- Leftist leads in Ecuador presidential vote: exit polls
Exit polls indicated leftist candidate Lenin Moreno was leading in the first round of Ecuador's presidential election on Sunday. Moreno, 63, had between 36 and 43 percent of the vote, according to the polls. The vote is a test of the legacy of outgoing President Rafael Correa, Moreno's ally and an outspoken critic of the United States.
- Global arms trade highest since Cold War: study
Worldwide arms trade has risen to its highest level since the Cold War in the last five years, driven by a demand from the Middle East and Asia, a study said Monday. Between 2012-2016, arms imports in terms of volume by countries in Asia and Oceania accounted for 43 percent of global imports, a 7.7 rise compared to the previous 2007-2011 period, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). "Transfer of major weapons in 2012-16 reached their highest volume for any five-year period since the end of" the Cold War, the independent institute said in a statement.
- Trump refers to non-existent Sweden terror incident
US President Donald Trump was speaking to supporters on Saturday when he apparently referred to the Scandinavian country as the site of a terror incident -- the latest example of his administration naming a non-existent attack. "You look at what's happening in Germany, you look at what's happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?
- Explosion at Colombia bullring injures 30: officials
An explosion in Bogota early Sunday injured about 30 people, most of them police guarding a bullring that had been targeted by protests when it reopened last month, officials said. Mayor Enrique Penalosa had said on Twitter that a police officer was killed in the blast, but officials later said that report was a mistake and there were no deaths. The bullring was beset by protesters when bullfights resumed there on January 22 after a four-year hiatus.
- What is Sinar Project and why we should care if it lives or dies
SUBANG JAYA, Feb 20 ― Located on the sixth floor of a building, the only thing distinguishing Sinar Project’s front door from the other nondescript grey doors on this long corridor are the...
- Mogadishu blast 'kills 20', Shabaab ups attack threat
At least 20 people died Sunday when a car bomb exploded in the Somali capital, as Shabaab Islamists threatened to escalate attacks in a "vicious war" against the new government. In the deadliest attack since the election of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed -- nicknamed Farmajo -- the vehicle exploded at an intersection packed with civilians, traders and security forces. "A suicide car bomber blew himself up inside this market at a busy time, killing at least 20 people and many others were also injured," said Ahmed Abdulle Afrah, the district commissioner of Mogadishu's Wadajir district.
- Venezuela names new mining minister
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro named a new mining minister on Sunday, the latest of several appointments as he seeks to strengthen his position against opposition pressure to quit. Announcing the appointment of Jorge Arreaza, 43, in a television broadcast, Maduro recalled that developing mining was part of his emergency plan to reboot the stricken economy. Arreaza is a son-in-law of Maduro's late predecessor Hugo Chavez, father of the "socialist revolution" that is now floundering in crisis.
- Hitler's phone sells for more than $240,000
Adolf Hitler's personal telephone, which the Fuehrer used to dictate many of his deadly World War II commands, sold at auction on Sunday for $243,000, the US house selling it announced. Originally a black Bakelite phone, later painted crimson and engraved with Hitler's name, the relic was found in the Nazi leader's Berlin bunker in 1945 following the regime's defeat. The auction house Alexander Historical Auctions, which did not reveal the winning bidder's identity, had estimated its worth between $200,000 and $300,000.
- SpaceX rocket blasts off from NASA launchpad with ISS cargo
The white rocket soared into the cloudy, gray skies over Cape Canaveral, Florida at 9:38 am (1438 GMT). The mission was the first to take off from NASA's historic launchpad 39A, the origin of the pioneering US spaceflights that took astronauts to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the space shuttle missions that ran from 1981 to 2011. "They resolved all the technical issues last night," said NASA's Bob Cabana, director of Kennedy Space Center.
- Artisans break the mould in Britain's pottery capital
At the 18th-century Spode pottery works in Stoke-on-Trent, start-up artisans like 22-year-old Emma Price are moving into abandoned buildings and breathing new life into a once-mighty industry. At the Spode works, founded in 1767, a few dozen artisans have moved into the derelict buildings.
