Over 1,800 migrants rescued from six boats adrift off Libya

Over 1,800 migrants were rescued Monday from six vessels found adrift in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Libya, Italy’s coast guard said.

A total of 1,830 people were brought ashore in six different operations to save passengers in four stricken boats and two rubber dinghies, the coast guard said.

Three Italian vessels and one ship each from Britain and Ireland, which are taking part in the EU Navfor Med mission, were involved in the rescue effort.

Over half a million migrants and refugees have landed on Europe’s shores so far this year, according to the UN refugee agency. Some 2,980 people have perished or disappeared trying to make the crossing.

Most of those setting out from Libya are Africans, with Turkey being the main launchpad for crossings by people fleeing conflicts and misery in the Middle East and Asia.

From Wednesday, ships operating under the aegis of EU Navfor Med will have new powers to tackle the people smugglers who pack migrants and refugees into overcrowded boats.

Members of the force will have the right to board, search, seize and divert vessels found in international waters that are suspected of being used for smuggling.

Photo Credits : AFP

Brazil faces World Cup clashes without Neymar

Much has changed for Brazil’s national team since last year’s humiliating World Cup exit, but as the 2018 qualifying campaign gets underway Thursday one worrying factor stays the same: the absence of superstar Neymar.

More than a year has passed since that extraordinary 7-1 meltdown against Germany in Brazil’s own World Cup.

Since then there’s been the almost equally embarrassing failure to survive the Copa America, going out to lowly Paraguay on penalties. The coach has been changed and there have been endless postmortems.

But in all that turmoil, the football-mad nation has remained fixated on national captain and Barcelona star Neymar and the near obsessive fear that without him the “canarinha”, as the team’s called, cannot win.

He was out injured during the 2014 Cup semi-final drubbing. Then at the Copa America against Colombia he was red carded and handed a four-match suspension, missing the rest of the tournament, along with his country’s disappointing exit.

Now with two matches still left on that suspension, Neymar will again be absent for Brazil’s 2018 opening qualifiers against Chile on Thursday and Venezuela on 13 October.

A promise to improve his conduct — “I mustn’t let myself do such stupid things,” he said in Barcelona recently — and an appeal for his suspensions to be postponed failed. And Brazil is dreading the consequences.

For pessimists, Neymar isn’t just important: the supremely skilled scoring machine is one of the last representatives of Brazil’s fabled “jogo bonito,” or beautiful game.

- Yawning hole -

The question many here ask is whether the reliance on Neymar doesn’t illustrate the broader failure of a system that focuses on exporting of young talent to clubs abroad, robbing the country of the chance to develop a whole team of Neymars.

Since his debut against the United States on August 10, 2010, Neymar has played 67 games for Brazil, scoring 46 times and missing only four non-friendlies.

When he has been missing, the yawning hole has been impossible to fill.

Three of the big recent defeats — against Germany in World Cup semis, then a 3-0 loss to Holland in the third-place match, and the Copa America loss in June to Paraguay — took place without Neymar. In his absence the team only won once in a full international: 2-1 against Venezuela.

Now coach Dunga is pleading for fans and team members alike to stop looking over their shoulder for the absent savior.

“We would like to have Neymar, but it’s not possible. We need to focus on the players who will be there with us,” Dunga said when he announced the team on September 17.

But Dunga himself is as much responsible as anyone for Neymar’s coronation as the lynchpin of a team that was desperate for a new start when the coach took over from Luiz Felipe Scolari after the World Cup.

The striker was on an incredible roll, building up to winning the treble with Barcelona and happy to be made Brazilian captain in place of Thiago Silva, a player whose reputation sank with the World Cup flop.

Neymar didn’t disappoint and ahead of the fateful Copa America, Dunga boasted 10 out of 10 victories in friendlies.

But what no one foresaw — or prepared for — was that the brilliant teammate of Messi and Luis Suarez in Barcelona would lose his composure and see red against Colombia. In addition to his immaturity on the pitch, Neymar is running into tax problems back home.

Still, he remains the big hope and all Brazil is counting the days until his return from suspension against great rivals Argentina in Buenos Aires next month.

