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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Miami, Sept 24, 2019 (AFP) - A strong 6.0 magnitude struck off the northwest coast of Puerto Rico late Monday, the United States Geological Survey said, although no casualties or damage were reported. The quake struck 62km northwest of San Antonio at 11:23 pm local time (03:20 GMT) at a depth of 10km, the agency said. San Antonio is home to Rafael Hernandez Airport, a key air link to the mainland US. In 2010 nearby Haiti was struck by a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people and crippled the nation's infrastructure.
San Juan, Feb 12, 2018 (AFP) - Most of San Juan and a strip of northern Puerto Rico municipalities were plunged into darkness Sunday night after an explosion at a power station, five months after two hurricanes destroyed the island's electricity network.
The state electric power authority (AEE) said the blast was caused by a broken-down switch in Rio Piedras, resulting in a blackout in central San Juan and Palo Seco in the north. "We have personnel working to restore the system as soon as possible," the AEE said. San Juan's mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, said on Twitter that emergency services and local officials attended the scene in the neighbourhood of Monacillos, but no injuries were reported.
Meanwhile, the Puerto Rican capital's airport said it was maintaining its schedule using emergency generators. The blackout comes as nearly 500,000 of AEE's 1.6 million customers remain without power since Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the US territory in September 2017. AEE engineer Jorge Bracero warned on Twitter that the outage was "serious," and advised those affected that power would not be restored until Monday.
By Leila MACOR
Fajardo, Puerto Rico, Dec 13, 2017 (AFP) - Until Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Jose Figueroa did brisk business renting kayaks to tourists itching to see a lagoon that lights up by night thanks to millions of microorganisms. Today, things are so dire he's considering selling water to motorists stopped at red lights. "Now we are trying to survive," the 46-year-old tour guide said.
It used to be that visitors had to reserve a month in advance to get one of his kayaks and paddle around in the dark on the enchanting, bioluminescent body of water called Laguna Grande. But tourists are scarce these days as the Caribbean island tries to recover from the ravages of the storm back in September. "We do not know if we will have any work tonight," Figueroa said. "Last week, we worked only one day." He and another employee of a company called Glass Bottom PR are cleaning kayaks on the seaside promenade of Fajardo, a tourist town in eastern Puerto Rico whose main attraction is the so-called Bio Bay.
The year started off well for Puerto Rico, with the global success of the song "Despacito" by local musicians Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee. The catchy tune helped promote the US commonwealth island of 3.4 million people, which is saddled with huge debts and declared bankruptcy in May. But the hurricane turned what should be an island bustling with tourists into one with deserted beaches, shuttered restaurants and hotels full of mainland US officials working on the rebuilding of the island. "What few tourists we have are the federal officials themselves," said Figueroa.
- Locals only -
The grim outlook spreads up and down the seaside promenade of Fajardo, where many restaurants are closed because there is no electricity. On this particular day around noon, the only restaurant open is one called Racar Seafood. It has its own emergency generator. "We get by on local tourists," said its 61-year-old owner, Justino Cruz. "Our clients are local -- those who have no electricity, no generator, cold food or no food."
Puerto Rico's once-devastated power grid is now back up to 70 percent capacity, but this is mainly concentrated in the capital San Juan. So while inland towns that depend on tourism are struggling mightily, things are getting better in San Juan as cruise ships are once again docking. On November 30, the first cruise ship since the storm arrived with thousands of vacationers on board. They were received with great fanfare -- quite literally, with trumpet blaring and cymbals crashing.
- Pitching in to help -
The World Travel & Tourism Council, based in London, says tourism accounted for about eight percent of Puerto Rico's GDP in 2016, or $8.1 billion. Hurricane Maria's damage has been uneven. Although some tour guides now have no work and many eateries are shut down, hotels that have their own generators are doing just fine. Thanks to the thousands of US government officials and reconstruction crew members that came in after the storm, the hotels that are open -- about 80 percent of the total -- are pretty much full.
These people are starting to leave the island this month but hotels may receive tourists around Christmas, at least in San Juan, where power has for the most part been restored. The hurricane "undoubtedly cost billions in lost revenue," said Jose Izquierdo, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company. But Izquierdo nevertheless says he is "optimistic" and suggests an alternative: put tourists to work as volunteers in the gargantuan reconstruction effort that the island needs. "We want to look for travellers who want to travel with a purpose, who might have the commitment to help rebuild," said Izquierdo.
The program, called "Meaningful Travel" and launched in mid-November, organizes trips on which residents, Puerto Ricans living abroad and tourists are invited to help the island get back on its feet. "The plan aims to create empathy with this tourist destination," said Izquierdo. "We want to be like New Orleans after Katrina, where 10 years after the hurricane, tourism is the driving force of its economy. We want to build that narrative of recovery," he added. "There are different ways in which the world wants to help Puerto Rico. The best way is to visit us."
By Marcos PÉREZ RAMÍREZ
San Juan, Nov 9, 2017 (AFP) - Andrea Olivero, 11, consults her classmate Ada about an exercise during their daily English class at San Juan's Sotero Figueroa Elementary School. The task: list the positive and negative aspects of Hurricane Maria's passing almost two months ago.
The girls only have to look around. There is no electricity and they "roast" in the heat, Andrea says. At the back of the room, computers and televisions collect dust. "We would like to move past the topic of the hurricane a bit. It is already getting repetitive," Andrea told AFP. She is one of more than 300,000 pupils in the public education system, although only half of schools are functioning. Barely 42 per cent of Puerto Ricans have electricity seven weeks after Maria struck, killing at least 51 in the American territory.
The lack of power has prompted disorienting timetable changes on the tropical island, to avoid both the hottest hours of the day and the use of dining facilities. "The children are very anxious. We manage to make progress in lessons and they change the hours again. Everything is messed up and we fall behind," English teacher Joan Rodriguez explained. "We can't use the computers to illustrate classes," she said. "They are reading the novel "Charlotte's Web," and we wanted to do exercises comparing it to the film version. But we cannot use the television.
