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Venezuela: Opposition attacks Maduro over Supreme Court address

Nicolas Maduro speaks to first lady Cilia Flores next to Supreme Court judgesImage copyright AP
Image caption Nicolas Maduro speaks to first lady Cilia Flores next to Supreme Court judges

The Venezuelan opposition has accused President Nicolas Maduro of violating the constitution by delivering his annual state of the nation address before the Supreme Court.

Mr Maduro said he hoped to be able to address the opposition-controlled National Assembly next year.

Last week the assembly declared that he had in effect abandoned his post by mismanaging the economy.

Mr Maduro said he was fulfilling his daily duties.

After the National Assembly's decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Mr Maduro was allowed to deliver his annual report to the judges.

"It is public knowledge that I am fully exercising my constitutional duties day after day," said Mr Maduro at the beginning of his speech, which was broadcast on national television.

'A costly error'

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles tweeted that Mr Maduro's address in the Supreme Court breached the constitution and confirmed that he was "a costly error in our history".

Mr Capriles was defeated by Mr Maduro in the 2013 presidential elections. He is now governor of Miranda state.

Mr Maduro said that he remained "committed to dialogue and to harmonious, balanced, constitutional solutions".

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Venezuelans have been given an extra month to swap their 100 bolivar notes

During his address, he admitted that Venezuela's economic model based on oil exports had "become unviable" because of a sharp drop in global prices.

Revenue from oil exports dropped from $48bn (£39.4bn) in 2008 to $5.3bn (£4.3bn) in 2016.

Mr Maduro said he was postponing until 20 February the decision to withdraw from circulation the country's most common banknote, the 100 bolivars.

He first announced that the note would cease to be legal tender on 15 December, which led to chaos and long queues outside bank branches.

The measure has been already delayed several times.

New higher denomination notes will begin circulating later on Monday, Mr Maduro said.

President Maduro's critics say he and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, are to blame for the sky-rocketing inflation and chronic shortages of basic goods the country is experiencing.

Mr Maduro in turn blames Venezuela's business elite, accusing it of sabotaging the country's economy and conspiring with "imperialist forces" in the United States to force him from office.

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Tibet activists arrested in Switzerland protest during Xi visit

  • 16 January 2017
  • From the section Asia
Pro-Tibet protestors hold a banner reading "Free Tibet" during a demonstration, prior to the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bern, Switzerland, 15 January 2017.Image copyright EPA
Image caption Authorities said the protest was mostly peaceful

Swiss police have arrested 32 pro-Tibet activists who were protesting against a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The group, made up of Tibetans and Swiss nationals, were detained on Sunday for flouting restrictions set up by police in the capital, Bern.

One man was also prevented from setting himself on fire, said police.

Mr Xi is in Switzerland for a state visit ahead of the World Economic Forum which begins in Davos on Tuesday, a first for a Chinese president.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Protesters staged the demonstration amid heavy police supervision

Sunday's protest had taken place in Bern's centre and was scheduled by police to end at noon, before Mr Xi's visit.

City authorities said the demonstration mostly proceeded peacefully but a number of participants had continued to protest past the deadline, refused identity checks, and caused other disruptions.

Police spokesman Christoph Gnaegi told the Associated Press that those arrested were later released.

Doctors had taken care of the man who had tried to set himself on fire.

The demonstration attracted between 700 and 800 protesters, organisers said.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Several were arrested when they exceeded the deadline for the protest set by police

China's policies in Tibet have frequently prompted overseas protests by Tibetans calling for freedom from China and acceptance of their spiritual leader-in-exile the Dalai Lama.

In 1999, a similar pro-Tibet protest took place during a visit by China's then-president Jiang Zemin, who was said to be angered when demonstrators threw eggs at the Chinese delegation.

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S Korea corruption: Prosecutors to seek arrest warrant

  • 16 January 2017
  • From the section Business
Lee Jae-yongImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Lee Jae-yong has been running the Samsung group since his father became seriously ill

South Korea's special prosecutor is seeking an arrest warrant for Samsung heir apparent Lee Jae-yong, on bribery charges.

The case is linked to a scandal that led to the impeachment of the country's President Park Geung-hye.

Samsung is accused of giving donations to non-profit foundations operated by Choi Soon-sil, a friend of Ms Park, in exchange for government favours.

The donations were allegedly made as it sought political support for a merger.

