Phu Quoc, Mui Ne among Asia’s most idyllic beaches

FREETOWN: At least 312 people were killed and more than 2,000 left homeless on Monday (Aug 14) when heavy flooding hit Sierra Leone's capital of Freetown, leaving morgues overflowing and residents desperately searching for loved ones. Residents struggled to traverse roads that were turned into churning rivers of mud after Sierra Leone's capital of Freetown was struck by heavy rains, photo: AFP An AFP journalist at the scene saw bodies being carried away and houses submerged in two areas of the city, where roads turned into churning rivers of mud and corpses were washed up on the streets. Red Cross spokesman Patrick Massaquoi told AFP the death toll was 312 but could rise further as his team continued to survey disaster areas in Freetown and tally the number of dead. Mohamed Sinneh, a morgue technician at Freetown's Connaught Hospital, said 180 bodies had been received so far at his facility alone, many of them children, leaving no space to lay what he described as the "overwhelming number of dead". Many more bodies were taken to private morgues, Sinneh said. Images obtained by AFP showed a ferocious churning of dark orange mud coursing down a steep street in the capital, while videos posted by local residents showed people waist and chest deep in water trying to traverse the road. Fatmata Sesay, who lives on the hilltop area of Juba, said she, her three…... [read more]

At least 18 people including foreigners were killed and a dozen others wounded in a "terrorist attack" by suspected jihadists on a Turkish restaurant in the Burkina Faso capital, the government said Monday. Two assailants were also killed by security forces who launched a counter-assault following Sunday night's attack on the restaurant popular with foreigners, Communications Minister Remis Dandjinou said. It was not clear how many gunmen were involved. The security operation "has ended" but searches are continuing in buildings in the Ouagadougou neighbourhood around the restaurant, Dandjinou told a press briefing early Monday carried on social media. The Istanbul restaurant is just 200 metres (yards) from a hotel and cafe targeted in an assault in January 2016 that left 30 people dead and 71 wounded, many of them foreigners. That attack was claimed by the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) group. A government statement described the latest deadly shooting as a "terrorist attack", while President Roch Marc Christian Kabore condemned it as "a despicable attack that has Ouagadougou in mourning." "The fight against terrorism is a long-term struggle," he said in a Twitter message. A police officer who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity cited witnesses as saying at least two assailants arrived on a motorcycle around 9:00 pm (2100 GMT) on Sunday armed with Kalashnikovs, and opened fire on the Istanbul restaurant. A waiter also said he saw "three…... [read more]

A young woman died and 19 people were injured in the city of Charlottesville when a car ploughed into a crowd of people after a rally by Ku Klux Klan members and other white nationalists turned violent. A woman receives first-aid after a car ploughs into a crowd in Charlottesville, Virginia after a rally by white nationalists turns violent. (AFP/PAUL J. RICHARDS) BEDMINSTER: The White House on Sunday (Aug 13) struggled to defuse the growing criticism of President Donald Trump's initial failure to explicitly condemn white supremacists for their role in the violent protest on Saturday in Virginia, insisting that his condemnation included all such groups. A young woman died and 19 people were injured in the city of Charlottesville when a car ploughed into a crowd of people after a rally by Ku Klux Klan members and other white nationalists turned violent. Two state police officers died in a helicopter crash near the embattled area. A full day after the violence erupted, and after an initial statement in which Trump made no mention of white extremism, a White House spokesperson issued a statement saying, "The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry and hatred. Of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups." In an appearance Saturday at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump had vaguely faulted…... [read more]

