Suicide bomber kills nine at political meeting in Kabul

nine killed, Kabul blast, suicide bomber, political gathering and blast, bomb blast in Kabul,

<img class=”wp-image-4940402″ src=”http://images.indianexpress.com/2017/11/kabulblast759.jpg?w=600″ alt=”nine killed, Kabul blast, suicide bomber, political gathering and blast, bomb blast in Kabul,” />Afghan Journalists take photographs at the site of a deadly suicide bombing, in Kabul, Afghanistan on Thursday (Source: Fotoweb)

An Afghan official on Thursday said a suicide bomber killed nine people at a political gathering in the capital, Kabul.

Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish says the attacker detonated his payload at the entrance to a wedding hall where the event was being held, killing seven police officials and two civilians, and wounding another nine people.

Parliament member Hafiz Mansoor, who attended the meeting but was not harmed, said around 700 supporters of the governor of the northern Balkh province were attending a conference to highlight his work.

Delhi smog: Emergency anti-pollution measures lifted

India’s capital Delhi has lifted several emergency measures designed to combat air pollution, days after doctors declared a “medical emergency”.

Pollution levels reached 30 times the World Health Organization’s safe limits in some areas of Delhi last week.

Air quality is now said to have improved from “severe” to “very poor”.

A court-mandated panel lifted a ban on construction and trucks entering the city and reduced parking fees that had been temporarily hiked.

However some other measures remain in place, including the closure of a major power plant and a ban on brick kilns and stone crushers, the PTI news agency reported.

According to a 2015 study by the Centre for Science and Environment, the Badarpur power plant in south Delhi is the most polluting in India.

The chairman of the Environmental Pollution Control Authority (ECPA), Bhure Lal, has written to the governments of Delhi and the neighbouring states of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, about the panel’s decision.

He said, however, that the ECPA was watching the situation “very carefully”, noting that the India Meteorological Department had warned that pollution could rise in the city again in the coming days.

The choking smog last week saw hospital outpatient departments and clinics clogged with coughing, wheezing and breathless men, women and children.

Many complained of stinging eyes, chest pain and breathlessness.

Delhi’s air, among the world’s dirtiest, worsens in the winter months.

This happens because farmers in neighbouring Punjab and Haryana states burn crop stubble to clear their fields.

Low wind speeds, dust from construction sites, rubbish burning in the capital and firecrackers used in festivals all contribute to increased pollution levels.

‘Leonardo da Vinci artwork’ sells for record $450m

A 500-year-old painting of Christ believed to have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci has been sold in New York for a record $450m (£341m).

The painting is known as Salvator Mundi (Saviour of the World).

It is the highest auction price for any work of art and brought cheers and applause at the packed Christie’s auction room.

Leonardo da Vinci died in 1519 and there are fewer than 20 of his paintings in existence.

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Salvator Mundi, believed to have been painted sometime after 1505, is the only work thought to be in private hands.

Bidding began at $100m and the final bid for the work was $400m, with fees bringing the full price up to $450.3m. The unidentified buyer was involved in a bidding contest, via telephone, that lasted nearly 20 minutes.

Christie's employees take bids for Salvator Mundi in New York November 15, 2017Image copyright AFP
Image caption Excitement in the auction room rose as the bids by telephone came in

The painting shows Christ with one hand raised, the other holding a glass sphere.

In 1958 it was sold at auction in London for a mere £45.

By then the painting was generally reckoned to be the work of a follower of Leonardo and not the work of Leonardo himself.

It apparently was part of King Charles I of England’s collection in the 1600s and got lost, but was “rediscovered” in 2005.

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Analysis by Arts Editor Will Gompetz

$450m for Salvator Mundi is an astonishing price to have realised, given both its condition and authenticity have been questioned.

It shows that ultimately art comes down to belief.

And there were plenty of bidders last night who were suitably convinced by its Leonardo da Vinci attribution to drive the price up to such stratospheric heights.

As yet, the new owner is unknown.

Speculation will be rife. Which I will contribute to, by noting the newly opened Louvre Abu Dhabi will have a Leonardo shaped hole in its displays when the decade-long loan deal with the French museums comes to an end.

