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Morocco

General
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Morocco is a North African country and a favourite destination for many Irish tourists. The climate, relative shortness of the flights and the idyllic swimming conditions encourage many to vis
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Safety & Security
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The border regions of the country can be volatile and travellers planning to visit away from the main tourist routes should take extra precautions. The Western Sahara region is still in dispute though there has been an official cease-fire in place since 1991. The possibility of unexploded mines exists though it should be remembered that this area is many miles away from the normal tourist resorts. The level of street crime in Morocco is low but growing. Busy market places, parks and beaches are popular locations for petty criminals. Tourists should take care not to flaunt personal wealth and to avoid travelling away from the main tourist zones late at night. Travelling alone is a particular risk and only authorised guides and taxis should be used. Tourists have been threatened with serious injury at knife point if they have refused to purchase cannabis.
Laws & Customs
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It is an Islamic country and ladies in particular should take care to dress modestly. Islamic festivals can cause significant changes to occur which affect tourists including the holy month of Ramadan when all street cafés close until 5.30pm each day as strict Muslims do not eat during the daylight hours. The main tourist hotels continue to serve food as normal but many shops will remain closed. During these times tourists will need to carefully check their tickets and any travel arrangements may need to be changed. Banks and larger shops will remain open between 9am and 3pm Monday to Friday. Drug offences are treated very seriously and those visiting the Rif Mountains should realise this is a major cannabis growing area. Visitors with Arabic Bibles or those involved in any perceived outreach activity may find they are subjected to prolonged interrogation.
Health Facilities
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The level of health care available in many of the main hotels and resorts is perfectly adequate but care should be taken if your illness necessitates admission. Communication in English may be difficult and many medications will be unavailable. Frequently small private hospitals are used where standards vary greatly. Check that your travel insurance provides adequate cover for repatriation if required.
Food & Water Facilities
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The food and water provided in many of the main tourist resorts is very satisfactory but variations can easily occur and travellers should be careful at all times. Lettuce, undercooked bivalve shellfish (mussels, oysters, clams etc) and untreated water are all frequently implicated in sickness among travellers. Eating previously peeled fruit is also unwise and should be avoided. Bottled water purchased from main shops or hotels should be used for drinking and brushing your teeth.
Insect Bites & Mosquitoes
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There is only a very small risk of malaria transmission throughout Morocco and prophylaxis is not recommended for the majority of tourists. However, sandflies do abound during the summer months and can transmit a nasty disease known as Leishmaniasis. These small flies tend to hover close to the ground in shaded areas and can easily bite without the individual noticing. It is essential to use good insect repellent when at risk and to report any slow healing bite or sore to a doctor after your return home.
Sun Exposure
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The level of sun exposure in Morocco during the summer months can be intense. Take care to avoid the midday sun and use high sun blocking creams at all relevant times. Take particular care of children while in such a hot climate. Extra water and salt will be required to replace the amounts lost through perspiration. Salted crisps and nuts will be a useful source of salt.
Water Sports & Activities
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Many tourist locations in Morocco offer extended water sport facilities for tourists. Always check out what the standard of care is before agreeing to take part. Ask tourists who arrived before you and check with your holiday representative if possible. Confirm that good safety procedures are in place and that your travel insurance covers any accidents as a result of your activities.
Cash Facilities
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Traveller’s cheques and credit cards are accepted in many of the main tourist resorts. ATM machines are available in Casablanca and Rabat. It may be difficult to reconvert Moroccan money back to sterling and so care should be taken not to change too much initially until you clarify your expenses.
Travel by Train
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To visit other parts of the country many travellers use the train journey south from Tangier. However, be wary of any invitation from fellow passengers to alight at Asilah rather than continuing the journey south. A number of tourists have been held hostage and forced to make credit card transactions or cash withdrawals before being freed.
Road Transport
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Many tourists to Morocco hire motorbikes or cars to see more of the country. This is regarded as a high-risk activity and special care will be required at all times. Driving practices throughout Morocco are poor and traffic signals do not always function. Modern freeways link the main cities of Tangier, Rabat, Fez and Casablanca. Flash flooding can occur during the rainy season (November – March).
Rabies
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Rabies does occur in Morocco and it is essential that you avoid any and all contact with at risk animals. Typically this includes dogs, cats and monkeys but this viral disease can infect any warm-blooded animal. Take particular care to warn children to avoid animals and to report any contact as soon as possible.
Vaccinations
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There are no essential vaccines for entry into Morocco from Ireland. However most tourists are advised to consider adequate cover against:
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Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
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Tetanus (childhood booster)
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Typhoid (food and water disease)
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Hepatitis A (food and water disease)
Those planning a longer or more rural trip will also need to consider cover against diseases like Hepatitis B and Rabies.
Summary
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The majority of tourists visiting Morocco will remain very healthy and well. However, following simple precautions against food and water disease and sun exposure will be essential.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 15 Nov 2019 01:13:41 +0100 (MET)
By Sophie PONS

Dakhla, Western Sahara, Nov 15, 2019 (AFP) - In the heart of disputed Western Sahara, a former garrison town has become an unlikely tourist magnet after kitesurfers discovered the windswept desert coast was perfect for their sport.  In Dakhla, an Atlantic seaport town punctuated with military buildings in Morocco-administered Western Sahara, swarms of kitesurfers now sail in the lagoon daily.y    "Here there is nothing other than sun, wind and waves. We turned the adversity of the elements to our advantage: that's the very principle of kitesurfing," said Rachid Roussafi. 

