Date: Wed, 15 Apr 2015 05:07:40 +0200 (METDST)
By Jean LIOU

Jamestown, April 15, 2015 (AFP) - The tiny South Atlantic island of Saint Helena -- where Napoleon died in exile -- dreams of becoming a tourist draw when its first airport opens next year despite fears it cannot accommodate an influx of visitors.   For years only accessible by boat, St Helena has just one bank, no cash machine and no mobile telephone reception.   Sailing out to St Helena from Cape Town every three weeks, the boat journey takes five long days. Because the island is so remote, only 1,500 tourists visit each year.   But the tourism office hopes the weekly 4.5-hour passenger flights scheduled to start from Johannesburg in February 2016 will change that -- and the island's economy -- forever.   Its director Cathy Alberts says she expects 30,000 tourists a year, and voices hope that the change will help St Helena become self-sufficient.

Perched in the Atlantic half-way between Africa and South America, the island relies on Britain for most of its income -- £60 million (83 million euros, $89 million) a year -- but has its sights set on financial independence.   "We talk about 600 people per week. So it's not that much," Alberts said. "It is doable, absolutely. As the demand increases, people will start providing the services."   Visitors will have several days in St Helena, ample time to see the local sights, including the house where Napoleon, France's greatest military hero, died on May 5, 1821.   But not everyone is happy with the change.   The idea of crowds of camera-wielding tourists worries many of the island's 4,200 residents, who worry the island cannot meet such a demand.    "You can imagine the chaos on the roads," said Niall O'Keefe, who heads local development company Enterprise St Helena.

- Island life threatened? -
Local officials say change would not come instantaneously.   "In 10 years, I see St Helena livelier, with more people, more restaurants, more shops," the island's governor Mark Capes said.    "But it will not be a big bang, it will not happen overnight."   Hoteliers are lobbying for a second flight to Britain, home to most of the island's tourists.   "To have two flights a week, we will need to double our hotel capacity," finance official Dax Richards said, adding that a surge in demand would swamp St Helena's meagre facilities.   Currently, the island offers just 85 tourists beds for tourists and a few self-catering units.   Beds are just part of the problem. Because of its remoteness and dependence on funding, the island's infrastructure is lacking.   Some in the tourism industry worry that well-heeled visitors will be disappointed by unprofessional service -- or problems like garbage in the Jamestown moat -- and vent their disappointment on influential travel websites.

Others fear something worse: that the island could lose its soul.   "I hope we don't lose our cohesion, our sense of solidarity," tour guide Basil George said. "That's my fear with the airport, not the airport itself."   Building the airport has already disturbed the island, which is framed by craggy volcanic cliffs soaring hundreds of metres  above sea level and enjoys a mild climate despite being located near the equator.   A construction crew of 600 has had a big impact during the four-year project, which included chipping away at a mountain and backfilling an entire valley.    Today the runway, 1,950 metres (yards) long and 45 metres wide, ends just before the cliff drops a dramatic 300 metres into the Atlantic Ocean.    Funded by the British government and built by a South African construction company, the airport cost £250 million (350 million euros, $370 million).

- Airport heralds revolution -
When South African airline Comair's Boeing 737-800 flights begin, up to 138 passengers will travel into St Helena each week -- roughly the same number of people who arrive every three weeks by boat.   But the runway being built at the island's eastern tip is not long enough to accommodate larger aircraft flying from Europe.    The airport project also includes the construction of a 14-kilometre (nine-mile) access road, which leads into a valley near the capital Jamestown, where a new wharf is being built for £20 million (28 million euros, $30 million).   Before the first plane lifts off, cell phone service is expected to start -- another major upheaval.   Whatever locals think, they must soon accept the inevitable reality that after years in isolation, St Helena is joining the rest of the world.
Date: Mon, 13 Apr 2015 08:54:35 +0200 (METDST)
By Jean LIOU

Jamestown, Saint Helena, April 13, 2015 (AFP) - Saint Helena's major claim to fame is as the place where the fallen French emperor Napoleon died in exile, but now the destiny of the tiny island is about to change with the opening of its first airport next year.   Framed by craggy volcanic cliffs soaring 800 metres (2,600 feet) above sea level, the South Atlantic island measures just 122 square kilometres (75 square miles) -- smaller than central Paris.   Uninhabited when it was discovered by the Portuguese in 1502, Saint Helena was founded under British rule in 1659.   It now has 4,200 inhabitants, about 850 living in the small capital of Jamestown, the only port, located on the island's northwestern coast.

