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Gabon

Gabon - US Consular Information Sheet
August 15, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Gabon is a developing nation on the western coast of central Africa.
French is the official language; few Gabonese speak English.
Facilities for tourism o
tside the capital city, Libreville, are available, but they are often limited and can be expensive.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Gabon for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and visa are required.
Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required for entry.
Visas must be obtained in advance, as airport visas are no longer available.
Travelers should obtain the latest information and details from the Embassy of Gabon, 2034 20th Street NW, Washington, DC
20009, telephone: (202) 797-1000, fax: (202) 332-0668.
Travelers may also contact the Gabonese Consulate at 18 East 41st St., Ninth Floor, New York, NY 10017, telephone (212) 683-7371.
Overseas, inquiries should be made to the nearest Gabonese embassy or consulate.
All non-Gabonese citizens, with the exception of those bearing diplomatic or official passports, are required to obtain exit visas from the Direction Générale à la Documentation et l’Immigration (DGDI, formerly known as CEDOC) before departing Gabon.

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:
Americans should maintain security awareness at all times.
There have been isolated incidents of civil unrest within the past year, both in the capital city and in the interior.
Large gatherings such as sporting events or any other event where crowds have congregated to demonstrate or protest should be avoided.

Americans may contact the U.S. Embassy in Gabon for the most up-to-date information on safety and security.
The Embassy informs the registered resident American community of security matters through a warden system (please see the Registration/Embassy Location section below for more information).

In the event of a fire, dial 18.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website 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:
In Gabon, petty thievery is common.
Violent crime is more common in urban areas, and there have been cases of armed robberies in homes and in restaurants frequented by foreigners.
Occasionally Americans or Europeans have been victims of crime.

The U.S. Embassy encourages Americans to take extra precautions when traveling in Libreville.
To prevent carjacking, citizens are encouraged to travel with their automobile windows up and doors locked.
Marginal neighborhoods, poorly lit streets, and unfamiliar areas of the city should be avoided, especially at night.
Walking or running on the beach alone at night should be avoided.
When dining in restaurants or visiting markets, it is recommended that one carry only minimal amounts of cash and avoid wearing excessive amounts of jewelry.
If involved in an attempted robbery or carjacking, Americans are encouraged to comply with the attacker to avoid injury and to report all incidents to the police and the U.S. Embassy.
Police response time to reports of crime can be slow.

Scams or confidence schemes do occur in Gabon.
For general information on scams, see our Financial Scams webpage.
Credit cards are not widely accepted except at hotels, and because of the high rates of credit card fraud, their use outside major chain hotels is not recommended.

There have been incidents of sexual assault against foreigners.

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 Gabon to reach the police is 177.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities in Gabon's major cities are limited, but they are generally adequate for routine or basic needs.
Medical services in rural areas are generally unavailable.
Additionally, some medicines are not available; travelers should carry necessary, properly labeled medications with them.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Gabon.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s website at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website 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 Gabon is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Travel by road in Gabon can be hazardous.
It is recommended that you drive with your car windows up and the doors locked.
Travelers are routinely stopped at police checkpoints within cities and on roads to the interior.
Americans should comply politely if stopped, but avoid encouraging bribery if possible.
Travelers should use extreme caution when driving after dark.
Two-lane roads are the norm throughout Gabon.
Roads to outlying cities have visible and hidden dangers that are profuse, including large potholes, absence of road signs, poor to non-existent streetlights, and the presence of pedestrians and animals.
Construction work is often poorly indicated.
Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended for travel beyond the paved road to Lambarene, especially during the rainy season.

Roadside assistance and emergency medical services are available in Libreville, but they may not be dependable.
Such services are nonexistent outside of the city.
Service stations are available along main roads, but vehicle repair facilities are not always available.
Drivers must have a valid international driver's license (available from AAA and the American Automobile Routing Alliance) when driving in Gabon.

Use of taxis is generally safe but does pose added risks.
It is recommended that one use a hotel taxi when possible.
Before riding in a taxi, check that the taxi has seatbelts and agree on a fare.
Riding in a taxi alone or during late hours of the evening is not recommended and creates additional risk of becoming a victim of crime.
Rail services are available, but infrequent, and travelers should be prepared for delays.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

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

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Gabon is a francophone country; travelers who do not speak French will face difficulties associated with the language barrier.

Americans should always carry identification with them in the event they are stopped at a police checkpoint.

Taking photographs of the Presidential Palace, military or other government buildings is strictly forbidden.
Official corruption is common, but offering bribes is not recommended.
Gabon is largely a cash economy.
Credit cards are accepted at only a few major hotels.
Travelers’ checks can be cashed or dollars exchanged for Central African Francs (CFA) at hotels and banks.
ATMs are available in major urban centers, and dispense CFA.

