snake, and the tiger. I start(ed) to understand that God is really the best designer, so I started to copy God," he told the magazine.
In the 1980s Cavalli's instantly recognisable, exotic designs were out of sync with the minimalist look that was all the rage, but the designer came back with a bang a decade later with distressed looking jeans that proved a hit.
His fashion empire expanded to home furnishings, wine, shoes, jewellery and even a line of vodka, its bottle sheathed in snakeskin. 
Taking his style to the high street, he designed a fast-fashion line for Swedish retail giant H&M and tour outfits for Beyonce, among others.
But the label began to suffer financial difficulties amid increased competition from well-funded brands owned by fashion conglomerates LVMH and Kering, and Cavalli stepped down as creative director in 2013. 
Two years later, Milan-based private equity group Clessidra bought a 90-percent stake in the company, but a restructuring failed to reverse losses. 
After filing for administration and closing its US stores, the fashion group was bought in November 2019 by Vision Investments, the private investment company of Dubai real-estate billionaire Hussain Sajwani. 
ams/ar/kjm/db

organisation

IMF confirms Kristalina Georgieva for second 5-year term

  • Georgieva, a 70-year-old Bulgarian, has run the IMF since 2019, and told AFP last month that she was making herself "available to serve, if people want me to serve."
  • The IMF executive board confirmed Friday that it had reappointed Kristalina Georgieva to serve for a second five-year term at the helm of the international financial institution.
  • Georgieva, a 70-year-old Bulgarian, has run the IMF since 2019, and told AFP last month that she was making herself "available to serve, if people want me to serve."
The IMF executive board confirmed Friday that it had reappointed Kristalina Georgieva to serve for a second five-year term at the helm of the international financial institution.
It means that Georgieva, who was the sole candidate in the running to lead the International Monetary Fund, will continue in office when her current term ends on September 30, 2024. 
The decision was taken by consensus, the IMF said in a statement confirming the board's decision. 
"I am deeply grateful for the trust and support of the Fund's Executive Board, representing our 190 members, and honored to continue to lead the IMF as Managing Director," Georgieva said in a statement. 
"I look forward to continue serving our membership, together with the highly professional and committed staff of the IMF," she added.
Georgieva, a 70-year-old Bulgarian, has run the IMF since 2019, and told AFP last month that she was making herself "available to serve, if people want me to serve."
During her tenure, the IMF has helped countries facing financial difficulties during the coronavirus pandemic as well as the havoc wrought by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, especially in Europe.
Under a controversial, decades-old agreement between Europe and the United States, the International Monetary Fund has historically been led by a European, and the World Bank by a US citizen. 
This arrangement was reaffirmed last year when the Biden administration nominated Ajay Banga, an Indian-born, naturalized US citizen, to run the World Bank, which sits just across the street from the IMF in Washington.
Georgieva faced allegations in 2021 -- which she strongly denied -- that she had been involved in amending a popular World Bank business report in order to favor China when she worked at the development lender. 
But after reviewing the World Bank report into the incident, the IMF executive board dismissed the allegations and reaffirmed its confidence in Georgieva, allowing her to remain in post. 
The board's announcement means that next week's IMF and World Bank-hosted meetings of the world's financial leaders in Washington can proceed without a distracting battle over the future of the Fund running in the background. 
da/tjj

India

Rushdie's first thought on attempted assassin: 'So it's you'

  • Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to kill Rushdie, who went into hiding in Britain.
  • Salman Rushdie, targeted for assassination since 1989 over his writing, had long wondered who would kill him.
  • Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to kill Rushdie, who went into hiding in Britain.
Salman Rushdie, targeted for assassination since 1989 over his writing, had long wondered who would kill him. When he was stabbed almost fatally, his first thought was, "So it's you."
The novelist has recounted his thoughts on his 2022 near death in a book, "Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder," which is set for publication on Tuesday.
In an excerpt from the book which he read for the CBS News show "60 Minutes," Rushdie described "the last thing my right eye would ever see" -- a man in black clothes "coming in hard and low" like a "squat missile."
"I confess, I had sometimes imagined my assassin rising up in some public forum or other, and coming for me in just this way. So my first thought when I saw this murderous shape rushing towards me was, 'So it's you. Here you are.'"
The Mumbai-born novelist -- acclaimed for his novel "Midnight's Children," a magical realist take on the Indian subcontinent's partition -- faced a storm of criticism in the Muslim world in 1988 when he released "The Satanic Verses," which touches on early Islam including through dream sequences that reference the Prophet Mohammed.
Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to kill Rushdie, who went into hiding in Britain. He has since become a naturalized American.
Rushdie, 76, in recent years has lived with greater openness and became a presence on the New York social circuit. He was attacked by a knife-wielding assailant in August 2022 as he prepared to speak at an arts gathering in New York state.
Speaking to 60 Minutes, Rushdie said that one of the surgeons who saved him told him, "'First you were really unlucky and then you were really lucky.'"
"I said, 'What's the lucky part?' And he said 'Well, the lucky part is that the man who attacked you had no idea how to kill a man with a knife.'"
sct/dw

conflict

Israel pounds Gaza as Iran attack threat puts region on edge

BY MOHAMMED ABED WITH JAY DESHMUKH IN JERUSALEM

  • Authorities in Hamas-ruled Gaza reported dozens of new air strikes in the central region where most Israeli troops have regrouped in recent days.
  • Residents reported heavy Israeli fire in central Gaza on Friday, with regional tensions soaring after Iran threatened reprisals over a strike in Syria this month that killed two Iranian generals.
  • Authorities in Hamas-ruled Gaza reported dozens of new air strikes in the central region where most Israeli troops have regrouped in recent days.
Residents reported heavy Israeli fire in central Gaza on Friday, with regional tensions soaring after Iran threatened reprisals over a strike in Syria this month that killed two Iranian generals.
As talks for a truce and hostage release dragged on, fears that Iran could soon launch an attack on Israel prompted the United States to announce it was sending reinforcements to the Middle East as a deterrent.
US President Joe Biden said he expected Iran to attempt to strike Israel soon but warned it against attacking the US ally in retaliation for the April 1 strike on its Damascus consulate.
Authorities in Hamas-ruled Gaza reported dozens of new air strikes in the central region where most Israeli troops have regrouped in recent days.
Israel's military said its aircraft had struck more than 60 militant targets in Gaza over the previous day.
The Hamas media office said 25 people were taken to hospital in Deir al-Balah "as a result of an air strike on a house".
Mohammed al-Rayes, 61, told AFP that he fled Israeli "air strikes and artillery shelling" in Nuseirat overnight.
"It was all fire and destruction, with so many martyrs lying in the street," he said.
Another resident, Laila Nasser, 40, reported "shells and missiles" throughout the night.
"They will do to Nuseirat what they did to Khan Yunis," said Nasser, vowing to flee to the southernmost city of Rafah, like most of Gaza's population.

