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Andorra

General
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This small country is situated between France and Spain. Because of its elevation and proximity to the Pyrenees the climate is generally pleasant throughout the year.
Climate
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During the summer months the temperatures can rise to 30c but there is usually a cooling breeze. Lightening storms can occur during the summer months associated with torrential rain.
Sun Exposure and Dehydration
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Those from Northern Europe can develop significant sun exposure and so remember to use a wide brimmed hat when necessary. The altitude can also lead to significant tiredness and dehydration so take sufficient initial rest and drink plenty of fluids.
Safety & Security
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The level of crime throughout the country directed at tourists is very low. Nevertheless take care of your personal belongings at all times and use hotel safety boxes where possible.
Local Customs
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There are strict laws regarding the use of illegal drugs. Make sure you have sufficient supplies of any medication you required for your trip and that it is clearly marked. The European E111 form is not accepted in Andorra and so it is essential that you have sufficient travel insurance for your trip.
Winter Sports
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Andorra is one of the regions where many travel to partake of their winter sport facilities. Generally this is well controlled and one of the safer regions. Nevertheless, make certain your travel insurance is adequate for the activities you are planning to undertake.
Vaccination
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The only standard vaccine to consider for Andorra would be tetanus in line with many other developed countries of the world.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 12 Jul 2018 15:24:06 +0200

Andorra la Vella, Andorra, July 12, 2018 (AFP) - The tax haven of Andorra has long been a favourite destination for smokers looking to stock up on cheap cigarettes, but the enclave said Thursday that it would soon stop advertising the fact.   The government said it had signed up to the World Health Organization's (WHO) anti-tobacco convention, which aims to encourage people to quit smoking and combat contraband sales.   "The goal is to contribute to public health and pursue the fight against trafficking," government spokesman Jordi Cinca said at a press conference.

The tiny principality of Andorra, perched in the Pyrenees on the border between France and Spain, attracts millions of shoppers each year to duty-free stores, where prices of alcohol, cigarettes, electronics and clothes can be up to 20 percent cheaper than elsewhere in the EU.   High taxes on tobacco imposed by many countries to help people kick smoking make Andorra's cigarettes a particularly good deal.   The average pack costs just three euros ($3.50) compared with eight euros in France, which has said it will gradually raise the price to 10 euros a pack by November 2020.

Tobacco sales bring in some 110 million euros a year for Andorra, whose economy is otherwise based almost entirely on tourism.   It is also an enticing destination for smugglers, with French and Spanish border agents regularly seizing cartons from people trying to sneak them out, either by car or by hiking down the mountain trails which criss-cross the Pyrenees.   No date has been set for the advertising ban, which will come into effect three months after the ratification of the WHO accord is voted by parliament.
Date: Fri, 16 Mar 2018 02:41:51 +0100

Andorra la Vella, Andorra, March 16, 2018 (AFP) - The tiny principality of Andorra is witnessing a once in a generation phenomenon -- a widespread strike.   Around a third of civil servants across the mountainous micro-state have walked out to protest proposed reforms to their sector in what has been described as Andorra's first large-scale strike since 1933.

With no negotiation breakthrough in sight, picket lines are expected to be manned again on Friday with customs officers, police, teachers and prison staff among those taking part.   The first major strike in 85 years was sparked by plans from the government of Antoni Marti to reform civil servant contracts.   He has assured officials "will not do an hour more" work under the reforms and that 49 million euros would be allocated for the next 25 years to supplement civil servant salaries.   But government workers are unconvinced with unions warning the reforms could risk their 35 hour working week and pay.

Customs officers involved in the strike interrupted traffic on the Andorran-Spanish border this week, according to unions, while some 80 percent of teachers have walked out of classes.   Strikers have occupied the government's main administrative building and held noisy protests outside parliament calling for Marti's resignation.    "We have started collecting signatures to demand the resignation of the head of government and now nobody will stop us," Gabriel Ubach, spokesman for the public service union, told reporters.
Date: Mon 27 Sep 2017
Source: Contagion Live [edited]

A recent Dispatch article published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, offers insight into a large norovirus outbreak that sprung up in Spain in 2016 that had been linked with bottled spring water. The Public Health Agency of Catalonia (ASPCAT) reported a staggering 4136 cases of gastroenteritis from 11-25 Apr 2016. Of the 4136 cases, 6 individuals required hospitalization. The CDC defines a "case-patient" as an "exposed person who had vomiting or diarrhoea (3 or more loose stools within 24 hours)," as well as 2 or more of the following symptoms: nausea, stomach pain, or fever.

ASPCAT investigators traced back the outbreak to contaminated bottled spring water in office water coolers. The water came from a source in Andorra, a small independent principality located between Spain and France. Norovirus is a "very contagious virus," according to the CDC, and it is common for individuals to become infected by eating contaminated food. Although it is possible to be infected by consuming contaminated drinking water, this mode of transmission is "rare in developed countries," according to the article.

The investigators collected water samples from a total of 4 19-L water coolers in 2 different offices located in Barcelona, "from which affected persons had drunk; samples 1 and 2 came from 2 water coolers in one office, while samples 3 and 4 came from 2 water coolers in another office. Using "positively charged glass wool and polyethylene glycol precipitation for virus concentration," the investigators tested the samples.

"We detected high RNA levels for norovirus genotype I and II, around 103 and 104 genome copies/L, in 2 of the 4 water cooler samples concentrated by glass wool filtration and polyethylene glycol precipitation," according to the article. The investigators noted that a drawback of using molecular methods is that they are not able to differentiate between particles that are infectious and those that are not. Therefore, they "predicted the infectivity of norovirus in the concentrated samples by treating the samples with the nucleic acid intercalating dye PMA propidium monoazide and Triton X surfactant before RT-qPCR," which allowed them to "distinguish between virions with intact and altered capsids."

In those 2 water samples, they found high genome copy values -- 49 and 327 genome copies/L for norovirus genotype I and 33 and 660 genomes copies/L for norovirus genotype II. This was not an unexpected finding, due to the large number of infected individuals associated with the outbreak. Through "PMA/Triton treatment before RT-qPCR assays," the investigators found that the proportion of infected virions accounted for 0.3% to 5.6% of the total number of physical particles in the water samples, "which was enough to cause gastrointestinal illness."

The investigators also analyzed faecal samples collected from infected individuals who worked at the office in which the 1st 2 water samples were collected. They detected the following genotypes in those faecal samples: GI.2 and GII.17. In the faecal samples collected from the other office, they isolated the following genotypes: GII.4/Sydney/2012, GI.2, GII.17, and GII.2.

"We hypothesize that the spring water was contaminated by all 4 strains (GI.2, GII.2, GII.4, and GII.17) but levels of viral contamination for each genotype were not homogeneous in all bottled coolers," the investigators wrote. "We may have detected only the GII.4 genotype in water samples 1 and 2 because of a higher concentration of this specific genotype or because of bias caused by the sampling, concentration, and molecular detection procedures."

The investigators admit one limitation to their study: the small number of water samples collected and analyzed. They attribute this to the fact that on 15 Apr 2016, 4 days after the onset of the outbreak, the company that produced the drinking water recalled over 6150 containers of water "of suspected quality" as a precautionary measure. The recall prevented the investigators from collecting more samples to assess, according to the article.

Although the exact cause of the contamination has not yet been identified, the investigators posit that "the high number of affected persons from 381 offices that received water coolers, and the many different genotypes found in some patients' faecal specimens" suggest that the spring aquifer had been contaminated by "sewage pollution," and the Andorra Ministry of Health and Welfare banned further use of the spring.