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 Gabonese laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Gabon 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 Gabon 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 Gabon.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, Americans make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy is located downtown on the Boulevard du Bord de Mer.
The mailing address is Centre Ville, B.P. 4000, Libreville, Gabon.
The telephone numbers are (241) 76-20-03 or (241) 76-20-04.
The fax numbers are (241) 74-55-07 or (241) 76-88-49 and the web site is http://libreville.usembassy.gov/.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information dated November 5, 2007 to update sections on Safety and Security, Crime, Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Special Circumstances.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat 16 Dec 2017 16:00 SAST
Source: News 24, Agence France-Presse (AFP) report [edited]

The World Health Organisation has declared Gabon a "polio-free country", given the lack of new reported or suspected cases in the central African country.

According to a WHO statement obtained by AFP on [Sat 16 Dec 2017], the UN health agency nonetheless recommended taking the necessary steps to continue monitoring for possible signs of the disease.

Gabon's Health Minister Denise Mekam'ne Edzidzie also urged families on [Sat 15 Dec 2017] to "continue to immunise children and prevent a resurgence of this disease."

Polio is a highly-infectious viral disease which mainly affects young children and can result in permanent paralysis. There is no cure and it can only be prevented through immunisation.

Cases of polio have decreased by 99 percent since 1988, when polio was endemic in 125 countries and 350 000 cases were recorded worldwide.
==================
[Positive news as another country in Africa is declared polio-free. The most recent confirmed case of WPV associated disease in Gabon was reported in 2011 (<https://extranet.who.int/polis/public/CaseCount.aspx>) when there was an outbreak associated with an importation from Angola (see ProMED post Poliomyelitis - worldwide (07): update http://promedmail.org/post/20110512.1462). Of note, reviewing the surveillance data available, since 2000, there has only been one confirmed WPV associated case in Gabon (in 2011), with "compatible" cases reported in 2000 (3 cases), 2001 (3 cases), and 2015 (3 cases).

Maps of Gabon:
Date: Sat, 16 Dec 2017 12:24:21 +0100

Libreville, Dec 16, 2017 (AFP) - The World Health Organization has declared Gabon a "polio-free country", given the lack of new reported or suspected cases in the central African country.   According to a WHO statement obtained by AFP on Saturday, the UN health agency nonetheless recommended taking the necessary steps to continue monitoring for possible signs of the disease.   Gabon's Health Minister Denise Mekam'ne Edzidzie also urged families on Saturday to "continue to immunise children and prevent a resurgence of this disease".

Polio is a highly-infectious viral disease which mainly affects young children and can result in permanent paralysis. There is no cure and it can only be prevented through immunisation.   Cases of polio have decreased by 99 percent since 1988, when polio was endemic in 125 countries and 350,000 cases were recorded worldwide.   Now the disease is endemic only in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the WHO recorded four cases this year -- two in each country. Last year, there were 37 cases globally.
Date: Thu, 1 Sep 2016 14:38:10 +0200

Miami, Sept 1, 2016 (AFP) - Tropical Storm Hermine picked up speed Thursday as it barrelled down on the US state of Florida, where it was expected to make landfall as a hurricane, forecasters said.   A hurricane warning was in effect for northern Florida, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said, warning of potential strong winds and storm surges that could cause flooding.   "Hurricane conditions are expected to reach the coast within the warning area beginning tonight," the National Hurricane Center said.

"Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion."   With the tropical storm approaching, intensifying winds threaten to make outside preparations "difficult or dangerous," it added.   Governor Rick Scott declared Wednesday a state of emergency in 51 counties to free up resources to brace for the storm.   The center of Hermine is expected to be near the Florida coast in the warning area by late Thursday night or early Friday, forecasters said.   They warned of potentially "life-threatening inundation" along Florida's western coast on the Gulf of Mexico.

Tropical Storm Hermine picked up speed as expected and was moving north-northeast near 12 miles (19 kilometres) per hour, according to the NHC report.   Its maximum sustained winds strengthened to 65 miles per hour, nearing the minimum 74 miles per hour of a category one hurricane.   The Atlantic hurricane season runs June 1 to November 30, but this year's first hurricane, Alex, formed in January in an unusual weather event.