'Real' threat

The war began with Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack against Israel which resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.
Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,634 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the territory's health ministry.
The latest bombardments in Gaza came after Israel said it had strengthened air defences and paused leave for combat units, following a deadly April 1 air strike that destroyed Iran's consulate building in Damascus.
Iran blamed its arch foe Israel, which has stepped up strikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria since the Gaza war began.
The White House said on Friday that the threat from Iran remained "real".
Asked what his message was to Iran on striking Israel, Biden said: "Don't". 
"We are devoted to the defence of Israel, we will support Israel, we will help defend Israel and Iran will not succeed," he said. 
A defence official said the Pentagon was "moving additional assets to the region to bolster regional deterrence efforts and increase force protection for US forces."

'Shoulder to shoulder'

Biden sent the head of US Central Command, General Michael Kurilla, to Israel for urgent talks on the threat from Iran.
After meeting Kurilla on Friday, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel and the United States stood "shoulder to shoulder", despite recent differences over the conduct of the war in Gaza.
"Our enemies think that they can pull apart Israel and the United States, but the opposite is true -- they are bringing us together and strengthening our ties," Gallant said.
Washington, which has had no diplomatic relations with Tehran since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution, also asked its allies to use their influence with Iran to urge restraint, the State Department said.
After calls with his Australian, British and German counterparts Thursday, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said: "Iran does not seek to expand the scope of the war."
But he added that it felt it had no choice but to respond to the deadly attack on its diplomatic mission after the UN Security Council failed to take action.
Lebanon's Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah said it fired "dozens of Katyusha rockets" at Israeli artillery positions Friday, a bombardment it said was in response to Israeli strikes in the south. 
The Israeli army said approximately 40 launches were identified, some of which were intercepted. "No injuries were reported," it added.

French travel warning

France warned its nationals against travelling to Iran, Israel, Lebanon or the Palestinian territories, after the US embassy in Israel announced it was restricting the movements of its diplomats over security fears.
German airline Lufthansa said its planes would no longer use Iranian airspace as it extended a suspension of flights to and from Tehran.
In their October attack, Hamas militants seized about 250 hostages, 129 of whom remain in Gaza, including 34 the Israeli army says are dead.
The European Union on Friday imposed sanctions on the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad for "widespread" sexual violence during the October 7 attack. 
The bloc said fighters from the two militant groups -- already on the EU's terrorism blacklist -- "committed widespread sexual and gender-based violence in a systematic manner, using it as a weapon of war".

New crossing for aid

Washington has ramped up pressure on Netanyahu to increase aid flows to Gaza in the face of UN warnings of imminent famine.
The Israeli army said that an undisclosed number of aid trucks had been allowed to enter Gaza Thursday through a newly opened border crossing into the north of the territory.
"The first food aid trucks entered through the new northern crossing from Israel into Gaza yesterday," the Israeli defence ministry body that oversees Palestinian civil affairs, COGAT, said.
Despite repeated AFP requests for comment, Israeli authorities did not disclose the exact location of the new crossing, which Israeli media reported to be close to the Zikim kibbutz.
Gallant had trumpeted the new crossing on Wednesday, promising to "flood Gaza with aid", but on Thursday the UN Security Council said "more should be done".
burs-jd/kir/jsa

fashion

Italian designer Roberto Cavalli dead at 83: Italian media

  • Italian news agency ANSA reported that the designer died at home in Florence, the city where he was born, after a long illness. 
  • Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli, whose penchant for python and flamboyant animal prints made him the darling of the international jet set for decades, died Friday at 83, news media said.
  • Italian news agency ANSA reported that the designer died at home in Florence, the city where he was born, after a long illness. 
Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli, whose penchant for python and flamboyant animal prints made him the darling of the international jet set for decades, died Friday at 83, news media said.
Italian news agency ANSA reported that the designer died at home in Florence, the city where he was born, after a long illness. 
First seen in the 1970s on stars such as Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot, his skin-baring, eye-popping styles were still favoured years on by later generations of celebrities, from Kim Kardashian to Jennifer Lopez.
Cavalli had a taste for Ferraris, fat cigars and tailored shirts unbuttoned to expose his tanned chest. He married a Miss Universe runner-up, owned a purple helicopter and a Tuscan vineyard, and was on a first-name basis with Hollywood A-listers.
Born November 15, 1940 in Florence, Italy's premier leatherworking centre, Cavalli was known for his use of printed leather and stretchy, sand-blasted jeans.
The designer was tapped in 2005 to update the Playboy Bunnies' scanty uniform -- true to form, he introduced one version in leopard print.
ams/db

Russia

US says China helping Moscow in biggest defense expansion since Soviet era

BY AURéLIA END

  • "Russia is undertaking its most ambitious defense expansion since the Soviet era and on a faster timeline than we believed possible early on in this conflict," the official said.
  • China is helping Russia undertake its biggest military expansion since Soviet times, US officials said Friday, stepping up public pressure as concerns rise over Ukraine.
  • "Russia is undertaking its most ambitious defense expansion since the Soviet era and on a faster timeline than we believed possible early on in this conflict," the official said.
China is helping Russia undertake its biggest military expansion since Soviet times, US officials said Friday, stepping up public pressure as concerns rise over Ukraine.
US officials are hoping the release of the intelligence will encourage European allies to press China, as Chancellor Olaf Scholz heads to Beijing this weekend and Group of Seven foreign ministers meet next week in Italy.
Unveiling US findings, officials said China was helping Russia on a range of areas including the joint production of drones, space-based capabilities and machine-tool exports vital for producing ballistic missiles.
China has been the key factor in revitalizing Russia's defense industrial base "which had otherwise suffered significant setbacks" since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a senior US official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
"Russia is undertaking its most ambitious defense expansion since the Soviet era and on a faster timeline than we believed possible early on in this conflict," the official said.
"Our view is that one of the most game-changing moves available to us at this time to support Ukraine is to persuade the PRC to stop helping Russia reconstitute its military industrial base," the official said, referring to the People's Republic of China. 
"Russia would struggle to sustain its war effort without PRC inputs," he said.
US officials said that China provided more than 70 percent of the $900 million in machine tools -- likely used to build ballistic missiles -- imported in the last quarter of 2023 by Russia.
US officials also said that 90 percent of Russia's microelectronics imports -- used to produce missiles, tanks and aircraft -- came from China last year.

