WORLD NEWS

Getting countries ...
Select countries and read reports below or

Aruba

Aruba US Consular Information Sheet
April 02, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Aruba is an autonomous part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Tourist facilities are widely available. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Aruba for addi
ional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: 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 visitors to Aruba may be asked to show onward/return tickets, proof of sufficient funds and proof of lodging accommodations for their stay. Length of stay for U.S. citizens is granted for thirty days and may be extended to 180 days by the office of immigration.
For further information, travelers may contact the Royal Netherlands Embassy, 4200 Linnean Avenue NW, Washington, DC
20008, telephone (202) 244-5300, or the Dutch Consulate in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Houston or Miami.
Visit the web site for the Embassy of the Netherlands at http://www.netherlands-embassy.org and the Aruban Department of Immigration at http://www.aruba.com/about/entryrequirements.php 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: There are no known extremist groups, areas of instability or organized crime on Aruba, although drug trafficking rings do operate on the island.
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., 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: The crime threat in Aruba is generally considered low although travelers should always take normal precautions when in unfamiliar surroundings.
There have been incidents of theft from hotel rooms and armed robberies have been known to occur. Valuables left unattended on beaches, in cars and in hotel lobbies are easy targets for theft.
Car theft, especially that of rental vehicles for joy riding and stripping, can occur. Vehicle leases or rentals may not be fully covered by local insurance when a vehicle is stolen or damaged.
Be sure you are sufficiently insured when renting vehicles and jet skis.

Parents of young travelers should be aware that the legal drinking age of 18 is not always rigorously enforced in Aruba, so extra parental supervision may be appropriate. Young female travelers in particular are urged to take the same precautions they would when going out in the United States, e.g. to travel in pairs or in groups if they choose frequenting Aruba’s nightclubs and bars, and if they opt to consume alcohol, to do so responsibly.

Anyone who is a victim of a crime should make a report to Aruban police as well as report it immediately to the nearest U.S. consular office.
Do not rely on hotel/restaurant/tour company management to make the report for you.

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, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are 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.

Please see our information for American Victims of Crime Overseas.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care is good in Aruba. There is one hospital, Dr. H.E. Oduber Hospital, whose medical standards can be compared with an average small hospital in the U.S. The hospital has three classes of services and patients are accommodated according to the level of their insurance (i.e. first class: one patient to a room, TV, better food; second class: two to three patients to a room, shared bathroom, etc; third class: 15 to 20 people in one hall). There is a small medical center in San Nicolas. The many drug stores, or “boticas” provide prescription and over the counter medicine. Emergency services are usually quick to respond.
There are no country-specific health concerns.

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

Driving in Aruba is on the right-hand side of the road. Local laws require drivers and passengers to wear seat belts and motorcyclists to wear helmets. Children under 5 years of age should be in a child safety seat; older children should ride in the back seat. Right turns on red are prohibited in Aruba.

Aruba's main thoroughfare, L.G. Smith Boulevard, is well lit and most hotels and tourist attractions can be easily located.
There is a speed limit in Aruba and driving while intoxicated may result in the loss of a driver’s license and/or a fine.
However, these are not consistently enforced.
Drivers should be alert at all times for speeding cars, which have caused fatal accidents.
In the interior areas of the island, drivers should be alert for herds of goats or donkeys that may cross the roads unexpectedly.
Buses provide convenient and inexpensive service to and from many hotels and downtown shopping areas.
Taxis, while expensive, are safe and well regulated.
As there are no meters, passengers should verify the price before entering the taxi.
The emergency service telephone number is 911. Police and ambulance tend to respond quickly to emergency situations.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Also, travelers may wish to visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety in Aruba for information: http://www.aruba.com/pages/traffictips.htm.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Aruba’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Aruba’s air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: The time-share industry and other real estate investments are two of the fastest-growing tourist industries in Aruba. Time-share buyers are cautioned about contracts that do not have a "non-disturbance or perpetuity protective clause" incorporated in the purchase agreement.
Such a clause gives the time-share owner perpetuity of ownership should the facility be sold.
Americans have also sometimes complained that the time-share units are not adequately maintained, despite generally high annual maintenance fees.

Potential investors should be aware that failed land development schemes involving time-share investments could result in financial losses. Interested investors may wish to seek professional advice regarding investments involving land development projects. Real estate investment problems that reach local courts are rarely settled in favor of foreign investors.

An unusually competitive fee to rent jet skis or other water sports equipment could indicate that the dealer is unlicensed or uninsured. Visitors planning to rent jet skis or other water sports equipment should carefully review all liability and insurance forms presented to them before signing any contracts or agreements. The renter is often fully responsible for replacement costs and fees associated with any damages that occur during the rental period. Visitors may be required to pay these fees in full before being allowed to leave Aruba, and may be subject to civil or criminal penalties if they cannot or will not make payment.

Dutch law in principle does not permit dual nationality. However, there are several exceptions to the rule. For example, American citizens who are married to Dutch citizens are exempt from the requirement to abandon their American nationality when they apply to become a Dutch citizen by naturalization. For detailed information, contact the Embassy of the Netherlands in Washington, DC, or one of the Dutch consulates in the U.S.
Please see our information on customs regulations.

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 Aruba’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Aruba 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 on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues web pages.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Aruba are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Aruba. 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. Consulate General is located at J.B. Gorsiraweg 1, Willemstad, Curaçao, telephone number (599-9) 461-3066; fax (599-9) 461-6489; e-mail address: acscuracao@state.gov
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated January 3, 2008, to update Entry/Exit Requirements and Crime sections.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat, 20 Jun 2009 10:52:09 +0200 (METDST)

MADRID, June 20, 2009 (AFP) - A Spanish cruise ship was turned away from three Caribbean islands after swine flu cases emerged among the crew and the 800-odd passengers finally got off in Aruba, the tour operator said Saturday.   The "Ocean Dream" docked in Aruba late Friday after being denied entry in Grenada, Saint Lucia and Barbados, Pullmantur said. Three swine flu cases were reported among the crew but the passengers were unaffected.

On Thursday, 376 Venezuelan passengers were allowed to disembark on the island of Margarita, which belongs to Venezuela.   The ship's nine-day cruise through the Caribbean was hampered by the flu outbreak and the ship could not dock at three destinations on the itinerary.   The A(H1N1) virus has infected more than 44,000 people around the world, resulting in 180 deaths since late March, WHO figures show.
Date: Wed 14 Jan 2009
Source: Amigoe.com [Dutch, machine trans., edited]

Department of Health has called an urgent press conference on Tuesday [13 Jan 2009] to issue a dengue update. The department has done this following the hundreds of calls that have come into Health, after media reports of a 53-year-old woman who died of dengue [virus infection].

According to Trevor Gellecum, Director of Health, it is still not clear that this woman indeed died of dengue. "First, certain tests can be carried out, and it will be 3 weeks before the results could be known," says Van Gellecum. "These tests should be carried out in a laboratory abroad."

According to Wilmer Salazar, microbiologist at Health, the woman had a fever at the weekend, but on Monday [12 Jan 2009] she felt better and she went to work. "Later that day, she was admitted to the hospital in shock. At night she died, "said Salazar. "Until now, there is no confirmed diagnosis of the cause of death, but dengue is suspected. Today [14 Jan 2009], an autopsy was performed so that the tests to be done abroad can take place."

Maribel Tromp, manager at the department of epidemiology and research of the Infectious Disease Service, has indicated that so far 612 suspected cases of dengue have been registered. "Of these, 218 cases [have been] confirmed as positive by the laboratory, and 394 are still under investigation, reports Tromp. "This does not mean that they are negative" [The dates over which these cases occurred are not specified. - ProMed Mod.TY].

 From the moment the news of a potentially fatal dengue victim arose lately, Charline Koolma, director of the Yellow Fever Fight Unit (GKMB), indicated that they have been overwhelmed with calls from people reporting family members possibly with dengue-like symptoms or who want information about the disease. "It is good that we now receive phone calls, although it also had previously been possible. These kinds of extreme cases can be avoided," according Koolman.

"From November last year [2008], the GKMB made several visits to monitor presence of [the dengue virus vector mosquito _Aedes_] breeding sites and adult mosquitoes. Often, the residents are not home, and then a letter was left with an invitation to make contact with the GKMB for the transmission of important information. But there is never a return call until something bad happens, and then it is often too late."