Photo Credits : AFP

Ghana suspends seven high court judges over bribery allegations

Ghana has suspended seven high court judges, on top of the 22 junior judges and magistrates already sanctioned over graft allegations after an undercover journalist claimed he had filmed them taking bribes.

Last month, 22 circuit judges and magistrates were suspended, and 12 high court judges were placed under investigation, after they were accused of being bought off.

“On the advice of the judicial council, the Vice President, Kwesi Bekoe Amissah-Arthur…on Friday, October 2, 2015 suspended from office with immediate effect, seven out of the 12 justices of the high court on grounds of stated misbehaviour,” the judicial service said in a statement.

It said the vice-president had acted on the order of President John Dramani Mahama, who was on a visit to France.

The president asked the country’s chief justice to establish a prima facie case against the judges after the alleged corruption was exposed by a local newspaper.

The newspaper claimed that court officials and judges were accepting money from clients for everything from giving appointments to ruling in their favour.

On September 22, hundreds of Ghanaians flocked to watch a public screening in Accra of the incriminating footage shot by the journalist.

Some of the judges implicated tried in vain to block the broadcast, which lasted several hours.

Photo Credits : AFP

Bale voted Welsh player of the year for record fifth time

Real Madrid star Gareth Bale was voted Welsh player of the year for a record fifth time on Monday.

Bale won the award after being involved in eight of Wales’ nine goals in their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, scoring six times and providing two assists.

The former Tottenham forward’s efforts have left Wales on the brink of qualifying for their first major tournament in 58 years.

Chris Coleman’s side need one point from their final two qualifiers against Bosnia-Herzegovina away and Andorra at home to make it to the finals in France next year.

Bale was also named players’ player of the year and fans’ player of the year at a Cardiff ceremony.

“Look at the last year and he’s scored some incredible goals for us,” Coleman said.

“All the players have done fantastic, but in my book he deserves it because of what he’s done in this campaign.”

Meanwhile, Coleman has accused the major European nations of being scared to play his side ahead of Euro 2016.

Coleman wants two November friendlies against top-class opposition in what should be the start of Wales’ build-up for the finals.

But Italy are among the countries to reject the offer of a Wales friendly, much to Coleman’s frustration.

“We thought that we might be able to tempt a Spain or a Germany and find out how good we are, but there’s been no interest,” Coleman said.

“We were turned down by one or two and Italy didn’t want to play us.

“Look at the friendly games and the big boys keep it among themselves. That’s disappointing.

“We’re in that spot where we are a danger to some of the big boys in that we could win. Maybe they are scared of us.”

Photo Credits : AFP

California becomes fifth US state to allow euthanasia

California became the fifth US state to allow physician-assisted suicide, after the governor on Monday signed a controversial bill letting terminally-ill patients seek a doctor’s help ending their lives.

Governor Jerry Brown, in a statement, said he consulted members of the Catholic Church, which is opposed to measure, as well as physicians, before making the decision.

“In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death,” said the 77-year-old governor, who as a young man studied to enter the priesthood.

“I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain,” Brown said.

“I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill,” he added.

“And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”

The bill makes California the fifth US state to allow assisted suicide after Montana, Oregon, Washington and Vermont.

A New Mexico judge in 2014 approved assisted suicide, but his decision was later struck down by an appeals court.

Euthanasia has long been a controversial issue in the United States.

The topic was brought to the forefront in California by the case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old with a brain tumor who moved from San Francisco to Oregon and took her own life last November.

Photo Credits : AFP

Madagascar suspects deny lynching of two Europeans

The 37 defendants on trial in Madagascar for the 2013 lynching of two Europeans and a local man sought on Monday to prove they were not part of the murderous mob.

Residents in Madagascar’s tourist hotspot Nosy Be went on a rampage on October 3, 2013, after the body of a missing eight-year-old boy was found on the beach.

Acting on false rumours of foreign involvement and a paedophilia connection, the mob killed French tourist Sebastien Judalet and French-Italian resident Roberto Gianfalla, beating them with logs before burning their bodies.

The mob then tracked down, beat and burnt to death the boy’s uncle.

The scenes shocked holidaymakers around the world, who visit the island for its pristine white beaches and clear turquoise waters.