China walks fine line

The United States has repeatedly warned China against supporting Russia and both Chinese and US officials say Beijing has stopped short of directly providing weapons to Russia, which has turned to heavily sanctioned North Korea and Iran to replenish arms supply.
US officials believe that China, anxious after its Russian allies' early setbacks on the battlefield, has instead focused on sending material that ostensibly has non-military uses.
President Joe Biden's administration is hoping that European powers can make the difference in persuading China, which is facing economic headwinds and is sensitive about trade pressure.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to make the case on China's ties with Russia as he meets top diplomats of other industrial democracies at the G7 talks in Capri, Italy.
Blinken is also planning a visit in the coming weeks to China, on the heels of a trip by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
The administration hopes that such dialogue, including a recent telephone call between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, can help contain tensions between the world's two largest economies but US officials have stressed they will still press on concerns.
Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said this week that Europe's stability was the top interest historically of the United States and that it would hold China accountable if Russia makes gains.
Ukraine has suffered its first battlefield setbacks in months as its forces ration ammunition, with the United States failing to authorize new support due to a deadlock in the Republican-led House of Representatives.
aue-sct/dw

crime

Argentine court blames 'terrorist state' Iran for 1990s attacks

  • On Friday, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on X he had spoken to his Argentine counterpart Diana Mondino after the ruling, asking that the South American country declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.
  • An Argentine court has blamed Iran for two deadly attacks on Israeli targets in Buenos Aires three decades ago, declaring it a "terrorist state" in a ruling welcomed Friday by Israeli and Jewish organizations.
  • On Friday, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on X he had spoken to his Argentine counterpart Diana Mondino after the ruling, asking that the South American country declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.
An Argentine court has blamed Iran for two deadly attacks on Israeli targets in Buenos Aires three decades ago, declaring it a "terrorist state" in a ruling welcomed Friday by Israeli and Jewish organizations.
The ruling on Thursday, cited by press reports, said Iran had ordered a 1992 attack on the Israeli embassy and another in 1994 on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) Jewish community center.
The court also implicated the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah and called the attack against the AMIA -- the deadliest in Argentina's history -- a "crime against humanity."
"Hezbollah carried out an operation that responded to a political, ideological and revolutionary design under the mandate of a government, of a State," Carlos Mahiques, one of the three judges who wrote the decision, told Radio Con Vos.
In 1992, a bomb attack on the Israeli embassy left 29 dead. Two years later, a truck loaded with explosives drove into the AMIA Jewish community center and detonated, leaving 85 dead and more than 300 injured.
The 1994 assault has never been claimed or solved, but Argentina and Israel have long suspected Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah group carried it out at Iran's request. Prosecutors have charged top Iranian officials with ordering the attack, though Tehran has denied any involvement.
Argentina has the largest Jewish community in Latin America, with some 300,000 members. It is also home to immigrant communities from the Middle East -- from Syria and Lebanon in particular.
On Friday, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on X he had spoken to his Argentine counterpart Diana Mondino after the ruling, asking that the South American country declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.
"Iran is an enemy of Israel and Argentina and, together with Hezbollah, leads terrorist activity in South America and around the world. This decision against the Revolutionary Guard will be an important step in stopping Iranian aggression," he said.
The judges examined the geopolitical context at the time of the attacks and found they corresponded with foreign policy positions towards Iran under Argentina's then-president Carlos Menem (1989-1999). 
The attacks' "origin lies mainly in the unilateral decision of the government -- motivated by a change in our country’s foreign policy between late 1991 and mid-1992 -- to cancel three contracts for the supply of nuclear equipment and technology concluded with Iran," the court concluded.
The judges ruled that the AMIA attack in 1994 was a crime against humanity, and put blame on Iran's then-president Ali Akbar Hashemi Bahramaie Rafsanjani, as well as other Iranian officials and Hezbollah members.

'Impunity'

The decision was welcomed by the president of the Delegation of Israelite Associations of Argentina (DAIA), Jorge Knoblovits.
He told Radio Mitre the ruling "is very important because it enables the victims to go to the International Criminal Court."
The AMIA welcomed the ruling but lamented more than three decades of "impunity" as a "shameful mark in Argentine history."
Argentina's former president Carlos Menem, who died in 2021, was tried for covering up the AMIA bombing but ultimately acquitted.
His former intelligence chief Hugo Anzorreguy was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail for his role in obstructing an investigation into the bombing.
He was among some dozen defendants who faced a slew of corruption and obstruction of justice charges in the case. They included the former judge who led the investigation into the attack, Juan Jose Galeano, who was jailed for six years for concealment and violation of evidence.
Thursday's judgment came as President Javier Milei's close ties to Judaism and Israel -- and his plans to move the Argentine embassy to Jerusalem -- sparked fears the country's Jewish community could again be vulnerable to attack.
"We are already on the radar," Milei said this week when asked about the risk. "The question is whether we are cowards or whether we stand on the side of good," he added.
mry/mlr/caw/des/mlr/bjt