Earlier this month, the season's second hurricane, Earl, left more than 45 people dead in Mexico.   The 2015 season was less active than average, with 11 tropical storms in the Atlantic, of which four became hurricanes and two major hurricanes.
Date: Wed, 31 Aug 2016 21:14:06 +0200

Libreville, Aug 31, 2016 (AFP) - Angry protesters set fire to Gabon's national assembly on Wednesday as thousands of people took the streets after an announcement that President Ali Bongo had been re-elected, witnesses said.   "The whole building is catching fire," said a man at the scene called Yannick.   AFP journalists further away saw a plume of fire and smoke rising into the air above the building.    "They got in and burned it," Yannick told AFP, saying the security forces had pulled back from the area. They had been deployed there since Tuesday afternoon, when the results were initially due to be published.

The national assembly lies on the same road as several important institutions, among them the senate, the oil ministry, several embassies and the headquarters of state television.    The clashes erupted as soon as Bongo was declared the winner of Saturday's presidential poll, with opposition supporters chanting "Ali must go!"   As chaos erupted on the streets outside, Bongo hailed the outcome of the election, which he declared had been "peaceful and transparent" despite the opposition crying foul.   "I want to reiterate our primary victory: this election was exemplary," he said in his first remarks since the result was announced.
Date: Tue, 17 Mar 2015 03:53:44 +0100 (MET)
By Celia LEBUR

Libreville, March 17, 2015 (AFP) - Strikes in schools, hospitals and in private business, along with a drop in vital oil revenues, have brought turbulent times for Gabon's President Ali Bongo Ondimba.   Rallied by a score of trade unions in the public sector, teachers and health workers have stayed off work since the beginning of February to press home their wage claims, prompting the administration to dock pay.

In weeks of rowdy negotiations, the strikers' representatives have made no concessions to the government of the densely forested equatorial African country, which benefits from plentiful oil reserves as well as tropical hardwood.   Teachers' unions have threatened to write off the current academic year for students if the government refuses to meet their demands for a substantial rise in the minimum monthly salary from 80,000 CFA francs (122 euros, $129 dollars) to 300,000 CFA francs.    "The government shot itself in the foot by deciding to cut the wages of striking staff," said a leader of the movement, Marcel Libama.    "This pointless tactic won't affect our determination to pursue the struggle for our country. Classrooms have remained shut," he added.   "This (school) year can no longer be salvaged."

In rejecting the teachers' claims, the government argued that to comply would mean a spending hike "from 680 billion CFA francs (one billion euros, $1.1 billion) to 2,500 billion CFA francs per year ... which is insupportable for the smooth running of the state."   But as so often in Gabon, the last word lies with the president, whose role it is to mediate during such clashes, though critics hold him primarily responsible for social discontent.   Ali Bongo has ruled since a disputed presidential election in August 2009. The poll was held within three months after his father Omar Bongo died in office after leading the country for no fewer than 41 years.

- 'We want something concrete' -
March 10, Bongo called for classes to resume, asserting that he had met the main demands of the strikers. According to his spokesman Alain-Claude Bilie By Nze, the president agreed to performance bonuses and the introduction of a "new pay scale".     "We want something concrete!" countered an unimpressed maths teacher, asking not to be named. "What does it mean, 'to revise the pay system'? Are they going to raise our basic salary, yes or no?"   Lambert, a high school teacher in the capital Libreville, earns a gross monthly income of 450,000 CFA francs (680 euros), on top of which he is paid a further 200,000 CFA francs in allowances for housing, transport and the like.   "Some teachers with the same promotions, the same seniority as me obtain bonuses that can total twice as much," he complained. "It's all so crooked that no one understand it."   "All civil servants are affected, not just we teachers," Lambert added.

Recent strikes have also paralysed firms in the private sector. Gabon was nearly cut off from the rest of the world late in February and then early in March when workers at the main Internet provider Gabon Telecom walked off the job, demanding higher wages.   During the first two weeks of December, oil workers also downed tools, heavily disrupting production and sparking major energy shortages in Libreville. Since oil accounts for 60 percent of state revenue, the tension undermined Bongo's regime.   At the same time, many major infrastructure projects have ground to a standstill for lack of funds. Despite oil and mineral wealth, about a third of the population of some 1.6 million still lives in deep poverty.