After an international career in windsurfing and kitesurfing, Roussafi founded the first tourist camp at the lagoon at the start of the 2000s.    "At the time, a single flight a week landed in Dakhla," the 49-year-old Moroccan said.   Today, there are 25 a week, including direct flights to Europe.   "Dakhla has become a world destination for kitesurfing," said Mohamed Cherif, a regional politician.

Tourist numbers have jumped from 25,000 in 2010 to 100,000 today, he said, adding they hoped to reach 200,000 annual visitors.    The former Spanish garrison is booming today with the visitor influx adding to fishing and trade revenue.   Kitesurfing requires pricey gear -- including a board, harness and kite -- and the niche tourism spot attracts well-off visitors of all nationalities.    Peyo Camillade came from France "to extend the summer season", with a week's holiday costing about 1,500 euros ($1,660). 

Only the names of certain sites, like PK 25 (kilometre point 25), ruined forts in the dunes and the imposing and still in-use military buildings in Dakhla, remind tourists of the region's history of conflict.   In the 1970s, Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, and fought a war with the Algeria-backed Polisario Front from 1975 to 1991, when a ceasefire deal was agreed.   A United Nations mission was deployed to monitor the truce and prepare a referendum on Western Sahara's independence from Morocco, but it never materialized.   Without waiting for the political compromise that the UN has been negotiating for decades, hotels have sprouted from the sand along the coast, and rows of streetlights on vacant lots announce future subdivisions.

- 'Good communication' -
"The secret to success is to develop kitesurfing with good communication focused on the organisation of non-political events," said Driss Senoussi, head of the Dakhla Attitude hotel group.    Accordingly, the exploits of kitesurfing champions like Brazilian Mikaili Sol and the Cape Verdian Airton Cozzolino were widely shared online during the World Kiteboarding Championships in Dakhla last month.   The competition seemed to hold little interest for Dakhla's inhabitants however.

Only a few young people with nothing to do and strolling families found themselves on the beach for the finals.   Just as rare are the foreign tourists who venture into the town of 100,000 residents to shop.   Like her friends, Alexandra Paterek prefers to stay at her hotel, some 30 kilometres (19 miles) from downtown.    "Here is the best place in the world for learning kitesurfing," said the 31-year-old Polish stewardess.    On her understanding of the broader regional context, she said: "It's an old Spanish colony and they have good seafood, for sure."

Like many tourists, she was under the impression that the area belonged to Morocco, as the destination tends to be marketed in the travel industry as "Dakhla, Morocco".   That angers the Polisario, which wants independence for the disputed region and tried last year in vain to sue businesses it said were "accomplices to the occupying military power."   The independence movement is now focused on challenging commercial deals between Morocco and the European Union that involve Western Sahara, according to the group's French lawyer Gilles Devers.   Moroccan authorities are looking actively for investors for their development projects on the west coast, the most ambitious being the Dakhla Atlantique megaport with a budget of about $1 billion to promote fishing.

- Environmental concerns -
On the lagoon, surrounded by white sand and with its holiday bungalows, "there is a struggle between developing aquaculture and tourism," said a senior regional representative, who spoke on condition of anonymity.    "One has less impact on the environment, but the other generates more revenue and jobs," said the representative, adding that "pressure from real-estate investors is very high."

With the influx of tourists, the protection of the environment has become a major concern.   "Everything is developing so quickly... we need to recycle plastic waste and resolve the issue of wastewater," said Rachid Roussafi.    Daniel Bellocq, a retired French doctor, worries for the future of this lagoon, that was "once so wild" that he has kitesurfed in for 20 years.   "There is green algae that wasn't there before, it's becoming a septic tank," he said.   Regional councillor Cherif, though, insists the bay is clean, saying: "All the hotels are equipped with wastewater management systems."   For him, the real threat is from plastic waste, whether it is dropped by tourists or brought by sea currents.
Date: Fri, 27 Sep 2019 06:34:45 +0200 (METDST)
By Sophie Pons

Casablanca, Morocco, Sept 27, 2019 (AFP) - In Morocco, the struggle against HIV has been so successful in recent years that campaigners worry about losing funding for combatting the virus, but for people living with the disease it remains a heavy stigma.   In Casablanca, a group therapy workshop offers HIV patients a rare opportunity to speak openly about their disease.   "Here I feel normal, I'm treated like a human being," said Zineb, a 29-year-old mother.

