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Biden, Xi at loggerheads on Taiwan

Kuwait Times - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 18:16
WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden meets with China’s President Xi Jinping during a virtual summit from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC. – AFP

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping traded strong warnings on the future of Taiwan at a virtual summit meant to establish “guardrails” against conflict between their rival superpowers. The video-link summit, which took place late Monday in Washington and yesterday in Beijing, lasted a “longer than expected” three and a half hours, a senior US official told reporters. “The conversation was respectful and straightforward.”

While the goal was to settle an increasingly volatile relationship between the giant economic and geopolitical competitors, tension over Taiwan – a self-governing democracy claimed by China – loomed large. Chinese state media reported after the summit that Xi cautioned Biden that encouraging Taiwanese independence would be “playing with fire.” “Some people in the US intend to ‘use Taiwan to control China.’ This trend is very dangerous and is like playing with fire, and those who play with fire will get burned,” he was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency.

The White House readout after the summit was considerably more measured, but between the lines, Biden’s pushback against Beijing’s increasingly aggressive posture toward Taiwan was clear. “On Taiwan, President Biden underscored that the United States… strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” the White House statement said.

The statement reiterated longstanding US policy that does not recognize Taiwan’s independence but supports defense of the island. According to the US official, who asked not to be identified, there was “extended discussion of Taiwan” during the summit. Biden also raised “concerns” over wider issues of human rights abuses and mass repression against the Uyghurs in the northwest region of Xinjiang. The two leaders have spoken by phone twice since Biden’s inauguration in January but with Xi refusing to travel abroad because of the pandemic, an online video meeting was the only option short of an in-person summit.

Avoid veering into conflict
The White House emphasized it did not expect – or get – any concrete changes out of the summit. Rather the goal was to build on earlier contacts with Xi to manage a relationship that is too big to fail. Speaking from the White House to Xi on a television screen, Biden said it was their “responsibility as leaders of China and the United States to ensure that the competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended.”

“We need to establish some common sense guardrails,” he said. Instead, the aim should be for “simple, straightforward competition,” Biden said, promising a “candid” discussion. Xi, speaking from Beijing, called Biden “my old friend,” but said their countries had to work more closely.

“We face multiple challenges together. As the world’s two largest economies and permanent members of the UN Security Council, China and the United States need to increase communication and cooperation,” he said, speaking through an interpreter in brief public remarks, before they went behind closed doors. Both Biden and Xi emphasized the need for working together on major global issues, especially Covid-19 and climate change. “A sound and steady China-US relationship” is needed “for safeguarding a peaceful and stable international environment,” Xi said.

Biden gets domestic boost
Relations between the superpowers plummeted during the presidency of Donald Trump, who launched a trade war with China while assailing Beijing’s response to an international probe into the origins of the Covid pandemic in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Biden has recast the confrontation more broadly as a struggle between democracy and autocracy. He got a boost Monday when he signed into law a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, the biggest of its kind in more than half a century.

Biden describes the initiative as an important step in catching up with years of intensive Chinese government investments, thereby proving that democracies can compete. “The world is changing,” he said in a White House speech. “We have to be ready.” While the day-to-day tone is less erratic than in the Trump era, tension over Taiwan in particular is threatening to escalate into dangerous new territory. China has ramped up military activities near Taiwan in recent years, with a record number of warplanes intruding into the island’s air defense zone in October.

The United States says it supports Taiwan’s self-defense but is ambiguous about whether it would intervene to help directly. In the brief comments made in front of reporters, Xi referred to each country needing to “run our domestic affairs” but did not mention US criticism of Beijing’s saber-rattling around Taiwan, mass human rights violations or other sore points. China’s foreign ministry on Monday put the onus on Biden to improve relations. “We hope that the US will work in the same direction as China to get along with each other,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters. – AFP


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Ugandan capital hit by twin explosions

Kuwait Times - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 18:14
KAMPALA: People extinguish fire on cars caused by a bomb explosion near Parliament building in Kampala, Uganda yesterday. – AFP

KAMPALA: Two explosions hit Uganda’s capital Kampala yesterday, injuring a number of people in what police termed an attack on the city, the latest in a string of blasts targeting the country. The explosions occurred in the central business district of Kampala near the central police station and the entrance to parliament, police said. “What we can say (is) this was an attack but who is responsible is a matter that is under investigation,” Uganda’s Assistant Inspector General of police Edward Ochom told AFP. Health ministry spokesman Ainebyoona Emmanuel said on Twitter that Kampala’s Mulago Hospital was treating 24 people, four in critical condition.

“Following the unfortunate and cowardly act of terrorism, our health workers are working around the clock to save lives of those injured,” he said. The explosion near the police station shattered windows while the one near the entrance to parliament saw cars parked nearby burst into flames, Ochom said. “We have dispatched a team” to the area, Uganda Red Cross spokeswoman Irene Nakasiita told AFP. The twin attacks follow two blasts last month – a bus explosion near Kampala that wounded many people and a bombing at a roadside eatery in the capital that killed one woman.

Police said last month both those attacks were connected and were carried out by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) which the United States has linked to the Islamic State group. Kyle Spencer, the executive director of Uganda’s Internet Exchange Point, told AFP that yesterday’s explosions had sparked panic among many people nearby. “The road to parliament is closed off, there are people just crying, everyone else is just trying to get away from these areas,” he said. “Everybody is evacuating office buildings and the buildings are locking up and not letting anybody inside.”

Parliament cancelled
Parliament cancelled its session following the attacks, asking members to avoid the area “as security forces are working hard to restore order”. The premises were put under tight security, with heavily armed soldiers securing the area as forensics officers in white overalls inspected the blast site for clues. The US embassy in Kampala warned its citizens to steer clear of the area and monitor local news.

Ugandan police last month arrested a number of ADF operatives and warned that extremists were believed to be plotting a new attack on “major installations”. The ADF, historically a Ugandan rebel group, has been accused of killing thousands of civilians in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. In March the United States officially linked the ADF to IS. The ADF is considered by experts to be the bloodiest of more than 120 armed groups that roam eastern DRC, many of them a legacy of two regional wars a quarter-century ago. – AFP


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Ifeoma Ozoma: US tech whistleblower helping others speak out

Kuwait Times - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 18:11
SANTA FE: This handout photo 21 shows a portrait of Ifeoma Ozoma at her home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. – AFP

WASHINGTON: Being a whistleblower comes down to careful preparation but also an eye trained for dirty tricks, said Ifeoma Ozoma, an ex-employee of several Silicon Valley giants turned revealer of tech world wrongdoing. “I planned it like a program or product launch. Obviously the experience is something very personal, but I approached it like work,” she said.

While Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen has become a figurehead for the fight against social media’s faults, there are others in the tech world, like Ozoma, who have also taken big risks to stand up. An African-American, former policymaker relations specialist for Google, Pinterest and Facebook, she continues to work for ethics in tech, but from the outside, via her consulting firm Earthseed. She has marked a first big success via the recent adoption in California of a law she co-sponsored, called “Silenced No More.”

Starting in January, this law will prohibit employers from using confidentiality clauses to prevent victims of harassment or discrimination in the workplace from speaking out. In mid-October, she posted online a guide for whistleblowers. “The difference with tech companies and other industries is on the power that they wield, but also they pretend they’re better for workers, consumers, society than more traditional industries,” she told AFP. “That’s just not borne out in reality.”

Keep the emails
A Yale University graduate in political science, the 29-year-old was born in Alaska to Nigerian immigrants. She left Pinterest at the end of May 2020, with six months of salary, after months of making complaints internally and also to the state of California, accusing the social network of discrimination and racist retaliation.

She said the company paid her less than if she had been a man, but she also complained about their lack of action after a colleague posted her personal details online to expose her to anonymous harassment. In mid-June 2020, as the Black Lives Matter anti-racism movements were in full swing in the United States, her damning account on Twitter of her experience sparked a scandal for the company that had largely avoided controversy.

“Pinterest, told a number of reporters that the CEO had no knowledge of me being doxxed… and I was essentially making up a story about him being aware,” Ozoma said. “I knew that it was something that would probably come up later. And so I had the emails,” she added. The accused firms try to discredit whistleblowers by many means, said Libby Liu, the director of Whistleblower Aid which is working with Haugen. “They will throw up against the wall every discrediting thing they can think of, through like every media organization on the face of the Earth,” she added.