- Suspicions -
From October 23, some directors reopened their schools in the western region of Mayaguez and San Juan. But last Thursday, the Department of Education ordered their closure, insisting they must be evaluated by engineering and architectural firms, then certified by the US Army Corps of Engineers. One of those schools was Vila Mayo, also in San Juan. The community presumed it would open, as it had been used as a shelter, its electrical infrastructure had been inspected and it had not suffered structural damage.
But Luis Orengo, the education department's director in San Juan, told protesters outside the school it was closed as inspectors' findings had not reached the central government. "This is unacceptable! The school is ready to give classes but they don't want to open it. Our children cannot lose a year," fumed Enid Guzman, who protested with her 11-year-old son, Reanny De la Cruz. There are suspicions the stalled reopening of schools is, in part, related to the prior closure of 240 schools over the past year during Puerto Rico's long-running financial crisis. The fiscal difficulties have seen the island's population drop over the past decade by 14 percent, leading in turn to a fall in school enrolment.
Before the storms, 300 schools were at risk of closure -- and for the president of Puerto Rico's federation of teachers, Mercedes Martinez, the government's aim is clear. "Secretary (Julia) Keleher seems to have an orchestrated plan to close schools," she said, referring to the education secretary. "Why do you have to wait 30 days to get a certification so a school can open?" Keleher has announced she expects most schools to be open by the middle of November.
April 28, 2008
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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".
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
April 02, 2008
Dominica is an English-speaking developing Caribbean island nation. The tourism industry in is the early stages of development; first-class tourist facilities are l
All Americans traveling by air outside the United States are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States.
This requirement will be extended to sea travel (except closed loop cruises), including ferry service, by the summer of 2009.
Until then, U.S. citizens traveling by sea must have government-issued photo identification and a document showing their U.S. citizenship (for example, a birth certificate or certificate of nationalization), or other WHTI compliant document such as a passport card for entry or re-entry to the U.S.
Sea travelers should also check with their cruise line and countries of destination for any foreign entry requirements.
Applications for the new U.S. Passport Card are now being accepted.
We expect cards will be available and mailed to applicants in spring 2008.
The card may not be used to travel by air and is available only to U.S. citizens. Further information on the Passport Card is available at http://travel.state.gov/passport/ppt_card/ppt_card_3926.html and upcoming changes to U.S. passport policy can be found on the Bureau of Consular Affairs web site at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2223.html.
We strongly encourage all American citizen travelers to apply for a U.S. passport well in advance of anticipated travel.
American citizens can visit travel.state.gov or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on how to apply for their passports.
In addition to a valid passport, U.S. citizens may be asked to present a return or onward ticket. U.S. citizens should take special care to secure their passports while traveling as it can be time-consuming and difficult to acquire new proof of citizenship to facilitate return travel should the passport be lost or stolen. There is a departure tax assessed when leaving Dominica. Children under twelve years of age are exempt from the departure tax.
For further information concerning entry requirements, travelers can contact the Embassy of the Commonwealth of Dominica, 3216 New Mexico Avenue NW, Washington, DC
20016, telephone (202) 364-6781, e-mail email@example.com, or the Consulate General of Dominica in New York at (212) 768-2480. Visit the Dominica Division of Tourism offical web site at http://www.dominica.dm/site/index.cfm for more information.
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:
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 Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts 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.
Petty street crime occurs in Dominica. Valuables left unattended, especially on beaches, are vulnerable to theft.
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 information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care is limited. The major hospital is Princess Margaret Hospital, telephone (767) 448-2231/5720.
In addition, there is one other hospital in Dominica and several clinics. There is no operational hyperbaric chamber; divers requiring treatment for decompression illness must be evacuated to Martinique. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.
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.
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 Dominica is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Vehicles are driven on the left in Dominica. Seatbelt laws are not strictly enforced. Roads are narrow with steep inclines throughout the island. There are few guardrails in areas that have precipitous drop-offs from the road. Road signs are limited outside of the major towns. Drivers should be alert for minibus (taxi) drivers, who often make sudden stops or pull out into traffic without warning or signaling.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.dominica.dm/site/index.cfm.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Dominica’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Dominica’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
There is no U.S Embassy or Consulate in Dominica. The U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown, Barbados, is responsible for American Citizens Services on the island of Dominica. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a 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.
Like all Caribbean countries, Dominica can be affected by hurricanes. The hurricane season normally runs from June to the end of November, but there have been hurricanes in December in recent years. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.
Please see Customs Information.
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 Dominica’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Dominica 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.
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 Dominica 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 Dominica.
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 Bridgetown is located in the Wildey Business Park in suburban Wildey, south and east of downtown Bridgetown.
The main number for the Consular Section is (246) 431-0225; after hours, the Embassy duty officer can be reached by calling (246) 436-4950.
The web site for Embassy Bridgetown is http://barbados.usembassy.gov/ . Hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, except Barbados and U.S. holidays.
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Dominica dated April 2, 2007, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
By Gemma Handy
Roseau, Dominica, June 12, 2018 (AFP) - With the hurricane season starting up again in the Atlantic, Irvince Auguiste is feeling vulnerable. He, his wife Louisette and their three sons are still living in the ruins of their five-bedroom home that Hurricane Maria flattened nine months ago when it ravaged the tiny Caribbean island of Dominica. They have rebuilt a kitchen, a washroom and a communal living area with sheets of plywood, but they are sleeping in tents. "We are worried," Irvince says. "I don't know where we will go if another hurricane comes. We just have to pray it doesn't," adds Louisette. "But we are not moving; this is our home."
More than 30 people were killed on Dominica when Maria crashed ashore on September 18 as a catastrophic Category Five storm, the first stop in a terrifying rampage that also devastated Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Like the Auguiste family, most of the rest of the 70,000 residents of the former British colony are nervously watching the weather forecasts as they struggle to get back on their feet. While there has been some progress on Dominica, recovery has been slow and the task is daunting. Damage to the island has been estimated at $1.33 billion -- or 226 percent of GDP. Most businesses have reopened in the capital Roseau and electricity has been restored to various communities island-wide.
