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Friday, November 11, 2016

Colombia's ELN rebels hopes to free hostage next week

Bogota (AFP)
Nov 4, 2016

Colombian rebel group ELN said Friday it hopes to free hostage ex-congressman Odin Sanchez next week, clearing the way to begin peace talks with the government.

"We hope it will be in the coming week," said Pablo Beltran, the chief peace negotiator for the National Liberation Army (ELN), in comments to Caracol Radio.

He said a "humanitarian commission" including international mediators, government and rebel negotiators, and representatives of the Catholic Church had been set up to oversee Sanchez's release.

President Juan Manuel Santos's government had been due to open peace talks with the ELN, Colombia's second-largest rebel group, on October 27.

But he called them off when the rebels failed to release Sanchez, which he had set as a pre-condition.

Beltran said there had been "two differing interpretations" of the two sides' deal on opening talks.

Potentially complicating matters further, some sources say the ELN is still holding at least two other hostages: a doctor named Edgar Torres and a businessman named Octavio Figueroa.

Beltran said the rebels had "very few" remaining hostages.

"They are so few that these cases will be resolved sooner rather than later," he said.

Santos, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last month, has faced a series of recent setbacks in his efforts to bring "total peace" to Colombia after a 52-year conflict.

Voters rejected a peace deal with the country's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in an October 2 referendum after opponents jeered it as too soft on the guerrillas.

And the talks with the ELN are on hold over the hostage issue.

Both the FARC and ELN have used ransom kidnappings and drug trafficking to finance themselves over the years.

Founded in 1964, they are the last two leftist guerrilla groups involved in a messy, multi-sided conflict that has killed more than 260,000 people.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Colombias_ELN_rebels_hopes_to_free_hostage_next_week_999.html.

Montenegro: Russians behind coup attempt, plot to kill PM

November 06, 2016

PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — Russian nationalists were behind an alleged coup attempt in Montenegro that included plans to assassinate the pro-Western prime minister because of his government's bid to join NATO, the Balkan country's chief special prosecutor said Sunday.

Milivoje Katnic said the investigation leads to the conclusion that "nationalists from Russia" organized a criminal group that planned to break into the Montenegro Parliament on election day, kill Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and bring a pro-Russian coalition to power.

Some 20 Serbian and Montenegrin citizens, including a former commander of Serbia's special police forces, were arrested in Montenegro during the Oct. 16 vote. Fourteen of them remain in custody, including some who have fought for pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Russian officials have denied any involvement. But they have openly supported the "patriotic" parties that are against Montenegro's membership bid in the Western military alliance. "We don't have any evidence that the state of Russia is involved in any sense ... but we have evidence that two nationalists from Russia were organizers," Katnic told reporters.

Serbian authorities reportedly deported an unspecified number of Russian operatives who were monitoring Djukanovic's movements from Serbian territory. "Special prosecution of Serbia had those persons under its supervision ... and prevented them from realizing their plan," Katnic said. "Those persons are not on the territory of Serbia any more. I don't know where they are now, in Russia or somewhere else."

He said the coup plot was for 500 people to enter Montenegro on election night to "cause violence ... and hire professional sharpshooters to kill the prime minister." "The plan was to stop Montenegro on its Euro-Atlantic path, especially to prevent it from entering NATO," Katnic said.

Montenegro has been invited to join NATO despite strong opposition from its traditional Slavic ally Russia. With Montenegro joining, Russia would lose strategic access to the Adriatic Sea and Serbia would remain its only ally in the region.

NATO's Deputy Secretary-General Rose Gottemoeller, who visited Montenegro last week, said she expects the country to become a member next spring after all 28 NATO member states ratify the agreement in their respective parliaments.

Associated Press writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.

NATO: Montenegro membership certain despite Russia objection

November 03, 2016

PLAVNICA, Montenegro (AP) — Montenegro's bid to join NATO is progressing smoothly despite strong opposition from Russia, the Western military alliance's No. 2 official said Thursday. Rose Gottemoeller spoke in Montenegro where NATO is holding emergency exercise drills while Russian troops participate in war games in neighboring Serbia amid mounting tensions between Moscow and the West over Syria and a variety of other geopolitical issues.

Gottemoeller, on her first trip as deputy secretary-general, said that she expects that Montenegro will become a member next spring after all 28 NATO member states and the tiny Balkan country ratify the agreement in their parliaments.

"The accession process is moving forward smoothly and I expect that, pending all those parliamentary processes being complete ... you would become a member in the spring of 2017," Gottemoeller said. "So I don't see any problems with that."

Montenegro has been invited to join NATO despite strong opposition from its traditional Slavic ally Russia. With Montenegro joining, Russia would lose a strategic access to the Adriatic Sea, and Serbia would remain its only ally in the region.

Montenegrin officials have accused Russia of being behind an alleged coup attempt on election day in October to topple the pro-Western government because of its NATO bid. Russian officials denied the charges, but reiterated their support for anti-NATO opposition in Montenegro.

Sergei Zheleznyak, a lawmaker in Russian President Vladimir Putin's party, called reports of an attempted Russia-orchestrated coup in Montenegro a "failed media sabotage." "Any attempts to impose on Montenegro conditions that the majority of (Montenegrin) people oppose should be viewed as dangerous political extremism," Zheleznyak said in comments posted on the party's website, adding that the "patriotic" opposition is acting "in line with people's will."

Some 20 Serbian and Montenegrin citizens, including a former commander of Serbia's special police forces, were arrested in Montenegro during the vote. They are suspected of trying to stage a coup by capturing Montenegrin Prime Minster Milo Djukanovic and storming parliament. Serbian authorities reportedly deported an unspecified number of Russian operatives monitoring movements of Djukanovic from Serbian territory.

Gottemoeller said "the events around your election are a very serious matter," but refused to comment further amid the ongoing investigations both in Montenegro and Serbia. "I do think that the process of preparing for NATO membership has strengthened Montenegro to address a serious crisis such as this kind and that is, I think, already a positive effect of NATO membership," she said.

Serbia and Montenegro were a single state before their split in 2006. But since the split, Montenegro has pursued pro-Western policies, while Serbia — officially seeking European Union membership — has been struggling to wrestle away from Moscow's grip.

The six-day armed drills in Serbia, dubbed "The Slavic Brotherhood 2016," began Thursday. They involve 212 Russian troops, three transport planes, 450 soldiers from Serbia and 56 from Belarus, Serbia's Defense Ministry said. A few Serbian soldiers are also taking part in the NATO-led exercise in Montenegro that includes fighting floods and chemical attacks.

"NATO puts a lot of importance on countries having the opportunity to choose their security relationships," Gottemoeller said. "It's the countries' sovereign right to choose their own security relationships. It's up to Serbia to decide if it would like to take part in a military exercise with the Russian Federation. As far as NATO is concerned, that's fine, that's OK."

Associated Press writers Dusan Stojanovic and Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia, and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, contributed to this report.

Moldovan presidential election goes to runoff

October 31, 2016

CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — Moldova's presidential election will go to a runoff after a pro-Russian candidate narrowly missed winning a majority of votes. With almost all ballots counted early Monday, Igor Dodon won 48.26 percent while pro-European rival Maia Sandu scored 38.42 percent, the top finishers among the nine candidates.

