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Antartica

General:
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Cuba is an independent island country situated in the Caribbean. It is the largest of the islands and covers 42,000sq miles. The climate is sub tropical throughout the year with most of the rainfall in
the northern parts of the country. Temperatures of between 20C to 35C are fairly standard throughout the year. Generally the winter effects of the American continent only last for short periods.
Safety & Security:
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The majority of tourists visiting Cuba will have no difficulty but bag snatching and other street crime appears to be increasing. The old Havana area and other major tourist resorts may be particular areas of concern in this regard. On arrival be careful to only use your recognised tour operator. If you are taking a taxi at any stage make sure it is a registered one and not a private vehicle. It is unwise to carry large quantities of money or jewellery away from your hotel and try not to flaunt wealth with your belongings. Pickpockets are too common an occurrence on buses and trains and at train stations so be careful with your essential documents and credit cards. Valuables should not be stored in suitcases when arriving in or departing from Havana as there have been a number of thefts from cases during the time the cases are coming through baggage handling. There is an airport shrink-wrap facility for those departing Havana which reduces the risk of tampering. Remember to carry a photocopy of your main documents (passport, flight tickets etc).
Road Safety:
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Following a number of serious road accidents involving tourists, you are advised not to use mopeds for travelling around Cuba or in Havana. Also, if you are involved in any accident a police investigation will be required to clear you and this may significantly delay your travel plans. On unlit roads at night there have been a number of accidents associated with roaming cattle (sounds like Ireland!). The traffic moves on the right side of the roads. There is a main highway running the length of the country but many of the country roads are in poor repair.
Local Laws & Customs:
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When arriving into Cuba make sure you are not carrying any items which could be considered offensive. Any illicit drug offense is treated very seriously and Cuban law allows for the death penalty to be used under these circumstances. If you require personal medication for your health, make sure it is in original packing and carry a letter from your doctor describing the medication. Never agree to carry any item for another individual and always secure your cases once they are packed. Taking photographs of military or police installations or around harbours, rail and airport facilities is strictly forbidden.

Currency:
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Since 1993 it is now possible to use US dollars for all transactions within Cuba. Remember, there is a 20$ airport departure tax. Certain travellers cheques and credit cards may not be acceptable within Cuba. This is particularly true of American Express cheques and cards but check your situation with the travel operator before departure.
Health Facilities:
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Generally healthcare facilities outside of Havana are limited and many standard medications may not be available. It is important to carry sufficient quantities of any medications which may be required for the duration of your time in Cuba.
Food & Water:
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The level of food and water hygiene varies throughout the country and between resorts. On arrival check the hotel cold water supply for the smell of chlorine. If it is not present then use sealed bottled water for both drinking and brushing your teeth throughout your stay. Cans and bottles of drinks are safe but take care to avoid pre-cut fruit. Peel it yourself to make sure it is not contaminated. Food from street vendors should be avoided in most cases. Bivalve shellfish are also a high risk food in many countries and Cuba is no exception in this regard. (Eg Mussels, Oysters, Clams etc)
Malaria & Mosquito Borne Diseases:
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Malaria transmission does not occur within Cuba and so prophylaxis is not required. However, a different mosquito borne disease called Dengue has begun to reoccur in the country over the past few years. This viral disease can be very sickening and even progress to death. It is rare for tourists to become infected but avoiding mosquito bites is a wise precaution.
Swimming, Sun & Dehydration:
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The extent of the Cuban sun (particular during the summer months (April to October) can be very excessive so make sure your head and shoulders are covered at all times when exposed. Watch children carefully as they will be a significant risk. Drink plenty of fluids to replace what will be lost through perspiration and, unless there is a reason not to,
take extra salt either on your food or in crisps, peanuts etc. Take care if swimming in the Caribbean to stay with others and to listen to local advice. Never swim after a heavy meal or alcohol.
Rabies Risk in Cuba:
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This viral disease does occur throughout Cuba and it is essential that you avoid any contact with all warm blooded animals. Dogs, cats and monkeys are the most commonly involved in spreading the disease to humans. Don't pick up a monkey for a photograph! If bitten, wash out the wound, apply an antiseptic and seek urgent medical attention.
Vaccinations for Cuba:
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There are no essential vaccines for entry / exit if coming from Ireland. However, for your own personal protection travellers are advised to have cover against the following;
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Tetanus (childhood booster)
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Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
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Hepatitis A (food & water borne disease)
For those planning a longer or more rural trip vaccine cover against conditions like Hepatitis B and Rabies may also need to be considered.
Summary:
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Cuba is becoming a popular destination for tourists and generally most will stay very healthy. However commonsense care against food and water borne disease is essential at all times. Also take care with regard to sun exposure, dehydration and mosquito bites.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 17 May 2018 09:57:07 +0200

Buenos Aires, May 17, 2018 (AFP) - Tourism regulation in Antarctica has become an urgent matter due to environmental threats, officials from the 53 member countries of the Antarctic Treaty warned at their annual meeting, held this week in Buenos Aires.

In the absence of rules, travel agencies offer trips to the region on boats sometimes equipped with helicopters or submarines, according to Segolene Royal, French ambassador for the Arctic and Antarctic poles.   "This activity creates considerable disturbance ... we are witnessing a race toward large-scale tourism that is dangerous for ecosystems," she said at the assembly on Wednesday.

During the austral summer of 2016/2017, around 44,000 tourists set off for Antarctica, compared with just 9,000 in 1995/1996, according to French authorities.   However, the push for regulation is not about banning tourism, former environmental minister Royal said, but rather about ensuring it is managed in compliance with the treaty and its environmental protection protocol.

In Buenos Aires, the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting  -- whose mission is to regulate human activity on the continent -- also sought to encourage scientific cooperation between countries that have collectively set up around 100 research bases across the ice.   Also up for analysis is China's proposed fifth permanent scientific station in Antarctica, which would be located in the Ross Sea area south of New Zealand.
Date: Wed, 5 Jul 2017 13:01:49 +0200
By Marlowe HOOD

Paris, July 5, 2017 (AFP) - A chunk of ice bigger than the US state of Delaware is hanging by a thread from the West Antarctic ice shelf, satellite images revealed Wednesday.   When it finally calves from the Larsen C ice shelf, one of the biggest icebergs in recorded history will be set adrift -- some 6,600 square kilometres (2,550 square miles) in total, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).

The iceberg's depth below sea level could be as much as 210 metres (almost 700 feet), or about 60 storeys, it said.   "The crack in the ice is now around 200 kilometres (125 miles) long, leaving just five kilometres between the end of the fissure and the ocean," the ESA said in a statement.   "Icebergs calve from Antarctica all the time, but because this one is particularly large its path across the ocean needs to be monitored as it could pose a hazard to maritime traffic."

