North Korea says rockets to U.S. ‘inevitable’ after Trump dubs Kim ‘rocket man’

September 23, 2017

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told the United Nations on Saturday that U.S. President Donald Trump had made “our rockets’ visit to the entire U.S. mainland inevitable” by calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “rocket man”.

“Through such a prolonged and arduous struggle, now we are finally only a few steps away from the final gate of completion of the state nuclear force,” Ri told the annual gathering of world leaders for the United Nations General Assembly.

“It is only a forlorn hope to consider any chance that the DPRK (North Korea) would be shaken an inch or change its stance due to the harsher sanctions by the hostile forces,” he said.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols and Yara Bayoumy; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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Missoni’s party collection celebrates designer’s 20th anniversary

September 23, 2017

By Giulia Segreti

MILAN (Reuters) – Italian designer Angela Missoni celebrated 20 years at the creative helm of the family-owned knitwear brand with a party-inspired collection, declaring herself proud of having kept the brand relevant over the years.

“I wanted to celebrate my twentieth anniversary given it’s a relevant moment for any designer,” Missoni told reporters at the end of the show.

“So I organized a party and dressed these young boys and girls as though they were going to one,” she added.

Angela Missoni took over from her mother Rosita as creative director of the brand, known for its colorful geometric knit patterns, in 1997. The group was founded by Angela’s parents in 1953.

Missoni said she was very proud of having kept the brand relevant in the fashion industry “despite all the changes and difficulties of the sector”.

“There has certainly been a lot of work… you are never done and changes occur so fast that you are always moving and organizing (the company),” Missoni said.

Colorful as usual, the designs of the collection included see-through dresses and skirts with matching bra tops, revealing bathing suits worn with short jackets and cardigans, pant suits and bright leggings with iridescent jumpers.

Missoni said that the focus was on lightweight knitwear which resembled chiffon and that many of the designs “had light… so to shine at my party”.

Models wore resin bracelets that recalled the fabrics’ patterns, big dangly geometric earrings and flowers made of fabric as decorations. Many wore wide-brim sun hats.

Men wore colorful shorts or tapered trousers with tops that had motifs that recalled tie-dye t-shirts, with leather slip-ons on their feet.

Milan fashion week runs until Sept. 25, with collections by luxury group Salvatore Ferragamo, Italy’s Trussardi, young designer Stella Jean and world-famous fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana to be showcased in coming days.

(Reporting by Giulia Segreti; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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Italy’s 5-Star names youthful new leader as election nears

September 23, 2017

RIMINI, Italy (Reuters) – Italy’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, riding high in opinion polls, on Saturday named 31-year-old Luigi Di Maio to lead it into parliamentary elections early next year, which could see the maverick party win national power.

Di Maio, deputy speaker of the chamber of deputies, is the party’s most prominent and popular politician and had been groomed for the leadership in recent years by 5-Star’s founder, the 69-year-old comedian Beppe Grillo.

Boyish looking and usually immaculately turned out in suit and tie, Di Maio presents a moderate image in striking contrast to the Grillo who is famous for his raucous tirades against Italy’s ruling elite.

Grillo, who has so far acted as 5-Star’s de facto chief, is now expected to gradually withdraw from the limelight.

Di Maio has taken tough stances on law-and-order and immigration and is widely seen on the right of the party which says traditional left-right labels have no meaning.

He won by a huge margin over seven rivals in an online vote of 5-Star’s members held on Thursday and Friday, reflecting the movement’s credo of internet-based direct democracy.

His election, announced at the party’s annual gathering at in the Adriatic coastal town of Rimini, was considered a formality because the other candidates were all little-known figures, mostly local councillors.

(Reporting by Gavin Jones, editing by Silvia Aloisi)

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France’s far-left leader urges French ‘resistance’ against Macron

September 23, 2017

By Ingrid Melander and Dominique Vidalon

PARIS (Reuters) – French far-left opposition party leader Jean-Luc Melenchon drew tens of thousands to a rally on Saturday against President Emmanuel Macron’s labor reforms, aiming to reinforce his credentials as Macron’s strongest political opponent.

Trade union protests against Macron’s plan to make hiring and firing easier and give companies more power over working conditions seem to be losing steam, but Melenchon said his “France Unbowed” party was calling on unions to join them and together “keep up the fight”.

