Egypt billionare offers to buy Med island for refugees

Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris has offered to buy an island off Greece or Italy and develop it to help hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from Syria and other conflicts.

The telecoms tycoon first announced the initiative on Twitter.

“Greece or Italy sell me an island, I’ll call its independence and host the migrants and provide jobs for them building their new country,” he wrote.

More than 2,300 people have died at sea trying to reach Europe since January, many of them Syrians who fled their country’s four-and-a-half year conflict.

Sawiris said in a television interview that he would approach the governments of Greece and Italy about his plan.

Asked by AFP whether he believed it could work, he said: “Of course it’s feasible.”

“You have dozens of islands which are deserted and could accommodate hundreds of thousands of refugees.”

Sawiris said an island off Greece or Italy could cost between $10 million and $100 million, but added the “main thing is investment in infrastructure”.

There would be “temporary shelters to house the people, then you start employing the people to build housing, schools, universities, hospitals.

“And if things improve, whoever wants to go back (to their homeland) goes back,” said Sawiris, whose family developed the popular El Gouna resort on Egypt’s Red Sea coast.

He conceded such a plan could face challenges, including the likely difficulty of persuading Greece or Italy to sell an island, and figuring out jurisdiction and customs regulations.

But those who took shelter would be treated as “human beings,” he said. “The way they are being treated now, they are being treated like cattle.”

Sawiris is the chief executive of Orascom TMT, which operates mobile telephone networks in a number of Middle Eastern and African countries plus Korea as well as underwater communications networks.

He also owns an Egyptian television channel.

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Trump dunks on basketball great Kareem’s criticism

Donald Trump’s latest feud is with US basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, whose thoughtful critique of the billionaire presidential hopeful led Trump to angrily retort: “You don’t have a clue about life.”

The Republican frontrunner’s withering response was to a column in Wednesday’s Washington Post written by Abdul-Jabbar, the National Basketball Association hall of famer who compared Trump unfavorably to liberal Democrat Bernie Sanders and accused the real estate mogul of waging a “vendetta against the press.”

Abdul-Jabbar, who retired in 1989 as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer and emerged as an author and cultural commentator, offered an unsparing evaluation of Trump’s actions on the campaign trail, and notably during the first Republican debate when he snapped at moderator Megyn Kelly of Fox News.

“Bad enough to alienate women in this way, but there’s even more insidious political crime here: attacking the First Amendment’s protection of a free press by menacing journalists,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote.

He added that Trump also allowed a renowned Hispanic anchor to be kicked out of his press conference because he asked questions about immigration out of turn, and refused to give credentials to Des Moines Register reporters when the paper issued an editorial calling for Trump to withdraw from the race.

“The biggest enemy to the principles of the Constitution right now is Trump,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote.

With that, Abdul-Jabbar appeared to become Trump’s new enemy number one.

“Kareem — Now I know why the press always treated you so badly — they couldn’t stand you,” Trump wrote in block letters over a copy of Abdul-Jabbar’s column, according to an image of the letter that Abdul-Jabbar posted on Facebook.

“The fact is that you don’t have a clue about life and what has to be done to make America great again! Best wishes, Donald Trump.”

Abdul-Jabbar described the retort as “the best, though inelegant, support for my claims.”

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Refugees ‘threaten Europe’s Christian identity': Hungary PM Orban

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban warned Thursday that the wave of mostly Muslim refugees coming to Europe threatens to undermine the continent’s Christian roots — an idea rejected by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“If you’re being overrun, you can’t accept” migrants, Orban wrote in German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, adding that most were Muslims, not Christians and criticising the EU’s “failed immigration policy”.

“We must not forget that those who are coming in have been brought up under a different religion and represent a profoundly different culture,” wrote the conservative Hungarian leader, who was visiting Brussels Thursday.

“The majority are not Christians but Muslims. That is an important question because Europe and European culture have Christian roots.

“Or is it not already, and in itself, alarming that Europe’s Christian culture is barely able to uphold Europe’s own Christian values?”

Merkel, whose country has taken in the greatest number of migrants, begged to differ, speaking during a visit to Bern, Switzerland.

“To the extent that we have in mind Christian values, then I think it is important that the dignity of every human being … be protected everywhere it is in danger,” she said.

On the asylum issue, Merkel said, “Germany is doing what is morally and legally required, nothing more or less,” adding that the international refugee convention “is not only valid in Germany but in each European (Union) member state”.

