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Liberia declares rape a national emergency after spike in cases

Liberian President George Weah has declared rape a national emergency and ordered new measures to tackle the problem after a recent spike of cases in the West African state.

The move comes after thousands of Liberians protested against rising incidents of rape in the capital Monrovia last month in a bid to draw attention to the country's alarming rate of sexual assault.

Late on Friday, Weah said he would install a special prosecutor for rape in Liberia, as well as set up a national sex offender registry, a statement from his office said.

The government will also establish a so-called "national security task force" on sexual and gender-based violence.

The high rates of rape in Liberia have been a long-standing concern.

A United Nations report in 2016 recorded 803 rape cases the previous year in the country of 4.5 million, and found only 2 percent of sexual violence cases led to a conviction.

It was the resulting sense of impunity and legacy of the 14-year civil war between 1989 and 2003, when rape was commonplace, that had created the current problem, it said.

Incidents of rape appear to have risen sharply this year.

Margaret Taylor, the director of Liberia's Women Empowerment Network, said last month her NGO had recorded 600 cases of rape between June and August.

That was up from between 80 and 100 cases in May, she said.

Weah's announcement of a national rape emergency follows a conference in Monrovia on tackling sexual violence on Wednesday.

Addressing the meeting, the footballer-turned-president said Liberia was "witnessing what is actually an epidemic of rape within the [coronavirus] pandemic, affecting mostly children and young girls across the country".

Weah's office said in a statement on Friday that further anti-rape measures will be announced. (Al Jazeera)

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Afghan teen girl kills Taliban militants who killed her parents

 A teenage Afghan girl has been hailed on social media for her "heroism" after fighting back last week against Taliban militants who killed her parents. The girl took the family's AK-47 assault rifle, shot dead two of the militants and wounded several others, local officials in Ghor province said.

The Taliban came to the house because the girl's father was a government supporter, they added.A photo of the girl holding the gun has gone viral in recent days.

 girl kills 1000pxLater more militants came to attack the house, in the village of Griwa, but were beaten back by villagers and pro-government militia.


Officials said the girl, believed to be aged between 14 and 16, and her younger brother had been taken to a safer place.

Social media users praised the teenager.

"Hats off to her courage," AFP quoted Najiba Rahmi as saying on Facebook.

"We know parents are irreplaceable, but your revenge will give you relative peace," said Mohamed Saleh, also on Facebook.

According to local media, Ghor is one of the most underdeveloped western provinces of Afghanistan and incidences of violence against women are high. The Taliban signed a peace deal with the US in February but many of its members continue to call for the overthrow of the current Afghan government and constitution.

 
(Excerpts from BBC)
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India records worst single-day spike of infections in world

India has registered a record new 78,761 coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, the worst single-day spike in the world, as the government continues to further ease pandemic restrictions nationwide.

Today, the Health Ministry also reported 948 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities to 63,498.

India now has the fastest-growing daily coronavirus caseload of any country in the world and has reported more than 75,000 infections for the fourth consecutive day.

Today's surge has raised the country's total virus tally to over 3.5 million and comes at a time when India is reopening its subway networks and allowing sports and religious events in a limited manner from next month as part of efforts to revive the economy. The crowded subway, a lifeline for millions of people in capital New Delhi, will be reopened in a phased manner from September 7.

The South Asian country has the third-highest caseload after the US and Brazil, and its fatalities are the fourth-highest.

Even as eight Indian states remain among the worst-hit regions and contribute nearly 73 per cent of the total infections, the virus is now spreading fast in the vast hinterlands, with experts warning that the month of September could be the most challenging.

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‘Inequality defines our time’: UN Secretary General

Antonio Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations said that the COVID-19 pandemic has played an important role in highlighting growing inequalities, and exposing the myth that everyone is in the same boat, because “while we are all floating on the same sea, it’s clear that some are in superyachts, while others are clinging to the drifting debris.”