Organised by the Association for the Fight Against AIDS (ALCS), on a recent Thursday the workshop brought 12 HIV patients together with a psychologist and a therapist.   The ALCS also organises follow-up therapeutic care in hospital, and prevention and screening campaigns, with funding from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.   These programmes were developed shortly after the first HIV case was detected in Morocco in 1986.   This early start is partly why UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, calls Morocco a "model country" for its HIV response.   Thanks to improved screening, access to treatment and monitoring, new HIV infections in Morocco declined by 42 percent between 2010 and 2016, compared to an average reduction of four percent across the rest of the Middle East and North Africa.

Morocco had 350 deaths from AIDS in 2018, from a population of about 35 million.   But some groups remain vulnerable, with intravenous drug users, men who have sex with other men, and sex workers accounting for two thirds of Morocco's 21,000 identified cases.   And the stigma attached to those infected remains high, even within the family.   "My mother treated me like a murderer. For a long time I felt alone in the world," said Youssef, a 28-year-old who has twice attempted suicide.   Like other HIV patients interviewed by AFP, he asked to be identified by a pseudonym.   And all of them -- save for a 40-year-old considered very lucky by the group -- have either hidden their illness or been rejected by loved ones.

- 'Don't tell him anything' -
In this conservative Muslim society, where sex outside marriage and homosexuality are illegal, HIV patients seldom talk publicly about the virus.   "The subject is taboo, because the infection is linked to sex, itself a taboo subject in Morocco," said Yakoub, a 25-year-old ALCS worker.   "The social rejection is such that some (HIV patients) lose everything: family, friends, work, home," he said.

Zineb, like many HIV patients, hides her medication to conceal her illness.   For 10 years, the former teen mother has told her family that she is being treated for diabetes. "My 17-year-old son knows nothing, I can't bring myself to tell him, I'm too afraid," she said with a sad smile.   "Once you're sick, you're no longer a person," said Sakina, a mother who says she never speaks of her illness except with doctors, the ALCS staff and other HIV patients.

Like 70 percent of HIV positive women in Morocco, Sakina was infected by her husband. She cannot bring herself to tell her 15-year-old son that he is also infected.    She has always lied to him but she can "no longer sleep at night", she told the group through tears.    "My advice: above all, don't tell him anything," said a young man.   "For your sake, let him find out from someone else," another group participant suggested.   Then the psychologist interjected to say that private sessions are available to "reflect on these difficult questions".

The shame of HIV is so entrenched, it even permeates the medical establishment.   "For 30 years we've been talking about it, the virus is well known but the discrimination is still there," said Dr Kamal Marhoum El Filali, head of the infectious diseases department at Ibn Rochd Hospital in Casablanca, which hosts an ALCS branch.    "The stigmatisation isn't just from society but also from medical staff within the hospital environment."

Amina, another group therapy participant, experienced this first hand.   "When I went to the hospital to give birth, no one wanted to take care of me, no one wanted to touch me, I ended up in intensive care," she recalled indignantly.   Others in the session though were grateful for the care they had received.    "We are lucky to be under the care of the infectious diseases department: we are well cared for compared to others, considering the lack of funding and disrepair in Moroccan hospitals," said another participant

- 'Victim of own success' -
The emergency room at Ibn Rochd is sometimes overwhelmed with doctors each seeing up to 40 patients a day.   But the infectious diseases department is always spotlessly clean, providing personalised support as ALCS staff liaise with the medical teams.   But how much money Morocco will receive to continue its fight against HIV will be determined at a three-yearly conference for the Global Fund in October.   With funding declining globally and controversy surrounding the management of UNAIDS, ALCS president Mehdi Karkouri fears financial cuts.   "We are a victim of our own success: because our results are good, we risk losing funding," he said.
Date: Mon, 2 Sep 2019 21:08:54 +0200 (METDST)

Rabat, Sept 2, 2019 (AFP) - Morocco authorities said Monday they had found the body of a person missing after a flood hit a football pitch, bringing to eight the number of people killed in last week's tragedy.   The flood took place when a nearby river burst its banks in the southern region of Taroudant on Wednesday.   A 17-year-old boy and six elderly men were killed and have since been buried, while rescuers continued the search for an eight victim who was swept away by the flood, authorities said.

The last body was found some 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the village of Tizret near where an amateur football tournament had been taking place.   Photographs and videos shared on social media showed muddy waters carrying away people who had clambered on top of a building flattened by the flood.   Authorities have opened an investigation and the government has promised to take several measures to avoid such tragedies in the future.   Morocco's national weather service had warned of the risk of stormy rains on Wednesday afternoon in several provinces.    The heavy downpour followed a dry spell, making the floods more violent, local media reported.