Orban had in the newspaper article defended his government’s controversial decision to build a fence along its Serbian border in an effort to stop the influx of people fleeing war and misery.

“The people want us to control the situation and protect our borders,” he wrote.

“Only when we have protected our borders can we ask questions about the numbers of people we can take in, or whether there should be quotas.”

He added that it was “pretty depressing that, aside from Hungary -– or the Spaniards -– no-one wants to protect the borders of Europe.”

Orban also charged that it was “irresponsible” of European politicians “to give migrants hope for a better life and to encourage them to leave everything behind to risk their lives by leaving for Europe”.

“The fence which Hungary is building is important,” he added, according to the German language text. “We’re not doing that for fun, but because it is necessary.”

In Brussels, EU President Donald Tusk also reacted to the article, saying that “for me Christianity in public and social life means a duty to our brothers in need”.

“Referring to Christianity in a public debate on migration must mean the humanity to our brothers … (and) readiness to show solidarity.”

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Otto Perez, Guatemala’s fallen crime-fighter

Guatemala’s disgraced ex-president Otto Perez Molina came to power in 2012 promising to crack down on crime, but resigned Thursday after a judge issued a warrant for his arrest over allegations of massive corruption.

The conservative leader defiantly held on through months of unprecedented protests, but in the end had little choice but to stand down as prosecutors prepared to charge him with running a scheme that defrauded the state of millions of dollars.

A spreading firestorm had engulfed his administration since April, when investigators blew the lid off what they say was a highly organized system in which businesses could bribe corrupt officials to clear their imports through customs at a fraction of the actual tax rate.

The arrest warrant was the final straw for the 64-year-old retired general, who under Guatemalan law would have been automatically removed from office if remanded in custody pending trial.

Congress voted Tuesday to strip his presidential immunity, a first in Guatemalan history.

It is all a long way from Perez’s winning campaign in 2011, when he vowed to wield an iron fist against the crime wracking the Central American country.

Guatemala, where the scars of a 36-year civil war are still fresh, has a murder rate of nearly 40 per day — the fifth highest in the world, according to the United Nations.

Perez, a former counterinsurgency officer with a severe style, promised to fight the violent street gangs terrorizing the country while building upon social programs started by his center-left predecessor, Alvaro Colom.

That agenda got sideswiped by the ever-expanding corruption scandal uncovered by investigators from the Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a UN unit set up in 2006 to fight high-level graft.

Investigators say the scheme — dubbed “La Linea,” for the phone line businesses allegedly called to access the corrupt network — was led by the president himself.

Their findings are based on some 89,000 wire-tapped phone calls — including, they say, recordings that refer to Perez as the “Number One” official behind La Linea.

Perez had apologized for the fact the graft happened on his watch, but repeatedly denied involvement, insisting he would not quit before his term ended on January 14.

But he was left in an untenable position by the congressional vote and the arrest warrant, which came as the country prepares for elections Sunday to choose its next president.

The scandal had already felled former vice president Roxana Baldetti, who resigned in May and is currently in jail awaiting trial.

New Vice President Alejandro Maldonado is due to serve out the rest of Perez’s term.

- Tainted peace hero -

Perez is the first military man to lead Guatemala since the return of democracy in 1985.

He developed his sharp, staccato speaking manner during 34 years in the barracks, which coincided with the 1960-1996 civil war, a conflict that claimed 200,000 lives.

His military career included a stint at the School of the Americas, the US-operated counter-insurgency institute that trained several Latin American dictators.

Rights groups have accused him of abuses during the war, allegations he vehemently denies.

Instead, he plays up his nickname, “General of the Peace,” earned when he signed the 1996 peace accords in the name of the army.

Perez turned from the military to politics in 1993, as head of the presidential military staff, before retiring from the army in 2000.

He survived an attempt on his life in February 2001, when attackers fired on the vehicle he was traveling in with his wife and daughter, three days before he founded his Patriot Party.

He was elected to Congress in 2003 and made an unsuccessful run for the presidency in 2007.

Four years later, he was back to win, running a multi-million-dollar campaign and seeking to soften his image with an informal style, sporting jeans and polo shirts along with his neatly parted silver hair.

But that lighter side was set aside as the corruption scandal swirled.

Born in Guatemala City on December 1, 1950, Perez is married to Rosa Leal, with whom he has two children.