Guterres made these remarks while he was delivering the 2020 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, held online for the first time, in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The lecture series, held annually by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, on the birthday of the first democratically-elected President of South Africa, aims to encourage dialogue by inviting prominent personalities to discuss major international challenges.

COVID-19 Spotlight!

Global risks ignored for decades – notably inadequate health systems, gaps in social protection, structural inequalities, environmental degradation, and the climate crisis – have been laid bare, he said. The vulnerable are suffering the most: those living in poverty, older people, and people with disabilities and pre-existing conditions.  

Mr. Guterres pointed out that inequality takes many forms. Whilst income disparity is stark, with the 26 richest people in the world holding as much wealth as half the global population, it is also the case that life-chances depend on factors such as gender, family and ethnic background, race and whether or not a person has a disability.  

However, he noted that everyone suffers the consequences, because high levels of inequality are associated with “economic instability, corruption, financial crises, increased crime and poor physical and mental health.”

The legacy of colonialism and patriarchy

coloniaUN Photo/Evan Schneider. Protests have been occurring daily in New York City against racism and police violence, following the death of George Floyd.

Colonialism, a historic aspect of inequality, was evoked by the Secretary-General. Today’s anti-racist movement, he said, points to this historic source of inequality: “The Global North, specifically my own continent of Europe, imposed colonial rule on much of the Global South for centuries, through violence and coercion.”

This led to huge inequalities within and between countries, including the transatlantic slave trade and the apartheid regime in South Africa, argued Mr. Guterres, and left a legacy of economic and social injustice, hate crimes and xenophobia, the persistence of institutionalized racism, and white supremacy.

Mr. Guterres also referred to patriarchy, another historic inequality which still resonates: women everywhere are worse off than men, and violence against women is, he said, at epidemic levels.

The UN chief, who described himself as a proud feminist, said he was committed to gender equality, and has made gender parity a reality across senior UN posts. He also announced his appointment of South African international rugby captain, Siya Kolisa, as a global champion for the Spotlight Initiative, which aims to engage men in fighting violence against women and girls.

‘Everyone must pay their fair share’ of tax

Turning to contemporary inequality, Mr. Guterres said that the expansion of trade, and technological progress, have contributed to “an unprecedented shift in income distribution”. Low-skilled workers are bearing the brunt, he warned, and face an “onslaught” from new technologies, automation, the offshoring of manufacturing and the demise of labour organizations.  

Meanwhile, he continued, widespread tax concessions, tax avoidance and tax evasion, as well as low corporate tax rates, mean that there are reduced resources for social protection, education, and healthcare - services that play an important part in reducing inequality.

Some countries have allowed the wealthy and well-connected to benefit from tax systems, but “everyone must pay their fair share”, said Mr. Guterres, and governments need to tackle the “vicious cycle” of corruption, which weakens social norms and the rule of law, and shift the tax burden from payrolls to carbon, which would help to address the climate crisis.  

A New Global Deal

global d
UNICEF/UN0143514/Karel Prinsloo. A student learns with the help of a computer tablet provided by UNICEF at a school in Baigai, northern Cameroon, Tuesday 31 October 2017.

Although climate change is a global problem, the effects are felt most keenly by those countries which are least to blame. The issue is likely to become more pronounced in the coming years, and millions risk malnutrition, malaria and other diseases; forced migration, and extreme weather events.  

The only way towards a fair and sustainable future for all, he suggested, involves what he called a “New Social Contract”, which allows young people to live in dignity; women to have the same prospects and opportunities as men; and protects the vulnerable,  and a “New Global Deal”, which ensures that power, wealth and opportunities are shared more broadly and fairly at the international level.

As part of the New Social Contract, labour market policies would be based on constructive dialogue between employers and workers, and would ensure human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Secretary-General called for new social safety nets, including universal health coverage, the possibility of universal basic income, boosted investment in public services, and, to reverse long-standing inequalities, affirmative action programmes and other policies to address inequalities in gender, race or ethnicity.