Floods are common in Morocco. In late July, 15 people died in a landslide caused by flash floods on a road south of Marrakesh.   In 2014, floods killed around 50 people and caused considerable damage in the south of the country.   Between 2000 and 2013, a series of 13 major floods killed a total of 263 people in Morocco and caused considerable damage to infrastructure worth $427 million, according to the World Bank.   A study published in 2015 pointed to multiple failures in infrastructure maintenance, prevention, warning and emergency management.
Date: Thu, 29 Aug 2019 00:08:33 +0200 (METDST)

Rabat, Aug 28, 2019 (AFP) - At least seven people died Wednesday when a river burst its banks and flooded a village football pitch where a game was being played in south Morocco, local authorities and a witness said.   Eight men who had sought refuge in the changing rooms were swept away in the floodwater after heavy showers hit the Taroudant region late in the day, an eyewitness told AFP on condition of anonymity.   "We're in shock, I'm 64 years old and I've never seen such a downpour," the witness said.

Search and rescue operations were under way to find further victims, officials said.   Photographs and videos shared on social media showed muddy waters carrying away people who had clambered on top of a building flattened by the flooding.    Morocco's national weather service had warned of the risk of stormy rains on Wednesday afternoon in several provinces.    The heavy downpour followed a dry spell, making the floods more violent, local media reported.   Floods are common in Morocco. In late July, 15 people died in a landslide caused by flash floods on a road south of Marrakesh.
Date: Fri, 26 Jul 2019 15:26:58 +0200

Rabat, July 26, 2019 (AFP) - Moroccan emergency crews pulled 15 bodies from the mud after a rare summer downpour triggered a landslide that buried a minibus, authorities said Friday, providing the first official toll.   The victims -- eleven women, three men and one child -- were found in the bus buried some 20 metres (more than 60 feet) under the masses of earth and rock dislodged by the rain, local authorities said.    "There are no survivors," they said in a statement.

The official toll comes after public broadcaster 2M reported Friday morning that 16 bodies had been recovered.   The bus was buried Wednesday evening when a deluge in the Atlas mountains south of Marrakesh triggered flash flooding.   Images released by the authorities show excavators working to dig a path to the bus, more than 24 hours after it was engulfed by the debris.

A weather alert on Tuesday warned of storms in several provinces in the North African country, which rarely receives summer rains.   Investment in Morocco's road network has largely focused on the main transport arteries and many rural areas can be reached only by dirt tracks that are vulnerable to extreme weather.   Every year, nearly 3,500 people are killed on the North African country's roads.
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 09:54:04 +0100 (MET)
By Joseph Schmid

Paris, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - A nationwide strike shut down public transport, schools and other services across France on Thursday as unions kicked off an open-ended strike against President Emmanuel Macron's plans for a "universal" pension system they say will force millions of people to work longer.

Parents scrambled to organise daycare as teachers walked off the job or were unable to get to work, and many employees were working from home or forced to take the day off as trains, metros and buses were cancelled.   Union leaders have vowed to keep up their protest unless Macron drops the pension overhaul, the latest move in the centrist president's push to reform wide swathes of the French economy.   "The idea of social concertation that Macron says is so important in fact doesn't exist," the head of the CGT union, Philippe Martinez, said on BFM television Thursday.

Around 90 percent of high-speed TGV trains as well as regional lines were cancelled, and Air France has axed 30 percent of domestic flights and 15 percent of short-haul international routes.   In Paris, 11 of the 16 metro lines were shut down and others had just bare-bones service during the morning rush hour, and the Eiffel Tower turned away tourists because of the strike.   "There are not enough employees to open the monument in secure conditions," the tower's operator said in a statement.

The strike -- which is open-ended and could last several days -- has drawn comparisons with the showdown between government and unions over pensions in November-December 1995, when the country was paralysed for around three weeks.   Unions won that battle, and are banking on widespread support from both public and private-sector workers against Macron's reform.   The government has yet to unveil the details of the project, but officials have conceded that people will have to work longer for the system to remain financial viable.

- Outcome uncertain -
The strikes will be a major test of whether Macron, a former investment banker who came to power on the back of a promise to transform France, has the political strength to push through one of his key campaign pledges.   He has already succeeded in controversial labour and tax reforms aimed at encouraging hiring, as well as an overhaul of the state rail operator SNCF, long seen as an untouchable union bastion.

He has also largely seen off the "yellow vest" protests against declining living standards that erupted a year ago, but that anger could feed into the latest protest.   "The moment of truth for Macron," the Le Monde daily wrote in Thursday's edition. "The next days are a decisive test for the head of state."   The SNCF said international lines including the Eurostar and Thalys services were severely disrupted, and Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said Wednesday that he expected just three in 10 schools would be able to open.

- 'Special regimes' -
The strike is the latest in a series of protests against Macron this year by the "yellow vests" as well as police, firefighters, teachers, hospital workers and lawyers.   Macron wants to implement a "universal" retirement system that would do away with 42 "special regimes" for sectors ranging from rail and energy workers to lawyers and Paris Opera employees, which often grant workers higher pensions or early retirement.