Losing their health insurance
The whistleblowers that come forward often have a lot to lose. “Just one example here in the United States — because our health care is tied to our employment – when you decide to whistle blow, you’re also making a decision for yourself and for your family to lose access to your health insurance,” Ozoma said. “That is not a small thing to ask of people,” she added. Whistleblower leaks and damning media reports have tarnished Big Tech’s image, but they have had limited tangible consequences for Silicon Valley. In fact, Haugen’s oft-repeated accusation that Facebook puts profits over safety is not entirely new.

“There are countless nonprofit organizations and reporters, who reported on the exact same thing for years,” said Ozoma. “It remains to be seen whether anything fruitful will come of it.” But from anti-sexism protests at Google in 2018 to warnings from former top Facebook officials, the pressure for change is steady. After Ozoma spoke out at Pinterest, other female workers did too. The company paid $22 million in December 2020 to Francoise Brougher, its white, former COO to settle a gender discrimination lawsuit. – AFP


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BioNTech, Moderna, Pfizer making $1,000 profit every second

Kuwait Times - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 18:08
KATHMANDU: A health worker shows a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the COVID-19 coronavirus in Kathmandu after the government began a drive to vaccinate people above the age of 12 years and those with chronic health diseases. – AFP

WASHINGTON: Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna are making combined profits of $65,000 every minute from their highly successful COVID-19 vaccines while the world’s poorest countries remain largely unvaccinated, according to a new analysis. The companies have sold the vast majority of their doses to rich countries, leaving low-income nations in the lurch, said the People’s Vaccine Alliance (PVA), a coalition campaigning for wider access to Covid vaccines, which based its calculations on the firms’ own earning reports.

The Alliance estimates that the trio will make pre-tax profits of $34 billion this year between them, which works out to over $1,000 a second, $65,000 a minute or $93.5 million a day. “It is obscene that just a few companies are making millions of dollars in profit every single hour, while just two percent of people in low-income countries have been fully vaccinated against coronavirus,” Maaza Seyoum of the African Alliance and People’s Vaccine Alliance Africa said.

“Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna have used their monopolies to prioritize the most profitable contracts with the richest governments, leaving low-income countries out in the cold.” Pfizer and BioNTech have delivered less than one percent of their total supplies to low-income countries while Moderna has delivered just 0.2 percent, the PVA said. Currently, 98 percent of people in low-income countries have not been fully vaccinated.

The three companies’ actions are in contrast to AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, which provided their vaccines on a not-for-profit basis, though both have announced they foresee ending this arrangement in future as the pandemic winds down. PVA said that despite receiving public funding of more than $8 billion, Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna have refused calls to transfer vaccine technology to producers in low- and middle-income countries via the World Health Organization, “a move that could increase global supply, drive down prices and save millions of lives.”

“In Moderna’s case, this is despite explicit pressure from the White House and requests from the WHO that the company collaborate in and help accelerate its plan to replicate the Moderna vaccine for wider production at its mRNA hub in South Africa,” the group said. While Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has dismissed technology transfer as “dangerous nonsense,” the WHO’s decision to grant emergency use approval to the Indian-developed Covaxin earlier this month proves that developing countries have the capacity and expertise, PVA added.

PVA, whose 80 members include the African Alliance, Global Justice Now, Oxfam, and UNAIDS, is calling for pharmaceutical corporations to immediately suspend intellectual property rights for COVID vaccines by agreeing to a proposed waiver of World Trade Organization’s TRIPS agreement. More than 100 nations, including the United States, back that move, but it is being blocked by rich countries including the UK and Germany. – AFP


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Heavy rains force evacuations, trap Canada motorists

Kuwait Times - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 18:05
MALAHAT, Canada: Photo shows storm water on the Malahat Highway on Vancouver Island. Relentless rain battered Canada’s Pacific coast – forcing a town’s evacuation and trapping motorists as mudslides, rocks and debris were washed across major highways. – AFP

OTTAWA: Relentless rain battered Canada’s Pacific coast on Monday, forcing a town’s evacuation and trapping motorists as mudslides, rocks and debris were washed across major highways. Some 275 people, according to local media, were stuck overnight in their cars between two mudslides on Highway 7 near the town of Agassiz in British Columbia. Since the morning, additional mudslides near Lillooet and Haig pinned down more travelers, the province’s public safety minister, Mike Farnworth, told a news conference.

Meanwhile, Merritt-about 300 kilometers from the coast-ordered the evacuation of all 7,000 of its townsfolk after flooding compromised the local wastewater treatment plant and washed out two bridges. Barricades also went up restricting access to the town. Farnworth said search and rescue crews were dispatched to free people trapped for hours without food or water in 80 to 100 cars on Highway 7.

“Many people have been rescued by helicopters from mudslides near Agassiz and Hope with crews working to rescue the remaining people in the next few hours,” he said. Those trapped in 50 vehicles in the Lillooet mudslide have all been rescued, while efforts were underway to free an unspecified number of people at the Haig site, he added. Video footage showed a military helicopter landing on a highway covered in mud and debris, to pick up stranded motorists.

British Columbia emergency health services said it transported nine patients to hospital with minor injuries overnight from the Agassiz landslide. Emergency centers were set up for displaced residents. “Please stay safe,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a Twitter message to British Columbians. “We’re ready to provide whatever assistance is needed as you deal with and recover from the flooding and this extreme weather,” he said.

Wettest ever
British Columbia’s transportation ministry said several highways were closed Monday. “Heavy rains and subsequent mudslides/flooding have impacted various highways in the BC interior,” it said. The local utility issued flood alerts due to high water flows into its reservoirs, and said it was working to restore power to thousands hit by outages. Construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline connecting the Alberta oil sands to the Pacific coast was also paused, a company spokesperson told AFP, “due to widespread flooding and debris flows.”

In the city of Abbotsford, outside Vancouver, authorities ordered more than 100 homes evacuated in several neighborhoods threatened by flooding and mudslides, while television images showed farms in the Fraser Valley under several feet of water. Meteorologist Tyler Hamilton commented on social media that Abbotsford in the past 140 days had experienced both its warmest and wettest days ever.

Environment Canada said up to 250 millimeters of rain-what the region normally gets in a month-was expected by the day’s end in and around Vancouver, which was also hit last week by a rare tornado. The extreme weather comes after British Columbia suffered record-high temperatures over the summer that killed more than 500 people, as well as wildfires that destroyed a town. – AFP

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‘The water is poison’: China’s activist spends life protecting polluted lake

Kuwait Times - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 18:00
KUNMING: Environmental activist Zhang Zhengxiang holds rocks that he says are polluted at an area which used to be a cement factory construction site near Dian Lake in Kunming, in southwestern China’s Yunnan province. – AFP

KUNMING: Environmental activist Zhang Zhengxiang is almost blind, and lives in poverty-but he has successfully faced down hundreds of companies on the banks of one of China’s most polluted lakes. The 74-year-old strident campaigner has spent his life trying to protect the sprawling Lake Dian in southwestern China, challenging businesses to clean up their act around the local beauty spot and reporting those who pollute it. “When I was a child, we could see the bottom of the lake. When I was thirsty, I drank the water from the lake-we used it for cooking,” he said.

“The water has become poison. We can’t drink it, use it, or even touch it.” It can be risky work. In China grassroots social movements are heavily suppressed by the government, and environmental activists and the lawyers that represent them have in the past faced stiff reprisals and even jail terms. Zhang says he has been attacked by disgruntled businesses, but is undeterred. Several times a week, he patrols the red-soil banks with binoculars in search of polluters, snapping pictures on a small compact camera.

One of China’s largest freshwater lakes, the vast expanse of water nestles the city of Kunming which recently hosted an international biodiversity conference. But decades of agricultural, industrial, mining and human waste are destroying it. Beijing has invested more than 50 billion yuan ($7.8 billion) to protect the lake, building dozens of treatment plants and diverting a river to supply it with fresh water. But the surface of the water is still cloudy, and covered with green algae.