In Portsmouth, the island's second largest town, ground has been broken on construction of new hurricane-hardened residences for people who lost homes. The project, which calls for 226 residences to be built by next year, is being funded through a government program in which Dominica offers citizenship in return for investments in the island. Project manager Christopher Timmins said the new homes -- which will have reinforced concrete walls and roofs, and impact-resistant windows -- are "designed to withstand the worst that Dominican weather can throw at them."
- Public services slow to resume -
But elsewhere, like Touna Village where the Auguistes live, people are still living in tents. In nearby Marigot, both the health clinic and police station are operating out of private homes. Telecommunications firm Digicel is repairing six schools in Kalinago Territory and Atkinson, and has replaced roofs on 40 private homes. But the pace is hindered by the "inordinate amount of time" it takes for materials to be shipped from the United States, said project manager Peter Court. Roofs are being fixed according to stringent new building guidelines that include a steeper pitch, thicker materials and more rafters to help them stay in place in strong winds.
Lighthouse Christian Academy, a private school, had to fork out almost $20,000 to replace lost desks and benches, computers and books. It reopened in January but the absence of electricity means school days end early at 1:00 pm due to the stifling heat inside classrooms. "It's phenomenal trying to run a school without electricity," says principal Hudson Challenger. "Teachers can't do research and kids can't do their homework without lights. It's too expensive to use a generator." In Roseau, business may be down 50 percent but patriotism is thriving, says market stall vendor Augustina John, whose canvasses embroidered with the ubiquitous mantra "Dominica strong" are popular with consumers. "Life continues but I don't think Dominica will ever be the same again," John says.
The island's destruction has spawned advantages for some. Brent Pascal was homeless and jobless for three years before being hired by the government to help clear debris. "It took three months to clean Roseau's streets and I have found work on and off since," he adds. Vegetation has returned to Dominica's once lush mountainsides but the defoliated trees could take up to 15 years to return to their former glory, says forest ranger Felix Eugene. Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit planted 80 trees last week to kickstart a national tree-planting program. Tourism chiefs recently launched a "Rediscover Dominica" campaign featuring a host of discounts to lure vacationers back to the "nature island."
Roseau, Dominica, Sept 22, 2017 (AFP) - The tiny Caribbean island of Dominica appealed for desperately-needed aid and helicopters following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria, which left the country struggling to survive without water or electricity. The island largely lost communications with the outside world after Maria ploughed into it on Monday as a maximum-strength Category Five hurricane packing winds of 160 miles per hour (257 kilometres per hour).
At least 15 people were killed on the island, with six deaths elsewhere in the Caribbean as the storm continued its destructive path north on Friday. "For now our urgent, urgent matter is to get supplies to the affected people. We're going to need all of the helicopter help we can get, because we need to ferry the supplies to people," Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said Thursday.
AFP aerial footage showed debris from damaged buildings scattered across the island of 72,000 people and many structures with their roofs ripped off. Trees were snapped in half or ripped out of the ground. Some streets were so filled with debris -- including splintered tree branches and sheets of corrugated metal -- that they were impassable. Residents were busy shovelling mud out of their homes and businesses, while laundry was hung out to dry on the frames of half-destroyed homes and along downed utility cables.
In a neighbourhood of candy-coloured houses, families were cooking on makeshift stoves fashioned out of cinder blocks and rocks, fuelled by wood scraps. The neighbouring French island of Martinique and the South American country of Guyana have dispatched a team of 68 firefighters to Dominica, said Patrick Amoussou-Adeble, secretary-general of Martinique. "We have carried out a survey by helicopter to assess the situation. We have a naval ship that will supply 40 tons of water to the victims," he said. Skerrit said that with hurricanes becoming ever stronger, "we really need, all of us, to understand that these issues are of greater concern to small islands like ours." "We are very very vulnerable," he said.
By Amandine ASCENSIO with Jean-Philippe LUDON in Fort-de-France
Pointe-à-Pitre, Sept 19, 2017 (AFP) - Hurricane Maria smashed into the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica on Tuesday, with its prime minister describing devastating damage as winds and rain from the powerful storm also hit territories still reeling from Irma. As residents hunkered down in their homes the Category Five hurricane made landfall with top winds swirling at 160 miles (257 kilometres) per hour, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. "We have lost all what money can buy and replace," Dominica's premier Roosevelt Skerrit posted on Facebook, saying there were initial reports of "widespread devastation".
"My greatest fear for the morning is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains." Earlier, he said his roof had been blown off, his house was flooding and he was "at the complete mercy of the hurricane". After being rescued Skerrit appealed for "help of all kinds" but noted specifically that helicopters will be needed so that authorities could survey the damage.
Dominica's airport and ports have been closed. After moving across the tropical island of 72,000 people, Maria was downgraded to an "extremely dangerous" Category Four hurricane but could strengthen again as it races north towards the British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The NHC warned of dangerous storm surges, destructive waves, flash floods and mudslides and warned that "preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion".
The French territory of Guadeloupe -- the bridgehead for aid for Irma-hit French territories -- ordered all residents to take shelter in a maximum-level "violet alert". Heavy rain lashed the island and several areas were without power Tuesday morning. The Dominican Republic, the east coast of which was battered by Irma, ordered citizens in part of the north to evacuate ahead of Maria's arrival, expected Wednesday. St Kitts, Nevis, the British island of Montserrat, Culebra and Vieques were also on alert. Martinique, a French island south of Dominica, suffered power cuts but avoided major damage as the storm skirted its shores. Flooding, mudslides and power outages were also reported in parts of St Lucia.
- 'Worst-case scenario' -
Criticised for the pace of relief efforts in their overseas territories devastated by Irma, Britain, France and the Netherlands said they were boosting resources for the Caribbean. "We are planning for the unexpected, we are planning for the worst," said Chris Austin, head of a UK military task force set up to deal with Irma, as the British Virgin Islands readied for a new onslaught. On the island of St Martin, which is split between France and the Netherlands, authorities announced a red alert ahead of Maria's arrival. "We're watching its trajectory very closely, and we're preparing for the worst-case scenario," said local official Anne Laubies.