Mob justice is a recurrent problem on the island nation, which lies off southeast Africa.

State lawyer Jean de Dieudonne Andrianaivoson said that “lynching” was however “the opposite of Madagascar culture”.

The 37 defendants — including 35 civilians and two policemen — have been charged with a range of offences from murder and kidnapping to vandalism. All have pleaded not guilty.

Defence lawyers argued that the accused had little to do with the mayhem, saying they were onlookers arrested by police too scared to tackle the mob to arrest the real perpetrators.

“No one has been caught in the act, the policemen didn’t dare confront the crowd, instead preferring to arrest people on the fringes,” said defence lawyer Me Jacky Razafimandroso.

Five of the defendants testified Monday.

“I was arrested one week after the fact, I am the victim of false association by jealous people,” said Herman Albert Tombo, 37.

On Tuesday, the court will hear from others accused of vandalism, followed by those charged with kidnapping and murder.

Despite the lynching making headlines worldwide, interest in the case has died down.

The families of the European victims were notably absent from the proceedings.

Gianfalla, a former French cook, was living in Madagascar at the time of his death. Judalet worked as a bus driver in France and regularly vacationed in Madagascar.

The paedophilia claims are highly sensitive in the country, where poverty fuels prostitution of minors.

The United Nations has said it has “deep concerns” about child prostitution linked to Madagascar’s tourism industry.

Photo Credits : AFP

UNESCO experts call for ban on genetic ‘editing’

A UNESCO panel of scientists, philosophers, lawyers and government ministers called Monday for a halt to genetic “editing” of the human germline, warning of the danger of tampering with hereditary traits that could lead to eugenics.

UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee (IBC) said gene therapy could be “a watershed in the history of medicine” and genome editing “is unquestionably one of the most promising undertakings of science for the sake of all humankind.”

But the experts said genetic editing required “particular precautions and raises serious concerns, especially if the editing of the human genome should be applied to the germline and therefore introduce hereditary modifications, which could be transmitted to future generations”.

The IBC, meeting in Paris, therefore called for a moratorium on this specific procedure.

“Interventions on the human genome should be admitted only for preventive, diagnostic or therapeutic reasons and without enacting modifications for descendants,” the panel said.

Unless such restrictions were applied, it could “jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics,” the IBC said.

The experts warned that the rapid developments were making so-called “designer babies” an increasing possibility, meaning that a wider public debate was essential.

A new genome “editing” technique called CRISPR-Cas9 makes it possible for scientists to insert, remove and correct DNA simply and efficiently, providing hope that certain illnesses, such as sickle cell diseases, cystic fibrosis and some cancers could be treated or even cured.

CRISPR-Cas9 was developed by US chemistry professor Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier of France, who are among the favourites to win the Nobel chemistry prize when it is announced on Wednesday.

Photo Credits : AFP

The bandana’s back: Paris catwalk show brings back the 1970s

On the Paris catwalk Monday, a reappearance of bandanas — those paisley kerchiefs that were hot back in the 1970s, remember? — proved the lesson that old can become trendy again if you just wait long enough.

Japanese brand Sacai dusted off the accessory and updated it for its Spring/Summer collection, tying it around models’ necks to complete layered outfits that were floaty affairs aimed at next year’s warmer season.

The fusion of hipsterness and hippyness, rolled out by Sacai’s founder and creative designer Chitose Abe, was heightened by the addition of floral embroidery and pointy boots.

No other brand represented at the Paris Fashion Week took up the trend, but points to Sacai for showing clothes hoarders can also be clothes horses.

Intemporal Hermes

Instead the overwhelming themes for these collections were pleats and colours.

Hermes being Hermes, there was little in the way of time travel at the prestigious French label’s show. But celebrity sheen on the front row came in the form of American singer Janet Jackson.

There were no wardrobe malfunctions of the type that Jackson made infamous. Instead, the collection exhibited coolly elegant designs in cream and other muted colours — outfits that sought to make no statement other than timelessness.

Pantsuits, leather tops and skirts and clean-lined silk dresses succeeded each other, carried along on upmarket sneakers or simple footwear. These were simple clothes meant for simple outings, albeit for a moneyed set who knows that fashion can just be, with no need to borrow from the past.