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump will sign a memorandum Monday that could lead to sanctions against China over its intellectual property practices, administration officials said on Saturday (Aug 12.) Trump will direct US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to determine whether any Chinese laws, policies or practices discriminate against or harm American innovators and technology companies. (Photo: AFP/Jim Watson) Trump will direct US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to determine whether any Chinese laws, policies or practices discriminate against or harm American innovators and technology companies, the officials said. If so, Lighthizer would have "broad powers" to seek remedial action. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, bluntly accused China of "stealing our intellectual property" - long a concern of Western companies seeking a share of the enormous Chinese market. The new measure comes amid high tensions between Washington and Beijing. Trump has accused China of failing to rein in the nuclear ambitions of its ally North Korea, even as he makes ever sharper threats against Pyongyang. The officials said that matter, and the trade issue, are not linked. The process Lighthizer will initiate, under Article 302b of the US Commercial Code, could take as long as a year to yield its findings. The latest step follows the opening by the Trump administration of several other investigations into Chinese commercial practices, notably in the steel sector. On Tuesday, Washington announced…... [read more]

ALEXANDRIA: At least 37 people were killed as two trains collided on Friday (Aug 11) outside the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, in one of the deadliest in a string of such accidents in Egypt, the health ministry said. Onlookers gather at the scene of a train collision just outside Egypt’s Mediterranean port city of Alexandria on Aug 11, 2017, where two trains collided killing dozens of people and injuring over 100 in the country’s deadliest rail accident in more than a decade. (Photo: AP/Ravy Shaker) The crash also injured 123 people, the ministry said in a statement. Footage on the state broadcaster showed one train had partly keeled over in the crash, and medics were seen moving the dead and injured to ambulances. Transport ministry officials, quoted on state television, said the crash was probably caused by a malfunction in one train that brought it to a halt on the rails. The other train then crashed into it. One train had been heading from Cairo to the northern city of Alexandria and the other from the canal city of Port Said, east of the capital, to Alexandria. The dead and injured were initially placed on blankets in a field beside the tracks running through farmland on the outskirts of the city. The health ministry said 75 ambulances had been dispatched to treat casualties and that all the hospitals in…... [read more]

BRUSSELS: A scandal involving eggs contaminated with insecticide spread to 15 EU countries, Switzerland and as far away as Hong Kong on Friday (Aug 11) as the European Commission called for a special meeting on the growing crisis. At least 11 countries in Europe have found eggs contaminated with the chemical fipronil since the scare emerged on August 1. (Photo: AFP/KRISTOF VAN ACCOM) Ministers and food safety chiefs from around the European Union are set to meet on September 26 in a bid to get countries to stop "blaming and shaming" each other over the scare involving the chemical fipronil. Millions of eggs have been pulled from supermarket shelves across Europe and dozens of poultry farms closed since the discovery of fipronil, which can harm human health, was made public on Aug 1. The issue has sparked a row between Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, the three countries at the epicentre of the crisis, about how long they knew about the problem. "Blaming and shaming will bring us nowhere and I want to stop this," Vytenis Andriukaitis, the European Commissioner for health and food safety, told AFP as he announced the meeting. "We need to work together to draw the necessary lessons and move forward instead." European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said that "this is not, let's be clear, a crisis meeting" and it is being held next month to get "distance to…... [read more]

ABRANTES, Portugal: Over 2,600 firefighters battled 62 wildfires raging across Portugal on Thursday (Aug 10), officials said, as the return of scorching heat put an end to the respite after a spate of blazes. A firefighter stands in the middle of a road near flames blazing near the village of Sanguinheira, in Macao, central Portugal, on Jul 25, 2017. (AFP/PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA) Weather conditions will be "especially favourable for wildfires" until Sunday, with strong winds and temperatures of up to 39 degrees Celsius forecast, civil protection agency spokeswoman Patricia Gaspar told a news conference. Morocco sent a water-dropping plane and neighbouring Spain sent two to help firefighters battle the flames, she added. The fires come after more than 60 people were killed in June, and more than 250 injured, in a giant blaze at Pedrogao Grande in central Portugal that raged for five days. Eleven fires were still out of control as of 11.00pm (2100 GMT) on Thursday while the rest had been tamed or were being dampened down, the civil protection agency said on its website. Some 800 firefighters backed by 250 vehicles were at the scene of the biggest blaze in a forest near the central town of Abrantes. The fire had reached the outskirts of the city, Abrantes mayor Maria do Ceu Albuquerque said. "The night is going to be very difficult," she told Portuguese media. …... [read more]