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Arsenal without Welbeck after knee operation

Arsenal’s England striker Danny Welbeck willl be out of action for several months after undergoing a knee operation.

The 24-year-old, signed from Manchester United on deadline day in September 2014, last played in April, missing both the FA Cup final and end-of-season internationals.

Despite hopes Welbeck would be able to recover from bone bruising around the knee, Arsenal announced on Thursday the player had needed an operation and was now set for an extended spell of rehabilitation.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had hoped Welbeck would be available soon after the international break.

However, following an increased training schedule, it was decided surgery would be needed.

A statement from Arsenal read: “Danny Welbeck has undergone surgery on his left knee after being unable to sufficiently step up his rehabilitation work.”

It concluded: “Danny is now expected to be out for a period of months and everyone at Arsenal wishes him well.”

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Loew relishing Germany’s ‘week of truth’

Germany coach Joachim Loew is relishing the world champions’ “week of truth” in their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign when they host Group D leaders Poland on Friday before playing Scotland away.

Germany, who have 13 points from their six qualifiers so far, find themselves in the unusual position of being second behind Poland (14) in the table and just two ahead of Scotland (11), who they play in Glasgow on Monday.

Back-to-back victories over their main rivals would give Loew’s side control of the group, while defeat to Poland would be a significant setback for Germany with only three more games to follow.

The state of affairs represents a special challenge, rather than pressure, according to Loew, even though the Germans are used to strolling through the qualifiers for previous major finals undefeated.

“We are in arrears with the points, which is why we are in our week of truth,” said Loew.

“We don’t stand with our backs to the wall, it’s all in our own hands and we want to pick up maximum points.”

“It’s a special challenge, I don’t feel the pressure.

“For us, it’s a different position than in previous years, we are no longer in pole position.

“But we are happy to be in a situation that demands we play decisive matches, it’s a motivation for us.”

The two key tasks facing Loew’s Germany are to break down the tight Polish defence, which has leaked just three goals in six games, and to “prevent Poland counter-attacking, which they are very, very good at doing”, according to Loew.

Likewise, the Germans must fix their leaky defence and, while Loew conceded there has been a drop in concentration since winning last year’s World Cup, his players must now deliver.

Loew suffered a blow on Thursday when Borussia Dortmund winger Marco Reus, arguably Germany’s best playmaker, was forced to withdraw from both games with a broken big toe.

“It’s regrettable and, of course, I don’t like to be without him, because Marco is a player who can do things in key moments on attack,” rued Loew.

“I won’t be able to play him, but we won’t be calling anyone else up.”

Mario Goetze, who has spent the last two seasons mainly on the bench at Bayern Munich, will play as Germany’s lone striker while Arsenal’s attacking midfielder Mesut Ozil will start, despite a mild knee injury, which Loew says is “no problem”.

Poland, led by Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, are the only unbeaten team in the group after their 2-0 shock victory over Germany in Warsaw last October.

After defender Jerome Boateng insisted “there can be no excuses”, the message from the Germany camp is clear

“We want to show the Poles from the outset that there is nothing to pick up,” added Loew.

Photo Credits : AFP

Hong Kong hold China, Son shines for Korea

China were frustrated 0-0 by Hong Kong in a politically fraught World Cup qualifier on Thursday as Son Heung-Min celebrated his move to Tottenham Hotspur with a hat-trick in South Korea’s 8-0 thrashing of Laos.

Japan finally got a win under coach Vahid Halilhodzic and Australia shrugged off internal problems to smash five past Bangladesh as Asia’s big fish feasted on the region’s minnows.

However, Hong Kong kept Alain Perrin’s China in check and stayed on top of Group C with a gritty draw played under tight security on the 70th anniversary of Japan’s World War II defeat.

Visiting fans were heard chanting “We are Hong Kong!” in English, a nod to the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s British colonial past and rising anti-Beijing sentiment.

And goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai was similarly defiant, pulling off a string of saves as Hong Kong ensured a markedly different result to their 7-0 qualifying defeat in China in 2004.

“China had a few chances at the beginning. China did well from the beginning. But God blessed us,” said Hong Kong coach Kim Pan-gon.

Asian champions Australia had an easier time in Perth as they cast off internal upheaval over a pay dispute to put five past Bangladesh, who are 173rd in the world rankings.

Players boycotted pre-match promotional appearances but they showed no signs of mutiny on the pitch with Celtic’s Tom Rogic scoring twice as Australia went 4-0 up before half-time.