unrest

95,000 people fled Haitian capital in a month: UN

  • A majority (58 percent) of those leaving Port-au-Prince have headed towards Haiti's southern region, which already hosts more than 116,000 displaced people, most of whom have fled the capital region in recent months, the IOM said.
  • About 95,000 people have fled rampant gang violence in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince since early March, the United Nations said Friday.
  • A majority (58 percent) of those leaving Port-au-Prince have headed towards Haiti's southern region, which already hosts more than 116,000 displaced people, most of whom have fled the capital region in recent months, the IOM said.
About 95,000 people have fled rampant gang violence in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince since early March, the United Nations said Friday.
Insecurity is "pushing more and more people to leave the capital to find refuge in provinces, taking the risks of passing through gang-controlled routes," according to the UN's International Organization for Migration.
The agency is collecting data at high-traffic bus stations in the capital, and notes that its figures may not be complete as some people may not have passed through checkpoints or simply may not have been counted.
Haiti is grappling with a wave of violence by powerful gangs that intensified in late February as they sought to oust Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who announced last month he would step down to allow the formation of an interim government. 
But delays in that process mean violence, food shortages and a lack of medicine are still blighting the impoverished Caribbean nation. 
A majority (58 percent) of those leaving Port-au-Prince have headed towards Haiti's southern region, which already hosts more than 116,000 displaced people, most of whom have fled the capital region in recent months, the IOM said.
Nearly two-thirds of those people were already displaced before fleeing the capital, the IOM said.
"Provinces do not have sufficient infrastructures and host communities do not have sufficient resources that can enable them to cope with these massive displacement flows coming from the capital," the IOM warned in a statement.
Haiti has suffered grinding poverty, political instability and natural disasters for decades, including a 2010 earthquake that killed around 220,000 people, according to UN figures. 
Now, it is awaiting the formation of a transitional governing council, which would pave the way for fresh elections and a new government.
But the body has yet to be officially formed due to repeated delays stemming from disagreements among political parties.
abd/bjt/sst

conflict

How could Iran seek to punish Israel over consulate strikes?

BY DIDIER LAURAS

  • Iran and Syria have blamed the attack on Israel, which has not confirmed its involvement but is widely considered to be responsible -- including by its allies.
  • Iran has vowed to punish Israel over a recent strike on its Damascus consulate widely blamed on Israel, and fears are rising that an imminent response could risk triggering a broader conflict.
  • Iran and Syria have blamed the attack on Israel, which has not confirmed its involvement but is widely considered to be responsible -- including by its allies.
Iran has vowed to punish Israel over a recent strike on its Damascus consulate widely blamed on Israel, and fears are rising that an imminent response could risk triggering a broader conflict.
However there are a number of different ways that Iran could retaliate, and not all pose the same risk of escalation, according to experts.
With warnings building on Friday that a response could come soon, France advised its citizens not to travel to Israel, the Palestinian territories, Iran or its ally Lebanon.
But exactly what happens next likely depends on how Iran chooses to carry out its retaliation, which would likely come against the backdrop of the war between Israel and Hamas.
The fact that none of the governments involved want to provoke an escalation does not necessarily protect against a full-scale crisis breaking out, said David Khalfa, Middle East specialist at the French think tank Jean-Jaures Foundation.
"Miscalculations are entirely possible. Deterrence has an eminently psychological aspect," he told AFP.
"The belligerents are at the mercy of any mistake or slip-up that could cause a cascading series of consequences."
The air strike that struck Iran's consulate building in the Syrian capital on April 1 killed 16 people, including seven members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard.
The most senior figure killed was Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior commander in the Quds Force, which runs Iran's foreign military operations.
Iran and Syria have blamed the attack on Israel, which has not confirmed its involvement but is widely considered to be responsible -- including by its allies.

'Tehran does not want direct war'

"Israel's air strike on the facility was intended to tell Tehran that it will be held accountable for the actions of Hamas and other non-state allies such as Lebanese Hezbollah and the Huthis in Yemen," said the Soufan Center, a non-profit organisation that analyses global security challenges.
After the strike, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that Israel "must be punished and will be punished".
The White House, which has maintained the United States would stand firm behind its ally Israel, emphasised on Friday that Iran's threats were "real".
The US also sent its top commander for the Middle East, US Central Command chief Michael Kurilla, to Israel to talk things over.
Iran has an arsenal capable of hitting a wide range of Israeli targets, including infrastructure, airports or key energy production sites.
The Soufan Center said that the posture adopted by Israel and the United States "suggests they expect Tehran to conduct its attack using its arsenal of ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as armed drones".
But since the consulate attack, Iran has remained vague about exactly how it will respond.
Eva Koulouriotis, an independent Middle East analyst, said: "Iran is still threatening to respond while sending regional and international messages that it is looking for a political option alternative to a military response. 
"What is certain is that Tehran does not want a direct war with Israel, at least at the current stage," she told AFP.

'Only bad choices'

Iran is "facing a dilemma," Michel Duclos, a former French diplomat, wrote on the website of the Institut Montaigne think tank.
"It is undoubtably not sure enough of its strength that it could consider an escalation with Israel with a light heart," he wrote.
"If however it does not respond, it risks losing some credibility in the region, including among armed groups who pledge allegiance" to Iran, he added.
Iran sponsors armed groups in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon which make up the so-called "Axis of Resistance" against Israel and they seem to be on the front line more than ever, said Farzan Sabet, an analyst at the Geneva Graduate Institute.
Iran could potentially respond by requesting these groups ramp up the number of their attacks, or increase weapon deliveries, Sabet wrote on X. 
"This option is more deniable, lower political cost, and less chance of direct blowback."
Other possible options including a strike against Israeli diplomatic missions abroad, which would have the disadvantage of involving a third country. 
Iran could also attempt "terrorist attacks on US diplomatic facilities in or outside the region," the Soufan Center said.
Khalfa said that with the April 1 strike, "Israel wanted to change the rules of the game by hitting the head of the octopus, not just its tentacles, to force Iran out of the shadow war."
Now, "the Iranians only have bad choices at their disposal," he added.
dla/dab/dl/kir