Scientists tracking the berg's progression expect it to break of within months.    The Larsen C shelf will lose more than 10 percent of its total surface area.   The massive ice cube will float in water and by itself will not add to sea levels when it melts.   The real danger is from inland glaciers.   Ice shelves float on the sea, extending from the coast, and are fed by slow-flowing glaciers from the land.    They act as giant brakes, preventing glaciers from flowing directly into the ocean.   If the glaciers held in check by Larsen C spilt into the Antarctic Ocean, it would lift the global water mark by about 10 centimetres (four inches), researchers have said.

The calving of ice shelves occurs naturally, though global warming is believed to have accelerated the process.   Warming ocean water erodes the underbelly of the ice shelves, while rising air temperatures weaken them from above.   The nearby Larsen A ice shelf collapsed in 1995, and Larsen B dramatically broke up seven years later.   The ESA is keeping an eye on Larsen C with its Copernicus and CryoSat Earth orbiters.

Man-made global warming has already lifted average global air temperatures by about one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial levels.    Antarctica is one of the world's fastest-warming regions.   The world's nations undertook in the Paris Agreement, inked in 2015, to cap average global warming at "well under" 2 C.
Date: Wed, 22 Jun 2016 21:35:09 +0200
By Jean-Louis SANTINI

Washington, June 22, 2016 (AFP) - Two sick workers were evacuated from a remote US research station near the South Pole on Wednesday in a risky rescue mission carried out in the dead of Antarctica's winter, a US official said.   A Twin Otter turboprop plane flew in dark and cold conditions to pick up the workers from the Amundsen-Scott station, about 250 meters from the geographic South Pole, a spokesman for the US National Science Foundation (NSF), Peter West told AFP.

The plane's crew and a medical team had made the 10-hour journey to the South Pole in the middle of Antarctica's 24-hour winter on Tuesday night to reach the unidentified patients, who could not be treated on site.   The NSF -- the US research agency that operates the Amundsen-Scott Station -- organized the rescue mission last week given the condition of the first patient, which was not disclosed for privacy reasons.   "It was really an emergency," West said.   It later became apparent that the second worker also needed to be evacuated.

The sick workers -- employees of the US company Lockheed Martin who worked on base logistics -- were then taken to the Rothera base, a British research station some 2,200 kilometers (about 1,365 miles) away, the spokesman said.   The pair, who were not identified, were then to be transferred to a hospital in South America, West said, without giving further details.   The Amundsen-Scott base was home to 48 people -- 39 men and nine women -- who work on-site throughout the austral winter, which spans February through October.

- Rare rescue mission -
Near the world's southernmost point, workers spend this period withstanding nearly complete darkness and dramatically low temperatures -- on Tuesday, the thermometer dropped to -60 degrees Celsius (-76 degrees Fahrenheit).   It was only the third time that an emergency rescue operation has been launched in the middle of winter.   In 2001, the only doctor at the Amundsen-Scott station was suffering from a life-threatening pancreatic condition and required urgent evacuation. A second medical evacuation was carried out that year.

In 1999, the US station's doctor Jerri Nielsen, who was self-treating her own breast cancer, required medical evacuation but weather conditions were more favorable, as the mission took place in the spring.  The Twin Otter plane, operated by the Canadian company Kenn Borek Air, is specially designed to operate in extremely cold temperatures.

Research projects at the Amundsen-Scott station include monitoring long-term levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.     The station also operates two telescopes that observe "cosmic microwave background" radiation -- the faint light signature left by the Big Bang -- to study the origins of the universe, dark energy and dark matter.
Date: Wed, 18 Jun 2014 09:04:56 +0200 (METDST)
by Martin PARRY

SYDNEY, June 18, 2014 (AFP) - Antarctic scientists warned Wednesday that a surge in tourists visiting the frozen continent and new roads and runways built to service research facilities were threatening its fragile environment.   Tourist numbers have exploded from less than 5,000 in 1990 to about 40,000 a year, according to industry figures, and most people go to the fragmented ice-free areas that make up less than one percent of Antarctica.   A growing number of research facilities are also being built, along with associated infrastructure such as fuel depots and runways, in the tiny ice-free zones.

It is these areas which contain most of the continent's wildlife and plants, yet they are among the planet's least-protected, said a study led by the Australian government-funded National Environmental Research Programme (NERP) and the Australian Antarctic Division.   "Many people think that Antarctica is well protected from threats to its biodiversity because it's isolated and no one lives there," said Justine Shaw from the NERP of the study published in the journal PLoS Biology.   "However, we show that there are threats to Antarctic biodiversity.   "Most of Antarctica is covered in ice, with less than one percent permanently ice-free," she added.   "Only 1.5 percent of this ice-free area belongs to Antarctic Specially Protected Areas under the Antarctic Treaty System, yet ice-free land is where the majority of biodiversity occurs."   Five of the distinct ice-free areas have no protection at all while all 55 of the continent's protected zones are close to sites of human activity.

- Fragile ecosystems -
Steven Chown of Monash University, another collaborator in the study, said the ice-free areas contain very simple ecosystems due to Antarctica's low species diversity.   This makes its native wildlife and plants extremely vulnerable to invasion by outside species, which can be introduced by human activity.   "Antarctica has been invaded by plants and animals, mostly grasses and insects, from other continents," he said.    "The very real current and future threats from invasions are typically located close to protected areas.    "Such threats to protected areas from invasive species have been demonstrated elsewhere in the world, and we find that Antarctica is, unfortunately, no exception."

The study said the current level of protection was "inadequate by any measure" with Shaw saying more was needed to guard against the threat posed by the booming tourism industry.   "(We need) to protect a diverse suite of native insects, plants and seabirds, many of which occur nowhere else in the world," she said.   "We also need to ensure that Antarctic protected areas are not going to be impacted by human activities, such as pollution, trampling or invasive species."   Antarctica is considered one of the last frontiers for adventurous travellers.   Most travel by sea, some paying in excess of US$20,000 for a luxury cabin in the peak period from November to March. There is also a healthy market for sightseeing flights.

Approximately 30 nations operate permanent research stations on the continent including the US, China, Russia, Australia, Britain, France and Argentina, and more are on the way.   China's state media said in December that the country was building its fourth base and a fifth was being planned.   Fellow study author Hugh Possingham, from NERP, said that without better protection "this unique and fragile ecosystem could be lost".   "Although we show that the risks to biodiversity from increasing human activity are high, they are even worse when considered together with climate change," he added.    "This combined effect provides even more incentive for a better system of area protection in Antarctica."
Date: Sun, 17 Nov 2013 12:27:56 +0100 (MET)

WASHINGTON, Nov 17, 2013 (AFP) - A powerful 7.8 magnitude undersea earthquake struck in the Scotia Sea, a remote region in the far south Atlantic near Antarctica, US earthquake monitors reported Sunday.   The quake struck at 0904 GMT in the ocean some 893 kilometers (550 miles) southwest of Grytviken, South Georgia, and 1,140 kilometres (710 miles) southeast of Ushuaia, Argentina, said the US Geological Survey, which monitors earthquakes worldwide.   The epicenter was at a depth of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), and was near that of a 6.8 magnitude undersea earthquake that the USGS registered in the Scotia Sea some 30 hours earlier.

