Catalans inspire UK island to demand split from mainland

Sat, 2017-10-21 03:00

CANVEY ISLAND: A small island community in the Thames Estuary that voted massively for Brexit is now drawing inspiration from distant Catalonia for its own plans to gain independence from authorities on the mainland.
Just 40,000 people live on Canvey Island in Essex, a 40-minute train ride from London but a world apart from the British capital.
“We are surrounded by sea, I suppose it gives us that feeling of independence,” said Edward Parkin, 39, who works at the waterfront arcade Parkins Palladium.
Just two roads connect the area to the mainland and there has been resentment that decisions are being taken on the other side of the water which affect the community.
“It is always the mainland that decides. People are fed up,” said Dave Blackwell, whose frustration with the situation led him to create the Canvey Island Independent Party (CIIP).
The latest move seen as unacceptable by Blackwell is a proposal to turn a community center into housing, following a decision by Castle Point borough council — which governs Canvey.
The septuagenarian has announced a petition on independence and, inspired by Catalonia, a referendum for Canvey to separate from Castle Point and run its own affairs.
“If we’d have a referendum tomorrow, 80 percent of the people would be in favor of independence,” he said.
Islanders have already tested their breakaway views at the polls, with the area voting by 72.7 percent in favor to leave the EU in last year’s referendum — one of the highest proportions in the country.
Blackwell, who started his party 14 years ago, sees his ongoing bid for independence as similar to Brexit.
“We have done campaigning for independence in the past. It grew,” he said.
“People are fed up with mainstream parties and want to be able to determine their own future.”
Nine out of the 11 Canvey Island town councillors have already been convinced to join CIIP, along with 15 of 17 councillors representing the island in Castle Point council.
But the leader of Castle Point council, Colin Riley, is firmly against the idea and argues the talk of separatism is taking away from the “wonderful sense of community” within the area.
“At a time when all councils are facing increasing pressures on budgets and are looking at ways of working together it would be contrary to promote independence for Canvey island,” he told AFP.
“I am hopeful that we can quickly get back to business.”
On Canvey Island, however, residents are already coming up with ways to spend the council’s budget if autonomy is returned.
Ideas include a third road to the mainland to relieve congestion, a new drainage system to protect the island from flooding, or more toilets along the beachfront.
Dave Taylor, tucking into a plate of bacon and mushrooms on toast at Sue’s Cafe, told AFP independence “would be a very good idea.”
“The money will be spent on the island, not elsewhere,” said the 74-year-old, noting unhappily that it was left to volunteers to clean Canvey’s beach and repair the island’s benches.
Cafe owner Sue Thomas, donning a blue apron, agreed: “I think it might be a good thing for the people of Canvey; they could make decisions for themselves and have a say.”
It has been more than 40 years since the creation of Castle Point borough council, in 1974.
Blackwell believes the case of Catalonia could act as a catalyst for change.

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Pollution is deadlier than war, disaster, hunger: Report