The investigators suggest that assessing commercially-produced mineral waters for different harmful pathogens, such as norovirus would be beneficial. They note, however, that creating, enhancing, and managing such "virus surveillance systems" would be costly. Thus, the investigators suggest taking a "balanced approach to keep both the cost and the time required for the analyses within feasibility limits."  [Byline: Kristi Rosa]
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[The interesting article published in the September 2017 issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases is:
Blanco A, Guix S, Fuster N, et al: Norovirus in bottled water associated with gastroenteritis outbreak, Spain, 2016. Emerg Infect Dis. 2017; 23(9): 1531-34; https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/23/9/16-1489_article. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[Catalonia and Andorra can be located on the HealthMap/ProMED-mail map at http://healthmap.org/promed/p/1341. - ProMED Sr.Tech.Ed.MJ]
Date: Thu, 26 Dec 2013 22:25:05 +0100 (MET)

ANDORRA LA VELLA, Andorra, Dec 26, 2013 (AFP) - A Spanish skier and a French snowboarder have died in avalanches in different mountain ranges in Europe, officials said Thursday.

The 27-year-old skier, a woman from Barcelona, died Wednesday while going off-piste alone in the Soldeu resort in Andorra, in the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain, a resort manager told AFP.   Although she was rescued within 10 minutes, after her glove was spotted on the surface, she was unable to be revived despite a helicopter dash to hospital.

In the Italian Alps, close to the border with France, a 24-year-old Frenchman who was snowboarding with three friends on a closed run died Thursday when an avalanche swept over him in the resort town of Les Arnauds.   Local officials said he succumbed to multiple injuries, asphyxia and hypothermia.

Avalanches are common in Europe's ski resorts at this time of year, when early snows are heavy with moisture, and several deaths occur each winter.   Last Sunday, a 35-year-old Frenchman died in an avalanche in the Alps near the Italian border while on a three-day trek with a friend.
Date: Fri 7 Feb 2003 From: Jaime R. Torres Source: EFE Salud, Thu 6 Feb 2003 (translated by Maria Jacobs) [edited] -------------------------------------------------- Close to 300 students in one school and 173 tourists staying in 7 hotels in the Principality of Andorra have been affected by outbreaks of gastroenteritis that, according to local authorities, are not related to each other. Monica Codina, Minister of Health, stated that the outbreak that has affected almost 300 children and 8 adults in the San Ermengol school was detected last Monday [3 Feb 2003] but that it may have started Wednesday or Thursday of the previous week. The epidemiological surveys of a group of pre-school and grammar school students that may also be affected have not been performed yet. Also pending are the results of the microbiological tests of the food and water served in the school dining room, but the minister has indicated that the probable cause of the outbreak is the fact that water pitchers were filled with hoses directly from the faucet. The Minister stated that this outbreak of gastroenteritis is not related to the one that affected 173 tourists, most of them young people on holiday, who where staying in 7 hotels of the Principality. The government is also investigating the cause of this outbreak and has indicated that an anomaly in the system that supplies water to the hotels was detected, requiring a process of chlorination, which has not been carried out due to the heavy snowfall of the past few days. * * * * * * * * * * [The suspicion that defective water supplies may be responsible for all of these independent outbreaks suggests that the etiologic agent may be an enterovirus, hepatitis A virus, or non-viral, rather than one of the noroviruses associated with sudden-onset viral gastroenteritis. Information on the outcome of diagnostic tests in progress would be welcomed. - ProMed Mod.CP]
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Benin

Benin - US Consular Information Sheet
April 28, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Benin is a developing country in West Africa. Its political capital is Porto Novo. However, its administrative capital, Cotonou, is Benin's largest city and the
site of most government, commercial, and tourist activity. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Benin for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa are required. Visas are not routinely available at the airport. Visitors to Benin should also carry the WHO Yellow Card (“Carte Jaune”) indicating that they have been vaccinated for yellow fever. Contact the Embassy of Benin for the most current visa information. The Embassy is located at: 2124 Kalorama Road NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel: 202-232-6656.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.
U.S. citizens should not walk on the beach alone at any time of day. It is also highly recommended not to carry a passport or valuables when walking in any part of the city. Travelers should carry a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport (see Crime section). They should not walk around the city after dark, and should take particular care to avoid the beach and isolated areas near the beach after dark.
The ocean currents along the coast are extremely strong and treacherous with rough surf and a strong undertow, and several people drown each year.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME: Street robbery is a significant problem in Cotonou. Robbery and mugging occur along the Boulevard de France (the beach road by the Marina and Novotel Hotels) and on the beaches near hotels frequented by international visitors. Most of the reported incidents involve the use of force, often by armed persons, with occasional minor injury to the victim. Travelers should avoid isolated and poorly lit areas and should not walk around the city or the beaches between dusk and dawn. Even in daylight hours, foreigners on the beach near Cotonou are frequent victims of robberies. When visiting the beach, travelers should not bring valuables and should carry only a photocopy of their passport. If you are a victim of crime, you should contact the U.S. Embassy immediately. There has been a continued increase in the number of robberies and carjacking incidents after dark, both within metropolitan Cotonou and on highways and rural roads outside of major metropolitan areas. Motorists are urged to be wary of the risk of carjacking. Keep the windows of your vehicle rolled up and the doors locked. Stay alert for signs of suspicious behavior by other motorists or pedestrians that may lead to carjacking, such as attempts to stop a moving vehicle for no obvious reason. Travelers should avoid driving outside the city of Cotonou after dark and should exercise extreme caution when driving in Cotonou after dark (see Traffic Safety and Road Conditions below). Overland travel to Nigeria is dangerous near the Benin/Nigeria border due to unofficial checkpoints and highway banditry.
Travelers should avoid the use of credit cards and automated teller machines (ATMs) in Benin due to a high rate of fraud. Perpetrators of business and other kinds of fraud often target foreigners, including Americans. While such fraud schemes in the past have been largely associated with Nigeria, they are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including Benin, and are more frequently perpetrated by Beninese criminals. Business scams are not always easy to recognize, and any unsolicited business proposal should be carefully scrutinized. There are, nevertheless, some indicators that are warnings of a probable scam. Look out for:

Any offer of a substantial percentage of a very large sum of money to be transferred into your account, in return for your "discretion" or "confidentiality";

Any deal that seems too good to be true;
Requests for signed and stamped, blank letterhead or invoices, or for bank account or credit card information;
Requests for urgent air shipment, accompanied by an instrument of payment whose genuineness cannot immediately be established;
Solicitations claiming the soliciting party has personal ties to high government officials;
Requests for payment, in advance, of transfer taxes or incorporation fees;
Statements that your name was provided to the soliciting party either by someone you do not know or by "a reliable contact";
Promises of advance payment for services to the Beninese government; and
Any offer of a charitable donation.
These scams, which may appear to be legitimate business deals requiring advance payments on contracts, pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm. Recently more American citizens have been targeted. The perpetrators of such scams sometimes pose as attorneys. One common ploy is to request fees for “registration” with fictitious government offices or regulatory authorities. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Travelers should carefully check out any unsolicited business proposal originating in Benin before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel. For additional information, please see the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, International Financial Scams.