The more information and reports the GKMB gets, the better the service and their work, said Tromp. Finally, all speakers [at the press conference] called on the population and general practitioners to join forces against breeding of the _Aedes_ dengue vector mosquito. Health officials indicated that is the only way to avoid [virus] infection and prevent dengue.
------------------------
[A map showing the location of Aruba in the Caribbean can be accessed at <http://www.aruba-travelguide.com/map/index.html>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Sun, 2 Sep 2007 19:04:55 +0200 (METDST) MIAMI, Sept 2, 2007 (AFP) - Hurricane Felix barreled through the Caribban Sunday, with forecasters predicting a brush with Aruba and warning of its potential to strengthen into a devastating storm. Forecasters issued a tropical storm warning and hurricane watch for the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao -- popular tourist destinations in the Netherlands Antilles. A tropical storm watch also has been issued for Jamaica, which was gearing up for violence-marred elections Monday, after Felix was upgraded overnight to Category Two strength on the Saffir-Sampson scale, which peaks at five. At around 1500 GMT Felix's maximum sustained winds were 105 miles (165 kilometers) per hour, and its trek across the open waters of the Caribbean could allow it to attain "major hurricane" status, US forecasters said. "I see no reason why Felix will not become a major hurricane within 12 hours or so," said Richard Pasch, a hurricane specialist with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. On Saturday, a weaker Felix passed close to Grenada, reportedly ripping roofs, downing power lines and knocking radio and TV stations off the air. No injuries were reported. The center of the hurricane around 1600 GMT Sunday was about 50 miles (75 kilometers) north of Aruba and about 550 miles (900 kilometers) southeast of Kingston, Jamaica. Felix was moving in a west-northwesterly direction at around 18 miles (30 kilometers) per hour, and was expected to follow the same course throughout Sunday. The storm was not expected to hit Jamaica directly, but its strong outer squalls could rock the island ahead of the elections on Monday. Jamaican officials had already postponed the general election from August 27, after the island was struck last month by Hurricane Dean. Last week, Dean swept through the southern Caribbean with severe winds and rains, leaving a wide swathe of damage and a death toll of 30 from Martinique to Mexico. Felix's track was expected to take it toward Belize or the Yucatan in Mexico, possibly making landfall as a major Category Three hurricane Wednesday. The storm could dump two to four inches (five to 10 centimeters) of rain over islands off the Venezuela coast and the Netherlands Antilles, US forecasters said. On its current path Felix is expected to graze the coastlines of Nicaragua and Honduras late Tuesday and make landfall in Belize on Wednesday. Felix is the second hurricane of the three-month-old Atlantic season, and the first in September, historically the busiest month for hurricanes.
Date: Thu, 9 Sep 2004 10:12:08 +0200 (METDST) CARACAS, Sept 9 (AFP) - Hurricane Ivan has killed at least 11 people in Tobago, Grenada and Venezuela as the it churned off Venezuela's coast Thursday, strengthening to the top Category 5 storm, officials and local media said. Ivan was 135 kilometers (85 miles) northeast of Aruba and 915 kilometers (570 miles) from Jamaica, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said at 0600 GMT. Its category was raised to a Category 5 hurricane -the top level on the Saffir Simpson hurricane scale, with maximum sustained winds near 255 kilometers (160 miles) per hour. "Some fluctuations in strength are likely," the center said. The "extremely dangerous" hurricane was moving west-northwest at 28 kilometers (17 miles) per hour with urricane force winds extend outward from Ivan's eye up to 95 kilometers (60 miles). Storm surges of 1.0-1.5 meters (three to five feet) as well as rains of 13-18 centimeters (seven five to seven inches) are to be expected. The center issued hurricane warnings for Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. A television station in Trinidad and Tobago said nine people had died in Grenada, a tiny island nation of 90,000 inhabitants, which Prime Minister Keith Mitchell said was 85 percent destroyed. Power lines were down and hundreds of persons have taken refuge in shelters. Mitchell, whose own house was destroyed, told a Trinidad radio station that the island is without electricity. Another woman was killed by a falling tree in Tobago, according to local media. Prime Minister Patrick Manning headed to Tobago to view the destruction. His government has promised 1.6 million dollars to St. Vincent to help with the construction. Hundreds were evacuated to shelters. Cuba has also begun preparing for the storm in 11 of its 14 provinces, although the island has not fully recovered from Hurricane Charley, which struck August 13. Children in the Netherlands Antilles were sent home from school, as were many workers. Several Venezuelan airports, including the oil-exporting country's main international airport, Maiquetia, which serves Caracas, suspended operations until conditions improve, Air Force colonel Francisco Paz Freitas told Union Radio. In Venezuela, a man was crushed to death when hurricane-force winds toppled a wall in a coastal town near Caracas, emergency service officials said, adding that another person was hurt and 150 people were affected by flooding. Along the low-lying Caribbean coast, authorities reported mudslides and road closings just as early rain bands from the storm unleashed the first downpours. The storm was expected to be off the central coast later in the day, triggering heavy rains and rough surf. The capital, Caracas, lies just a bit inland from there, protected somewhat by the El Avila mountain range. Though the storm is not expected to make landfall in Venezuela, Interior and Justice Minister Jesse Chacon was urging calm and said heavy winds and rain associated with the storm could last for 72 hours. Ivan was expected to pass just north of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao on Friday as the Caribbean islands were under a hurricane warning, which means hurricane winds could hit them within 24 hours or less, the US hurricane center said. A hurricane watch and a tropical storm warning remain in effect for the Guajira peninsula of Colombia and for the entire northern coast of Venezuela, it noted. Haiti also issued a hurricane watch, meaning it could experience hurricane conditions within 36 hours.
Date: Wed, 8 Sep 2004 05:03:07 +0200 (METDST) PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad Sept 7 (AFP) - Ivan, an "extremely dangerous" hurricane Tuesday knocked out power in Barbados and threatened eastern Caribbean islands, forecasters and emergency officials said. The eye of the powerful storm moved over Barbados Tuesday afternoon, and headed for the eastern Caribbean, where officials issued a hurricane warning for St Vincent, the Grenadines, Grenada and the Netherlands Antilles islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. Ivan packed sustained winds of 215 kilometers (135 miles) per hour, which made it "an extremely dangerous category four hurricane," the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. In Barbados, "there is an island-wide power outage, expect for the major health care facility, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital," the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA) said. "There are also reports of roof loss, downed utility poles and trees," the agency said, adding that there were also reports of coastal damage from storm surge. Late Tuesday night, the center of the powerful hurricane, the second in just days, was located 175 kilometers (110 miles) west of Grenada. The Netherlands Antilles Tuesday morning put the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao under a hurricane watch, which means the storm could hit them within 36 hours. In central and eastern Venezuela, officials suspended all air and maritime traffic. Long-term forecasts, which have a wide margin of error, have the hurricane slamming into Jamaica on Friday and then into Cuba on Sunday. This would bring the storm dangerously close to Florida, which has just been pounded by Frances, the second hurricane to hit the southeastern US state in three weeks. The Bahamas islands also were severely impacted by the passage of Frances last week.
More ...

