Libya’s rival factions set to sign deal

Libya’s rival factions have agreed to December 16 as a target date for signing a United Nations-backed national unity government agreement, the UN envoy says.

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The UN has been negotiating for a year to get Libya’s two rival governments and armed factions to end a conflict that has plunged the North African state into chaos four years after rebellion ousted Muammar Gaddafi.

Successfully signing an agreement would open the way for the international community to support Libya in the fight against Islamic State, which has gained ground in the chaos and controls the western city of Sirte.

But hardliners in both camps have been resisting signing a deal and several past deadlines to sign have failed after opponents baulked at details or demanded more concessions.

UN Libya envoy Martin Kobler on Friday praised representatives of both factions for announcing the agreement in Tunisia after two days of talks, though he acknowledged any new government would need to address many problems.

For a year, Tripoli has been controlled by an armed faction called Libya Dawn, a coalition of former rebel brigades from Misrata and other armed factions in the capital, after they battled to force out rivals.

They set up a self-styled government and reinstated the old parliament, known as the General National Congress. The internationally-recognised government and the elected House of Representatives was forced to operate out of the east of the country.

Both factions are backed by loose alliances of former rebel brigades, tribal fighters and former Gaddafi soldiers, including General Khalifa Haftar, who has been appointed armed forces commander by the government in the east, but is despised by the Tripoli faction.

U2’s The Edge gets nod for Malibu homes

U2 guitarist The Edge has won approval to build five hilltop homes in the California celebrity enclave of Malibu despite opposition from environmentalists who fear it will endanger crucial wildlife corridors for such animals as mountain lions and bobcats.

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The Edge, whose real name is David Evans, and his team bought the property in 2005 and since then he has pursued regulatory approval from the California Coastal Commission to be able to eventually build on the site and live there.

The unanimous vote by the Coastal Commission at a meeting in Monterey, in central California, to approve the 2.1-hectare project in the exclusive beach community just outside Los Angeles marked a reversal from its 2011 decision to reject the project.

The project must next go before officials in Malibu and Los Angeles County to obtain permits.

A statement from The Edge’s project team said the latest design takes up 43 per cent less space than the one rejected in 2011 and would be built on a lower plateau, instead of high on the ridgeline. Each home will have a footprint of less than 929 square metres, it said.

Staff members on the commission had suggested the proposed configuration for the project that was approved on Thursday, said Noaki Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the commission.

A report from staff members for the commission said the project is “designed to avoid or minimise significant disruption” of natural habitats.

But despite those changes, environmental groups and lawmakers such as state senator Fran Pavley, a Democrat who often speaks in favour of green measures, opposed the development, saying it would infringe on wildlife.

State and federal park agencies are working with the National Wildlife Federation to invest millions of dollars to preserve corridors in the area for animals such as mountain lions and bobcats, Pavley said in a letter this month.

As a result, creating an island of homes within the area will “have potentially disastrous consequences”, she added.

Pavley and environmental group Heal the Bay also opposed the Coastal Commission’s holding of the meeting in Monterey, 402km north of Malibu, saying it was too far away for people affected by the project to attend.

The Edge and his development team have dedicated 57 hectares of their land in Malibu as open space, officials said.

No cheer as China yuan hits 4-1/2-year low

World stocks were on the brink of a two-month low, as beaten-down oil prices and a slide in China’s yuan to four-and-a-half year lows left markets in a sombre mood.

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Volatile oil markets and worries about China, the world’s biggest commodities consumer, have pressured many markets ahead of a widely anticipated interest rate rise by the US Federal Reserve next week.

MSCI’s world stock index fell for a fifth straight day as emerging markets tumbled again and European shares opened at a two-month low while the dollar steadied.

“We are in risk-off mode,” said Piotr Matys, emerging market currency strategist at Rabobank in London.

“Another round of selling in commodities with oil prices at new lows has sent global stocks lower and emerging market commodity currencies are under pressure.”

The Russian rouble tumbled 2 per cent against the dollar, with focus on a meeting of the Russian central bank later on Friday.

Investors were also waiting for US data which could cement expectations that the Fed is gearing up to raise rates for the first time in a decade next week.

US retail sales, inflation and consumer sentiment data is due between 1330 GMT and 1500 GMT.

European shares fell 0.7 per cent, declining for a fourth straight session, while MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan hit a two-month low and posted a weekly loss of just over 3 per cent.

China’s yuan fell to its weakest in four-and-a-half years at 6.4564 per US dollar and posted its longest weekly losing streak in a decade, dragging emerging Asian currencies lower, on concerns about its slowing economy and expectations of a US rate rise next week.

Lower daily fixings for the currency by China’s central bank have also raised questions about how far Beijing intends to let the currency depreciate.