Scams may also involve persons posing as singles on Internet dating sites or as online acquaintances who then get into trouble and require money to be "rescued." If you are asked to send money by someone you meet online please contact the U.S. Embassy before doing so.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical facilities in Benin are limited and not all medicines are available. Travelers should bring their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. Not all medicines and prescription drugs available in Benin are USFDA-approved. Malaria is a serious risk to travelers to Benin. For information on malaria, its prevention, protection from insect bites, and anti-malarial drugs, please visit the CDC Travelers' Health web site at http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s website at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Benin is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

With the exception of the road linking Cotonou in the south to Malanville on the border with Niger in the north, and from Parakou in central Benin to Natitingou in the northwestern part of the country, roads in Benin are generally in poor condition and are often impassable during the rainy season. Benin's unpaved roads vary widely in quality; deep sand and potholes are common. During the rainy season from mid-June to mid-September, dirt roads often become impassable. Four-wheel drive vehicles with full spare tires and emergency equipment are recommended.
Most of the main streets in Cotonou are paved, but side streets are often dirt with deep potholes. Traffic moves on the right, as in the United States. Cotonou has no public transportation system; many Beninese people rely on bicycles, mopeds, motorbikes, and zemidjans (moped taxis). All official Americans are required to wear safety helmets when on a motorcycle and are strongly discouraged from using zemidjans. Travelers using zemidjans, particularly at night, are much more vulnerable to being mugged, assaulted or robbed. Buses and bush taxis offer service in the interior.
Gasoline smuggled from Nigeria is widely available in glass bottles and jugs at informal roadside stands throughout Cotonou and much of the country. This gasoline is of unreliable quality, often containing water or other contaminants that can damage or disable your vehicle. Drivers should purchase fuel only from official service stations. There are periodic gas shortages, which can be particularly acute in the north of the country where there are few service stations.
U.S. citizens traveling by road should exercise extreme caution. Poorly maintained and overloaded transport and cargo vehicles frequently break down and cause accidents. Drivers often place branches or leaves in the road to indicate a broken down vehicle is in the roadway. Undisciplined drivers move unpredictably through traffic. Construction work is often poorly indicated. Speed bumps, commonly used on paved roads in and near villages, are seldom indicated. Drivers must be on guard against people and livestock wandering into or across the roads. Nighttime driving is particularly hazardous as vehicles frequently lack headlights and/or taillights, and brake lights are often burned out.
With few exceptions, Cotonou and other cities lack any street lighting, and lighting on roads between population centers is non-existent. The U.S. Embassy in Cotonou prohibits non-essential travel outside of metropolitan areas after dusk by official Americans and strongly urges all U.S. citizens to avoid night driving as well. There have been numerous carjackings and robberies on roads in Benin after dark, several of which resulted in murder when the driver refused to comply with the assailants' demands. The National Police periodically conduct vehicle checks at provisional roadblocks in an effort to improve road safety and reduce the increasing number of carjackings. When stopped at such a roadblock, you must have all of the vehicle's documentation available to present to the authorities.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.benintourisme.com.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Benin, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Benin’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
U.S. citizens are advised to keep a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport with them at all times when traveling in Benin.
The Embassy has had a few reports of officials requesting a "gift" to facilitate official administrative matters (e.g., customs entry). Such requests should be politely but firmly declined.
It is prohibited to photograph government buildings and other official sites, such as military installations, without the formal consent of the Government of Benin. In general, it is always best to be courteous and ask permission before taking pictures of people. Beninese citizens may react angrily if photographed without their prior approval.
Obtaining customs clearance at the port of Cotonou for donated items shipped to Benin from the United States may be a lengthy process. In addition, to obtain a waiver of customs duties on donated items, the donating organization must secure prior written approval from the Government of Benin. Please contact the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou for more detailed information.Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Benin laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Benin are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Benin are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Benin. Americans withoutInternet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Rue Caporal Anani Bernard in Cotonou. The Embassy's mailing address is B.P. 2012, Cotonou, Benin. The 24-hour telephone numbers are (229) 21-30-06-50, 21-30-05-13, and 21-30-17-92. The Embassy’s general fax number is (229) 21-30-06-70; the Consular Section’s fax number is (229) 21-30-66-82; http://cotonou.usembassy.gov/.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Benin dated August 17th, 2007 to update sections on Safety and Security and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 10 May 2019 19:38:30 +0200
By Hazel WARD and Daphne BENOIT

Paris, May 10, 2019 (AFP) - French special forces have freed two French hostages, an American and a South Korean in northern Burkina Faso in an overnight raid in which two soldiers died, authorities announced Friday.   The operation was launched to free two French tourists who had disappeared while on holiday in the remote Pendjari National Park in neighbouring Benin on May 1.

But during the raid, the French troops were surprised to discover two women also in captivity, with top officials saying they had been held for 28 days.    The French tourists were identified as Patrick Picque, 51, and Laurent Lassimouillas, 46, but the women's identities were not immediately clear.     "No one was aware of (the women's) presence," French Defence Minister Florence Parly told reporters, while French armed forces chief Francois Lecointre said.   "We know little about these other two hostages," Parly told reporters, saying that even Seoul and Washington did not appear to be aware the pair were in increasingly unstable Burkina Faso.    The raid was approved by French President Emmanuel Macron in what was seen as the last opportunity to stop the hostages being transferred to lawless territory in Mali to the north.

Parly said it was "too early to say" who had snatched the two French nationals from Benin, which has long been an island of stability in a region where Islamist militants are increasingly active.   "The message to terrorists and criminal gangs is clear: those who attack France and its nationals know that we will not spare any effort to track them down, find them and neutralise them," she said.   Four of the six kidnappers were killed in the raid.    French forces, helped by intelligence provided by the United States, had been tracking the kidnappers for several days as they travelled across the semi-desert terrain of eastern Burkina Faso from Benin to Mali.   They seized the opportunity to prevent "the transfer of the hostages to another terrorist organisation in Mali," Lecointre said, referring to the Macina Liberation Front (FLM).   The FLM is a jihadist group formed in 2015 and headed by a radical Malian preacher, Amadou Koufa. It is aligned with Al-Qaeda in the region.

- US intelligence support -
In a statement, Macron congratulated the special forces on the operation, in which he also expressed sorrow over the death of the two soldiers "who gave their lives to save those of our citizens".   And Parly thanked authorities in Benin and Burkina Faso for their help with the "complex operation", as well as the United States which provided intelligence and support.

The operation was also made possible by the presence of France's Operation Barkhane, which counts some 4,500 troops deployed in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad to help local forces battle jihadist groups.   American special forces and drones are also known to operate in the violence-wracked Sahel region, which France fears could become further destabilised as jihadist groups are pushed out of north Africa, Iraq and Syria.   Burkina Faso has suffered from increasingly frequent and deadly attacks attributed to a number of jihadist groups, including the Ansarul Islam group, the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.

- Relief and sadness -
The French tourists -- Patrick Picque who works in a Paris jewellery shop, and Laurent Lassimouillas a piano teacher, -- went missing with their guide on the last leg of their holiday in usually peaceful Benin.   The Pendjari wildlife reserve, which is famed for its elephants and lions, lies close to the porous border with Burkina Faso.   The badly disfigured body of their guide was found shortly after they disappeared, as well as their abandoned four-wheel Toyota truck.   The two freed men will be flown back to France on Saturday, alongside the South Korean woman, where they will be met on arrival by Macron and other top French officials.   Washington thanked the French forces for freeing the American hostage, with France saying she would likely be "repatriated independently" from the other three. 

The two dead French soldiers were named as Cedric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello, decorated naval special forces members born in 1986 and 1991 respectively.   They were part of the prestigious Hubert commando unit of the French naval special forces which was deployed to the Sahel at the end of March.   A total of 24 French soldiers have died in the region since 2013 when France intervened to drive back jihadist groups who had taken control of northern Mali. The last death was on April 2.
Date: Tue 15 Jan 2019
Source: Punch [edited]

The Kwara state government has confirmed 2 cases of Lassa fever infecting a husband and wife in the state.

Speaking with newsmen on Tuesday [15 Jan 2019] at a news briefing, the Kwara commissioner for health, Alhaji Usman Rifun-Kolo, said the outbreak of Lassa fever was identified in a farm settlement in Taberu, Baruten local government area.

He explained that the 2 cases of the disease affected a husband and wife, natives of Benin republic, which shares a border with the state. He added that the husband and wife are farming in Baruten. "These cases of Lassa fever originated from Benin republic, whose citizen have interrelations with people in the Baruten area," he said.

According to him, the husband and wife were diagnosed in a health facility, and the state government had already deployed a disease-surveillance team to identify those who have been in contact with the patients.