In Guadeloupe's biggest city of Pointe-a-Pitre, Elodie Corte, the boss of a metalworking company, said there had been frantic preparations to limit the damage from the storm. "We spent the morning strapping down the aluminium to stop it from flying away if the winds are strong," she said Monday. The Dutch navy tweeted that troops were heading to the two tiny neighbouring islands of Saba and St Eustatius to ensure security following widespread complaints after the first hurricane of looting and lawlessness on St Martin, among the worst hit by Irma, with 14 killed. French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said 110 more soldiers would be deployed to the region to reinforce about 3,000 people already there shoring up security, rebuilding infrastructure and distributing aid. But he warned of "major difficulties" if Guadeloupe is hard hit.
- Hurricane series
Irma, also a Category 5 hurricane, left around 40 people dead in the Caribbean before churning west and pounding Florida, where the death toll stood at 50 Monday. It broke weather records when it whipped up winds of 295 kilometres per hour for more than 33 hours straight. Another hurricane, Jose, is also active in the Atlantic and has triggered tropical storm warnings for the northeastern United States. Many scientists are convinced that megastorms such as Irma, and Harvey before it, are intensified by the greater energy they can draw from oceans that are warming as a result of climate change.
Roseau, Dominica, Sept 1, 2015 (AFP) - Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit is pleading with world leaders to come to the rescue of his Caribbean island nation after it was battered by a tropical storm that killed at least 31 people. Another two dozen remain missing, including two French nationals, after Tropical Storm Erika barrelled her way through late last week. The death toll has risen steadily since the storm hit the island of 72,000. In a message to the nation on Monday night, Skerrit said 21 nationals and two French citizens are missing.
He added: "We have written to all foreign governments for help and assistance and I can tell you that the responses that we have received thus far are tremendous." At the weekend, in the immediate aftermath of the worst of the storm, which also brought heavy rain to Haiti and Cuba, the prime minister ordered the evacuation of Petite Savanne, a coastal village cut off by mudslides. Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago were among the countries helping the evacuation effort by providing helicopters.
The evacuations of Petite Savanne's 750 residents was expected to be completed on Tuesday. "We welcome the evacuation process because it has been very difficult for us and we were in a state of helplessness since we had no communication," Johna Guiste, a tearful Petite Savanne official, told AFP. Anelta Hilaire-Francis said she has been marooned on the seashore for the past two days with her children "trying to get out of the village." "It's hard and difficult to live, to take in and swallow what has happened to us," she said as she boarded a coast guard boat to a shelter in the capital Roseau. Last week Skerrit said he feared the storm had taken the island back 20 years. China last week offered $300,000 as emergency humanitarian assistance.
October 02, 2008
Latvia is a stable democracy with a developing economy. Most tourist facilities found in a western European city are available in the capital city of Riga. However,
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Latvia is a party to the Schengen agreement. As such, U.S. citizens may enter Latvia for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa. The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay. For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet. Travelers remaining in Latvia for more than 90 days, including 180 day periods that cross over two half-calendar years, must apply for temporary residence. All travelers must have a valid insurance policy, covering medical expenses while in Latvia. Repatriation costs, including funeral and disposition of remains costs also have to be covered by the policy. In addition, upon entering or exiting the country, travelers must declare cash in excess of 10,000 euros to Latvian customs. For more information, travelers may contact the Latvian Embassy, at 2306 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel. (202)328-2840, fax (202) 328-2860. For further information, visit http://www.latvia-usa.org. Within Latvia, contact the Ministry of Interiors Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs at Ciekurkalna 1, linija 1,k,3,Riga, LV 1026. Tel. (371)67219645, (371)67219679, (371)80007657, fax (371)67219654, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, web site http://www.ocma.gov.
Any traveler to Russia, even in transit, is advised to obtain a visa prior to entry into Latvia. The process of obtaining a visa at the Russian Embassy in Riga can be lengthy, and involve surrender of the passport for an undetermined period of time. Visit the Embassy of Latvia web site at http://www.latvia-usa.org for the most current visa information.
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.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Civil unrest is not a problem in Riga. Nonetheless, in the past, Riga has seen large, peaceful demonstrations related to internal political issues. While demonstrations have been peaceful, American citizens are nevertheless cautioned to avoid any large public demonstrations. There have been no incidents of terrorism directed toward American interests. Incidents of anti-Americanism are rare. However, instances of racially motivated verbal harassment, and on occasion, physical assaults on non-Caucasian foreigners, have occurred in Riga. There have also been reports of non-Caucasian foreigners being subjected to extra scrutiny by security guards in shops and malls in Riga. Additionally, individuals displaying alternative lifestyles have experienced harassment.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s 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 security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., 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 notice A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Crime in Riga is generally non-violent. The majority of non-violent crime tends toward acts of pickpocketing, identity theft, and personal scams. However, there have been instances of serious violent assaults and robberies. Street crime is a serious problem, particularly for tourists. In addition to pickpockets in all public areas, there are numerous scam artists targeting foreigners in the tourist pubs and restaurants. There have been a number of reports recently of foreign tourists being charged xorbitant prices for drinks in bars. Some have then been assaulted or forced to withdraw money from an ATM to pay the bill. You can avoid situations like this by ensuring that you check the price of drinks before ordering, pay for one round at a time and seek recommendations for bars from trustworthy sources. There have also been a few cases of tourists and residents being drugged in bars and restaurants and then taken outside or to their residences and robbed. In any public area, one should always be alert, particularly to being surrounded by two or more people at once. It is not uncommon for groups of pickpockets to attempt to overwhelm their victim. Gangs of professional pickpockets are specifically targeting foreigners, particularly those carrying backpacks. In addition, Riga has one of the highest rates of car theft in the world.
Internet crime is a growing concern in Latvia. Common fraudulent schemes involve both Internet auction sites and Internet job search sites. In the first scam, criminals offer valuable items for sale at low prices on Internet auctions and request that payments be sent by wire transfer to a bank in Latvia or through a fraudulent escrow site that they have created themselves. In this scheme, the money passes through a bank in Latvia and is quickly withdrawn by ATM or transferred to a bank in another country. It is very difficult in these cases to discover the identities of the account holders or recover the funds.