The Associated Press
Sat, 2017-10-21 03:00

NEW DELHI: Environmental pollution — from filthy air to contaminated water — is killing more people every year than all war and violence in the world. More than smoking, hunger or natural disasters. More than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.
One out of every six premature deaths in the world in 2015 — about 9 million — could be attributed to disease from toxic exposure, according to a major study released Thursday in the Lancet medical journal. The financial cost from pollution-related death, sickness and welfare is equally massive, the report says, costing some $4.6 trillion in annual losses — or about 6.2 percent of the global economy.
“There’s been a lot of study of pollution, but it’s never received the resources or level of attention as, say, AIDS or climate change,” said epidemiologist Philip Landrigan, dean of global health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, and the lead author on the report.
The report marks the first attempt to pull together data on disease and death caused by all forms of pollution combined.
“Pollution is a massive problem that people aren’t seeing because they’re looking at scattered bits of it,” Landrigan said.
Experts say the 9 million premature deaths the study found was just a partial estimate, and the number of people killed by pollution is undoubtedly higher and will be quantified once more research is done and new methods of assessing harmful impacts are developed.
Areas like Sub-Saharan Africa have yet to even set up air pollution monitoring systems. Soil pollution has received scant attention. And there are still plenty of potential toxins still being ignored, with less than half of the 5,000 new chemicals widely dispersed throughout the environment since 1950 having been tested for safety or toxicity.
“In the West, we got the lead out of the gasoline, so we thought lead was handled. We got rid of the burning rivers, cleaned up the worst of the toxic sites. And then all of those discussions went into the background” just as industry began booming in developing nations, said Richard Fuller, head of the global toxic watchdog Pure Earth and one of the 47 scientists, policy makers and public health experts who contributed to the 51-page report.
“To some extent these countries look to the West for examples and discussion, and we’d dropped it,” Fuller said.
Asia and Africa are the regions putting the most people at risk, the study found, while India tops the list of individual countries.
One out of every four premature deaths in India in 2015, or some 2.5 million, was attributed to pollution. China’s environment was the second deadliest, with more than 1.8 million premature deaths, or one in five, blamed on pollution-related illness, the study found.
Several other countries such Bangladesh, Pakistan, North Korea, South Sudan and Haiti also see nearly a fifth of their premature deaths caused by pollution.
Still, many poorer countries have yet to make pollution control a priority, experts say. India has taken some recent actions, such as tightening vehicle and factory emission standards and occasionally limiting the number of cars on New Delhi’s roads. But they have done little about crop burning, garbage fires, construction dust or rampant use of the dirtiest fossil fuels.
A court ban on firework sales before the Diwali festival did not stop New Delhi residents from firing rockets and lighting crackers throughout Thursday night. They awoke Friday morning to acrid, smoke-filled skies and levels of dangerous, lung-clogging particulate matter known as PM2.5 that went beyond 900 parts per million — 90 times the recommended limit by the World Health Organization (WHO) and 22 times higher than India’s own limits.
“Even though better pollution norms are coming in, still the pollution levels are continuously increasing,” said Shambhavi Shukla, a research associate with the Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment, which was not involved in the Lancet study.
To reach its figures on the overall global pollution burden, the study’s authors used methods outlined by the US Environmental Protection Agency for assessing field data from soil tests, as well as with air and water pollution data from the Global Burden of Disease, an ongoing study run by institutions including WHO and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

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Plague kills 94 in Madagascar

Sat, 2017-10-21 03:00

GENEVA: A plague epidemic has killed 94 people on the island of Madagascar and could spread further, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.
WHO’s Africa Emergencies Director Ibrahima Soce Fall told reporters in Geneva the organization was racing to stop both the Madagascar plague and an outbreak of the Ebola-like Marburg virus in Uganda that it was confident it could contain.
Plague is endemic in Madagascar, but the outbreak that has caused 1,153 suspected cases since August is especially worrying because it started earlier in the season than usual, it has hit towns rather than rural areas, and it is mainly causing pneumonic plague, the most deadly form of the disease.
The outbreak already looks big when compared with the 3,248 cases and 584 deaths reported worldwide from 2010 to 2015. Fall said the risk to Madagascar remained very high, although the international risk was very low.
WHO has delivered antibiotics to Madagascar to treat up to 5,000 patients and as a prophylactic dose for up to 100,000 people who might be at risk, as well as 150,000 sets of personal protective equipment.
About 2,000 healthworkers are tracing people who have had contact with plague sufferers, which should allow the disease to be controlled relatively quickly, Fall said.
“I’m confident that with the strong team we have on the ground, combined with more partners coming and health workers, we will be able very quickly to reverse the trend.”
In Uganda, WHO hopes to halt an outbreak of Marburg, a highly infectious haemorrhagic fever similar to Ebola, which killed a 50-year-old woman on Oct. 11, three weeks after her brother died of similar symptoms.
“The positive thing is that Uganda is very used to managing this kind of outbreak,” Fall said. In the past decade, Uganda has already had four outbreaks of Marburg. An outbreak can kill up to 90 percent of the people who catch the disease.
Several hundred people may have been exposed to the virus at health facilities and at a traditional burial of the dead woman’s brother, who worked as a game hunter and lived near a cave inhabited by Rousettus bats, natural hosts of the Marburg virus.

