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Ireland

Ireland US Consular Information Sheet
December 2, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Ireland is a highly developed democracy with a modern economy. Tourist facilities are widely available.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Irela
d for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport is necessary, but a visa is not required for tourist or business stays of up to three months.
Visit the Embassy of Ireland web site (www.irelandemb.org/) for the most current visa information, or contact the Embassy at 2234 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC
20008, tel: 1-202-462-3939, or the nearest Irish consulate in Boston, Chicago, New York or San Francisco.

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:
Ireland remains largely free of terrorist incidents.
While the 1998 ceasefire in Northern Ireland is holding, there have been incidents of violence in Northern Ireland associated with paramilitary organizations.
These have the potential for some spillover into Ireland.
Travelers to Northern Ireland should consult the Country Specific Information sheet for the United Kingdom and Gibraltar.

Several Americans have reported incidents of verbal abuse, apparently in reaction to U.S. policy on the war on terrorism.
As elsewhere in Europe, there have been public protests, which for the most part were small, peaceful and well policed.
Americans are advised, nonetheless, to avoid public demonstrations in general and to monitor local media when protests occur.
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 United States and Canada, or for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Ireland has a low rate of violent crime.
There have been a limited number of incidents in which foreigners and tourists have been victims of assault, including instances of violence toward those who appear to be members of racial minority groups.
In addition, there have been several reported assaults in Dublin by small, unorganized gangs roaming the streets in the early morning hours after the pubs close.
There is a high incidence of petty crime – mostly theft, burglary and purse snatching – in major tourist areas.
Thieves target rental cars and tourists, particularly in the vicinity of tourist attractions, and some purse and bag snatching incidents in these areas have turned violent, especially in Dublin.
Travelers should take extra caution to safeguard passports and wallets from pickpockets and bag snatchers.

Crimes involving credit and debit cards and automated teller machines (ATMs) are also a concern.
Travelers should protect their PIN numbers at all times and avoid using ATM machines that appear to have been tampered with.
There has been an increase in Ireland of the use of “skimmers” on ATM machines, especially in tourist areas.
Skimmers are usually small electronic devices that are attached to the outside of an ATM machine in order to “skim” the ATM or credit card data for later criminal use.
Most ATMs in Ireland now have electronic warnings about their use and advise customers to look closely at the ATM before using it.


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 in Ireland, in addition to reporting to local police (Gardai), please contact the U.S. Embassy in Dublin for assistance.
The Embassy staff can, for example, assist you in finding appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends, and learning how funds can 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.
The Irish Tourist Assistance Service (ITAS) is a free nationwide service offering support and assistance to tourists who are victimized while visiting Ireland. If you are a tourist victim of crime, report the incident to the nearest Garda Station (police station), which will contact ITAS.
All tourist victims of crime are referred to ITAS by the Gardai. To learn about possible compensation in the United States if you are a victim of a violent crime while overseas, see our information on Victims of Crime
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Ireland is 999 or 122.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Modern medical facilities and highly skilled medical practitioners are available in Ireland.
Because of high demand, however, access to medical specialists can be difficult and admissions to hospitals for certain non-life-threatening medical conditions may require spending significant periods of time on waiting lists.
Those traveling to or intending to reside in Ireland who may require medical treatment while in the country should consult with their personal physicians prior to traveling.
Over-the-counter medication is widely available.
Irish pharmacists may not be able to dispense medication prescribed by your U.S. physician and may direct you to obtain a prescription from an Irish doctor before providing you with your required medication.
A list of Irish general practitioners in each area of Ireland may be obtained from the web site of the Irish College of General Practitioners at http://www.icgp.ie/go/find_a_gp. Emergency services usually respond quickly.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Ireland.

