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Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan Republic - US Consular Information Sheet
August 29, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Kyrgyz Republic, a mountainous country of five million people, is undergoing political and economic change. Tourist facilities are not highly deve
oped, and many of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries are not yet widely available. Read the Department of State Background Notes on the Kyrgyz Republic for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa are required. American citizens can obtain a one-month single-entry, non-extendable tourist visa upon arrival at the “Manas” International Airport outside Bishkek for a $36 fee without invitation or sponsorship. Newly enacted legislation requires that all foreigners present in the Kyrgyz Republic for more than sixty days register with the Kyrgyz Department of Visa and Passport Control. Failure to do so may cause difficulties when exiting the country. Individuals traveling to Kyrgyzstan to perform religious work or work in affiliation with any religious organization in any capacity are required by Kyrgyz law to declare so on their visa applications. Failure to do so may lead to difficulties with local law enforcement as it is considered a violation of Kyrgyz law to engage in activities not matching the purpose of travel indicated on an individual’s visa. In general, travelers should apply for the correct category of visa for their purpose of travel. Travelers cannot obtain a tourist visa at land borders or other airports. American citizens visiting the Kyrgyz Republic are not required to register with the Office of Visas and Registration. The Embassy recommends that Americans traveling in the Kyrgyz Republic also obtain Kazakh visas, as commercial air travel out of the Kyrgyz Republic is limited and Americans may need to travel through Kazakhstan to return to the United States. For further information regarding entry/exit requirements, contact the Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic at 2630 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone: (202) 338-5141, fax: (202) 742 6501. Visit the Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic web site at http://www.kgembassy.org/ for the most current visa information.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to rural areas along the Kyrgyz-Uzbek and Kyrgyz-Tajik borders, and all areas to the south and west of the provincial capital of Osh. Security conditions in these parts of the southern Kyrgyz Republic differ from security conditions in the north, and the threat of violence against foreigners in the southern Kyrgyz Republic continues. Hostage-taking incidents involving foreigners occurred during the summers of 1999 and 2000, including one incident in the summer of 2000 involving American citizens. In 2007, there were reports of attempted “bride-kidnappings” in rural areas. While foreigners are not believed to be intentional targets, an American female was held against her will for several days in one reported incident. In 2006, suspected militants attacked a border post on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border, and ensuing skirmishes took place between the militants and Kyrgyz military forces throughout the southern Batken region. Land mines in Batken Oblast and near the Kyrgyz-Tajik border continue to be a concern. There are currently restrictions for U.S. Government employees traveling to areas of the Kyrgyz Republic south and west of Osh and in rural areas along the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border because of the volatile security situation in these areas.
Supporters of extremist groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), al-Qaeda, and the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement remain active in Central Asia. These groups have expressed anti-U.S. sentiments and may attempt to target U.S. Government or private interests in the region, including in the Kyrgyz Republic. Terrorist attacks involving the use of suicide bombers have previously taken place in neighboring Uzbekistan. Terrorists do not distinguish between official and civilian targets. Because of increased security at official U.S. facilities, terrorists are seeking softer civilian targets such as residential areas, clubs and restaurants, places of worship, hotels, schools, outdoor recreation events, resorts, beaches, maritime facilities, airports and aircraft.
In 2005-2007, there were several large-scale demonstrations and protests. Demonstrations in Bishkek have occurred in front of the Presidential Administration building (White House) and on Alatoo Square in the city center. The Embassy does not always have advance information regarding new demonstrations. Therefore, all Americans are reminded to remain vigilant and are urged to avoid the vicinity of all protests, because even protests that are intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphletA Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: The U.S. Embassy advises U.S. citizens to exercise caution in urban areas of the Kyrgyz Republic due to the high rate of violent crime against foreigners. Travelers arriving at Manas International Airport should arrange their transportation from the airport in advance. Foreign travelers have been the victims of extortion by airport taxi drivers, who appeared in some cases to be colluding with airport personnel to identify their victims. Travelers should not take public transportation or walk after dark, and should be extremely cautious in or near hotels, bars, parks and all places that attract an expatriate clientele. The Kyrgyz Republic has a high rate of violent crime due to unemployment and a large number of organized gangs. Muggings often occur after dark and can be quite violent, leaving the victim severely injured. Other common crimes include auto theft, mugging, and pick pocketing in crowded places such as markets, Internet cafes and on public transportation. U.S. citizens have been the victims of such crimes as rape, assault, kidnapping and robbery while in urban and rural parts of Kyrgyzstan, and there have been reports of U.S. citizens who were robbed by groups of young men who had followed them back to their residences from hotels and bars. Police officers rarely speak English and no victims’ assistance programs are available. Medical and psychiatric care for victims is limited.
Harassment and extortion by people who purport to be Kyrgyz police officers are common. According to Kyrgyz law, any person claiming to be a police officer must show identifying documents on demand. U.S. citizens should not act upon requests by people, whether in civilian dress or in police uniform, if they have no official identification. Also U.S. citizens should not get into cars with someone they do not know, even if the person claims to be a police officer.