The quake occurred at the boundary between the Antarctic tectonic plate and the Scotia Sea plate, said geophysicist Randy Baldwin at the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado.   "They're sliding past one another horizontally, it's not a subduction zone," Baldwin told AFP. "There will be aftershocks probably for weeks."   There were no tsunami warnings since there were no vertical movements in the seafloor as occur in a subduction quake, when one tectonic plate moves under another one, Baldwin said.   Yet despite the enormous energy unleashed the area is so remote that there is little or no impact to humans, he said.   "You couldn't pick a more remote area for an earthquake," he said.
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Slovenia

Slovenia US Consular Information Sheet
March 02, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Slovenia operates under a parliamentary democracy.
In May 2004, Slovenia became a member of the European Union.
Tourist facilities are widely available th
oughout the country.
Read the Department of State’s Background Notes on Slovenia for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Slovenia is a party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter Slovenia 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 Schegen fact sheet.

Slovene authorities may confiscate passports with signs of damage, such as missing pages, as suspicious documents, potentially causing travel delays.
American citizens entering and exiting Slovenia by personal vehicle are required to have a valid U.S. and International Driver’s License (See our Road Safety page for further information) or they may be refused entry into the country and/or fined.

All non-EU citizens staying longer than 3 days in Slovenia must register with the local police within 3 days of arrival and inform the office about any change in their address. Registration of foreign visitors staying in hotels or accommodations rented through an accommodation company is done automatically by the hotelier or accommodation company, but visitors staying with family members must register themselves.
Registration is available 24 hours a day at police stations and is free of charge. Failure to register can result in a significant fine of up to 400 euros.

For further information on entry requirements for Slovenia, travelers may contact the Embassy of Slovenia at 2410 California Street, NW, Washington, DC
20008, tel. (202) 386-6610; the Consulate General of Slovenia in New York City, tel. (2l2) 370-3006; or the Consulate General in Cleveland, Ohio, tel. (216) 589-9220.
Visit the Embassy of Slovenia’s web site 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 sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Slovenia remains largely free of terrorist incidents.
This assessment takes into account historical data relevant to terrorist activities and recent reporting indicating whether acts could be conducted without prior advance warnings.
However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Slovenia shares open borders with its Western European neighbors, allowing the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity.
Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.

There are occasional political demonstrations in city centers in Slovenia.
They occur most often in central Ljubljana in areas around Kongresni Trg (Congress Square), in front of the Parliament building, around other government facilities, and, at times, near the American Embassy.
These demonstrations are usually peaceful and generally are not anti-American in nature.
However, there have been demonstrations that voiced anti-American sentiments.
American citizens should keep in mind that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.
American citizens are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations.
For additional information, Americans are encouraged to check the Embassy’s website or call the Embassy at 386-1-200-5595 or 200-5599 (200-5556 after hours and on weekends/holidays).

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, 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 A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
Slovenia’s overall crime rate is low and violent crimes are relatively uncommon.
Most crimes tend to be non-violent and directed towards obtaining personal property, such as purse-snatching, pick-pocketing, and residential and vehicle break-ins.
Visitors should take normal security precautions and are requested to report any incidents to the local police.

Vehicle break-in/theft is a continuous problem in Slovenia.
Individuals should always lock vehicles, use vehicle anti-theft devices, park in well-lighted areas, and secure vehicles in residential or hotel garages.

Residential burglaries occur where there are security vulnerabilities and/or where residents are not implementing residential security practices.
American citizens should ensure their residence is properly secured at all times, as recent burglary reports indicate access was gained when doors were not secured with an appropriate lock.

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.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Slovenia is: 113.
Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.

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 Slovenian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Slovenia 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.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Adequate medical care is readily available.
Travelers to Slovenia may obtain a list of English-speaking physicians at the U.S. Embassy.
Antibiotics, as well as other American-equivalent prescription medications are available at local pharmacies.
In Slovenia all medications, including drugs considered over-the-counter and first aid supplies, are dispensed through pharmacies (“lekarna”).
For those persons who engage in outdoor activities, a vaccine to prevent tick-borne encephalitis is recommended.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Slovenia.
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 (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site.
Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.

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 Slovenia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Slovenia has a well-developed road network that is safe for travel.
Highways connect to neighboring cities and countries and are clearly sign-posted; road signs and traffic rules are consistent with those used throughout Europe.
As the number of cars in Slovenia continues to rise, roads are becoming more heavily congested during the weekends on major routes and during rush hours.
Parking is difficult and can be expensive in the center of Ljubljana.
Traffic moves on the right.
Third-party liability insurance is required for all vehicles; coverage is purchased locally.
Travelers should be alert to aggressive drivers both in cities and on highways.
Many of the serious accidents in Slovenia occur as a result of high-speed driving.
Emergency roadside help and information may be found by dialing 1-987 for vehicle assistance and towing services, 112 for an ambulance or fire brigade, and 113 for police.
By Slovene law, the maximum legal blood-alcohol content limit for drivers is 0.05%.

U.S. visitors or U.S. residents in Slovenia must be in possession of both a valid U.S. driver’s license and an International Driver’s License in order to drive in Slovenia.
International Driver’s Licenses are valid for a maximum of one year, after which residents of Slovenia are required to obtain a Slovene driver's license.
Current information about traffic and road conditions is available in English by calling (01) 530-5300 and online from the Automobile Association of Slovenia and the Traffic Information Center for Public Roads.

The speed limit is 50kph/30 mph in urban areas, 130 kph/80 mph on expressways (the avtocesta).
Motorists are required to have their headlights on during the daytime; drivers and passengers alike must wear seat belts; motorcyclists and their passengers must wear approved helmets.
The use of handheld cellular telephones while driving is prohibited in Slovenia.

Highway vignettes are obligatory for all vehicles with the permissible maximum weight of 3,500 kg on motorways and expressways in Slovenia.
A one-year vignette costs EUR 55; a half-year vignette costs EUR 35; for motorcycles, the one-year vignette is EUR 27,50 and the half-year vignette is EUR 17,50.

A one-year vignette for the current year is valid from December 1st of the previous year to January 31st of the next year (a total of 14 months). The half-year vignette is valid for six months following the day of its purchase.
Using motorways and expressways without a valid and properly-displayed vignette in a vehicle is considered a violation of the law; violators may be fined between EUR 300 and 800. In addition to this fine, a new sticker must be purchased and displayed on the vehicle.
Vignettes can be purchased in Slovenia at petrol stations, newsstands, automobile clubs, post offices (Posta Slovenije), and some toll stations, and also at petrol stations in neighboring countries.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Current information is also available at the website of Slovenia’s national tourist office, which is the national authority responsible for road safety.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Slovenia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Slovenia’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s website.