Belgium

Belgium - US Consular Information Sheet
October 03, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Belgium is a highly developed and stable democracy with a modern economy. Tourist facilities are widely available.
Read the Department of State Background N
tes on Belgium for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Belgium is a party to the Schengen agreement. As such, U.S. citizens may enter Belgium 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. Sufficient funds and a return airline ticket are required. For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet. For further information concerning entry requirements, contact the Embassy of Belgium at 3330 Garfield Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 333-6900; or one of the Belgian Consulates General in Atlanta, Los Angeles, or New York.Visit the Belgian Embassy web site at http://www.diplobel.org/usa for the most current visa information.
Belgian law requires that everyone carry some form of official identification at all times, which must be displayed upon request to any Belgian police official. A U.S. passport suffices for these purposes.
See the section on Special Circumstances for information on new business visitor and employee registration requirements.
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: Belgium remains largely free of terrorist incidents. Belgian law enforcement and security officials, in close cooperation with neighboring countries, maintain a solid anti-terrorism effort and a peaceful environment for tourists and business. However, like other countries that are members of the Schengen Agreement on free cross-border movement, Belgium’s open borders with its European neighbors allow the possibility for terrorist groups to enter/exit the country with anonymity.
Prior police approval is required for public demonstrations in Belgium, and police oversight is routinely provided to ensure adequate security for participants and passers-by. Nonetheless, situations may develop that could pose a threat to public safety. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid areas where public demonstrations are taking place.
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: Belgium remains relatively free of violent crime, but low-level street crime is common. Visitors should always be watchful and aware of their surroundings, however, because muggings, purse snatchings, and pickpocketing occur frequently, particularly in the major cities. Transportation hubs like the Metro (subway) and train stations are also frequented by thieves who take advantage of disoriented travelers. In Brussels, pickpocketing, purse snatching, and theft of light luggage and laptops are common at the three major train stations -- the North Station (Noordstation or Gare du Nord), the Central Station (Centraal Station or Gare Central) and especially at the South Station (Zuidstation or Gare du Midi). The latter is a primary international train hub, and travelers are advised to pay very close attention to their personal belongings when in the station. Common ploys are to distract the victim by spraying shaving cream or another substance on his or her back or asking for directions while an accomplice steals the luggage. It is a good idea to remain in physical contact with hand luggage at all times, and not to place carry-on luggage on overhead racks in trains.
Another growing problem, especially in Brussels, is theft from vehicles, both moving and parked. Do not leave valuables in plain sight where a thief may spot them. Thieves will sometimes position themselves at stop lights to scan for valuables in stopped cars. If they see a purse or other valuable item they break the window and steal the item before the victim can even react. Expensive car stereos and GPS navigational devices left in plain sight are often stolen from parked cars. Always drive with windows up and doors locked.
Travelers to Brussels should be aware that small groups of young men sometimes prey on unwary tourists, usually at night and often in Metro stations. Items such as expensive mobile phones and MP3 players are often the target. Travelers should carry only a minimum amount of cash, credit cards, and personal identification. Wearing expensive jewelry and watches is discouraged.
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: Good medical facilities are widely available in Belgium. The large university hospitals can handle almost every medical problem. Hospitals in Brussels and Flemish-speaking Flanders will probably have English-speaking staff. Hospitals in French-speaking Wallonia may not have staff members who are fluent in English, however. The Embassy Consular Section maintains a list of English-speaking doctors, which can be found on the Embassy web site at http://brussels.usembassy.gov/medical_facilities.html.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Belgium is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Belgian urban highways are generally well built and maintained with extensive lighting systems, but rain and fog often reduce visibility. Rural roads are less likely to be illuminated at night. Belgian rules for right-of-way differ from those in the U.S., and new drivers should thoroughly understand these rules before driving in Belgium. For instance, traffic coming from the right generally has priority at uncontrolled intersections and roundabouts, even if coming from a smaller street. The maximum speed limit on Belgian highways is 120 kilometers (72 miles) per hour, but is not always posted except at Belgium’s borders and on roads leaving major airports. The maximum speed in urban areas is normally 50 km (30 miles) per hour. While Belgian authorities strictly enforce speed limits, many Belgians still drive significantly faster than the posted limit. Claims of ignorance may not prevent a significant fine for speeding, which can also lead to the vehicle’s being impounded if the driver is unable to pay the fine on the spot. Belgian police also conduct breath analysis checks for alcohol use, particularly at night and during major holidays.
Roadside assistance and information on road conditions are available in English from Touring Mobilis, tel: 0900 10280. Belgian police will also provide information on road conditions, tel: 02-642-6666. Emergency services are efficient and responsive. By phone within Belgium, for police emergencies dial 101 and for all other emergencies,112.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of Belgium’s national tourist office at http://www.visitbelgium.com/.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Belgium’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Belgium’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
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: While most forms of monetary transactions are available (cash, credit cards), U.S. money orders cannot be negotiated in Belgium. Personal checks may only be cleared through a bank at which a person holds an account and clearance can take from two to four weeks. Banks and exchange facilities may refuse U.S. dollar denominations of $50 and $100 if they are not equipped with devices to identify counterfeit currency. Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are widespread in Belgium and accept most U.S. ATM cards to withdraw funds. Travelers seeking to purchase Euros are more likely to find a more favorable exchange rate at banks than at money exchange facilities located at tourist locations, train stations, and airports. Please see our Customs Information.
Non-EU citizens visiting Belgium and staying in a private residence are required by Belgian law to register with local Commune authorities within three days of their arrival. Any change in visa or resident status must also be requested through Commune authorities and must be completed prior to the expiration of the current status. Given the requirements to change status in Belgium, it is nearly impossible to do so within the 90 days permitted to remain in Belgium without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program.
BUSINESS VISITOR AND EMPLOYEE REGISTRATION REQUIREMENT: Since April 1, 2007 non-Belgian employers and self-employed persons or their employees who carry out short term assignments in Belgium must declare these activities in advance.
This mandatory "Limosa" declaration applies to: (1) Employees and apprentices, who come to Belgium to execute certain temporary work and who, because of the nature of their short term assignment, are not subject to the Belgian social security system; (2) Self-employed people and self-employed apprentices who come to work in Belgium temporarily, irrespective of whether they are subject to the Belgian social security system.
Some exceptions to this general obligation exist. Certain persons may be exempted, especially for short-term assignments. For more information about the Limosa declaration, visit http://www.limosa.be.
For more information about working in Belgium, please see http://www.employment.belgium.be/home.aspx.
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 Belgian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belgium 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 Belgium 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 Belgium. 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 Brussels is located at 25 Boulevard du Regent. The telephone number from the U.S. is 011-32-2-508-2111. Within Belgium, the telephone number is 02-508-2111. The Embassy’s fax number is 02-511-2725. The Consular Section’s fax number is 02-513-0409. The American Citizen Services Unit of the Consular Section is open from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for American and Belgian holidays. Further information can be obtained at the Embassy’s web site at http://belgium.usembassy.gov/
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Belgium dated March 13, 2008, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri 17 May 2019
Source: [in French, trans. Corr.SB, edited]

An additional patient, the 19th, was admitted to the hospital in Flanders, [East Flanders province] suffering from legionellosis.

This case comes in addition to the 18 others who have been exposed to _Legionella_ bacteria in the Evergem area [East Flanders], right next to Ghent, and who developed legionnaires' disease, a lung disease that is not transmitted from human to human.

Of the total of 19 patients, 2 men died: one Monday night [20 May 2019] and the other [Wed 22 May 2019], in 2 different Ghent hospitals.

The exact source of _Legionella_ causing the [legionellosis] outbreak in the region has not yet been located. The bacterium normally contaminates people via inhalation of water vapor or micro-droplets, but many exposed individuals do not develop disease.
========================
[This news report above adds 3 cases since the last report posted by ProMED-mail (Legionellosis - Europe (01): Belgium (OV) http://promedmail.org/post/20190514.6468996) for a total now of 19 cases. At the time of the initial report, cooling towers in the vicinity of the Ghent Canal were suspected to be the source of this outbreak. The Ghent Canal separates the town of Evergem, where 7 cases occurred, from the town of Oostakker, where 2 cases occurred. The Ghent-Terneuzen Canal, links Ghent in Belgium to the port of Terneuzen in the Netherlands, thereby providing Ghent with access to the sea (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghent-Terneuzen_Canal>).

A map showing the location of Evergem and this area can be found at
<https://goo.gl/maps/y9Z1tQzbKJa1NkSm7>.

The news report above fails to state where the new cases reside, if _Legionella_ genotypes of the clinical isolates match each other, which would indicate a common source outbreak, and the results of environmental testing for _Legionella_. We await the results of the ongoing investigation. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Belgium:
Date: Tue 14 May 2019, 8:24 AM
Source: Brussels Times [edited]

One person has died from [legionellosis] in Evergem, [a municipality] near Ghent, after health authorities declared an outbreak of the bacteria in the region, which accelerated at the weekend. The patient died in Ghent's University Hospital on [Mon 13 May 2019] evening, The Flanders Agency for Care and Health announced in a statement.

The agency has currently identified at least 16 cases after it was reported that 11 infected people had been admitted to the hospital late last week.

The most recently reported cases have prompted authorities to warn that the source of the infection, which has not yet been identified, may still be active. A total of 7 of the 16 cases originated in Evergem or in bordering towns, leading authorities to say that there are strong indications that the source of the infection is in Evergem's vicinity.

The _Legionella_ bacteria develop primarily in warm and stagnant water and can lead to Legionnaires' disease or Pontiac fever.

The Flanders Agency for Care and Health said in a statement that they are examining water samples from 17 companies in order to identify the source of contamination. A spokesperson for the agency said that [legionellosis] symptoms can take up to 17 days to appear, but that most people manifested symptoms within 10 days.
------------------------------------------
Communicated by:
Dr. Juan Angel Ferrer Azcona
Area de Prevencion de Legionella
microSERVICES
Benidorm, Alicante, Spain
<ferrer@microservices.es>
Date: Wed, 13 Feb 2019 11:38:03 +0100
By Alex PIGMAN

Brussels, Feb 13, 2019 (AFP) - Belgium slowed to a standstill on Wednesday as a national strike closed airports, shuttered businesses and caused major disruption to railways.   The strike, called by three unions, severely disrupted the country's public transport, particularly in Brussels, where a meeting of NATO ministers was set to take place.  The strike affected post offices, schools, hospitals, waste collection, but also companies and shopping centres.

In the Dutch-speaking city of Ghent, two protestors were slightly injured when a vehicle forced a picket line, local police told AFP. The driver was arrested.    "The movement is well followed everywhere and in all sectors," said CSC union general secretary Marie-Helene Ska on Bel-RTL radio.   The national railway company expected half the trains nation-wide would be cancelled because of the movement, but high speed train traffic to London and Paris should be mostly spared.

The air traffic control agency, Skeyes, announced on Tuesday that it would not allow any flights to or from the country because it could not determine with certainty which employees would come to work.    No aircraft flying below 8,000 metres altitude would be allowed to fly over the country, the agency warned.   Skeyes was not able to say how many flights or how many passengers would be affected.    "Even if the terminal will remain open, we ask all passengers not to go to the airport," said Brussels Zaventem airport, the largest in Belgium, in a statement.   Charleroi airport, the second largest in Belgium and a local hub for low-cost giant Ryanair, had already announced its closure.    The German carrier TUI fly will operate its scheduled Belgian flights from the nearest French and Dutch airports.

Unions are calling for higher wages, benefits and pensions, and better end-of-career conditions. The movement is putting pressure on the right-of-centre government ahead of general elections in May.   Brussels, home to NATO, will be hosting a meeting of defence ministers that day, with officials from throughout the transatlantic military alliance converging on the city.   Dozens of supermarkets were closed, mainly in the French-speaking part of Belgium.   "Forty-four supermarkets are closed and we hope that the situation does not change during the day," said Carrefour spokesman Baptiste van Outryve to Belga news agency.   The last general strike in Belgium was in December 2014.
Date: Fri, 8 Feb 2019 16:02:19 +0100

Brussels, Feb 8, 2019 (AFP) - Belgium's biggest carrier Brussels Airlines said it had cancelled all of its flights out of the Belgian capital on Wednesday due to a national strike.   Brussels Airlines is "eliminating its entire 222-flight schedule. The travel itineraries of more than 16,000 passengers are impacted," the Lufthansa subsidiary said in a statement on Friday.

Flights from German carrier TUI fly will also be diverted out of Belgium to airports in neighbouring France and the Netherlands, the company told the Belga news agency.   Unions warned De Morgen newspaper that all commercial flights may be forced out of Belgian airspace Wednesday if air traffic controllers joined the action.

