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Archive for October 7th, 2013

Norway: Memorial gathering in Oslo for Kenya’s Westgate Victims

Posted by African Press International on October 7, 2013

Kenyans and friends living in Norway gathered this weekend (5th October 2013) to remember those who died in the cowardly terrorist attack that took place in Westgate Shopping Mall on Saturday 21st September where over 65 people were killed.  Some are missing and are yet to be found by their loved ones. No one knows whether they are dead.

PART 1

PART 2

PART 3

PART 4

The Al Shabaab of Somalia took responsibility for the attack, saying they are on a revenge mission against Kenya for their involvement in Somalia. The Kenya Government entered Somalia a couple of years a go to help stabilise the country and help get a government of the people, ridding out the Al Shabaab. There are still small groups operating in the Southern part of Somalia.

The Al Shabaab says the attack in Westgate Mall causing deaths is a signal they are sending to Kenya that there will be more such attacks if Kenya does not remove its soldiers from Somali soil – the government has soldiers participating in the Africa Union army helping the weak Somali government that the Al Shabaab want to dislodge. and turn the country into a Somali Muslim Republic with strict Somali laws.

End

 

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They voted in TNA – now what?

Posted by African Press International on October 7, 2013

Despite widespread criticism, the ruling party still won 18 percent of the vote

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Tamil National Alliance to challenge power limits
  • Governor holds power in new provincial council
  • Looking to diaspora as way to bypass government
  • Jobs trump power as basic need

ODDUSSUDDAN, 7 October 2013 (IRIN) – Nearly two weeks after  the Tamil National Alliance’s (TNA) resounding victory in a local election  in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, analysts and voters are debating  what the party will be able to achieve as the province recovers from more than two decades of a brutal civil war.

By the end of polling on 21 September, 67 percent of 719,000 eligible voters had cast their votes in the north’s first provincial election – long-awaited by international donors and local political activists – since fighting ended in 2009.

The TNA, the party with the largest representation of the ethnic Tamil minority in parliament, won 30 out of the 38 seats on the Northern Provincial Council; the governing United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) secured seven. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress won one seat.

The TNA campaigned for more political autonomy for the north, while the UPFA appealed to voters with its massive development campaign for the province. The region was devastated during two and half decades of sectarian violence that followed demands by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels for a separate Tamil state.

Frustrating decades-long yearnings for some degree of autonomy carries certain security risks.

Despite its overwhelming victory, the TNA will dominate a council that is largely impotent under the control of the provincial governor, who is appointed by the president. According to the 13th constitutional amendmentthat established the provincial councils in 1987, the governor is the only official with executive powers, including control of provincial spending.

Top TNA leader Rajavarotiam Sampanthan has criticized the governors of the Northern and Eastern provinces as “laws unto themselves”, accusing them of deciding on provincial affairs without consulting locally elected representatives.

Power, but to whom? 

Even before the election, few analysts saw a TNA-led provincial administration as a substantive devolution of power.

“The general view of voters is that …the Northern Provincial Council will have no autonomy, with the chief minister [the council’s top elected official] serving as a messenger of the governor, who in turn is the messenger of the president,” said a pre-election report released by the national election monitoring body the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence on 20 September.

But any path to power needs its starting point, say TNA leaders.

“The election is a means to work towards meaningful power devolution,” said TNA parliamentarian Abraham Sumanthiran.

According to Jehan Perera, executive director of the Colombo-based National Peace Council, despite the constitutional imbroglio, the newly elected council may play a decisive role in northern politics and development.

“The general view of voters is that …the Northern Provincial Council will have no autonomy, with the chief minister [the council’s top elected official] serving as a messenger of the governor, who in turn is the messenger of the president”

“Right now the discussions are taking place at the parliament or at donor-level, but the provincial council has the potential to become the best forum for discussion and possibly decision-making on provincial affairs. Its immediacy to the province can make the process faster as well as better informed,” he said.

The largely top-down process of managing the north now means issues are not addressed quickly, with information filtering through several layers of bureaucracy in multiple departments, Perera said.

However, he added that the TNA-led council needs to be mindful to not allow political demands to overshadow basic needs, like employment. “It [the council] would have to strike a delicate balance.”

The TNA has said it will use its victory to enforce hitherto ignored provisions of the13th amendment, which give control of policing and local economic planning to provincial councils.