Duty to defend
Zhang was born in a village by the water’s shore and spent years living off the lake, eating its fish and fruits from the surrounding forest. His father died when he was five, and his mother left shortly afterwards, leaving him and his two siblings to fend for themselves. His younger brothers died during the years of China’s devastating famine, leaving Zhang entirely alone and living in the wild, learning to forage in the wild to survive.

“The lake is a living being, but it has no voice in the story. It is my duty to defend it”, he told AFP. “(The lake) is my second mother.” China’s decades of breakneck growth saw industrialists flock to the region’s rich mining soil and natural resources. But the influx caused huge pollution. Zhang started to denounce polluting companies who exploited resources or built without permission-often facing an uphill struggle to reach sympathetic ears. Local officials simply haven’t done enough to protect the local environment, he says. “Why? Because they had collaborated with these enterprises,” he said.

Zhang’s lakeside house is packed floor-to-ceiling with papers and reports about his work. Businessman Zhou Guangwen’s quarry closed nearly two decades ago after Zhang reported it to the authorities. But the two men are close friends, and Zhou says although he lost all the money he invested in the mine, he now has sympathy for Zhang’s environmental efforts. Zhang claims he has brought about the closure of more than 200 factories-but it has all taken a toll. “Local executives, the owners of mines and quarries whom he denounced… many people hate him,” added Zhou.

Steel tiger
In 2002, the activist was badly injured when hit by an unlicensed truck while gathering evidence about an illegal quarry. Zhang believes the collision-which left him partially blind and broke his arm-was deliberate. He says he has suffered other attacks over the years. “They beat me, hurt me, tore down my house and grabbed my farmland,” he told AFP. “I’m not afraid. They are paper tigers and I am a steel tiger”. Environmental campaigners in China must walk a fine line or risk the wrath of local officials and businesses.

Teenage campaigner Howey Ou braved years of intimidation, including being kicked out of school, before leaving the country to lobby from abroad. Zhang, who was lauded a “true ambassador of the environment” on the national TV show “Inspiring China”, says he is finally being listened to. In May, a giant real estate project on the lake’s eastern shore was declared illegal. And a former deputy mayor who held responsibility for tackling water pollution was placed under investigation last month. “We have seen a turning point in water pollution in China since the mid-2000s,” said Chinese environmentalist Ma Jun.

Two decades ago, a quarter of national water monitoring stations reported water quality worse than the lowest grade. “From that time, thanks to concerted efforts, this has dropped to less than one percent in 2020,” Ma said. But a plan to divert fresh water to Lake Dian from the Yangtze river 400 kilometers away will take years to complete. And a report from the environment ministry this year found that despite the treatment plants, 140 million cubic meters of sewage still pours into the lake each year. Zhang will keep fighting. “There is no way back,” he said. “I’m walking on a single-log bridge. I will keep walking this path until I die.” – AFP


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Trend Micro blocked over 8m threats in Kuwait: H1 report

Kuwait Times - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 17:47

KUWAIT: Trend Micro Incorporated, a global leader in cybersecurity solutions, yesterday released its Midyear Security Roundup for H1 2021: Attacks from All Angles. The report shares insights on the evolved threat landscape from the first half of the year and provides strategic guidance for leaders to protect their organizations in the digital economy.

The report states that globally Trend Micro solutions blocked 40.9 billion email threats, malicious files and malicious URLs for customers in H1 2021, with a 47 percent year-on-year increase. Ransomware remained the standout threat in the first half of the year as cybercriminals continued to target big-name victims. They used Advanced Persistent Threat tools and techniques to steal and encrypt victims’ data. The banking industry was disproportionately affected, experiencing a 1,318 percent year-on-year increase in ransomware attacks in the first half of 2021.

In Kuwait, Trend Micro solutions detected and blocked nearly 6 million (5,997,116) email threats, prevented over 1.3 million (1,393,583) malicious URL victim attacks, and over 2775 URL hosts. In addition, over 749K (749,723) malware attacks were identified and stopped. The report also shows that home networks in Kuwait were a major attraction for cybercriminals looking to pivot to corporate systems, devices, and networks.

Trend Micro’s Smart Home Network (SHN) solutions blocked over 78K (78,666) SHN inbound and outbound attacks combined, preventing nearly 660K (659,883) such SHN events for hackers to target or control home devices from executing malware, obtaining sensitive information, intercepting communications, or launching external attacks.

“In the last few months, organizations went through a series of changes whilst accommodating the impact of the pandemic, one of the most significant ones was undergoing accelerated digital transformation,” said Assad Arabi, Managing Director, Trend Micro Gulf Cluster. “Today, companies need robust security solutions that can safeguard their journeys at all stages to thrive in this new digital era. Our mid-year-round report for H1 2021 shares insights that will help enterprises in the country to take suitable decisions to tackle the modern-day threats effectively and prepare for the future.

Trend Micro has been collaborating with the public and private sectors to raise awareness and resolve gaps to enable secure digital transformation journeys for organizations in Kuwait. The company is on the forefront in introducing new security solutions for businesses, leaving no stone unturned in providing enhanced visibility, threat intelligence, and extended detection and response at every stage of their IT journeys.

To continue its pursuit against the evolving threat landscape, Trend Micro will be hosting CLOUDSEC 2021 from November 16th to 18th, 2021, to further empower organizations in the MENA region to reimagine their cloud security. During the event industry leaders, experts, and specialists will discuss recent cyber security trends, followed by engaging panels discussions and seminars, and new-age initiatives securing every stage of the digital transformation, from the edge to the cloud.


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Swiss pip Italy for World Cup ticket as Kane fires England to Qatar

Kuwait Times - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 17:45
SERRAVALLE: England’s forward Harry Kane controls the ball during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualification Group I football match between San Marino and England on Monday at Olympic stadium in Serravalle, San Marino. – AFP photos

PARIS: European champions Italy missed out on automatic qualification for next year’s World Cup after being held to a goalless draw by Northern Ireland in Belfast on Monday, ceding top spot in Group C to Switzerland who beat Bulgaria 4-0. The Italians needed to match Switzerland’s result to qualify directly but while Roberto Mancini’s side could only stutter to a stalemate, the Swiss went on the rampage in Lucerne to book their ticket for Qatar. There they will find England, the team the Italians beat in the Euro 2020 final in July, who clinched their qualification with a rampant Harry Kane bagging four goals in 15 minutes in a 10-0 win in San Marino.

“The qualification was earned away in Budapest, in Warsaw, in Albania and I’ve got to credit all of our players and staff on a really good year,” said England manager Gareth Southgate. “The mentality, even in a game like tonight, we can’t do anything about the level of the opposition but the way we played was terrific.” Germany, Denmark, France, Belgium, Croatia, Spain and Serbia have also qualified directly from Europe.

BELFAST: Italy’s midfielder Jorginho (left) vies with Northern Ireland’s midfielder Gavin Whyte during the FIFA World Cup 2022 round one Group C qualification football match between Northern Ireland and Italy at Windsor Park in Belfast, Northern Ireland on Monday.

Italy famously failed in 2018 to qualify for the World Cup after a miserable aggregate defeat to Sweden. “Right now it is what it is, we struggle to score goals, we always have control of the play… It’s a shame because the group should have been finished before this match,” Mancini told RAI. “I have faith, let’s see in March, but we might even win it.”

The Italians rarely troubled the home side, only coming to life when news trickled through of Switzerland’s goal-scoring in Lucerne. Noah Okafor’s strike put the Swiss ahead three minutes into the second half and after Xherdan Shaqiri hit the post, Ruben Vargas doubled the score.

The Swiss then had two goals ruled out for offside but when Cedric Itten headed in for 3-0 after 72 minutes, it meant Italy needed to win by two in Belfast. As the Italians grew more frantic and almost gave away a goal to Conor Washington, who had a shot scrambled off the line, the Swiss nailed the outcome with Remo Freuler making it 4-0 in added time.

Hurry-Kane hits San Marino
England needed just a point from their trip to San Marino, the lowest ranked of FIFA’s 210 competing nations. San Marino had lost 36 of their 37 previous home World Cup qualifiers, losing the last 35 in a row by an aggregate score of 146-7. The one non-defeat came in a 0-0 draw with Turkey in 1993. This time they were unfortunate to come up against a hungry Kane who scored four goals in the space of 15 minutes in the first half. The outcome was never in doubt once Harry Maguire headed in the opener after five minutes.