“The battle is not over, it is only starting,” Melenchon told the crowd gathered on the Place de la Republique where the rally against what Melenchon has called “a social coup d’etat” ended.

In a warning to Macron, who has said he will not bow to street pressure, Melenchon said: “It is the street that defeated the kings, it is the street that defeated the Nazis,” while the crowd chanted “Resistance! Resistance!”

It remains to be seen whether Melenchon and his party have the capacity to mobilize the kind of street resistance which forced the last two presidents to dilute their own attempts to loosen the labor code.

Melenchon tweeted that over 150,000 demonstrators had turned up while police put the number at 30,000.

A campaign rally in March, weeks before the presidential election, drew some 130,000 people, party officials had said.

“Today we are sending an extraordinary strong message to the workers that they are not alone,” Melenchon added.

Macron campaigned for the presidency as someone who could bridge the divide between left and right.

But since his election, he has already alienated many, especially on the left, by saying he would be a “Jupiter-like” president, above the fray, and with his avowed determination not to tolerate “slackers”.

Some of Saturday’s protesters carried banners reading “The slackers are in the streets” or “Macron president of the wealthy”. Party officials said about 150 buses had brought protesters from all over France.

Brigitte Gerard, a 59-year-old school teacher from Rennes, in western France, carried a banner reading: “Watch out Jupiter, the people are rumbling”.

“There is a lot of anger,” she said as the march set off for the Place de la Republique. “I don’t think they’re aware of it. They’re cut off from reality.”

“ARM-WRESTLING CONTEST”

The new labor rules, discussed at length in advance with unions, will among other measures cap payouts on dismissals that are judged unfair.

“Emmanuel Macron has started an arm-wrestling contest with the French people … but I think we can stop these decrees,” France Unbowed lawmaker Adrien Quatennens told Reuters.

A string of opinion polls showing the far-left maverick Melenchon as the strongest opponent to Macron’s upstart En Marche (On The Move) party, highlight the weakness of the traditional mainstream parties.

The Socialists, who ruled from 2012 to 2017, are in tatters, the conservative Republicans are divided over whether to back Macron, and the far-right National Front, whose leader Marine Le Pen reached the second round run-off against Macron, is weakened by internal fighting.

Ironically, Melenchon’s strength could be a good thing for Macron, because polls also indicate that he is not seen as a credible alternative but rather as a conduit for protest.

In an Odoxa survey carried out this week, 66 percent of respondents said Melenchon would be a bad president.

The centrist president formally signed the labor decrees on Friday, and they are due to enter into force by the start of next year.

The measures are only the first step of a series of reforms that will also amend the unemployment benefit and pension systems, changes that could well provoke more protests than changes to the labor code.

(Additional reporting by Dominique Vidalon, Arthur Connan, Cyril Camu, Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Stephen Powell)

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Few ideas, less hope leave Syria crisis on back burner at U.N.

September 23, 2017

By John Irish and Yara Bayoumy

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – At the entrance to the United Nations building in New York a sign advertises an upcoming party to celebrate the end of the annual gathering of world leaders. Next to it a weathered box with crumpled papers urges people to donate for Syrian refugees.

The contrast is striking a year after nations jousted verbally for a week in the same halls attempting to strike a ceasefire deal as Russia and Iran backed Syrian government troops in a brutal advance on the then rebel bastion of Aleppo.

But tensions in the Korean Peninsula and a growing crisis over the fate of a nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers has relegated talk of resolving the six-year-old Syrian civil war to back rooms and bilateral chitchat as international diplomacy struggles to find a strategy to end the crisis.

On the ground, violence between government forces and rebels has been drastically reduced after the creation of ‘de-escalation zones’ in the west of the country negotiated between Russia, Turkey and Iran in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. A separate effort between Russia, Jordan and the United States has also helped in the south.

Its backers say the zones have restored some security to Syrians and open the way for local reconciliation. Its detractors warn that they will fragment the country and lead to a more radicalised opposition.

“You don’t have the U.S. and the Europeans around the table and that is a huge defeat for all of us. This Astana process is just a military de-escalation process and it must be supplemented with a political process,” French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country supports rebels and urges the departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, told reporters this week.