EU

Belgium probes Russian 'interference' in European Parliament

BY MATTHIEU DEMEESTERE

  • A summit of EU leaders next week will discuss the allegations, raised two months ahead of the June 6-9 bloc-wide elections to vote in a new European Parliament. 
  • Belgium on Friday announced it is probing Russian "interference" in the European Parliament following allegations that lawmakers took money to spread Kremlin propaganda ahead of the June EU elections.
  • A summit of EU leaders next week will discuss the allegations, raised two months ahead of the June 6-9 bloc-wide elections to vote in a new European Parliament. 
Belgium on Friday announced it is probing Russian "interference" in the European Parliament following allegations that lawmakers took money to spread Kremlin propaganda ahead of the June EU elections.
The Czech Republic last month said its intelligence service had discovered a network that used EU lawmakers to spread Russian propaganda through the Prague-based Voice of Europe news site.
Belgium says it has determined that some of the lawmakers had been paid to promote Moscow's propaganda.
"The cash payments did not take place in Belgium, but the interference does. As Belgium is the seat of the EU institutions, we have a responsibility to uphold every citizen's right to a free and safe vote," Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said.
A summit of EU leaders next week will discuss the allegations, raised two months ahead of the June 6-9 bloc-wide elections to vote in a new European Parliament. 
De Croo said Moscow's "clear" objectives were to "help elect more pro-Russian candidates to the legislature and reinforce the pro-Russian narrative in that institution".
Belgium's federal prosecutor's office confirmed to AFP that the probe into foreign individuals or organisations suspected of giving "donations, loans or advantages" to gain influence started on Thursday.
The crime carries penalties ranging from six months to five years in prison and a fine of between 1,000 and 20,000 euros ($1,050-$21,250).
"If there would be a type of bribery -- and our services indicate that payments have taken place -- while you need two sides for that to happen, you have people who organise it, but you also have people to receive it," De Croo said.

Russian disinformation

The European Commission has issued repeated warnings about Moscow spreading disinformation and misinformation ahead of the EU polls, and seeking to weaken European public support for Ukraine as it fights off Russia's invasion. 
Tactics go beyond publishing outright false information, EU officials have said. Mixing in nuggets of facts into false stories can confuse or mislead readers so that they distrust all news sources -- including reputable ones.
Voice of Europe, whose internet site is still accessible, is known for publishing stories repeating Russian messaging and giving airtime to guests who do so.
One of its top executives is a Ukrainian oligarch, Viktor Medvedchuk, who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and who has been sanctioned by the Czech government along with the outlet itself.
On Friday, Voice of Europe put a statement on its site saying it was being "unfairly and ruthlessly stigmatised" along with "European farmers, politically rising anti-globalist parties, supporters of these parties, former US president Donald Trump (and) Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban".
It blamed "unpopular globalist 'elites', their discredited lackeys in the lying mainstream press, and those financed by (US financier and philanthropist George) Soros," who is a bete noire of Orban's.
Trump and Orban have sent chills down spines in Brussels for their stances more in favour of Moscow than supporting Ukraine.

Far-right politicians

The Greens grouping in the European Parliament and a Czech daily said the lawmakers under suspicion of voicing Russian propaganda on Voice of Europe came from Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands and Poland.
EU lawmakers face strict rules regarding independence and ethics and can face penalties -- financial and otherwise -- if they violate them.
The political news website Politico said it identified 16 EU lawmakers who had appeared on Voice of Europe, all of them far-right politicians.
The Czech newspaper Denik N and Germany's Der Spiegel magazine named two top German candidates from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, Petr Bystron and Maximilian Krah, as politicians suspected of receiving Russian funds to spread the Kremlin talking points.
Denik N reported that Czech secret services had an audio recording implicating Bystron, and that some politicians were paid to fund their EU election campaigns.
Bystron and Krah have denied receiving any payments.
The European Parliament's main political groups have called for the legislature to also probe the alleged propaganda-peddling.
The revelation comes a year after the "Qatargate" bribery scandal, in which a number of EU lawmakers were accused of being paid to promote the interests of Qatar and Morocco. 
Both states deny the accusations.
bur/rmb/ec/nmc/bc

aid

'Constant death': Haiti aid workers brave bullets to help

BY JORIS FIORITI

  • Aid workers who are trying to help are doing so in frightening conditions.
  • Aid workers in Haiti's capital are demonstrating great courage to brave the gangs, the stray bullets and the risk of abduction just to go to work every day, according to humanitarians operating in the chaos-wracked Caribbean nation.
  • Aid workers who are trying to help are doing so in frightening conditions.
Aid workers in Haiti's capital are demonstrating great courage to brave the gangs, the stray bullets and the risk of abduction just to go to work every day, according to humanitarians operating in the chaos-wracked Caribbean nation.
"Here there is constant death," said Haitian doctor Elysee Joseph, who works for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Haiti.
"It's an act of heroic bravery to continue going to work. In Haiti, when you think the worst has happened, something worse is always around the corner."
The former French colony has suffered years of political instability and crime, and no elections have been held since 2016. 
But the situation has worsened since late February when armed gangs attacked police stations, prisons and government headquarters, and forced the shutdown of the port and airport in a spasm of violence that led then prime minister Ariel Henry to resign.
Joseph said fellow aid workers were exhausted because the challenges to their work also affected their loved ones in their private lives.
They live with "post-traumatic stress constantly being made worse" by new events, said the doctor, one of some 1,500 mostly Haitian MSF employees across the country.
Sarah Chateau, who oversees the Haiti programme at MSF, described a "humanitarian disaster".
The capital Port-au-Prince has become "an open-air jail, a completely landlocked city", she said.
The three million people living there have become "trapped", "with constant gunfire" ringing out across the city, she added.

'Kidnapped for five days'

With the country's largest port and airport closed, the city and the rest of Haiti are cut off from fresh supplies.
The violence since late February has displaced 362,000 people from their homes and pushed 1.64 million across the Caribbean nation to the brink of famine, according to the United Nations.
Aid workers who are trying to help are doing so in frightening conditions.
Chateau said MSF staff had treated 400 people for gunshot wounds at four hospitals in Port-au-Prince in recent weeks.
A stray bullet last weekend whizzed into an MSF residence, and the week before two shot right into a hospital where the charity's staff were working, she added.
Gangs control the roads in and out of the capital.
"A colleague wanted to get out to see her son in the countryside. She was kidnapped for five days," she said.
MSF alone had logged two abductions and two attempted abductions against employees in a month and a half since gangs seized control, she said.