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 Slovenia are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy or through the State Department’s travel registration website so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Slovenia.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at Presernova 31, Ljubljana 1000, Tel: (386)(1) 200-5500 or Fax: (386)(1) 200-5535.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Slovenia dated July 29, 2008, to update the
Entry/Exit Requirements and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions sections.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 6 Aug 2018 12:06:36 +0200
By Bojan KAVCIC

Markovec, Slovenia, Aug 6, 2018 (AFP) - When he used to go hunting, Miha Mlakar would dream of killing a bear. But today the 33-year-old from Slovenia makes his living watching the animals, peacefully, in their natural forest environment.   The turnaround to shooting bears with a camera, not a rifle, puts Mlakar, who runs bear observation tours, in step with wider efforts in the small Alpine nation to promote the coexistence of humans and bears.

Once on the verge of extinction, Slovenia's brown bear population is booming, with the number roaming the sprawling forests having doubled in the last decade to around 1,000.   As a result, encounters with bears have increased -- not that it seems to unduly worry everyone.   "If you run into a bear, you have to step back... (But) there is no danger. The bear also prefers to move away," Ljubo Popovic, a 67-year-old pensioner who lives in the village of Banja Loka in the southern Kocevje region, told AFP.   Lying an hour to the west, near Markovec village, Mlakar has built 20 hides in a remote patch of forest reachable only by off-road vehicle and takes visitors, including foreign tourists, to observe the bears.   "I cannot imagine this forest without bears. Bears make the forest wild and pristine, natural, like it was a few hundred or thousand years ago... I feel a connection with bears," he tells AFP.

- Managing bears -
Slovenian bears are even sought after abroad.    Between 1996 and 2006, eight Slovenian bears were released in the French Pyrenees, and France currently has a population of about 40 bears, whose presence divides opinion in regions where they live.   In Slovenia, more than 60 percent of respondents in a 2016 survey carried out in areas where bears live said they were in favour of the bears' presence, even if many also said they would like to see the numbers regulated.   "We have an average of one to three cases of physical contact between bears and humans per year," Rok Cerne, of the Slovenia Forest Service in charge of wildlife, told AFP.

"Fortunately, we haven't registered any serious incident over the last years," he added, stressing they were "very active in preventive measures".   Removing food sources that could attract bears has been one such step.    In villages close to bear habitats, local authorities have replaced regular plastic waste and compost bins, which can be easily opened or flipped by the animals, with containers protected by heavy metal cages.

Meanwhile, damage to cattle from bear forays has remained stable, at up to 200,000 euros ($231,500) a year, despite the bear population increasing, Cerne said.   Farmers are entitled to an 80-percent subsidy for using electric fences to protect flocks and the loss of cattle due to bears is compensated.   If a bear becomes a habitual visitor to a village, special intervention groups step in to kill or relocate the animal with the help of local hunters.   Regular culling also keeps the population under control to ensure long-term cohabitation, Cerne said. This year, authorities have proposed culling 200 bears, twice as many as last year.

- Romania's 'Van Damme' bear -
Slovenia's approach could inspire neighbouring Romania, home to about 6,000 bears or 60 percent of Europe's estimated bear population, where tourists to villages in the Carpathian Mountains often post pictures online of bears waiting to be hand-fed.   Bears rummaging through waste containers on the outskirts of cities, such as Brasov in central Romania, have become a common sight.   And on a central motorway construction site, workmen have christened a regularly spotted sturdy male bear Van Damme after the Hollywood star.

Beyond tourists' anecdotes however, Romania has seen a "growing number of attacks" by bears, highlighted in a conservation plan published last month that recommends hunting to keep numbers at optimum levels.   Use of reinforced bins, as well as a proposal for building work to be limited in regions where bears live, are also included in the government plan.   Since the beginning of last year, 31 people, mostly shepherds, have been attacked, one of them fatally. 

Meanwhile, some 940 forays by bears into populated areas were registered last year, including attacks on sheep flocks and entry into gardens; so far this year, the figure is 120.   But environmental campaigners fear that "hunting will be the main instrument to keep bear populations under control", when other measures could work, said Livia Cimpoeru, of the WWF Romania.   The government has proposed 4,000 bears as the ideal number in the country of 20 million people.   Learning simple rules, such as how to avoid startling bears and not feeding them, as well as efficient management like accurate counting to ascertain trends, is crucial for reducing conflicts with humans, said Mareike Brix, of German-based EuroNatur foundation.   "There is a risk, and there can be problems... But it's also great (to have bears). Wild nature has become so rare in Europe," she tells AFP.
Date: Thu 13 Jun 2018
Source: STA [not open access; edited]

The UKC Maribor hospital has registered 3 new cases of measles infection, including a doctor and a nurse who treated 1 of the 3 patients who got measles earlier.

The rest of this story is by subscription....
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[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Slovenia can be found at
Date: Mon 17 Oct 2016
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

The vaccine-preventable disease, tetanus, has been considered eradicated among children in the Central European country of Slovenia for the past 20 years; health officials report a case in an unvaccinated child as reported in local media Fri, 14 Oct 2016.

The National Public Health Institute (NIJZ) says while the disease has been considered eradicated among children for the past 2 decades, a few cases are reported every year among the elderly, who grew up before systemic vaccination against the disease was introduced. Tetanus vaccination has been available in Slovenia since 1951.

Tetanus is caused by a very potent toxin produced by the anaerobic bacterium, _Clostridium tetani_. The spores of this organism are very resistant to environmental factors and are found widely distributed in soil and in the intestines and feces of horses, sheep, cattle, dogs, cats, rats, guinea pigs, and chickens. Manure-treated soil may contain large numbers of spores. In agricultural areas, a significant number of human adults may harbor the organism.

These spores are usually introduced into the body through a puncture wound contaminated with soil, street dust, animal bites or animal or human feces, through lacerations, burns or trivial unnoticed wounds or by injecting contaminated drugs. So many times you hear about concern over stepping on a rusty nail; however the rust has nothing to do with tetanus. At this point the spores germinate into bacteria which multiply and produce toxin. Depending on the extent of the wound, the incubation of tetanus is around 10-14 days.

Some of the common symptoms of tetanus are lockjaw, followed by stiffness of the neck, difficulty swallowing, and rigidity of abdominal muscles. Other symptoms include fever, sweating, elevated blood pressure, and episodic rapid heart rate. Spasms may occur frequently and last for several minutes. Spasms continue for 3-4 weeks. The typical features of a tetanus spasm are the position of opisthotonos and the facial expressions known as "risus sardonicus". The death rate for this disease ranges from 10 to 80 percent depending on age and quality of care.

There are really no laboratory findings that are characteristic of tetanus. The diagnosis is entirely clinical and does not depend upon bacteriologic confirmation. This disease in not transmitted from person to person. Even if you had tetanus and recovered, this potent toxin produces no immunity.  [Byline: Robert Herriman]
======================
[Tetanus is a potentially fatal disease characterized by skeletal muscle rigidity and painful convulsive spasms, which are caused by a potent neurotoxin, tetanospasmin, produced by the vegetative form of _Clostridium tetani_, an anaerobic spore-forming Gram-positive bacillus. _C. tetani_ is a member of the normal intestinal flora of animals, including humans. Tetanus usually occurs following contamination of wounds by soil or animal feces in which the spores of _C. tetani_ can be found.