But unions say the changes would effectively require millions of private-sector workers to work beyond the legal retirement age of 62 if they want to receive the full pension they have been promised.   Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who has acknowledged French workers will gradually have to work longer, is set to unveil details of the reform on December 12.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said Wednesday that some 250 demonstrations are expected nationwide, warning that a radical fringe of protesters could cause trouble.   Paris police chief Didier Lallement said around 6,000 members of the security forces would be deployed in the capital alone, with 180 motorbikes used to respond fast to any rioting.   Two major demonstrations are planned for Paris that will converge on the Place de la Nation, with officials ordering Paris businesses along the routes to close on Thursday.   British low-cost carrier EasyJet has cancelled 223 domestic and short-haul international flights and warned others risk being delayed.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 08:13:04 +0100 (MET)
By Sofia CHRISTENSEN

Johannesburg, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - South African Airways was placed under a state-led rescue plan on Thursday as part of a massive restructuring following a costly week-long strike last month.   Thousands of South African Airways (SAA) staff walked out on November 15 after the cash-strapped airline failed to meet a string of demands, including higher wages and job in-sourcing.   The strike was called off the following week after SAA management and unions eventually clinched a deal.

But the walkout dealt a severe blow to the debt-ridden airline, which has failed to make a profit since 2011 and survives on government bailouts.   "The Board of SAA has adopted a resolution to place the company into business rescue," said a statement by South Africa's Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, adding that the decision was also supported by the government.   "It must be clear that this is not a bailout," said Gordhan. "This is the provision of financial assistance in order to facilitate a radical restructure of the airline."   South Africa is struggling to get state-owned companies back on track after nine years of corruption and mismanagement under former president Jacob Zuma.

- Costly strike -
Its national airline -- which employs more than 5,000 workers and is Africa's second largest airline after Ethiopian Airlines -- had been losing 52 million rand ($3.5 million) a day during the strike.   SAA's board said the business rescue, scheduled to start immediately, was decided after consultations with shareholders and the public enterprises department "to find a solution to our company's well-documented financial challenges".   "The considered and unanimous conclusion has been to place the company into business rescue in order to create a better return for the company's creditors and shareholders," said the SAA board of directors in a statement.

Business practitioners were set to be appointed "in the near future" to oversee the process, they added.   Unions did not immediately respond to AFP's requests for comment.   They have agreed to a 5.9-percent wage increase backdated to April, but which would only start to be paid out next March depending on funding.   SAA had initially refused any pay rise.    The cash-strapped airline needs two billion rand ($136 million) to fund operations through the end of March.   "SAA understand that this decision presents many challenges and uncertainties for its staff," said the board.   "The company will engage in targeted communication and support for all its employee groups at this difficult time."
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 07:01:49 +0100 (MET)

Manila, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - The number of people killed by Typhoon Kammuri's pounding of the Philippines this week has hit 13, officials said Thursday, as authorities confirmed reports of storm-related deaths.   Kammuri's fierce winds toppled trees and flattened flimsy homes across a swathe of the nation's north on Tuesday, and forced a rare 12-hour shutdown of Manila's international airport.   Authorities said on Wednesday one person had drowned while three died after being hit by trees and flying objects.

Disaster officials did not offer details on how the other victims died, but local police reports indicated some may have drowned or been crushed by trees.   Mark Timbal, spokesman for the national disaster agency, said no new bodies have been found but the death toll could rise as reports on the ground are verified.    "There is the possibility of an increase in the number, but we are hoping against it," Timbal told AFP.    Hundreds of thousands of people living in exposed or low-lying areas were evacuated from their homes before Kammuri made landfall late Monday, which authorities said had saved lives.

Still the storm damaged 135 schools and destroyed nearly 1,200 homes, with crop damage in the hardest hit areas estimated to reach nearly $16 million.   The Philippines is hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year, killing hundreds and putting people in disaster-prone areas in a state of constant poverty.    President Rodrigo Duterte is scheduled to visit on Thursday the Bicol region, a peninsula south of Manila which was hit hard by the typhoon.     Ninoy Aquino International Airport was closed half of Tuesday as a precaution, affecting over 500 flights, while roughly half the day's programme at the Southeast Asian Games, hosted by Manila and nearby cities, had to be postponed.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 05:14:37 +0100 (MET)

Bogota, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - Thousands of protesters took part in anti-government demonstrations in Colombia's capital Bogota and other cities Wednesday during the country's third general strike in two weeks.   Strike leaders say they intend to maintain pressure on right-wing President Ivan Duque's government, after brushing aside his appeals to cancel the strike on the grounds its effects were crippling the economy.   But crowds were smaller than previous demonstrations as protests took place for a 14th consecutive day.   Some roads were blocked in the capital and in the northeastern city of Cali, but many businesses remained open.   Around 250,000 people took part in the first demonstration against Duque's 15-month-old government on November 21, when the initial general strike brought the country to a standstill.

Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutierrez estimated that 40,000 people took part in demonstrations across the country on Wednesday, but organizers said the number of participants was much higher.   "The Colombian people have woken up!" shouted Paola Jiminez, a 41-year-old lawyer taking part in a pot-banging "cacerolazo" demonstration in Bogota.   "Colombians are finding it more and more difficult financially," she said.   A student taking part in one of several peaceful protests in Bogota, who gave his name as Nicolas, held up a banner saying: "The state lies more than my ex."