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Togo opposition leader calls on France for help

Sat, 2017-10-21 03:00

LOME: French President Emmanuel Macron was on Friday urged to step in to help find a solution to an increasingly violent power struggle between Togo’s opposition and the government.
Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets since late August calling for the resignation of President Faure Gnassingbe, whose family has been in power for over 50 years.
They want the constitution changed so that presidents can only serve two five-year terms of office. Gnassingbe has been in power since 2005 and won three elections.
But the protests have turned bloody, with more than a dozen deaths recorded in the capital Lome and the second city of Sokode, in the north.
In the last two days, the opposition coalition has said seven people have been killed in clashes between gangs of youths and the security forces, with dozens more injured.
The leader of the Panafrican National Party (PNP), Tikpi Atchadam, told Radio France Internationale that west African leaders were doing nothing to help.
“We believe that President Macron will intervene. We are waiting,” he said in an interview.
Atchadam, who has spearheaded the protests, said Guinea’s President Alpha Conde, who is currently head of the African Union, “tried to meet us.”
“He even sent his plane to get us and it was the day before our departure that the arrests (of opposition supporters) started,” he added.
On Wednesday, Benin’s President Patrice Talon made a low-key visit to Lome for the second time in a week to talk to Gnassingbe, according to Togolese presidency sources.
France’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday issued a short statement, saying only that it was following events in its former colony “with concern.”
“We strongly condemn the recent violence that has left several people dead or injured (and) call for calm on both sides and dialogue,” it added.
But Gilles Yabi, a political analyst specializing in West Africa, said intervention looked unlikely.
“I’m not sure that the Togo issue is really a priority for France,” he told AFP. “Until recently the French government was very close to the Gnassingbe regime for years.
“The current public support is very strong, so it’s difficult to imagine that Paris will take a stronger and more direct position.”
Gnassingbe currently holds the rotating presidency of the West African bloc ECOWAS, which makes any regional initiative against him “a bit complicated,” said Yabi.
“There are a lot of talks but what message are his African counterparts sending him? Can they really ask him to step down at the end of his current term of office?” he added.
Gnassingbe took over power in 2005 after the death of his father, Gen. Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled Togo with an iron fist for 38 years.
His election victories in 2005, 2010 and 2015 were contested by the opposition.

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A bittersweet reunion in a Rohingya refugee camp

Shehab Sumon
Fri, 2017-10-20 23:59

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh: Zobaer Ahmed Rana left his parents at the age of 6 and came to Bangladesh with his uncle in search of a better life.

But the Rohingya family was reunited this week as the remaining members fled the ongoing atrocities in Myanmar.

“I haven’t seen my son for 11 years. He’s a grownup now,” Rana’s mother Anowara Begum, who entered Bangladesh as a refugee four days ago, told Arab News.

“This is the first time I see my daughter-in-law. It’s a very happy moment for our family, but we can’t celebrate at this time of crisis.”

The family and 20,000 other refugees had to wait for four days at the border to enter Bangladesh.

The family got clearance from Bangladeshi authorities on Thursday to enter the Balukhali refugee camp in Ukhia Thana.

Recent drone footage from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) shows thousands of Rohingya refugees lined up for kilometers near the border.

The UNHCR has expressed grave concern over the condition of the stranded refugees, who have little to no food, water or shelter, and are weakened by days of travelling on foot.

“We’re advocating with the Bangladesh authorities to urgently admit these refugees fleeing violence and increasingly difficult conditions back home. Every minute counts given the fragile condition they’re arriving in,” said UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic.

“They’re waiting for permission to move away from the border, where the sound of gunfire continues to be heard every night from the Myanmar side.”

Rana told Arab News: “My 25-member family started the journey toward Bangladesh on Oct. 9. It took them four days to reach the border, during which time I was in contact with them via a cellular phone.”

He visited his family the day they arrived at the camp, giving them dried food. He said no visitors were allowed on the second day, but on the third day he was able to give them rice.

Rana has been living with his uncle in Bangladesh’s port city of Chittagong since 2004. He completed his higher secondary education, and works as an assistant at a men’s hair salon.

Rana’s father Abu Toyob told Arab News: “We lived in Buthidaung town in Myanmar’s Rakhine state for many generations. I had a grocery shop in the local market and around 5 acres of land that I inherited from my father. But now I’m penniless and faced with uncertainty regarding my family of five sons and three daughters.”

Although the international community is urging Myanmar’s military to stop its abuses in Rakhine, there is no sign of improvement in the situation.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) recently reported that 582,000 Rohingya refugees have taken shelter in Bangladesh since the influx began on Aug. 25.

But unofficial sources put the figure at more than 600,000, and aid agencies are seeking more support from the international community to cope with increasing demand for humanitarian aid.