Wherever it ends up, you’ve got to hand it to Christie’s for its masterclass in the art of selling art.

Art agents celebratingImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Art agents celebrated when the sale was completed

In a bold move, without a hint of irony, the painting was sold in its Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale alongside a Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol.

Why not in the Old Masters Sale? Because that’s not where the elephant bucks are.

The big money comes into the room nowadays when Pollocks and Twomblys are on the block, and promptly leaves when the Reynolds and Winterhalters arrive.

Read more of Will Gompertz’s blogs here.

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Dr Tim Hunter, who is an expert in Old Master and 19th Century art, told the BBC the painting is “the most important discovery in the 21st Century”.

“It completely smashes the record for the last Old Masters painting to sell – Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in 1988. Records get broken from time to time but not in this way.

“Da Vinci painted less than 20 oil paintings and many are unfinished so it’s incredibly rare and we love that in art.”

Before the auction it was owned by Russian billionaire collector Dmitry E Rybolovlev, who is reported to have bought it in a private sale in May 2013 for $127.5m (£98m).

Is it authentic?

The painting has had major cosmetic surgery – its walnut panel base has been described as “worm-tunnelled” and at some point it seems to have been split in half – and efforts to restore it resulted in abrasions.

BBC arts correspondent Vincent Dowd said that even now attribution to Leonardo is not universally accepted.

One critic has described the surface of the painting to be “inert, varnished, lurid, scrubbed over and repainted so many times that it looks simultaneously new and old”.

“Any private collector who gets suckered into buying this picture and places it in their apartment or storage, it serves them right,” Jerry Saltz wrote on Vulture.com.

Speculation over buyer

But Christie’s has insisted the painting is authentic and billed it as “the greatest artistic rediscovery of the 20th Century”.

Georgina Adam, who is an Art Market specialist, told the BBC the price of the piece is “fuelled by the sheer amount of money that billionaires have.”

“This is the last Leonardo painting you can buy. This isn’t as a store of value, it’s the ultimate trophy – only one person in the world can own this.

“If you think of the wealth of some billionaires, Bill Gates is worth 87 billion, and I’m not saying it’s him, but near to half a billion would not be a colossal chunk out of his income for example.”

The auction house has not revealed who purchased the picture, but Hunter speculates it could be a buyer from Asia or even be on the way to the new Louvre in Abu Dhabi.

A general view shows part of the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum designed by French architect Jean Nouvel on 8 November 2017 prior to the inauguration of the museum on Saadiyat island in the Emirati capital.Image copyright AFP
Image caption Could the painting be headed for Abu Dhabi’s new Louvre Museum?

“It’s the sort of painting you can imagine as a star piece in a private collection and as billionaire collectors like to set up their own museums, it could be a good piece for them,” Hunter said.

Adam also thinks the piece could have gone to an Asian market.

“We don’t know who bought it, I went to the Louvre in Abu Dhabi and I did wonder whether the Gulf could be responsible.

“People are thinking the Far East, the picture was taken to Hong Kong before it was put up for sale to show to possible buyers there so that is possible. “

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Other high-priced paintings

Staff carefully hold building to the wall wearing protective glovesImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Paul Gauguin’s ‘When Will You marry?’ broke price records in 2015

1. Interchange by Willem de Kooning – $300m (£230m)

The 79 x 69 inch (2 x 1.75m) expressionist piece was painted in 1955. It was sold to hedge-fund founder Kenneth C Griffin, who spent about $500m in total in 2016 on a Pollock piece too.

2. Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?) by Paul Gauguin – $300m (£230m)

His post-impressionist painting of Tahiti women was sold in February 2015 to a mystery buyer, rumoured to be a Qatari museum, and is thought to share the top spot with a piece by William de Kooning.

3. The Card Players by Paul Cézanne – $250m (£190m)

This sale to Qatar broke records in 2011. The piece was painted at the end of the 19th Century and was part of a five-part series. The others in the series are at some of the world’s most prestigious art museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

4. Number 17A by Jackson Pollock – $200m (£150m)

This abstract expressionist piece was also sold in 2016 to Kenneth C Griffin from American businessman David Geffen.