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’s) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
FOOT AND MOUTH DISEASE: The Irish Department of Agriculture and Food advises all incoming passengers to Ireland that the current foot and mouth situation in Great Britain represents a high risk of the spread of disease to Ireland.
If you are traveling from Great Britain to Ireland and have visited a farm with cattle, sheep, goats or pigs on your travels, you must report to the Irish Department of Agriculture and Food office at the port of entry.
Fresh meat or unpasteurized milk products purchased in Great Britain may not be brought into Ireland.
If you are carrying any of these products, they must be disposed of in the bins provided at the port of entry.
For further information, please visit the Irish Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at www.agriculture.gov.ie.
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 following information concerning Ireland is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
As driving is on the left side of the road in Ireland, motorists without experience in left-drive countries should be especially cautious.
Tourists driving on the wrong side of the road are the cause of several serious accidents each year.
Turning on red is not legal in Ireland.
The vast majority of rental cars are manual transmission; it can be difficult to find automatic transmission rental cars.
Road conditions are generally good, but once travelers are off main highways, country roads quickly become narrow, uneven and winding.
Roads are more dangerous during the summer and on holiday weekends due to an increase in traffic. As in the United States, police periodically set up road blocks to check for drunk drivers.
Penalties for driving under the influence can be severe.
More information on driving in Ireland can be found on the U.S. Embassy in Dublin‘s web site at http://dublin.usembassy.gov/service/other-citizen-services/other-citizen-services/driving.html.

For specific information concerning Irish driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please visit the official tourism guide for Ireland at http://www.tourismireland.com.

Taxis are reasonably priced but availability varies with time of day and where you are in the country.
Bus service in the cities is generally adequate, although many buses are overcrowded and frequently late.
Intercity bus and train services are reasonably good.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Ireland’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Ireland’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:
Most Irish banks will not accept U.S. $100 bills.
ATMs are widely available, but some, particularly in rural areas, may not accept cards from U.S. banks.
Credit cards are widely accepted throughout Ireland.
A number of travelers have been told by their airline that their passport must remain valid for six months after their entry into Ireland.
The Government of Ireland has advised that this is a recommendation of the airline industry and is not an Irish legal requirement. Travelers must be in possession of a valid passport to travel.
Please see Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Ireland’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Ireland 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 Ireland 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 Ireland.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the Embassy in Dublin.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at 42 Elgin Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.
The Embassy can be reached via phone at 353-1-668-8777, after hours number 353-1-668-9612, fax 353-1-668-8056, and online at http://dublin.usembassy.gov
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Ireland dated May 12, 2008, and updates sections on Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, and Special Circumstances.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sun 8 Sep 2019
Source: Irish Mirror [abridged, edited]

A TD [member of the Irish Parliament] has warned of "serious repercussions" after it was revealed the child vaccination uptake has dropped into the World Health Organisation (WHO) red zone. Statistics from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre show up to 25% of infants and toddlers are not receiving shots in parts of Ireland.

Sinn Fein spokeswoman Louise O'Reilly said: "We need to get past all the misinformation on social media and the anti-vaxxers and talk to parents face to face."

Fears are growing that highly contagious diseases such as measles could run rampant again, with experts warning of a possible epidemic.

Officials from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control have recorded 10,958 cases of the illness -- which can prove fatal -- across the continent from January to [14 Jul] this year [2019]. It is the worst performance in over a decade and the 1st time the country has been in the range since the anti-vax movement began.

EU countries worst affected are France, Bulgaria, Italy, Poland and Lithuania -- but the slump in Ireland means we could soon be facing an epidemic of our own. The number of measles cases reported tripled last year [2018] with 77 cases -- up from just 25 in 2017.  [Byline: Ailbhe Daly]
Date: Fri 17 May 2019 16:33 IST
Source: Breaking News Irish Examiner Reporter [abridged, edited]

There have been 58 reports of measles recorded so far this year [2019], according to the HSE's [Health Service Executive] Health Protection Surveillance Centre [HPSC].

Another 2 cases were reported to the HPSC in the past week -- one from the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the other from the Southern Health Board. The 2 people affected were both female and aged between 15 and 34 years.

The HSE's assistant national director of health protection, Dr Keven Kelleher, has warned that cases of measles are set to rise over the summer [2019].

There has been an increase in measles, an acute viral disease, throughout the world and cases are spreading because people are travelling more.

Dr Kelleher said measles is very active throughout southern Europe.

Current vaccination rates are not good enough currently, with take-up rates up to 8% below what they should in some parts of the country.  [Byline: Evelyn Ring]
========================
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Ireland:
Date: Wed 17 Apr 2019
Source: Leitrim Observer [abridged, edited]

The HSE [Ireland's national health service] says it "had not seen diseases like measles in Donegal, Sligo or Leitrim for a number of years, because 95% of children were vaccinated against them. Last year [2018], the uptake of childhood vaccinations dropped slightly in Donegal, and this resulted in an outbreak of measles in January this year [2019]."

The HSE says "There is also an ongoing mumps outbreak across Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim. The HSE has been notified of 116 cases so far.