- Iraq launches assault on IS-held west Mosul
Iraqi forces seized 15 villages from the Islamic State group Sunday, launching a daunting operation to retake west Mosul which aid groups warned will put civilians in grave danger. The Islamic State group has put up stiff resistance to defend Mosul, the city where its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a "caliphate" straddling Iraq and Syria in 2014. A top army commander announced that forces led by federal police units retook villages south of Mosul, including Athbah, leaving them within striking distance of the airport.
- Kraft Heinz withdraws bid for Unilever
The US food giant Kraft Heinz has dropped its bid to buy Unilever days after it rejected a $143 billion buyout offer, the companies said on Sunday. Kraft Heinz had signaled on Friday that it would press ahead with its campaign after the British-Dutch consumer products manufacturer said the initial proposal "fundamentally undervalues" its worth. "Unilever and Kraft Heinz hereby announce that Kraft Heinz has amicably agreed to withdraw its proposal for a combination of the two companies," they announced in a joint statement.
- Germany expects continued IMF aid for Greece
Germany said Sunday that it expects the International Monetary Fund to continue participating in the bailout for debt-stricken Greece, despite the lender's doubts on the issue. Ahead of key talks over the Greek debt saga, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told ARD public television he was "starting from the principle" that the Washington-based IMF would carry on supporting Greece alongside the eurozone. Schaeuble and other eurozone finance ministers are due to meet in Brussels on Monday, with a crucial meeting two days later in Berlin between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and IMF chief Christine Lagarde.
- Islamic State posts video of man it says was Egypt church bomber
By Ali Abdelaty CAIRO (Reuters) - Islamic State published a video on Sunday threatening Egyptian Christians and showing the last statement of a man it said was responsible for the deadly bombing in December of a Coptic cathedral in Cairo. The masked man in battle-dress, whom the group identified as Abu Abdallah al-Masri, is seen encouraging militants all over the world not to give up and promising Islamists jailed in Egypt they will be freed soon, when the group "liberates" Cairo. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had already identified the bomber as a 22-year-old student called Mahmoud Shafik, and it is believed Abu Abdallah al-Masri was his assumed name.
- Ecuador transgender people vote for first time according to chosen gender
By Alexandra Ulmer and Yury Garcia QUITO/GUAYAQUIL (Reuters) - Ecuadorean transgender people on Sunday voted for the first time according to their chosen gender, in what activists say are signs of progress in the socially conservative and Catholic Andean nation. In Ecuador, men and women wait in separate lines to cast their ballots, which for years created uncomfortable moments for transgender voters who had to queue up according to their biological sex. "The rumors would start, and the looks," said LGBT activist Mariasol Mite, 32, who changed her ID description from "sex: male" to "gender: female" last year.
- French protests target 'fake jobs' candidates Fillon, Le Pen
Thousands demonstrated in Paris and other French cities Sunday to protest corruption, taking aim specifically at presidential candidates Francois Fillon and Marine Le Pen, both accused of misusing public funds. "To jail with the corrupt" and "Down with the privileged" read placards brandished on the Place de la Republique, the vast square in central Paris which has long hosted huge protests. Conservative candidate Fillon has been mired in scandal since last month when it emerged that his wife netted at least 680,000 euros ($720,000) for a suspected fake job as a parliamentary assistant over a period spanning 15 years.
- Netanyahu held secret Arab peace meeting: report
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met secretly with Arab rulers last year to hear then US secretary of state John Kerry pitch a regional peace plan, an Israeli newspaper reported Sunday. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi also attended the February 2016 talks hosted by King Abdullah II in the Jordanian city of Aqaba, Haaretz said, citing former senior officials in the Obama administration who asked to remain anonymous. It said Kerry wanted the sides to endorse six principles, which he laid out publicly in a December speech.