Several Belgian unions are demanding salary hikes for all sectors of the economy, with the whole country expected to be at a standstill on Wednesday.   Brussels, home to NATO, will be hosting a defence ministers meeting that day, with officials from throughout the transatlantic military alliance converging on the city.
Date: Mon, 29 Oct 2018 11:19:43 +0100

Brussels, Oct 29, 2018 (AFP) - A baggage handlers strike at Brussels international airport forced the cancellation of 130 out of 630 flights scheduled for Monday, the fifth day of the dispute, an official said.   Handlers at Belgian firm Aviapartner went on strike last Thursday over demands for better working conditions at Brussels-Zaventem airport, with 100 flights cancelled on Friday and still more over the weekend.

An official at Brussels airport told AFP 130 out of the 630 flights scheduled for Monday had been cancelled.   The Belga news agency said talks over the weekend failed to resolve the dispute and new discussions were scheduled for Monday.   The first day of the strike came at the end of a school holiday in neighbouring Netherlands and the start of one in Belgium that coincides with All Saints Day on November 1.

Brussels airport is the largest in Belgium, with nearly 25 million passengers passing through last year, compared to seven million at Charleroi airport in the south, the country's second biggest.
More ...

Oman

Oman US Consular Information Sheet
February 11, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The Sultanate of Oman, a land of great natural beauty on the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula, has a long and proud heritage.
Oman has seen rapid economic a
d social development in the past three decades.
The Government of Oman estimated its population at 2,340,815 in its 2003 census, but the current number is likely to be significantly higher due to an influx of expatriate workers in numerous sectors of the economy.
The CIA World Factbook estimates Oman’s population to be 3,311,640 in its latest on-line update as of December 18, 2008.
A monarchy governed by Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the country does not have political parties or a legislature, although a bicameral representative body (the lower house of which is directly elected) provides the government with advice and reviews draft legislation.
While Oman is traditionally Islamic and Islam is the state religion, Omanis have for centuries lived with people of other faiths.
Non-Muslims are free to worship at churches and temples built on land donated by the Sultan.
The economy is largely dependent on the production and export of oil and natural gas, but is becoming increasingly diversified.
Excellent tourist facilities are available in the major cities of Muscat, Salalah, Sohar, and Nizwa and can increasingly be found elsewhere in the country.
Travelers may wish to visit the Sultanate’s tourism web site at http://www.omantourism.gov.om/ for more information.
Travelers may also wish to read the Department of State Background Notes on Oman for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid passport and visa are required for entry into Oman.
Omani embassies and consulates issue multiple-entry tourist and/or business visas valid for up to two years.
Omani immigration officials at the port of entry determine the length of stay in Oman, which varies according to the purpose of travel.
Alternatively, U.S. citizens may obtain a 30-day visa by presenting their U.S. passports on arrival at all Oman land, sea, and air entry points.
Note: The validity period of the applicant's passport should not be less than six months.
Adequate funds and proof of an onward/return ticket, though not required, are strongly recommended.
The fee is Rials Omani 6.00 (approximately USD 16.00).
This visa can be extended for an extra 30 days only; a completed extension application form and the fee of Rials Omani 6.00 (USD 16.00) should be submitted to the Directorate General of Passports and Residence or to its branches at regional Royal Omani Police offices.
Other categories of short-term visit/business/work contract visas are available, but these must be arranged in advance through an Omani sponsor.
To obtain a visa or for details on entry and travel requirements, please contact the Embassy of the Sultanate of Oman, 2535 Belmont Road NW, Washington, DC
20008, telephone (202) 387-1980/2.
Evidence of yellow fever immunization is required if the traveler enters from an infected area.
Visit the Embassy of Oman 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.
Forbidden items:
The Sultanate prohibits pornographic materials and firearms from entering Oman.
Local law limits each traveler to two bottles of alcohol.
Items subject to confiscation at the airport due to content considered culturally inappropriate include, but are not limited to, compact discs, digital video discs, and video and audiocassettes.
Please refer to our Customs Information to learn more about customs regulations.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
There have been no instances in which U.S. citizens or facilities in Oman have been subject to terrorist attacks.
However, the Department of State remains concerned about the possibility of terrorist attacks against United States citizens and interests throughout the region.
American citizens in Oman are urged to maintain a high level of security awareness.
The State Department suggests that all Americans in Oman maintain an unpredictable schedule and vary travel routes and times whenever possible.
Americans are also urged to treat mail or packages from unfamiliar sources with suspicion.
Unusual mail or packages should be left unopened and reported to local authorities.
U.S. citizens with security concerns are encouraged to contact local authorities and the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Muscat.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s web site, 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 information on A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
The incidence of street crime is low in Oman; violent crime is rare by U.S. standards, but can occur.
Crimes of opportunity remain the most likely to affect visitors.
Visitors to Oman should, therefore, take normal precautions, such as avoiding travel in deserted or unfamiliar areas and after dark.
Visitors should also protect personal property from theft.
In particular, valuables and currency should not be left unsecured in hotel rooms.
Common sense and caution are always the best methods for crime prevention.

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 Oman is:
9999
See our information on Victims of Crime.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: By Omani custom and law, expressing frustration either verbally or through otherwise innocuous hand gestures is considered insulting and abusive.
Any individual, regardless of citizenship and residency status, may file a personal defamation charge, and accusation of wrongdoing is sufficient to initiate a legal process.
While not commonplace, the incidence of American citizens charged with personal defamation has been on the rise in recent months.
These cases are normally resolved by a formal apology and a payment of damage to the aggrieved party, but one American citizen’s case went to trial in 2008.
Omani law typically does not permit a foreigner accused of a crime, including defamation, to depart the country while legal proceedings are ongoing.
Confrontations leading to defamation charges occur mostly on Oman’s roads, and visitors should exercise caution when dealing with difficult drivers.
Omani employers often ask that expatriate employees deposit their passports with the company as a condition of employment.
While to an extent still customary, this practice is contrary to Omani law.
The U.S. Embassy in Muscat advises Americans to exercise caution on the issue of permitting an employer to hold their passports, since this can operate as a restraint on travel and could give undue leverage to the employer in a dispute.
U.S. passports are the property of the U.S. government.
Islamic ideals provide the conservative foundation of Oman's customs, laws, and practices.
Foreign visitors are expected to be sensitive to Islamic culture and not dress in a revealing or provocative style, including the wearing of sleeveless shirts and blouses, halter-tops and shorts.
Athletic clothing is worn in public only when the wearer is obviously engaged in athletic activity.
Western bathing attire, however, is the norm at hotel pools and beaches.

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 Omani laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Oman 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:
There are a number of modern medical facilities in Oman.
Local medical treatment varies from quite good to inadequate, depending in large part on location.
Many Western pharmaceuticals can be found in Oman.
Hospital emergency treatment is available.
Doctors and hospitals often expect 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 the CDC’s web site.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization (WHO).
Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.

Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to and foreign residents of Oman.
Oman requires persons seeking work or residence visas to take an HIV/AIDS test after arriving in the country; U.S. HIV/AIDS tests are not accepted.
Please verify this information with the Embassy of Oman at (202) 387-1980/2 before you travel.

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 Oman is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Road Conditions and Hazards: Road conditions, lighting, and traffic safety in cities and on major highways are good.
The condition of rural roads varies from good to poor.
Travel between cities, especially at night, may be dangerous due to poor or no lighting, wandering livestock, and speeding drivers.
The safety of public transportation is generally good.
Taxis, minivans, and small buses may swerve to the side of the road to pick up passengers with little notice or regard for other vehicles.

Local Laws and Practices:
Traffic laws in Oman are strictly enforced and the consequences for violating them may be severe by U.S. standards.
For example, running a red light results in a mandatory, non-bailable detention period of 48 hours, followed by confiscation of one’s driver’s license, vehicle registration, and car registration plate until the Omani judicial process is concluded, which may take as long as several months.
Other common traffic violations that carry strict penalties, up to and including jail sentences, fines, and/or deportation, include: driving without a license, driving under the influence of alcohol, failure to wear a seat belt, talking on cellular telephones while driving (other than using hands-free technology), speeding excessively, overtaking another vehicle, screeching a car’s tires or failing to keep one’s car clean.
In the event of a traffic violation and fine, drivers should cooperate with police officers and should not attempt to pay or negotiate payment at the time of the traffic stop.

Effective June 1, 2007, the Royal Oman Police (ROP) introduced new procedures for minor Road Traffic Accidents (RTA) to reduce traffic jams.
According to the ROP, the new procedure is currently in force in the Governorate of Muscat area and will eventually be implemented in the other governorates and regions of the Sultanate.
American citizens considering driving in Oman are advised to familiarize themselves with the new procedures available on the ROP web site under “Minor Road Traffic Accidents.”
Note:
Minor RTA are accidents that cause minor damage to one or more vehicles but do not result in injuries, deaths, or material damage to public/private properties.
Parties involved in such accidents should immediately move their vehicles to the side of the road.

American citizens involved in accidents outside of the Muscat area are advised not to move their vehicles from the accident location until the ROP gives them permission; moving a vehicle may be interpreted as an admission of guilt.