With no one securing a majority, a second round of voting will be held on Nov. 13 to decide between Dodon and Sandu. The election on Sunday was the first presidential election by direct vote in 20 years in this impoverished former Soviet republic.

Moldovans, angry about high-level corruption, were divided about whether to seek closer integration into Europe or rekindle ties with Moscow. Dodon, who favors closer ties with Moscow, has pledged to "restore broad and friendly ties with Russia."

The former Communist Party member tapped into dissatisfaction with the pro-European government that came to power in 2009. Sandu, an ex-World Bank economist and a pro-European figure, has vowed to be tough with endemic corruption. She earned praise for reforms she carried out when she was education minister.

Both the European Union together with the U.S. and Russia seek to have more influence over Moldova, a landlocked nation of 3.5 million between EU member Romania and Ukraine.

Moldovans electing president for 1st time in 20 years

October 30, 2016

CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — Moldovans began voting Sunday for a president in an election that could move the former Soviet republic closer to Europe or push it back into Russia's orbit. It is the first time in 20 years citizens have directly voted for their president in a country where many are angry about high-level corruption.

Both the European Union together with the U.S. and Russia seek to have more influence over the impoverished agricultural landlocked nation of 3.5 million, located between EU member Romania and Ukraine.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. and close at 9 p.m., with first results expected two hours later. After two hours of voting, some 5 percent of the electorate had cast ballots. The favorite of the nine candidates running for the post is Igor Dodon, a pro-Moscow figure who heads the Socialists' Party and who has tapped into widespread dissatisfaction with the pro-European government.

Ex-World Bank economist Maia Sandu is the preferred option for those who want Moldova to join the European mainstream. If no candidate wins a majority, there will be a runoff on Nov. 13. The president appoints judges and sets out foreign policy but other major decisions need the approval of Parliament. The popular election, however, could bring the post more influence and authority.

Moldova was thrown into political turmoil in 2014 with the disappearance of more than $1 billion from the banking system. Weeks of street protests followed and six prime ministers took office in one year.

Since then, Parliament has passed anti-corruption laws, forcing public officials to disclose their assets and making the misuse of EU funds a criminal offense.

Italians throw party to welcome migrants in Milan

November 01, 2016

MILAN (AP) — More than 1,000 Italians on Tuesday threw a block party featuring a pasta lunch, a brass band and crafts to welcome some 80 migrants to the neighborhood in Milan, contrasting with rising anti-migrant tensions throughout the country including a protest at the barracks the night before.

Shouts of welcome went up as a small contingent of about 30 migrants came out of a recently repurposed army barracks for what was billed as the first welcome party of its kind in Italy. "I feel happy," said 22-year-old Zakaria Abdellahi from Ethiopia, who arrived in Italy three months ago with his wife. "I feel like I am famous. Everywhere I look, they are taking pictures. I think I am Obama."

The previous night the mood outside the barracks had been less welcoming. About 200 people belonging to a right-wing party and an extremist movement protested, carrying banners that read "Italians first." Migrants peeked uneasily from the barracks' windows overlooking the piazza, before closing the shade.

It was the third such protest in recent days, with anti-migrant campaigners pledging more. Tensions over migrants have been rising in Italy amid persistent arrivals creating a crunch in the housing system in the months since Rome has stepped up its border controls under pressure from European neighbors.

Organizers of Tuesday's welcome event said that politicians on the right have been using the crisis in arrivals to stir up anti-migrant sentiment, leveraging Italy's economic stagnation to create uncertainty and fear. They decided on the welcome party after the city's plans to open the barracks to migrants became a political flashpoint, hoping that familiarity with the newcomers would help ease residents' reservations.

"It is very important that we meet each other and try to face the future in a different way. This is one reason for this event. The other is that politicians are trying to use the migrant issue to get votes," said Selana Tesfai, a founder of the Zone 8 Solitary Committee.

Migrant arrivals in Italy have topped 153,000 in the first 10 months of the year, close to that of all of last year although still shy of the record 170,000 in 2014. But with fewer heading north, Italy has had to come up with more migrant housing and aid - and more often has met local resistance.

Last week, dozens of residents of the small Adriatic clamming town of Goro blocked a road to prevent a dozen female migrants from being housed in the local hostel. The act was widely condemned, but received support from right-wing politicians.

Milan remains the city with the most migrant arrivals in Italy, largely because it is seen as a transit point, the city official charged with social policy, Pierfrancesco Majorino, told The Associated Press at the welcome party.

"In these months we have seen many small manifestations against (migrants) in northern Italy, even in Milan," Majorino said. "This is the first time there is a mobilization to welcome them. I find this very nice."

Organizers said they have approached the charity that is running the barracks shelter to create programs so the migrants feel at home, such as sporting events, cooking classes and a map of places in the neighborhood that want to help with the transition.

Since the crisis began on Oct. 18, 2013, 108,000 migrants have passed through Milan. From 2013-2015, just 2 percent of migrants requested asylum; that has now jumped to 75 percent, Majorino said. Currently, the city is housing 3,760 migrants.

The 300 new beds at the barracks will be filled in the coming days with migrants already in Milan shelters. The spots were added to prevent overcrowding and to keep migrants from sleeping outside during the winter months. Majorino said the city is now at capacity, and migrants who make their way there will be returned to the city where they first entered Italy, so the Interior Ministry can work out a balanced distribution.

Italy's premier vows help for 15,000+ displaced by quakes

October 31, 2016

NORCIA, Italy (AP) — Italy's premier pledged Monday to find temporary housing for all those displaced by a series of powerful earthquakes in a central mountainous region, as the nation's strongest temblor in 36 years pushed those needing assistance to more than 15,000.

Sunday morning's quake with a magnitude 6.6 caused no deaths or serious injuries, largely because most fragile city centers had already been closed because of previous damage and many homes had been vacated.

But it did complicate quake relief efforts in a zone that was still coping with the aftermath of an August quake that killed nearly 300 in the same region, and a pair of powerful aftershocks last week that also claimed no lives.

Civil protection officials said they expect the number of people needing assistance to continue to rise, as it doesn't count the many people who slept in vehicles or made other arrangements and are likely to seek help. Temperatures overnight reached near freezing, and officials have expressed concern for the many elderly residents of these mountain communities.

"We cannot have tents for some months in the mountains, under the snow," Premier Matteo Renzi wrote in a message on Monday. "There are enough hotels for everyone. But many of our compatriots don't want to leave their lands, not even for some weeks."

Many people have been moved to coastal areas, where summer resort hotels are mostly idle, and other zones away from the quake. But there are increasing reports of residents resisting in the belief that if their homes have so far resisted, that they remain the safest place to be.

In the town of Norcia, closest to the epicenter, firefighters were taking people back to their homes early Monday to retrieve belongings. They were given helmets as protection, and taken in in small groups as they arrived. The ground continued to shake overnight with at least two jolts above magnitude 4.

"We were inside our home and luckily the house handled it," said Emanuela Spanicciati, one resident of Norcia. "And that allowed us to get out into the streets. There were various injured people, but in the end we were lucky."

Renzi said the fact that there were no deaths "gives us enormous relief. But the damage to the housing stock, as well as economic, cultural and religious treasures is impressive. These villages are the identity of Italy. We must reconstruct them all, quickly and well."

Many of the towns struck are of historic significance, including Norcia, where a Benedictine cathedral collapsed, leaving just a facade.

