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UK Embassy Worker Found Dead In Lebanon

A British woman who worked at the UK embassy in Beirut has been found dead, Lebanese police have said.

Rebecca Dykes' body was found on the side of a motorway on Saturday.

She had been strangled, the BBC was told by senior police sources. An investigation is under way.

Her family said in a statement: "We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Rebecca. We are doing all we can to understand what happened. We request that the media respect our privacy."

Ms Dykes had been working in Beirut as the programme and policy manager for the Department for International Development since January 2017.

Local police say a second post-mortem examination is to be carried out later.

A DfID spokesman said: "Our thoughts are with Becky's family and friends at this very upsetting time."

The Foreign Office said it was in contact with the Lebanese authorities following the death of a British woman in Beirut.

ANC To Choose Leader To Replace Zuma

South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) is preparing to choose a new party leader to succeed President Jacob Zuma.

The main candidates are the current deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa and former cabinet minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, President Zuma’s ex-wife.

Whoever wins is likely to succeed Mr Zuma as South African president.

But their bitter leadership battle has raised fears that the ANC could split before national elections in 2019.

President Zuma can remain head of state until those elections. He has been in office since 2009 and South Africa limits the presidency to two five-year terms.

As delegates gathered for the four-day conference in Johannesburg, Mr Zuma, who faces multiple corruption allegations, has urged the party to unite behind the eventual winner.

The leadership contest is expected to be a close one, with legal challenges a possibility.

Palestinian Billionaire Masri Detained In Saudi Arabia

Sabih al-Masri, Jordan’s most influential businessman and the chairman of its largest lender Arab Bank, was detained in Saudi Arabia for questioning after a business trip to Riyadh, family sources and friends said on Saturday.

Masri’s detention, which follows the biggest purge of the Saudi kingdom’s affluent elite in its modern history, has sent shockwaves through business circles in Jordan and the Palestinian territories, where the billionaire has major investments.

A Saudi citizen of Palestinian origin, Masri was detained last Tuesday hours before he was planning to leave after he chaired meetings of companies he owns, according to the sources.

Brexit Fallout: China, Britain Form New Alliance

Following significant negotiations made towards the exit of United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU), Britain and China have agreed to cooperate in clean energy research and promote global use of Beijing’s currency.

The agreement reached on Saturday at an economic dialogue in Beijing, led by Britain’s finance minister and a senior Chinese economic official.

The event was attended by a delegation of British business leaders and economic officials.

British leaders are looking to China for trade and investment as they try to fashion a new global role and offset reduced access to the other 27 nations of the European common market.

The leader of the Chinese delegation, Ma Kai, said they agreed to pursue a new investment agreement and cooperate in energy research and to promote international use of China’s yuan.

‘Britain First’ Leader Arrested In UK

A leader of a British far-right group whose anti-Islamic posts were retweeted by U.S. President Donald Trump was arrested in Northern Ireland on Thursday minutes after being bailed over a separate incident.

Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of the fringe anti-immigrant Britain First group, appeared at a court in Belfast to face charges of using threatening, abusive or insulting words in a speech at a rally in the city in August.

She was remanded on continuing bail until January 9 on condition that she does not go within 500 metres of any rally or demonstration before the case is finished.

As she left court, Fransen, 31, was then arrested over a separate incident that occurred on Wednesday, a police source told Reuters. Britain First said its leader Paul Golding, 35, had also been arrested as he accompanied Fransen to the courthouse.

A police spokeswoman said a 31-year-old woman had been detained for questioning by detectives about an incident in Belfast on Wednesday.

Police said a 35-year-old man had also been arrested on Thursday and that he had also been detained over a speech at the same rally as Fransen in Belfast in August.

Trump’s sharing of Fransen’s anti-Muslim videos, posted on Twitter, provoked outrage in Britain last month, drawing a sharp rebuke from Prime Minister Theresa May and straining relations between two close allies.

An attempt by police to restrict Fransen’s use of social media - Twitter and Facebook - was rejected by the judge on Thursday.

Fransen was fined last month after being found guilty by a court in England of religiously aggravated harassment for shouting abuse at a Muslim woman wearing a hijab.