A Filippo Fabbri own goal made matters worse but that set the stage for Kane. His first came from the penalty spot in the 27th minute and he netted again with a scuffed effort five minutes later. His second penalty in the 39th minute completed his fourth international hat-trick and his second in four days, having also put three past Albania on Friday.

Two minutes later he produced the best of the lot with some neat control inside the box to bag his fourth which took him to 48 goals for England, level with Gary Lineker and behind only Bobby Charlton (49) and Wayne Rooney (53). “Every time I wear an England shirt I am proud and when I score goals it is one of the nicest feelings I can have in my career. Nice to be among those names,” said Kane. Emile Smith Rowe, Tyrone Mings and Tammy Abraham and Bukayo Saka all found the net in the second half as England closed their qualifying campaign in style, finishing six points clear of Poland who go into the playoffs after losing 2-1 at home to Hungary. – AFP

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Revolution at the home of Thai boxing after COVID

Kuwait Times - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 17:42
BANGKOK: This photo taken on November 13, 2021 shows Iranian Muay Thai boxer Keivan Soleimani (left) competing with Chinese opponent Yan Chaohong at Lumpinee Stadium in Bangkok. – AFP photos

BANGKOK: Out with the gamblers and harsh neon lights, in with female fighters and fancy lasers — after a 20-month coronavirus break, Thai kickboxing’s spiritual home is embarking on a revolution. On fight days before the pandemic, thousands of passionate fans would pack Bangkok’s Lumpinee Stadium — the symbolic heart of the ancient, brutal art of Muay Thai. It was not just admiration for the fighters’ skill that drew the crowds: on big days more than a million dollars could change hands in bets, in a country where gambling is largely illegal.

Then in March 2020 everything came to a halt as Thailand’s first COVID-19 outbreak was traced back to the stadium, which was immediately closed. But rather than throw in the towel, the stadium owners — the Royal Thai Army — say they have bounced back off the canvas to turn the enforced break into an opportunity. Major General Ronnawut Ruangsawat, deputy chief of the stadium, said that the grand old arena was “taking advantage of the pandemic to revolutionize itself”. “The arena has been completely renovated, betting is now prohibited and women are allowed to fight,” he said.

‘Clean up the sport’
Gone are the harsh neon lights that once bathed the ring in an unforgiving white glare, and on Saturday fighter Sitthichoke Kaewsanga stepped into the ring under a shower of ultra-modern red and silver lasers. Behind him, giant state-of-the-art screens previewed the bout with pictures of the 21-year-old and details of his record. The stands were empty of fans and much had changed, but the hooks, jabs and knee strikes were the same, as was the backdrop of traditional Thai music played by a live band.

Lumpinee will welcome fans back in January, albeit with a greatly reduced capacity and strict virus-prevention rules such as testing and social distancing. And betting will be off the cards because the army decided it “led to too much cheating with players sometimes being paid to lose the fight”, Ronnawut said. “We want to clean up the sport and we hope that other venues in Thailand will follow.”

But industry professionals are skeptical the army’s good intentions will succeed. “They will continue to bet online — gambling is part of the Muay Thai DNA,” Jade Sirisompan of the World Muay Thai Organization, one of the main international federations, warned. “Many gamblers, among them many gym owners, make a living from it and can pocket thousands of dollars on a good day. They are not going to give it up.”

This photo taken on November 13, 2021 shows Muay Thai boxer Kullanat Ornok (left), fight name Nongnuk Rongriankilakorat, competing with Australian opponent Celest Hansen at Lumpinee Stadium in Bangkok.

Taboo-smashing bout
No less revolutionary is the decision to allow female fighters to take part in bouts at Lumpinee’s main arena. For years, women — including fans — were banned from even touching the ring because of a superstition that their menstruating bodies might break the magic protecting it. Other Muay Thai venues have accepted female fighters for some time, but Lumpinee — the sport’s equivalent of Lord’s in cricket or football’s Wembley — held out.

After a low-profile bout in a backroom in September, Saturday saw two women compete in the main ring for the first time. After beating Australia’s Celest Muriel Hansen, 21-year-old Thai fighter Kullanat Ornok said: “We are so proud to have been the first women to fight here. We’ve been fighting for more equality for years.”

Wiping blood from her head, the 27-year-old Hansen added: “We have come such a very long way. This was so much more then just a fight.” For Kullanat, getting back in the ring to earn money after the long break was just as important. “I hadn’t fought in almost a year. I used to earn a hundred dollars a match, then nothing for months to support my family,” Kullanat said.

‘Lost its soul’
Deprived of bouts because of the pandemic, thousands of professional boxers — men and the much smaller number of women fighters — returned to their villages. After so long away from the gruelling daily training regime the sport demands, many will never make it back to the same level and the government has offered no financial support.

Many fighters found themselves with no choice but to take side jobs. Sitthichoke became a rider for a delivery service. His five-round victory in Saturday’s bout earned him less than $1,000. Before the pandemic he could earn triple that. “It was really strange to fight in an empty arena. It’s not easy without the energy of the crowd,” he said.

And perhaps inevitably for a venue seen as a bastion of tradition, the changes have not gone down well with everyone. “We don’t recognize anything. The Muay Thai temple has become a big showroom,” lamented Jade Sirisompan after watching a broadcast of the matches. – AFP


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Ex-cricketer Rafiq tells UK MPs: ‘I lost career to racism’

Kuwait Times - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 17:36
LONDON: A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq fighting back tears while testifying in front of a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee in London yesterday as MPs probe racial harassment at the club. – AFP

LONDON: Former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq fought back tears as he told British lawmakers yesterday he had “lost my career to racism”, detailing widespread discrimination within the English game in an emotional testimony. An independent report found the Pakistan-born player was a victim of “racial harassment and bullying” while playing for the county club, with Rafiq himself revealing he had been driven to thoughts of suicide.

Although Yorkshire apologized, they said they would take no disciplinary action against any staff — a decision the former player told MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee left him “staggered”. “I felt, isolated, humiliated at times,” Rafiq told the hearing in London. “Pretty early on, me and other people from an Asian background… there were comments such as ‘you’ll sit over there near the toilets’, ‘elephant-washers’. The word ‘Paki’ was used constantly. And there just seemed to be an acceptance in the institution from the leaders and no one ever stamped it out.”

Rafiq, who is a Muslim, also recounted a frightening experience of being forced to drink alcohol at the age of 15 as a club player in Yorkshire. “I got pinned down at my local cricket club and had red wine poured down my throat, literally down my throat,” he said. Rafiq, whose wife gave birth to a stillborn child in 2018, added that his two young children “have not had a dad really because all I’ve been worried about is Yorkshire going after me… I just hope that today provides some kind of closure.” His voice breaking again towards the end of his testimony, the 30-year-old Rafiq, who had two spells at the club, said: “Do I believe I lost my career to racism? Yes, I do.”

And Rafiq warned that racial prejudice within English cricket was not solely an issue at Yorkshire, saying it was replicated “up and down the country”. “I’ve had messages from people who have played at Leicestershire, a guy who played at Middlesex, messages from people who played at Nottinghamshire,” he said. He labelled diversity initiatives by the England and Wales Cricket Board as examples of “box-ticking” and “tokenism”.

The fallout for Yorkshire — one of England’s most successful and historic clubs — over the scandal has been swift and devastating. Sponsors have pulled out and the club has been suspended from hosting lucrative international matches. Yorkshire chairman Roger Hutton and chief executive Mark Arthur both resigned, with head coach Andrew Gale suspended for using a racial slur. Subsequent allegations of racism have been made by other players, setting in motion additional investigations at Yorkshire and other clubs as the scandal spreads across English cricket.

On Monday, current England spinner Adil Rashid joined ex-Pakistan Test player Rana Naved-ul-Hasan in alleging that former England Test captain Michael Vaughan had said in front of a group of Yorkshire players of Asian ethnicity in 2009: “Too many of you lot, we need to do something about it.” Vaughan has “categorically” denied making the comment. Asked about Vaughan, Rafiq said: “Michael might not remember it… three of us, Adil, myself and Rana remember it. “He clearly had a snippet of my statement. He used his platform at the Daily Telegraph to tell everyone he hadn’t said these things. To go on and put a snippet of my statement out and talk about other things, I thought was completely wrong.”