The UN chief explained that quality education for all, and the effective use of digital technology, will be crucial to achieving these aims.
This would mean doubling education spending in low and middle-income countries by 2030 to $3 trillion a year: within a generation, all children in low- and middle-income countries could have access to quality education at all levels.  

Governments also need to transform the way children are taught, said Mr. Guterres, and invest in digital literacy and infrastructure, and help them to prepare for a rapidly changing workplace that is being upended by technology.

The Secretary-General outlined some of the ways that the UN is supporting these efforts, including The Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, launched at the United Nations in June, which promotes ways to connect four billion people to the Internet by 2030,  and “Giga”, an ambitious project to get every school in the world online.  

‘We stand together, or we fall apart’

The UN chief ended his major strategic vision statement, by invoking the importance of international cooperation and solidarity. “We belong to each other”, he said. “We stand together, or we fall apart”.  

The world, he concluded, is at breaking point, and it is time for leaders to decide which path to follow. The choice presented by Mr. Guterres, is between “chaos, division and inequality”, or righting the wrongs of the past and moving forward together, for the good of all.

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US-China tensions rise after Beijing launches missiles into the South China Sea

U.S.-China tensions over the South China Sea escalated on Wednesday, with Beijing firing four missiles into the waters around the same time as the Trump administration took action against Chinese companies that helped set up outposts in the disputed region.

China launched four medium-range ballistic missiles into the South China Sea on Wednesday amid broader military exercises by the People’s Liberation Army, according to a U.S. defense official who asked not to be identified. The missiles landed in the sea in an area between Hainan Island and the Paracel Islands, the official said, and were fired a day after Beijing protested a flyover by a U.S. spy plane.

“As long as they’re doing it in accordance with international law and norms they have every right to do so," Scott D. Conn, a U.S. navy vice admiral, told reporters on Thursday in response to a question about the missile tests. He said the U.S. is ready to respond to any threats in the region, and said if all militaries operate professionally “you can have the same ships in the same water space."

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, addressing the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii, called the Indo-Pacific the “epicenter of great power competition with China" and said Beijing had repeatedly fallen short on promises, including abiding by international law.

Separately on Wednesday, the U.S. announced trade and visa restrictions on 24 companies for their efforts to help China “reclaim and militarize disputed outposts" in the contested maritime area, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The most prominent were units of state-owned China Communications Construction Co., one of the largest builders of projects in President Xi Jinping’s “Belt and Road" initiative, which saw its shares slide as much as 5.6% on Thursday in Hong Kong.

The escalating tensions come as the Trump administration is trying to push back against what the U.S. sees as an intensifying Chinese campaign to dominate the resource-rich South China Sea and smaller nations in the region. Last month it explicitly rejected China’s expansive maritime claims in the region for the first time, and sent aircraft carriers to the waters to conduct military exercises.

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Fertility rate: 'Jaw-dropping' global crash in children being born

The world is ill-prepared for the global crash in children being born which is set to have a "jaw-dropping" impact on societies, say researchers.

Falling fertility rates mean nearly every country could have shrinking populations by the end of the century. And 23 nations - including Spain and Japan - are expected to see their populations halve by 2100. Countries will also age dramatically, with as many people turning 80 as there are being born.
 
What is going on?

The fertility rate - the average number of children a woman gives birth to - is falling. If the number falls below approximately 2.1, then the size of the population starts to fall.

In 1950, women were having an average of 4.7 children in their lifetime.

Researchers at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation showed the global fertility rate nearly halved to 2.4 in 2017 - and their study, published in the Lancet, projects it will fall below 1.7 by 2100.

fertility 1
 
As a result, the researchers expect the number of people on the planet to peak at 9.7 billion around 2064, before falling down to 8.8 billion by the end of the century.

"That's a pretty big thing; most of the world is transitioning into natural population decline," researcher Prof Christopher Murray told the BBC.

"I think it's incredibly hard to think this through and recognise how big a thing this is; it's extraordinary, we'll have to reorganise societies."
Why are fertility rates falling?