The use of European-style traffic circles is prevalent in Oman.
However, unlike European traffic practice, the driver on the inside lane always has priority.
A driver flashing his/her high beams is generally asking for a chance to pass.
Turning right on a red traffic signal is prohibited.
Visitors should not drive without a valid license.
Short-term visitors in possession of a valid U.S. driver's license may drive rental vehicles, but residents must have an Omani driver's license.
To obtain an Omani license, a U.S. citizen must have a U.S. license that has been valid for at least one year or must take a driving test.
Visitors hiring rental cars should insure the vehicles adequately against death, injury and loss or damage.
Residents may insure their vehicles outside the Sultanate; however, third party liability insurance must be purchased locally.

Emergency Services:
A modern ambulance service using American equipment and staff trained in the U.S. was instituted in 2004 and has been assessed as very good.
The service currently serves only certain urban locations in Oman, including the capital area, but is eventually expected to provide coverage for motor vehicle accident victims throughout the entire Sultanate.
For all traffic-related emergencies, the Royal Omani Police can be contacted by dialing "9999."
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of Oman’s national tourist office for further information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Oman’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Oman’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web.

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 Oman are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Muscat through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Oman.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy in Muscat.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy is located on Jamiat A’Duwal Al Arabiya Street, Al Khuwair Area (Shatti Al-Qurum), in the capital city of Muscat.
The mailing address is: PO Box 202, Medinat Al Sultan Qaboos 115, Sultanate of Oman, telephone: (968) 24-643-400, fax: (968) 24-643-535.
The Embassy’s Consular e-mail address is ConsularMuscat@state.gov.
American Citizens Services are available on a walk-in basis from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
The U.S. Embassy is closed on Omani and American holidays.
In the event of an emergency outside of normal office hours, American citizens may call the number above for assistance.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Oman dated December 3, 2007 to update the sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Information for Victims of Crime, Special Circumstances, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu 14 Feb 2019
Source: Muscat Daily [edited]

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MoAF) has announced that it has imposed veterinary quarantine on a farm in the wilayat [district] of Shinas in North Batinah [governorate] after it registered a case of Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) in a citizen. MoAF has also confirmed that the citizen infected is undergoing treatment at Sohar Hospital and his condition is stable.

Experts took samples of tick insects, a carrier of the disease from the animals at the citizen's farm and other animals in the area and sent them to the laboratory for examination. MoAF elaborated that experts are guiding the citizen's family on how to handle animals. CCHF is caused by a virus carried by ticks.

Animals like sheep, goats, and cows become carriers after they are bitten by the infected ticks. Humans get infected either by tick-bites or through direct contact with the infected animal's blood and tissues during or after slaughtering. Human-to-human transmission can occur resulting from close contact with blood, secretions, organs, or other bodily fluids from infected persons, the ministry said.
=====================
[CCHF virus has the greatest geographic range of any tick-borne virus and there are reports of viral isolation and/or disease from more than 30 countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern and Southern Europe, and the Middle East. Numerous domestic and wild animals, such as cattle, goats, sheep, and small mammals, such as hares and rodents, serve as asymptomatic hosts for amplification of the virus, which is transmitted through _Ixodid_ ticks, especially _Hyalomma_ spp that act as both reservoirs and vectors  (<https://www.biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2018/12/20/502641.full.pdf>).

Oman is situated in the south-eastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, bordering the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Cases of CCHF were first detected in Oman in 1995 with 3 unrelated sporadic cases, and another in 1996. A 1996 survey in Oman revealed asymptomatic seropositivity for CCHFV in 1/41 (2.4 percent) of Omanis compared to 73 (30.3 percent) of 241 non-Omani citizens with occupational animal contact. No further human cases of CCHF were reported in Oman until 2011 and there has been a steady increase in cases since then. Asia lineage 1 (clade IV) of CCHF virus has been identified in one of 1996 confirmed cases from Oman. Al-Abri et al have published a detailed report on CCHF cases from Oman from 2011-17 and describe a higher mortality rate of over 36 percent in their study (<http://dx.doi.org/10.1101/502641>).

The Oman MoH has undertaken a number of activities and initiatives to educate and inform the public about the risks of CCHF infection associated with slaughtering. A joint strategic initiative was developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Ministry of Regional Municipalities and Water Resources. Education and information on prevention of CCHF in different languages has been targeted at those involved in slaughtering and handling animals. In addition, guidelines have been produced for culturally acceptable safe burials. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Oman:
Date: 28 Jan 2019
Source: Times of Oman [edited]

Four new cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus have been detected in Oman, according to the Ministry of Health. "This brings the total number of recorded cases from various governorates in the Sultanate to 18 since 2013," the ministry said in a statement. The new cases are receiving necessary medical care at one of the hospitals.

"The ministry affirms its continued effort to monitor and control the disease through the effective Epidemiological Surveillance System," the ministry added. "All hospitals are capable of dealing with such cases," the ministry said, "We urge all citizens and residents to comply with preventative measures to control infection and to maintain hygiene when sneezing and coughing."

MERS is a viral respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or MERS-CoV) that was 1st identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

Symptoms: "Typical MERS symptoms include a fever, cough and shortness of breath. Pneumonia is common, but not always present. Gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhoea, have also been reported. Some laboratory-confirmed cases of the MERS-CoV infection are reported as asymptomatic, meaning that they do not have any clinical symptoms, yet they are positive for a MERS-CoV infection following a laboratory test. Most of these asymptomatic cases have been detected following aggressive contact tracing of a laboratory-confirmed case," the World Health Organization (WHO) said. Approximately 35 per cent of patients reported to be infected with MERS-CoV have died.

"Although most human cases of MERS-CoV infections have been attributed to human-to-human contact in health care settings, current scientific evidence suggests that dromedary camels are a major reservoir host for MERS-CoV and an animal source of MERS infection in humans. However, the exact role of dromedaries in the transmission of the virus and the exact route(s) of transmission are unknown. "The virus does not seem to pass easily from person to person unless there is close contact, such as when providing unprotected care to a patient. Health care associated outbreaks have occurred in several countries, with the largest outbreaks seen in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Republic of Korea," the WHO added.
=======================
[According to the above media report (and the MOH press release available at: <https://www.moh.gov.om/en/-/---951>, this now brings the total number of MERS-CoV infected individuals occurring in Oman to 18. According to prior reports, as of the date of the last reported case of MERS-CoV infection by Oman in March 2018, there had been a total of 11 cases reported by Oman (see MERS-CoV (10): Oman, Saudi Arabia, WHO http://promedmail.org/post/20180315.5690014). The addition of these 4 newly confirmed/reported cases would bring the total to 15, unless there were 3 previously reported cases that we have missed. Another explanation might be the addition of 3 Omanis who were diagnosed to have MERS-CoV infection after travelling to other countries. There were 2 reported Omani travelers to Thailand confirmed to have MERS-CoV infections in 2015 and 2016 (MERS-CoV (70) - Thailand ex Oman, 1st report, RFI http://promedmail.org/post/20150618.3447631, and MERS-COV (08): Thailand ex Oman, Saudi Arabia corr http://promedmail.org/post/20160124.3962172) and an Omani confirmed to have a MERS-CoV infection in the United Arab Emirates in 2013 (MERS-CoV - Eastern Mediterranean (81): Saudi Arabia, UAE ex Oman, RFI http://promedmail.org/post/20131108.2044846). Clarification of this would be greatly appreciated. In addition, more information on the newly confirmed cases including age, gender, governorate of presumed exposure, dates of onset of illness, and history of possible high-risk exposures (direct or indirect camel contact, consumption of raw camel products, contact with other confirmed cases of MERS-CoV infection) would be greatly appreciated. Are the 4 newly reported cases a defined cluster with common contacts?

The HealthMap/ProMED map of Oman: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/124>  - ProMED Mod.MPP]
Date: 15 Mar 2018
Source: WHO Emergencies preparedness, response, Disease Outbreak News (DONs) [edited]

Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) - Oman 15 Mar 2018
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
On [4 Mar 2018], the National IRH focal point of Oman reported 1 additional case of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

The patient was a 74-year-old male Omani national, living in Batinah, who had symptom onset on [23 Feb 2018]. The patient had neither recently travelled nor had any contact with any person with respiratory symptoms or with a known MERS-CoV case. The patient took care of camels that were reportedly ill. The investigation of the patient's exposure in the 14 days prior to the onset of symptoms is still ongoing.

Prior to this patient, the last laboratory-confirmed case of MERS-CoV from Oman was reported in November 2017.

Globally, 2144 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS-CoV, including at least 750 related deaths, have been reported to WHO.
==================
[This is the 1st laboratory confirmed case of MERS-CoV infection reported by Oman in 2018, bringing the total number of laboratory confirmed cases reported by Oman to 11. During 2017, there were 2 cases reported by Oman. One on 5 Nov 2018 (see MERS-CoV (69): Oman, Saudi Arabia (RI, QS) RFI http://promedmail.org/post/20171105.5425993) and one reported to WHO on 30 Aug 2017, and reported by WHO on 12 Oct 2017 (see MERS-CoV (59): Oman, Saudi Arabia, WHO http://promedmail.org/post/20170913.5313874). In addition, there have been 2 cases reported in Omani citizens travelling to Thailand and confirmed by Thailand. A common observation in the cases reported by Oman is a history of contact with camels in the 14 days preceding onset of illness.

In total, there have been 2144 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS-CoV reported to WHO since September 2012, including at least 750 related deaths (reported case fatality rate 35.0 percent). (This total includes cases reported by Saudi Arabia up through 11 Jan 2018).