Rifun-Kolo further explained that the surveillance team identified 4 people with a history of fever in the area. He said that the 4 cases raised suspicion of Lassa fever, which prompted them to take samples from the individuals for further investigation. He noted that the 4 individuals have commenced treatment in Taberu, Baruten LGA.
=====================
[The above report states that the couple was infected in Benin, although the timeline when that may have occurred is not given. The report also mentions 4 individuals in the Kwara state who had a history of Lassa fever, implying that the virus is present in that state in Nigeria as well. In December [2018], there were Lassa fever cases in Benin that were imported from Nigeria as well as infections that were locally acquired in Benin, so the Lassa fever cases cross the border in both directions. The source of the infecting virus for any of these cases is not mentioned. - ProMED Mod.TY

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Kwara state, Nigeria: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/19690>]
Date: Wed 26 Dec 2018
Source: Quotidein Le Matinal [in French, trans. ProMED Corr.SB, edited]

Minister of health Benjamin Hounkpatin confirmed on Wednesday [26 Dec 2018] 4 new cases of Lassa haemorrhagic fever in Benin, including one in Cotonou. This occurred in the period from 15-26 Dec 2018.

In the case of Cotonou, a 28-year-old (has been infected). His case was detected on 24 Dec [2018], but his illness commenced the previous week. He had a fever, a cough, a cold, and fatigue. Due to the persistence of the cough and cold, and with the appearance of traces of blood in nasal discharge on 24 Dec 2018, the alert was given.

The patient was placed in isolation on [Tue 25 Dec 2018], and on the morning of Wed 26 Dec 2018, his result from the laboratory came back positive [for Lassa fever]. Subsequently, the patient was isolated and put on treatment.

According to the details provided by Hounkpatin, there is no indication of travel [by the patient] to an epidemic locality of Lassa fever. According to the patient's statements, there is no known contact with rodents.

Taking advantage of this opportunity, the minister reassured the public that public health measures are underway. He also reminded people of the behaviours that will help avoid becoming infected. This involves washing hands regularly with soap and water; avoiding contact with stool, sperm, urine, saliva, vomit, and contaminated objects from a person suspected to be ill or dead from Lassa; and protecting food and keeping it in a safe place, out of reach of rodents.

It should be recalled that 7 cases have been recorded since the beginning of the epidemic to date, including 5 positive cases.
=======================
[One case is located in Cotonou on the Benin coast and apparently was locally acquired, perhaps from contact with the rodent host or its excrement. The location of the other 3 cases is not mentioned, but a 13 Dec 2018 report indicated that there were 3 cases in the municipality of Parakou in Borgou Department, in the northern part of Benin. Perhaps these 3 cases, which came from the village Taberou (in Nigeria), located 5 km [3.1 mi] from Tandou in the commune of Tchaourou, are the ones mentioned in this report.

The previous Lassa fever cases in Benin this year [2018] occurred in January and also involved case importation from Nigeria. A previous WHO report stated that Lassa fever is endemic in bordering Nigeria, and, given the frequent population movements between Nigeria and Benin, the occurrence of additional cases is not unexpected. Strengthening of cross-border collaboration and information exchange between the 2 countries is, therefore, needed. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Images of the rodent reservoirs of Lassa fever virus can be seen as follows:
For _Mastomys natalensis_, see
For _M. erythroleucus_ and _Hylomycus pamfi_, see

HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Date: Fri, 29 Jun 2018 13:37:32 +0200

Cotonou, June 29, 2018 (AFP) - Benin's Constitutional Court has banned the right to strike by workers in the country's defence, security, justice and health sectors, sparking concern among union officials and legal observers.   The ruling, issued late on Thursday, came after months of wrangling between the government and the court, which had previously said the measure was unconstitutional.

"Civil servants, public security forces and equivalents should fulfil their duties in all circumstances and not exercise their right to strike," the court said in its new ruling.   "There should be no disruption to the duties of public sector defence, security, justice and health workers."   The decision was taken "in the public interest" and for "the protection of citizens", it said.

Speaking on Friday, one senior union leader, who asked to remain anonymous, described the ruling as shocking and a "hammer blow".   And Benin legal affairs expert Albert Medagbe told AFP the decision was a "worrying sudden legal U-turn".   Earlier this month, a close ally of President Patrice Talon, Joseph Djogbenou, was elected to lead the Constitutional Court during a vote held behind closed doors.   Djogbenou is Talon's former personal lawyer and was previously  Benin's attorney general.

Until his arrival, the court had strained relations with Talon, and had criticised the government for misunderstanding and failing to respect the constitution.   The small West African nation was last year hit by a wave of public sector strikes, which brought the education, health and justice system to a near halt.   The industrial action was sparked by Talon's attempts to introduce free-market reforms.
Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2018 17:31:52 +0100

Cotonou, Feb 21, 2018 (AFP) - Nine people appeared in a Benin court Wednesday on charges of selling fake drugs at the start of a landmark trial in a regional campaign against illicit medicines.   The suspects, who include executives from major pharmaceutical companies operating in the West African nation, were remanded in custody until March 6 on technical grounds.   They are accused of "the sale of falsified medicines, (and) display, possession with a view to selling, commercialisation or sale of falsified medical substances."   A tenth defendant, the head of the Directorate for Pharmacies, Medications and Diagnostic Evaluation (DPMED) under the control of the ministry of health, was not in court on the trial's opening day.   He is accused of failing to prevent the offences.

Benin launched the crackdown last year after mounting alarm about the scale of the trafficking of expired and counterfeit drugs in West Africa.   Fake medicines are drugs that are bogus or below regulatory standards but often are outwardly indistinguishable from the genuine product.   Taking them may do nothing to tackle an illness or -- in the case of antibiotics -- worsen the problem of microbial resistance.   According to an investigation by the Paris-based International Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM), West African markets are awash with fake drugs made in China and India.

In 2015, the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene estimated that 122,000 children under five died due to taking poor-quality antimalarial drugs in sub-Saharan Africa.   A 15-nation regional body, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), last April announced an investigation into the fake drugs business.   A lawyer for the civilian plaintiffs told AFP that the trial in Benin was adjourned until March 6 at their request "in order to incorporate another case, of illegal pharmaceutical practice".
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Guinea Bissau

Guinea Bissau - US Consular Information Sheet
July 8, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Republic of Guinea-Bissau, a small country in western Africa, is one of the world’s poorest nations.
The capital is Bissau and the official language
is Portuguese.
The country underwent a civil war in 1998-99 that devastated the economy.
Tourist facilities and infrastructure in general are very limited and not up to American standards.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Guinea-Bissau for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid passport, visa, and proof of onward/return ticket are required.
As of January 2007, the Bissau-Guinean Embassy in Washington, DC is temporarily closed.
The Embassy of Guinea-Bissau does not have a web site.
Due to lack of consular representation in the U.S., it is difficult to obtain the required visa for entry into Guinea-Bissau.
Since most flights destined for Guinea-Bissau must pass through Dakar, Senegal or Lisbon, Portugal, most travelers are able to apply for visas at the Bissau-Guinean embassies in those countries.
Although it is possible to obtain a visa upon arrival in Bissau if arrangements are made in advance, there are no clear instructions for how to make those arrangements.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
As of the date of publication of the Country Specific Sheet, the Bissau-Guinean Embassy is closed.
Travelers needing information about customs regulations should contact Bissau-Guinean authorities in Dakar, Senegal or Lisbon, Portugal before traveling.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic or consular presence in Guinea-Bissau.
The U.S. Embassy in Bissau suspended operations on June 14, 1998.
While officials from the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal, make periodic visits to Guinea-Bissau, their ability to provide consular services, including emergency assistance, is very limited.
The U.S. maintains a liaison office in Bissau, located at Edifício SITEC, Rua José Carlos Schwarz 245, Bairro d’Ajuda (tel/fax 245-256382, 245-5954647).
This office is staffed by locally employed staff and, while not equipped to provide consular services, may be contacted in the event of an emergency.
The nearest U.S. Embassies are located in Banjul, the Gambia; Conakry, Guinea; and Dakar, Senegal.
Although the civil war that led to the closure of the U.S. Embassy ended in 1999 and elections were held in June and July 2005, travelers should be aware that political tensions persist.
Sporadic politically-motivated violence remains an issue.
Due to the potential for violence, U.S. citizens should avoid political gatherings and street demonstrations, and maintain security awareness at all times.
With legislative elections scheduled for late 2008, the potential for future political unrest remains high.
In December 2004, the Government of Senegal and some factions of the Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance (MFDC), a Senegalese separatist movement, instituted an end to hostilities and agreed to negotiate with the goal of achieving a definitive end to the armed conflict in the Casamance.
This conflict has not yet been resolved, however, and its effects reach into Guinea-Bissau.
In the spring of 2006, Bissau-Guinean military forces conducted offensive operations near the town of Sao Domingos to expel elements of the MFDC.
The fighting reportedly resulted in dozens of military and civilian casualties, mostly from landmine explosions.
There are currently instances of fighting in the Casamance region (composed of the Ziguinchor and Kolda regions) involving factions of the Casamance separatist MFDC (Mouvement des Forces Démocratiques de la Casamance) in southern Senegal and the Senegalese military.
Although the recent escalation in hostilities has not spilled over into Guinea-Bissau, the potential for conflict along the border remains.