Colleen Barry reported from Milan.

Powerful quake spares lives, but strikes at Italy's identity

October 31, 2016

NORCIA, Italy (AP) — The third powerful earthquake to hit Italy in two months spared human life Sunday but struck at the nation's identity, destroying a Benedictine cathedral, a medieval tower and other beloved landmarks that had survived the earlier jolts across a mountainous region of small historic towns.

Lost or severely damaged in the shaking were ancient Roman walls, Gothic and Baroque churches and centuries-old paintings crushed beneath tons of brick, sandstone and marble. Italian Premier Matteo Renzi said the nation's "soul is disturbed" by the series of quakes, starting with the deadly Aug. 24 event that killed nearly 300 people, two back-to-back temblors on Oct. 26, and the biggest of them all, a 6.6-magnitude quake that shook people out of bed Sunday morning. It was the strongest quake to hit Italy in 36 years.

There were no reports of fatalities — a fact attributed to the evacuation of sensitive areas and fragile city centers. Nearly 8,000 people have been moved to shelters or hotels following the quakes last week and Sunday, and Italy's Civil Protection agency was expecting that number to reach 11,000 by Monday morning. Many who stayed behind were sleeping in campers or other vehicles, out of harm's way.

Renzi vowed to rebuild houses, churches and business, saying, "a piece of Italian identity is at stake at this moment." "Feeling the earth collapse beneath your feet is not a metaphorical expression but is what happened this morning, and half of Italy felt this," Renzi said.

The quake struck another painful blow to the rich artistic heritage of villages that dot the Apennine Mountains. The worst damage was reported in Norcia, a town in Umbria closest to the epicenter. Two churches were destroyed — the 14th century Basilica of St. Benedict, built on the traditional birthplace of St. Benedict, founder of the Benedictine monastic order; and the Cathedral of St. Mary Argentea, known for its 15th century frescoes. Only the cracked facades were still standing, with most of the structures disintegrating into piles of rubble and dust.

Television images showed nuns rushing into the main piazza as the bell tower appeared on the verge of collapse. Later, nuns and monks knelt in prayer in the main piazza. A firefighter appealed to a priest to help keep residents calm in an effort to prevent them from looking for loved ones.

When the quake stuck, nuns from the Saint Mary of Peace monastery in Norcia were praying and singing hymns. The shaking caused their building to collapse and badly damaged their sleeping quarters. Later, firefighters escorted them back inside to retrieve holy books. Then an aftershock hit.

"But we had courage, because we were in our house and the Lord protects us," one nun told The Associated Press. Large sections of Norcia's ancient Roman city walls — which suffered damage and cracks in the previous quakes — crumbled, along with towers.

Amatrice, the town that bore the brunt of destruction on Aug. 24, sustained blows to treasures that had withstood the quakes of the past weeks. The community's medieval bell tower stood tall amid the rubble after the August quake, becoming a symbol of hope and resilience for the stricken population. During a visit to the quake zone earlier this month, the pope prayed alone amid the rubble, the brick tower still standing in the background. But the latest shaking partially collapsed it. The 15th century Church of Sant'Agostino also fell down.

"The monster is still there," Amatrice Mayor Sergio Pirozzi told Sky TG24. The quake was felt as far north as Salzburg, Austria, and all the way down the Italian peninsula to the Puglia region, the heel of the boot. In Rome, some 150 kilometers (95 miles) away, people rushed into the streets in pajamas.

The basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, a site of Christian worship in Rome since the 4th century, had to be closed for inspections after sustaining cracks and damage to some molding. There were also cracks in the cupola of Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza church in Rome, a baroque masterpiece by Francesco Borromini, an architectural giant of the 17th century.

The quake forced the temporary closure of some of Rome's most important tourist sites, including the presidential palace, so authorities could check for damage. The crowds in St. Peter's Square interrupted Pope Francis with applause when he mentioned the quake during his weekly Sunday blessing.

"I'm praying for the injured and the families who have suffered the most damage, as well as for rescue and first aid workers," he said. ANSA reported that the quake damaged the church of St. Joseph in Jesi, a town encircled by medieval walls southwest of the coastal city of Ancona. The roof caved in partially and cracks appeared near the altar.

In Tolentino, there was visible damage to the Cathedral of San Catervo and the Basilica of St. Nicolas, which contains artwork and architectural elements dating from the 14th to the 17th centuries. With a preliminary magnitude of 6.6, it was the strongest earthquake since a 6.9 temblor near Naples killed some 3,000 people on Nov. 23, 1980.

Some 20 people suffered mostly minor injuries. Authorities responded with helicopters to help the injured and monitor collapses, as many roads were blocked by landslides. The Salaria highway, one of the main highways in the region, was closed at certain points. Some local rail lines in Umbria and Le Marche were also closed as a precaution.

Seismologists said the shaking came from a series of faults in the Apennines, and they could not rule out more, possibly stronger quakes in the near future. "It is normal for the Apennines," said the president of Italy's National Institute for Geophysics and Vulcanology, Carlo Doglioni. He cited a similar sequence of three events within a period of months in 1703 in the region.

Natural law dictates that after such an event there will be more quakes, "which means we can expect some 5 magnitude quakes and many of magnitude 4," Doglioni said. Already on Sunday, more than 200 other seismic events were recorded by the institute, including 15 temblors between magnitude 4 and 5.

Barry reported from Milan and Gera from Warsaw, Poland.

Powerful quake rattles Italy; no deaths immediately reported

October 30, 2016

ROME (AP) — A powerful earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.6 has rocked the same area of central and southern Italy hit by quake in August and a pair of aftershocks last week, sending already quake-damaged buildings crumbling after a week of temblors that have left thousands homeless.

The head of Italy's civil protection agency, Fabrizio Curcio, said there were no immediate reports of deaths, but said some people had suffered injuries as numerous buildings that had resisted the previous temblors collapsed. He did not provide details on the injured.

Residents already rattled by a constant trembling of the earth rushed into piazzas and streets after being roused from bed by Sunday's 7:40 a.m. quake. Many people still had been sleeping in cars or evacuated to shelters or hotels in other areas after a pair of strong jolts last Wednesday.

Television images showed nuns rushing out of their church and into the main piazza in Norcia as the clock tower appeared about to crumble. One had to be carried by firefighters, while another was supported as she walked.

The mayor of quake-hit Ussita said a huge cloud of smoke erupted from the crumbled buildings. "It's a disaster, a disaster!" Mayor Marco Rinaldi told the ANSA news agency. "I was sleeping in the car and I saw hell."

Another hard-hit city, Castelsantangelo sul Nera, also suffered new damage. In Arquata del Tronto, which had been devastated by the Aug. 24 earthquake that killed nearly 300 people, Arquata Mayor Aleandro Petrucci said, "There are no towns left."

"Everything came down," he said. The quake was felt throughout the Italian peninsula, with reports as far north as Bolzano and as far south as Bari. Residents rushed into the streets in Rome, where ancient palazzi shook, swayed and lurched for a prolonged spell.

Austria's governmental earthquake monitoring organization said the quake was felt to varying degrees in the east and south of the country and all the way to the city of Salzburg. It says that at its strongest, residents in upper floors noticed a swaying sensation and a slow swinging of hanging objects.