Designer Nadege Vanhee-Cybulski told AFP backstage that she sought to present “an elegance that is sophisticated but at the same time is free… everything is allowed, what’s most important is really this sort of accidental chic”.

Sharapova aces Stella’s show

Outfits were flimsy and at times transparent in Stella McCartney’s show, held Sunday under the ornate chandeliers of Paris’s gilded Opera Garnier.

Underlining her collection’s sporty tilt, and her thick black book of celebrity friends, Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova turned out to cast an appreciative eye over Stella’s colourful collection.

What she and the rest of the gallery saw were gossamer-thin dresses running long or up to mid-thigh, some in bold colours or bolder nothingness, other boasting slanted checks and lines and assymetrical tops.

The British designer’s own cast back to the past brought up oversize aviator sunglasses.

The reign of McQueen Victoria

The Alexander McQueen show, conceived by designer Sarah Burton, skipped further back in time, to the Victorian age.

Models sported long and romantically intricate numbers that would not have looked out of place in a regal late 19th century garden party — excepting the occasional sheer number that definitely would not have met with the approval of the “widow of Windsor”.

Overall though, it was a triumph of embroidered flowers, lace and feathers, with long earrings and silver chains accentuating the sinuous silhouettes and adding a gothic touch.

Photo Credits : AFP

El Nino could spark large-scale dengue fever epidemic

The weather phenomenon known as El Nino could lead to an epidemic of dengue fever cases in southeast Asia, international researchers said Monday.

Cases of dengue fever have been shown to rise along with the ocean warming trend, which occurs some years but not others. The current El Nino, which has already begun and is forecast to last into next year, is expected to be among the most intense in 20 years, researchers say.

“Large dengue epidemics occur unexpectedly, which can overburden the health care systems,” said lead author Willem van Panhuis, assistant professor of epidemiology at University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

“Our analysis shows that elevated temperatures can create the ideal circumstance for large-scale dengue epidemics to spread across a wide region.”

Researchers analyzed 18 years of monthly dengue surveillance reports across southeast Asia, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal.

They found trends among the total of 3.5 million reported cases in eight countries.

During the last particularly strong El Nino season, in 1997 and 1998, “dengue transmission was very high, matching up perfectly with high temperatures that allowed mosquitoes to reproduce faster and spread dengue virus more efficiently,” said the study.

The higher temperatures in the tropics and subtropics were brought on by El Nino, moving warm sea water temperatures in the eastern Pacific toward the west.

Dengue fever is caused by a mosquito-borne virus in the tropics and subtropics, causing nearly 400 million infections each year.

Symptoms can include fever, severe pain, headache, nausea, vomiting and skin rashes. In some patients, the infection can be fatal.

There is no vaccine to prevent dengue and no medical treatment other than acetaminophen.

The World Health Organization says the global incidence of dengue has grown dramatically in recent decades, and about half of the world’s population is now at risk.

Photo Credits : AFP

Nigeria to reduce dependency on oil: Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday said Nigeria would reduce its dependency on oil and develop manufacturing and agriculture in order to create jobs and fight insecurity, his office said.

“Our government came into office at a time when many people had abandoned the country’s manufacturing, agricultural and mining sectors,” Buhari told a team of French investors in Abuja.

“We are doing our utmost best to encourage diversification into these sectors which can employ a lot of people and we will welcome your support in this regard,” he said.

“Ultimately, reducing unemployment will also help to improve security because unemployment and insecurity are inseparable,” he said.

Buhari who took office on May 29, said policies to boost domestic manufacturing and attract greater investment to agriculture and mining would be given priority in next year’s budget.

He urged the French delegation comprising some 50 companies, to take advantage of the favourable business environment.

And he reassured them that the government was taking steps to tackle security challenges, especially in the restive northeast where a six-year Boko Haram insurgency has killed at least 17,000 people and forced some 2.5 million out of their homes.

French investors are in Nigeria to explore business and investment opportunities as well as to follow up on Buhari’s visit to France last month.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer and its biggest economy, with oil accounting for 90 percent of government revenue.

A global slide in oil prices since mid-2014 is hurting the economy with many states unable to pay salaries and several capital projects stalled.

Photo Credits : AFP