Unexploded military ordnance and landmines remain scattered throughout the country.
Although the capital city of Bissau was declared “mine-free” in June 2006 by the national de-mining center (CAAMI), occasional findings or unintentional explosions do occur.
There are two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) active in successfully removing mines.
To minimize the risks posed by both bandits and landmines, U.S. citizens are encouraged to limit driving outside of towns to daylight hours only and to remain on well-traveled roads at all times.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including the Travel Warning for Uzbekistan and the Worldwide Caution can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Although there is a fairly low incidence of normal daytime street crime, travelers should observe security precautions in the city, particularly with regard to pickpocket activity in marketplaces.
Travelers should refrain from walking alone at night.
The lack of reliable public electricity means that urban streets are dark at night, even in Bissau.
There have been periodic incidents of bandits accosting travelers in rural areas.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
While modern medical facilities are virtually nonexistent in Guinea-Bissau and travelers should not rely on them, limited emergency medical care is available at a new hospital in Bissau operated by the Sant’Egidio Community.
Monday to Saturday there are flights from Bissau to Dakar, Senegal, where more acceptable levels of medical care are available.
Malaria, a serious and sometimes fatal disease, is a risk for travelers to Guinea-Bissau.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Guinea-Bissau is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
The public transportation system, urban and rural road conditions, and the availability of roadside assistance are all poor.
There is no consistent public electricity in the capital, and the lack of lighting at night makes careful driving essential.
Since there are minefields left over from the civil war and the war of independence, travelers should not leave designated roads and pathways.
The landmines are scattered in several areas throughout Guinea-Bissau, including Bafata, Oio, Biombo, Quinara and Tombali regions.
While there has been significant progress in locating and removing landmines, an estimated 46,000 landmines remain.
Speak with local authorities first and use caution if leaving a main road or highway to enter a trail network or to make other types of cross-country movement.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Guinea- Bissau, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Guinea-Bissau’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Guinea-Bissau's customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning the temporary import or export of items such as firearms, antiquities, medications, and business equipment. (See contact information in the section on Entry Requirements.)
International banking and finance is problematic due to a limited formal banking sector.
ATMs are rarely available, credit cards are rarely accepted, currency exchange outside of the black market is almost non-existent, wire transfer possibilities are extremely limited, and repatriation of funds is problematic.

As there is currently no U.S. Embassy in Guinea-Bissau, U.S. consular officials may not be properly notified when an American citizen is arrested or detained in Guinea-Bissau.
Because notification would have to be made to consular officers at U.S. Embassies in neighboring countries, there may be a delay in consular access to such citizens.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a notarized copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available.
Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities.
Guinea-Bissau has a cash-only economy, so travelers should not count on using credit cards and ATMs. Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Bissau-Guinean laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Guinea-Bissau are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Guinea-Bissau are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Guinea-Bissau.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy in Guinea-Bissau remains closed.
U.S. citizens who plan to enter Guinea-Bissau are encouraged to register with the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy at Avenue Jean XXIII, Dakar, Senegal.
The mailing address is B.P. 49, Dakar, Senegal.
The telephone number is (221) 33 829-2100 and the fax is (221) 33 822-2991.
The e-mail address is consulardakar@state.gov.
The web site is http://dakar.usembassy.gov/.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Guinea-Bissau dated September 12, 2007 to update sections on Country description, Special Circumstances, Safety and Security, and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 18 Oct 2018 12:44:14 +0200

Bissau, Oct 18, 2018 (AFP) - Guinea-Bissau's government on Thursday signed a deal with a federation of truckers, bus owners and taxi drivers to end a strike that had brought the West African state to a standstill, officials said.   The federation launched the strike on Tuesday in protest at the many problems facing transporters, including police bribery.

The protocol agreement was signed on the government's side by the General Directorate for Land Transport (DVGTT), which is in charge of Guinea-Bissau's roads; the National Traffic Police; and the National Guard.   Under the deal, the government pledged to cut the number of checkpoints -- a major source of kickbacks and delays -- within two months.

DVGTT chief Bamba Banjai, speaking to journalists after the signature, hailed the accord.    Bus traffic swiftly began to return to the streets Bissau, the capital, which had been virtually deserted.   Private schools, which depend on minibuses and taxis to drop off and pick up children, had told students to stay at home, and many civil servants did not go to work.

As the strike ran into its second day on wednesday, the head of the transporters' federational, Bubacar Felix Frederico, warned that the protest would only be lifted "with the official undertaking" of Prime Minister Aristides Gomes.   Among the federation's demands were improvement to the country's notoriously poor roads, but the issue is not addressed in the protocol and has been placed to one side.

Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony, ranks among the poorest countries in the world, according to the UN's development index.   It has just 4,400 kilometres of roads, of which only 10 percent (453 km) are paved. Non-paved roads are notoriously slow and dangerous, and prone to being washed out during the rainy season.
Date: Fri, 3 Aug 2018 13:51:38 +0200

Bissau, Aug 3, 2018 (AFP) - Public-sector workers in the West African state of Guinea-Bissau have called off a strike after securing a pay increase in talks with the government, their main trade union said Friday.   The strike, launched on July 24, ended after the government agreed on Thursday to increase minimum monthly pay from 19,200 CFA francs ($33.91, 29.28 euros) to 50,000 francs from September, Julio Mendonca, head of the UNTG union, told AFP.   However, Prime Minister Aristide Gomes was somewhat more cautious.   In a statement to AFP late Thursday, he said, "all parties have accepted the principle" of a pay rise.   "We are still in negotiations," he said. "We are all going to work at finding a definitive solution to this situation."

The strike, which affected a sector with 13,000 employees, was also followed by state media organisations. Public radio and television went silent and there were strikes at the daily newspaper No-Pintcha and news agency ANG.   Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony with a population of 1.8 million, is one of the poorest and most unstable countries in the world.   It has experienced years of volatility, marked by coups and soldiers' mutinies.   The country plunged into a power struggle in August 2015, when President Jose Mario Vaz sacked his then prime minister, Domingos Simoes Pereira.   After lawmakers did not meet for nearly two years, an agreement was reached in April at a summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which led to Gomes's appointment as prime minister.
Date: Tue, 17 Jul 2018 18:32:36 +0200

Bissau, July 17, 2018 (AFP) - Public radio and television in Guinea-Bissau went quiet on Tuesday as state media workers joined an ongoing civil servants' strike.   Daily newspaper No-Pintcha and news agency ANG, both state-funded, also took part in a planned three-day strike over pay and working conditions.   "We have interns who have worked in newsrooms for over three years without pay," union leader Julciano Balde told AFP.   "We work with the little we have, with no means of transport, old computers, while ministers drive brand new cars."   The journalists want better working conditions, including "decent" salaries, the hiring of all interns and means of transportation, according to their representatives.   The minimum wage is 45,000 CFA francs (around 68 euros) at the No Pintcha newspaper, 60,000 CFA francs (90 euros) at the national radio and 120,000 CFA francs (180 euros) at the state television channel.