In addition TNA leaders have said they will push to expand provincial powers. But in order to do that, they would need to repeal the 13th amendment and support a new amendment.

India

But scrapping the amendment and replacing it with one that grants provincial councils more authority is unlikely, according to analysts in neighbouring India, which helped broker the amendment that created the councils through the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord.

The accord set up provincial councils as a way for the state to share power with the north; a long standing grievance of minority Tamil parties has been that power is concentrated at the national level, marginalizing ethnic minorities. Over 90 percent of the voters in the north are Tamil, Sri Lanka’s second largest ethnic group.

India has strong interest in the situation due to ethnic ties between Tamils living in India – where they form close to 6 percent of the population – and Tamils in Sri Lanka. ButRamani Hariharan, who was head of intelligence for the Indian peacekeeping force based in north and east Sri Lanka from 1987 to 1990, told IRIN that though India took on Colombo to advocate for Sri Lankan Tamils last time, it is unlikely to do so now.

“It comes at an inconvenient time for India,” he said, noting that, with national elections to be held in 2014, India is less willing to risk potential humiliation if Colombo does not agree to expand provincial powers.

They voted in TNA – now what?

Analysts also predict that India will not want to call attention to dissatisfaction with the current amendment so that its role in negotiating power sharing is regarded as an accomplishment.

Power struggle?

The TNA has also indicated it will try to raise development funds outside of Sri Lanka, particularly from the global Tamil diaspora – estimated to be some 700,000 people, mostly concentrated in Canada, the UK and the rest of the European Union – to invest directly in the province, without going through the national government.

But since 2009, when the government created the Presidential Task Force (PTF), the state has controlled all humanitarian and development activities in the north.

“Mainly the Task Force is…to coordinate activities of the security agencies of the Government in support of resettlement, rehabilitation and development, and to liaise with all organizations in the public and private sectors and civil society organizations for the proper implementation of programs and projects,” said a government announcement.

Run by the Defence Ministry, PTF approves all humanitarian and reconstruction work in the north.

However, according to national human rights activist, Ruki Fernando, since no “clear law” created or sanctioned the task force, “it would not be illegal for anyone to bypass that body”, setting the stage for a potential power struggle over who controls humanitarian and development work in the north.

Priority setting

Pushing political demands aside, Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, who heads Point Pedro Institute of Development, based in northern Jaffna, advised the newly elected council to focus on jobs by developing the region’s agriculture and fisheries sectors, the main sources of income for northern residents.

“Raising the voice for more devolution should be a low priority for the newly formed Northern Provincial Council. It is not only the central government but the provincial government as well that should get its priorities right. People are more interested in livelihoods and day-to-day issues.”

The Central Bank estimates the government has invested more than US$3 billion in infrastructure since the end of the war; critics say this multi-billion dollar development has largely been out of step with residents’ needs.

“When the northern people were asking for bread, [the Mahinda] Rajapaksa government offered them cake”

Sarvananthan said that while there is urgent demand for jobs, the government’s main focus has been almost exclusively on highway development and boosting power supply to main towns.

“When the northern people were asking for bread, [the Mahinda] Rajapaksa government offered them cake,” he told IRIN.

“Big roads are ok, but we need money to take the bus or to buy a motorcycle to ride on them,” said 21-year-old first-time voter Nishanthan, who goes by one name, from the village of Oddusuddan in the north’s Mullaittivu District

Kumaravadivel Guruparan, a lecturer in the Department of Law at the University of Jaffna, said the vote was a signal of deep-rooted disappointment with state policies.

Despite massive infrastructural repair and the recent extension of train service to the north for the first time in 24 years, voters were expressing their discontent, Guruparan explained, with the state’s continued military presence in the province.

But then there are the 82,000 residents who voted for the ruling party, like Ramalingam Sudhaharan from Dharamapuram, a village in Kilinochchi District, who said that, given the post-war devastation, what has been achieved in the last four years has been “remarkable”.

“We have good roads for the first time in my life, a very good hospital in Kilinochchi [town], new power stations. Jobs [are] the next logical step, and they will come with time,” he added.

Meanwhile, Sarvananthan from Point Pedro Institute said told IRIN via email that even with limited powers the council can still create  change, for example, by passing an equal opportunities law to benefit the estimated more than 40,000 female-headed households in the province.