A newly published article demonstrates that the extracellular matrix proteins called nidogens (or entactins) appear to be the receptor for the tetanus neurotoxin to enter the neuromuscular junction (Bercsenyi K, Schmieg N, Bryson JB, et al: Tetanus toxin entry. Nidogens are therapeutic targets for the prevention of tetanus. Science. 2014;346(6213):1118-23. doi: 10.1126/science.1258138, abstract available at:  <http://science.sciencemag.org/content/346/6213/1118.long>).

Abstract:
"Tetanus neurotoxin (TeNT) is among the most poisonous substances on Earth and a major cause of neonatal death in nonvaccinated areas. TeNT targets the neuromuscular junction (NMJ) with high affinity, yet the nature of the TeNT receptor complex remains unknown. Here, we show that the presence of nidogens (also known as entactins) at the NMJ is the main determinant for TeNT binding. Inhibition of the TeNT-n idogeninteraction by using small nidogen-derived peptides or genetic ablation of nidogens prevented the binding of TeNT to neurons and protected mice from TeNT-induced spastic paralysis. Our findings demonstrate the direct involvement of an extracellular matrix protein as a receptor for TeNT at the NMJ, paving the way for the development of therapeutics for the prevention of tetanus by targeting this protein-protein interaction."

Tetanus may follow surgical procedures, burns, deep puncture wounds, crush wounds, otitis media, dental infection, animal bites, abortion, and pregnancy. The presence of necrotic tissue and/or foreign bodies increases risk for tetanus because they favor growth of _C. tetani_. Tetanus can also follow injection of contaminated illicit drugs. Neonatal tetanus occurs usually in developing countries in infants with infection of the umbilical stump who are born to a non-immune mother. Infants of actively immunized mothers acquire passive immunity that protects them from neonatal tetanus. Tetanus is not directly transmitted from person to person.

Tetanus occurs in people who are inadequately immunized, i.e., people who have not completed the primary series and received appropriate boosters. Recovery from tetanus is not necessarily associated with immunity, and primary immunization is indicated after recovery from tetanus. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: Tue, 12 Jan 2016 20:27:43 +0100

Ljubljana, Jan 12, 2016 (AFP) - The Slovenian army on Tuesday began removing sections of a razor-wire border fence, erected to control the inflow of migrants from Croatia, due to flooding by the Kolpa river, local media reported.   Slovenian soldiers removed 200-300 metres of the fence in the Griblje and Dragatus areas, villages some 110 kilometres (70 miles) south of Ljubljana, after the Kolpa burst its banks and floodwaters threatened to tear down the fence, the STA news agency reported.

Since mid-November Slovenia has built over 150 kilometres of razor-wire fence along its border with Croatia, hoping to prevent an uncontrolled inflow of migrants across the "green border".   Over 400,000 migrants have crossed into Slovenia since mid-October, most hoping to carry on to Austria or Germany.

The Slovenian government's information office said Monday that the border fence would be removed in areas where the stream of the Kolpa river was strongest and replaced, in the near future, by a more resistant fence.   Situated in one of Slovenia's most attractive natural parks, the Kolpa river marks over 100 kilometres of the 670 kilometre-long Slovenia-Croatia border.   The fence has been criticised by environmentalists and civil groups in Slovenia and Croatia which claim the razor wire is a threat to wildlife.
Date: 4 Jan 2016
From: Maja Socan, M.D. Maja.Socan@nijz.si

In response to the request for information in the ProMED mail post "Undiagnosed gastroenteritis - Slovenia (GO): international athletes, RFI http://promedmail.org/post/20151228.3896510, the following information was received 4 Jan 2016 [edited]:

As a response to the ProMED request for information on 28 Dec 2015 quoting izvestia.ru from 19 Dec [2015] that 3 teams were affected by a viral epidemic during Biathlon World Cup in Pokljuka, Slovenia, an investigation has been carried out. Regional epidemiologists contacted the organizers, the hotel where athletes were staying, local outpatient clinics/emergency teams and both hospitals nearby. 
 
The organizers of the Biathlon World Cup in Slovenia were not aware of any communicable diseases affecting biathlon teams during the cup. One of the athletes was admitted to the hospital but the reason for the admission was non-infectious. Another athlete lost consciousness during the competition.
 
Neither emergency medical teams nor nearby hospitals were contacted for any health intervention except for the above-mentioned situations.
 
The hotel where the teams were staying was not informed about any gastrointestinal problems among its guests during the competition.
 
The findings of our investigation do not preclude that some of the athletes had health problems during the competition but apparently not severe enough to contact local health services. We assume that if high numbers of athletes had become ill with gastrointestinal problems the organizer would have been informed. According to the national algorithm for mass gatherings (with emphasis on the international ones), the National Institute of Public Health is obligated to provide in advance the information to the organizers about possible health issues during mass gatherings and measures which must be taken to stop the spread of communicable diseases or at least to mitigate the outbreak.
 
To conclude, we were not able to identify an outbreak of acute gastrointestinal or respiratory infection among competing athletes during the Biathlon World Cup in Pokljuka, Slovenia.
-------------------------------------------
Maja Socan, M.D.
Senior consultant
Communicable Diseases Centre
National Institute of Public Health
Ljubljana, Slovenia
========================
[ProMED thanks Dr. Socan for the thorough investigation into this report and for sharing the information with the ProMED community.

A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 11:08:10 +0200 (METDST)

Manila, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Parents lined up from sunrise holding sleeping infants as the Philippines launched a campaign on Monday to vaccinate millions of children against polio, which has re-emerged nearly two decades after the nation's last cases.   Years of falling vaccination rates, made worse by the botched rollout of a dengue vaccine, culminated in an outbreak of the preventable disease in September.   "This is for the welfare of my child," Ruth Miranda told AFP after the vaccine was squirted into her child's mouth at the Manila slum they call home.

Miranda's child is among scores who are unprotected in the capital of about 13 million people, where vaccination rates of young children plunged from 77 percent in 2016 to a mere 24 percent in June.   The atmosphere at the event in Manila was festive -- with ice cream vendors and music -- but the stakes for the campaign are high.

Polio, which can cause paralysis and can be fatal in rare cases, has no cure and can only be prevented with several doses of oral and injectable vaccines.   Two cases were detected in September, the first polio infections in the Philippines since 2001, adding to the woes of a country already hit by deadly measles and dengue epidemic.   The risk of the disease spreading within the Philippines is high, according to World Health Organization, due to low immunisation coverage partly blamed to a dengue vaccine scandal.