The head of the civil protection authority in Italy's March region, Cesare Spuri, said there have been reports of buildings collapsing in many cities. "We are trying to understand if people are under the rubble," Spuri said.

In Norcia, nuns knelt in prayer and a firefighter appealed to a priest to help maintain calm among dozens of residents gathered there, including some in wheel chairs. The church, which had withstood the August earthquake in August and last week's aftershocks, still was standing, but television pictures showed piles of stone had accumulated at the bottom of one wall. One stone was thrown meters into the center of the piazza, illustrating the quake's force.

"We have to keep people calm. Prayer can help. I don't want people to go searching for family members," the firefighter appealed as cameras from SKY TG24 filmed. The European-Mediterranean Seismological Center put the magnitude at 6.6 or 6.5 with an epicenter 132 kilometers northeast of Rome and 67 kilometers east of Perugia, near the epicenter of last week's temblors. The U.S. Geological Survey put the magnitude at 6.6.

The German Research Center for Geosciences put the magnitude at 6.5 and said it had a depth of 10 kilometers, a relatively shallow quake near the surface but in the norm for the quake-prone Apennine Mountain region.

UN chief urges Cyprus leaders to seize peace deal chance

November 07, 2016

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The United Nations chief is urging the rival leaders of ethnically divided Cyprus to seize the opportunity for a reunification deal that he says is within their reach. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the two leaders are at a "critical juncture" in talks now taking place in Mont Pelerin, Switzerland, and that they must make the most of the moment. Ban on Monday offered his full support to Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and called on Greece, Britain and Turkey to give their backing.

Anastasiades and Akinci will concentrate over five days of talks on how much territory each side will administer under an envisioned federation. Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup aiming at union with Greece.

Runoff expected as pro-Russia candidate tops Bulgaria race

November 06, 2016

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — A former Bulgarian Air Force officer who has called on the European Union to lift its sanctions against Russia was the likely winner of the country's presidential election Sunday, but he did not secure enough votes to avoid a runoff, exit polls showed.

The exit polls gave opposition Socialist candidate Rumen Radev a narrow lead over the candidate of the ruling center-right party, Parliament Speaker Tsetska Tsacheva, who was seen as the race's front-runner ahead of Sunday's voting.

The Balkan nation's relations with Russia, the future of the European Union and increasing immigration since neighboring countries closed their borders to refugees and migrants fleeing Africa and the Middle East dominated the election campaign.

Bulgaria, which joined the European Union a decade ago, remains the poorest member of the bloc. The slow pace of reforms to eliminate graft and poverty has fueled disillusionment, while over 1 million young people in the nation of 7.2 million have emigrated in search of better futures abroad.

Radev, 53, and Tsacheva, 58, were two of 21 candidates seeking the largely ceremonial presidency in an election that for the first time made voting for the position compulsory for Bulgaria's 6.8 million voters.

If officials uphold the election results, the two will go head-to-head in a runoff election on Nov. 13. Most political analysts said Radev's likely victory in the runoff poses a threat for Prime Minister Borisov and his ruling GERB party, possibly prompting early general elections next spring that could shake up Bulgaria's political scene.

Radev, a former fighter pilot, has pledged to comply with Bulgaria's European obligations, if he is elected. But he also has said that "being pro-European does not mean being anti-Russian" and insisted that sanctions on Moscow need to be lifted.

Bulgaria joined NATO in 2004, but many in this Black Sea country still share deep historical and cultural ties with Moscow. Energy-strapped Bulgaria is also heavily reliant on Russian supplies. If she becomes Bulgaria's first female president, Tsacheva is widely expected to continue the pro-Europe foreign policy of incumbent Rosen Plevneliev.

"I voted for a stable and secure Bulgaria with educated and prospering people living there," she said while casting her ballot. Although the head of state has no executive powers, and all major policies must be approved by Parliament, the popular election imbues the post with a fair amount of political influence.

The president also leads the armed forces, can veto legislation and signs international treaties. A poll conducted by the Alpha Research agency had Radev receiving 24.8 percent of the vote on Sunday, Tsacheva 23.5 percent.

Another poll by the Gallup International agency gave Radev 26.7 percent and Tsacheva 22.5 percent. Although official results are not expected before Tuesday, they are not expected to change the need for or makeup of the runoff context.

Forests, locals harmed in Mexico's avocado boom

By Jennifer Gonzalez Covarrubias
Jujucato, Mexico (AFP)
Nov 4, 2016

Liliana Carmona misses the lush pine forest on the hills overlooking her village in western Mexico. She now stares at vast avocado orchards that feed a massive foreign appetite for the green fruit.

Growers have been cutting down swaths of forest to make room for more fruit trees in the state of Michoacan, the world's avocado capital.

Experts are now concerned that chemicals used in the orchards could be behind illnesses afflicting the local population.

"The sneezing doesn't stop when they are fumigating," said Carmona, a stocky 36-year-old mother of two who works at a small grocery store in Jujucato, a village in the heart of avocado land.

In the 15 years that Salvador Sales has been teaching in Jujucato, he has seen his students come down with more and more breathing and stomach problems.

"We believe this is caused by the products used to spray the avocado orchards," said Sales, who believes that the wind blows the chemical fumes into the homes of his students.

About 40 percent of the world's avocados are grown in Mexico, and most of those come from the area around Jujucato and Lake Zirahuen.

Avocados occupy some 137,000 hectares (340,000 acres) of land in Michoacan, according to state government figures.

Half of those orchards were planted in forests after the land was bought through dubious legal means, according to Jaime Navia, head of a rural technology NGO called GIRA.

Deforestation is growing at a pace of 2.5 percent per year, according to GIRA.

- Kidney and liver problems -

Temperate weather in the region allows for year-round cultivation of avocado, a fruit that originated in Mexico and is loaded with vitamins, proteins and healthy fats.

While there is a strong local demand, production has soared along with the avocado's ever-growing international appeal, and forests have paid the price.

Experts warn that the chemicals used in mountain orchards may be spilling down into ground water, streams, rivers and lakes, and subsequently causing illnesses among the population.

Alberto Gomez Tagle, an expert on the environment in the Lake Zirahuen region, which includes Jujucato, said many communities that rely on the lake water may already be suffering from the effects of chemical runoff.

One lakeside village asked researchers for help when residents began to suffer from liver and kidney problems that did not exist until "the avocado orchards expanded and all types of pesticides were used," Gomez Tagle said.

Officials and some producers are striving to halt the growth of orchards in forests.

Since August, authorities have recovered 100 hectares of land and detained dozens of people working in fields that had invaded forests.

A label is being created for avocados sold in stores so that consumers can identify those from orchards that don't harm the environment.

- Drug cartels -

Avocados had their first "boom" in the 1970s, but production really took off in an uncontrolled way into the forests in 2000, said Navia of GIRA.

Foreign demand for avocados have grown consistently in the past decade, especially from the United States -- Mexico's biggest trade partner -- and countries like Japan, according to federal government figures.

In 2003, avocado exports reached nearly $60 million, a figure that shot up to $1.5 billion by 2015. Avocado sales to Japan went from $40 million to $106 million in the same time period.

Michoacan has been known in recent years for bloody clashes between rival drug gangs, which have also moved into the avocado trade, officials said.

Some of the avocado farmers that invaded the forest are "organized crime" members, a state government official told AFP, stressing that the authorities had recouped some of that land.