Police were deployed in nearby streets, but there were no confrontations of the kind that have marred some protests over the last two weeks, during which four people died. Some 500 have been injured.   On Tuesday, the Colombian National Strike Committee -- comprising unions, students and teacher organizations, indigenous groups and the opposition -- met directly with Duque's advisors for the first time, but reached no agreement.    Another meeting was scheduled for Thursday.

Under fire for his economic policies and corruption in the country, Duque launched a national dialogue with mayors and other officials 10 days ago.   The strike committee has presented Duque with a list of 13 demands, including the withdrawal of his proposed tax reforms, and full compliance with the 2016 peace deal with FARC guerrillas.   Among them is a call to dismantle the feared ESMAD riot police, widely criticized for its heavy handed response to protesters.   Duque has yielded to some of the demands on tax reform, announcing the return of Value Added Tax to the poorest 20 percent of the population and benefits for companies that hire young people.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 00:51:07 +0100 (MET)
By Neil SANDS

Wellington, Dec 4, 2019 (AFP) - Samoa entered a two-day lockdown Thursday as authorities launched an unprecedented mass vaccination campaign to contain a deadly measles outbreak that has devastated the Pacific island nation.   Officials ordered all businesses and non-essential government services to close, shut down inter-island ferry services and told private cars to keep off the roads.

Residents were advised to stay in their homes and display a red flag if they were not yet immunised as hundreds of vaccination teams fanned out across the nation of 200,000 in the early hours of the morning.   The operation, carried out under emergency powers invoked as the epidemic took hold last month, is a desperate bid to halt an inexorably rising death toll that reached 62 on Thursday, most of them young children.   "I've seen mass mobilisation campaigns before, but not over an entire country like this," UNICEF's Pacific island chief Sheldon Yett told AFP.   "That's what we're doing right now. This entire country is being vaccinated."

Immunisation rates in Samoa were about 30 percent before the outbreak and have risen to more than 55 percent since a compulsory mass vaccination campaign began a fortnight ago.   Yett said the aim of this week's two-day drive was to push the rate above 90 percent, which should help curb the current outbreak and stop future epidemics.   He said the normally busy streets of the capital Apia were almost deserted early Thursday.   "It's very, very quiet out here. I can just hear a few barking dogs. The streets are empty. There are no cars," he said.   "People are staying at home waiting for the vaccination campaign. The teams are getting their supplies together and getting ready to go out."   Even Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi's residence had a red flag fluttering outside it, with the leader saying his nephew had recently arrived from Australia and needed a measles shot.

Malielegaoi said he was angered by anecdotal reports that some parents were encouraging their children to hide from the vaccination teams to avoid the mandatory immunisation injection.    "The message is that we have vaccinated a lot of people and they are OK," he told reporters.   "The only cure for this is vaccination... having your children vaccinated is the only way."   Children are the most vulnerable to measles, which typically causes a rash and fever but can also lead to brain damage and death.

The latest figures show that 54 of the 62 dead were aged four or less and infants account for most of the 4,217 cases recorded since the outbreak began in mid-October.   There have also been measles epidemics in neighbouring Fiji and Tonga, but higher immunisation rates mean they have been more easily contained, with no fatalities.
Date: Wed, 4 Dec 2019 22:05:06 +0100 (MET)

Goma, DR Congo, Dec 4, 2019 (AFP) - Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Wednesday it was pulling its non-local staff from an eastern region of Democratic Republic of Congo after it said an armed group tried to enter its compound.    The NGO becomes the latest aid agency to withdraw its staff from the Biakato region after an unclaimed attack last week saw three Ebola workers killed at an accommodation camp in Biakato Mines in Ituri province, causing the World Health Organization to withdraw its staff from the area.     MSF and an Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC), which is treating two people with confirmed cases of Ebola and nine suspected cases, decided to stay in the Biakato region despite last week's incident.

The NGO said that on Tuesday night a group wielding machetes and sticks broke into the Biakato Health Centre, which houses the ETC, but did not cause any casualties and did not enter the Ebola facility.   A separate group with the same weapons then tried but failed to enter the MSF facility in Biakato Mines. The NGO said they threw stones but did not do any damage.   "Due to a deterioration in the security situation, MSF made the difficult decision to withdraw all non-local staff from the Biakato region," MSF said in a statement.    According to local authorities, the attackers from last week's incident are likely to be members of the Mayi-Mayi militia group.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is undergoing its 10th Ebola epidemic, which is the second deadliest on record.    An outbreak of the much-feared haemorrhagic virus has killed 2,206 people mainly in North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri, according to the latest official figures.   Insecurity has complicated the epidemic from the outset, compounding resistance within communities to preventive measures, care facilities and safe burials.   On November 4, the authorities said more than 300 attacks on Ebola health workers had been recorded since the start of the year, leaving six dead and 70 wounded, some of them patients.
Date: Wed, 4 Dec 2019 15:50:07 +0100 (MET)
By Ish MAFUNDIKWA, with Zinyange AUNTONY in Bulawayo

Harare, Dec 4, 2019 (AFP) - The floor is dusty, the walls filthy and the furniture decrepit, but for two weeks last month a tiny flat in a Harare township was transformed into a maternity clinic where scores of babies were born.   Its owner, 69-year-old Esther Gwena, says she helped to deliver 250 infants as Zimbabwe's health sector tottered -- a feat that earned comparisons to Florence Nightingale, the pioneer of modern nursing.

