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Date: Fri, 23 Sep 2016 05:30:45 +0200
By Fabien OFFNER

Cacheu, Guinea-Bissau, Sept 23, 2016 (AFP) - The museum's first display spares little: a naked slave kneels with her hands tied, right shoulder freshly branded with her owner's mark by a white man with sleeves rolled to his biceps.   The town of Cacheu on the coast of Guinea-Bissau was a Portuguese trading post where millions of slaves saw west Africa for the last time, bound, branded and shipped off to the Americas.

A new memorial has opened to commemorate the exiled sons and daughters of this impoverished nation, not only to recall Portugal's brutal venture into Africa but also to establish itself on the historical tourism circuit.   "The idea is to show that Cacheu was the first place where Europeans practised transatlantic slavery on an industrial scale," said Alfredo Caldeira, who heads the archives of the Mario Soares foundation -- named after the late Portuguese president -- which helped create the memorial.

Among the items on display are wooden collars that slaves were bolted into two by two and a huge, rusty pot where slaves' rations were cooked.   "Despite its size, it wasn't enough to feed everyone. The portions were very small and the dishes quite basic. It was all cooked quickly so they could get back to work," said tour guide Joachim Lopes.   After taking in the horrors, retail therapy is at hand, with t-shirts and caps splashed with a chain logo available from the shop.   "The tourist aspect is important," said Caldeira. "But the main thing is to allow these people to rediscover a collective memory and dignity."

- Cultural potential -
Cacheu is home to fewer than 10,000 people today, but was the capital of Portugal's former colony from the 16th century onwards, trading in people until the late 19th century.   The Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach Africa in exploratory missions dispatched in the early 15th century. They would go on to trade, with Brazil's help, an estimated five million of the 11 million humans believed to have traversed the Atlantic, according to historians.

The idea for the memorial came in November 2010 when the first "Quilombola" festival was held in Cacheu, a name that refers to communities in Brazil formed by escaped slaves.   Their descendants from Brazil and the Caribbean had made an emotional pilgrimage to the land of their ancestors after identifying their roots through their DNA.   "They told us their stories. A lot of people cried that day. Some of them asked themselves if they were kin. We danced, we hugged, we shook hands," said high school teacher Augusto Joao Correia.

The Cacheu memorial's founders now hope for success akin to neighbouring Senegal's celebrated Goree island, another Atlantic "point of no return" for slaves that has become a must-see for visiting heads of state and celebrities.   "Despite its contested position as a hub for the slave trade, Goree is key for tourism in Senegal, visited by several US presidents," said Djiguatte Amede Bassene of the African Research Centre for the Slave Trade (CARTE) based in Dakar.

"Elsewhere in Africa, other countries are asking: 'why not us'?"   Cacheu may also have in its sights a UNESCO project linking and promoting sites of historical interest and research into the slave trade, in which Goree is already involved.   The European Union donated 519,000 euros ($579,000) to the Cacheu project, 90 percent of its total cost, with the specific aim of increasing the cultural potential of such sites as a source of sustainable income for the country.

- Rare hope -
Lined with palm trees and painted a brilliant white, the three years of work by Portuguese architects have culminated in an impressive structure that stands out in a quiet, crumbling town that suffers in the rainy season.   The edifice was once the headquarters of the Casa Gouveia, the name of the Portuguese colonial-era firm that traded all kinds of goods, including people.   "In this building, local and European products were exchanged for men.

Several of the objects testify to that," said the memorial's coordinator Cambraima Alanso Cassama.   Development of the site has not been without controversy.   A four-storey salmon-pink hotel has sprung up a few hundred metres (yards) away, but developers are accused of destroying human bones buried where the foundations were laid.   Other marks of the past are left to rot: the "bridge of no return" -- the slaves' final boarding point -- has partially collapsed and flounders among the rigging and nets of fishermen.

Regardless, the memorial is a rare spark of hope for Cacheu's residents: the World Bank describes Guinea-Bissau as one of the world's "poorest and most fragile countries". A series of coups and economic crises have also left it vulnerable to drug smugglers.   And the country's slave-trade story remains largely untold. One of the last traces was a 500-peso bank note that showed slaves lining up to board two vessels on the beach.   The bank note, however, dropped out of circulation when Guinea-Bissau joined the CFA-franc zone in 1997.
Date: Fri, 23 Sep 2016 03:12:02 +0200

Tokyo, Sept 23, 2016 (AFP) - A strong earthquake struck off the coast of eastern Japan on Friday, though there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.   The shallow 6.4 magnitude quake hit at 09:14 am (0014 GMT), about 150 kilometres (90 miles) east-southeast of Katsuura city, the US Geological Survey said.   There was no threat of a tsunami, added the Japan Meteorological Agency, which measured it at a slightly higher 6.5 magnitude.