The second common scam involves identity theft through false job offers. In this scheme, a company claiming to be located in Latvia, but which has a non-existent address, offers the victim employment as a U.S. – based agent or freight forwarder. When the victim responds to the job offer, commonly posted on one of several popular Internet job sites, a Social Security Number and other identifying information needed for the identity theft is required under the guise of conducting a background check.
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 or Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to 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. For more information, see Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in Latvia is steadily improving, but remains limited in several important respects. There are a few private clinics with medical supplies and services, including disposable needles and basic modern diagnostics, which are nearly equal to Western Europe or U.S. standards. However, because of the lack of equipment and resources, most major invasive procedures or surgeries in Latvia are not recommended. Hospital services have shown good progress but are still not equal to Western standards. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Most, but not all, antibiotics and prescription medications are available but as they are generally produced in Europe or Latvia, they often have different names and instructions are usually not printed in English. Diphtheria, hepatitis and tick-borne encephalitis are present. According to the World Health Organization, tuberculosis is a significant problem in Latvia, with 9% of all cases being multi-drug resistant. For further information, please consult the CDC’s Travel notice on TB at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx. State ambulance service for emergencies is available by dialing 112 anywhere in Latvia. However, response time is poor in rural areas. Air ambulance service is available for medical evacuations. In general, private air ambulance services are very expensive and require advance payment before the patient is transported.
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
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 Latvia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Foreign visitors to Latvia planning to operate a motor vehicle are required to obtain an International Driving Permit. These may be obtained through the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance for a small fee. A U.S. state driver’s license is not sufficient. These requirements apply to those operating rental cars as well, whether or not the rental company chooses to enforce the requirement as a condition of rental. Individuals driving without an International Driving Permit may have their vehicle confiscated by the police. Americans resident in Latvia for more than six months are required to apply for a Latvian driver’s license. Upon receipt of a Latvian driver’s license, American citizens are required to surrender their US driver’s license to the Latvian authorities. The licenses are then returned to their respective states of issuance. For more information, visit the Latvian Road and Traffic Safety Department at http://www.csdd.lv
Latvia has one of the highest rates of automobile accidents and fatalities in Europe. While recent reports show a decrease in the number of traffic accident fatalities, there are still a number of hazards to watch out for. Drivers should be alert for pedestrians and slow moving vehicles in traffic. Additionally, violation of traffic rules is common, and it is not unusual to be overtaken by other automobiles traveling at high speeds, even in crowed urban areas. Drivers do not always yield to pedestrians, even at marked intersections. During winter, most major roads are cleared of snow. However, drivers should be alert for fog, snow, and ice while driving. Driving while intoxicated is a very serous offense and carries heavy penalties. Local authorities use roadblocks and Breathalyzer tests as enforcement tools. Drivers and pedestrians should be alert to the possibility of drunk drivers and drunken pedestrians wandering on the road. Drivers must use their headlights at all times. Speed limits are usually 50 km/hr in the city and 90 km/hr on the highways. Public transportation is generally considered safe, but travelers are encouraged to select well-marked taxis. Emergency services are fair but improving (See section on Medical Facilities above); response time may be especially slow in traffic or in rural settings. Dial 112 for ambulance service.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for information. Visit the website of Latvia’s national tourist office at http://latviatourism.lv/info.php and the national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.csdd.lv/
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Latvia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Latvia’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 www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
Banks and currency exchange counters may refuse to accept U.S. currency that is crumpled, torn, discolored or defaced (even small pen stokes, hand written numbers and letters are considered defacing). If such notes are accepted for exchange, an additional processing fee, based on the size of the transaction, may be charged. ATMs are widely available in Riga and in major towns. For security purposes, it is recommended that visitors use ATMs located inside major hotels or shopping malls, versus those located on the street, in high-volume tourist areas. Telephone connections with the United States are reliable. However, 1-800 numbers cannot be accessed from Latvia. Please check with your long distance carrier before departure to see if they offer service in Latvia. Local Internet cafés offer computer access, and fax machines are widely available.
Latvian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Latvia of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, medications, business equipment, drugs, etc. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Latvia in Washington or one of the Latvian consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements at http://www.latvia-usa.org.
Please see our information on 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 Latvian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Latvia are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in illicit 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 web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION/EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS: Americans living or traveling in Latvia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy of Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/ and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Latvia. 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 is located at 7 Raina Blvd. Riga, LV-1510, and may be reached by dialing +371-703-6200. The fax number for the Consular American Citizen Services section is+371-781-4088. You can find the ACS section online at http://riga.usembassy.gov/
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This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated March 12, 2008 with updated information on Entry Requirements.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
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.
Source: Food Safety News [edited]
Officials in Latvia are investigating 40 _Salmonella_ and Shiga toxin-producing _E. coli_ illnesses with mostly children affected. A total of 36 children and 4 employees of educational institutions are ill, according to the Latvian Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (SPKC). Salmonellosis has been laboratory confirmed in 9 children with symptoms of acute intestinal infection thought to have occurred from [9 to 11 Sep 2019]. Patients have been recorded at Levina and Tornisi kindergartens. Shiga toxin-producing also called enterotoxigenic _E. coli_ (EHEC) infections have been linked to schools identified as Levina, Saulite and Piladzitis in Sigulda, a town in the country.
At least 4 children aged 3 to 6 years old have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) after EHEC infection from early September 2019 in Sigulda. HUS is a type of kidney failure associated with EHEC infection. It can occur in people of any age but is most common in children under 5 years old. The SPKC has surveyed parents of sick children, visited preschools to obtain information on absent children and staff and the cause, analysed food menus and possible risk factors. A total of 19 infections at 3 other pre-school facilities in Ikskile, Garkalne and Ogre are not thought to be related to those ill in Sigulda.