New Yorkshire chairman Kamlesh Patel told the committee he was prepared to take “whatever decisions I need to take”. “This is an organization that’s been hammered left, right and center, maybe for the right reasons,” he said. “Changes are going to have to be made and it’s not going to be overnight, but we have got to move on it, really quickly and really hard.” – AFP

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Kuwait Times Sunday, November 14, 2021

Kuwait Times - Sat, 13/11/2021 - 20:30

Daily E- Paper – Kuwait Times


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COP26 nations urged to adopt ‘balanced’ deal

Kuwait Times - Sat, 13/11/2021 - 19:24

Talks stumble on emission cuts, climate cash ‘cliffhanger’

GLASGOW: Performers from the Blue Rebels conduct a funeral ceremony at Glasgow Necropolis to symbolize the failure of the COP26 process at Glasgow Cathedral yesterday during the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference. — AFP

GLASGOW: Britain yesterday urged compromise among feuding COP26 delegates as it touted a “balanced” package to help avert the worst effects of climate change in what was meant to be the Glasgow summit’s final hours. COP26 president Alok Sharma told delegates from nearly 200 countries that a draft summit text attempted to reconcile yawning gaps between rich emitters and developing nations that have hobbled the fortnight’s discussions.

“Everyone has had a chance to have their say. I hope that colleagues will appreciate what is on the table,” he said, presenting a third draft text. “While not every aspect will be welcomed by everyone, collectively, this is a package that really moves things forward for everyone,” Sharma added. He added “it is my intention that we will close this COP this afternoon” – while allowing more time for haggling over technical issues.

After three nights of all-night negotiations that have blown COP26 past its scheduled finish of Friday, delegates are still trying to agree a deal to deliver greater emissions cuts and vital finance for vulnerable states. The new draft text released by Sharma’s team urged nations to accelerate efforts to phase out unfiltered coal and “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies.

Large emitters such as China, Saudi Arabia and Russia had tried to remove the mention of polluting fuels, according to delegates. But after resistance from rich nations led by the United States and European Union, the draft text omitted any reference to a specific finance facility for “loss and damage” – the mounting cost of global warming so far – which has been a key demand of poorer nations.

The text noted “with deep regret” that wealthy nations had also failed to stump up a separate annual sum of $100 billion they promised over a decade ago. It urged countries to pay up “urgently and through 2025”. Greenpeace International chief Jennifer Morgan told AFP that the language on fossil fuels “is far from what is needed but sends a signal – I dare countries to take that out of the text right now”.

“The US has to support the most vulnerable on the issue of loss and damage. They cannot avoid this issue any longer. Nor can the European Union,” she added. “I would call on President (Joe) Biden to do what’s right, and support the most vulnerable in helping them deal with their losses.” There was no immediate comment from the US, but EU Commission vice president Frans Timmermans denied that the rich world had turned its back on the countries most at risk. “We have increased substantially our financial contribution, both in terms of the $100 billion but also in terms of the adaptation fund,” he told reporters. “But if there is more we can do, we will certainly try and help.” Saleemul Huq, director of the ICCCAD climate NGO, said the British COP26 presidency had been “bullied” overnight into rejecting specific loss and damage funding. “The UK’s words to the vulnerable countries have been proven to be totally unreliable,” he said. The delegates in Glasgow are trying to hammer out how to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement goals to limit temperature rises to 1.5-2 degrees Celsius.

Countries already battered by climate disasters such as record-breaking drought, flooding and storms are demanding they be compensated separately for loss and damage, and have made it a red line issue. However, a proposal to include the creation of a dedicated facility to administer financial support was quashed by the United States and EU, delegates said.

Amadou Sebory Toure, head of the G77+China negotiating bloc, told AFP the proposal was “put forward by the entire developing world, representing six of every seven people on Earth”. Alden Meyer, senior associate at climate policy think tank E3G, said loss and damage talks were a “cliffhanger moment” that could jeopardize the UK’s goal of wrapping the summit up.

Developing nations say it is unfair for the summit to produce an unbalanced agreement heavily weighted toward “mitigation” – how economies can ditch fossil fuels by 2050. They want specific instruction on how they can meet the bill of decarbonizing while also adapting to the natural disasters supercharged by global warming.

Another key sticking point are rules governing carbon markets. Countries that benefited from a global framework predating Paris want to be able to carry over credits into the new deal. There is still disagreement over rules preventing double counting of carbon savings and to what extent the private sector is governed by guidelines agreed between nations. – AFP

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5 protesters killed in Sudan crackdown

Kuwait Times - Sat, 13/11/2021 - 19:20
KHARTOUM: People gesture and chant slogans as they protest against the military coup in Sudan yesterday. — AFP

KHARTOUM: Sudanese security forces killed at least five demonstrators yesterday in a crackdown on anti-coup protests, medics said, after the military tightened its grip by forming a new ruling council. “Two more people were killed including an 18-year-old… and one 35-year-old… by bullets of the putschist military council,” the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors said. Earlier, the committee had said that three other protesters were killed during yesterday’s rallies.

The pro-democracy protests come nearly three weeks after top general Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan ousted the government, detained the civilian leadership and declared a state of emergency. Gunshots were heard and tear gas fired as security forces sought to break up demonstrations in Khartoum and neighboring cities, witnesses and AFP correspondents said. “No, no to military rule”, “Civilian (rule) is the people’s choice”, and “Down with the entire council”, protesters in southern Khartoum shouted.

Tens of thousands rallied nationwide, with protests taking place in the cities of Atbara, Port Sudan and Wad Madani, as well as in the states of Kassala and North Kordofan, witnesses said. “The military should not have anything to do with politics, they should safeguard the constitution which Burhan himself has turned against,” said protester Ahmed Abdelrahman in Khartoum.

The military’s Oct 25 takeover drew widespread international condemnation, as did a deadly crackdown on demonstrators demanding it restore Sudan’s democratic transition. Any hopes the demonstrators had that the military would back down were dashed on Thursday, when Burhan named himself as the head of a new ruling Sovereign Council that excludes the country’s main civilian bloc, triggering more condemnation from the West.

The protests occurred despite the heavy presence of military, police and paramilitary forces in Khartoum, where bridges connecting the capital to neighboring cities were sealed off. The security forces also blocked roads in the capital leading to the army headquarters, the site of a 2019 mass sit-in that led to the ouster of autocrat Omar Al-Bashir.

Information Minister Hamza Baloul, who was briefly detained in the military takeover, took part in yesterday’s protests in Khartoum. “The Sudanese people have decided to create a civilian nation and there is no will stronger than that of the Sudanese people’s,” he said in a video posted online, urging them to press on with “peaceful demonstrations until the fall” of the coup leaders.

Demonstrations were also organized elsewhere around the world. In Paris, around 400 people in a central square denounced the coup and called for the “immediate handover of power to civilians” in Khartoum, an AFP correspondent reported. In Berlin, about 100 protesters at Brandenburg Gate carried a banner that read: “A victory for the Sudanese protesters… is a victory for all of us!”

The UN had called on the security forces to refrain from violence, which since the coup has already left dead at least 16 people, according to the medics’ union. Yesterday’s demonstrations were largely organized by informal groups known as “resistance committees”, which emerged during the 2019 anti-Bashir demonstrations. They have called for multiple protests since the coup and mobilized crowds via text messages as Sudan has largely remained under a rigorous Internet outage with phone lines intermittently disrupted.

On Friday, military figures and new civilian members of a new ruling council were sworn in before Burhan. Three former rebel leaders who were members of the ousted Sovereign Council and were appointed to the new one did not attend the ceremony. They had previously rejected the military coup. The newly named council features several new and little-known figures to represent civilians.