But there appears little momentum for that. While all actors in the conflict agree on the common goal of defeating Islamic State and al-Qaeda-backed militants, an objective that is well on course, there is no consensus on how to breathe fresh life into the political process.

AMERICAN WITHDRAWAL, RUSSIAN DOMINATION

That has been compounded by the arrival of the Trump administration whose priority in Syria is focused on destroying Islamist groups and curbing Iran’s influence. Meanwhile, they have reduced support for some opposition groups.

“The American withdrawal has left Russia dominating the entire process,” Riad Hijab, the head of the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC), told Reuters in New York.

The last major international attempt to resolve the crisis ended in failure when the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) was cast aside after Syrian government forces retook Aleppo in 2016.

U.N.-brokered peace talks in Geneva that have pitted a government delegation against a divided opposition for several years with the ultimate aim of implementing an existing U.N. roadmap have been kept on life-support as sponsors of the warring parties fail to pressure them to engage in dialogue.

“The question is, are these de-escalation areas going to be limited for six months or do they risk becoming a de facto partition of Syria?” U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura told a sparsely attended meeting on the crisis.

“It’s time for Geneva to ensure sustainability of de-escalation,” he said. “If we miss this we will be regretting it once again.”

Those talks are tentatively scheduled to resume at the end October.

There is growing pressure on the Riyadh-based opposition, which has suffered repeated reversals since the start of the year, to restructure by including groups that have closer ties to Russia, but also shaking up its top leadership.

Western and Arab diplomats argue that it aims to merely strengthen Moscow’s hand in any future negotiating process.

“Now that the opposition no longer has the hope to win the war, things can be different, but if we put up a fragmented, demoralized and radicalised opposition in Geneva versus a regime that, while weak, believes it can win, then nothing will happen in Geneva,” a senior European diplomat said.

“It’s time for the sponsors to blow the final whistle.”

NO PEACE, NO RECONSTRUCTION

But after a week at the United Nations, there was little sign of progress. A French effort to get the five permanent members of the Security Council – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – to talk to each other yielded no concrete results.

“There’s a lot of wariness and mistrust from Russia who think we have a hidden agenda and the United States … who are obsessed with Iran,” said a senior French diplomat.

“At no point have the powers ever been clear on what they want so we want to now have that conversation.”

How Russia and Iran see the political evolution remains unclear given their interests and influence in Syria have never been greater.

Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose country may be feeling under pressure after this week’s barrage of threats from U.S. President Donald Trump, on Thursday urged all the sponsors “to commit to ourselves that there will be no solution without a political solution.”

Speaking at the high-level Syria meeting, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov pushed for a new round of Geneva talks.

However, he condemned as “unacceptable” the West’s attitude in refusing to help fund reconstruction of areas taken back by Syrian government-backed forces, a sign perhaps that Moscow is concerned about its long-term role in the country.

The United States, Britain and France have all dismissed that idea, believing they can use the promise of reconstruction to push Assad and his allies to the negotiating table.

“Absent a credible political horizon that can lead to a transition that’s supported by a majority of the Syrian people, the reality is the international community will not be coming in with significant reconstruction assistance,” said Brett McGurk, U.S. special envoy for the coalition against Islamic State.

(Writing by John Irish; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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NFL condemns Trump’s comments on football player protests

September 23, 2017

(Note: Strong language in paragraphs 2 and 5)

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s call for National Football League owners to fire players who protest during the U.S. national anthem revealed an “unfortunate lack of respect” for the NFL and its players, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said on Saturday.

Goodell, in a statement released a day after Trump suggested any protesting football player was a “son of a bitch” and should lose his job, never mentioned the president by name but made a clear reference to his remarks at a political rally.

“Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities,” Goodell said in the statement.

As commissioner, Goodell reports to NFL owners, some of whom have supported Trump in the past. New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, a major Trump presidential campaign donor, was confirmed by the Senate last month as Trump’s pick to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now… He is fired,” Trump said on Friday at a rally for Alabama Senate Republican candidate Luther Strange.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick stirred a polarizing national debate in 2016 after refusing to stand during pre-game renditions of the “Star Spangled Banner” to protest police violence against African-Americans. Several players have made similar gestures of protest before games since Kaepernick initiated his protest.