DOHA: Qatar announced on Wednesday a programme to allow visa-free entry for citizens of 80 countries to encourage air transport and tourism amid a two-month boycott imposed on the Gulf state by its neighbours. File photo shows a Qatar Airways plane taking off from the Hamad International Airport in Doha. (AFP/STRINGER) Nationals from dozens of countries in Europe and elsewhere including Singapore, India, Lebanon, New Zealand, South Africa and the US will now receive tourist visas on arrival to the gas-rich country which hosts the soccer World Cup in 2022. Depending on the nationality of the visitor, the waiver will may be valid for 180 days from the date of issue and allow the visitor to spend a total of 90 days in Qatar (multiple-entry waiver). Alternatively, it could be valid for 30 days from the date of issue and entitle the visitor to spend up to 30 days in Qatar, with the possibility of applying for an extension of the waiver for an additional 30 days. Thirty-three countries fall under the first category while 47 - including Singapore - fall under the second. "The visa exemption scheme will make Qatar the most open country in the region," Hassan al-Ibrahim, Chief Tourism Development officer at Qatar Tourism Authority told reporters at a press conference in Doha. LATEST MOVE TOWARDS GREATER ECONOMIC INDEPENDENCE Oil giant Saudi Arabia along with Egypt, Bahrain and…... [read more]

SEOUL: Hundreds of South Korean scientists expressed outrage Wednesday (Aug 9) after a controversial figure accused of covering up a notorious stem cell research fraud was appointed as the country's top technology official. A group of young scientists have called on South Korea's President Moon Jae-In to scrap the appointment of a controversial figure accused of covering up a notorious stem cell research fraud AFP/Ahn Young-joon Park Ki-Young was appointed to head a newly-created science centre, putting her in charge of allocating government subsidies and budgets for research projects. But a decade ago Park was a key figure in a scandal involving the fabrication of research by prominent stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-Suk. "Her name is far from innovation. The name is rather a nightmare to science and technology workers," a group of 240 young scientists said in a statement. It called on President Moon Jae-In to scrap the appointment, announced earlier this week, accusing Park of remaining "unrepentant" despite being "at the centre" of the scandal surrounding Hwang. The scientist was lauded as the "pride of Korea" after claiming to have derived stem cell lines from cloned human embryos - a world first - in two articles published in the journal Science in 2004 and 2005. But his research was later found to be fraudulent and riddled with ethical lapses. Park played a key role in supporting Hwang and…... [read more]

SYDNEY: Taking a common vitamin supplement could significantly reduce the number of miscarriages and birth defects worldwide, Australian scientists said on (Aug 10) Thursday, in what they described as a major breakthrough in pregnancy research. Taking the dietary supplement vitamin B3, also known as niacin, could significantly reduce the number of miscarriages and birth defects around the world, Australian scientists said. (Photo: AFP/Jay Directo) The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that deficiency in a key molecule among pregnant women stopped embryos and babies' organs from developing correctly in the womb, but could be treated by taking the dietary supplement vitamin B3, also known as niacin. "Now, after 12 years of research, our team has also discovered that this deficiency can be cured and miscarriages and birth defects prevented by taking a common vitamin," said Sally Dunwoodie, a biomedical researcher at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute. "The ramifications are likely to be huge. This has the potential to significantly reduce the number of miscarriages and birth defects around the world, and I do not use those words lightly." Health Minister Greg Hunt hailed the study as a "historic medical breakthrough". "Today's announcement provides new hope to the one in four pregnant women who suffer a miscarriage," Hunt said Thursday, citing Australian data. "And with 7.9 million babies around the world currently being born with birth defects…... [read more]

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