The Philippines was the first nation to use Dengvaxia in a mass programme in 2016, but a botched rollout led to claims that children had died after being vaccinated.   A dramatic drop in vaccine confidence followed, with trust plunging from 93 percent in 2015 to 32 percent in 2018, according to a study led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.   The Philippines polio outbreak has been traced back to the weakened form of the virus used in vaccines, which is excreted by people for a time after they receive it.   According to the WHO, that form can mutate and spread in the surrounding community when immunisation rates get too low.
Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 10:25:38 +0200 (METDST)
By Shingo ITO, Sara HUSSEIN

Tokyo, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of rescue workers in Japan battled on Monday to find survivors of a powerful typhoon that killed at least 43 people, as fresh rain threatened to hamper efforts.   Typhoon Hagibis crashed into the country on Saturday night, unleashing high winds and torrential rain across 36 of the country's 47 prefectures, and triggering landslides and catastrophic flooding.   "Even now, many people are still unaccounted for in the disaster-hit area," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told an emergency disaster meeting on Monday.   "Units are trying their best to search for and rescue them, working day and night," Abe said.

But even as rescuers, including troops, combed through debris, the country's weather agency forecast rain in central and eastern Japan that it warned could cause further flooding and new landslides.   "I would like to ask people to stay fully vigilant and continue watching for landslides and river flooding," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.   In Nagano, one of the worst-hit regions, rain was already falling and was expect to intensify.   "We are concerned about the impact of the latest rain on rescue and recovery efforts," local official Hiroki Yamaguchi told AFP.   "We will continue operations while watching out for secondary disasters due to the current rain."

- 43 dead, 16 missing: NHK -
By late Monday afternoon, national broadcaster NHK said the toll had risen to 43 dead, with 16 others missing and over 200 people injured. The government gave lower figures but was continuing to update its information.   The dead included a municipal worker whose car was overcome by floodwaters and at least seven crew from a cargo ship that sank in Tokyo Bay on Saturday night, a coast guard spokesman said.   Four others, from China, Myanmar and Vietnam, were rescued when the boat sank and the coast guard was still searching for a last crew member.   While Hagibis, one of the most powerful storms to hit the Tokyo area in decades, packed wind gusts of up to 216 kilometres (134 miles) per hour, it was the heavy rains that caused most damage.

A total of 142 rivers flooded, mainly in eastern and northern Japan, with river banks collapsing in two dozen places, local media said.   In central Nagano, a levee breach sent water from the Chikuma river gushing into residential neighbourhoods, flooding homes up to the second floor.   As water slowly receded Monday, television footage showed patients being transferred by ambulance from a Nagano hospital where some 200 people had been cut off by flooding.   Elsewhere, rescuers used helicopters to winch survivors from roofs and balconies, or steered boats through muddy waters to reach those trapped.

- Japan dedicates rugby win to victims -
By Monday afternoon, some 75,900 households remained without power, with 120,000 experiencing water outages.   The disaster left tens of thousands of people in shelters, with many unsure when they would be able to return home.   "Everything from my house was washed away before my eyes, I wasn't sure if it was a dream or real," a woman in Nagano told NHK.   "I feel lucky I'm still alive."   The storm brought travel chaos over the holiday weekend, grounding flights and halting commuter and bullet train services.

By Monday, most subway trains had resumed service, along with many bullet train lines, and flights had also restarted.   The storm also brought havoc to the sporting world, forcing the delay of Japanese Grand Prix qualifiers and the cancellation of three Rugby World Cup matches.   But a crucial decider pitting Japan against Scotland went ahead, with the hosts dedicating their stunning 28-21 win to the victims of the disaster.   "To everyone that's suffering from the typhoon, this game was for you guys," said Japan captain Michael Leitch.
Date: Sun, 13 Oct 2019 23:31:57 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, Oct 13, 2019 (AFP) - Doctors will use a second Ebola vaccine from November in three eastern provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo to fight the deadly virus, medical officials said Sunday.   "It's time to use the new Ad26-ZEBOV-GP vaccine, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson's Belgian subsidiary," said Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, who leads the national anti-Ebola operation in the DRC.    It will arrive in the eastern city of Goma, in North Kivu province, on October 18 and be used from the beginning of next month, he added.   DRC's latest Ebola epidemic, which began in August 2018, has killed 2,144 people, making it the second deadliest outbreak of the virus, after the West Africa pandemic of 2014-2016.

Muyembe said the communes of Majingo and Kahembe had been selected to receive the vaccine as they were considered the epicentres of the epidemic.   "We will extend this vaccination to our small traders who often go to Rwanda to protect our neighbours," he added.   "If it works well, we will expand vaccination in South Kivu and Ituri."   DR Congo's eastern provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu sit on the borders with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.   The Belgian laboratory will send a batch of 200,000 doses to neighbouring Rwanda and 500,000 doses in the DRC, Muyembe said.   More than 237,000 people living in active Ebola transmission zones have received a vaccination produced by the pharma company Merck Sharpe and Dohme since August 8, 2018. 

The J&J vaccine had been rejected by DRC's former health minister Oly Ilunga, who cited the risks of introducing a new product in communities where mistrust of Ebola responders is already high.   But Ilunga's resignation in July appears to have paved the way for approval of the second vaccine. He currently faces charges that he embezzled funds intended for the fight against Ebola.   In his letter of resignation Ilunga said "actors who have demonstrated a lack of ethics" want to introduce a second vaccine, but did not elaborate.    Muyembe, who took over the Ebola fight in the DRC in July, said "The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has the most science-based data."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 20:02:59 +0200 (METDST)
By Robbie COREY-BOULET

Addis Ababa, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - A palace that once housed Ethiopia's emperors and also served as a torture site under the communist Derg regime is to open to the public in a controversial government tourism project.    The palace compound in Addis Ababa, which Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government has rebranded "Unity Park", was formally launched Thursday and will be open from Friday.    Abiy's office said on Twitter Thursday that the project "symbolises our ability to come together".

But critics have dismissed it as vanity project for Abiy that could prove divisive.   Backed by the United Arab Emirates, the project cost more than $160 million (145 million euros), Ethiopian officials told reporters at a briefing earlier this week.    Built in the late 1800s by Emperor Menelik II, who founded Addis Ababa, the palace was the residence of Ethiopia's rulers for more than a century.   Abiy himself does not live there, and it has seen little activity in recent years.    Abiy's advisers say he has taken a keen interest in transforming the palace into a tourist attraction since coming to power in April 2018 -- visiting the site every day in recent weeks to monitor progress.

The government's "Home-Grown Economic Reform" agenda, unveiled last month, describes tourism as a primary engine of potential job creation.    On Thursday, government officials and the diplomatic corps toured the expansive site before attending a banquet that was expected to draw five regional heads of state and other dignitaries.    The restored rooms feature items like Menelik's sword and a life-size wax replica of former Emperor Haile Selassie, who lived at the palace and was then etained there after the Derg overthrew him in 1974.

The site also includes a sculpture garden with installations representing Ethiopia's nine regions, and a zoo is expected to open by the end of the year.    Aklilu Fikresilassie, an Ethiopian employee of the United Nations who attended the launch Thursday, said he was "really fascinated" to set foot inside a place that had been closed to the public his entire life.    "For us it's like a government house, so now when you enter that palace it tells you that we are getting somehow closer to our leaders," he said.