Less than two years ahead of the next presidential poll, the opposition is taking advantage of the groundswell of discontent to call on Bongo to step down.   An opposition rally turned bloody in Libreville on December 22, with different sources reporting between one and three fatal casualties.   The outcome of the last presidential poll in 2009 led to violence and looting in Port Gentil, the country's second city on the Atlantic and a hub of the oil and timber trades.   "It's now more than 50 years that we've put up with the same family in power and nothing has changed for we 'makaya' (street people). We want change," young, unemployed Prospere told AFP.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 18 Nov 2019 08:37:15 +0100 (MET)

Jakarta, Nov 18, 2019 (AFP) - An endangered Sumatran Tiger has mauled to death an Indonesian farmer and seriously injured a domestic tourist, a conservation official said Monday.   The fatal attack happened Sunday at the farmer's coffee plantation on Sumatra island where the 57-year-old wrestled with the big cat before it killed him, according to Genman Hasibuan, head of the South Sumatra conservation agency.   "The farmer was attacked while he was cutting a tree at his plantation," he told AFP on Monday.   The mauling came a day after the same tiger attacked a group of Indonesian tourists who were camping at a local tea plantation in South Sumatra's Mount Dempo region.

One of the tourists was rushed to hospital for wounds to his back after the cat stormed into his tent, Hasibuan said.   The animal, which remains loose in the protected-forest area, is believed to be one of just 15 critically endangered tigers in South Sumatra, which has seen five tiger attacks this year, including two fatal incidents, Hasibuan said.

Human-animal conflicts are common in the vast Southeast Asian archipelago, especially in areas where the clearing of rainforest to make way for palm oil plantations is destroying animals' habitats and bringing them into closer contact with people.   In March last year, a man was killed by a tiger in Sumatra's Riau province while several months earlier a tiger also killed a plantation worker in the area.   Sumatran tigers are considered critically endangered by protection group the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with 400 to 500 remaining in the wild.
Date: Fri, 15 Nov 2019 17:12:24 +0100 (MET)

Karachi, Nov 15, 2019 (AFP) - Pakistan has become the first country in the world to introduce a new typhoid vaccine, officials said Friday, as the country grapples with an ongoing outbreak of a drug-resistant strain of the potentially fatal disease.   The vaccine, approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), will be used during a two-week immunisation campaign in southern Sindh province.

Sindh is where most of Pakistan's 10,000 cases of typhoid have been documented since 2017.    "The two-week campaign beginning from today would target over 10 million children of nine months to 15 years of age," Azra Pechuho, the health minister in Sindh province, said in Karachi on Friday.   The new vaccines have been provided by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to the Pakistani government free of cost.

After the two-week campaign, it will be introduced into routine immunisations in Sindh, and in other areas of Pakistan in the coming years.   Pakistan spends a meagre amount of its national resources on public health and a majority of its population remains vulnerable to contagious diseases such as typhoid.   In 2017, 63 percent of the typhoid cases documented and 70 percent of the fatalities were children, according to a joint press release from the Pakistani government, WHO and Gavi.
Date: Sat, 16 Nov 2019 05:50:25 +0100 (MET)
By Abhaya SRIVASTAVA

New Delhi, Nov 16, 2019 (AFP) - A thick grey smog choked New Delhi for the fifth day Saturday, adding to a mounting pollution health crisis, but retired naval commander Anil Charan is one of the vast majority of the city's 20 million inhabitants who do not wear a mask.   Indian media is packed with warnings about the risk of premature death, lung cancer and particular danger to children from PM2.5 -- tiny particles that get into the bloodstream and vital organs -- carried in the smog.   But the smartly-dressed Charan was among shoppers in Delhi's upmarket Khan Market district browsing the luxury clothes and jewellery stores without a mask, seemingly oblivious to the risk.   Many are too poor to afford protection but others simply do not like the way a pollution mask looks.

Charan, wearing aviator sunglasses, said it did not fit his "rough and tough" image.   "I have been brought up in this kind of atmosphere, the smog and all, so I am kind of used to it. And being a naval officer I think if I wear a mask I will think I am a sissy," he said.   Doctors say face masks must be worn and air purifiers used at home and in offices.   There are a variety of masks to choose from. A basic cloth version can cost as little as 50 rupees (70 US cents) but the protection they offer is debatable.    More reputable types start from 2,500 rupees ($34) while some Khan Market stores charge more than 5,500 rupees ($75) for top of the range imported models.

- Bare-faced bravado -
The mask-look worried a lot of the Khan Market shoppers and diners however. Some said the danger had been overblown.   "I know I am risking my health but I am not very comfortable wearing them (masks)," said Ritancia Cardoz, who works for a private company.   "I don't find it appealing," she told AFP.   Lopa Diwan, on a visit to the capital from the provinces, said the Delhi air was "not as bad as it is being made out to be."   "So many people advised me not to go to Delhi because of the pollution but I don't think it's that bad. I don't see people dying," she said.