But it excludes any members of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), an umbrella alliance which spearheaded the anti-Bashir protests, and the main bloc calling for a transition to civilian rule. The UN has criticized the military’s latest “unilateral” step, while Western countries said it “complicates efforts to put Sudan’s democratic transition back on track”. Burhan insists the military’s move on Oct 25 “was not a coup” but a push to “rectify the course of the transition”. – AFP

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Sara Duterte to run for vice president

Kuwait Times - Sat, 13/11/2021 - 19:15
MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (left) raises the hand of senator Christopher ‘Bong’ Go after he filed his candidacy for president at the Commission on Election yesterday. – AFP

MANILA: Philippines “First Daughter” Sara Duterte yesterday entered the vice presidential race for the 2022 elections, in a surprise move that could boost the chances of presidential hopeful Ferdinand Marcos Jr winning the country’s highest office. Outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a second term, also flagged plans to contest the vice presidency – triggering chaotic scenes at the Commission on Elections office handling last-minute changes to candidacies ahead of a Nov 15 cutoff.

The elder Duterte “will file his certificate of candidacy for the vice presidency on Monday, that’s what he said,” presidential communications chief Martin Andanar told local broadcaster ABS-CBN. But he added: “I would like to believe that that is the plan for now. We don’t know if this will be the same plan by tomorrow or by Monday.”

Sara Duterte, 43, had been widely expected to seek the presidency in a bid to succeed her father, and potentially protect him from criminal charges in the Philippines and International Criminal Court investigators probing his deadly drug war. Her tilt for the country’s second-highest office was immediately endorsed by the party of Marcos Jr, the son and namesake of the former dictator, to be his running mate in the poll.


“This is to confirm that Mayor Inday Sara Duterte through her representative, has filed her Certificate of Candidacy for Vice President under Lakas-CMD (party),” her spokeswoman Christina Garcia Frasco said on Facebook, confirming the Commission on Elections’ announcement. For months, Sara had insisted she wanted to serve another term as Davao City mayor in the family’s southern bailiwick – the position her father held before he was elected president in 2016 – despite leading in surveys of voter preferences for the next president.

Speculation about her plans intensified this week after she suddenly withdrew from the mayoral contest. She also quit her regional party and joined Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats, the national political party of her close ally and former president Gloria Arroyo. Sara’s decision to run for vice president leaves Marcos Jr in a strong position in the presidential race.

Popularly known as Bongbong, Marcos Jr has been a front runner in voter polls, ahead of celebrity mayor Francisco Domagoso, boxing great Manny Pacquiao and incumbent Vice President Leni Robredo. In the Philippines, the president and vice president are elected separately. There was speculation Sara had sought to persuade Marcos Jr to slide back into the vice presidential race, as the two clans sought to form a formidable alliance.

The Marcos family stronghold stretches across the country’s north and center, while the Dutertes enjoy widespread support in the south. But Marcos Jr, who was seen walking arm-in-arm with Sara at a wedding south of Manila on Thursday, told reporters, “I will continue with my plan. I entered this race to run for president”. Political analyst Richard Heydarian told AFP: “Duterte running for the vice presidency… more or less seals Bongbong Marcos’ position as the top contender, the candidate to beat in these elections.”

The elder Duterte had previously said he would contest the vice presidency, before changing his mind and announcing plans to retire from politics. But yesterday, Duterte accompanied his close aide Senator Christopher Go to the Commission of Elections office. Go officially entered the presidential contest, after previously registering for the vice presidential race.

Heydarian said approval ratings for Sara and her father had slipped in recent months, with the momentum shifting “in favor of Marcos”. If she were to win the election, it would keep “a Duterte near the top and well positioned for a 2028 run”, said Mark Thompson, political science professor and director of the Southeast Asia Research Centre at City University of Hong Kong.

Sara’s decision sparked a mixed reaction from her fans, with some praising the move, while others expressed disappointment she would not seek the presidency. “Maam please run for president, please do not abandon the legacy of your father,” a supporter posted on Facebook. Marcos Jr’s presidential bid, meanwhile, already faces challenges. Opponents have asked the Commission on Elections to disqualify him from the race over previous convictions for failing to file tax returns several decades ago. If Marcos Jr were to win office, it would cap a remarkable political comeback since a popular uprising in 1986 toppled his father and chased the family into exile in the United States. – AFP

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Tunisia town revolts over trash crisis

Kuwait Times - Sat, 13/11/2021 - 19:13
TUNIS: Maamoun Ajmi, a 29-year-old architect, displays a caricature during a sit in on Nov 11, 2021 to express solidarity with the town of Agareb over the reopening of a rubbish dump. — AFP

AGAREB, Tunisia: As tear gas and protest cries filled the air in the Tunisian town of Agareb, Mabrouka Ben Ibrahim vowed to demonstrate for her daughter, whose death she blames on a nearby rubbish dump. Yousra, 21, died in 2019 after being bitten by a mosquito that came from the toxic trash site, Ben Ibrahim said. “I lost my daughter and I don’t want other families to lose their children because of the filth in this landfill,” the 59-year-old said.

Residents say rubbish dumped at the site, including dangerous industrial and medical refuse, has caused a string of diseases from cancer to vision problems and infertility. Authorities decided to close the site in September after declaring it full but reversed course on Monday, prompting angry street demonstrations that degenerated into clashes with security forces.

In the early hours of Tuesday, a protester died of what relatives said was tear gas inhalation, although authorities have blamed his death on an unrelated health condition. The protests come amid a garbage crisis across Sfax province that has seen refuse piling up on pavements after the closure of the Agareb site, the province’s main dump.

Residents say the site, around three kilometers from the town center and stretching over 35 hectares (85 acres), has become a public health disaster since it opened in 2008. “Two years after it was opened, we started seeing an increase in allergies, respiratory diseases and miscarriages as a direct result of burning of trash and the release of toxic gases” from the site, said Bassem Ben Ammar, a doctor who has worked in the town for two decades. “The number of cancer cases has shot up.”

Even as the smell of tear gas dissipates, the stench of refuse still hangs over the town of 40,000. “During the summer and throughout the year, the mosquitos and the disgusting smell never leave us. We can’t even open our windows,” demonstrator Adel Ben Faraj said. The dump, situated in the middle of a nature reserve, receives more than 620 tons of waste every day, according to Ines Labiadh of the FTDES rights group.

Ben Ammar said the site was a destination for “waste of all kinds, including medical waste, amputated body parts and even fetuses”. The environment ministry said medical waste was treated before going into the dump. The site, one of 13 official landfills in the North African country, serves around one million people and receives waste from numerous factories in the city of Sfax, Tunisia’s main industrial hub.

As in the rest of Tunisia, only a small fraction of the region’s waste is recycled, with the rest either buried or incinerated. Residents say the site was only meant to be active for five years, but its use was extended and it continued operating despite a judge ordering its immediate closure in 2019. It was deemed full and finally shut down in late September, but authorities reopened it this week, triggering renewed outrage among residents.

Activists have warned that similar protests could easily flare over other landfill sites in Tunisia. Labiadh told AFP that less than 10 percent of the country’s waste was recycled. “This is damaging public health and the environment” around landfill sites, she said, calling on the state to set up a functioning recycling system. Many of the landfill sites are found in marginalized areas.

“Today there are demonstrations in Agareb, but tomorrow they could happen around dumps in the capital. No dump in Tunisia is immune,” she said. “Some areas have clean air, while others are marginalized and deprived of basic rights.” In Agareb, some residents have been using art to campaign for a solution.

Maamoun Ajmi, a 29-year-old architect, is part of the “Maneche Msabb” (I’m not a rubbish dump) art collective. He showed AFP two of his artworks – one a portrait of Yousra as an angel, the other showing a rat eating the section of the Tunisian constitution dealing with environmental rights. He was among activists who met with President Kais Saied in Tunis on Thursday to highlight the town’s plight. Ajmi told AFP the protesters had nothing to do with politics. “We’re just Tunisian citizens who want our right to a clean environment,” he said. – AFP

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Qatar to handle US interests in Afghanistan

Kuwait Times - Sat, 13/11/2021 - 19:11
WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Al-Thani shake hands during a signing ceremony at the State Department on Friday. — AFP

WASHINGTON: The United States said Friday it would set up an interests section in Afghanistan under Qatar, creating a more direct way to assist US citizens and engage with the Taleban after the embassy in Kabul was shuttered. The step marks the latest diplomatic win for Qatar, the wealthy Gulf state that has increasingly positioned itself as the pivotal US ally on Afghanistan.