The Latvian Food and Veterinary Service (PVD) has been investigating catering units at the 3 sites linked to _E. coli_ infection where catering comes from one company. Initial suspicions pointed to contaminated watermelons. Inspections at the catering units did not reveal violations of hygiene requirements that could contribute to the spread of infection. The sites also underwent cleaning and disinfection. PVD suspended operations of a vegetable processing firm called "Jelgavas AugÄ¼i" due to violations of hygiene requirements, product traceability and inadequate storage temperature for pre-packed vegetables that were stored at 13 deg. C [approx. 55 deg. F] instead of the required 6 deg. C [approx. 42 deg. F].
The company, through Baltic Restaurants Latvia, supplies fresh fruits and vegetables to Sigulda educational institutions but a connection to the outbreak has not been established. Testing at the firm so far has not found _E. coli_. Other results are pending but the company will be allowed to resume operations if they are negative and when it corrects the deficiencies identified by authorities. Authorities have also found issues with transportation of food by the company "Point to Point" Ltd between educational institutions.
[These are two outbreaks of enteric pathogens that appear to be related to food supplied to schools. The EHEC outbreak has been possibly linked to watermelon. With 9 cases of EHEC and 4 of them developing HUS, it is possible that the strain is a hyperproducer of Shiga toxin but most likely related to use of antimicrobials early in the infection which increases the risk of HUS. - ProMED Mod.LL]
[HealthMap/ProMED map available at: Latvia: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/119>]
Riga, May 15, 2019 (AFP) - A second Albanian soldier has died of his injuries from a World War II landmine blast last week during a NATO exercise in Latvia, the Baltic state's defence minister said Wednesday. Klodian Tanushi, who held the rank of major, died following surgery at a Riga hospital over the weekend, days after the landmine explosion that also killed another soldier. "I would like to express my deepest sympathy to the soldiers' relatives and friends, to their fellow service members and to the people of Albania," Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabriks told AFP. "Latvia is very grateful to our ally Albania for contributing to NATO's expanded presence in Latvia."
In 2016, NATO deployed four multinational battalions to Poland and the Baltic states to guard against possible Russian adventurism. The defence group's rotating battalion in Latvia is led by Canada and also includes soldiers from Albania, the Czech Republic, Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain. Tanushi, a father-of-three, was the commanding officer of the Albanian contingent stationed at the NATO base in the central village of Adazi. Both world wars left Latvia littered with many unexploded sea and landmines as well as artillery shells, which continue to be found on a daily basis. Clearing areas of such explosives is a frequent focus of NATO military exercises in the region.
Riga, July 22, 2018 (AFP) - Fires raging for five days have destroyed more than 800 hectares (2,000 acres) of western Latvia, authorities said Sunday, with continuing extreme temperatures hampering firefighters' efforts. Satellite images showed the fires have wiped out 170 acres of forest, 257 hectares of scrubland and nearly 400 hectares of peatland.
A peat fire in the Courland region broke out last Tuesday and spread eastwards, with the smoke noticeable in the resort town of Jurmala, more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) away in the neighbouring Riga region. "Peatland fires burn downward, but when there's wind, which brings oxygen, the fires can erupt into flames," Latvian fire services spokesman Inta Palkavniece told reporters. "The main goal is to prevent the fires from spreading," he added. The fire services said on its website that firefighting efforts would be "long and troublesome". "The weather is unfavourable to firefighting and will remain so over the next days," it said.
The Courland region is sparsely populated, with few roads and many areas inaccessible because of its vast marshes. Residents of Stikli, a village that was evacuated because of the fire, began to return home after the wind changed "of their own accord", the mayor of its municipality Ventspils, Aivars Mucenieks, told reporters. Pupils of a school for disabled children in Stikli will not return until the situation is fully under control, he added.
Meteorologists warned that the high temperatures are persisting and no rain is expected for the next two weeks. Latvia has experienced severe drought over the last few months, prompting authorities to declare a natural catastrophe in the agricultural sector. The Baltic country has not yet asked for help from other European countries and has no proposals to do so for the time being. But other countries in Europe have been in the grip of an unusually long heatwave for recent weeks with little prospect of rain for the time being.
In Sweden, where temperatures are the highest for a century, farmers are even sending their animals to slaughter because there is no hay left to feed them. It has asked for help from other European countries, because of the lack of manpower and capacity to tackle such natural catastrophes. Poland has asked the EU for financial aid after more than 91,000 farms were affected by an unusual spring drought, according to the agriculture ministry. In Germany, which suffered a drought in May and June, agricultural producers warned the harvest this year will be down by between 20 and 50 percent.
World Travel News Headlines
Heavy rain has led to rivers bursting their banks, forcing the closure of shops and restaurants
Streets in the South Island tourist towns of Wanaka and Queenstown were slowly going under water on Friday, after Lake Wanaka and Lake Wakatipu burst their banks earlier in the week, flooding businesses and sewerage systems.
Water and large debris closed the main street of Wanaka, a popular spot with Instagrammers thanks to its famous tree that appears to have grown out of the lake. On Friday businesses were sandbagging as heavy rain continued to fall.
Sewerage systems in the town were also at risk of contaminating the lake, with the Queenstown Lakes District council taking the precautionary measure of shutting down the sewer connection to a handful of premises.
Wanaka residents were told to be on “high alert” with heavy rain predicted all weekend.
The streets of the usually bustling tourist town were largely empty, and the popular cafes and restaurants on the lake shore were closed.
3rd December 2019
At least 25 people were killed in various rain-related incidents in Tamil Nadu, India since November 29, 2019. 17 of the victims died after a wall collapsed following a continuous heavy downpour in Coimbatore on Monday morning, December 2.
Among the fatalities were 10 women. Around 1 305 huts and 465 tiled-roof houses were damaged, while 1,000 people were evacuated to government relief centers in Tuticorin, Cuddalore, and Tirunelveli districts as the north-east monsoon intensifies.
Schools remain closed on Monday including those in the districts of Chennai, Chengalpet, Kancheepuram, Tiruvallur, Cuddalore, and Tuticorin, as the areas received 90 mm (3 inches) rain in the past 36 hours.
A flood alert has been issued to residents near the banks of Bhavani River in this western district of Tamil Nadu as a dam built across it has burst in the wake of torrential rains in catchment areas, officials said on Monday.