Mr Lee, also known as Jay Y Lee, was questioned for more than 20 hours at the prosecutor's office in Seoul last week.

He is currently vice-chairman of Samsung Electronics, but since his father, Lee Kun-hee, suffered a heart attack in 2014, he is considered de facto boss of the entire Samsung Group conglomerate.

Lee Jae-yong

Samsung's heir apparent

  • - Grandson of Samsung founder Lee Byung-chul, son of current chairman Lee Kun-hee.

  • - Aged 48, he's spent his entire career in the company and is vice chairman of Samsung Electronics.

  • - Last year was nominated to join the board of Samsung Electronics - an appointment confirmed on 27 October.

  • - Widely expected to take overall control of Samsung once his 74-year-old father steps down.

  • - Critics say his position on the board is due to his birth, not his business experience.

Getty Images

The news sent Samsung shares lower, with Samsung Electronics stocks down 2% by midday in Seoul, and parent firm Samsung C&T down 0.8%.

Pension chief indicted

The claims against Samsung centre on a controversial merger between the electronics giant's construction arm, Samsung C&T, and an affiliate firm, Cheil Industries.

Prosecutors allege that Samsung gave money to a company co-owned by Ms Choi and her daughter, in return for Ms Park's support for the deal.

At the parliamentary hearing in December, Samsung admitted giving a total of 20.4bn won (£16m; $17.46m) to the two foundations, but denied seeking favours.

Earlier on Monday the special prosecutor indicted the country's National Pension Service (NPS) chairman Moon Hyung-pyo on charges of abuse of power and giving false testimony.

The NPS is the world's third-largest pension scheme and was a major shareholder in the two Samsung Group affiliates. It is claimed Mr Moon pressured the organisation to back the deal - something the NPS has denied.

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Photos show Japanese whaling off Antarctica, group says

Activists claim the Japanese vessel was in Australia's Antarctic watersImage copyright Sea Shepherd
Image caption Activists claim the Japanese vessel was in Australia's Antarctic waters

Australia has sharply criticised Japan after photos emerged allegedly showing it had resumed whaling off Antarctica.

Anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd released the images, which it said showed a dead minke whale on a Japanese vessel on Sunday.

It comes two days after Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in Sydney to bolster defence ties with Australia.

Australia's Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said it was not necessary to kill whales for study.

"The Australian Government is deeply disappointed that Japan has decided to return to the Southern Ocean this summer to undertake so-called 'scientific' whaling,'" he said on Monday.

"Australia is opposed to all forms of commercial and so-called 'scientific' whaling." Japan's whaling has been ruled illegal by the Australian Federal Court.

Image copyright Sea Shepherd
Image caption Sea Shepherd said two smaller boats, including the Yushin Maru, concealed harpoons

A global moratorium on commercial whaling has been in place since 1985, with exemptions that allowed Japan to hunt some whales for "scientific research".

But in 2014 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Japan's scientific Antarctic whaling programme should cease. Tokyo suspended whaling for one season but announced it would soon begin another "scientific" whaling programme, drawing criticism from environmental groups and the Australian and UK governments.

Japan insists it is trying to prove the whale population is large enough to justify a return to whaling for commercial purposes. It says it has to kill the mammals and study them in order to carry out its research.

Australian Greens senator Nick McKim said the ICJ had the power to impose "fines or sanctions" on Japan.

Latest claims

Sea Shepherd said the photos showed the Japanese vessel Nisshin Maru inside the Australian Whale Sanctuary on Sunday.

The boat's crew "scrambled" to cover the dead whale with a tarpaulin after spotting the anti-whaling group's helicopter, Sea Shepherd said.

Two smaller boats, the Yushin Maru and Yushin Maru #2, also covered their harpoons, the group claimed.

"The fact that the Japanese crew went to cover up their harpoons and the dead minke whale on deck just shows that they know what they're doing is wrong," said Wyanda Lublink, captain of Sea Shepherd ship the MY Steve Irwin.

Sea Shepherd said it was the first minke slaughter to be documented since the ICJ ruling.

Image copyright Sea Shepherd
Image caption It is the first minke slaughter since a 2014 court ruling, according to the group

Sea Shepherd has been patrolling the Southern Ocean for five weeks.

Jeff Hansen, managing director of Sea Shepherd Australia, said the Australian government should do more to protect whales.

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China's capital is notorious for its chronic pollution. Even indoors it's a struggle to find clean air, says John Sudworth.