- Ecuador in key vote for Latin American left
Ecuador voted Sunday in general elections that could see a pillar of the Latin American left swing to the right -- and potentially deprive WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange of his place of refuge in London. President Rafael Correa, who is not running, expressed confidence that his party's candidate, Lenin Moreno, would win in the first round. "Let's await the results and, in a democratic spirit, accept the will of the Ecuadoran people expressed at the polls." The vote puts Correa's legacy into question.
- U.S. embassy in Kiev critical of Moscow order on Ukrainian documentation
The United States embassy in Kiev voiced concern on Sunday over Russia's decision to recognise civil registration documents issued in separatist-held areas of eastern Ukraine, saying that it threatens the Minsk peace process. The order by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday will enable people from the conflict-hit region to travel, work or study in Russia and drew strong criticism from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The move is "alarming and contradicts the agreed goals of the Minsk agreements", the U.S. embassy in Ukraine said on Sunday via its official twitter account.
- Syrian rebels say army attacks wrecking ceasefire efforts
Syrian rebel groups who have participated in peace talks said on Sunday that an upsurge in Syrian army shelling and bombing was wrecking the prospects of maintaining a Russian-Turkish-brokered ceasefire. The rebel groups, mostly backed by Turkey, who attended two rounds of talks in the Kazakh capital Astana said they had supported a political solution to end the bloodshed, but that war had been "imposed" on them by the Syrian army and its allies.
- Iraq launches offensive on last Islamic State stronghold in Mosul
By Maher Chmaytelli and Isabel Coles BAGHDAD/ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - U.S.-backed Iraqi forces on Sunday launched a ground offensive to dislodge Islamic State militants from the western part of the city of Mosul, and put an end to their ambitions for territorial rule in Iraq. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the offensive in the northern city, asking the armed forces to "respect human rights" during the battle and to take care of those displaced by the fighting. Islamic State militants are essentially under siege in western Mosul, along with an estimated 650,000 civilians, after they were forced out of the eastern part of the city in the first phase of an offensive that concluded last month, after 100 days of fighting.
- Libya's Seraj sees Russia as possible intermediary with eastern commander
By Shadia Nasralla and Andreas Rinke MUNICH (Reuters) - Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Seraj of the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli said on Sunday he would like Russia to help overcome deadlock in the country, which is struggling with divisions among militias and an Islamist militant threat. In an interview with Reuters, Seraj expressed hope that Moscow might act as an intermediary between him and Khalifa Haftar, a military commander who is supported by factions based in the east of Libya. Seraj's Government of National Accord has been trying to formulate plans for unified Libyan security forces since arriving in Tripoli in March, but has made little progress.
- Georgians rally for 'fair justice' in broadcaster's court battle
Thousands of Georgians rallied on Sunday in the capital Tbilisi in support of the country's biggest independent television station Rustavi 2, which is fighting court battles over its ownership. In 2015, a court found in favour of former co-owner Kibar Khalvashi and ordered the seizure of Rustavi 2's property in August 2015 and later the seizure of shares in the company that owns Rustavi 2, which government officials have accused of bias. Khalvashi says he was forced to give up his shares under the government of former president Mikheil Saakashvili, who lost an election in 2012, and he wants them back.
- Germany's SPD moves ahead of Merkel's party in poll
By Erik Kirschbaum BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) have moved ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) in an opinion poll by the Emnid institute for the first time since 2006, Bild am Sonntag newspaper said. The SPD's unexpected surge of some 12 points in the last month has caught Merkel and her conservatives off guard, analysts said, just seven months before the Sept. 24 election, where she had expected to win a fourth term easily. The Emnid poll of 1,885 voters gave the SPD 33 percent of the vote, up 1 point in the last week, while the Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) would win 32 percent, down 1 point.