- Southern Angola has been affected by widespread floods, triggered by heavy rains on 2-4 December.
- According to the Government of Angola, 60 people have been displaced in the city of Ondjiva (Cunene Province), while several houses are damaged, roads are flooded, and power outages have been reported across areas of Ondjiva.
- In Kalepi Municipality (Huila Province, southern Angola), a lightning event killed five people, and injured one on 2 December.
- Moderate to heavy rains will persist over central, southern and eastern Angola on 6-8 December.
By Clare BYRNE
Paris, Dec 9, 2019 (AFP) - France's transport chaos deepened Monday on the fifth day of a nationwide strike over pension reforms, ramping up tensions at the start of a crucial week in President Emmanuel Macron's battle with trade unions. With only two of the Paris metro's 16 lines running as normal and suburban trains also heavily disrupted, many commuters slipped behind the wheel to try to get to work in torrential rain, causing major gridlock.
By 9 am, the tailbacks in the Paris area ran to 600 kilometres (370 miles), twice the normal level, the Sytadin monitoring website said. Large queues formed at bus stops following an announcement that one out of two buses would be running but striking workers blocked seven out of 25 bus depots, leaving more travellers stranded. With many having opted to work from home last week and only now returning to the workplace, this week will test public support for the strike.
A poll Sunday in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper showed 53 percent of the French supporting the strike or expressing sympathy for their demands, up six points in a week. Unions have called a second day of mass protests for Tuesday, a day before the government unveils the full details of its plans for a single points-based pension scheme that does away with dozens of more advantageous plans enjoyed by train drivers, sailors, lawyers and other professions.
- 'A monstrosity' -
Critics argue that the shake-up will require people in both the public and private sector to work longer for a smaller retirement payout. Teachers are expected to walk out again for the second time in a week Tuesday, leading to widespread school closures.
Firefighters, electricity workers and "yellow vest" anti-government demonstrators have also joined railway workers in the streets in recent days. The government's pensions envoy Jean-Paul Delevoye, who drafted the reforms, and Health Minister Agnes Buzyn will meet with trade unions on Monday to try to negotiate an end to the deadlock. But the unions have sounded an uncompromising note. "I will not negotiate over the implementation of what I describe as a monstrosity which endangers tomorrow's pensioners," said Yves Veyrier, the head of the militant Force Ouvriere union.
The strike has squeezed retailers in the run-up to Christmas, raising the prospect of another bleak year-end after the unrest caused by the yellow vests in late 2018. The first day of the stoppage already caused an average 30 percent drop in sales, according to the Alliance of Commerce, which represents 27,000 supermarkets and clothing and shoe stores with almost 200,000 workers. A hotel association said reservations in the larger Paris region dropped by 30 to 40 percent on the first day of the strike. Regional and international trains, including the Eurostar to London and Thalys to Brussels, have also been hobbled by the unrest, and several flights were cancelled on the first days of the strike.
- Fairer system for all? -
Over 800,000 people took to the streets when the strike was launched on December 5, many accusing Macron of trying to weaken France's generous social safety net. The president, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and senior cabinet ministers met late Sunday to discuss the changes, which they argue will ensure a fairer and more sustainable system for all. "If we do not carry out a far-reaching, serious and progressive reform today, someone else will do a really brutal one tomorrow," Philippe told Le Journal du Dimanche.
The strike has drawn comparisons with late 1995 when three weeks of strikes forced the then centre-right government to withdraw its pension reforms. Adrien Quatennens, a lawmaker from the far-left France Unbowed party, acknowledged on LCI radio that the strike was hard on businesses and commuters, but said: "It's better to endure a few weeks of hassle than... years of hardship" in retirement.
By Neil SANDS, with Holly Robertson in Sydney
Wellington, Dec 9, 2019 (AFP) - Five people were killed, 18 were injured and several more were left stranded after an island volcano popular with tourists erupted unexpectedly in New Zealand on Monday. Police said some 50 people were visiting White Island when it exploded suddenly in the early afternoon -- hurling ash and rock high into the air. Two dozen people made it off the island, five of whom have since died. The rest are being treated for injuries, including severe burns.
Nothing is yet known about a group -- now estimated to number in the double digits -- who are still trapped on the island. "We're unsure of the exact numbers on there and we're unsure of their wellbeing," said deputy commissioner John Tims. As night fell, he said volcanic activity made a rescue attempt too dangerous. "The island is unstable, there's a danger of further eruptions, it is physically unsafe for us to return to the island" "I've got to consider the safety of our people and emergency services staff." The eruption occurred at 2:11pm (0111 GMT), thrusting a thick plume of white ash 3.6 kilometres (12,000 feet) into the sky. Seconds before, live camera feeds showed a group of more than a half dozen people walking on the crater floor. Then the images went black.
A "considerable number" of those caught up in the disaster are believed to be Australian, according to officials in Canberra. As many as 30 people are also believed to be cruise passengers on a day trip from the vessel Ovation of the Seas, Kevin O'Sullivan, chief executive officer of industry body the New Zealand Cruise Association told AFP. The ship's operator Royal Caribbean -- who had billed the trip to White Island as "an unforgettable guided tour of New Zealand's most active volcano" -- said "a number of our guests were touring the island" but did not confirm that number. The ship has a capacity of around 4,000 people and set sail from Sydney last week on a 12 day voyage.
- Scene of terror -
Tourist Michael Schade, made it off the island just in time and was able to capture footage of the devastation. His videos showed groups of startled tourists clustered by the shoreline, waiting to be evacuated as the ground around them smouldered, the sky filled with white debris. An ash-caked helicopter lies damaged nearby. As his ship hurtled away, the caldera became virtually invisible, shrouded by a thick bank of ash. Volcanic Air said they had landed a helicopter on the island shortly before the eruption carrying four visitors and one pilot. All were now accounted for. "It had landed on the island. What happened after that we don't know, but we know that all five made it back to Whakatane on one of the tourist boats," a company spokesman told AFP.