It has nothing to do with sperm counts or the usual things that come to mind when discussing fertility.

Instead it is being driven by more women in education and work, as well as greater access to contraception, leading to women choosing to have fewer children. In many ways, falling fertility rates are a success story.
 
Which countries will be most affected?

Japan's population is projected to fall from a peak of 128 million in 2017 to less than 53 million by the end of the century.

Italy is expected to see an equally dramatic population crash from 61 million to 28 million over the same timeframe.

They are two of 23 countries - which also include Spain, Portugal, Thailand and South Korea - expected to see their population more than halve.

"That is jaw-dropping," Prof Christopher Murray told me.

China, currently the most populous nation in the world, is expected to peak at 1.4 billion in four years' time before nearly halving to 732 million by 2100. India will take its place.

The UK is predicted to peak at 75 million in 2063, and fall to 71 million by 2100.
 
fertlity 2
 
However, this will be a truly global issue, with 183 out of 195 countries having a fertility rate below the replacement level.

Why is this a problem?

You might think this is great for the environment. A smaller population would reduce carbon emissions as well as deforestation for farmland.

"That would be true except for the inverted age structure (more old people than young people) and all the uniformly negative consequences of an inverted age structure," says Prof Murray.

The study projects:

  •     The number of under-fives will fall from 681 million in 2017 to 401 million in 2100.
  •     The number of over 80-year-olds will soar from 141 million in 2017 to 866 million in 2100.

Prof Murray adds: "It will create enormous social change. It makes me worried because I have an eight-year-old daughter and I wonder what the world will be like."

Who pays tax in a massively aged world? Who pays for healthcare for the elderly? Who looks after the elderly? Will people still be able to retire from work?

"We need a soft landing," argues Prof Murray.

Are there any solutions?

Countries, including the UK, have used migration to boost their population and compensate for falling fertility rates.

However, this stops being the answer once nearly every country's population is shrinking.

"We will go from the period where it's a choice to open borders, or not, to frank competition for migrants, as there won't be enough," argues Prof Murray.

Some countries have tried policies such as enhanced maternity and paternity leave, free childcare, financial incentives and extra employment rights, but there is no clear answer.

Sweden has dragged its fertility rate up from 1.7 to 1.9, but other countries that have put significant effort into tackling the "baby bust" have struggled. Singapore still has a fertility rate of around 1.3.

Prof Murray says: "I find people laugh it off; they can't imagine it could be true, they think women will just decide to have more kids.

"If you can't [find a solution] then eventually the species disappears, but that's a few centuries away."
 
(BBC)
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Topless sunbathing defended by French Minister

France's interior minister has defended topless sunbathing after police asked a group of women on a Mediterranean beach to cover up.

The three were approached by officers on the beach in Sainte-Marie-La-Mer following a complaint from a holidaying family.

The incident generated a huge backlash against the officers.

Backing the women, the minister, Gérald Darmanin, tweeted: "Freedom is a precious commodity".

He said it was wrong the women were asked to put on clothing.

A press release posted on Facebook by the Pyrenees-Orientales police said the incident happened last week.

Two officers asked three people on the beach to cover their chests, after a request from a family concerned about children present.

"Guided by a desire for appeasement, the police asked the people concerned if they would agree to cover their chest after they explained the reason for their approach," it said.

"No municipal order forbids this practice [topless sunbathing] in Sainte-Marie-la-Mer."

Their action prompted a wave of criticism online. Some questioned a wave of "prudishness" sweeping France, while others questioned if the practice was now banned. (BBC)

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WHO reports another record jump in daily global cases

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported a record increase in global coronavirus cases, with the total rising by 230,370 in 24 hours.

The biggest increases were from the United States, Brazil, India and South Africa, according to a daily report. The previous WHO record for new cases was 228,102 on July 10. Deaths remained steady at about 5,000 a day.