'Child soldiers'  

Carlotta Pianigiani, a coordinator for the Alima charity, said she had "never been confronted by such a level of violence".
"In Haiti, you see things you don't see anywhere else. It has become normal to see dead bodies in the street," she said.
Some were charred after the "Bwa Kale" self-defence movement appeared to have burnt them and left them there as a warning to others.
Humanitarians, like Haitians, depend on hour-by-hour updates on WhatsApp chat groups to remain safe, she said.
The situation is different from that in war-torn Gaza, with gun battles in one and air strikes pummelling the other, she said.
But "they are the two places where it is most dangerous to work as a humanitarian organisation," Pianigiani said.
William O'Neill, the UN expert for human rights in Haiti, said he was worried about "child soldiers" being dragged into the violence.
Thirteen, 14, and 15-year-olds who once acted as messengers or lookouts are today yielding weapons, he said.
"Hospitals need everything: medicine, surgical gloves, anaesthetics," O'Neill said.
Fuel for generators has become unaffordable, like everything else.
Virginie Vialas, the Haiti coordinator for the Swiss branch of Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World), however, tried to stay positive.
"At least we can still work for now," she said. "We don't know what will happen in a few months."
jf/ah/spb/bc

court

S.Africa's electoral body takes candidate Zuma's case to top court

BY GERSENDE RAMBOURG

  • In a surprise verdict on Tuesday, the electoral court ruled that Zuma could stand, overturning a decision by the electoral commission to bar him over a contempt of court conviction.
  • The electoral commission said Friday it had appealed to South Africa's highest court to rule on whether ex-president Jacob Zuma can stand in a general election in May as political tensions heighten.
  • In a surprise verdict on Tuesday, the electoral court ruled that Zuma could stand, overturning a decision by the electoral commission to bar him over a contempt of court conviction.
The electoral commission said Friday it had appealed to South Africa's highest court to rule on whether ex-president Jacob Zuma can stand in a general election in May as political tensions heighten.
The vote is expected to be the most competitive since the 1994 advent of democracy in South Africa, and Zuma's presence in the campaign could prove a key factor. 
The commission said in a statement that it had lodged an "urgent and direct" appeal to the Constitutional Court to provide "certainty".
It is the latest twist in legal wrangling over the eligibility of the 82-year-old, who celebrated his birthday Friday and is fronting uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), a new opposition party that has become a potential disruptor in the May 29 ballot.
In a surprise verdict on Tuesday, the electoral court ruled that Zuma could stand, overturning a decision by the electoral commission to bar him over a contempt of court conviction.
The commission had excluded Zuma from the race at the end of last month, saying the constitution barred anyone sentenced to more than 12 months' imprisonment.
Zuma was handed 15 months in jail in June 2021 after refusing to testify to a panel investigating financial corruption and cronyism during his presidency. 
His lawyers argued the sentence did not disqualify him as it followed civil rather than criminal proceedings, and had been shortened by a remission.
Zuma was freed on medical parole just two months into his jail term.
The electoral commission said Friday that there was "substantial public interest in providing certainty on the proper interpretation" of the constitutional article relating to election candidates who have been convicted.
"Such clarity is important in the present matter because of a live issue but also for future elections," it said.

'Free and fair'

The commission did not intend the appeal "to involve itself in the political field of play".
"It is rather to ensure free and fair elections by ensuring that applicable constitutional provisions relating to elections are clearly understood by all role-players and applied evenly," it said.
"The MK Party will be elated by this," political commentator Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh wrote on X. 
If the court hears the appeal, "It will hand MK a prime opportunity to mobilise on the eve of the election. It will keep MK in the headlines and further unite the party around a narrative of persecution -- a narrative fmr pres Zuma thrives on," he said.
AFP was unable to reach the MK party for comment.
Banking on his popularity, MK is expected to cut into the vote share of the embattled African National Congress (ANC) -- the governing party and Zuma's former political home.
This could see the ANC vote share drop below 50 percent for the first time since 1994. 
Short of a parliamentary majority, the party would be forced to seek coalition partners to remain in power.
The ANC is struggling in opinion polls amid a weak economy and allegations of corruption and mismanagement.
Some polls put MK at above 10 percent nationwide, which would make it the third or fourth political force behind the ANC and the liberal Democratic Alliance.
The party is projected to make a  strong showing in the battleground region of KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma's home province.
The charismatic Zuma, who was president from 2009 to 2018, still carries considerable political clout and has in recent months garnered major media attention.
Despite scandals and graft allegations, he remains popular particularly among the country's more than 10 million Zulus. 
According to the latest poll from South African think tank Social Research Foundation, the MK would be the second largest opposition at 13 percent. 
The ANC was predicted to garner 36 percent of the vote ahead of the largest opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) which polled at 25 percent. 
South Africans will be voting for a new parliament, which in turn will elect the president
ger/zam/bp

conflict

Over 60 members of Gaza family killed in separate Israeli strikes

  • - House bombed 'while we were in it' - The Tabatibi family, which has been displaced by Israeli bombardments on several occasions, had already been in mourning.
  • Gaza's Tabatibi family is in mourning for the second time in less than a month, after separate Israeli bombardments on buildings they were sheltering in killed more than 60 of their kin.
  • - House bombed 'while we were in it' - The Tabatibi family, which has been displaced by Israeli bombardments on several occasions, had already been in mourning.
Gaza's Tabatibi family is in mourning for the second time in less than a month, after separate Israeli bombardments on buildings they were sheltering in killed more than 60 of their kin.
The latest strike occurred in the early hours of Friday in Gaza City's densely populated Daraj neighbourhood, killing at least 25 members of the family, a relative told AFP. 
In a narrow street, the six-storey building where the Tabatibi family had been staying was still standing on Friday, balconies barely hanging to its facade, the ground floor charred and its inside strewn with rubble.
"We didn't hear a missile come down or anything, we were all asleep", Khaled al-Tabatibi, a surviving member of the family, told AFP.
"Our house, my sisters, their children, their daughters, all of them are martyred, all of them are in pieces," he said through tears.
"When the occupation aircraft bombed the house, we were asleep. We don't know why they targeted the house, it's a massacre, annihilation."
Ziyad Dardas, a neighbour whose brother was injured in the strike, was at a loss for words.
"This is madness, this is the peak of crime from our leaders and Israeli leaders", he told AFP. 
"To the (Palestinian) Authority, to Hamas leaders, I say why is this not enough?"
The dead and injured were reportedly taken to Gaza City's Al-Shifa hospital, which was mostly destroyed in a recent Israeli military operation.