“Northern Provincial Council could show the central government the correct [and] genuine path to reconciliation in lieu of building a sports stadium to international standards or constructing eight-lane highways (four lanes in each direction) in [Mullaittivu] District where [the] cattle population outnumbers human population,” he said.

contributor/pt/rz

source http://www.irinnews.org

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Nearly two million Muslim pilgrims converged on Mecca for the 2012 Hajj

Posted by African Press International on October 7, 2013

Nearly two million Muslim pilgrims converged on Mecca for the 2012 Hajj

DUBAI,  – Public health officials in the Gulf states are playing down fears about an outbreak of the deadly MERS coronavirus among pilgrims travelling to the Hajj in Saudi Arabia this month, though doctors are advising the elderly, people with existing health conditions, pregnant women and young children to stay away.

As of 4 October, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), laboratories in the region had confirmed 136 cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), including 58 deaths since April 2012.

Most cases and deaths have been in Saudi Arabia, where two million Muslims are expected to converge in mid-October for the annual Hajj pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Madinah.

The virus is seen as a cousin of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which swept through Asia in 2002-3, killing over 700 people.

MERS-CoV can cause breathing difficulties, diarrhoea, kidney failure, and in extreme cases, death.

Saudi Arabia’s Health Minister Abdullah Al Rabia says his country is ready for an outbreak, but stressed that he was confident there would be no problem, given there were no recorded cases during either July’s Umrah pilgrimage or last year’s Hajj.

The country, which has had 120 cases and 49 deaths since September 2012, has assigned two laboratories for MERS-CoV-specific testing. It will also use existing health surveillance points at borders (set up to ensure pilgrims are vaccinated against Meningococcal Meningitis and Yellow Fever) to be on the look-out for cases.

Health authorities around the Middle East, many of whom already send large health support teams to the Hajj, will also be raising awareness of the virus among pilgrims, with a focus on reminding people what they should do if they return from Saudi Arabia and feel unwell.

Dubai Health Authority in the United Arab Emirates is to launch an awareness campaign for pilgrims travelling to the Hajj although details are yet to be released.

The risks of MERS-CoV transmission were discussed at length during a week-long meeting of the International Mass Gathering Medicine Conference held last month in Saudi Arabia, home to the Global Center for Mass Gathering Medicine run by the Saudi government.

Over 1,000 health officials from WHO, the US government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and various governments from around the world attended the event, which focused on MERS-CoV.

One of the difficulties with the virus is that the early symptoms can be easily confused with the common cold. Unless doctors are specifically screening for the virus, it can be hard to pick up.

Another challenge is that despite more than one year of research, scientists remain unsure about the source of the virus and how it is transmitted.

“Until we have a definitive source of infection, it is hard to give targeted advice,” explained Richard Brown, a medical doctor and regional adviser for communicable disease surveillance and epidemiology for WHO’s South East Asia Regional Office.

Brown, who is also focal point for WHO’s International Health Regulations, told IRIN: “There is an assumption that the source is animals, and we have seen some very interesting studies about bats and camels, but if they are a possible source of infection, we don’t really know how it’s getting from those animals to humans, or whether perhaps even these animals are being infected from yet another, undiscovered source.”

He added: “People need to be careful in a very generic way, such as ensuring good hand hygiene. We would normally tell people to avoid very crowded situations, but obviously in this case, with the Hajj, that is unrealistic.”

“We would normally tell people to avoid very crowded situations, but obviously in this case, with the Hajj, that is unrealistic”

Anthony Mounts, a medical doctor and technical lead for the MERS-CoV response with WHO in Geneva, stressed the importance of global awareness about MERS-CoV, not just among countries in the Middle East, or those sending pilgrims to the Hajj.

“The Hajj could possibly be an issue, but actually there are pilgrims that go to sites in Saudi Arabia all through the year. When you look back at our data, we have not seen cases emanating from these people,” he explained.

Global threat? 

“However”, he added, “the concern extends beyond the countries in the immediate region. If you look at the way people travel in the region, in particular the workforce, they come from a lot of poor countries, from places like Pakistan, India and the Philippines, all of which are places which don’t perhaps have the best infrastructure to respond to a virus or even to detect it.”

Mounts said WHO is working globally to ensure all countries are able to test for MERS-CoV and know what to look for.