Turkey: German gay film festival banned in Ankara

Turkish officials have banned a festival of German-language gay films due to be held in the capital Ankara, saying it could incite hatred or be targeted by terror attacks.

The organisers Pink Life QueerFest Four had planned to screen four films at cinemas on 16 and 17 November.

They said the decision “deprives us of our constitutional rights”.

Homosexuality is not illegal in Turkey but activists say homophobia remains widespread.

In a statement, Ankara’s governor office said the festival’s content “could incite grudges and enmity toward a part of society”.

Intelligence suggested that “terror organizations are seeking to attack dissident groups or individuals” and that the “screening could be provocative and draw reactions”, it added.

The event’s organisers said the festival had already been attacked on social media before it was banned.

“Suggesting that these screenings could be provocative or targeted by terror groups only goes to legitimise those people and institutions that produce hate speech toward us and see our existence as a threat,” they said in a statement.

The event was backed by the German embassy, AFP news agency said.

The cancellation comes amid deteriorating relations between the two countries sparked by the detention of German nationals and what Turkey says it is Germany’s interference in domestic issues.

LGBT groups have complained that their rights are being curtailed under the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), which is rooted in conservative Islam.

They say they are frequently targeted with animosity, harassment and abuse and that authorities have failed to uphold their rights.

In Istanbul, the annual gay pride parade, once a popular event, has been banned for three years in a row.

Wild boar meat ‘may have poisoned’ New Zealand family

Wild boarImage copyright Getty ImagesImage caption Health authorities said there was no evidence of any broad contamination of game meat

A New Zealand family are seriously ill in hospital, with a wild boar they hunted and ate being investigated by doctors as one possible cause.

Friends of the family wrote in a Facebook post that Shibu Kochummen, his wife Subi Babu and mother Alekutty Daniel collapsed after eating the meat.

Health officials said there is no evidence of any “broader contaminated game” or any risk to public health.

Two children who did not eat the meat are unaffected.

But the three adults in the family had cooked and eaten the boar, before being found on the floor of their home in Waikato by emergency services last Friday, friends of the family said.

Joji Varghese told the BBC that doctors are waiting on a toxicology report and that “the nature of the contaminant is unknown”.

In a Facebook post appealing for help, Mr Varghese and other friends of the family wrote of the severity of their condition, adding that officials had sent samples of all food items found in the family’s home for testing.

The family moved to New Zealand from India five years ago and Mr Kochummen, a hunting enthusiast, had earlier shot the wild boar which they eventually ate.

“We are still investigating potential sources for the illness in this case,” said Richard Vipond, a medical officer at the Waikato Health Board, in a press release.

He added that those who hunt or handle game meat should follow the guidelines set out by the Ministry of Primary Industries to reduce any risk of contamination.

Mr Kochummen and Ms Daniel are reportedly stable in a ward, but Ms Babu remains in critical condition, according to Dr Vipond.

The Indian High Commission told the New Zealand Herald that embassy staff are working with family and friends.

Saad Hariri: Lebanon PM ‘can go to France when he wants’

The French foreign minister has said Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri will travel “when he wants” to France from Saudi Arabia, where officials in Beirut allege he is being detained.

Jean-Yves Le Drian was speaking at a joint news conference in Riyadh after talks with his Saudi counterpart.

Adel al-Jubeir said the claim that Mr Hariri was being held was “false” and he was in Saudi Arabia by his own will.

Mr Hariri resigned unexpectedly during a visit to Saudi Arabia on 4 November.

On Wednesday, Lebanese President Michel Aoun for the first time publicly accused the Saudi authorities of holding him, saying “nothing justified” his absence.

For his part, Mr Hariri insisted that he was fine and would soon return to Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia has denied forcing Mr Hariri to resign in an attempt to curb the influence of its regional rival Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, which ispart of a national unity government that Mr Hariri formed last yea

France, Lebanon’s onetime colonial ruler, has been trying to mediate in the crisis.

Its position is that Mr Hariri should be allowed back to Beirut to resubmit his resignation in person, reports the BBC’s Hugh Schofield in Paris.