Pollution -- blamed on industrial and car emissions mixed with stubble fires on thousands of farms surrounding the city -- has been building up each winter for the past decade. The past five years have been particularly bad.   The toxic air cuts short the lives of one million people in India every year, according to government research published earlier this year.    Concentrations of the most harmful airborne pollutants in Delhi are regularly about 20 times the World Health Organisation safe limit. That rams home the city's reputation as the world's most polluted capital.   Some foreign companies and embassies now do not let families move to Delhi, or at least give strong warnings about the pollution.

The Delhi government has given out hundreds of thousands of masks to children and closed schools for four of the past five days. Construction is banned and cars can only go on the roads on alternate days.   But still only a tiny number of inhabitants follow medical advice when outside. Rickshaw drivers who earn about $7 a day on an average say they cannot afford masks.   Chand Babu, a car park attendant at Khan Market, said he could buy one of the cheaper masks but it was too much of a hassle to wear.   "I have to blow the whistle all the time so it's inconvenient."   Babu does worry, however, about his three children who also do not have masks. "They go outside to play. The problem is real, but what do we do, tell me?"
Date: Sun, 17 Nov 2019 14:28:44 +0100 (MET)
By Filippo MONTEFORTE with Charles ONIANS in Rome

Venice, Nov 17, 2019 (AFP) - Venice's St Mark's Square was closed on Sunday as the historic city suffered its  third major flooding in less than a week, while rain lashing the rest of Italy prompted warnings in Florence and Pisa.   Venice's latest "acqua alta", or high water, hit 150 centimetres (just under five feet) on Sunday, lower than Tuesday's 187 centimetres -- the highest level in half a century -- but still dangerous.   "The water has stopped rising," tweeted mayor Luigi Brugnaro, who has estimated damage so far from the invading salt water at over one billion euros (dollars).   "High of 150 centimetres... Venice is working to restart," Brugnaro said after the sea water swamped the already devastated city where authorities have declared a state of emergency.   To the south, Tuscany president Enrico Rossi tweeted a warning of a "flood wave" on the Arno and said boards were being installed on the swollen river's banks in Pisa "as a precautionary measure".

The Italian army tweeted photos of paratroopers helping to bolster river defences in Pisa, with authorities monitoring the same river in Florence after heavy rain made it rise dramatically overnight.   Arno flooding devastated Renaissance jewel Florence in 1966, killing around 100 people and destroying thousands of priceless works of art. Civil protection units in Florence advised citizens "not to stand near the Arno's riverbanks".   Firefighters tweeted footage of a hovercraft being deployed to rescue stranded citizens in southern Tuscany's Grossetano province.

- Brief respite -
The renewed threat from exceptionally high tides in Venice came after a brief respite on Saturday.   Emergency workers removed temporary walkways from St Mark's Square as the water started to rise on Sunday, with only police and soldiers visible at around midday.   The top tourist site had already been shut for several hours on Friday as strong storms and winds battered the region, leaving it submerged by sea surges.

Churches, shops and homes have also been inundated in the Renaissance city, a UNESCO World Heritage site.   A massive infrastructure project called MOSE has been under way since 2003 to protect the city, but the multi-billion euro project has been plagued by cost overruns, corruption scandals and delays.   "We weren't expecting the high waters to be so exceptionally high," said Guido Fulgenzi, who had planned to open his cafe on St Mark's square this week.   "We're paying the price" for the MOSE project not being completed, he said, sloshing around in his flooded kitchen and pointing to Tuesday's high water mark on the wall.   The crisis has prompted the government to release 20 million euros ($22 million) in funds to tackle the devastation.   Culture Minister Dario Franceschini has warned that the task of repairing the city, where more than 50 churches have suffered damage, will be huge.

- Hotel reservations cancelled -
Residents whose houses have been hit are eligible for up to 5,000 euros in immediate government aid, while restaurant and shop owners can receive up to 20,000 euros and apply for more later.   Most of the city's cash machines were no longer working, making life even more difficult for tourists and Venetians.   "We didn't expect there to be so much water, now we're soaked," said French tourist Magali Mariolou, visiting Venice for her wedding anniversary.   "We'll come back another year when it's a bit drier. The boots are heavy, they're full of water!"

Older residents who remember the infamous "acqua alta" of 1966, when the water rose to 1.94 metres, say they have not seen such frequent flooding before.   Hotels reported cancelled reservations, some as far ahead as December, following the widespread diffusion of images of Venice underwater.   Tuesday's high waters submerged around 80 percent of the city, officials said.   Many, including Venice's mayor, have blamed the disaster on global warming and warned that the country prone to natural disasters must wake up to the risks posed by ever more volatile seasons.   The Serenissima, as the floating city is called, is home to 50,000 residents but receives 36 million visitors each year.
Date: Mon, 18 Nov 2019 06:41:11 +0100 (MET)

Wellington, Nov 18, 2019 (AFP) - Samoa finalised plans for a compulsory measles vaccination programme Monday, after declaring a state of emergency as a deadly epidemic sweeps the Pacific nation.   At least six fatalities, including five children, have been linked to the outbreak of the virus, which has also hit other island states such as Tonga and Fiji.   Samoa is the worst affected with more than 700 cases reported from across all areas of the country, prompting the government on Friday to invoke emergency powers.