Civil servants launched regular strikes in June and their largest union UNTG confirmed it will keep asking workers to stay home from Tuesday to Thursday every week.    "We will keep the pressure on and paralyse the administration until we get what we want," UNTG leader Julio Antonio Mendonca told AFP.   Guinea-Bissau, with a population of 1.8 million, has experienced periods of political and military instability marked by coups and mutinies of soldiers for several years.   The former Portuguese colony had been in the grip of a power struggle since August 2015, when President Jose Mario Vaz sacked his then prime minister Domingos Simoes Pereira.   After lawmakers did not meet for nearly two years, an agreement was reached in April at a summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and a new prime minister, Aristides Gomes, was appointed.
Date: Wed, 11 Jul 2018 17:40:43 +0200

Bissau, July 11, 2018 (AFP) - Hundreds of civil servants took to the streets of Guinea-Bissau on Wednesday to demand a hike in the minimum wage and better living conditions.   The protest was organised by the Union of Guinea-Bissau workers (UNTG), which regroups 8,000 out of the West African country's 13,000 civil servants.  Demonstrators marched from the outskirts of the capital Bissau to its centre, chanting "Down with lawmakers paid to do nothing" and "We demand decent wages and better conditions," an AFP journalist saw.   "It is intolerable for government to raise the wages of ministers and parliamentarians while at the same time other public servants are paid next to nothing," UNTG Secretary General Julio Antonio Mendoca said.

UNTG is calling for the minimum monthly salary to be upped from 19,200 CFA francs (29 euros) to 59,000 CFA francs (90 euros).   "We will carry on until we succeed," Mendoca added.   It is the fifth action organised by UNTG in six weeks, including a three-day strike in June.   "The civil servants' claims are fair but the method used is inappropriate because the government cannot afford to meet the claims," Prime Minister Aristides Gomes told reporters last week.   "The government was formed to organise elections and deal with day-to-day matters."

Parliament last month adopted its first budget after nearly three years of political instability ahead of legislative elections set for November.   The former Portuguese colony was plunged into a power struggle in August 2015, when President Jose Mario Vaz sacked his then prime minister, Domingos Simoes Pereira.   Lawmakers did not meet for nearly two years -- a crisis that was defused in April under an agreement reached at a summit in Togo of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).   Under it, Gomes was appointed as a consensus prime minister and tasked with steering the country to the November 18 polls.
Date: Tue, 26 Jun 2018 21:40:25 +0200

Bissau, June 26, 2018 (AFP) - Civil servants in Guinea-Bissau went on strike Tuesday, days after the country passed its first budget following a three-year political crisis, their union told AFP.   The workers, who plan to strike for three days, are demanding a higher minimum wage and better working conditions, according to the National Union of Guinea-Bissau Workers (UNTG), the largest civil servants' union.   The small West African country's parliament just unanimously adopted its first budget after nearly three years of political instability ahead of legislative elections set for November.   Guinea-Bissau, with a population of 1.8 million, has experienced periods of political and military instability marked by coups and mutinies of soldiers for several years.

In the capital Bissau, ministries and public offices were closed on Tuesday and hospital services were reduced to a minimum, an AFP journalist said.   UNTG -- which says 90 percent of the country's estimated 13,000 civil servants are striking -- is calling for the minimum monthly salary to be upped from 19,200 CFA francs (29 euros) to 59,000 CFA francs (90 euros).   The government can increase civil servants' salaries as MPs and ministers recently received a raise, UNTG leader Julio Antonio Mendoca told AFP.   The former Portuguese colony had been in the grip of a power struggle since August 2015, when President Jose Mario Vaz sacked his then prime minister Domingos Simoes Pereira.   After lawmakers did not meet for nearly two years, an agreement was reached in April at a summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and a new prime minister, Aristides Gomes, was appointed.
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Fri, 8 Nov 2019 12:35:08 +0100 (MET)

Tehran, Nov 8, 2019 (AFP) - An earthquake rocked northwestern Iran before dawn on Friday, killing at least five people and injuring more than 300 in crumbling and collapsed buildings.   The 5.9-magnitude quake struck at 1:17 am (2247 GMT Thursday) about 120 kilometres (75 miles) southeast of the city of Tabriz, in East Azerbaijan province, the Iranian Seismological Centre said.

Described as "moderate", the quake was eight kilometres (five miles) deep and was followed by five aftershocks.    The provincial governor, Mohammad-Reza Pourmohammadi, told Iranian media that rescue operations were underway in 41 villages, but the damage was largely concentrated in two, Varnakesh and Varzaghan.   According to the emergency services, nearly 340 people were admitted to hospital for treatment, but all but 17 were discharged by Friday noon.   Some 40 homes were levelled by the quake and over 200 head of cattle killed.

Around 100 injured residents were pulled out of the rubble of their damaged or flattened homes.   Around noon, emergency teams distributed survival kits, stoves, blankets and tents in 78 villages.   In Varnakesh, an emergency shelter was set up.   State television broadcast images of people who had fled their homes warming themselves around a fire lit on a public highway.   But the damage appeared to be less widespread than initially feared.   The United States Geological Survey (USGS) had issued an alert warning that "significant casualties are likely and the disaster is potentially widespread".

In many areas people had returned to their homes by daybreak after the initial panic subsided and the aftershocks petered out.   The gas supply was restored to all but one of the affected villages.   The quake was felt in the provincial capital Tabriz and as far away as the city of Rasht, near the Black Sea coast 200 kilometres (125 miles) from the epicentre.   Tabriz, which has a population of more than a million, is a historic city which served as Iran's capital several times between the 13th and 16th centuries. Its bazaar is a UNESCO world heritage site.   Iran sits where two major tectonic plates meet and experiences frequent seismic activity.

The country has suffered a number of major disasters in recent decades, including at the ancient city of Bam, which was decimated by a catastrophic earthquake in 2003 that killed at least 31,000 people.     In 1990, a 7.4-magnitude quake in northern Iran killed 40,000 people, injured 300,000 and left half a million homeless, reducing dozens of towns and nearly 2,000 villages to rubble.   Iran has experienced at least two other significant quakes in recent years -- one in 2005 that killed more than 600 people and another in 2012 that left some 300 dead.
Date: Fri, 8 Nov 2019 11:03:11 +0100 (MET)

London, Nov 8, 2019 (AFP) - Royal Mail on Friday made a High Court bid to block a postal strike by workers due next month ahead of Christmas and around the time of Britain's general election.   Members of the Communication Workers Union recently voted to strike amid a dispute with management over pay and other employment conditions.   In a statement, Royal Mail pointed to "potential irregularities in the ballot".   It added: "The company is making this High Court application because the integrity and legal soundness of any electoral process is vital," Royal Mail said in relation to the strike ballot.   "This is particularly the case in relation to potential industrial action around the general election on 12 December 2019.    "Royal Mail is also making this application because of the damage industrial action would do to the company and its customers in the run-up to Christmas," the group added.   It expects the hearing to take place next week.
Date: Thu, 7 Nov 2019 17:15:09 +0100 (MET)

Paris, Nov 7, 2019 (AFP) - Top European medical bodies demanded Thursday that Chinese traditional medicines be subject to the same regulatory oversight as conventional Western methods, despite recent WHO recognition of their use.   "Just because the World Health Organisation includes a chapter on Traditional Chinese Medicine in its new International Classification of Diseases, it is not automatically safe to use without robust evidence," Professor Dan Marhala, President of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, said in a statement issued by top European medical and scientific bodies.   The European Academies' Science Advisory Council (EA SAC) and the Federation of European Academies of Medicine (EAM) said European lawmakers must protect the health of European citizens.