There are even avocados grown as high as 2,600 meters (8,500 feet) above sea level, "even though they aren't that productive," said Navia.

One hectare of avocados generates on average around $5,400 per year.

Mexican avocado packers recently went on strike for a few days to protest the low pay they were getting this season, which ranges from between $1.8 and $2.6 per kilo.

The brief strike resulted in a global avocado price hike.

Source: Seed Daily.
Link: http://www.seeddaily.com/reports/Forests_locals_harmed_in_Mexicos_avocado_boom_999.html.

Leaders, people across the world react to Trump's victory

November 09, 2016

World leaders, presidents and prime ministers, officials, politicians, people from all walks of life and even the Taliban in Afghanistan are reacting to Donald Trump's astounding victory as America's 45th president.

Here are the highlights of what some of them said on Wednesday:

"Russia is ready and wants to restore full-format relations with the United States. Let me repeat. We proceed from the fact that this will be an uneasy way but we're ready both to cover our part of the distance and do everything to return the Russian-U.S. relations to the steady development trajectory."

—Russian President Vladimir Putin

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"Britain and the United States have an enduring and special relationship based on the values of freedom, democracy and enterprise. We are, and will remain, strong and close partners on trade, security and defense."

—British Prime Minister Theresa May

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"As a very successful businessman with extraordinary talents, you not only made a great contribution to the growth of the U.S. economy, but now as a strong leader, you have demonstrated your determination to lead the United States."

—Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

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"Congratulations to the new president of the United States Donald Trump and the American people, free!"

—France's populist, anti-immigrant politician Marine Le Pen

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"Germany and America are connected by values: democracy, freedom, respect for the law and for the dignity of human beings, independently of origin, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views. On the basis of these values, I am offering the future president of the United States of America, Donald Trump, close cooperation."

—German Chancellor Angela Merkel

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"I am confident that President-elect Trump and I will continue to strengthen the unique alliance between our two countries and bring it to ever greater heights."

—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

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"There is need for everyone to work to change the global situation, which is in a situation of severe lacerations and great conflict."

—Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin

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"This is the American people's choice. But a person who is the president of the United States should have a correct understanding of the realities of the world and our region and face it realistically. America has accepted the nuclear deal as a multilateral international commitment and it will have to implement the nuclear deal."

—Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

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"The U.S. presidential election results have shown that this country's sickness and civil instability will persist for a long time, and it takes a long time to solve these disagreements and internal problems."

—Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

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"We are looking forward to the continued support from the United States and the world in the fight against terrorism, which doesn't threaten Iraq only, but the whole world."

—Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi

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"Concerning his (Trump's) statements on Islam, of course nobody accepts these ideas and personally, I am against anyone who might harbor such ideas or divisive thinking about religion or origins."

—Khawlah Mousa, a Baghdad municipality official who wears a traditional woman's headscarf.

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"And so ends the influence of America on international affairs. Good luck America. You need it."

—Canadian climate scientist and British Columbia parliament member Andrew Weaver.

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"He should withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan, should not praise defeated generals as previous administrations have done, and also should refrain from harming American's dignity, economy or soldiers any further in this fight."

—The Taliban in Afghanistan, in a message to Trump

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"Before, we had a lot of promises (from the U.S.) and they were empty promises. At least Trump is not promising anything. At least now we will have fewer people who depend on the American support that would never come. It is like waiting for Godot."

—Wissam Zarqa, English teacher in besieged, opposition-held area of Aleppo, Syria's largest city

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"His (Trump's) opinion about the nuclear deal was clear. Very extremist, very pessimistic. Hillary Clinton didn't see it that way. Although we don't have political ties, Ii think (Trump's election) will negatively impact the nuclear deal."

—Shirin Maleki, Tehran resident

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"The little we've advanced, if he reverses it, it hurts us. You know tourism will go down. If Donald Trump ... turns everything back it's really bad for us."

—Oriel Iglesias Garcia, Cuban taxi driver

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"I fear bad things for the world and Europe, both in the economic and in other areas affected by crises. He has announced a couple of things which send a shiver along the spine."

—Ralph Jönck, Berlin resident.

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"Today there is war on this planet and the United States is not innocent in these wars. Maybe in the end Trump will bring more solutions than problems, I don't know."

—Kamal Jaja, resident of Pantin, a Paris suburb

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"The first lady, Mrs. Melania (Trump), comes from Sevnica, and during the duration of the election campaign, we, the residents of Sevnica, were supporting Melania in her support to the candidate Donald Trump and we are happy with the outcome."

—Srecko Ocvirk, mayor of Melania Trump's home town in Slovenia

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"What is at stake is peace, the fight against terrorism, the situation in the Middle East, economic relations and the preservation of the planet. ... An American election reaches far beyond the United States."

—French President Francois Hollande

Trump win echoes Brexit, and boosts Europe's populists

November 09, 2016

LONDON (AP) — Britain's vote to leave the European Union was a major shock to the global political system. But in a year of political earthquakes, it has just been trumped. Like Brexit, Donald Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton in the U.S. presidential election was driven by voters turning against the established order and mainstream politicians. Years of uncertainty after the 2008 global financial crisis left some of those voters economically vulnerable, while others were unsettled by terrorism, global instability and the many people fleeing war and poverty.

It all bred a sense of revolt — that there would be no more of the same old, same old. Steven Fielding, director of the Center for British Politics at the University of Nottingham, likened the mood to the 1970s film "Network," in which a TV anchor lets out a famous cry of frustration.

"'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore' — it's kind of like that," Fielding said. The same populist wave could soon roll over Italy, France and beyond. Trump's win came as a shock to many, but quite a few watching from Britain felt a strong sense of deja vu.

First came the groundswell of support for figures like pro-Brexit British politician Nigel Farage and Trump, and ideas long-considered on the fringe: leaving the EU, or building a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. There were pithy anti-establishment slogans: Britons were urged to "Take back control," while U.S. voters were told to "Make America great again."

Details on how to execute such change were often scant. But it didn't matter. Some resented immigrants or people from different races and backgrounds, and found campaigns that spoke to their anxiety. In both cases, many commentators refused to believe the challenger could win. Pollsters were fooled. Bookies paid dearly for failing to predict the outcome.

Farage and Trump see themselves as allies on similar missions. The president-elect has likened his campaign to an American Brexit. Farage said Wednesday that 2016 will be "the year of two great political revolutions."

"I thought Brexit was big, but boy, this looks like it's going to be even bigger," he said. Voters' reasons for embracing Trump, as for Brexit, were complex. Many parents feared they would leave their children less well-off — unable to buy a house or fund a pension. That was coupled with anxiety about a world changing more quickly than anyone had imagined.

Americans were voting against Washington, just as Britons had voted against the entrenched forces of government in London. Pollsters and the mainstream media did not hear their voices, said University of Kent political scientist Matthew Goodwin, an expert on the populist right.

"Many commentators in the United States dismissed the Brexit comparison, arguing that Hillary Clinton was in a far stronger position," he said. But they underestimated the determination "among mainly white, working class and less well-educated Americans who feel under threat from rampant globalization and increasing rates of ethnic and cultural change."

Trump is unlikely to be the last populist to win. Under threat soon is Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, whose government will be shaken if he loses a Dec. 4 referendum on constitutional reform. A loss boosts the anti-EU Five Star movement.