Declaring a state of emergency, the government said plans for compulsory measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) immunisations would be published on Monday.   "MMR vaccinations for members of the public who have not yet received a vaccination injection is now a mandatory legal requirement for all of Samoa," it said.   A national emergency operations centre to coordinate the measles response in the nation of 200,000 people was opened on Monday, with children aged six months to 19 years and non-pregnant females aged 20-35 given priority.

However, no information was immediately available on how the vaccinations would be administered or whether those who were not immunised would face sanctions.   Children are the most vulnerable to measles, which typically causes a rash and fever but can also lead to brain damage and death.   Samoa has closed all schools, kindergartens and the country's only university in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.   New Zealand, which is experiencing its own measles outbreak in the Auckland region, will this week send 30 nurses, 10 doctors and 3,000 MMR doses to Samoa.

University of Auckland immunologist Helen Petousis-Harris said even though measles was already widespread, the mass rollout of vaccinations could help limit the number of cases and reduce the death count.   She said it was also important to boost Samoa's low levels of immunisation and help prevent future outbreaks.   "In Samoa, the proportion of people who are immune to measles is very, very low, one of the lowest in the world," she told AFP.   "So if they aren't able to improve that, this is going to happen again."   The country's vaccination programme was briefly suspended last year when two babies died shortly after being given the MMR vaccine.   Subsequent investigations found the problem was not the widely used vaccine but the fact that nurses had prepared it incorrectly.

Neighbouring Tonga last week announced government primary schools and kindergartens would be closed until later this month as the number of measles cases in the kingdom approaches 200.   Fiji has reported four cases but says they are contained to a township west of the capital Suva.
Date: Sun, 17 Nov 2019 18:10:23 +0100 (MET)

Johannesburg, Nov 17, 2019 (AFP) - South African unions on Sunday called on all aviation workers to join striking South African Airways (SAA) staff after the cash-strapped airline failed to meet their demands.   The country's embattled flag carrier has been losing 52 million rand ($3.5 million) per day since more than 3,000 workers started an open-ended strike on Friday -- forcing the airline to cancel hundreds of flights.   Talks with the two unions representing the striking workers ended without resolution on Saturday, prompting threats of further action.   "In response to this deliberate provocation by the SAA board and its executive management, (the) NUMSA (metalworkers' union) is in the process of consulting workers for a secondary strike in aviation," NUMSA spokeswoman Phakamile Hlubi-Majola told reporters outside the SAA headquarters in Johannesburg.

NUMSA and the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) first threatened to strike after SAA announced this week that almost 1,000 employees could lose their jobs as part of a restructuring process.   Initial talks with management deadlocked after they failed to agree on wage hikes, prompting the unions to press on with their threats.   SAA is offering a 5.9 percent pay rise, while unions are demanding an eight percent across-the-board hike and a three-year guaranteeof job security.   They are also asking the airline to in-source more jobs.    "We are fighting against retrenchment, corruption and privatisation," Hlubi-Majola told journalists.   She said discussions with SAA subsidiaries, South Africa's airport management company and airline service providers were under way.   Two transport unions have also been called on to join the action.   "This secondary strike will have the impact of shutting down the entire aviation sector," NUMSA and SACCA said in a joint statement.   SAA CEO Zuks Ramasia voiced "concern" about the unions' intentions and urged them to "reconsider".   "The intent of a secondary strike is to cause disruption, bring all airport operations to a halt and create huge damage to the South African economy," Ramasia said in a statement on Sunday.