But not everyone is convinced the palace will succeed in bringing Ethiopians together.   In a country grappling with ethnic divisions, some worry that the palace could alienate ethnic Oromos who contend that their ancestors were forced off their land when Addis Ababa was built.    Journalist and former political prisoner Eskinder Nega said the renovations were undertaken "without consultation from the public", which he called "a huge mistake."    "This is all about heritage, about preserving heritage. The people should have had a say in it," he said.    "Like everything else this was decided from the top and implemented only by the decision of the prime minister."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 13:13:57 +0200 (METDST)

Hanoi, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - Selfie-snapping tourists railed against the closure of Hanoi's 'train street' on Thursday after police blocked off the Instragram-famous tracks for safety reasons.   The narrow railway corridor in central Hanoi has become a hotspot among visitors seeking the perfect holiday snap on the tracks -- often dodging trains that rumble through daily.    But Hanoi authorities said this week they would block people from the tracks to avoid accidents, and police on Thursday erected barricades to keep out disappointed visitors.    "I'm very frustrated because today I can't go in and take a picture," Malaysian tourist Mustaza bin Mustapha told AFP, vowing to come back later.

Dozens of other tourists were turned away, though some managed to get onto still-open sections of the railway, moving out of the way as an afternoon train chugged past.    Built by former colonial rulers, the railway once shipped goods and people across France's former Indochina colony and remains in use today by communist Vietnam's state-run railway company.    The stretch of the tracks was once known as a rough part of town, occupied by drug users and squatters until their recent discovery by camera-wielding holidaymakers who have splashed images of the area across social media.

Cafe owners complained that business would be hurt thanks to the new regulations, and that tourists always moved out of the way for oncoming trains.   "There has never been any regretful accidents here," said Le Tuan Anh, who runs a cafe from his home along the tracks.   "Compared to traffic density elsewhere in the city, this is much safer," he said, referring to Hanoi's chaotic, motorbike-clogged streets.   New signs were installed in the area Thursday, warning passersby not to take photos or videos in the "dangerous area", much to the chagrin of British tourist Harriet Hayes.   "People come from all over the world to Hanoi just to see the train go past," she told AFP.   "It's such a shame that we come and have been told that we have to leave."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 06:51:42 +0200 (METDST)
By Holly ROBERTSON

Sydney, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - Large numbers of tourists are rushing to scale Uluru -- also known as Ayers Rock -- ahead of a looming ban on climbing a site sacred to indigenous Australians.   Photographs of hundreds of people clambering up the giant red monolith have provoked a social media backlash, with critics lashing as "ignorant" those going against the wishes of the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land, the Anangu.   "A mass of morally and ethically bankrupt people," indigenous woman Laura McBride tweeted alongside an image showing a queue of people snaking up the side of Uluru.    "One even hiking a toddler up, teaching the next generation how to be ignorant."   "Imagine rushing to climb Uluru before it closes just so you could brag about disrespecting the oldest living culture in the world," tweeted National Indigenous Television journalist Madeline Hayman-Reber, who called the scenes "embarrassing".

Officials say the ban, which comes into effect on October 26, is intended to show respect for cultural practices, protect the site from further environmental damage and to ensure visitors' safety.    More than 395,000 people visited the Uluru-Kata National Park in the 12 months to June 2019, according to Parks Australia, about 20 percent more than the previous year. Around 13 percent of those who visited during that period made the climb, park authorities said.    More recent figures are not available but Tourism Central Australia CEO Stephen Schwer said there had been a "significant jump" in the number of people visiting in recent weeks, with the period leading up to the ban coinciding in part with school holidays.   "Its been very busy, particularly down in the national park precinct itself," he told AFP.   "We've had quite an issue with accommodation availability, because there's a lot of people want to climb Uluru before it closes. It's been a busier than normal holiday period."   Japanese visitors and Australians on driving holidays were most likely to want to scale Uluru, Schwer said, though he urged them not to do so.

Australian tourist Belinda Moore, 33, drove to Uluru from her home in central Queensland state to ascend the rock, an experience she said she "absolutely loved".   "It's always been something to tick off the bucket list and when we heard it was closing, we knew it was now or never," she told AFP.   Moore said she did not think her climb was disrespectful to traditional owners as she was not Aboriginal.    "It may be for their own people, because it's their sacred site," she said.   "I'm pretty sad that they're closing it, but it's still amazing just to see it. I would still recommend it."   The climb will be permanently closed as of October 26, the anniversary of ownership being handed back to the Anangu people.

Uluru has great spiritual and cultural significance to indigenous Australians, with their connection to the site dating back tens of thousands of years.   Though visitor numbers were expected to decline once the ban was in place, Schwer said local tourism operators were "not particularly concerned" as it would return the area to normality.   "People need to remember that in central Australia we're a very interconnected community," he said. "The people who are requesting the climb closure are our friends and colleagues.   "We're just looking forward to being able to have the climb consigned to the annals of history."
Date: Wed, 9 Oct 2019 22:01:17 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, Oct 9, 2019 (AFP) - Six people were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo after torrential rains hit the capital Kinshasa, flooding several neighbourhoods. a local official said.    The bodies were found between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.    Five people were killed in the capital's Selembao municipality where around 30 houses collapsed, local mayor Augustin Mankesi told Top Congo radio station.   One woman died in the Pelende district after she was electrocuted, he added.    "Our community is stricken," Mankesi added, calling on the Congolese authorities for help.   Fatal floods and rains are frequent in Kinshasa. In January last year 48 people were killed in landslides, floods and after houses collapsed, according to authorities.    Residents told AFP the road from the sea port district of Matadi to the Kinshasa turnoff has been closed due to erosion caused by the rain.    The passage is Kinshasa's main supply route for imported goods and also serves as an exit point for exports.
Date: Tue, 8 Oct 2019 04:13:25 +0200 (METDST)
By Margioni BERMÚDEZ

Caracas, Oct 8, 2019 (AFP) - The small waiting room at the home of self-styled healer "Brother Guayanes" in Caracas' rundown Petare district fills up quickly with patients -- business has never been better.   With Venezuela's chronic medicine shortages and hyperinflation, more and more people are turning to alternative medicine to treat common ailments in the crisis-wracked South American country.   "We go to the hospital and there's nothing there. They don't have medicines, or they're too expensive, what are we to do?" said Rosa Saez, 77, who has come to get treatment for a painful arm.   Carlos Rosales -- he uses the more ceremonious "Brother Guayanes" for his business -- is finishing up a "spiritual intervention" on a patient in what passes for his surgery.   The patient lies, eyes closed, on a cot as, in a series of swishes and clicks, the healer waves five pairs of scissors one after another over his prone body.    The healer says he performs 200 such interventions a week in a dim, candle-lit room that features two camp beds and an array of plaster statues that Rosales says represent "spiritual entities".   A regular visitor to the spiritual center, Saez says she has faith in Rosales' methods: "He healed my kidneys."