- Sweden asks the U.S. to explain Trump comment on Sweden
The Swedish embassy in Washington has asked the U.S. State Department for an explanation of a comment made by President Donald Trump that suggested there had been some sort of security incident in Sweden on Friday. The U.S. President was speaking at a political rally in Florida on Saturday when, in connection with the mention of a need to keep the United States safe, he said: "You look at what's happening in Germany. You look at what's happening last night in Sweden.
- Aid for Sudan to drop despite US easing sanctions: UN
Global financial support for humanitarian work in conflict-riven Sudan is expected to drop this year despite improved aid access and the easing of US sanctions, the top UN aid official in the country said. "Sudan is taking some very positive steps which are recognised, and... normally that would need to be recognised also by increased funding," UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Marta Ruedas, told AFP. "Yet the surrounding financial environment is one where I'm afraid that it's going to be rather a decrease in funding," she said in an interview.
- U.S. defense secretary scraps Afghan trip due to weather
By Phil Stewart ABU DHABI (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump's defense secretary said bad weather had forced him to scrap a visit to Afghanistan on Sunday but added that he was reviewing the next steps in the war after discussions with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the top U.S. commander. "We're putting our thoughts together now," Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters in Abu Dhabi during his debut trip to the Middle East. U.S. General John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. and international troops in Afghanistan, said this month the NATO-led force in Afghanistan had enough troops to carry out counterterrorism missions but had "a shortfall of a few thousand" for its major role of advising Afghan security forces.
- Tropical trees burn in Milan as Duomo row turns racist
A cluster of palm trees next to Milan's Duomo was set ablaze early Sunday as a dispute over the use of non-native plants at one of Italy's most celebrated cathedrals took on a racist tinge. Critics complained not only that the plants were non-native, but that the project -- which will also involve banana trees -- had been sponsored by Starbucks. Palms are not native to Italy but are widespread in more temperate areas of the country, including Rome and the Riviera, as well as in Sicily, where their juxtaposition with the austere architecture of Norman cathedrals is a favourite holiday snap for visitors.
- Syria regime shelling 'bloody message" before talks: opposition
The leading Syrian opposition body on Sunday lambasted escalating attacks by government forces as a "bloody message" aimed at sabotaging peace talks that are due to open in Geneva next week. The High Negotiations Committee (HNC) said recent attacks near Damascus, Homs city, and elsewhere were "obstructing the efforts aimed at a political transition in Syria". "It is a bloody message from a criminal regime just a few days ahead of political negotiations in Geneva that demonstrates its rejection of any political solution," the HNC said in an online statement.
- Italy's Renzi triggers party leadership contest
Italy's ex-prime minister Matteo Renzi resigned as head of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) on Sunday, triggering a leadership battle as the country's ruling party grapples with the threat of a split. Renzi, who stepped down in December after losing a key referendum, said he would run to win back his post as party secretary, which would put him in pole position to become prime minister once more should the PD win approaching national elections.
- Optimism on the front line over Mosul assault
In the arid hills, Iraqi forces drive their armed vehicles towards a village of around a dozen small stone houses. There is a sudden explosion. Just a few hundred metres (yards) from the front line of an offensive launched on Sunday at dawn to oust the Islamic State group from western Mosul, Iraqi forces casually watch the fighting.
- DR Congo military under fire over massacre video
The Democratic Republic of Congo's government came under pressure on Sunday to stem violence after the emergence of a video purporting to show soldiers massacring unarmed civilians. "It is up to the authorities at all levels, provincial and national, to find a solution," Ibrahim Ikulu, a lawmaker from the ruling majority bloc, told AFP as politicians decried the upsurge in unrest. "The solution to this problem is political, not military," said opposition lawmaker Corneille Masuasua, who criticised how the military appeared to have taken matters into its own hands.
- Four N.Korean suspects fled Malaysia after airport murder - police
By Joseph Sipalan and Praveen Menon KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Four North Korean suspects in the murder of the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un fled Malaysia on the day he was attacked at Kuala Lumpur airport and apparently killed by a fast-acting poison, police said on Sunday. A North Korean man, a Vietnamese woman and an Indonesian woman have been arrested already in connection with the death of Kim Jong Nam last Monday, which has triggered a diplomatic spat between Malaysia and Pyongyang.