- Embattled airline -
The CEO added that SAA could not "afford to pay any salary increases" and reiterated the 5.9 percent rise offer.   "The company has repeatedly communicated the precarious financial position of the company," Ramasia said.      More than 300 SAA flights have been grounded as a result of the open-ended strike.   International flights started slowly resuming on Sunday, while regional and domestic flights remain grounded.   "We hope all our customers understand that the cancellations have been beyond our control," Ramasia said.   South Africa is struggling to get its state-owned companies back on track after nine years of corruption and mismanagement under former president Jacob Zuma.   SAA -- one of Africa's biggest airlines -- is deep in debt and has not posted a profit since 2011, despite several government bailouts.   Finance Minister Tito boweni announced in February that the government would reimburse the company's 9.2 billion rand ($620 million) debt over the next three years.   Ramasia said discussions with unions would resume once the airline had considered "options on the way forward".
Date: Tue, 12 Nov 2019 13:10:01 +0100 (MET)
By Holly ROBERTSON, Andrew BEATTY, with Daniel De Cartert in Hillville

Sydney, Nov 12, 2019 (AFP) - Bushfires raging across eastern Australia singed Sydney's suburbs on Tuesday, with firefighters scrambling planes and helicopters to douse a built-up neighbourhood with water and red retardant.   Experts have described the conditions as the worst on record, as spring temperatures climbed toward 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) and winds topped 80 kilometres (50 miles) per hour across a zone which has been plagued by persistent drought.   Although the bushfire season is in its infancy, scientists predict it to be one of Australia's toughest ever, with climate change and unfavourable weather cycles helping created a tinderbox of strong winds, low humidity and high temperatures.

Twin blazes in the north shore suburb of Turramurra -- around 15 kilometres (nine miles) from the centre of Australia's largest city -- tore through a eucalypt forest park and sparked spot fires in homes, before eventually being brought under control.   As night fell, authorities said they were bringing another "clearly suspicious" blaze in a national park in the city's southern suburbs under control.    Throughout the day, more than 300 bushfires burned up and down Australia's east coast, fanned by gale-force winds, scorching temperatures and tinder-dry bushland that has brought some of the most dangerous conditions the country has seen.

In Turramurra, gardens smouldered, thick smoke hung heavy in the air and cars, houses and roads were caked in raspberry-red retardant as if hit by a giant paintball.   "It was the embers that floated up that actually went across and set off spot fires in the front yards" resident Nigel Lush told AFP, adding that one roof had been set alight.   Another resident, Julia Gretton-Roberts, said the blaze spread shockingly quickly.   "Next thing I know the fire was opposite our house and it was massive and the police came and grabbed our kids and took them away," she said.   "My daughter is pretty freaked out."   Firefighter Andrew Connon told AFP "a number of homes were threatened but it was contained by the aerial bombing".

- 'Catastrophic conditions' -
From early morning thousands of firefighters spread out across New South Wales in anticipation of what they called "off the scale" fire risk and "catastrophic" conditions.   They were unable to prevent several bushfires from breaching containment lines and trapping residents who had not already evacuated.   New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said so far only a dozen buildings had been damaged Tuesday and a handful non-life-threatening injuries were reported, but the crisis was far from over.

Firefighters will be "working on these fires for days and weeks given the enormity of the firegrounds," he said.    Even before unfavourable weather hit, days of fires had killed three people and destroyed at least 150 homes.   "The conditions are expected to get worse," Fitzsimmons said, warning residents in adjacent areas to stay alert.   "Complacency kills," he added.   Up to 600 schools were closed, as well as many national parks, a total fire ban was introduced for the affected area and Rally Australia -- due to be held in Coffs Harbour at the weekend -- was cancelled.   The military pitched in, helping firefighters with logistics and water-dropping sorties using more than 100 aircraft.

- 'We'll fight it first' -
In the town of Hillville a fire that has ripped through an area the size of 25,000 soccer fields approached the home of Daniel Stevens.   Like many, his family -- including his mother nursing a broken leg -- have packed their bags, but have resisted leaving their house and everything they own.    "We'll fight it first," he told AFP, "but if it jumps the fence line into the paddock, we'll go."

In the nearby town of Taree, dozens of people have already moved to a showground that has become a makeshift evacuation centre.   Fifty-nine-year-old Caroline Watson arrived last night with her husband and their dog.    "The fires are just rife. They are absolutely everywhere" she told AFP. "They didn't ask us to get out, but we figured it was coming."

Further south in the Blue Mountains on the outskirts of Sydney, veteran Winmalee firefighter Alan Gardiner said locals were "terrified and on edge".    The town still bears the scars of a 2013 blaze that destroyed 200 homes, and residents are acutely aware that with few roads in and out of the mountains, a decision to leave late can be fatal.   Efforts to burn fuel in a controlled way have been limited by months of drought-like conditions that made it too dangerous.
Date: Tue, 12 Nov 2019 10:03:07 +0100 (MET)

Denpasar, Indonesia, Nov 12, 2019 (AFP) - An Australian tourist who fly-kicked a motorcyclist and assaulted a man in his own home during a drunken rampage was jailed for four months on Tuesday.   The ruling comes after Nicholas Carr's antics were caught in a viral video that saw him carry out a campaign of destruction in Seminyak, a popular tourist area on the Indonesian holiday island.   "The defendant Nicholas Carr is found guilty and is sentenced to four months" in jail, presiding judge Soebandi, who goes by one name, told the Denpasar District Court.    A lawyer for Carr, charged with assault and property damage, said the 26-year-old would not appeal the ruling.    He is expected to be released next month because of time already served.   In August, Carr ran barefoot on to a street and shouted expletives before the apprentice builder slammed into the bonnet of a moving car and then fly-kicked an unsuspecting motorcycle rider.