Japan have so far endured a 2015 to forget, crashing out in the Asian Cup quarter-finals as defending champions and finishing last at last month’s four-team East Asian Cup.

But after four games without a win, they finally got off the mark under Halilhodzic, with big guns Keisuke Honda, Maya Yoshida and Shinji Kagawa all on target in a 3-0 home win against 180th-ranked Cambodia.

As a busy night of qualifiers continued, new Spurs signing Son put in the performance so far when he bagged a hat-trick among South Korea’s eight unanswered goals against tiny Laos.

The English Premier League new boy struck two of South Korea’s three goals before the break and he completed his treble on 74 minutes as the hosts ran riot in the second half.

Later on Thursday, unheralded Guam, East Timor and Bhutan will try their luck in away fixtures against Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar respectively.

The second round of Asian qualifying, which finishes in March, features 39 teams and also doubles as a route to the 2019 Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates.

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France, Germany agree binding migrant quotas needed: Merkel

Germany and France have agreed that the European Union, facing an unprecedented influx of migrants, should impose binding quotas on the numbers member states take in, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday.

“I spoke this morning with the French president, and the French-German position, which we will transmit to the European institutions, is that we agree that … we need binding quotas within the European Union to share the burden. That is the principle of solidarity,” Merkel told reporters during a visit in the Swiss capital.

She insisted the bloc needed to adhere to the basic principle that “those who need protection … get it.”

She said the “economic power and size (of countries) should play a role” in the number of migrants they are asked to take in, but stressed that without quotas, “we cannot solve this problem.”

The French presidency also announced the two European powerhouses would send joint proposals to Brussels “for organising the welcome of refugees and their fair distribution in Europe” and for “reinforcing the European asylum system.”

With the large number of refugees and migrants flooding into Europe and moving through the continent, it warned that “dramas are being followed by tragedies.”

“Thousands of victims have died since the start of the year. The European Union must act in a decisive manner in line with its values,” the French presidency said.

It added though that the joint proposals also aim to ensure “the return of irregular migrants to their countries of origin, and bring the necessary support and cooperation with countries of transit and origin.”

Merkel echoed that, saying that while Europe has an obligation to help those in need, “those who are coming for purely economic reasons cannot expect a lasting protection and must leave the country.”

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Impala Platinum earnings drop 58 percent

Impala Platinum, the world’s second biggest platinum producer, announced Thursday that its full-year profit slumped by 58 percent, as the industry suffers from the global decline of commodity prices.

The Johannesburg-based company has been hit by China’s economic slowdown, which spooked stock markets worldwide in recent weeks and sparked a rout in emerging market currencies.

Earnings in the 12 months ended June 30 fell 58 percent from a year earlier, to 221 million rand ($16.2 million), Implats said.

Profits were also hit by efforts to recover from a damaging five-month strike last year.

“The recent sharp decline in… prices has compounded the impact of the prolonged strike in 2014, which had a material negative effect on the group’s overall financial position,” the company said.

Platinum prices have dropped by about 40 percent since 2011, and are at their lowest in six years.

“Slowing Chinese GDP growth and economic uncertainty in the 2014 calendar year impacted platinum jewellery sales,” the company said.

Despite weak demand, the company said it will continue to invest in new shafts as it forecast long-term demand for platinum-group metals.

The results were further bad news for the South African economy, which has been battered by electricity shortages and unemployment of about 25 percent, as well as the commodity slump and falling rand.

Mining giants Lonmin and Anglo American have announced plans to reduce their workforce, with trade unions warning 19,000 job cuts could already have been scheduled.

The government, mining companies and unions met on Monday in an attempt to negotiate a reduction in redundancies.

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Double suicide attack kills 30 in north Cameroon

At least 30 people were killed in the far north of Cameroon on Thursday in two successive suicide attacks, military and police sources said.

The first bombing took place shortly before noon in the marketplace of Kerawa, a city on the border with Nigeria, said the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity.

It was followed by a second attack about 200 metres (yards) from a military camp, said a police officer who asked not to be identified.

At least 30 people were killed, the sources said.

Some 50 people were killed in July in the same region in five suicide attacks blamed on Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamist group.

Cameroon is part of a five-nation coalition fighting Boko Haram with Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Benin.

Cameroon’s far north region bordering Nigeria and Chad for the past two years has seen regular Boko Haram raids, kidnappings and, more recently, suicide attacks.

Photo Credits : AFP