The union representing professional football players also rejected Trump’s comment, saying it would defend their right to freedom of expression.

“This union will never back down when it comes to protecting the constitutional rights of our players as citizens,” tweeted DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the National Football League Players Association, referring to the First Amendment’s guarantee of the right to free speech.

The White House could not be reached immediately to comment on the statements by Goodell or the union.

Protesting football players were not the only professional athletes targeted by Trump in recent days. In an early morning Twitter message on Saturday, the president rescinded a White House invitation to basketball star Stephen Curry, who had said he would “vote” against the planned visit by the National Basketball Association champion Golden State Warriors.

“Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!” Trump tweeted.

The Golden State Warriors and Curry could not be immediately reached for comment.

LeBron James came to Curry’s defense on Saturday, disputing Trump’s assertion that visiting the White House was an honor.

“Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!” James, a prominent supporter of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential elections, said on Twitter.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Frank McGurty and Mary Milliken)

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India, at U.N., calls Pakistan ‘pre-eminent export factory for terror’

September 23, 2017

By David Brunnstrom

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – India responded with irritation on Saturday to Pakistani allegations of brutality in Kashmir, saying that while India had made substantial progress since independence, all Pakistan had achieved was a reputation as the “pre-eminent export factory for terror.”

Addressing the annual United Nations General Assembly, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj rejected allegations by Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi at the world body earlier in the week in which he accused India of state-sponsored terrorism, and violating human rights.

“Those listening had only one observation: ‘Look who’s talking!’,” Swaraj said.

“A country that has been the world’s greatest exporter of havoc, death and inhumanity became a champion of hypocrisy by preaching about humanity from this podium.”

Swaraj said Pakistanis should look at the progress India had made since the two countries emerged on independence from Britain in 1947.

“Why is it that today India is a recognized IT superpower in the world, and Pakistan is recognized only as the pre-eminent export factory for terror?” she said.

On Friday officials from both sides said shelling along the disputed border between Pakistan and India killed six civilians and wounded 30 more people in the latest confrontation between the two nuclear-armed countries.

The firing took place across the frontier separating Pakistan’s Punjab province from Indian-administered Kashmir’s Jammu region, and most of the casualties were reported on the Pakistani side.

On Thursday in New York, Abbasi urged the U.N. secretary general to appoint a special envoy for Kashmir and accused India’s military of brutality in a crackdown against anti-India activists. He said hundreds of Kashmiris had been killed or injured and shotgun pellets have blinded and maimed others.

India rejected the allegation. It accuses Pakistan of backing several anti-India militant groups and helping them infiltrate Kashmir to stoke violence and carry out terrorist acts. Pakistan denies this charge.

Both countries claim Kashmir, and have fought two of their three wars over the Himalayan region, which they have disputed since partition and independence in 1947.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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Kurdish government meets Baghdad officials on eve of independence vote

September 23, 2017

ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) – A delegation from the Kurdistan Regional Government held talks with the Iraqi government in Baghdad on Saturday, two days before a planned referendum on secession from Iraq.

“The delegation will discuss the referendum but the referendum is still happening,” Hoshiyar Zebari, a top adviser to Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, told Reuters. “We said we would talk to Baghdad before, during and after the referendum.”

The KRG has said the vote is intended to give its autonomous territory a legitimate mandate to achieve independence from Iraq through dialogue with Baghdad and neighbouring powers Turkey and Iran. Ankara and Tehran are worried that the vote could revive the separatist aspirations of their own Kurdish populations.

The Kurdish delegation met with representatives of the Shi’ite ruling coalition in Baghdad, and with the Iraqi president, Fuad Masum, himself a Kurd, whose role is largely ceremonial.

Executive powers are concentrated in the hands of the prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, a Shi’ite.

Hemin Hawrami, an assistant to Barzani, tweeted: “Our delegation in Baghdad to deliver a message: We’re ready for talks after 25/9.”

Turkey said on Saturday it would take security and other steps in response to the planned referendum, which it called a “terrible mistake”.

The Turkish parliament convened for a debate and vote on extending a mandate that authorises Turkish troop deployments to Iraq and Syria, and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim alluded to possible military moves.

The United States has urged the KRG to cancel the vote, while the U.N. Security Council warned in a statement of its “potentially destabilizing” impact on Iraq.