UK death toll up by 21

The United Kingdom's death toll from confirmed cases of Covid-19 rose to 44,819, up by 21 from the previous day, the government has said.

Iran reports 194 more fatalities

Iran has confirmed 194 more fatalities from the novel coronavirus, bringing the nationwide death toll to 12,829. A further 2,186 people tested positive for Covid-19, raising the overall count to 252,720, Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said.

She added that a total of 219,993 people have so far recovered and been discharged from hospitals, adding that 3,359 patients remain in critical condition.

Sri Lanka cancels election rallies over new virus wave

Sri Lanka's ruling party has called off its rallies ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections and delayed the international airport's reopening over a surge in virus cases.

The island nation of 21 million lifted its coronavirus lockdown in late June after declaring there was no longer any community spread of the virus.

But a swathe of cases emerged last week, including an outbreak at a drug rehabilitation centre last week that saw 253 patients test positive in a single night.

"All public meetings where the president and the prime minister were due to attend to day, tomorrow and the day after have been cancelled," President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party said in a statement.
 
Pakistan's cases climb by 2,521

Pakistan reports 2,521 infections and additional 74 fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 248,872 cases and 5,197.

The Asian country with 212 million residents has conducted 1,562,638 tests by now.

Trump wears mask first time in public

US President Donald Trump, who has avoided wearing a mask in public even as the coronavirus pandemic spread, donned one at a military medical facility outside Washington where he was to meet with wounded soldiers and front-line health-care workers.

The visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Saturday marked Trump's first public appearance with a face covering since the virus began sweeping across the United States earlier this year.

Trump had previously refused to wear a mask in public or ask other Americans to do so, saying it was a personal choice, although he had said he would if he was in a crowd and could not maintain distance from others.
 
(TRT World)
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TikTok to launch legal action against Trump over ban

Chinese video app TikTok is set to launch legal action to challenge a ban imposed by US President Donald Trump.

Mr Trump's executive order prohibits transactions with TikTok's owner ByteDance from mid-September.

Officials in Washington are concerned that the company could pass data on American users to the Chinese government, something ByteDance has denied doing.

The short video-sharing app has 80 million active US users.

TikTok says it has tried to engage with the Mr Trump's administration for nearly a year but has encountered a lack of due process and an administration that pays "no attention to facts".

"To ensure that the rule of law is not discarded and that our company and users are treated fairly, we have no choice but to challenge the executive order through the judicial system," a company spokesperson said.

TikTok expects the legal action to begin this week, says BBC Business reporter Vivienne Nunis.

On Friday a group of Chinese-Americans filed a separate lawsuit against the president's similar ban on the social media app WeChat, which is owned by the Chinese firm, Tencent.

TikTok's users post short video clips on the platform on topics ranging from dance routines to international politics. Its popularity exploded in recent months particularly with teenagers and it has been downloaded more than a billion times around the world.

But Mr Trump claims China is able to use the app to track the locations of federal employees, collect information for use in blackmail, or spy on companies.

The growth of mobile apps developed and owned by Chinese firms "threatens the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States", Mr Trump says.

"This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans' personal and proprietary information," he claims in his executive order.

TikTok says it has never handed over any US data user to Chinese authorities.

Mr Trump's actions against TikTok and WeChat are the latest in a growing campaign against China ahead of the US presidential election in November.

Since taking office he has been waging a trade war against China.

The US is not the only country to introduce blocks on TikTok. India has banned use of the app, and Australia is also considering taking action.

The app is viewed by some as being a key instrument in China's internal surveillance apparatus - requiring local users who have been accused of spreading malicious rumours to register a facial scan and voice print.

WeChat is very popular with users who have connections to China, where major social networking platforms - such as WhatsApp and Facebook - are blocked.

"Having it suddenly cut off would be disastrous and frightening for people, especially in the pandemic," said lawyer Michael Bien, who's representing those challenging President Trump's ban.

He said the executive order is unconstitutional, because it violates users' rights to free speech.