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 lines in Kyrgyzstan are: 101 for fire; 102 for police;
103 for first aid ambulance (state-funded); 151 (from landline), 0 312 684466 (from landline or cellphone); and 161 for rescue service (under the Ministry of emergency situations.)

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical services in the Kyrgyz Republic are extremely limited. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends that travelers to the Kyrgyz Republic carry medical evacuation insurance in case of emergency. The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek maintains a list of foreign-trained and local physicians who have agreed to give medical assistance to Americans. This list is available on the Embassy web site at http://bishkek.usembassy.gov.
Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to and foreign residents of Kyrgyzstan. There is no legal requirement for HIV/AIDS testing during the visa application or registration process. Kyrgyz law does state that if a foreign citizen refuses to submit to HIV/AIDS testing when requested while in Kyrgyzstan, that person could be deported. Please verify this information with the Embassy of Kyrgyzstan at http://www.kgembassy.org before you travel.

Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Kyrgyzstan. For further information, please consult the CDC's Travel Notice on TB available at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning the Kyrgyz Republic is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Most of the Kyrgyz Republic’s road infrastructure consists of two-lane roads, which are all in various states of disrepair, and are poorly marked and lit. Many local drivers tend to disobey fundamental traffic laws – such as stopping at red lights. As a result, driving can be very dangerous. Accidents involving severe injury and/or death are not uncommon.
Drivers must exercise particular caution to avoid uneven pavement, potholes and open drains and manholes. Night driving should be avoided, as roads are inadequately lit. In winter, roads are seldom plowed and ice and snow make the poor driving conditions even more hazardous. Pedestrians routinely walk in the road, often wearing dark clothes at night, necessitating even greater caution for drivers. Mountain roads in the Kyrgyz Republic are often narrow and treacherous, and may close without notice due to snow, ice or rockslides. Guardrails and barriers preventing falling rocks are often missing. The Kyrgyz Republic does not have a roadside assistance infrastructure. Towing companies do not exist. Although mechanics are available in cities there is little organized oversight or certification of their practices or abilities. Rest areas are infrequent and very primitive. Service stations are generally available in and near cities, but the fuel they provide may be adulterated or of poor quality.
The road between Almaty, Kazakhstan and Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic, is especially treacherous at night or during poor weather. Americans and other travelers have been killed in traffic accidents on that road, and travel at night is not recommended.
Generally, speed limits are 60 km per hour in the cities and 90 km per hour in rural areas. Kyrgyz law mandates that all automobile passengers wear seat belts and that motorcycle riders wear helmets. International driving permits are recognized in the Kyrgyz Republic.

Drivers may face harassment by traffic police, who have been known to demand payment for arbitrary "fines" for purported infractions.