Guillaume Calmelet, the co-director of Skydive Tauranga, saw the eruption from above as he took a customer on a tandem skydive from a plane 12,000 feet above the Bay of Plenty. "As soon as the parachute opened there was this huge cloud that was really different to whatever we've seen before," he told AFP. "I could see it coming out in freefall, so probably about 30 seconds for the whole cloud to form, if that. It was pretty quick." The country's National Emergency Management Agency described the eruption as "moderate", although the plume of ash was clearly visible from the mainland and from satellites flying overhead. "We have seen a steady decline in activity since the eruption. There remains significant uncertainty as to future changes but currently, there are no signs of escalation."
White Island -- - also known as Whakaari -- is about 50 kilometres (30 miles) offshore in the picturesque Bay of Plenty and is popular with adventurous tourists willing to don hard hats and gas masks. It is New Zealand's most active volcano cone and about 70 percent of it is underwater, according to government-backed agency GeoNet. Around 10,000 people visit the volcano every year. It has erupted frequently over the last half-century, most recently in 2016.
In August of that year the New Zealand Defence Force airlifted a 2.4-tonne shipping container onto the island to serve as an emergency shelter in case of an eruption. "Sudden, unheralded eruptions from volcanoes such as White Island can be expected at any time," said University of Auckland volcanologist Shane Cronin. "The hazards expected from such events are the violent ejection of hot blocks and ash, and formation of 'hurricane-like' currents of wet ash and coarse particles that radiate from the explosion vent." "These can be deadly in terms of causing impact trauma, burns and respiratory problems. The eruptions are short-lived, but once one occurs, there are high chances for further, generally smaller ones as the system re-equilibrates."
Rome, Dec 9, 2019 (AFP) - A 4.5 magnitude earthquake hit the central Italian region of Mugello on Monday, sending panicked residents into the streets but causing minimal damage to buildings. The quake, centred some 31 km (19 miles) northeast of Florence in Tuscany, hit at 4:37 am (0330 GMT), after a series of smaller quakes, according to the national institute for geophysics and vulcanology (INGV).
Residents fled their buildings in the rain, congregating outside or in their cars to await authorities. "The quake went on for awhile, especially the first one, things fell down at a supermarket but for the moment we haven't seen any damage to people or things," said Filippo Carla' Campa, mayor of the town of Vicchio. A resident of Barberino del Mugello said his neighbours were panicking getting out of the building. "Paintings fell off the walls, bookcases fell over," he told Rai 24. In Barberino del Mugello, the 17th century church suffered a crack in one side, television images showed.
Schools were closed in the region and some trains through Florence were cancelled or delayed. Italy is frequently struck by seismic activity, often devastating. Most recently, a series of strong quakes hit central Italy in late 2016 and early 2017, killing 300 people. In 1919, the area was hit by an earthquake that killed 100 people.
Mount Hutt, New Zealand, Dec 9, 2019 (AFP) - Almost 1,000 tourists were stranded in New Zealand's South Island Monday after wild storms cut highways, washed away bridges and flooded the rugged landscape. Meteorologists said up to 400 millimetres (16 inches) of rain was dumped on the South Island over 24 hours by a severe weather system that unleashed gale-force winds and 230,000 lightning strikes. The main highway through the island was closed after the Rangitata river burst its banks. Townships near the popular Franz Josef glacier were isolated when landslips blocked road access.
With New Zealand entering its peak tourist season, some 970 travellers at Franz Josef were left facing the prospect of taking an expensive helicopter ride to get out or hunkering down until Friday, when the road is expected to be cleared. "Between the community, the hotels and motels and our welfare centre we've managed to billet out most people overnight," Civil Defence spokesman Stephen Doran told TVNZ. "We'd just ask people to stay put at the moment. We want to keep the work site clear so we can get supplies in there... and try to get the road into some sort of shape."
Another landslip on the island's west coast will take an estimated six weeks to clear. The worst of the weather hit over the weekend and it is forecast to deteriorate again later in the week, leaving authorities scrambling during a brief respite to complete as much repair work as possible.
Kigali, Dec 8, 2019 (AFP) - Rwanda on Sunday started a voluntary Ebola vaccination programme at its border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in a bid to prevent the spread of the deadly virus from its neighbour. All countries in high-risk areas, even if not hit by Ebola, had been advised by the WHO to use a new vaccine developed by US group Johnson & Johnson, the country's health minister, Diane Gashumba, told journalists. The idea was "to protect those with high chances of getting in contact with people living in areas where Ebola has been reported to be active", she said.
The vaccine, Ad26-ZEBOV-GP, is an experimental drug produced by US pharmaceuticals giant, Johnson & Johnson. It was used for the first time in mid-November in Goma in DR Congo, on the other side of the border. So far, there have no confirmed cases of Ebola in Rwanda. The epicentre of the outbreak in DR Congo, which has killed more than 2,200 people since August 2018, is located 350 kilometres (217 miles) north of Goma, in the Beni-Butembo region. That region sits on the DR Congo border with Uganda. More than 250,000 people in DR Congo have already been vaccinated using another product, rVSV-ZEBOV, made by US drug company, Merck Shape and Dohme.
- Ebola in Goma -
People working in the health sector, at border crossings, police officers, and business executives who frequently travel between the two countries are being given priority in the vaccination campaign. But all residents in the border districts can ask to be vaccinated if they wish. The first volunteers expressed relief at the measure. "We lived in a life of worry because of what was going on in DR Congo," Joel Ntwari Murihe, one of the first Rwandans to be vaccinated, told AFP. "It caused a lot of border disruptions as we were restricted to buying or selling with DR Congo residents who live in Goma. "The vaccine is an assurance to the safety for our lives and our children's lives."
The head of DR Congo's anti-Ebola efforts, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, and the WHO's representative in Rwanda, Kasonde Mwinga, were present at the campaign launch. In August, Rwanda briefly closed its border with DR Congo and ordered its citizens not to visit the country when the first Ebola cases were recorded in Goma. The city, which is the regional capital of the Congolese province of North Kivu, sits on the border with Rwanda. The border has since been reopened, but strict medical checks are being enforced.