Accordingly, the existing European regulatory framework should be revised to make sure Traditional Chinese Medicine (TC) is held to the same standards of proof and evidence as conventional medicine.   "There have been examples where some Traditional Chinese Medicine has undergone thorough pre-clinical investigation and proven in rigorous clinical trials to contribute significant health benefit -- artemisinin therapy for malaria, for example," Marhala said.   "There may be more leads to diagnosis and therapeutic benefit yet to be discovered but this can in no way mean that other claims can be accepted uncritically."   It was not necessarily the Who's intention to promote the use of TC, but its stamp of approval could lead supporters to promote wider application, the statement cautioned.   As a result, patients could be confused over which diagnosis was appropriate and which therapy was effective.   More serious still, said former EASAC president Jos van der Meer, is that some TCMs "can have serious side effects and interactions with other treatments."   "Moreover, patients may be at risk that severe diseases are treated ineffectively and conventional medical procedures delayed," he added.

The WHO included TCMs in an official classification of diseases coming into effect in January 2022.   In 2015, China's Tu Youyou won the Nobel Prize for medicine for discovering artemisinin, giving a huge boost to the credibility of TCM which many in the west deride as lacking scientific foundation and verging on quackery.   In China, traditional medicine has a long, distinguished history and its practitioners are treated with great respect.   EASAC comprises the national science academies of EU Member states, plus Norway and Switzerland.   FEAM groups medical academies which provide advice to the European authorities.
Date: Thu, 7 Nov 2019 17:11:10 +0100 (MET)

Riga, Nov 7, 2019 (AFP) - Thousands of doctors and nurses rallied Thursday in front of the Latvian parliament in Riga calling for better pay in what was the Baltic state's largest protest in over a decade.   Police said more than 5,000 people, including patients, turned out for the protest, which featured coffins and signs with slogans such as "United for health", "I only want to work one job" and "Patients supporting doctors and nurses".   The LVSADA medical labour union organised the rally to condemn lawmakers for planning to increase their own salaries next year while reneging on a promise to boost wages in the chronically underfunded medical profession.   "We won't allow the healthcare system to be starved again," LVSADA chief Valdis Keris said at the rally, which state hospital employees attended by taking a day of unpaid leave.

Some doctors also participated in the protest by only performing emergency surgery and tending to emergency patients on Thursday while rescheduling everything else.    "The average monthly wage for a doctor at a Latvian public hospital is only between 1,000-3,000 euros ($1,100-$3,300)," protester and doctor Roberts Furmanis said in a statement sent to media.    "I work my daily shift at one hospital, at night I also work overtime driving around in an ambulance, plus sometimes I lecture at medical schools on my rare days off," he added.   "I get less than 3,000 euros a month for those jobs combined. How am I supposed to support my family?"   Last year, lawmakers voted to raise wages for almost all employees of the government-run healthcare system, but now say that they are unable to find the necessary funds in the 2020 state budget.    "I express deep regret for last year's promise, which we cannot carry out," speaker of parliament Inara Murniece told the rally.

Those protesting, however, point out that the 2020 state budget exceeds 10 billion euros for the first time ever in the country of just 1.9 million people -- or 700 million more euros than this year.    Medical workers are upset that while there is no room for better healthcare wages in the new budget, the country's lawmakers and ministers plan to increase their own salaries next year and have also earmarked taxpayer money for their respective political parties.    Thursday's rally was Latvia's largest since some 10,000 people attended a January 2009 protest against government cuts, which grew violent and resulted in dozens of arrests.
Date: Thu, 7 Nov 2019 15:13:02 +0100 (MET)
By Michelle FITZPATRICK

Frankfurt am Main, Nov 7, 2019 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of Lufthansa passengers faced disruptions Thursday as cabin crew in Germany staged a "massive" 48-hour walkout in the biggest escalation yet of a bitter row over pay and conditions.   The strike called by Germany's UFO flight attendants' union started at 2300 GMT on Wednesday and was to last until 2300 GMT on Friday.

Lufthansa said it had scrapped 700 flights on Thursday and some 600 the following day, warning that "around 180,000 passengers will be affected" across Germany.   The UFO union argued that the stoppage was necessary because negotiations with Lufthansa bosses were deadlocked.   But it accepted a surprise olive branch offered by Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr on Thursday, and agreed to preliminary talks over the weekend.    The current strike would carry on as planned "but would not for now be expanded", UFO said on its website.   Lufthansa said it regretted the inconvenience to passengers and stressed that it was working "to minimise the impact of this massive strike on our customers".

The carrier was running an alternative flight schedule where possible, and said passengers could rebook their journeys for free or swap their flights for train tickets.  Knut Kress, a passenger at a quieter than usual Munich airport, voiced support for the flight attendants.   "It's good that there are still unions defending something," he told AFP. But 48 hours "is a long time", he added.   Fellow traveller Birgit Kellner complained about the lack of notice for passengers.   "They should inform passengers a little earlier, not just two days before."   The walkout is UFO's biggest call to action since a week-long strike in 2015 hit Lufthansa with mass cancellations.   It is also seen as a test of strength for the union, weakened by months of infighting that have left Lufthansa questioning its right to speak for cabin crew.

- Internal disputes -
Lufthansa's finance chief Ulrik Svensson declined to put a price tag on the strike but said such stoppages typically cost "between 10 and 20 million" euros per day.   The union already staged a day-long warning strike last month at four Lufthansa subsidiary airlines, causing several dozen flights to be axed at Eurowings, Germanwings, SunExpress and Lufthansa CityLine.

But the flagship Lufthansa brand was spared the upheaval after management offered an unexpected two-percent pay rise to avert the strike.   Since then, however, UFO vice-president Daniel Flohr said no progress had been made in talks.   As well as higher pay for cabin crew across the Lufthansa group, UFO is demanding more benefits and easier routes into long-term contracts for temporary workers.

Lufthansa, however, has long argued that UFO no longer has the right to represent its staff following an internal leadership tussle, and has challenged the union's legal status in court.   But CEO Spohr hinted at a shift in position when he told reporters Thursday Lufthansa wanted to try to resolve the existing legal issues with UFO in the weekend meeting, hoping to then start formal arbitration talks.

UFO's internal disputes have cost it support among the Lufthansa group's 21,000 flight attendants, with some members switching to rival unions.   Separately on Thursday, Lufthansa reported a jump in third-quarter net profits but said it was slashing over 700 jobs at its Austrian Airlines subsidiary as the group seeks to trim costs in the face of fierce competition.
Date: Thu, 7 Nov 2019 09:57:41 +0100 (MET)

Singapore, Nov 7, 2019 (AFP) - Tourists visiting Singapore can now check in at some hotels using facial recognition technology under a pilot programme that could cut waiting times and help tackle a labour crunch.  The tech-savvy country of 5.7 million people is increasingly turning to automation to speed up services and deal with workforce shortages, with robots deployed for tasks ranging from cleaning to making noodles.

Under the pilot launched Wednesday, visitors will not need to wait to be checked in by hotel staff but can instead use a phone app fitted with facial recognition technology or machines which scan their passports.   The data from the scan is sent to immigration authorities for checks after which the visitor is issued a room key, said the Singapore Tourism Board and Hotel Association, which announced the initiative this week.

