Here is CurrentHow’s Briefing™ for the 15th of December, 2017:-
1. EU opens next Brexit phase with warning of troubles ahead:-
European Union leaders agreed Friday to open crucial talks on a future relationship with Britain but warned they would be even tougher than the first tortuous phase of negotiations.
EU President Donald Tusk said the bloc would open “exploratory contacts” with London after European leaders endorsed an interim deal on the terms of Britain’s divorce, and approved the next stage of discussions.
However, they agreed that while talks will begin in January on a post-Brexit transition period of around two years, actual negotiations on future trade ties would not start until March.
“It is now time for internal EU 27 preparations and exploratory contacts with the UK to get more clarity on their vision,” Tusk told reporters at the end of the summit.
He congratulated British Prime Minister Theresa May — who had left the summit late Thursday — on the deal, and in return, she offered her thanks to him and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
“Today is an important step on the road to delivering a smooth and orderly Brexit and forging our deep and special future partnership,” May tweeted.
As he arrived for the meeting on Friday, Juncker — who sealed the deal with May on December 8 after tense all-night talks — said the British premier had made “big efforts”.
But he warned the next stage “would be much harder than the first phase, and the first phase was very hard”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed his comments, saying that while progress had been made, the negotiations ahead would be “even tougher”.
She had earlier warned that “there remain many issues to be solved and we don’t have much time”.
Britain voted to leave the EU in a referendum in June 2016 and is due to end its four-decade membership on March 29, 2019.
2. Pakistan’s court dismisses graft against opposition’s Imran Khan:-
Pakistan’s Supreme Court dismissed a graft case against cricketer-turned-opposition leader Imran Khan Friday, ensuring he will contest a general election due next year, just months after the same body ousted ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
Khan had faced being disqualified from holding political office over charges including unreported assets, namely the funds he used to buy a scenic, sprawling property in the Bani Gala hills on the outskirts of the capital Islamabad.
He has dismissed the claims as a political vendetta, saying he used money earned from his career as one of Pakistan’s most famous World Cup cricketers to buy the land and that he has the documentation to prove it.
“No omission or dishonesty can be attributed to him. This petition has no merits and is dismissed accordingly,” chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar said, reading from the judgment to a packed courtroom.
Shortly after the judgment, Khan held a press conference in Karachi where he told reporters “Pakistan’s highest court has exonerated me”.
“The taxpayers and those who earn their money through fair means and pay taxes should not be compared with the robbers and thieves,” Khan added.
Pakistan has been roiled by military coups and instability for much of its 70-year history, and the general election due in 2018 will only be its second-ever democratic transition.
3. Palestinian in suicide vest attacks Israeli police, shot:-
A Palestinian wearing what appeared to be a suicide vest attacked Israeli border police in the occupied West Bank on Friday before being shot, AFP photos showed.
The man attacked the police during clashes near a military checkpoint on the outskirts of the town of Ramallah.
He was wearing what looked like a suicide vest, though it was unclear whether it was operational.
A video posted online showed the army shooting him three times.
Police said the assailant stabbed an officer who was “lightly injured in the shoulder,” but they did not respond to questions over a possible suicide vest.
No independent confirmation could be obtained.
The assailant, identified by a medical source as a 24-year-old from Hebron in the southern West Bank, was taken to hospital by Palestinian medics.
He was in critical condition, the source said.
4. Russian ex-minister Ulyukayev found guilty of bribe-taking:-
Former Russian economy minister Alexei Ulyukayev was found guilty on Friday of soliciting a $2 million bribe from Rosneft chief executive Igor Sechin in a court case that has shone a rare light on infighting among the Russian elite.
A Moscow court found Ulyukayev guilty of demanding and accepting the bribe on November 14 last year.
State prosecutors had said that Ulyukayev had asked for the bribe in exchange for approving the sale of the state-controlled oil company Bashneft to Rosneft.
Further details of the ruling were expected later on Friday.
Ulyukayev denied the charges. He said he had thought the bag holding the bribe was a gift of expensive alcohol.
In a final hearing before the verdict, Ulyukayev said he was the victim of “a monstrous and cruel provocation”.
Prosecutors have sought a sentence of 10 years in jail.
5. French school bus crash toll rises to 6:-
The death toll from a crash between a school bus and a train in southern France rose to six on Friday as two 11-year-old girls succumbed to their injuries, a police source said.
Four teenagers had died on Thursday in the accident at a level crossing in Millas, a village near the city of Perpignan. Eighteen others were injured, 14 of them children.
Authorities are investigating whether human error or a technical fault was to blame for one of the worst accidents involving a school bus in France for 30 years.
The impact ripped the bus in half and forced the train off the tracks.
Investigators only finished identifying the dead overnight due to the severity of their injuries, with the mayor of the neighbouring village describing the scene as “a vision of horror”.
The female driver of the bus was among the injured and has not yet been questioned, but Perpignan prosecutor Jean-Jacques Fagni said investigators had spoken to the train driver.
It is unclear whether the automatic barriers at the crossing were open at the time of the crash, though national rail operator SNCF said that “according to witnesses, the level crossing was functioning normally”.