House bombed 'while we were in it'

The Tabatibi family, which has been displaced by Israeli bombardments on several occasions, had already been in mourning.
On March 15, the family had gathered in central Gaza to eat together during the first Friday night of Ramadan, a reunion that soon turned into a bloodbath.
An air strike hit the building where they were staying as women prepared the pre-fasting meal, killing 36 members of the family, witnesses told AFP at the time.
The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza, which provided the same death toll, blamed Israel for the strike in the city's Nuseirat area, as did survivors.
Asked about that strike, the Israeli military said it targeted two "terror operatives" in Nuseirat "throughout the night," without elaborating.
"They bombed the house while we were in it. My mother and my aunt were preparing the suhoor food. They were all martyred," Mohammed al-Tabatibi said at the time at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, before the bodies of his relatives were stacked on a truck to be driven to a cemetery.
The war in Gaza erupted with Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli figures. 
Israel's retaliatory military campaign to destroy Hamas has killed at least 33,634 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry. 
lba/jd/dl

border

Thai FM says won't tolerate border violations after clashes in Myanmar

  • The recent clashes have raised concerns in Bangkok, with Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara visiting the border on Friday.
  • Thailand's foreign minister warned that his country would not tolerate any violation of its sovereignty, during a visit on Friday to the border with Myanmar following days of clashes that have dislodged junta troops from their positions in the neighbouring country.
  • The recent clashes have raised concerns in Bangkok, with Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara visiting the border on Friday.
Thailand's foreign minister warned that his country would not tolerate any violation of its sovereignty, during a visit on Friday to the border with Myanmar following days of clashes that have dislodged junta troops from their positions in the neighbouring country.
Fighting between Myanmar's military and ethnic armed groups has rocked the border town of Myawaddy this week, sending people fleeing into Thailand, from where the boom of artillery shells and gunfire could be heard.
The conflict in Myanmar, sparked by the military's 2021 coup, regularly sends people rushing across the two countries' shared 2,400-kilometre (1,490-mile) border.
The recent clashes have raised concerns in Bangkok, with Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara visiting the border on Friday.
"Our soldiers are guarding along the border, showing we are ready to protect, and not let anyone violate our sovereignty," he told reporters.
"Thailand has clearly stated that we will not allow anyone to violate Thai soil, we will not accept it," he said.
The conflict in Myanmar has provoked a Thai response before, with the kingdom scrambling jet fighters in 2022 after junta planes breached the border during operations against anti-coup fighters.
"I have talked to the army chief, we can't accept if our airspace has been trespassed," Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin reiterated earlier on Friday.

Gunshots and prayers

On Thursday, the Karen National Union (KNU) told AFP that displaced junta troops were sheltering near the terminus of one of the bridges on the Myanmar side.
AFP reporters said it appeared calm on Friday morning at the Moei river that divides the countries.
A Thai soldier standing guard at the border told AFP on Friday that he had heard gunshots and blasts in Myanmar during his night watch.
Over the border, a loudspeaker blared out Buddhist prayers.
Seven Thai armoured cars carrying soldiers arrived Friday morning to relieve the night watch, kicking up dust on the road.
A handful of trucks arrived on the Thai side from Myanmar over the "2nd Friendship Bridge", AFP reporters said.
No trucks were seen driving into Myanmar.
One truck driver arriving at a checkpoint in Thailand told soldiers he was "happy", adding "I thought I wouldn't be able to get back."
The Myanmar junta was sending reinforcements towards Myawaddy, military sources told AFP on Thursday.
A KNU source said its fighters and allied "People's Defence Forces" had clashed with the military on Friday at Kawkareik, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) away from Myawaddy by road, without giving details. 
A resident of nearby Kyonedoe town said two civilians had been injured in artillery shelling on Thursday night.

Battlefield losses

The complete capture of Myawaddy would be a humiliating defeat for the junta, which has suffered a string of battlefield losses in recent months that have prompted rare criticism of its top brass by its supporters. 
Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun confirmed to local media late Thursday that junta soldiers "had to withdraw" from their base in Myawaddy, saying it was for their families' safety.
He said that the junta and Thai authorities were in discussion over the soldiers, but did not give any details about how many were involved.
AFP has contacted the Thai government for comment.
During his one-day visit, Parnpree also viewed preparations for a further influx of people fleeing Myanmar.
Thailand said this week it was prepared to accept 100,000 people from Myanmar.
tp-hla-rma-rbu/dhw

Russia

Belgium probing Russian 'interference' in European Parliament: PM

  • De Croo said Moscow's "clear" objectives were to "help elect more pro-Russian candidates to the European Parliament and reinforce the pro-Russian narrative in that institution".
  • Belgian prosecutors have opened a probe into Russian "interference" in the European Parliament following allegations lawmakers were paid to spread Kremlin propaganda, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Friday.
  • De Croo said Moscow's "clear" objectives were to "help elect more pro-Russian candidates to the European Parliament and reinforce the pro-Russian narrative in that institution".
Belgian prosecutors have opened a probe into Russian "interference" in the European Parliament following allegations lawmakers were paid to spread Kremlin propaganda, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Friday.
"Our judicial authorities have now confirmed this interference is subject to prosecution," De Croo said. 
"The cash payments did not take place in Belgium, but the interference does. As Belgium is the seat of the EU institutions, we have a responsibility to uphold every citizen's right to a free and safe vote."
He said a summit of EU leaders next week would discuss the allegations which have been raised just ahead of bloc-wide elections in June to choose a new parliament. 
De Croo said Moscow's "clear" objectives were to "help elect more pro-Russian candidates to the European Parliament and reinforce the pro-Russian narrative in that institution".
A spokesperson for Belgium's prosecutors' office confirmed to AFP that a probe was started on Thursday.
The Czech Republic last month said its intelligence service had discovered a network that used EU lawmakers to spread Russian propaganda through the Prague-based Voice of Europe news site.
Belgium says its own services have determined that some of the lawmakers had been paid to promote Moscow's propaganda.
"If there would be a type of bribery -- and our services indicate that payments have taken place -- while you need two sides for that to happen, you have people who organise it, but you also have people to receive it," De Croo said.