Washington and other Western powers say the vote distracts from the fight against the Islamic State militant group.

The KRG counters that its Peshmerga fighters have made a crucial contribution to that fight.

(Reporting by Raya Jalabi; writing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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Dubai says skyscraper facades being replaced after series of fires

September 23, 2017

DUBAI (Reuters) – Dubai authorities have begun telling owners of high-rise buildings across the emirate to make the facades more resistant to fire, the government said on Saturday, after a string of skyscraper blazes.

The government did not specify how it would ensure that owners complied with the policy, which could be costly, or reveal how many buildings might be affected in the fast-growing city, home to hundreds of high-rise towers, including the world’s tallest skyscraper.

But it said it had already implemented the policy with a number of companies, including Dubai Properties Group, which is the investment vehicle of the emirate’s ruler and operates skyscrapers in Dubai’s business district.

The government’s Real Estate Regulatory Agency “is now strongly encouraging all owners to replace non-fire-resistant building facades in collaboration with the city’s real estate developers”, an official statement said.

Eyewitness reports and investigations have suggested that cladding fixed to the outside of buildings for decoration, insulation or protection may have contributed to the spread of many fires in Dubai over the last three years.

GRENFELL

Global concern about cladding grew after London’s Grenfell Tower fire in June, which killed about 80 people. A public inquiry into the blaze is underway following initial reports that it spread throughout the residential tower because of flammable cladding used as insulation.

The United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a member, revised its building safety code in 2013 to require that cladding on all new buildings over 15 meters (50 feet) tall be fire-resistant.

But the new rules did not apply to buildings erected before that year, so the vast majority of the country’s skyscrapers fell outside the regulations.

Among Dubai’s skyscraper fires, a blaze hit the 337-metre, 79-storey Torch residential building last month, forcing hundreds of occupants to flee. It was the second fire at the building since 2015.

In August 2016, a fire damaged part of a tall building under construction in Dubai and in July 2016, a blaze broke out in Dubai’s residential, 75-storey Sulafa Tower. On the last day of 2015, a fire engulfed a 63-storey Dubai luxury hotel, forcing its closure for over a year.

(Reporting by Andrew Torchia; Editing by Andrew Bolton)

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Women allowed into stadium as Saudi Arabia promotes national pride, part of reform push

September 23, 2017

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia is celebrating the 87th anniversary of its founding this weekend with an unprecedented array of concerts and performances, including allowing women into King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh for a Saturday evening operetta – a first in the conservative Islamic kingdom.

The festivities are part of a government bid to boost national pride and improve the quality of life for Saudis.

Also on offer is a concert in the Red Sea city of Jeddah featuring 11 Arab musicians, plus fireworks, air acrobatics and traditional folk dance shows.

The events are the latest entertainment sponsored by the government as part of the Vision 2030 reform program launched two years ago to diversify the economy away from oil, create whole new sectors to employ young citizens and open up Saudis’ cloistered lifestyles.

However in a country that adheres to the austere Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam, which bans gender mixing, concerts and cinemas, the plan’s seemingly anodyne goals to empower women, promote sports and invest in entertainment have been criticized.

Saudi rulers are also starting to reform areas once the exclusive domain of the clergy, such as education and the law, and have promoted elements of national identity that have no religious component, or pre-date Islam.

They have increased National Day celebrations that were previously attacked by clerics as undermining religious feeling, and are promoting heritage sites, like Nabatean rock temples, once seen as embarrassing in the land of Islam.

Saudi flags and green billboards, often bearing the face of King Salman and his son Crown Prince Mohammed, have gone up across Riyadh this week, and at night skyscrapers are flooded in green light – the national color.

Companies from telecoms operators to furniture stores have launched patriotic-themed marketing campaigns offering discounts for the holiday weekend.

The General Entertainment Authority, the government agency organizing the National Day festivities, expects some 1.5 million Saudis to attend events in 17 cities over four days.

Vision 2030 reforms are intended to capture up to a quarter of the $20 billion currently spent overseas by Saudis, who are accustomed to traveling abroad to see shows and visit amusement parks in nearby tourist hub Dubai or further afield.

This weekend’s events, though, are free to the public.

(Reporting By Stephen Kalin; Editing by Andrew Bolton)

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