Japan sits at the junction of four tectonic plates and experiences a number of relatively violent quakes every year, but rigid building codes and their strict enforcement mean even strong tremors often do little damage.   A massive undersea quake however that hit in March 2011 sent a tsunami barrelling into Japan's northeast coast, leaving more than 18,000 people dead or missing, and sending three reactors into meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant.   In April, two strong earthquakes hit southern Japan's Kumamoto prefecture followed by more than 1,700 aftershocks, and left at least 50 dead and caused widespread damage.
Date: Thu, 22 Sep 2016 18:35:24 +0200

Rome, Sept 22, 2016 (AFP) - Tourists and locals will on Friday once again be able to saunter up and down the Spanish Steps, after a year-long renovation to the Rome tourist landmark.   The famous marble steps will also stay open at night despite concern about potential damage to one of the architectural jewels of the Eternal City.    "The steps will not be closed at night. I think it is fundamental to let people have access... and to make them responsible for what they do at them," said Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi.

iscoloured by years of pollution but also caked in chewing gum and stained by wine and coffee spills, the Spanish Steps were restored to their original white glory by a team of 82 workers.   The 1.5 million euro ($1.7 million) restoration of the landmark, made famous in the United States by the 1953 film "Roman Holiday", starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, was financed by upmarket jeweller Bulgari.   The firm's boss Paolo Bulgari has voiced concern about a return by "barbarians" to the Steps, near to which the jeweller has a store.

In February 2015 supporters of Feyenoord Rotterdam, in the capital for a football match against AS Rome, ransacked the Piazza di Spagna at the bottom of the Steps, damaging its main fountain, known to Romans as La Barcaccia.   "The city pledges that the Steps will be maintained for as long as possible in its new splendour, and we will strive to prevent misuse which would damage it," said Raggi.

The landmark, comprising 135 steps on three levels designed by architect Francesco de Sanctis between 1723 and 1726, had not been restored for 20 years.   The work was the latest in a string of famous Italian monuments to have been renovated with funds from private donors, often from the luxury sector.   The first phase of a multi-million-euro makeover of Rome's Colosseum was completed in July, in a project largely funded by fashion and shoewear group Tod's.   Roman fashion house Fendi paid for a 16-month clean-up of the Trevi fountain which has been acclaimed by visitors.
Date: Thu, 22 Sep 2016 16:37:22 +0200

Kathmandu, Sept 22, 2016 (AFP) - A Spanish trekker and three Nepali guides were killed and six others injured Thursday when a landslide hit their route in western Nepal, an official said.    An overnight downpour sent mud and stones hurtling down the slopes along the popular Manaslu route in the hilly district of Gorkha, trapping the trekkers.     "One Spanish trekker and three Nepalis have died in the accident," Gorkha district chief Narayan Prasad Bhatta told AFP.

Bhatta said the injured six, as well as other trekkers, were airlifted to Kathmandu.   "We don't think anyone else is trapped, but our teams are continuing a search and rescue operation," he said.   Scores of people die every year from rain-triggered disasters during the monsoon season in the Himalayan nation.

Over 70 people were killed across the country in floods and landslides caused by heavy rains in July.    Nepal's snow-capped peaks are a popular hiking destination, with around 150,000 trekkers visiting the Annapurna and Everest regions every year.   But the industry has suffered since a massive earthquake hit the country in April 2015, killing almost 9,000 people.
Date: Thu, 22 Sep 2016 09:52:23 +0200

Miami, Sept 22, 2016 (AFP) - A fire at a power station in Puerto Rico has left much of the island in darkness and some 1.5 million people without electricity.   Officials at the US territory's government-run energy company said the blackout, which hit mid-afternoon on Wednesday, could last 24 hours or longer.   It occurred after a fire at the Aguirre power plant run by Puerto Rico's Electrical Energy Authority (AEE.)

Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla at a press conference Wednesday called the blackout "a major event that will take many hours" to fix, according to the daily El Nuevo Dia.   Padilla said schools and government offices may also be forced to remain closed on Thursday if the outage persists.   The power cut has forced businesses across the US territory, home to some 3.7 million people, to temporarily shutter.   Since many of Puerto Rico's water plants run on electricity, the blackout also has affected the water supply in some areas, news reports there said.
Date: Thu, 22 Sep 2016 00:56:10 +0200
By Alexander MARTINEZ

Caracas, Sept 21, 2016 (AFP) - Venezuelan bus drivers protesting their country's economic crisis parked their buses in the street on Wednesday, causing traffic chaos in Caracas and embarrassing President Nicolas Maduro, a former colleague.

Hundreds of drivers joined the strike, demanding better pay, more security against violent crime and spare parts for their buses.   Tires, car batteries and motor oil are on a long list of goods that have disappeared in the shortage-racked country.   The protest paralyzed half the bus fleet in the city of three million people, the drivers said.

Scores of drivers parked their buses outside the transport ministry, causing havoc on the capital's east side as they shut off one of its main arteries for nine hours.   "We're not budging. They think they're so important? Well, we are too," spokesman Hugo Ocando shouted from a parked bus.   Transport Minister Ricardo Molina had refused to meet union leaders, blaming schedule conflicts, Ocando said.   He threatened the drivers would escalate to a nationwide strike if the ministry did not give them "answers."

- Struggling for lunch money -
Drivers are calling on the authorities to raise the bus fare from 45 to 60 bolivars -- around 10 US cents at the highest official exchange rate, in a country where rigid government exchange controls have led to shortages of the foreign currency needed to import goods.   They want the increased revenue to go toward raises for trying to keep up with the world's worst inflation, forecast to top 700 percent this year.   "Our income isn't enough to maintain our buses or support our families," said Ronny Blanco, a 33-year-old freelance driver who makes around 5,000 bolivars a day.

Some 2,000 of that goes to buy his lunch, he said.  The lack of spare parts has paralyzed around half the bus fleet, union leaders say.   Drivers who need to get their vehicles back on the road to earn money are forced to pay 200,000 bolivars on the black market -- twice the government's official price -- they say.   Drivers also complain they are targets for violent crime, which has spiked amid the crisis.   "They robbed me three times in one week," said Daniel Sanchez, 32, standing beside his aging bus.

- Government take-over? -
Oil-rich Venezuela's economy has tanked as crude prices have plunged since mid-2014.   Severe shortages of food, medicine and basic goods have led to outbreaks of looting and riots.   Maduro, the political heir to late leftist firebrand Hugo Chavez, blames the crisis on an "economic war" by Venezuelan elites, backed by "American imperialism."   The opposition, which is pushing for a referendum on removing the former bus driver from power, blames the crisis on the failure of 17 years of socialist policies.

Opinion polls indicate Maduro would lose a recall referendum.   But the referendum must be held by January 10 -- four years into his six-year term -- in order to trigger new elections.   After that date, he would simply be replaced by his vice president.   Maduro's staunch ally Aristobulo Isturiz currently holds the post, although the president can replace him at will.   Isturiz threatened the government would take over the transportation sector if the drivers continue their strike.   "We're not going to abandon the people," he said.   Maduro has already given the army sweeping power over food distribution in a bid to restock bare supermarket shelves.
Date: Wed, 21 Sep 2016 17:21:19 +0200

Madrid, Sept 21, 2016 (AFP) - A Spanish nurse who contracted Congo fever while caring for a man who died from the virus, in the first non-imported case reported in Western Europe, was discharged from hospital on Wednesday, officials said.   The unidentified nurse was admitted to the intensive care unit of a Madrid hospital on August 31 where she was treated for the illness, also known as Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, in isolation   The regional government of Madrid said in a statement that she had been discharged and "would not need to be monitored and can lead a normal life".

It said health officials would monitor hospital staff who looked after the patient for 14 days after their last contact with her -- a period that corresponds with the typical incubation period of the virus.   The nurse became infected while treating a 62-year-old man who died from the virus on August 25.    He caught the virus after he was bitten by a tick while walking in the countryside in the northwestern Spanish region of Castile and Leon.   Spanish health authorities said this was the first time the disease had been found in Western Europe in someone who had not travelled to an endemic area.