“A US rate hike would have a major impact on money flows out of emerging markets including Hong Kong and China,” said Linus Yip, chief strategist at First Shanghai Securities.

“Also, if the yuan continues to depreciate, that’s negative to stocks as well, because it means investors are not confident about China’s economic restructuring.”

Chinese shares closed lower ahead of a spate of economic data scheduled to be released on Saturday.

China’s economy is on track to post about 7 per cent annual growth in 2015, an official at the country’s top economic planner said at a briefing on Friday.

Crude oil prices remained at levels not seen since early 2009 as output in the Middle East continued to rise despite an already huge global glut.

Brent crude futures were down 0.5 per cent at $US39.52 a barrel, not far off almost seven-year lows hit earlier in the session at $US39.38 a barrel.

The sharp fall in oil prices since OPEC said last week it would keep production high has fuelled expectations for lower inflation, helping push down European government bond yields.

The dollar index, which tracks the US currency against a basket of six major rivals, edged down slightly. It was on track for a weekly loss of about 0.5 per cent after investors trimmed dollar-long positions before the Fed meeting.

Fed fund futures place an 85 per cent chance of the Fed raising rates at its December 15-16 meeting. A recent Reuters poll also showed that all but one of 18 brokerages that deal directly with the Fed expect a rate increase.

The euro edged up about 0.2 per cent to $US1.0965, after comments from the European Central Bank’s Ewald Nowotny this week raised doubts about the extent to which US and European monetary policy will diverge.

Emerging market stocks were down for an eighth day running and on course for their worst week since September.

South Africa’s rand hit a new record low following the abrupt dismissal this week of respected Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene.

Hundreds of rapes, murders reported in CAR

Nearly 800 cases of rape, torture and murder were committed over eight months in Central African Republic, mostly by armed groups, according to a report by the UN mission MINUSCA.

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The sheer volume of abuses points to the difficulties that new leaders are likely to face in restoring order to one of Africa’s most historically unstable countries.

Central African Republic is due to hold elections on December 27, ending a fragile two-year transition marked by inter-communal violence that pitted militants drawn from the Christian majority against mostly Muslim armed groups.

MINUSCA’s first human rights report, released on Friday, said 775 violations and abuses affecting at least 785 victims were committed between September 15, 2014, and May 31 – a period that followed a 2013 coup and is widely seen as calm by local standards.

Violence has recently intensified again, with more than 130 people killed since late September, although fighting halted briefly during the Pope’s visit last month.

“Serious challenges remain given the lack of progress towards the disarmament of armed groups and the absence of a functioning state authority in much of the territory,” said the 25-page report, based on testimonies from victims and witnesses.

The population of internally displaced people were among the most affected by the violence, particularly elderly women and children, the report said.

Many of the country’s nearly 450,000 displaced live in enclaves beyond the reach of state authorities and French and UN peacekeepers, some in fiefdoms controlled by warlords.

Musa Gassama, director of MINUSCA’s human rights division, urged authorities to change what the report called a “firmly rooted” culture of impunity in the former French colony.

While the UN said that around 24 arrests have been made based partly on information from the report, a planned Special Criminal Court has yet to materialise because it lacks funding.

The UN also called on Central African authorities to urgently deploy civil servants, including magistrates, throughout the territory “in order to re-establish state authority and the rule of law”.

Anonymous targets Trump over anti-Muslim comments

The website for the 68-story Trump Towers (trumptowerny.

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com), often used for his presidential campaign, was down after a tweet from an account associated with the anonymous hacking collective that said: “Trump Towers NY site taken down as statement against racism and hatred.韩国半永久纹眉,trumptowerny韩国半永久纹眉会所,/(what you see is cloudflare offline backup)”

Earlier this week, a handle claiming to be “Anonymous Operations” posted a video on YouTube with the message: “The more the United States appears to be targeting Muslims, not just radical Muslims, you can be sure that ISIS will be putting that on their social media campaign.”

The post added, “Donald Trump think twice before you speak anything. You have been warned Mr. Donald Trump.”

A spokesperson for Trump Towers was not available for comment.

The group’s warning to Trump came days after the outspoken billionaire proposed to temporarily bar Muslims from entering the United States in response to last week’s shooting spree in San Bernardino by two Muslims who the FBI said had been radicalized.

A recent poll by New York Times/CBS News showed Americans are more fearful about the likelihood of another terrorist attack than at any other time since the weeks after Sept 11, 2001. A gnawing sense of dread has helped lift Trump to a new high among Republicans who will vote in primaries to choose their party’s nominee for the November 2016 presidential election.

Anonymous, a loose-knit international network of activist hackers, or “hacktivists,” is famous for launching cyber attacks on groups such as the Islamic State following the attacks in Paris last month that killed 129 people.