"As soon as vaccination rates fall, diseases like measles and mumps return. Fortunately, the majority of people in Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim are protecting their children with vaccination. The most recent figures for 2018 show that 90% of children in Donegal received the MMR and 93% of children in Sligo and Leitrim received it.

"However, over 95% of children need to be vaccinated with the MMR in order to prevent the spread of measles in our community. This is the goal for 2019, as it is really important for 'herd immunity'. In this way, we can protect new-borns and vulnerable children, including those with cancer or immune problems who can't get vaccinated, from coming in contact with measles and other diseases like meningitis."

This year [2019] European Immunisation Week runs 24-30 Apr. The goal is to raise awareness of the benefits of vaccination and to celebrate the vaccine heroes who contribute to protecting lives through vaccination. Vaccine heroes include health workers who administer vaccines, parents who choose vaccination for their children, and everyone who promotes vaccination.

"Every parent wants to protect their child and do what's right for them. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what to do, now that there is so much false and misleading information on the internet and social media when it comes to vaccination," says Dr. Laura Heavey, Specialist Registrar in Public Health Medicine in HSE North West, "I would really encourage parents to look for information in the right places. Two good sources of reliable, evidence-based information are <www.immunisation.ie> and the Vaccine Knowledge Project at <http://vk.ovg.ox.ac.uk/>. Essentially all of the vaccines on the infant, child and adolescent schedule in Ireland are backed up with years of data on their safety."

Another goal for the HSE in 2019 is to continue to increase the uptake of the HPV vaccine in teenagers. In 2018, 70% of teenage girls in Ireland got the vaccine. In Scotland, where HPV vaccination started over 10 years ago and 90% of teenage girls get the HPV vaccine, researchers have found that the vaccine has nearly wiped out cases of cervical pre-cancer in young women. We want to see as many Irish teenagers as possible getting vaccinated in 2019, so that we can see those same results here. This year [2019], the vaccine will also be offered to teenage boys. If all our young people receive the vaccine, cervical cancer could be eliminated in Ireland in the future.
========================
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Ireland:
Date: Wed 27 Feb 2019
Source: The Times [abridged, edited]

A total of 384 cases mumps have been reported this year [2019] from Irish Universities, HSE figures have shown.

There were 64 new cases reported last week, bringing the total to 384 since the start of the year [2019]. The number of cases has been rising steadily in recent weeks, with 278 in the 1st 6 weeks of the year. Last year [2018] there had been 52 cases by the end of February. There were 576 cases in total last year [2018].  [Byline : Catherine Sanz]
===================
[Also see ProMED-mail Mumps update (02): USA (CO, TX), Europe (Ireland) http://promedmail.org/post/20190221.6329434 for more on the outbreak in Ireland. - ProMED Mod.LK]

["Before the U.S. mumps vaccination program started in 1967, about 186,000 cases were reported each year, but the actual number of cases was likely much higher due to underreporting. Since the pre-vaccine era, there has been a more than 99% decrease in mumps cases in the United States. Since the 2-dose vaccination program was introduced in 1989, mumps cases have ranged year to year from a couple of hundred to several thousand.

However, in recent years, there has been an increase in the number of reported cases, from 229 cases in 2012 to 6366 cases in 2016. The recent increase has been mainly due to multiple mumps outbreaks reported across the country in settings where people often have close contact with one another, like college campuses." CDC (<https://www.cdc.gov/mumps/outbreaks.html>). - ProMED Mod.LK]
Date: Tue 12 Feb 2019, 5:30 AM
Source: Irish Examiner [edited]

There has been an 84% increase in the number of cases of mumps reported to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre in recent weeks.

Over the 1st 5 weeks of this year [2019], the number of cases has increased to 231, compared to just 36 over the same period last year [2018], an increase of 195. There were 50 cases of the highly infectious disease reported over the week ending [Sat 2 Feb 2019].

MMR uptake rates among children in Ireland remain below the target of 95% needed to prevent the spread of mumps, according to the HPSC.

Last week [4-10 Feb 2019], the HSE alerted Trinity College Dublin that there had been cases of mumps in the university and other students might have been exposed.  [Byline: Evelyn Ring]
==========================
[The increase in cases is likely the result of growing vaccine hesitancy, similar to the situation with measles, which is part of the same MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine. - ProMED Mod.LK]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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