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Suicide bombings in Afghanistan hit mosques, killing 63

Sat, 2017-10-21 01:33

KABUL: Suicide bombers struck two mosques in Afghanistan during Friday prayers, a Shiite mosque in Kabul and a Sunni mosque in western Ghor province, killing at least 63 people at the end of a particularly deadly week for the troubled nation.
The Afghan president issued a statement condemning both attacks and saying that country’s security forces would step up the fight to “eliminate the terrorists who target Afghans of all religions and tribes.”
In the attack in Kabul, a suicide bomber walked into the Imam Zaman Mosque, a Shiite mosque in the western Dashte-e-Barchi neighborhood where he detonated his explosives vest, killing 30 and wounding 45, said Maj. Gen. Alimast Momand at the Interior Ministry.
The suicide bombing in Ghor province struck a Sunni mosque, also during Friday prayers and killed 33 people, including a warlord who was apparently the target of the attack, said Mohammad Iqbal Nizami, the spokesman for the provincial chief of police.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for either attack, the latest in a devastating week that saw Taliban attacks kill scores across the country.
In the Kabul attack, eyewitness Ali Mohammad said the mosque was packed with worshippers, both men and women praying at the height of the Muslim week. The explosion was so strong that it shattered windows on nearby buildings, he said.
Local residents who rushed to the scene to help the victims were overcome with anger and started chanting, “Death to ISIS“— a reference to the Daesh group which has staged similar attacks on Shiite mosques in recent months.
Abdul Hussain Hussainzada, a Shiite community leader, said they are sure that Afghanistan’s IS affiliate was behind the attack. “Our community is very worried,” Hussainzada told The Associated Press.
Dasht-e-Barchi is a sprawling neighborhood in the west of Kabul where the majority of people are ethnic Hazaras, who are mostly Shiite Muslims, a minority in Afghanistan, which is a Sunni majority nation.
As attacks targeting Shiites have increased in Kabul, residents of this area have grown increasingly afraid. Most schools have additional armed guards from among the local population.
The so-called Islamic State in Afghanistan has taken responsibility for most of the attacks targeting Shiites, whom the Sunni extremist group considers to be apostates. Earlier this year, following an attack claimed by IS on the Iraqi Embassy in Kabul, the militant group effectively declared war on Afghanistan’s Shiites, saying they would be the target of future attacks.
Several mosques have been attacked following this warning, killing scores of Shiite worshippers in Kabul and in western Herat province. Residents say attendance at local Shiite mosques in Kabul on Friday has dropped by at least one-third.
Hussainzada, the spiritual head of Afghanistan’s ethnic Hazaras, said the suicide bomber had positioned himself at the front of the prayer hall, standing with other men in the first of dozens of rows of worshippers before exploding his devise. He appeared to be Uzbek, added Hussainzada.
Members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan militant group, who are in Afghanistan in the hundreds, have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State affiliate, known as the Islamic State Khorasan Province — an ancient term for what today includes parts of Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.
The attack on the Sunni mosque in Ghor province took place in the Do Laina district, according to Nizami, the police spokesman. Nizami says the target apparently was a local commander, Abdul Ahed, a former warlord who has sided with the government. Seven of his bodyguards were also killed in the bombing.
In his statement, President Ghani said the day’s attacks show that “the terrorists have once again staged bloody attacks but they will not achieve their evil purposes and sow discord among the Afghans.”
It has been a brutal week in Afghanistan, with more than 70 killed, mostly policemen and Afghan soldiers but also civilians as militant attacks have surged. The Taliban have taken responsibility for the earlier assaults this week that struck on security installations in the east and west of the country.
Overnight on Wednesday and into Thursday, the Taliban killed at least 58 Afghan security forces in attacks that included an assault that nearly wiped out an army camp in southern Kandahar province.
And on Tuesday, the Taliban unleashed a wave of attacks across Afghanistan, targeting police compounds and government facilities with suicide bombers, and killing at least 74 people, officials said.
Afghan forces have struggled to combat a resurgent Taliban since US and NATO forces formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014, switching to a counterterrorism and support role.