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Lack of global leadership a bigger threat than COVID-19: WHO Chief

The director-general of the World Health Organisation has condemned a "lack of leadership" in fighting the coronavirus pandemic and made an emotional plea for global unity, as cases soar in multiple countries and the world struggles to contain the devastating virus more than six months after it was first identified.

"My friends, make no mistake: the greatest threat we face now is not the virus itself," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a passionate speech in Geneva on Friday. "Rather, it's the lack of leadership and solidarity at the global and national levels."

His intervention will be seen as a thinly veiled swipe at leaders including US President Donald Trump, who has waged a public battle against WHO while failing to suppress the world's worst COVID-19 outbreak in his own country.

"This is a tragedy that is forcing us to miss many of our friends, losing many lives. We cannot defeat this pandemic as a divided world," Mr Tedros said, his voice trembling as he spoke.

The US is regularly reporting single-day record rises in cases and topped three million confirmed infections earlier this week, throwing its early attempts to reopen the economy into chaos. The situation is almost as bleak in other regions. Brazil's President, Jair Bolsonaro, has contracted COVID-19 after playing down its severity for months.

India announced its biggest single-day rise in cases on Thursday, and the spread of the virus is picking up pace in Mexico.

Australia, hailed as an early success story in the fight against the pandemic, has been forced to seal off more than six million people in the state of Victoria after a renewed surge in the disease in Melbourne.

"How is it difficult for humans to unite to fight a common enemy that's killing people indiscriminately?" Mr Tedros asked during his plea, made during a WHO meeting.

"Are we unable to distinguish or identify the common enemy? Can't we understand that the divisions or the cracks between us actually are the advantage for the virus?" He urged a coming-together of global powers, telling attendees: "COVID-19 is a test of global solidarity and global leadership".

Mr Tedros' words come days after the Trump administration told Congress and the United Nations that the US is formally withdrawing from WHO.

The withdrawal, which goes into effect in July next year, has drawn criticism from bipartisan lawmakers, medical associations, advocacy organisations and allies abroad. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden vowed Tuesday to reverse the decision "on (his) first day" if elected.

Mr Tedros himself has drawn the ire of the US President, who has accused the organisation of being too China-centric and failing to contain the pandemic in its early days. But the leaders of virtually every other major nation, including Germany, France and the UK, have stood by the agency during the crisis.

And on Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the pandemic has exposed the dangers of "fact-denying populism" around the world. "We have seen lies and disinformation, and that is no way to fight the pandemic," she told the European Parliament in Brussels. (AP)
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A third of world’s children poisoned by lead: UNICEF

Lead poisoning is affecting children on a “massive and previously unknown scale”, according to a ground-breaking new study launched on Thursday by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and international non-profit organization focused on pollution issues, Pure Earth.

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Coronavirus: Worst could be yet to come, WHO warns

The worst could be still to come in the Covid-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned, six months on from when the outbreak began.

WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the virus would infect many more people if governments did not start to implement the right policies.

His message remained "Test, Trace, Isolate and Quarantine", he said.

More than 10m cases have been recorded worldwide since coronavirus emerged in China late last year.

The number of patients who died is now above 500,000. Half the world's cases have been in the US and Europe but Covid-19 is rapidly growing in the Americas.

The virus is also affecting South Asia and Africa, where it is not expected to peak until the end of July.

Dr Tedros told a virtual briefing on Monday: "We all want this to be over. We all want to get on with our lives. But the hard reality is this is not even close to being over.

"Although many countries have made some progress, globally the pandemic is actually speeding up."

"With 10 million cases now and half a million deaths, unless we address the problems we've already identified at WHO, the lack of national unity and lack of global solidarity and the divided world which is actually helping the virus to spread... the worst is yet to come," he said.

"I'm sorry to say that, but with this kind of environment and conditions we fear the worst."

He also urged more governments to follow the examples of Germany, South Korea and Japan, which kept their outbreak in check through policies that included rigorous testing and tracing.
 
(BBC)
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