- Pence pays somber visit to Nazi concentration camp
US Vice President Mike Pence paid a somber visit to the former Nazi concentration camp at Dachau, Germany on Sunday, against the backdrop of concerns about a surge of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States since Donald Trump was elected president. "It was a miracle that we survived," former Dachau prisoner Abba Naor told the vice president and his family, describing a typical meal as "a slice of bread." Pence signed a guest book, ending his visit with an hour-long service at the Church of Reconciliation on the camp grounds. "Moving and emotional tour of Dachau today," he tweeted on his official Twitter account.
- Former U.S. general Jones: not considered as Trump's security adviser
(Refiles to delete extra word in first paragraph of this story released on Feb 18, 2017) MUNICH (Reuters) - James Jones, a former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe said on Saturday he is not under consideration to be U.S. President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser. "My policy is that I never turn down a job that hasn't been offered," Jones, who was attending the Munich Security Conference, told Reuters. Jones, a former U.S. Marine Corps general and President Barack Obama’s first national security adviser, was thought to be one of four people under consideration by Trump to replace Michael Flynn, who resigned over telephone calls he had with Russia's ambassador to the United States before Trump was sworn in to office.
- Mediator seeks heads of state summit on Burundi crisis
The mediator in Burundi's nearly two-year political crisis on Sunday asked regional leaders to call an urgent summit as deep discord and a government boycott hamper peace talks. Former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa wrapped up four days of talks with some 30 Burundian representatives who agreed on the basic problems, but not how to resolve them. The biggest hitch is Burundi's fierce opposition to the process as long as it includes exiled main opposition group CNARED which it sees as a "terrorist organisation".
- Suicide bomb in market in Somalia capital kills 39
By Feisal Omar MOGADISHU (Reuters) - A car bomb ripped through a market in Mogadishu on Sunday, killing 39 people and injuring around 50, a local official said, days after Somalia elected a new president. The car was driven by a suicide bomber, said Ahmed Abdulle Afrax, the mayor of Wadajir district where the bombing happened. "We carried 39 dead bodies and there were many others injured," Dr Abdikadir Abdirahman, director of the Aamin Ambulance Service, told Reuters.
- Leftist vies with ex-banker in nail-biter Ecuador presidency vote
By Alexandra Ulmer and Jose Llangari QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuadoreans were voting on Sunday in a nail-biter presidential election where an ally of leftist President Rafael Correa hopes to clinch enough support to avoid a runoff against a conservative ex-banker. Lenin Moreno, 63, a disabled former vice president, needs 40 percent of valid votes and a 10 percentage point difference with his nearest rival to avoid a second round on April 2 and continue a decade of left-wing rule in the Andean country. If Moreno is forced into a second round, analysts expect Ecuador's fractured opposition to coalesce around Lasso amid an economic downturn and corruption scandals in OPEC's smallest member state.
- Italy's Renzi triggers party leadership contest
Italy's ex-prime minister Matteo Renzi resigned as head of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) on Sunday, kicking off a leadership battle as the country's ruling party grapples with the threat of a schism. Renzi, who stepped down in January after losing a key referendum, said he would run to win back his post as party secretary, which would put him in pole position to become prime minister once more should the PD win approaching national elections.
- U.N. and others play down expectations for Geneva talks on Syria
By John Irish and Andrea Shalal MUNICH (Reuters) - The United Nations and other parties to Syrian peace efforts on Sunday softened any expectations of a major breakthrough at U.N.-led talks in Geneva next week, with U.S. policy on the crisis in disarray and its ties with Russia unclear. U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura told the Munich Security Conference the lack of a clear U.S. position made resolving the complex issues of the six-year civil war far more complicated than his earlier mediation efforts for Iraq and Afghanistan.