Despite being close to the equator with a latitude of 15 degrees South, St Helena has a varied climate, with a cactus-studded dry coast and humid interior lush with eucalyptus trees and Ireland-like pastures.   Its closest neighbour is Ascension Island, another British territory 1,200 kilometres (750 miles) to the northwest. Angola is nearly 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) to the east, the Brazilian coast 2,900 kilometres (1,800 miles) to the west.

With its steep cliffs and rocky outcrops close to the shore, the island is particularly perilous.   Its isolation and hostile terrain -- the fort-like cliffs make defending the island easy -- have long made St Helena a prized possession of the British who have sent their most reviled and dangerous enemies to perish there.   In 1815, Napoleon was banished to the island until his death in 1821. After him, the Zulu chief Dinizulu kaCetshwayo was sent there in 1890. A decade later, some 6,000 prisoners of the Boer war followed.   The colonial policy of island exile continued as recently as 1957, when three Bahraini princes opposing British policy in the Middle East were sent to St Helena.

Currently, the only way to get to the island is by boat -- usually a five-day journey from Cape Town.   But that will change in February 2016, when St Helena starts a weekly flight service to Johannesburg.   St Helena, an overseas British territory, has its own pound notes and coins featuring images of the Queen. The currency is fixed at parity with the British pound sterling.   The island issues stamps -- one of its few sources of income -- and is set to introduce cell phone service by the end of 2015.

St Helenians, or "Saints" as they are known, enjoy British nationality. That privilege was revoked in 1983 by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher but restored in 2002.   The country elects an assembly of 12 members, five of who sit on local government, chaired by a governor sent from London.   Living mostly on British grants and expat income, St Helena imports almost everything it needs from Britain and South Africa.   Its exports include fish, mostly tuna, and some coffee. Yet many hope the new airport will turn tourism into a major source of revenue.
Date: Tue, 17 Mar 2015 08:53:37 +0100 (MET)

Jamestown, Saint Helena, March 17, 2015 (AFP) - The remote South Atlantic island of Saint Helena, where French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled, is to get its first commercial air service, officials have announced.   The government of Saint Helena, a British territory, said Monday that final negotiations were underway for Comair to fly once a week from Johannesburg to a new airport due to open next year.

The Boeing 737 138-seat flight will take four and half hours -- in stark contrast to the five days it currently takes on an irregular boat service from Cape Town.   "This marks a very positive step for St Helena in working with an airline... which provides an excellent gateway to the rest of the world," the island government said in a statement.

The airport is likely to trigger an influx of tourists to Saint Helena, where Napolean was exiled in 1815 after his defeat by the British at Waterloo.   He died on the island in 1821.   Saint Helena, which now has 4,200 inhabitants, was a busy stop-over point between Europe, Asia and South Africa until steam ships and the Suez Canal changed sea routes.   Comair, which has a license agreement with British Airways, is a South African aviation company founded in 1946.
Date: Tue, 10 Apr 2012 08:22:33 +0200 (METDST)

WASHINGTON, April 10, 2012 (AFP) - A moderate 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck near Ascension Island in the mid-Atlantic early Tuesday, according to the US Geological Survey, though there were no immediate reports of damage. The quake struck 905 kilometers (562 miles) southwest of Monrovia, Liberia at 0509 GMT at a depth of nine kilometers, according to the USGS, which did not issue any tsunami warning.
Date: Mon, 27 Dec 2010 14:16:18 +0100 (MET)

DAMASCUS, Dec 27, 2010 (AFP) - Swine flu has killed three people in Syria so far this month, a health ministry official said on Monday.   "Three deaths were recorded," said Hala al-Khayer, the director of communicable diseases at the Syrian ministry of health.   Those who died were hospitalised in December seriously ill with the disease, Khayer told AFP, adding a fourth person was cured.

The World Health Organisation declared the swine flu pandemic over in August, more than a year after the virus that emerged from Mexico sparked panic and killed thousands of people around the world before fizzling out.   Swine flu has killed 163 people out of almost 36,000 cases reported in 76 countries, according to the WHO.
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