The virus has been found among ticks in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe and southwestern Europe.   Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) is a viral haemorrhagic fever transmitted by ticks from a range of livestock and domestic animals. It has a fatality rate of 10-40 percent.   Transmission to humans occurs through contact with infected animal blood or ticks. CCHF can be transmitted from one infected human to another by contact with infectious blood or body fluids.
Date: Wed, 21 Sep 2016 04:40:47 +0200

Jakarta, Sept 21, 2016 (AFP) - Ten people have been killed in flash flooding and landslides in Indonesia, an official said Wednesday, with a search ongoing for three others still missing in the disasters on Java island.   Torrential downpours triggered flash flooding in Garut in West Java early Wednesday, which quickly rose to around 2 metres (6.5 feet), national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said in a statement.   He said preliminary data from the local disaster agency in Garut showed "eight people died and one person is still missing" after a river burst its banks.

Thirty others were injured in the district, four seriously, while hundreds were forced to abandon their homes as the water rose, he added.   Emergency shelters and temporary kitchens have been set up to assist those made homeless by the disaster.   Elsewhere in West Java heavy downpours caused landslides in Sumedang regency, killing two people and burying a suspected two others under an avalanche of mud and rock.   "The search for them continues," Sutopo said.

Landslides and flooding are common in Indonesia, a vast tropical archipelago prone to natural disasters and torrential downpours.   The country's disaster agency has warned people to be alert for disasters this wet season as a La Nina weather phenomenon threatens unseasonably heavy rain.   In June nearly 50 people died when heavy downpours sent torrents of water, mud and rock surging into villages in Central Java, another densely-populated province on Indonesia's main island.
Date: Tue, 20 Sep 2016 22:37:18 +0200

Ottawa, Sept 20, 2016 (AFP) - For the second time in six months, Ottawa delayed Tuesday the implementation of new rules requiring visa-exempt foreign nationals who fly or transit through Canada to obtain an electronic travel authorization (eTA).   A leniency period had been in effect since mid-March, when the new regulations were rolled out, due to technical glitches.

That was scheduled to end on September 30, but the government announced an extension to November 10 in order "to give travellers and airlines more time to prepare for changes," said a statement.   Thereafter, officials are supposed to begin strictly enforcing the rules.   Immigration Minister John McCallum said the new delay aimed "to minimize any travel disruptions."

A large part of the problem was a lack of public knowledge about the new rules, McCallum said, pledging "another major information blitz in Canada and abroad to encourage affected travellers... to plan ahead and get the necessary travel documents before they book a flight to Canada."   US citizens are exempted.

Other foreign nationals, including those passing through on a stopover, must fill out an online eTA in advance of their trip, and pay an administrative fee of Can$7 (US$5.29).   After completing the online form, permission to travel to Canada will be sent by email and will remain in effect for five years.   "Most applicants get approved within minutes," the ministry said on its website. "However, some applications can take several days to process so don't wait until the last minute."   The measure is similar to one set up by the United States in 2008, and will affect more than three million travelers per year from more than 50 countries.
Date: Tue, 20 Sep 2016 13:12:03 +0200

Seoul, Sept 20, 2016 (AFP) - UNICEF said Tuesday that the recent deadly flooding in North Korea had washed entire communities away, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless with disease and malnutrition on the rise.   At least 138 people have died and hundreds more are missing after torrential rains caused devastation in the country's far north, with rescue teams only now making it to more remote, hard-hit areas.   "It was really shocking to see the scale of damage," said UNICEF's Anil Pokhrel who was part of the relief team that visited Musan Country, which is separated from China by the Tumen River.   Photographs of the area showed barren expanses of mud dotted with the wreckage of homes, as local residents -- wrapped up against the coming winter -- struggled to salvage what they could to rebuild.   Disease and malnutrition are rising, UNICEF said, with health clinics reporting that twice as many children were seeking help compared to before the disaster.

Respiratory infections, diarrhoea and indigestion are also increasingly common, they added.   Aid workers were distributing peanut paste, which is used to treat severe acute malnutrition, to local children, warning that "numbers are expected to rise dramatically without support".   "There is desperate need for proper and good access to food, nutrition, clean water, health and proper sanitation facilities," said Pokhrel.   Houses, roads and train lines were all washed away in the area, leaving more than 24,000 people homeless, cut off from help, and struggling to find food and clean water.   "The damage is on a much bigger scale than initially thought," said Pokhrel.   The impoverished nation is vulnerable to natural disasters, especially floods, due partly to deforestation and poor infrastructure.