The biker, who was thrown from the moving scooter, sustained minor injuries -- later the pair embraced during a court hearing as Carr apologised to the victim.   Carr also shattered a convenience store's glass door before stealing a motorcycle.   Later, he broke into a house where he assaulted the sleeping homeowner, leaving him with injuries, police said earlier.    He was eventually caught by locals and police and taken to hospital.    Pictures that circulated on social media showed at the time showed Carr bloodied and bruised, and trussed with hosepipe and rope.   Shortly after his arrest, Carr apologised and admitted drinking more than 10 small bottles of vodka as well as other alcohol.

After a string of embarrassing incidents by tourists, Bali officials recently warned that boorish visitors may be kicked off the island, which attracts millions annually to its palm-fringed beaches, colourful nightlife and ancient temples.   Australian professional rugby league player David Fifita returned home this week after he was briefly arrested in Bali for assaulting a nightclub security guard.   Several days after Carr's arrest, a Czech couple who were slammed for disrespecting a Balinese temple took part in a ritual purification ceremony.
Date: Mon, 11 Nov 2019 16:19:54 +0100 (MET)

Lyon, Nov 11, 2019 (AFP) - An unusually strong earthquake hit south-eastern France on Monday, injuring four people, one of them seriously, authorities said.   A physicist at a geophysics institute the IPGP said that quakes of this strength are rare in that region, but warned of possible aftershocks and said people should leave fragile buildings.   The quake, with a magnitude of 5.4, was felt in a vast area between the cities of Lyon and Montelimar which are about 150 kilometres (93 miles) apart, the national seismological office said.   "I was leaning against the oven in my mother's bakery when I felt the tremor," said Victoria Brielle, a resident in Privas, some 25 kilometres from the quake's epicentre.   "A customer said her sideboard had moved and all her crockery was broken,"  she said.

Another resident in the area, Didier Levy, who lives in a 15th century castle, told AFP that "chandeliers were still trembling" several minutes after the quake.   Levy, who said his dog starting barking even before humans felt the tremors, added: "I have never experienced anything like it, I could feel the trembling even though these wall are one metre thick."   One person was seriously hurt when some scaffolding collapsed, the regional prefect's office said.   Three other people in the neighbouring Ardeche region were slightly injured.

Quakes in this region are rarely higher than Magnitude 5, said Mustapha Meghraoui of the IPGP's office in Strasbourg.   "We can say that this is a rare one," he added. But he said there might be an aftershock of around 4.5.   "If people are in a fragile house, they would be better leaving it" for something more robust for a while, he said.   The scale of the damage suggested the quake happened at a depth of between five and 10 kilometres, he added. But they were working on a more accurate reading.
Date: Mon, 11 Nov 2019 13:19:54 +0100 (MET)

Goma, DR Congo, Nov 11, 2019 (AFP) - A local radio station that has been involved in the fight against Ebola in eastern DR Congo said Monday it was closing down after one of its broadcasters was murdered.   Joel Musavuli, head of Lwemba radio in Mambasa in Ituri province, told AFP that the station had been targeted by armed groups hostile to the campaign to roll back the Ebola epidemic.

"Each of us have received threats since last month. We have now decided to stop broadcasting, Musavuli said, adding that he himself had escaped two kidnap attempts.   "We are victims of our commitment to the awareness campaign about the spread of Ebola virus disease. We don't know why the militiamen are targeting us."   Nearly 2,200 people have died since the notorious haemorrhagic disease erupted in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in August 2018, according to the latest official figures.

The fight against the outbreak has been hampered by local fears and superstititions, exploited by militia groups that are rampant in the remote region.   Several health workers have been killed and media that have supported the campaign have received threats.

Several radio stations in the Mambasa area say they have stopped broadcasting anti-Ebola messages because of intimidation.   On November 2, Lwemba broadcaster Papy Mahamba was killed at his home by unidentified men. His wife was injured and their house set ablaze.    The station said the authorities had failed to take action against the threats. It said it would resume broadcasts after "the state has restored authority in the area".