- Natural healing -
All across Venezuela, but particularly in poor areas like Petare, patients cannot hope to afford the price of medicines that due to the economic crisis, have become exceedingly rare.  Venezuela's pharmacists' federation say pharmacies and hospitals have on average only about 20 percent of the medicine stock needed.   Rosales' clinic is muggy with the smell of tobacco. A crucifix suspended from a chain around his neck, he practices a seeming mixture of smoke-blowing shamanism, plant-based medicine and mainstream religion.    Posters hung near the entrance remind clients to arrive with a candle and tobacco and "Don't forget that payment is in cash".   Much like a general practitioner, Rosales spends time consulting with his patients, examining them with a stethoscope, before offering a diagnosis. Often he prescribes potions based on plants and fruit, such as pineapple and a type of local squash known as chayote.   "We know medicines are necessary," he says. "I'm not against medicine, but my medicine is botany."

- Plants replace drugs -
At her stall in a downtown Caracas market, 72-year-old Lilia Reyes says she has seen her trade in medicinal plants flourish.   "I can't keep up with the demand," she said at her stall, bathed in the aroma of camomile, one of the 150 plants she sells.   Careless consumption of some herbs can be deadly, warns Grismery Morillo. A doctor at a Caracas public hospital, she says she has seen many cases of acute liver failure in people who have eaten certain roots.   According to Venezuela's opposition parties, some 300,000 chronically ill people are in danger of dying from the shortages of medicines.

But despite the risks, people like Carmen Teresa say they have no alternative.    In the kitchen of her restaurant which closed down three years ago as the economic crisis took hold, the 58-year-old Colombian prepares an infusion of fig leaves to treat "diabetic neuropathy".   The painkillers needed for the condition are "too expensive" and prices are going up due to hyperinflation, so she is cutting back on the pills and supplementing her treatment with herbal infusions.   She needs at least four tablets a day to keep her diabetes at bay. Her mother, bedridden since breaking a leg a year ago, suffers from Alzheimer's disease and needs five pills a day for hypertension.   "I'm still taking my pills, but I reduced the dose," says Teresa, who is also replacing cholesterol pills with lemon juice.
Date: Sun, 6 Oct 2019 12:04:37 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, Oct 6, 2019 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia announced Sunday it would allow unmarried foreign couples to rent hotel rooms together as the ultraconservative kingdom begins offering up tourist visas for the first time.   The tourism authority said in a statement published on Twitter that Saudi women travelling alone would also be able to check into a hotel by presenting valid ID.

In the past, couples wanting to stay in a hotel had to prove they were married.    "This is no longer required for tourists," the statement said.   Saudi Arabia announced on September 27 it was opening its doors to holidaymakers with the goal of diversifying its oil-dependent economy.   The kingdom had previously only issued visas to Muslim pilgrims, foreign workers, and recently to spectators at sporting or cultural events.

Kickstarting tourism is one of the centrepieces of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform programme to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.   Citizens from 49 countries are now eligible for online e-visas or visas on arrival, including the United States, Australia and several European nations.   On September 28, Saudi authorities warned that tourists who violated "public decency", including with immodest clothing and public displays of affection, would be subject to fines.
Date: Sat, 5 Oct 2019 03:30:17 +0200 (METDST)
By Giovanna FLEITAS

Petorca, Chile, Oct 5, 2019 (AFP) - For Erick Hurtado, the worst thing about the drought that has devastated his family farm in Chile is the dead animals.   "Going out and seeing the animals dead on the ground is so horrible," Hurtado says as he gazes across the dusty paddocks of his farm in Petorca, near the coastal city of Valparaiso.

Farmers are counting the cost of one of the driest austral winters in six decades, which has destroyed crops and left tens of thousands of farm animals dead in the fields of central Chile.   Hurtado's farm, owned by his grandfather, has lost half its 60 head of cattle.   So far, 106,000 animals have died due to lack of water and fodder, mostly goats, cattle and sheep, according to the agriculture ministry.   President Sebastian Pinera, who last month announced a $5 billion plan to improve water distribution, this week set up a crisis group of government agencies to tackle the water crisis, which he said had become "more extensive and more intense."

In Colina, north of the capital Santiago, the drought has been hard on small farmers. Scrawny cattle pick at sprigs of strawy grass on pastures that have turned to dust. Cows, goats and horses roam hungry on hills have turned to a dry muddy brown.   "The drought has been disastrous for us," said Sandra Aguilar. Her family owned about a hundred head of cattle. Today, only half survive thanks to a trickle of water provided by a neighbor who still has some reserves.   "The situation is complicated," said Javier Maldonado, governor of the province of Chacabuco, where several agricultural areas have been hit particularly hard by the drought.    "We have to be realistic, climate change is here to stay," he said.

- Water shortages -
Dominga Mondaca points out the deep fissures that run through the garden behind her house in the village of La Ligua near Valparaiso. The garden used to be full of strawberries and citrus trees; now it's cracked earth.    "We have had many years with little water. But the last year, it didn't rain at all," said the 73-year-old, one of more than 600,000 people the government is supplying by tanker trucks as part of emergency measures.   She says she has had to give up raising chickens, in order to keep what little water she and her husband receive for their own consumption, washing and cleaning. Whatever is left, she uses to sprinkle on herbs in a small kitchen garden.   The agriculture ministry says 37,000 family farms need assistance in the central Chile.

- Thirsty avocados? -
In Petorca, some rivers have run dry, and the landscape has been left parched, but lush avocado and citrus plantations are nevertheless thriving.   Locals in Petorca say the real, long-term problem is the mismanagement of water resources.    "There is an excess of monoculture plantations that consume all the water," said Diego Soto of the Movement for the Defense of Access to Water, Land and Environmental Protection (MODATIMA) told AFP.   Avocados need a lot of water to grow, said Soto.   "An avocado tree needs 600 liters of water per week, whereas humans consume 50 liters a day, or 350 liters a week," he said.   Producers refute these figures and say the real problem is a lack of infrastructure to store water, both above and below ground.    "The avocado is not a crop that needs more water," insisted Francisco Contardo, chairman of the local producers' committee.   Avocados are a key export for Chile, mostly to the US and China, but drought has reduced exports by 25 percent.

- Less snow -
For many though, the changes being wrought by climate change are overwhelmingly obvious. Snow in the highlands of central Chile was relatively scarce this year.    Scientists predict an average decrease of between five and 10 percent snowfall every 10 years in almost the entire Andes mountains, one of the country's main sources of water.   "The central zone of Chile is highly dependent on the summer melt season, its snow and glaciers, which means that if the snow cover is reduced, there is also a reduction in the availability of water resources," said Paul Cordero, climate change expert at the University of Santiago.   Weak snowfall forced the country's main ski resorts to use artificial snow machines much earlier and more often this season than in previous years.    "Chile has been living as if it were a country with an abundance of water," said Pinera.   "Climate change and global warming have changed this situation probably forever."