- China to suspend all imports of coal from North Korea
China will suspend all imports of coal from North Korea starting Feb. 19, the country's commerce ministry said in a notice posted on its website on Saturday, as part of its efforts to implement United Nations sanctions against the country. The Ministry of Commerce said in a short statement that the ban would be effective until Dec. 31. The ministry did not say why all shipments would be suspended, but South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported last week that a shipment of North Korean coal worth around $1 million was rejected at Wenzhou port on China's eastern coast.
- China's oil giant CNPC signs $1.77 bn Abu Dhabi deal
The China National Petroleum Corporation on Sunday secured an eight-percent share in an onshore oil concession in Abu Dhabi in a deal worth $1.77 billion, the Emirati company said. The Chinese giant signed a deal with the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company for a stake in the Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Petroleum Operations which operates the 40-year concession, ADNOC said in a statement.
- Kuwait jails senior official for joining IS jihadists
Kuwait's supreme court on Sunday sentenced a top bureaucrat to 10 years in jail for joining and fighting with the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria and Iraq. The court also fined the unnamed Kuwaiti national, who was a top official at the Kuwait municipality, $30,000 and convicted him of calling other people to join the group. Kuwaiti courts have sentenced a number of IS members, sympathisers and financiers to various jail terms.
- Zimbabwe's Mugabe says he is people's choice for 2018 election
By Cris Chinaka HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's people and the ruling ZANU-PF party see no viable alternative candidate to President Robert Mugabe for general elections in 2018, state media quoted him as saying on Sunday. "The people, you know, would want to judge everyone else on the basis of President Mugabe as the criteria," Mugabe, who is Africa's oldest leader, said. Mugabe has been in power in the southern African country since 1980 and in December his party confirmed him as its candidate for the next presidential election expected in mid-2018, when he will be 94.
- Saudi Arabia, Israel present de facto united front against Iran
By John Irish and Andrea Shalal MUNICH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia and Israel both called on Sunday for a new push against Iran, signalling a growing alignment in their interests, while U.S. lawmakers promised to seek new sanctions on the Shi'ite Muslim power. Turkey also joined the de facto united front against Tehran as Saudi and Israeli ministers rejected an appeal from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for Sunni Gulf Arab states to work with Tehran to reduce violence across the region. While Saudi Arabia remains historically at odds with Israel, their ministers demanded at the Munich Security Conference that Tehran be punished for propping up the Syrian government, developing ballistic missiles and funding separatists in Yemen.
- Pence tells Turkey PM wants 'new start' in ties: report
US Vice President Mike Pence has told Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim that the new administration wanted a "new start" in relations between the two NATO member states, local media reported Sunday. Turkey is looking to improve relations with Washington under President Donald Trump after ties soured during Barack Obama's time in office. Pence said the United States was ready to further develop ties during a meeting on Saturday on the sidelines of the Munich security conference, the private NTV channel reported.
- 'Flight of the angel' rings in Venice Carnival
Tens of thousands of revellers in masks and period costume packed St Mark's Square on Sunday for the "flight of the angel", the traditional opening of the Venice Carnival. On the 12th chime of midday from St Mark's Campanile, Claudia Marchiori descended gracefully from the famous bell tower, attached to a wire 80 metres (260 feet) above the crowd that had gathered for one of the world's most famous carnivals.
- Pope calls for quick accord to end DR Congo violence
Pope Francis on Sunday urged leaders of the Democratic Republic of Congo to act quickly to resolve its political crisis and curb violence, condemning in particular the use of child soldiers. Violence has flared across the country in recent months, including deadly confrontations in the Kasai regions, as President Joseph Kabila has indicated no plans to step down even though his term ended in December. On Friday, a video emerged appearing to show DR Congo soldiers killing unarmed civilians in Kasai-Oriental, while on Saturday officials said militiamen from the country's Nande ethnic group had killed 25 civilians in the country's violence-torn east, most hacked to death with machetes.