France, Germany and the Netherlands all face elections in 2017. Among the first to congratulate Trump were heads of the nationalist Alternative for Germany, which is expected to take a double-digit share of the vote, and French National Front leader Marine Le Pen. Her far-right party is predicted to do well among voters frustrated with the status quo, economic stagnation and France's shrinking global clout.

Le Pen, a candidate for president, said the U.S. result "buries the old order," as did Brexit. "What happened overnight in the United States is not the end of the world but the end of a world," Le Pen said.

In the Netherlands, which votes in March, far-right Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders said Trump's win signaled, "Look, it is possible!" "What the Americans can do, we can, too," he said. Analysts warn that the hope and anger harnessed by populists are a volatile force, and that outsiders find it far easier to make promises than to deliver on them.

"It's all very well saying no and rejecting something, but to put something in its place is a very complicated process," Fielding said. "We may be entering a period of great anger."

Associated Press writers Frank Jordans in Berlin, Mike Corder in The Hague, Vanessa Gera and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Raf Casert in Brussels, Colleen Barry in Milan, Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin and Angela Charlton and Elaiine Ganley in Paris contributed.

Trump election elicits fears, some cheers around the globe

November 09, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — World leaders struggled Wednesday to come to grips with a new reality — Donald Trump will be the next U.S. president — and an as yet unanswerable question: How many of his campaign pledges will he actually act on?

The remarkable triumph of the politically untested businessman was welcomed in some countries, such as Russia, while in others it was a major shock. When Trump takes office in January, world leaders will confront a man whose stated views represent a sharp break with U.S. foreign policy orthodoxy. He has cozied up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, warned stunned NATO allies they will have to pay for their own protection, floated a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and vowed to make the Mexican government finance a multibillion-dollar border wall.

These changes, and others, have the potential to radically remake U.S. policy — a prospect that has given stability-loving partners a cascading case of the jitters. Trump's victory was hailed in Russia, which has taken an increasingly aggressive stance toward the West in recent months. Putin sent Trump a congratulatory telegram Wednesday and made a televised statement expressing the hope that frayed U.S.-Russian relations could be put back on track.

"We are aware that it is a difficult path, in view of the unfortunate degradation of relations between the Russian Federation and the United States," the Russian leader said, adding: "It is not our fault that Russian-American relations are in such a state."

Russia became a focal point during the presidential campaign, with government officials and Hillary Clinton supporters suggesting Moscow was involved in hacking her campaign's emails. Trump raised eyebrows when he expressed admiration for Putin and his tough leadership style, and some Clinton backers questioned Trump's business dealings with Russia.

Dmitri Drobnitski, a columnist at the generally pro-Kremlin website LifeNews, asserted Trump's victory will help the world. "I congratulate the American people with their will and with their democracy and with their strength and with their courage," he told The Associated Press. "So this is not only a victory for the Americans, who defended their democracy against the liberal, global elite— no, this is a victory that the American people brought to the whole world."

There is anxiety in Europe among NATO allies who are waiting to see if Trump follows through on suggestions the U.S. will look at whether they have paid their proper share in considering whether to come to their defense.

That rhetoric has challenged the strategic underpinning of the NATO alliance — in which an attack on one NATO nation is considered an attack on all — at a time when Russia has been ever more confrontational.

"As a candidate, Trump called into question NATO and trade agreements, and reached out to Moscow," said Daniela Schwarzer, an expert on trans-Atlantic relations at the German Council on Foreign Relations.

"Even if President Trump doesn't implement everything, Germany and Europe can't rely on the trans-Atlantic partnership as usual, and will have to stand up for Western values themselves." Trump's win also caused trepidation in Mexico, where his remarks calling Mexican immigrants criminals and "rapists" were a deep insult to national pride.

Trump has suggested slapping a 35 percent tax on automobiles and auto parts made by U.S. companies in Mexico, and financial analysts have predicted a Trump win will threaten billions of dollars in cross-border trade.

Trump's victory is "as close to a national emergency as Mexico has faced in many decades," Mexican analyst Alejandro Hope said. It also caused concern in Cuba, over Trump's threat to roll back President Barack Obama's normalization of relations unless Cuban President Raul Castro agrees to more political freedoms.

"If he reverses it, it hurts us," taxi driver Oriel Iglesias Garcia said. "You know tourism will go down." Trump's electoral triumph was also felt strongly in the volatile Middle East, where multiple crises are unfolding. One major concern is Trump's vehement opposition to the historic nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers under which Iran has curbed its nuclear program in exchange for a gradual lifting of international sanctions.

In Iran, leaders emphasized the need to keep the agreement on track despite Trump's victory. The deal "cannot be overturned by a single government," Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said. Israel's leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, indicated a high comfort level with the next president, hailing Trump as a "true friend of the state of Israel."

Iraq's leader, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, also congratulated Trump and expressed hope the "world and the United States will continue to support Iraq in fighting terrorism."

Katz reported from London. Associated Press writers Peter Orsi and Christopher Sherman in Mexico City; Michael Weissenstein and Andrea Rodriguez in Havana; Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin; Angela Charlton in Paris; Lynne O'Donnell in Kabul, Afghanistan; Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin; Frank Jordans in Berlin; Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem, Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad and Amir Vahdat in Tehran contributed to this report.

Mangrove protection key to survival for Senegalese community

By Malick Rokhy BA
Joal, Senegal (AFP)
Nov 6, 2016

Pelicans, flamingos, monkeys and even hyenas are under threat in Senegal along with the livelihoods of the local people as thick clusters of mangroves are disappearing.

And it seems that not even an ancestral spirit can save them.

The protected marine area (AMP) of Joal in western Senegal, just to the north of the Gambia, is home to an incredibly rich biodiversity.

The hardy mangrove shrubs thrive in salty water, thick mud and hot, humid conditions that would kill most other plants.

Part of Senegal's peaceful Petite Cote, Joal's mangroves are being eroded by a combination of factors, including global warming, deforestation, public works, oyster and clam fishing, salination of the fresh water river and drought.

All along the riverbed, great swathes of sandy dunes have appeared in place of the once suffocating canopy of mangroves.

"The empty spaces are areas where the mangrove has disappeared," said Abdoulaye Sagna, a manager at the Joal AMP.

Mangroves are not just tough survivors. Scientists now believe the swamps are hugely important to the well-being of the planet as a whole.

Senegal's mangrove system supports a vast range of species and organisms.

Baobab trees and acacia shrubs grow in between the tangled roots, which are a habitat for molluscs, crabs and insects.

Animals such as monkeys and hyenas also live in the mangroves, and flamingos, pelicans, terns, herons and other types of birds nest in the trees.

"All these species are victims of the disappearance of the mangrove," added Sagna.

The protected area may be vast but outside of the AMP, the mangrove is receding, according to Abdou Karim Sall, a member of the Joal AMP's organizing committee.

- 'Degraded' mangroves -

But he insists that the establishment of the 174-square-kilometer (67-square-mile) protected area has had a positive effect on safeguarding the local environment.

"There was nothing here, no mangroves, but from 2009 we started reforesting," said Sall.

"In villages not covered by the AMP, the mangrove is more degraded. We fear it will disappear in certain areas where entire hectares have been cut down."

Despite the reforestation policy, Senegal is losing much of its mangroves, not least to those looking for firewood and construction materials.