The HealthMap/ProMED map of Oman can be found at:
Date: Thu 15 Feb 2018
Source: Muscat Daily [summarised, edited]

A study conducted by Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) shows that goats and other [livestock] in Jebel Akhdar, Saham and some areas in Dhofar are infected by brucellosis - a disease caused by [the] bacteria Brucella.

The study titled, 'A Novel Molecular Approach to Study Brucellosis in Cattle, Sheep, Goats and Camels in the Sultanate of Oman' shows that cattle in the area have been infected by brucellosis. In Jebel Akhdar, 11.4 per cent goats were found infected and in Saham one per cent cattle and one per cent sheep were infected.

Speaking to Muscat Daily, Dr Yasmin el Tahir, assistant professor at the Department of Animal and Veterinary at the College of Agriculture and Marine Sciences in SQU said that brucellosis is a major bacterial zoonosis - a disease that can be transmitted to humans from animals.

The study which started in 2014 will be concluded by April 2018.

In Dhofar, blood samples were randomly collected from 50 farms during March and April 2015.

"In Batinah, the study was carried out to determine the sero-prevalence of brucellosis in livestock including sheep, goats and camels in different areas from March to April 2015. Blood samples of 248 animals (102 goats, 104 sheep and 42 camels) were tested for brucellosis."

Elaborating on who can be affected by it, Dr Yasmin said, "Different mammals including man, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, swine, rodents and marine mammals can be carriers. In the host species, the disease primarily affects the reproductive system with concomitant loss in productivity of animals. In human beings, infection is associated with a spectrum of non-pathognomonic symptoms which are often misdiagnosed resulting in serious and debilitating manifestations," she added.

In order to control brucellosis, comprehensive surveillance, pre and post-import testing is of paramount importance, Dr Yasmin said. "The overall aim of this study is firstly to determine the seroprevalence of brucellosis in the most common domestic animals in Oman. It seeks to identify the risk factors associated with the disease, determine the prevalence of brucellosis in different regions of the sultanate, and above all shed light on the important reservoirs that serve to transmit brucella. This information will facilitate development of suitable control strategies to reduce the risk of this malady in man and animals," she added.

A French team comprising, Dr Jay Maryne, Dr Virginie Mick and Corde Yannick from the Brucellosis Reference Laboratory in Paris has also approved the study, said Dr Yasmin.
==================
[_Brucella melitensis_ is endemic in Oman, as in most if not all Near Eastern countries, with serious zoonotic impact. The species mostly affected are sheep and goats, but as indicated in the above report, camels and cattle may be affected as well.

During 2016, 23 outbreaks in small ruminants were reported to the OIE; during the 1st 6 months of 2017, 12 outbreaks were reported. Later information on the disease in animals is not yet available.
        
The brucellosis situation in humans is presented by the following numbers of human cases, as reported to the OIE: 2012 (148 cases), 2013 (192), 2014 (217), 2015 (379), 2016 (416). In humans, children constitute the most vulnerable sector.

These statistics may be indicative of a deteriorating situation. An example, addressing a cluster of 55 brucellosis cases identified during the period May to July 2016 from the coastal area in the North Batinah Governorate, was described in an Aug 2016 posting (http://promedmail.org/post/20160809.4404332). This concerning situation should not surprise in view of the vaccination coverage, as reported for the year 2016 (most recent available):
        
species/doses used/population   
Goats/  12 681/ 2 212 839
Sheep/  937/    581 787

A 2011 review on Brucellosis in Oman is available in ref 1. For a recent (2017) review on _B. melitensis_, worldwide, see ref 2.

References:
1. Yeh El Tahir, RR Nair. (2011). Prevalence of brucellosis in the Sultanate of Oman with reference to some Middle East countries. Vet Res,4 (3), 71-76.

2. Rossetti CA, Arenas-Gamboa AM, Maurizio E (2017) Caprine brucellosis: A historically neglected disease with significant impact on public health. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 11(8): e0005692.

A map of (Dhofar Governorate, Oman):
Date: Sat, 23 Dec 2017 04:18:14 +0100
By Khaled Orabi

Haima, Oman, Dec 23, 2017 (AFP) - The Gulf sultanate of Oman is looking to carve itself a new niche in ecotourism by opening up a sanctuary for one of the desert's most fabled creatures -- the Arabian oryx.   Once extinct in the wild, the rare member of the antelope family famed for its elegant horns has been dragged back from the precipice in a sprawling reserve fenced off for decades from the public.

That changed last month when authorities for the first time officially opened the sanctuary to visitors -- part of a broader bid by Oman to boost tourism as oil revenues decline.   On a recent outing, wildlife rangers in SUVs patrolled the sandy plains of the reserve in central Oman's Haima province, spotting groups of grazing oryx and other indigenous species.

For years, the main goal has been a basic one -- ensuring the oryx can survive by focusing on "helping the animals here reproduce and multiply", said sanctuary spokesman Hamed bin Mahmoud al-Harsousi.   But now, as numbers have ticked up from just 100 some two decades ago to almost 750 today, the authorities began eyeing another role for the reserve.    "There has been more interest in its tourism potential -- to take advantage of its uniqueness and rare animals," Harsousi told AFP.

- 'Arabian unicorn' -
The story of the Arabian oryx -- sometimes referred to as the Arabian "unicorn" due to its distinctive profile -- is one of miraculous survival.    Hunted prolifically, the last wild member of the species was killed in Oman by suspected poachers in 1972.    The species only clung to existence thanks to a programme to breed them in captivity and in the early 1980s a batch of 10 were released into Oman's Arabian Oryx Sanctuary.   Since then, regenerating the oryx has been an often precarious process.

The Omani sanctuary sprawls over 2,824 square kilometre (1,100 sq miles) of diverse terrain -- from flat plains to rocky slopes and sandy dunes.   Its own fate has been nearly as tortured as that of the oryx it houses.   In 2007, the sanctuary became the first place ever to be removed from UNESCO's World Heritage list as the government of Oman turned most of it over to oil drilling.

- On guard against poachers -
Now, as oil prices have plunged over the past few years, it is the wildlife once again that has become an increasing priority for the authorities.   Harsousi puts the current number of Arabian oryx in the sanctuary at 742 and says that other species are flourishing there too.    "In the past three years, we have been able to increase the number of the Arabian gazelle, known as sand gazelles, from 300 to about 850," he added.   In addition to the animals, there are 12 species of trees that provide a habitat for diverse birds.   Oman has been on a push to transform itself into a tourist draw -- pitching its beach resorts to luxury travellers and desert wilderness to the more adventurous.

Officials in the sultanate told AFP that a major tourism plan would be announced within a matter of weeks.   Those working at the oryx sanctuary hope that it can help play a lead role in luring visitors to the country.   But there are also fears that greater openness could see the return of an old foe -- hunters.    With that in mind security is being kept tight, said Abdullah Ghassab Obaid, a wildlife guard at the reserve.   "Thirty guards and a police patrol are working to provide security in the reserve to prevent any infiltration."
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue 18 Jun 2019
Source: The Namibian [edited]

Oyster and black mussel production at Walvis Bay has been halted due to another outbreak of diarrheal shellfish poisoning (DSP), which can be harmful to humans. The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources issued a notice yesterday [17 Jun 2019], warning people not to eat oysters or mussels from Walvis Bay. This comes 3 months after the last outbreak, which was cleared shortly thereafter.

According to the fisheries biologist, contamination is a seasonal occurrence -- mainly during summer from October to April. The recent outbreak could put a dent in the shellfish industry's economy as most exports are to Asia.

The worst affected area is at Walvis Bay's central production sector called "aquaculture production area 1", which is situated near Pelican Point. Once 2 negative results of tested samples are issued, the alert would be withdrawn, and harvesting, consumption and exports would be cleared again. The samples should be taken at 48-hour intervals, the statement from the ministry noted. Marine biotoxins are not destroyed by cooking or freezing.

The statement indicated that DSP symptoms in humans who may have been poisoned might include, as the name suggests, diarrhea, although nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps are also common. These symptoms could manifest themselves after about half an hour of eating the infected shellfish, and could last a day. No deaths have been recorded from DSP to date, the statement indicated. People who show such symptoms should immediately consult a doctor or healthcare centre.  [Byline: Adam Hartman]
=======================
[It is not clear if the term outbreak refers to in the shellfish or in humans.  Diarrheal shellfish poisoning (DSP) (<http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=20020>) is a gastrointestinal illness caused by the consumption of shellfish contaminated with algal toxins produced by marine dinoflagellates belonging to the genera _Dinophysis_ spp. (_D. fortii_, _D. mitra_, _D. rotundata_, _D. tripos_, _D. acuta_, _D. norvegica_, and _D. acuminata_) and _Prorocentrum_ spp. (_P. lima_, _P. maculosum_, _P. concavum_, and _P. hoffmannianum_).

The DSP toxins, including okadaic acid (OA) and its analogues dinophysistoxin-1 (DTX-1), dinophysistoxin-2 (DTX-2), and dinophysistoxin-3 (DTX-3), belong to the larger group of lipophilic toxins that also includes the azaspiracid, yessotoxin, and pectenotoxin group toxins.

The term diarrhectic (usually diarrhetic) shellfish poisoning (DSP) was used in this report, but this moderator prefers to use diarrheal shellfish poisoning to avoid any confusion between the almost homophones of diarrhetic and diuretic.