The Kyrgyz Republic has a "zero tolerance" policy for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Public transportation in the Kyrgyz Republic is limited to buses, taxis, and very few intercity trains. Travelers should be particularly careful when using public transportation. Buses tend to be very crowded and can be unsafe and unreliable. Taxis too can be dangerous. Due to the danger of theft or assault, travelers should avoid entering a cab that already contains passengers. Taxis are seldom metered, and travelers should negotiate a fare prior to entering a cab and be aware that cab drivers often try to charge foreigners a high fare. Drivers of vehicles that are not taxis are often willing to drive people for fares. However, U.S. citizens should avoid using any of these "private taxis" and unmarked taxis.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at insert site here.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in the Kyrgyz Republic, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the Kyrgyz Republic’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Kyrgyz customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from the Kyrgyz Republic of items such as antiquities or hunting trophies. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic in Washington at 2630 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone: (202) 338-5141, fax: (202) 742 6501 or at http://www.kgembassy.org/ for specific information regarding customs requirements.
The Kyrgyz Republic is a cash-only economy. The banking system is not well developed. ATMs are available, but the security of these machines remains untested. A hotel or bank may, on occasion, accept traveler’s checks or credit cards, but the fees can be as high as 20 percent for traveler’s checks.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passport with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and citizenship are readily available.

In accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and certain bilateral treaties, a consular officer from the U.S. Embassy must be given access to any U.S. citizen arrested in the Kyrgyz Republic. U.S. citizens who are arrested or detained should ask that the U.S. Embassy be contacted immediately. This is generally recognized, though there can be a sizeable delay in notification times depending on the local authorities’ interpretation of the case’s legal status.
The Kyrgyz Republic is an earthquake-prone country. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov.
Hunting and trekking are popular sports for locals and tourists in the Kyrgyz Republic; however, American citizens traveling to the Kyrgyz Republic should know that hunting in the Kyrgyz Republic without proper licenses is illegal. It is illegal to import or own firearms in the Kyrgyz Republic without a permit issued by the Kyrgyz government. Foreign hunters who do not have official permission to hunt or take trophies out of the country may face criminal and civil charges. Both hunting and trekking infrastructures are underdeveloped with limited services, especially in the high mountainous regions popular with trekkers and hunters. Avalanches and landslides are common in these mountainous regions, often cutting off villages for weeks at a time. These villages and hunting areas are in isolated, rugged, mountainous areas inaccessible by the limited rescue services available in the Kyrgyz Republic. Americans traveling to the Kyrgyz Republic to hunt or trek need to be aware of the risks involved. The Embassy recommends that all Americans register with the Embassy in Bishkek for the duration of their stay in the country.
Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating the Kyrgyz Republic’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in The Kyrgyz Republic 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 the Kyrgyz Republic 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 the Kyrgyz Republic. Americans withoutInternet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek is located at 171 Prospect Mira, 720016 Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic. The phone number is 996-312-551-241, fax: 996-517-777-202, and web site: http://bishkek.usembassy.gov
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for the Kyrgyz Republic Dated January 8, 2008, to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Crime, Information for Victims of Crime, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed 9 Jan 2019
Source: AKIpress [abridged, edited]

A total of 722 cases of measles have been registered since the beginning of 2018 in Kyrgyzstan compared with one case in January through November 2017, the National Statistics Committee reports.

[Full story is available only by subscription.]
=====================
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Wed 21 Nov 2018 14:26 KGT
Source: Kazakh Telegraph Agency (KazTAG] [edited]

KyrTAG [Kyrgyzstan Telegraph Agency] reports 2 people have been hospitalized in the Jalal-Abad region with anthrax assumption. "2 inhabitants of Suzak district have been hospitalized with anthrax assumption. The lab tests made in Jalal-Abad have shown a negative result, we sent the analysis to Osh for a repeated research," said Usen Zhorobayev, head of center of state sanitary-epidemiological surveillance of the Suzak district. In his words, the hospitalized men had been butchering a cow. The patients are in satisfactory condition
=============================
[To find Suzak in western Kyrgyzstan, go to:
<http://www.fallingrain.com/world/KG/03/Suzak.html>.