Blinken signed an agreement with his Qatari counterpart to establish Qatar as the US protecting power in Afghanistan, an arrangement in which a third nation handles a country’s interests in the absence of diplomatic relations with the host country. The United States has voiced cautious optimism about dialogue with the Taleban but has made clear that reopening the embassy – which would imply recognition – is not on the cards.

Qatar, home to a major US military base, has played a significant role both in diplomacy and evacuations as the United States ended its 20-year war in Afghanistan. Around half of the 124,000 Westerners and Western-allied Afghans flown out of the country in the waning days of the US military involvement transited through Qatar.

“Let me again say how grateful we are for your leadership, your support on Afghanistan, but also to note that our partnership is much broader than that,” Blinken told Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani. “Qatar is a crucial partner in promoting regional stability,” he said, pointing as well to Qatari assistance to the Palestinians.

Blinken said that the State Department has reached out to all verified US citizens or permanent residents still in Afghanistan with offers to leave, arranging the departure of more than 580 people since the Taleban victory. But the issue remains politically sensitive and has become the top US priority with the Taleban, although Washington says that any future relationship also would depend on the Islamists addressing concerns on the treatment of women and the role of Al-Qaeda.

The US pointman on Afghanistan, Thomas West, met Thursday in Islamabad with Taleban foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi alongside representatives of Pakistan, Russia and China – three nations that have encouraged greater cooperation with the militants. A joint statement called for continued engagement to encourage “moderate and prudent policies”.

Qatar has sent 15 charter flights into Afghanistan since the Taleban victory and, along with Turkey, has offered to repair the Kabul airport, which officials warn may soon be in complete disrepair. “They have a dire need for help, especially when the winter is coming,” Al-Thani said of Afghanistan. “Abandoning Afghanistan would be a big mistake,” he said. “We believe engaging with the Taleban, since they are in power right now, is very important for us to ensure that our facilitation for humanitarian assistance is moving smoothly.”

Qatar took on the expanded role on Afghanistan just as Saudi Arabia, backed by other Gulf Arab monarchies including the United Arab Emirates, was trying to isolate it over concerns that included Doha’s relationship with Iran. Despite Qatar’s historic support of engagement, Al-Thani voiced objections to another initiative also opposed by the United States – normalizing relations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan on Tuesday met in Damascus with Assad, part of the momentum to restore relations amid a growing conclusion that Assad has won after a brutal, decade-long civil war that has left nearly half a million people dead. “We hope that countries will be discouraged from taking further steps with the Syrian regime,” Al-Thani said, while saying that others had the “sovereign right” to their own decisions.

“Qatar’s position will remain as it is – we don’t see any serious steps by (the) Assad regime showing his commitment to repair the damage that he made for his own country and for his own people.” Blinken said that the United States was “concerned” by engagement with Assad. “And I would simply urge all of our partners to remember the crimes that the Assad regime has committed and indeed continues to commit,” Blinken said. – AFP

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Categories: Kuwait

First Kuwait PPP conference kicks off virtually tomorrow

Kuwait Times - Sat, 13/11/2021 - 18:52
Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah

KUWAIT: The proceedings and the accompanying exhibition of the ‘1st Kuwait PPP Conference’ commence virtually tomorrow. “We are pleased that the efforts of NoufEXPO and the KFEOCH brought us successfully to commencement of the conference, which kicks off tomorrow, Monday and continues until Tuesday. The PPPKW will discuss issues related to the various aspects of public-private partnership projects,” said Badr Al-Salman, President of the Kuwait Engineering Offices and Consultant Houses.

High-level sponsorship

Salman added, “On this occasion, we extend our gratitude and appreciation to the conference’s patron, His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, Prime Minister of the State of Kuwait. We are also pleased to host Sheikh Hamad Jaber Al-Ali Al-Sabah, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, representing His Highness at the opening ceremony. We extend our sincere thanks for his support for the conference. It is also our pleasure that Dr Rana Al-Fares, Minister of Public Works, Minister of State for Communications and Information Technology, will share her opening keynote with the audience.”

Sheikh Hamad Jaber Al-Ali Al-Sabah

Conference proceedings

Speaking about the Conference proceedings, Salman said that the conference hosts speakers in various legislative, legal, financial, planning, and implementation aspects of partnership projects. In addition, PPPKW will discuss bidding mechanisms, dispute resolution methods and procedures, and transparency requirements. The conference will host many global, regional, and local leaders of partnership organizations, including the United Nations and institutions involved in implementing partnership projects. PPPKW represents a significant opportunity to bring together regulatory bodies, government institutions, and private sector institutions to contribute and develop an optimum road map towards implementing the new Kuwait Vision 2035.

Invitation specialists

Salman also invited academics and specialists to share proposals or summaries of their research (up to two pages) related to partnership projects with the PPPKW’s Scientific Committee on info@noufexpo.com.kw. Their input will help the Committee formulate the final conference’s recommendations, which will be presented to related higher authorities.

Badr Al-Salman

Acknowledgment message

At the end of his statement, Salman thanked all the institutions that contributed to the conference: sponsors, government agencies, private sector organizations, speakers, and guests. In particular, he noted the sponsors: the Strategic Sponsors Burgan Bank and Kuwait Finance House (KFH), The Platinum Sponsors SSH and Ahmadiah Contracting and Trading Co., the Gold Sponsors Boubyan Bank, Health Assurance Hospitals Company (DHAMAN), and Alghanim International, and the Silver Sponsor Gulf Consult. A thanks message also went to the participating organization in Kuwait: the Ministry of Public Works, the Supreme Council for Planning and Development, Kuwait Municipality, and Kuwait Authority for Partnership Projects (KAPP). Salman also sent a gratitude message to the international, regional, and local specialists who shared extensive expertise during the event and all participants and attendees through cyberspace from inside and outside Kuwait. Finally, he thanked Al-Hamad Legal Group – PPPKW Knowledge Partner, Al-Anba Newspaper – the exclusive media sponsor, and the organizing teams from NoufEXPO and KFEOCH. Salman invited those wishing to participate and attend the conference to register via this link https://events.vmeetsworld.com/pro/login/97950651.

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Cheetahs fast running to extinction as cub trade thrives

Kuwait Times - Sat, 13/11/2021 - 18:48
Members of the Cheetah Conservation Fund feed baby cheetahs.

Tiny, weeks-old cheetah cubs suckled from baby bottles and purred weakly, their condition still dangerously precarious after their rescue from the Horn of Africa’s illegal wildlife trade. Around half the cubs saved from traffickers do not survive the trauma-and there are real concerns for the smallest of this lot, a frail infant nicknamed “Green” weighing just 700 grams (25 ounces).

“It was very touch and go with Green,” said Laurie Marker, founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), inspecting the mewling cub at the non-profit organisation’s rescue centre in Somaliland. They are the lucky ones-every year an estimated 300 cheetah cubs are trafficked through Somaliland to wealthy buyers in the Middle East seeking exotic pets.

Snatched from their mothers, shipped out of Africa to war-torn Yemen and onward to the Gulf, cubs that survive the ordeal can fetch up to $15,000 on the black market. It is a busy trade, one less familiar than criminal markets for elephant ivory or rhino horn, but equally devastating for Africa’s most endangered big cat.


A volunteer of the Cheetah Conservation Fund plays with cheetahs in their cage in one of the facilities of the organisation in the city of Hargeisa, Somaliland.

Loved to death

A century ago, there were an estimated 100,000 cheetahs worldwide. Today barely 7,000 remain, their numbers slashed by human encroachment and habitat destruction. The steady plunder of cubs from the wild to satisfy the pet trade only compounds this decline.

More than 3,600 live cheetahs were illegally traded worldwide in the decade to December 2019, according to research published this year that documented hundreds of advertisements for cubs on social media platforms including YouTube and Instagram.

“If this keeps going… that kind of offtake causes the population to go extinct in a very short time,” said Marker, a leading authority on cheetahs. Cheetahs have been prized as pets and hunting companions since the Roman Empire and breeding them in captivity is notoriously difficult, making wild-caught cubs the only option.