DSP is often mistaken for norovirus-like disease. It is treated with rehydration, and affected individuals usually recover in 1 to 2 days. DSP is most commonly found in shellfish in Europe and Japan but can appear anywhere and bears consideration with the appropriate epidemiology. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Wed 19 Jun 2019 [date accessed]
Source: WHO/EMRO Epidemic and pandemic-prone diseases [edited]

MERS situation update, May 2019
--------------------------
- At the end of May 2019, a total of 2442 laboratory-confirmed cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), including 842 associated deaths (case fatality rate: 34.5%), were reported globally; the majority of these cases were reported from Saudi Arabia (2051 cases, including 765 related deaths with a case fatality rate of 37.3%). During the month of May [2019], a total of 14 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS were reported globally. All 14 cases were reported from Saudi Arabia with 4 associated deaths.

- This month [May 2019], Saudi Arabia has not reported any new cases related to the Al-Khafji city outbreak. The outbreak has presumed to have stopped due to the effective response measures taken by Saudi Arabia. This month [May 2019], one household cluster was reported from Al-Kharj city, including 2 symptomatic national females aged 22 and 44. One 23-year-old national female healthcare worker was also infected this month [May 2019] in Riyadh. All 4 cases that died this month [May 2019] were symptomatic males with one or more co-morbidities.

- The demographic and epidemiological characteristics of reported cases, when compared during the same corresponding period of 2013 to 2019, do not show any significant difference or change.

Summaries:
- Laboratory-confirmed cases reported since April 2012: 2442
- Deaths reported since April 2012 globally: 843
- Number of countries that have reported cases since April 2012: 27
- Number of countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region that have reported cases since April 2012: 12
- 13 laboratory-confirmed cases reported linked to an outbreak in Saudi Arabia in April [2019]
- The age group 50-59 years continues to be at highest risk for acquiring infection of primary cases. The age group 30-39 years is most at risk for secondary cases. The number of deaths is higher in the age group 50-59 years for primary cases and 70-79 years for secondary cases.
Date: Tue, 18 Jun 2019 06:40:09 +0200
By Sebastien BERGER

Pyongyang, June 18, 2019 (AFP) - On a grey stone column in Pyongyang, a mural shows Chinese and North Korean soldiers rushing into battle against US-led forces in the Korean War. Decades later, the monument is a regular stop for new waves of Chinese going to the North, this time as tourists.   Hundreds of soldiers and workers have been sprucing up the obelisk and its grounds in recent days ahead of a state visit to Pyongyang by Chinese President Xi Jinping this week.   An inscription on it lauds "the Chinese People's Volunteer Army, who fought with us on this land and smashed down the common enemy".   Their "immortal exploits" will "last forever", it proclaims, as will "the friendship forged in blood between the peoples of the People's Republic of China and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea".   Nearly 70 years after Mao Zedong sent millions of soldiers to save Kim Il Sung's troops from defeat as General Douglas MacArthur's men marched up the peninsula, China remains the isolated, nuclear-armed North's key diplomatic backer and main provider of trade and aid.

Now the Friendship Tower, as the monument is known, attracts growing hordes of Chinese tourists -- and the renovations suggest it may also be on Xi's itinerary.   Ordinary Chinese pay travel companies around 2,500 yuan ($360) for a standard three-day trip, arriving overland by train in Pyongyang to tour the capital's highlights, from the Arch of Triumph to Kim Il Sung Square.   The following day they head south to the Demilitarized Zone that has divided the peninsula since the two sides fought each other to a stalemate in 1953, before returning home.   "I'm very interested in North Korea and wanted to come to see what North Korea looks like," said Yu Zhi, a retiree from Anhui province visiting Pyongyang, telling AFP that she had a "special feeling" for the country.   "China is very friendly with North Korea," added her fellow traveller, a woman surnamed Jin. "We have been friends for generations."

- Lips and teeth -
It was not always so. Mao -- whose eldest son Mao Anying was among those killed in what China still calls the "War to Resist US Aggression and Aid the DPRK" -- described the neighbours as "as close as lips and teeth".   Ties then waxed and waned during the Cold War, when founder Kim Il Sung was adept at playing his Soviet and Chinese allies off against each other, and his grandson, the current leader Kim Jong Un, did not visit Beijing to pay his respects for more than six years after inheriting power.   But as he embarked on a flurry of diplomacy last year he made sure that Chinese President Xi Jinping was the first foreign head of state he met, and he has since done so three more times -- more often than Kim has seen any other leader.    Now Xi is going to reciprocate.

At the same time Chinese tourism to the North has reached record highs, according to travel industry sources -- so much so that Pyongyang has imposed a limit on arrivals.   No official figures are available from authorities on either side, but Simon Cockerell, general manager of Koryo Tours, the market leader for Western visitors, said there had been "a huge increase in Chinese tourists".   At peak times 2,000 people a day had been arriving in Pyongyang, he said. "That's far too many because there is no infrastructure to accommodate that many tourists, so problems with train tickets, with plane tickets, hotel space."   As a result North Korean authorities had themselves set a 1,000-a-day cap, he added, although it was unclear whether this applied across the industry or solely to Chinese, who make up the vast majority of arrivals.   "There are issues with just hundreds of people showing up at the same time."

- 'Choices being made' -
China has a proven willingness to use tourism as a geopolitical negotiating weapon -- it banned group tours to South Korea after it deployed a US anti-missile system, THAAD.   With nuclear negotiations at a stalemate the North remains subject to multiple UN Security Council sanctions, and the US imposed a travel ban on its own citizens visiting following the death of student Otto Warmbier, who had been jailed after trying to steal a propaganda poster.   But tourism is not among the sectors targeted by the UN, potentially enabling Beijing to use it as an incentive for its sometimes wayward ally.

The Chinese travel phenomenon is market-driven, rather than prompted by state order -- as well as the market offered by China's huge population, the two countries' border enables cheap overland journeys.   But simply enabling it to take place, said John Delury of Yonsei University in Seoul, meant "We can infer some choices are being made" by Beijing.   "We know it's a lever they can turn on and off," he said.   Even with the diplomatic process at a standstill, he added, "The Chinese think you have to use this window of opportunity to move things forward. There has to be a path on both sides and so something like opening up tourism is a good way to enable that."   At the Monument to the Three Charters for Reunification on the edge of Pyongyang, where two giant stone women form an arch over a road, a secondary school teacher from Shanghai called Peng said: "We are both socialist countries. I feel there are more Chinese coming to visit."
Date: Tue, 18 Jun 2019 06:14:38 +0200

Mae Sai, Thailand, June 18, 2019 (AFP) - Tourists snap selfies by a bronze statue of the diver who died trying to save the 'Wild Boars' football team from a flooded cave, while momentos from their rescue fly off the shelves -- scooped up by the 1.3 million people who have descended on a once serene mountainside in northern Thailand.   "It's amazing what happened here. I followed everything from Australia," tourist John McGowan told AFP after taking photos at the visitor centre around 100 metres from the Tham Luang cave entrance.   "I wanted to see it with my own eyes," the 60-year-old said, adding he was a little disappointed the cave is still off limits to visitors.

For a few dollars tourists can get framed photos at the site, pick up posters of the footballers and take home a souvenir t-shirt  -- some printed with the face of Saman Gunan the Thai diver who died in the bid to save the group.   There has been extraordinary global interest in the picturesque rural backwater of Mae Sai since 12 youngsters -- aged between 11 and 16 -- and their coach entered the Tham Luang cave on June 23, 2018.   They quickly became trapped by rising water levels and the daring, unprecedented mission to extract them through twisting flooded passageways captivated the world for 18 nail-biting days.   When they emerged -- after being heavily sedated and manoeuvered out by expert divers -- they did so into the centre of a global media frenzy.

The cave, which previously received around 5,000 visitors a year, has since been inundated by visitors both Thai and foreign.   "A miracle has happened here with these children," Singaporean tourist Cheong, giving one name, said but adding Tham Luang "must still have a spiritual side" despite the mass popularity.   - Tragedy and luck -   Mae Sai district, where the cave is located, was considered off the beaten track for foreign visitors.    But between October 2018 and April this year alone "1.3 million people visited," site manager Kawee Prasomphol told AFP.

The government now has big plans for the area around the storied cave, Kawee added, allocating a total of 50 million baht ($1.6 million) including a shopping complex, restaurants, hotels and several campsites outside the national park.   Vans disgorge streams of tourists who explore a visitor hub where the centrepiece is a mural entitled "The Heroes".   It depicts the young footballers, stars of the rescue, and junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha -- a reminder of the governmental fingerprints in aiding their cause.   At the heart of the mural is the beaming face of Saman Gunan, the Thai Navy SEAL diver who ran out off oxygen attempting to establish an air line to the children and their coach -- the only fatality across the near three-week rescue mission.