"Senegal has lost 40 percent of its mangroves since the 1970s," said ecologist Haidar El Ali, a former minister of the environment.

As the mangroves recede, it is becoming harder to find oysters and clams, which are among the mainstays of the local economy.

"Before, all you needed to do was go 10 meters (32 feet) into the river to find oysters and clams. But now, you have to go much further," complained Marie-Madeleine Diouf, head of a group of seafood traders in Joal.

"We can't find the quantity we want and demand is increasing."

Other than the abundant mollusc fishing, Joal -- famous for being the birthplace of Senegal's first president, Leopold Sedar Senghor -- is also known for tourism and local handicrafts, based on clam shells and sea snails found at the island of Fadiouth, which is linked to Joal by a bridge.

- Ancestral spirit -

But that has attracted many unscrupulous outsiders, and not even a local spirit in the deeply superstitious society can keep them from exploiting the mangroves.

"Joal's ancestral spirit, Mama Ngueth, the town's protector, banned the cutting down of mangroves," said Sall.

"Everyone respected that ban and belief in that spirit was a factor in the conservation of the mangrove.

"But now there are a lot of migrants in Joal who couldn't care less about this spirit, or the conservation of the mangrove."

One solution has been to build an oyster farm in Joal to boost production.

Yet another is to try to protect young molluscs.

Oyster farmer Leopold Ndong wields a knife to cut oysters from the intertwined mangrove roots to "plant" them in mud.

"These are spat, baby oysters... After a year they will be mature," he said.

According to Diouf, the fight to preserve the mangroves is not a forlorn one and is worth the effort.

"We have to replant every day because people keep cutting (down mangroves)," she said.

"People will keep cutting, and we'll keep replanting."

Source: Terra Daily.
Link: http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Mangrove_protection_key_to_survival_for_Senegalese_community_999.html.

Laos moves ahead with plan for third contentious Mekong dam

November 08, 2016

Laos has notified its Southeast Asian neighbors that it's moving ahead with a third contentious hydro dam on the Mekong River's mainstream. The Mekong River Commission, an organization that groups together Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand for joint management of the river, said in a statement it has received notice from Laos that it will undertake a process of consultation about the Pak Beng dam.

In the previous consultation cases for the Xayaburi and Don Sahong dams, Laos pressed forward with the projects despite vociferous objections from the other countries, scientists and conservationists.

It has already begun preparatory work for the 912 megawatt Pak Beng dam in the northern province of Oudomxay and the official Lao News Agency reported in July that construction would begin in early 2017.

Critics of the dams say they will damage wild fisheries and a rice bowl delta that feeds 60 million people in the region, with the severest effects in the downstream countries Cambodia and Vietnam. The river basin is already under pressure from dozens of dams built on Mekong tributaries.

The government of Communist Party-ruled Laos sees hydro-electricity exports as a way to develop its impoverished economy and plans up to nine dams on the Mekong mainstream. But by jeopardizing wild fisheries it might add to its own food security problems. The World Food Program says nearly half of children under the age of five in Laos suffer from chronic malnutrition and stunting.

The impact of the Lao dams, and half a dozen dams already built on China's stretch of the Mekong, will be "extremely grave," said Nguyen Thi Hong Van, a coordinator of Vietnam Rivers Network, an advocacy group.

She said Laos could build too many dams and end up with surplus electricity because its plans don't consider long-term energy development in the region. "The Lao government should work out a master plan for energy security for Laos and for the region," Nguyen said. "Lao investment in hydro power plants without considering its social impact on countries in the lower basin would impact on the economic development of these countries."

The Mekong commission's relevance as a transboundary organization has been undermined by Laos, as well as its own internal failings. Foreign donors have cut financial assistance and the commission's staff numbers have been slashed.

But it said in the statement that despite lack of agreement the consultation process for the Xayaburi dam had resulted in the Lao government and the project's Thai developer spending an additional $400 million on design changes that could mitigate some its damaging effects.

The consultation process takes about six months. Earlier this year, a study funded by Vietnam predicted Mekong Delta rice production would drop steeply because the dams planned by Laos would trap sediments, reducing nutrients flowing downstream, and reduce fish stocks by disrupting migratory breeding.

It estimated annual fishery and farming losses of more than $760 million in Vietnam and $450 million in Cambodia, the two worst affected countries.

Tran Van Minh in Hanoi, Vietnam contributed.

Delhi shuts schools as smog sparks health 'emergency'

By Claire Cozens
New Delhi (AFP)
Nov 7, 2016

Authorities in Delhi on Monday closed schools, halted construction work and shut down a major power plant after days of choking smog led to warnings of a health "emergency" in the world's most polluted capital.

Pollution levels have spiked in recent days as farmers in neighboring Indian states burn crop stubble after the harvest and temperatures cool, trapping pollutants in a smoggy haze over the city.

Delhi's air quality generally worsens with the onset of autumn, particularly after the Diwali festival when millions of revelers let off heavily polluting firecrackers.

But this year's change has been particularly dramatic, with the American embassy reporting hazardous pollution levels for several days running.

On Monday morning it put levels of PM2.5 -- the fine particles linked to higher rates of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease -- at an off-the-charts 778.

Levels between 301 and 500 are classified as "hazardous", meaning everyone faces a risk of respiratory effects and should stay indoors, while levels above 500 are beyond the official index.

Manan Mahato, who drives an auto rickshaw in Delhi, said he had sent his children to his native village because he was worried about their health.

"It has become risky to stay in Delhi because of the pollution," he said, holding a handkerchief over his mouth because he cannot afford a proper face mask.

"I am sending my children back to the village as I am worried for their health. If it stays like this, I think this city won't be livable anymore."

On Sunday hundreds of people, many wearing face masks, gathered in central Delhi to demand immediate action to curb the pollution levels, currently around 30 times the World Health Organization's recommended PM2.5 safe limit of 25 micro-grams per cubic meter of air.

- 'Emergency situation' -

Long queues formed outside shops selling face masks, a relative novelty in Delhi as are the air purifiers that now feature in the homes of wealthy residents.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his top ministers held a meeting later Monday with the city's lieutenant-governor, who announced a ban on bursting fire crackers, including at weddings. He, however, exempted religious events.

The Delhi government on Sunday announced a series of measures including shutting schools for three days, banning all construction work for five days and the temporary closure of a coal-fired power plant.

It also said it was considering cloud-seeding to produce rain, a technique Beijing used to clear the air before the 2008 Olympic Games.

Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director at the Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment (CSE), said the city faced an "emergency situation".

"These temporary emergency measures are critical for bringing down the peak pollution levels," she said.

"Of course this cannot be permanent, you cannot keep people indoors forever," she added.

A 2014 World Health Organization survey of more than 1,600 cities ranked Delhi as the most polluted.

Kejriwal said he may reintroduce car rationing in the city after a successful two-week trial earlier this year.

But the Delhi government is powerless to stop the mass burning of fields in the nearby states of Haryana and Punjab.

Businessman Harish Sharma said the authorities had "completely failed" to tackle pollution.

"We have to save the present generation as well as the future generations from this disaster," he told AFP.

Sunita Narain, head of the CSE which has petitioned the Supreme Court to force the government to act, called it a "public health emergency".

"The situation is very bad. The poisonous air is very harmful for all of us," she said.