Her lawyer told Belfast Magistrates Court on Thursday she would be pleading not guilty to the charges she faces in relation to the August rally.

 Golding is a former senior figure in the far-right British National Party and founded Britain First in 2011.

The group describes itself as a “patriotic political party and street movement”. Critics denounce it as a racist organisation.

Train-Bus Collision Kill 4 People In France

A train and a school bus have collided near Perpignan in southern France, killing at least four children, the interior ministry says.

Another 19 people were reported to be injured, seven of them seriously, in the incident between Millas and Saint-Feliu-d'Amont.

The students on the bus are reported to be between the ages of 11 and 15.

"Emergency services have been mobilised and a crisis co-ordination unit set up," a local official told Reuters.

The crash happened on a section of line between Perpignan and Villefranche-de-Conflent, the local news website l'Independant reports.

A witness who was on the train, named as Barbara, said "it was a very violent crash - it seemed as if the train would derail".

Casualties are being rushed to hospital in Perpignan. Police and emergency medics are at the scene.

Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne called the crash a "terrible accident" and said on Twitter that she was going to the scene, about 850km (530 miles) south of Paris.

 

We're On Course To Deliver Brexit Despite Vote, Says British PM

Theresa May has said the UK is "on course to deliver on Brexit" as she arrived in Brussels, the day after her first Commons defeat as prime minister.

She said she was "disappointed" at the vote on the EU Withdrawal Bill, but the legislation was making "good progress".

MPs backed an amendment giving them a legal guarantee of a vote on the final Brexit deal struck with Brussels.

Mrs May has arrived at a summit where other EU states could decide to move forward to trade talks with the UK.

She told reporters they would be talking about "the ambitious and deep and special partnership" she wanted to build between the UK and EU, after Brexit.

"I'm disappointed with the amendment but actually the EU Withdrawal Bill is making good progress through the House of Commons and we are on course to deliver Brexit," said Mrs May.

Asked whether she felt she would have to compromise more to win over rebels from her own party, she told BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg: "We've actually had 36 votes on the EU Withdrawal Bill, and we've won 35 of those votes with an average majority of 22."

Mrs May lost by just four votes, as MPs backed an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill by 309 to 305.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was a "humiliating loss of authority" for the prime minister.

It will not derail Brexit but MPs who voted against the government hope it will give them a bigger say in the final deal Theresa May strikes with Brussels.

I’ve No Credible High-Profile Political Opponents, Says Russian President

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he faced no credible high-profile political opponents as he prepared to run for re-election in March, but would work to try to create a more balanced political system.

Putin, whom critics have accused of using state TV, the courts and the police to demonise and marginalise the liberal opposition, said earlier this month he would run for re-election in March 2018 - a contest he seems sure to win comfortably and extend his grip on power into a third decade.

But in a sign the former KGB officer is keen to strengthen his role as a father of the nation figure rather than as a party political figure, Putin said he planned to run as an independent candidate and garner support from more than one party.

The ruling United Russia party has traditionally backed Putin and is likely to do so again this time, but Putin clearly wants to generate a higher turnout by styling himself as someone who is above the often grubby fray of Russian party politics.

Putin said it was too early to set out his electoral programme, but named priority issues, aside from helping forge what he called a flexible political system, as nurturing a high-tech economy, improving infrastructure, healthcare, education, productivity and increasing people’s real incomes.

Putin, 65, has been in power, either as president or prime minister, since 2000, longer than veteran Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and outstripped only by dictator Josef Stalin.

With an approval rating of around 80 percent if, as expected, he wins what would be a fourth presidential term, he will be eligible to serve another six years until 2024, when he turns 72.

Putin said he was aware he faced no real competition.

“The political environment, like the economic environment, needs to be competitive,” Putin told an audience of more than 1,600 Russian and foreign reporters gathered in a Moscow conference hall for his annual news conference.

“I will strive for us to have a balanced political system.”

He said he regretted the lack of competition, but accused his political opponents of failing to come up with any positive ideas to tackle Russia’s problems.

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