Posters depicting Saad Hariri seen in Beirut, Lebanon, November 14, 2017Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Posters depicting Saad Hariri are displayed in streets in the Lebanese capital, Beirut

For the moment that option is unacceptable to the Saudis, so a compromise appears to have been arranged under which the prime minister travels to Paris, where he has extensive personal and business connections, our correspondent adds.

On Wednesday, as Mr Le Drian arrived in Riyadh, President Emmanuel Macron announced that he had invited Mr Hariri and his family to France after speaking by telephone to the prime minister and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Mr Macron was later forced to clarify that he was not offering political exile, and that he expected Mr Hariri to stay only “for a few days”.

On Thursday, France’s foreign minister told reporters: “Mr Hariri – who I will see later – is invited to France with his family by President Macron. He will come to France when he wants and as soon as he wants. He will be welcome as a friend.”

Media captionForeign Minister Gibran Bassil says Lebanon wants to resolve Saad Hariri’s “ambiguous situation”

Mr Le Drian did not say when Mr Hariri would travel or whether he had even accepted the invitation, despite earlier telling reporters that Prince Mohammed had been informed that the Lebanese prime minister was coming.

Mr Jubeir meanwhile rejected accusations that Mr Hariri was being detained.

“Hariri lives in the kingdom by his own will and he resigned,” he said. “Regarding his return to Lebanon, it is up to him and his assessment to the security situation.”

Mr Hariri has close ties to Saudi Arabia. He holds both Lebanese and Saudi citizenship, owns properties in the kingdom, and Riyadh is a key backer of his political party, the Future Movement.

Hezbollah supporters carrying posters Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in the southern Lebanese city of Nabatieh (8 November 2017)Image copyright AFP
Image caption Saudi Arabia accuses Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of destabilising the region

The Lebanese presidency’s Twitter account earlier quoted Mr Aoun as saying: “I am awaiting the return of Prime Minister Hariri from Paris for us to decide the next step with regards to the government.”

Our correspondent says the stage seems set for a long period of behind the scenes diplomacy, involving Saudi Arabia, France and all of Lebanon’s different political and religious groups, to see under what circumstances Mr Hariri might eventually be able to return.

Mr Hariri announced his resignation in a televised address from Riyadh, in which he accused Iran of sowing “discord, devastation and destruction” in the region and said he sensed there was an assassination plot against him.

His father Rafik – himself a former Lebanese prime minister – was killed in a suicide bombing in Beirut in 2005. Several members of Hezbollah are being tried in absentia at a UN-backed tribunal at The Hague in connection with the attack, though the group has denied any involvement.

Greece searches for the missing after deadly floods

Rescue teams in central Greece are searching for at least six people who are missing after flash floods that killed 15 people.

Some roads have reopened in the three hardest-hit towns near the capital, Athens. But schools and other public services remain closed.

Many people have been left homeless after their houses were inundated.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has announced a state of national mourning over the “disastrous flood”.

Bad weather is expected to continue on Thursday.

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Car wreckages are piled up in a flooded street of Mandra, northwest of AthensImage copyright AFP
Image caption The force of the water moved vehicles, and damaged walls and roofs
The damaged furniture of a shop is covered with mud, in Mandra, northwest of AthensImage copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Tsipras vowed to provide aid to the victims and ensure they were housed safely
Part of a destroyed house is seen following heavy rainfall in the town of MandraImage copyright Reuters
Image caption The towns of Mandra, Nea Peramos and Megara, west of Athens, were the hardest-hit
People look on a bus and cars submerged in a flooded road, in Mandra, near AthensImage copyright

Australian diplomat dies in New York building fall

A generic image of the New York City skyline

An Australian diplomat has died after falling from a New York City balcony while socialising with friends.

Julian Simpson, 30, accidentally slipped from a seventh-floor ledge of his Manhattan building and fell to a landing on the second floor, New York police said.

US media report he was playing a “trust game” with a friend before he fell.

Mr Simpson was a junior diplomat representing Australia at the United Nations.