"We hope the court will hear our plea and order the governments to do whatever is required."

The court is due to hear the petition on Tuesday.

Source: Terra Daily.
Link: http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Delhi_shuts_schools_as_smog_sparks_health_emergency_999.html.

Railway for Myanmar's main city slow-paced window into past

November 07, 2016

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's commercial capital is fast shedding its sleepy backwater trappings as the city builds new roads, hotels and office buildings, but the Circle Line railway remains a world apart from the traffic jams and chaos of Yangon's streets.

Long overdue for upgrades, the 46-kilometer (28-mile) line slowly trundles through 38 stations around the city, past tin shacks and fields of watercress, palm trees and bananas, gated communities and factory zones.

The railway opened in 1877 when Myanmar, then known as Burma, was a colony of Britain. British forces destroyed Yangon's ornate central station in 1943 during World War II, as they fled the city ahead of Japanese troops.

The station appears little changed since it reopened in 1954. At 100 kyats to 200 kyats (8 cents to 16 cents) a ride, depending on distance, it's the cheapest public transport option for traveling around the city of 7.4 million, carrying more than 100,000 people a day.

Commuters traipse across its tracks, squatters bed down on the train platforms. Hawkers board to sell fish, tangerines, SIM cards, and then climb back off to wait for more customers. A group of kids, not quite teenagers, climbs aboard, hauling homemade bird houses left over from a day of peddling downtown. Back and forthing through the carriage, they take turns gazing out the door before eventually alighting, chattering and laughing, at a stop far out in the suburbs.

Japan's aid agency has drawn up a master plan for rebuilding Yangon station and modernizing the trains. Yangon invited tenders for the project, but progress has lagged. Only traveling at most a bit over 20 kilometers (12 miles) an hour, the train is clean but no-frills, its open windows the only breeze on a stuffy evening. The view: an intimate glimpse into kitchens, open-air sports bars packed with men watching soccer on big screen color TVs, fathers holding toddlers up to watch the train pass.

Only after the sun has disappeared and dark has fully fallen are dim lights switched on, as the train slowly heads back toward the Yangon terminus.

White elephants, mahouts pay respects to late Thai king

November 08, 2016

BANGKOK (AP) — While tens of thousands of mourners have paid their respects to Thailand's late king at Bangkok's Grand Palace, where his body is being kept before cremation, a different kind of visitor appeared in front of the palace gates Tuesday.

Some 200 mahouts leading nine, specially chosen white elephants and two white-painted elephants arrived at the palace from around the country. The tusked giants and their riders kneeled in front of the palace gates in a sign of respect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died last month at age 88 after reigning for 70 years, while the royal anthem was played on a lone trumpet.

Mourners waiting to enter the palace cried as they witnessed the elephants' prostrating. In Thailand, the white elephant is regarded as sacred and a symbol of royal power, according to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center. The white elephant was on Thailand's national flag until 1917, but the symbol is still found on the ensign of the Royal Thai Navy. Historically, the statuses of kings were evaluated by the number of white elephants in their possession.

Ittipan Kaolamai, manager of the Royal Elephant Kraal and Village in Ayutthaya province, said nine elephants in Tuesday's procession were white and two were painted, presumably to maintain conformity.

He said one of the two spray-painted elephants carried a portrait of Bhumibol on its back and the other carried a drummer.

Trump's trailblazers: Billionaires who turned to politics

November 06, 2016

WASHINGTON (AP) — If Donald Trump wins the White House on Tuesday, he'll become America's first billionaire businessman to serve as president. But he'll be following in the footsteps of other moguls who have jumped into the political fray elsewhere in the world.

The track record for these businessmen-turned-political leaders is decidedly mixed. Some have translated their private sector acumen into success in government. Others had tenures marked by scandal, and even a military coup.

Americans have elected presidents with business experience before — among them, George W. Bush, who ran an oil company, and Herbert Hoover, a mining executive. But all moved into politics before running for the nation's highest office. Trump would be the first American president to never have held elected office, or other high-level government or military post.

The real estate magnate has long promoted his business background as a selling point for voters frustrated with career politicians. "We need people in Washington that know how to make a deal," Trump says.

A look at some of the billionaires who blazed a trail from business to politics:


Trump has drawn more comparisons to the brash Berlusconi, a three-term Italian prime minister, than perhaps any other foreign leader.

Both are irreverent and controversial, and they like to flaunt their lavish lifestyles. Each started his careers in real estate, but made his name in the media world: Berlusconi built a fortune buying up television stations and Trump became a fixture in the New York tabloids and reality TV.

For Trump, that's probably about where he'd like the comparisons to end.

Berlusconi was a fixture in Italian politics for two decades, but his time in office was frequently marred by scandal. He was convicted of multiple crimes, including tax fraud and paying for sex with an underage prostitute, though the latter charge was overturned by an appeals court.


Known as Ukraine's "Chocolate King," Poroshenko made his fortune in the confectionary industry. Now he's a key Western partner in trying to resolve the heated dispute between Ukraine and Russia.

Poroshenko was elected president in 2014 following the public uprising that led to the ouster of Ukraine's pro-Russian leader. The billionaire businessman positioned himself as a friend of Europe and the United States, and indeed speaks and meets regularly with both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

But Poroshenko's tenure has coincided with more Russian meddling in Ukraine, particularly along the country's shared border. The U.S. has sent Ukraine tens of millions of dollars in nonlethal aid; Obama has resisted calls to send lethal assistance.

It's unclear what type of support Poroshenko would have from the U.S. under a potential Trump administration. Trump has spoken favorably about Russian President Vladimir Putin an Trump has said he would be "looking at" whether to recognize Crimea — a Ukrainian area annexed by Moscow — as Russian territory.

Poroshenko's transition from businessman to political leader also holds warning signs for Trump's financial future. The Ukrainian leader saw his net worth decline significantly after taking office.


A telecommunications billionaire, Thaksin was Thailand's prime minister until he was ousted in a military coup in 2006.

During his tenure, Thaksin drew support from poorer voters who backed his reduction in hospital feeds and other populist programs.

But Thaksin's wealth would contribute to his political downfall. He faced corruption allegations after his family sold a company for $1.9 billion in a way that enabled them to avoid paying taxes on the sale, sparking a year of political tumult in Thailand that ended in the coup.

Though he's been in exile for several years, Thaksin remains involved in Thai politics from affair. Earlier this year, he weighed in on American elections, saying there was "some similarity" between himself and Trump.

"The cultures are very similar, the culture of being a businessman," Thaksin told the Financial Times. "And then when successful businessmen come to politics, they give fresh air to political campaigns."


Pinera's financial empire touched numerous parts of Chilean society. He held stakes in the country's largest airline, a television station and the popular soccer team Colo-Colo.

Turning to politics, Pinera campaigned on his private sector experience and became the first conservative to lead Chile since military rule ended in 1990. But his presidency launched to an inauspicious start — a major earthquake disrupted his 2010 inauguration.

Chile experienced solid economic growth during Pinera's four-year term, but the president himself was deeply unpopular. Chile's constitution prohibits presidents from serving two consecutive terms. Pinera is eligible to run again in 2018.

Pinera hasn't been shy about weighing in on the U.S. election, levying sharp criticism on Trump. During an appearance in New York last fall, Pinera said the Republican would be a divisive leader and said his election would be a "tragedy."