Far-right politicians

EU lawmakers face strict rules regarding independence and ethics and can face penalties -- financial and otherwise -- if they violate them.
The Greens grouping in the European Parliament and a Czech daily said the lawmakers under suspicion came from Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands and Poland.
The political news website Politico said it identified 16 EU lawmakers who had appeared on Voice of Europe, all of them far-right politicians.
The Czech newspaper Denik N and Germany's Der Spiegel magazine named two top German candidates from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, Petr Bryston and Maximilian Krah, as politicians suspected of receiving Russian funds to spread the Kremlin talking points.
Bryston and Krah have denied receiving any payments. Denik N reported that Czech secret services had an audio recording implicating Bryston.
The European Parliament's main political groups have called for the legislature to also probe the alleged propaganda-peddling.
The revelation comes a year after the "Qatargate" bribery scandal, in which a number of EU lawmakers were accused of being paid to promote the interests of Qatar and Morocco. Both states have denied the accusations.
De Croo said Belgium was enacting this week a new law against such interference and was calling for more tools at the EU level to combat Russian propaganda and disinformation.
He said Belgian prosecutors were to ask for an urgent meeting of the Eurojust agency that handles cross-border legal cooperation within the EU.
The Czech Republic has put the Voice of Europe and two pro-Kremlin Ukrainian politicians -- Viktor Medvedchuk and Artem Marchevsky -- on its sanctions list in relation to the pro-Russia network's activities.
jug/rmb/ec/tw

religion

Pope Francis to make 12-day Asia trip in September

BY CLéMENT MELKI

  • Francis had been due to visit Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Indonesia in September 2020 but the trip was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Pope Francis will visit Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Singapore in September, the Vatican announced Friday, an ambitious trip that could test the 87-year-old's increasingly fragile health.
  • Francis had been due to visit Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Indonesia in September 2020 but the trip was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pope Francis will visit Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Singapore in September, the Vatican announced Friday, an ambitious trip that could test the 87-year-old's increasingly fragile health.
Running from September 2 to 13 and covering around 30,000 kilometres (18,600 miles) in total, the trip is the longest for the Argentine since he became head of the worldwide Catholic Church in 2013.
"He will visit Jakarta from 3 to 6 September, Port Moresby and Vanimo from 6 to 9 September, Dili from 9 to 11 September and Singapore from 11 to 13 September," the Vatican said in a statement.
The visit, his first abroad since September last year, has been on the cards for months, but the pontiff's health issues had raised questions on whether it would go ahead. 
Francis pulled out of a key Easter event at the last minute in March, and has asked aides to read several of his speeches in recent weeks due a bout of bronchitis.
The pontiff, who uses a wheelchair, has suffered increasing health problems in recent years, from knee pain to surgery for a hernia and on his colon.
He is known for his work ethic -- he never takes holidays -- but has been forced to make concessions to his age and health, including cancelling a trip to UN climate talks in Dubai last year.
Francis had been due to visit Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Indonesia in September 2020 but the trip was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Tolerance, unity and peace

Involving more than 30 hours of flight, an eight-hour time difference and a series of meetings and masses, the September trip will represent a major physical challenge.
But the pontiff loves being among his flock, and his arrival is keenly awaited.
The government in Indonesia, home to the world's largest Muslim population, had already announced the pope's visit last month, describing it as a "special gift" for the country's Catholics.
In a statement Friday, its foreign ministry said the visit was important "for all religious communities".
"The visit is also expected to strengthen the message of tolerance, unity and world peace," it said.
According to the Pew Research Centre, Indonesia is home to 242 million Muslims and around 29 million Christians -- 8.5 million of whom are Catholics. 
Authorities in Papua New Guinea had also announced in January his visit, but no trips are considered official until the Vatican confirms.
Papua New Guinea is home to more than nine million Christians -- almost the entire population -- though most Papua New Guineans are Protestant, while retaining many traditional animist beliefs.
A 400-year-old version of the King James Bible, bound in calfskin, sits in the centre of the country's parliament. 
The last papal visit was in 1995, when Pope John Paul II was met with tribal dancers adorned with the feathers of exotic birds, grass skirts and loincloths.
Since becoming pope 11 years ago, Francis has made 44 trips abroad, the most recent to Marseille, France, in September.
He has also announced plans to visit Belgium this year, while he has mentioned a possible visit home to Argentina.
Francis also has three coming trips planned within Italy, the first of which will be to Venice on April 28.
cmk-ar/ams/js

climate

Mayor orders 'mass evacuations' in Russia flood city

  • The Ural river has flooded much of Orsk, and Orenburg -- the regional capital -- has been preparing for the peak of the rising water. 
  • Flooding in the Russian city of Orenburg became "critical" Friday forcing "mass evacuations" as the Ural river level rises, the mayor said. 
  • The Ural river has flooded much of Orsk, and Orenburg -- the regional capital -- has been preparing for the peak of the rising water. 
Flooding in the Russian city of Orenburg became "critical" Friday forcing "mass evacuations" as the Ural river level rises, the mayor said. 
Fast-rising temperatures have melted snow and ice, and along with heavy rains have caused a number of major rivers that cross Russia and Kazakhstan to overflow.
"Sirens are sounding in the city. This is not an exercise," Orenburg Mayor Sergei Salmin said on Telegram. 
"Mass evacuations are ongoing," he said. "The situation is critical, do not waste time," he said, calling on people in several city districts to evacuate. 
The Ural river has flooded much of Orsk, and Orenburg -- the regional capital -- has been preparing for the peak of the rising water. 
The city has a population of some 550,000 people. 
"In the last 10 hours the level of water on the Ural river rose by 40 centimetres (15.7 inches)," Salmin said, describing the situation as "dangerous".
Authorities have said that around 2,500 Orenburg houses have been affected by the water and almost 5,000 allotments.
Images on Russian state media showed an alley leading up to a monument that marks the border between Europe and Asia flooded, with lamp-posts partly submerged. They also showed water reaching many houses.
In Western Siberia, the Ishim river has also risen to dangerous levels, according to authorities in the Tyumen region. Officials have predicted that the Ishim and Tobol rivers will only reach a peak level around April 23-25.
A regional official, Sergey Balykin, told the RIA Novosti state news agency that the peak in Orenburg would come only on Friday or Saturday. 
Russia has evacuated around 10,000 people from rising water, mostly from the Orenburg region.  
Several villages have also been evacuated in the Kurgan and Tomsk regions further east. 
Authorities said however that conditions had improved in Orsk, which was badly hit after dam breached. Officials said water levels were falling again.
Kazakhstan has evacuated more than 96,000 people, with the city of Petropavlovsk also bracing for the worst of the flooding.  
No direct link has been made between the floods and global warming. But experts say the higher temperatures across the planet will cause the heavy rains blamed for the flooding.
bur/tw