For a description of Jalal-Abad region, go to

Outbreaks in Jalal-Abad are an overflow of infection from the enzootic state of this disease in the adjoining Fergana Valley of Uzbekistan. Jalal-Abad is in western Kyrgyzstan at the head of the Fergana Valley. The Fergana Valley is rife with livestock anthrax. Without a coordinated vaccination-control program between the 2 countries in this region, we will continue to see outbreaks there. In spite of an initial negative test result, not uncommon with human cases, the authorities are assuming a greater probability of cutaneous anthrax based on the exposure history of these 2 farm workers. A pity they did not get their veterinary colleagues to test what was still available from this dead cow. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Kyrgyzstan:
Date: 27 Jun 2018
Source: Interax Kazakhstan [edited]

Nine people have been hospitalized with suspected anthrax infection in the Jalal-Abad region of southern Kyrgyzstan, Mamatzhan Miyanov, the coordinator of the healthcare ministry for the Jalal-Abad region, told Interfax on Wednesday [27 Jun 2018].
Date: Tue 13 Mar 2018
Source: XinHuaNet [edited]

A total of 14 people, including 4 children, were hospitalized after a mass botulism food poisoning outbreak in southern Kyrgyzstan, the Health Ministry said [Tue 13 Mar 2018]. It said 3 of them are in a serious condition. An epidemiological investigation has been conducted and all patients have received the botulinum antitoxin.

The first case of food poisoning in the city of Uzgen in the Osh region was reported on [Sun 11 Mar 2018]. According to preliminary data, the poisoning occurred due to eating homemade canned vegetable salad. A month earlier [February 2018], 17 people in southern Kyrgyzstan were hospitalized for the same reason; 2 of the 7 children affected died in that outbreak.
======================
[It is unclear if these clusters are related. Most clusters of botulism are associated with home prepared food. - ProMed Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Tue 5 Sep 2017 16:10
Source: Evening Bishjkek [in Russian, trans. ProMED Mod.NR, edited]

Currently in the at-Bashy district of Naryn region 3 recorded cases of anthrax infection are in the hospital, and 15 under the supervision of experts. Doctors say that the locals butchered the carcass of an animal, and 10 days later the 1st symptoms of this dangerous infection appeared on the skin of the wrist areas and forearms.

People have turned to professionals with complaints of ulcers. Then on [Wed 30 Aug 2017] 3 people were hospitalized in the Infectious Diseases Department. Tests confirmed the preliminary diagnosis. Doctors have checked all sick family members and friends, and currently they are under surveillance.

The incubation period of the infection is 10-14 days.[Actually it can be as short as 3 days and up to 60 days. - ProMED Mod.MHJ] At the end of this period, if there is no suspicion, patients are discharged from the hospital. "This disease is curable, it is treatable by conventional antibiotics. It's just included in the list of especially dangerous infections classifications of the World Health Organization. The main sources of infection are animals", - said the Director of the Republican center of Quarantine and Especially Dangerous Infections the Sabyrzhan of Abdykaimov.

It is likely that the meat of an infected animal got into the markets. According to some reports, some infectious contaminated products were located in the market town of Tokmak. Now multiple site checks are in hand by the Investigative Department. In addition, the market site and the territory around the cattle slaughter site have been quarantined, say doctors. And veterinary control has been initiated, along with the population being educated.

However, the situation is aggravated by the confused information from the sick individuals. They can't exactly tell where the infected meat was sent, said Abdykaimov. "One says that the meat is buried. Another says sold. Now this is in the hands of the investigating authorities and veterinary services. They don't say what happened: just stopped someone in a car; it was loaded, and they left. And where, on what car - they don't specify. The investigating authorities are handling this, but we in Public Health are doing our best to explain what should happen," - said Abdykaimov.  [Byline: Rodion Reshetov]
====================
[Comment by ProMED Mod.NP. In the territory of the Republic there are 1219 natural foci of anthrax. Concreted and enclosed only 1000 of them. Vaccination of cattle is held only periodically, delayed due to problems with funding and vaccine supplies, increasing the risk disease anthrax in both animals and humans. Annually in the territory of the Republic there are nearly 20 cases of anthrax in people. In this case, the situation is compounded by the fact that there is no accurate information on location of infected meat, which can lead to new cases of the disease. - ProMED Mod.NP]

[Public Health as it really is and not as shown on television. People get confused and, fearing legal action, may make up stories. My thanks to my colleague Natalia. It seems that circulation of the news in English is limited and widely available in Kyrgyz. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
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".