Brown agrees that while mass gatherings pose a particular risk for MERS-CoV, health actors must always be vigilant.

“The thing that almost makes it easier about Hajj is that you know when people are going and when they are coming back. But if you have migrant workers coming and going the whole time, then it requires constant vigilance,” he explained.

“When people are exiting the country, you should be giving them some basic health advice. And, if they are returning to their home countries, it’s about encouraging them to proactively mention to people where they have been to sensitize the clinician to the possibility of infection.”

In order to track the virus’ spread, WHO has set up the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on MERS-CoV.

However, at its third meeting last month, the Committee voted unanimously that the conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) have not at present been met.

This means there will not be a global high alert, as was seen over the last decade when there were outbreaks of SARS, Avian Flu H5NI and Swine Flu.

Experts find some comfort in two things: the pace of the disease has not accelerated, nor has the disease mutated.

“Although we have seen human to human transmissions occur in healthcare facilities, between patients, from patients to doctors, among healthcare staff and close family members, we haven’t yet seen that third or fourth level of community transmission,” Mounts said, meaning when the disease is spread more randomly among strangers.

“There have been quite a lot of investigations looking for this [community transmission], they just haven’t found it yet. What’s more, the clusters that we have seen seem to extinguish themselves with relatively modest interventions, which was not the case with SARS.”

What is MERS-CoV? 

MERS-CoV is short for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus. It is a particular strain of the “coronavirus” family that causes illnesses ranging from the common cold to more serious respiratory conditions. It is regarded as a cousin of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which claimed more than 700 lives when it hit Asia in 2002-2003. It was initially labelled Novel Coronavirus (nCov).

How widespread is MERS-CoV? 

No one is really sure. It is possibly being under-reported because doctors are mistaking it for the common cold and people who are otherwise healthy are able to fight it off. While the World Health Organization (WHO) is taking MERS-CoV seriously, setting up anEmergency Committee to track its progress and organize the response, experts there do not believe it has met the criteria to be named an in international public health emergency. Nor does WHO advise against travel to any countries or special screening at points of entry.

How fatal is the virus? 

So far 58 people have died. At over 40 percent so far, the death rate of MERS-Cov is high compared to SARS. But it is possible people contracting the virus have been able to fight off the symptoms and therefore have not reported it. As such, only the most serious cases are being identified. The elderly or those who have underlying health conditions, like diabetes and hypertension, are most vulnerable to MERS-CoV. This is one explanation for the high death rate among those who get infected.

How would you know if you had MERS-CoV?

It is hard to tell because the symptoms are very similar to the common cold, though in the case of infection, they will rapidly escalate from a fever and cough to breathing difficulties. Many patients have also had gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhoea, and some have had kidney failure.

What is the treatment for MERS-CoV? 

No vaccine is currently available. Treatment depends on the patient’s clinical condition and would involve general supportive medical attention. In advanced cases, patients have been submitted to intensive care units to support their breathing and other organ functions.

Does MERS-CoV come from camels? 

study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal found a high level of MERS-CoV antibodies among camels in the Middle East. This suggests that the virus, or something very similar, has recently been circulating among camels and this may be the source of the infections seen over the last year. However, researchers still do not know how the virus is being transferred from camels to humans. Given that none of the confirmed MERS-CoV patients had a history of direct interaction with camels, an intermediary carrier could be taking the virus from camels to humans. Scientists say it is also possible that the antibodies found in camels could be a very closely related virus, rather than the actual virus itself.

What about bats? 

A team of US and Saudi scientists have looked at bat populations in the Middle East to see if the nocturnal animals may be a source of MERS-CoV. They found that a faecal sample from one bat in Saudi Arabia yielded a fragment that was a 100 percent match for the MERS-CoV, though some have questioned whether the fragment was too small to give an accurate or useful reading. Again, there is still no information about how the virus has been or could be transmitted to humans.

How can you protect yourself from MERS-CoV?

Until more is known about where MERS-CoV comes from and how it is spread, it is hard to give specific advice. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends general common sense hygiene precautions. These include: washing your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, and if water is not available to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer; covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze; avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands; avoiding close contact, such as kissing, sharing cups, or sharing eating utensils, with sick people; and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs.

Sources: World Health Organization; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; The Lancet journal.

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source http://www.irinnews.org

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