The technology, reportedly being trialled at three hotels and is similar to that used in some airports including Singapore's Changi, could reduce check-in times by up to 70 percent, they said.   Singapore welcomed a record high 18.5 million visitors last year, up 6.2 percent from the year before. The city has more than 400 hotels with 67,000 rooms.
Date: Wed, 6 Nov 2019 15:31:58 +0100 (MET)

Amman, Nov 6, 2019 (AFP) - Eight people, including four tourists, were wounded in a knife attack on Wednesday at the famed archeological site of Jerash in northern Jordan, a security spokesman told AFP.   Four tourists -- three Mexicans and a Swiss woman -- were wounded, along with a Jordanian tour guide and a security officer who tried to stop the assailant, public security directorate spokesman Amer Sartawi said.   The attack took place around noon (1000 GMT) at the Roman ruins of Jerash, a popular attraction 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the capital Amman.   The health ministry confirmed that eight people had been wounded, with Sartawi saying earlier that they had "been transported to hospital for treatment".    He said the assailant had been arrested but did not specify his nationality, noting that the motive was as yet unknown.

Jordanian tour guide Zouheir Zreiqat was at the scene and told AFP that the attack happened "just before midday when around 100 foreign tourists" were at the site.    "A bearded man in his twenties wearing black and brandishing a knife started to stab tourists," according to Zreiqat.   He said others started to shout for help and he, along with three other tour guides and three tourists managed to stop the assailant.   "We chased him until we could grab him and get him on the ground," Zreiqat said.    "We took the knife from him. He stayed silent, without saying a word until the police arrived and arrested him."

- Violent attacks -
It was not the first time tourist sites have been targeted by attacks in Jordan.    In December 2016, in Karak, home to one of the region's biggest Crusader castles, 10 people were killed in an attack that also left 30 wounded.    Seven police officers, two Jordanian civilians and a Canadian tourist were killed in the attack.

The attack was claimed by the Islamic State group (IS) and sparked concern over its impact on tourism, a mainstay of the Jordanian economy.    Ten people were convicted of carrying out the attack, with two sentenced to death.   Several violent incidents struck the country the same year, including a suicide attack in June claimed by IS that killed seven Jordanian border guards near the frontier with Syria.    Amman has played a significant role in the United States-led coalition fight against IS in Syria and Iraq, both neighbouring Jordan.

- Economic troubles -
Lacking in natural resources, the country of nearly 10 million depends on tourism and the kingdom has been working to pull the key sector out of a crisis caused by regional unrest in recent years.   Jordan's economy as a whole was hit hard by the combined impact of the international financial crisis, the Arab Spring uprisings that convulsed the Middle East in 2011 and the conflict in Syria.

Tourism accounts for 10 to 12 percent of gross domestic product and the government aims to double this by 2022, former tourism minister Lina Annab told AFP in an interview last year.  The country boasts 21,000 archaeological and historical sites that span millennia, according to the tourism board.   They include the Roman ruins of Jerash, the ancient city of Petra, the Dead Sea and Wadi al-Kharrar, or Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where some believe Jesus was baptised.   Jordan welcomed seven million tourists in 2010, but arrivals plunged to around three million in each of the following two years, tourism board head Abed Al Razzaq Arabiyat said in April.    Numbers have rebounded as spillover from the war in neighbouring Syria has abated, officials have said, with the government working to bring annual tourist arrivals back up to 7 million by 2020.
Date: Tue, 5 Nov 2019 00:54:14 +0100 (MET)

Nuku'alofa, Tonga, Nov 4, 2019 (AFP) - A 6.6 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of the Pacific island nation of Tonga on Tuesday, but there was no threat of a tsunami, officials said.    The United States Geological Survey (USGS) said the shallow undersea quake hit about 134 kilometres (83 miles) west of Neiafu, the country's second-largest town.    It said the temblor was not expected to have caused significant damage. The quake was not felt in Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa, according to an AFP reporter.    There was also no threat of a tsunami, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.    A second quake of 5.5 magnitude was recorded a few minutes later, the USGS said.
Date: Mon, 4 Nov 2019 23:47:26 +0100 (MET)

Santiago, Nov 4, 2019 (AFP) - A strong 6.0-magnitude earthquake shook Chile on Monday, rattling buildings in the capital while a big anti-government demonstration was under way.   The quake struck at 6:53 pm (2153 GMT) with its epicentre near the northern town of Illapel, the US Geological Survey said.   A strong and prolonged shaking was felt in the capital.   Chile's National Seismological Center measured the quake at magnitude 6.1, revising down an earlier estimate of 6.3.   There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.   "There have been no reports of damage to people, disruption of basic services or infrastructure," the National Emergency Office said.   The Army Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service said the quake was unlikely to cause a tsunami on Chile's Pacific coast.

When the quake hit, police in Santiago were dispersing protesters at the start of the third week of anti-austerity protests targeting the conservative government.   Chile is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries.   The 9.5-magnitude 1960 Valdivia earthquake was the strongest ever recorded on the magnitude scale, according to the USGS.   In 2010 an 8.8-magnitude followed by a tsunami killed more than 500 people.   Chile lies on the Ring of Fire -- an arc of fault lines that circles the Pacific Basin and is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Date: Mon, 4 Nov 2019 20:37:19 +0100 (MET)
By Eugenia LOGIURATTO

Recife, Brazil, Nov 4, 2019 (AFP) - Months after thick oil began turning idyllic beaches in Brazil into "black carpets," workers and volunteers wearing rubber gloves race against time to scrape off the remaining fragments ahead of the country's peak tourism season.   Paiva, Itapuama and Enseada dos Corais in the northeastern state of Pernambuco are among hundreds of beaches fouled by an oil spill that began to appear in early September and has affected more than 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) of Atlantic coastline.

As ocean currents brought large globs of crude to shore near the capital Recife in recent weeks, locals rushed to the normally picturesque beaches and used their bare hands to remove the toxic material coating sand, rocks and wildlife.    "I was shocked, there were people entering the water without gloves, without safety equipment, in the middle of the oil," coconut seller Glaucia Dias de Lima, 35, told AFP as she picked up chunks of crude from Itapuama beach.

Thousands of military personnel have been dispatched to help clean up the oil that has killed dozens of animals, including turtles, and reached a humpback whale sanctuary off Bahia state that has some of the country's richest biodiversity.   It is the third major environmental disaster to strike Brazil this year. In recent months fires ravaged the Amazon rainforest and in January a mine dam collapsed in the southeast, spewing millions of tons of toxic waste across the countryside.    Wildfires are still raging across the Pantanal tropical wetlands.

While thousands of tons of crude waste have been recovered so far, the space agency INPE said Friday there might still be oil at sea being pushed by currents. It could reach as far south as Rio de Janeiro state, the agency said.   President Jair Bolsonaro warned Sunday that "the worst is yet to come," saying only a fraction of the spilled crude had been collected so far.    The government on Friday named a Greek-flagged tanker as the prime suspect for being the source of the oil slicks.   The ship Bouboulina took on oil in Venezuela and was headed for Singapore, it said. The tanker's operators have denied the vessel was to blame.

- Fishing paralyzed -
As the southern hemisphere's summer approaches, people dependent on the fishing and tourism industries are nervously waiting for test results to show if the water is safe to swim in and eat from.   Northeastern Brazil is a popular tourist destination all year round, but visitor numbers usually explode in the hotter months. 

Eco-tourism guide Giovana Eulina said the disaster would affect the sector and she called for a campaign to "encourage people to come here."   Fishing in the region also has been largely paralyzed by the oil spill, even in areas where crude has not been detected.   "We still don't have a concrete answer from a scientist who says that (the water) is really contaminated," said Sandra Lima, head of a local fishing association.    Edileuza Nascimento, 63, stands in muddy water near Recife and extracts shellfish that she will sanitize at home, freeze and then sell.   It was already a struggle for fishermen to make a living, she said. But the oil slick has been "too much."    "It has come to finish off the fishing families."