Laying white flowers at the foot of his bronze statue, Thai nurse Sumalee, who travelled four hours to the site, described him as "the hero of the whole country" in a sobering reminder of the risks involved in the rescue amid the blizzard of marketing opportunities now attached to the cave story.    Nearby lottery ticket vendors are capitalising on the perceived good fortune linked to the boys' survival and the folkloric appeal of a nearby shrine. The number of stalls has mushroomed from a few dozen to around 250.    Kraingkrai Kamsuwan, 60, who moved his stall to the site weeks after the rescue, sells 4,000 tickets a month ($2.5) but reckons more will visitors will arrive once the cave reopens.    He told AFP: "People want to gamble after wishing for luck from the shrine."
Date: Sun, 16 Jun 2019 12:02:50 +0200

Patna, India, June 16, 2019 (AFP) - Severe heat has left dozens dead over a 24-hour period in India's Bihar state, as the country enters a third week of searing temperatures, officials said Sunday.   The deaths occurred in three districts of the poor northern state, where temperatures have hovered around 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) in recent days, senior health official Vijay Kumar told AFP.

Forty-nine people died in three districts of the Magadh region that has been hit by drought, he said.   "It was a sudden development on Saturday afternoon. People affected by heatstroke were rushed to different hospitals," Kumar added.   "Most of them died on Saturday night and some on Sunday morning during treatment."   Kumar said about 40 more people were being treated at a government-run hospital in Aurangabad.   "Patients affected by heat stroke are still being brought, the death toll is likely to increase if the heatwave continues."

Most of the victims were aged above 50 and were rushed to hospitals in semi-conscious state with symptoms of high fever, diarrhoea and vomiting.   Twenty-seven people died in Aurangabad district, 15 in Gaya and seven in Nawada district, officials said.    State Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has announced a compensation of 400,000 rupees ($5,700) for the family of each victim.   Harsh Vardhan, India's health minister, said people should not leave their homes until temperatures fall.    "Intense heat affects brain and leads to various health issues," he said.

Large parts of northern India have endured more than two weeks of sweltering heat. Temperatures have risen above 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) in the desert state of Rajasthan.   A heatwave in 2015 left more than 3,500 dead in India and Pakistan.   In 2017, researchers said South Asia, which is home to one fifth of the world's population, could see heat levels rise to unsurvivable levels by the end of the century if no action is taken on global warming.
Date: Sun, 16 Jun 2019 01:30:52 +0200

Wellington, June 15, 2019 (AFP) - A powerful 7.4 magnitude earthquake stuck near the uninhabited Kermadec islands northeast of New Zealand Sunday, the US Geological Survey said as authorities monitored for signs of a tsunami.   New Zealand's civil defence organisation said it was monitoring the situation and if a tsunami was generated it would take at least two hours to reach the country.   The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said "hazardous tsunami waves from this earthquake are possible within 300 km of the epicentre along the coasts of the Kermadec islands."   The earthquake struck at 10:55am (2255 GMT Saturday) some 928 kilometres (575 miles) north-northeast of the New Zealand city of Tauranga in North Island at a depth of 34 km.
Date: Sun, 16 Jun 2019 00:59:42 +0200

Wellington, June 15, 2019 (AFP) - A magnitude 6.1 earthquake struck Sunday centred 97 kilometres (60 miles) north-east of Ohonua, on the Pacific island of Tonga, the US Geological Survey reported.   The quake hit at 2156 GMT Saturday with an epicentre depth of 10 kilometres, the US global quake monitor said.   The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issued no alerts, and there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.   The reported epicentre lies within the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, an area of regular seismic activity.   In February 2018, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake in Papua New Guinea killed 150 people and destroyed hundreds of buildings.
Date: Sun, 16 Jun 2019 00:19:43 +0200

Geneva, June 15, 2019 (AFP) - A woman has drowned in Lake Geneva when her sightseeing boat sank as a violent storm battered parts of Switzerland on Saturday, police said.   A man who was in the same boat was able to swim to another vessel from where he fired "two flares", Joanna Matta, police spokeswoman for the canton (region) of Geneva, told AFP.   The man told officers that the woman had been "passing through Geneva" and that the storm had taken them "by surprise", Matta said.   Three police boats and emergency services rushed to the scene. Police divers later retrieved the woman's body from the lake.

The victim, whose nationality remains unknown, was then taken to a hospital in Geneva where she was declared dead.   In a separate incident, the storm also damaged some of the 465 boats taking part in the 81st edition of the Bol d'Or, an annual regatta on Lake Geneva, the event's press service said.   Heavy rain and strong winds lashed the participants on Saturday afternoon, causing boats to capsize although nobody was injured.

However, the storm broke the mast of the ultra-fast "Real Team" catamaran, which had been in the lead and was forced to pull out of the race.   The bad weather struck western Switzerland on Saturday afternoon, bringing hail and winds reaching up to 110 kilometres (70 miles) per hour, according to the national forecaster MeteoSwiss.   In the neighbouring French region of Haute-Savoie the storm also caused damage and left a 51-year-old German tourist dead after a tree came down at a campsite.
Date: Sat, 15 Jun 2019 16:27:09 +0200

Windhoek, June 15, 2019 (AFP) - Drought-hit Namibia has authorised the sale of at least 1,000 wild animals -- including elephants and giraffes -- to limit loss of life and generate $1.1 million for conservation, the authorities confirmed Saturday.   "Given that this year is a drought year, the [environment] ministry would like to sell various type of game species from various protected areas to protect grazing and at the same time to also generate much needed funding for parks and wildlife management," environment ministry spokesman Romeo Muyunda told AFP.

The authorities declared a national disaster last month, and the meteorological services in the southern African nation estimate that some parts of the country faced the deadliest drought in as many as 90 years.    "The grazing condition in most of our parks is extremely poor and if we do not reduce the number of animals, this will lead to loss of an animals due to starvation," Muyunda said.

In April, an agriculture ministry report said 63,700 animals died in 2018 because of deteriorating grazing conditions brought on by dry weather.   Namibia's cabinet announced this week that the government would sell about 1,000 wild animals.   They include 600 disease-free buffalos, 150 springbok, 65 oryx, 60 giraffes, 35 eland, 28 elephants 20 impala and 16 kudus -- all from national parks.   The aim is to raise $1.1 million that will go towards a state-owned Game Products Trust Fund for wildlife conservation and parks management.

The government said there were currently about 960 buffalos in its national parks, 2,000 springbok, 780 oryx and 6,400 elephants.   The auction was advertised in local newspapers from Friday.   Namibia, a country of 2.4 million people, has previously made calls for aid to assist in the drought emergency that has already affected over 500,000 people.   In April the government announced that it will spend about $39,400 (35,200 euros) on drought relief this year to buy food, provide water tankers and provide subsidies to farmers.
Date: Fri, 14 Jun 2019 18:27:56 +0200
By Rosa SULLEIRO

Sao Paulo, June 14, 2019 (AFP) - A nationwide strike called by Brazil's trade unions disrupted public transport and triggered road blocks in parts of the country Friday, ahead of protests against far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's pension reform.   Hours before the opening match of the Copa America in Sao Paulo, some metro lines in the country's biggest city were paralyzed as professors and students also prepared to take to the streets over the government's planned education spending cuts.    It will be the latest mass demonstration against Bolsonaro since he took office in January, but the timing could not be worse for the embattled president as Brazil prepares to play Bolivia in South America's showcase football tournament.

Bolsonaro was expected to attend the opener at Morumbi stadium where police sharpshooters will be deployed as part of increased security for the competition.    One of Brazil's main trade unions estimated 45 million workers had taken part in the strike.   Some 63 cities had been affected by the stoppage, with more than 80 cities recording demonstrations, G1 news site said.   The number of protesters is expected to balloon in the afternoon with demonstrations planned in Brazil's major cities.   Protesters have already blocked some roads in several cities, including Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, where G1 said police had used tear gas to disperse demonstrators and clear the streets.   Brazilians were divided over the partial strike.   "This current government wants to destroy everything that we built decades ago so that's why I'm in favor (of the strike) and I am fighting against social inequality," Vania Santos, 49, told AFP in Rio.    In Sao Paulo, Flavio Moreira opposed the stoppage, however, saying it "hurts the commercial part" of the city.

- Pension savings cut -
Bolsonaro's proposed overhaul of Brazil's pension system -- which he has warned will bankrupt the country if his plan is not approved -- is seen as key to getting a series of economic reforms through Congress.    But the changes, including an increase in the retirement age and workers' contributions, have faced resistance from trade unions and in the lower house of Congress, where Bolsonaro's ultraconservative Social Liberal Party has only around 10 percent of the seats.    A pared-back draft of the reform presented to Congress on Thursday -- which reduces expected savings from 1.2 trillion reais ($300 billion) in 10 years to around 900 billion reais -- did little to appease union leaders, who vowed to go ahead with the shutdown.   Such savings are seen as vital to repairing Brazil's finances and economy, which were devastated by a 2015-2016 crisis.

Economy minister Paulo Guedes, who is spearheading the government's reform agenda, has threatened to resign if the bill is not passed or is watered down significantly.   It caps a tumultuous six months for Bolsonaro, who has seen his popularity nosedive as he struggles to push his signature reform through a hostile Congress and keep Latin America's biggest economy from sliding back into recession.   More than 13 million people are unemployed, the latest data shows, with a record number giving up looking for a job.     Fighting between military and far-right factions of Bolsonaro's government has fueled chaos in his administration where his sons and right-wing writer and polemicist Olavo de Carvalho wield enormous influence.   Bolsonaro sacked his third minister on Thursday -- retired general Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, who had been the government secretary and seen as a moderate voice.   That came on the same day Bolsonaro broke his silence to defend Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who has been accused of wrongdoing while serving as a judge in the sprawling Car Wash anticorruption investigation.