Police were called to the scene about 01:00 local time on Wednesday (06:00 GMT). Mr Simpson was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The Australian envoy had been out with his wife and friends when they returned home to view the Empire State Building, which was lit up to celebrate Australia’s same-sex marriage vote result, police said.

An NYPD spokesperson would not confirm reports that he was playing a “trust” game that involved putting himself at risk and relying on one of his guests to catch him.

“He’s described as somebody who liked to play games and had sat on the balcony railing and accidentally lost his balance,” Martin Brown said.

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Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called the accident a “shocking tragedy”.

“Our hearts go out to his family but I cannot provide any more details at this stage,” he told the local Seven Network.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she was saddened by the death of Mr Simpson, who she had met recently in New York.

“Julian was a diligent, professional and highly skilled diplomat, whose support I valued, during UN Leaders’ Week,” she said.

Mr Simpson had been in the US for two years.

Epic India leopard rescue photo wins award five years later

Around 8 am on July 19, 2012, Anand Bora received a phone call saying a leopard was trapped in a well in a nearby tribal village in the western Indian state of Maharashtra.

Mr Bora was used to these phone calls – a teacher by profession, he is also a wildlife photographer who has documented several rescue missions carried out by forest officers.

He rushed to the village, Bubali, and photographed the three-and-half-hour long effort to save the tired and terrified animal from drowning.

One of those photos, where the leopard looks up at its rescuers mid-way through the effort, won a prominent wildlife photography award in India last week, prompting questions about the story behind the image.

The five-year-old image stands out now amid rising incidents of animal-human conflict in India.

“When it looked up, it seemed to sense that we wouldn’t hurt it, that we were trying to help,” Mr Bora recalled in an interview with the BBC.

A leopard was tranquilised and then pulled out of a well with a net in Nashik in December 2010Image copyright Anand Bora
Image caption Leopards are often tranquilised and caught in nets so they can later be released back into the wild

When the forest officers arrived, villagers told them the leopard had been swimming for the last 25 hours to stay afloat.

It was raining and the villagers had been diverting the rainwater to the well, thinking the leopard could swim to the top if the water level rose.

“We told them that the animal would drown in that time,” Suresh Wadekar, a senior forest officer, who supervised the rescue effort, told the BBC.

Instead, Mr Wadekar decided to let the leopard rest because he noticed that it was “breathing heavily”.

So with the villagers’ help, the officers lowered a wooden plank with two large tyres tied to it into the well. Once the leopard stepped on to the plank, some of them held it steady while the others went looking for a “charpoy”, a sturdy woven bed on wooden legs.

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The leopard rested about an hour-and-half before they lowered the bed into the well. The leopard immediately jumped off the plank and on to the bed, Mr Bora said.

“When they pulled the bed all the way up, it stayed on the bed as it glanced around at the people who had gathered,” he added. “Then it suddenly leapt over the rim of the well and ran into the forest. It all happened in seconds.”

Hyenas, foxes and leopards often stray into sugarcane fields in the district while chasing prey or searching for water, and fall into wells or are trapped in other ways.

Mr Bora says he has photographed more than 100 rescue operations, including some that involved Eurasian eagle owls. One owl, which lost a wing in a fight with a crow, had to be treated for months before it could be released back into the wild.

A Eurasian owl rescued in August 2012 catches a mouse in it's beakImage copyright Anand Bora
Image caption An injured Eurasian eagle owl was treated for two months and fed mice

Mr Bora, who has shot several efforts to rescue leopards, says the mission in Bubali was unusual because the villagers didn’t demand that the animal be tranquilised.

He remembered another instance where a leopard was trapped in a well and villagers threatened to hurt forest officers if they did not tranquilise it and take it with them.

“There was no pressure this time,” he said. Although many villagers were present during the effort in Bubali, Mr Bora said they remained calm and stayed away from the well because Mr Wadekar was concerned that the crowd would agitate the leopard.

Mr Wadekar, who has rescued leopards 137 times over 20 years, said he has used a tranquiliser in more than 100 of those operations. He believes that since this was a tribal village, they were more “accepting” of the animal’s presence.