Hundreds of junior medics at state hospitals began a strike three months ago because their salaries -- less than $200 a month -- are not enough to live on in a country gripped by 500 percent inflation.   Nurses are only working two days a week.   Those who can't afford private care -- the majority of the 14 million people reeling under an economic crisis compounded by acute food shortages -- suffer at home or seek help from people like Gwena.   Senior doctors, in a letter last week, said state hospitals had become a "death trap" and warned of a "slow genocide".   Gwena, a widow and member of the local Apostolic Faith sect, is a self-taught midwife.   When the health services strike peaked last month, she came to the rescue.

- 'I had to do something' -
"A man came to me and said there were two women in advanced labour at (a nearby clinic) but the place was closed because the nurses were on strike," she told AFP in her two-room flat in Mbare township.   She rushed there and found that one of the women had a baby which had died.   "I took the other one to my place, where I helped her. The baby survived. From that time, I knew I had to do something," she said.   Word that she was helping deliver babies for free spread quickly.

The state-owned television ZBC described her as "a modern Zimbabwean version of Florence Nightingale" and First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa visited Gwena and donated food, detergents and blankets.   A funeral services company chipped in with a mobile water tank and pitched a tent outside to serve as a waiting room for women before they went into advanced labour.   "I helped to deliver 250 babies ... (they) are alive and kicking and at home with their mothers," Gwena said.   Two weeks later, the government asked her to stop after a nearby maternity clinic reopened.   Winnie Denhere, 35, cradled her two-day-old baby boy outside the clinic, where she had taken him for an immunisation injection.   "Everything went very well, she didn't ask us for money," she said, speaking of Gwena, who brought her child into the world.

- 'People dying' -
But while some laud Gwena as a selfless do-gooder, doctors worry that she exposed herself, the mothers, the babies to infection.   "We need to do something about our facilities so no one goes to her," Harare's director of medical services Prosper Chonzi, said.   Medicines have been in short supply and broken machines go unrepaired.   The government has fired 448 junior octors for striking.    Senior doctors last week also stopped work in protest over the sacking of junior colleagues. Dozens marched in Harare on Monday.   "People dying has become the order of the day in our hospitals," said the vice-president of the Senior Hospital Doctors Association Raphael Magota.

He told AFP machines were breaking down and that intensive care units were only able to treat two or three people "due to lack of equipment".     A senior doctor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the situation has become untenable.   "There is no public health in Zimbabwe at the moment; everything has come to a standstill," he said.   Even the scarce equipment is often not right.   "One needs gloves that fit just right when performing delicate operations, but we get old gloves that are too big," said another doctor.   A UN special rapporteur on food security, Hilal Elver, last week spoke of "disturbing information" that public hospitals had exhausted food stocks, forcing them to seek humanitarian aid and that medical equipment in some cases was "no longer operational".

In the second largest city of Bulawayo, Zimbabweans living abroad are helping in a small way by crowdfunding and sending money back home to offer health care for the vulnerable.   One such initiative is Citizwean Clinic, which opened its doors last month and attended to hundreds of patients in the first five days -- providing free consultation and drugs.   "We go to the hospital these days it's bad, there are no doctors. We heard that there were doctors here," said hypertensive patient Elina Dzingire, 63.    "We've really been helped here," she told AFP from the clinic in the city's Cowdray Park township.    Health Minister Obadiah Moyo admitted the situation in hospitals is constrained but says the government will soon advertise the posts left vacant by the sacked doctors.
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2019 13:55:04 +0100 (MET)
By Ron LOPEZ

Manila, Dec 3, 2019 (AFP) - Typhoon Kammuri killed at least two people in the Philippines on Tuesday as it tore roofs off houses and forced the international airport in Manila to shut down.   The storm roared ashore late Monday and passed south of Manila -- home to 13 million people -- and thousands of athletes at the regional Southeast Asian Games.   Just before it exited into the South China Sea, the typhoon killed two people in the central island of Mindoro, where one man was crushed by a falling tree and another killed by a flying piece of lumber, police said.    Ahead of the storm's arrival a 33-year-old man was electrocuted on Monday while securing a roof against the winds, which by late Tuesday weakened to a maximum of 130 kilometres (81 miles) per hour.

Authorities were still assessing the storm's impact, but a small local airport was seriously damaged, many power poles toppled and homes were battered.   "A lot of trees fell... There were a lot of roofs flying during the typhoon too," said Junie Castillo, a disaster officer in one of the areas first hit.   Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport was "closed for operations" due to high winds, leaving nearly 500 flights cancelled, general manager Ed Monreal told AFP.   Flights would resume at 11:00 pm (1500 GMT), Monreal later told a news conference.   One of the terminals AFP visited, which would normally be bustling with morning departures, was occupied by a handful of staff and stranded passengers.