Part of the campaign to stop the modern-day trade has focused on changing attitudes in prosperous Gulf states, the main buyer market where cheetahs are still coveted status symbols. Marker said wealthy owners liked to show off their cheetahs in selfies as much as their cars and cash. “There’s kind of a one-upmanship on it, and there’s bragging power. One of our messages is do not ‘like’ this kind of thing on social media,” Marker said.

Cruel trade

Combatting this criminal trade is particularly challenging because it revolves around Somaliland, a self-declared republic without international recognition, and one of the world’s poorest regions. Roughly the size of Syria, with 850 kilometres (530 miles) of coastline facing Yemen, the breakaway region between Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia is stretched thin policing its porous borders.

Somaliland’s interior minister Mohamed Kahin Ahmed told AFP that a small coastguard unit was doing its best but apart from patrolling for cheetahs they had human traffickers and gun runners to contend with. The cubs that slip through the net suffer terrible mistreatment along the smuggling route, fed improperly and confined to tiny cages, sometimes with their legs bound with zip ties.

Marker said one particular seizure in 2019 illustrated the cruelty: “When they dumped them out, there were live ones dying on top of dead ones… It was just horrible,” she said. In recent years, confiscations have soared as the government has cracked down on the trade.

From just a handful of cubs in 2018, today CCF shelters 67 rescued cheetahs across three safe houses in the Somaliland capital Hargeisa. Laws criminalising the sale of cheetahs have also started being enforced. In October 2020, a smuggling ring was shattered and a high-profile trafficker prosecuted in a landmark trial.

Future generations

Through a UK government-funded programme, Somaliland is expanding intelligence sharing with neighbouring countries and Yemen to fight the criminals robbing Africa of the iconic species.  But the government is also working with impoverished rural communities, whose conflict with cheetahs is another driver in the trade.

Of the 13 cubs confiscated between September and November, at least four were taken by farmers hoping to sell them and recoup losses after claiming their livestock were killed by cheetahs. “The next generation may never see a cheetah if this illicit trade continues,” Edna Adan Ismail, Somaliland’s former foreign minister, told an anti-poaching conference in September.

Local veterinarian Ahmed Yusuuf Ibrahim is determined this grim prophecy does not pass. The 27-year-old has been learning how to nurse sickly cubs back to health and has developed a close fondness for the cheetahs under his care.

They cannot fend for themselves, and eventually will be relocated to a larger natural enclosure outside Hargeisa. But for now, Ibrahim is their doting custodian-right down to making sure cheetahs young and old get their fair share of camel meat. “I care for them. I feed them, I clean them. They are my babies,” he said. — AFP

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Kuwait renews Arabs’ commitment to Libya’s unity: Foreign Minister

Kuwait Times - Sat, 13/11/2021 - 18:41
PARIS: Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Dr Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah is seen in a group photo with world leaders at the international conference on backing Libya, held in Paris, France. — KUNA

PARIS: Kuwait, as head of the Arab League Council for the 156th session, renewed the Arabs’ commitment to Libya’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity, Foreign Minister and Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs Sheikh Dr Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah said on Friday. This came during Sheikh Ahmad’s speech at the international conference on backing Libya held in the French capital, Paris. He said that the Arabs reject all kinds of external interference into Libya’s affairs, affirming the commitment of the Arab League to continuing fully support to Libya’s presidential council and the government of national unity to help them implement the roadmap hold presidential and parliamentary elections as planned on December 24, 2021. They also support the outcomes of the Skhirat Agreement and Libya’s stability initiative to implement the Security Council Resolutions 2510, 2570, 2571 and the results of the Berlin 1 and Berlin 2 conferences, he added.

He noted, “We welcome, in this context, Libyan High Elections Commission’s announcement of opening the door for presidential and parliamentary elections to hold them as planned”. The conference comes in continuation of the international efforts aiming to back Libya and reiterate commitment of the international community towards Libya to achieve its security and stability, he said. The international community renewed its full commitment to supporting everything that would lead to Libya’s security and stability, he pointed out. “We followed with great attention the positive developments made over the past period that included the ceasefire, the unification of military and security institutions and others,” he said.

In this context, Kuwait has lauded efforts, supported by the international community and made by brothers in Libya, aiming to end the split of institutions that threatens Libya’s stability and its neighbors for more than a decade, he stated. “We extolled results of the joint military committee (5+5) held in Cairo earlier this month on establishing a communication and coordination mechanism to support the implementation of an action plan of the withdrawal of mercenaries, and foreign fighters and forces from Libya in a balanced gradual process,” he said.

He expressed hope that security, prosperity and peace would prevail in Libya to meet aspirations of Libyans. The Kuwaiti minister conveyed greetings of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah who wished a successful conference. He expressed appreciation to the French President Emanuel Macron and his people for the reception, hospitality and distinguished preparation for the conference. — KUNA

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‘Ugly history’: Battle to restore Japan’s iconic building

Kuwait Times - Sat, 13/11/2021 - 18:37
Picture shows Japanese artist Masakazu Rokuhara, who is also an architect and a member of the Taiyoshi Hyakuban restoration project, pointing to ageing designs during an interview with AFP at Taiyoshi Hyakuban. — AFP photo

At the corner of a red-light district in the Japanese city of Osaka stands an unlikely architectural gem: a century-old former brothel at the centre of a restoration campaign. Taiyoshi Hyakuban hasn’t functioned as a brothel for decades, and now operates as a restaurant, but it is seen as a symbol of the surrounding neighbourhood, which is still associated with the sex industry.

Experts say the wooden two-storey structure is a rare original example of architecture from the Taisho era of 1912-1926. “Most Japanese architecture dating from a century or more burned down in wartime air raids or big fires,” Shinya Hashizume, a professor of architectural history at Osaka Prefecture University, told AFP.

“Old brothel buildings, in particular, have rarely survived,” he said on a visit to the site. Taiyoshi Hyakuban has dozens of Japanese and Western-style party rooms, some featuring delicately painted sliding doors and ceilings with ornate inlays.

Murals of festivals, goddesses playing traditional instruments and Dutch merchants in old-fashioned clothes adorn the suites, which surround a garden where towering “yin and yang” rocks represent men and women. “Here, the art is part of the building… that’s what is so wonderful about it,” said Masakazu Rokuhara, an architect involved in the restoration project.

At night, swinging red lanterns strung along the outside of the building’s second floor lend the structure a nostalgic charm, gently illuminating its red wooden siding. But daylight reveals the desperate need for restoration, including cracks to a large wooden plaque over the front door and fading paint.

The building is designated a “registered tangible cultural property” in recognition of its historical significance, but that hasn’t resulted in any public funds to protect it. And while its owner had long planned to give the building a makeover, the pandemic downturn left funds scarce.


Salacious vibe

So a group of local real estate agents and town developers decided to launch a crowdfunding project to raise 15 million yen ($133,000) to save the struggling structure. “We were concerned the restoration might not even be possible if we waited and let the building continue to deteriorate for another 10 years,” said Keisuke Yotsui, a member of the campaign.

Taiyoshi Hyakuban is also something of an emblem for the historic Tobita-Shinchi red-light district, which housed hundreds of brothels a century ago. Many reinvented themselves when prostitution was outlawed in 1957, with customers paying for a room rather than a companion, to skirt legal restrictions.

But the neighbourhood retains a salacious vibe, with women sitting at entrances attempting to lure customers. “Hey, mister! Why don’t you stop by?” shouts a tout, as a young woman bathed in a pink spotlight locks eyes with passers-by.

And while Taiyoshi Hyakuban has been an upscale Japanese restaurant for decades, its history meant fundraising for its restoration was sometimes tricky. “We heard from women who told us there was no way they would give money for it,” because of the association with the sex industry, Yotsui told AFP.

Despite the obstacles, by August, the campaign had raised nearly 19 million yen and restoration has now begun. Hashizume said there was no disguising Taiyoshi Hyakuban’s past, but the building was still worthy of saving.

“This district lives with an ugly history,” he acknowledged. “But it’s also a history of how a neighbourhood has survived despite that legacy,” he added. “This piece of architecture is the only original part of the neighbourhood that speaks to that.” — AFP

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