Forest officers rescue a hyena stuck in a well in 2013 in Nashik's Yevala villageImage copyright Anand Bora
Image caption Mr Bora says he has photographed more than 100 rescue operations

But not all human encounters with leopards end like this. A leopard died when it was set on fire by a mob hours after it had killed a girl in November 2016.

A leopard also injured six people in a school in the Indian city of Bangalore . It was eventually tranquillised and released.

This year alone, Mr Wadekar said, two children were killed by leopards in Nashik. But villagers never caught the animals.

“You have to create awareness,” Mr Wadekar said. “These killings are an accident. They don’t prey on humans.”

But instances of human-animal conflict have been increasing in India, where shrinking animal habitats often drive elephants, tigers and leopards into residential areas.

Conservationists too have warned that such violent confrontations with animals are likely to increase.

Leopards are a protected species in India and all international commercial trade in their body parts is banned.

Wildlife experts say there are no reliable population estimates of these big cats in India, but a recent wildlife census estimated a leopard population of between 12,000 and 14,000.

Cambodia top court dissolves main opposition CNRP party

Cambodia’s Supreme Court has dissolved the country’s main opposition party, leaving the government with no significant competitor ahead of elections next year.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) is accused of plotting to topple the government – charges it denies, and describes as politically motivated.

More than 100 party members are now banned from politics for five years.

Cambodia’s Prime Minister, Hun Sen, has ruled for 32 years.

He has long been accused of using the courts and security forces to intimidate opponents and crush dissent, but has for years allowed some measure of political opposition to his Cambodian People’s Party.

The CNRP made unexpectedly strong gains in the 2013 elections, and had been set to fiercely contest next year’s polls.

‘End of true democracy’

The ruling was made in response to a government complaint, and all of the CNRP’s elected politicians will now lose their positions, including 55 seats in the 123-seat National Assembly.

Senior CNRP politician Mu Sochua, who has fled the country along with dozens of other MPs, told the BBC that the decision marked “the end of true democracy in Cambodia”.

She called for sanctions, adding: “The international community cannot let democracy die in Cambodia by refusing to see that its has been dealing with a dictator for the past three decades.”

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The president of the Supreme Court – Judge Dith Munty – is a senior member of the ruling party.

In announcing his decision he said that the CNRP had effectively confessed to the charges of plotting a revolution by not sending any lawyers to the trial.

The CNRP had argued the verdict was pre-determined.

The International Commission of Jurists said Judge Munty’s role in the case “made a mockery of fair justice”, while Amnesty International said the Cambodian judiciary was being used “as a political tool to silence dissent”.

During the hearing, a government lawyer said the opposition had tried to topple the government “in order to grab power, like in Yugoslavia, Serbia and Tunisia”, the Phnom Penh Post newspaper reported.

Police guarding the Supreme Court

Senior government figures have long warned of a US-backed “colour revolution” in Cambodia, alleging links between independent NGOs, US-linked media outlets and the CNRP.

The US ambassador to Cambodia has called the accusations “absurd” and “without a shred of serious or credible evidence”.

Prime Minister Hun Sen had earlier called on CNRP lawmakers to defect to his own party ahead of the ruling. He also said he was sure the party would be dissolved, adding: “I dare to bet my life on this happening”.

The ruling comes after a prolonged crackdown on critics and dissent. In September, CNRP leader Kem Sokha was arrested and accused of conspiring with the US to overthrow the government. He was charged with treason.

Several US-backed media outlets and organisations have also recently been shut down or kicked out of the country.

In September, one of Cambodia’s last independent newspapers, the Cambodia Daily, was forced to close after the government ordered it to pay a huge tax bill.

This file photo taken on September 3, 2017 shows Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha (L) being escorted by police at his home in Phnom Penh

Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander, is one of the longest-serving heads of government in the world.

He has overseen a prolonged period of peace and rapid economic growth in the war-scarred country but is criticised by groups like Human Rights Watch for being a ruthless leader unwilling to relinquish his hold on power.

In recent years he has positioned his government closer to China, which has showered Cambodia with aid and loans.

In 2015, then CNRP leader Sam Rainsy fled to France to escape arrest for a defamation conviction.

Earlier this year, the party made further gains in local elections that were seen as a bellwether for next July’s polls.