One traveller, 23-year-old Canadian Constance Benoit, was hit with a nearly day-long delay to her flight back home.   She had arrived in Manila on a typhoon-buffeted flight Monday morning from the central island of Cebu.   "It was the most turbulent flight I ever took in my life," she told AFP. "I just discovered what airsickness is."   About 340,000 people had been evacuated from their homes in the central Bicol region, disaster officials said.   The Philippines is hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year, killing hundreds and putting people in disaster-prone areas in a state of constant poverty.   The country's deadliest cyclone on record was Super Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in 2013.

- Games rescheduled -
Kammuri had already snarled some plans for the SEA Games, which opened Saturday and are set to run through December 11 in and around Manila.   The typhoon forced organisers to reschedule about half of the events set for Tuesday, but they pledged the competition would finish on time.   Kammuri wrought particular havoc on water-based and outdoor competitions, causing more than a dozen events to be postponed.   The storm is another difficulty for the Games, which suffered from a string of logistical glitches and a rush of last-minute construction in the run-up to Saturday's opening.    The competition, which is spread across three main sites that are hours' drive apart, includes a Games-record 56 sports and dozens of venues.   Around 8,750 athletes and team officials are expected at this year's 30th edition -- the biggest ever -- along with another 12,000 volunteers.
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2019 06:24:08 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, Dec 3, 2019 (AFP) - A man and woman have been rescued after surviving two weeks in Australia's arid outback on little more than vodka, groundwater and biscuits, but a third person is still missing, police said Tuesday.   The three friends set out to explore the country's vast sun-baked interior near Alice Springs on November 19 when their car became bogged down in a river bed.   After three days staying put and waiting for a rescue, the group feared supplies were dwindling and two of them decided to walk along a property fence line in the hope of finding help.   Police said Tuesday that a local rancher had found the man, 40-year-old Phu Tran, "slightly disorientated" but in a "good condition" a two-day walk from the vehicle.

His discovery came after Tamra McBeath-Riley, 52, was found on Sunday less than two kilometres from the same vehicle suffering from dehydration.   McBeath-Riley told public broadcaster ABC that the trio -- accompanied by their blue Staffordshire terrier Raya -- had survived by drinking pre-mixed vodka drinks and water from a hole dug for cattle, eating biscuits and sheltering in a hole dug under her car.   But the third person, 46-year-old Claire Hockridge, has not been seen since splitting from Phu two days ago.   "She was still fine when he left but we obviously are now focusing our search to identify where she is," police superintendent Pauline Vicary said.   Police were "hopeful that she's still in that condition," Vicary added, as her colleagues resumed an aerial search.   McBeath-Riley and Hockridge live in Alice Springs, while Phu was visiting from elsewhere in Australia.
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2019 06:07:45 +0100 (MET)

Wellington, Dec 3, 2019 (AFP) - The World Health Organisation warned of a "slide back" in global efforts to eliminate measles Tuesday, as the death toll from an outbreak that has killed dozens of children in Samoa continued to climb.   A total of 55 people have died since the epidemic began in mid-October, 50 of them children aged four or under, officials in the Pacific nation said Tuesday.   Another 18 infants are critically ill in hospital and the crisis shows no sign of slowing, with 153 new cases in the past 24 hours, taking the national total to 3,881 in a population of 200,000.   Emergency measures including compulsory mass immunisations and school closures have so far done little to stop the virus spreading in a country that was particularly vulnerable to measles due to low vaccination rates of about 31 percent.

World Health Organisation (WHO) medical officer for the western Pacific, Jose Hagan, said it was a grim reminder of the danger posed by "probably the most infectious disease that we know of".   "Unfortunately the case (to) fatality rate of measles is much higher than people realise," he told Radio New Zealand.   "This is quite a severe disease and we just aren't used to seeing it, so it comes as quite a surprise when we see how fatal it can be."   He said the fatality rate in Samoa was less than two percent but had been known to reach five percent in developing countries.

Hagen said increased access to measles vaccines was estimated to have saved 21 million lives over the past 20 years.   "But we are starting to have a slide back and there are outbreaks happening all over the world in all WHO regions and it's leading to the virus being exported through international travel," he said.   Cases have skyrocketed in Europe, leading to Britain, Greece, the Czech Republic and Albania all losing their measles-free status in August.   The United States narrowly maintained its "measles eliminated" status a few months later, despite experiencing its worst outbreak since 1992.   The WHO has pointed to various reasons for declining immunisation rates including lack of access to healthcare and complacency about the need to vaccinate.

Another major factor, which has been cited by the WHO as a reason for the severity of the Samoa outbreak, is misinformation about immunisation from anti-vaccine campaigners.   Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi this week said vaccination was the only answer to the epidemic.   He has ordered the government to cease non-essential operations on Thursday and Friday so public servants can help a mandatory vaccination campaign that aims to give anti-measles jabs to everyone aged below 60.