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Women take ‘top three spots’ in Norway government

Fri, 2017-10-20 15:07

OSLO: Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg on Friday announced a cabinet reshuffle putting women in “the top three spots” of government.
Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide was named the country’s new foreign minister to replace her male colleague Borge Brende, who is stepping down to take over as president of the World Economic Forum.
Soreide, 41, is the first woman to become the top diplomat in NATO member Norway.
She joins Solberg and Finance Minister Siv Jensen in holding “the top three spots” in the right-wing government, according to the expression used by Norwegian media.
“We’re not the first in the world but it is a page in Norway’s history that is being written,” Solberg said at a press conference.
The Philippines, Switzerland and Liberia have already had such a constellation, she noted.
Like its Scandinavian neighbors, Norway is a pioneer when it comes to gender equality: back in 1986, the Labour government of female prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland had almost as many women cabinet members as men, with eight out of 18.
Solberg also announced that Frank Bakke-Jensen would be taking over as defense minister, while his European affairs portfolio would be handed to newcomer Marit Berger Rosland — a woman.
In power since 2013, the right-wing won a narrow victory in legislative elections on September 11.
According to Norwegian media, Solberg could announce another government reshuffle by the end of the year if the small center-right Liberal Party joins the minority coalition, currently made up of Solberg’s Conservatives and Jensen’s anti-immigration Progress Party.

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Catalan separatists in cash withdrawal protest

Fri, 2017-10-20 12:09

BARCELONA: Catalan separatists were flocking to withdraw cash Friday in protest at the central government and at banks who have moved their headquarters out of the Spanish region over its independence crisis.
Some protesters were making symbolic withdrawals of 155 euros ($183) — a reference to Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which Madrid is using to start imposing direct rule over the semi-autonomous region as the standoff following its October 1 independence referendum continues to escalate.
Others were opting for 1,714 euros ($2,023) in a nod to 1714, a highly symbolic date for independence supporters marking the capture of Barcelona by the troops of King Felipe V, who then moved to reduce the rights of rebellious regions.
“It’s a way of protesting. We don’t want to do any harm to the Spanish or Catalan economy,” said Roser Cobos, a 42-year-old lawyer who had just taken out 1,714 euros from the counter at a bank in Barcelona.
“It’s the only way in which Catalans can show their disagreement with the attitude of the Spanish state.”
Two influential grassroots separatist groups, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium Cultural, had issued a call on social media for activists to take “peaceful direct action” to show their opposition to the government of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
The two groups, whose leaders were detained last week pending investigation into sedition charges, specifically urged supporters to withdraw cash from the five main bank chains, “ideally between 8:00 am and 9:00 am.”
Joaquim Curbet, a 58-year-old editor, proudly brandished the 155 euros he had just taken out, expressing hope that the protest “would put pressure on the Spanish government.”
Several people could be seen queueing at a CaixaBank ATM on a central boulevard of Barcelona, the regional capital.
One of its cash machines was already displaying a “temporarily out of service” message at 8:10 am.
Marta Bernard, a 53-year-old civil servant in the regional government, shrugged and tried to push her card into it anyway.
“The Spanish government has taken many measures against us, we have to react,” she said. “I’m taking out 300 euros.”
The two biggest banks in wealthy Catalonia, CaixaBank and Sabadell, are among some 900 companies who have moved their legal headquarters to other parts of Spain since the banned referendum, worried that the instability could take a toll on their business.

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Building collapse in south India kills eight

Fri, 2017-10-20 11:34

NEW DELHI: A building collapse in southern India left eight people dead on Friday, an official said, the latest such disaster in the country known for its dilapidated properties and poor quality construction.
The group were among 11 employees of a state-run transport company, including bus drivers and cleaners, who were sleeping in the 60-year-old, two story office block near a bus depo when a portion of it caved in.
“It was an old building that suddenly collapsed while the staff were asleep,” said C Suresh Kumar, the top government official for Nagapattinam district in Tamil Nadu state, where the incident occurred.
He said emergency workers had managed to rescue three of the workers from under tons of debris, who were being treated for their injuries at a government-run hospital.
The state government has also offered $2,300 in compensation to the victims’ families.
Building disasters are common in Indian cities where millions are forced to live in cramped, run-down properties due to spiraling real estate prices and a lack of housing, while activists say owners often cut corners on construction to save costs.
At least six people were killed on Monday when an apartment block collapsed in Bangalore city after a gas tank explosion, and more than 30 perished in September when a 117-year-old apartment building collapsed in Mumbai.

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