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World leaders, tech CEOs meet ahead of summit against online extremism

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Thursday, May 16th, 2019

Courtesy : Reuters

World leaders and executives of large tech companies gathered in Paris on Wednesday (May 15) for discussions aimed at curbing online violence in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque attacks in New Zealand.

On Tuesday (May 14), Facebook announced steps to temporarily block users who break its rules from broadcasting live video. The tweaks to Facebook’s rules came as the White House snubbed other world leaders, who met with tech companies in Paris to back a call by New Zealand’s prime minister for stronger measures against social media hate speech.

Silicon Valley tech giants expressed their support for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s so-called “Christchurch Call,” named for the city where the gunman attacked two mosques on March 15 and broadcast his killings live.

But Washington declined to send a delegation to the meeting hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron. The White House said it would not endorse Ardern’s initiative, although it supported the broader aims.

Macron hosted Ardern, British Prime Minister Theresa May, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and other leaders on Wednesday to support Ardern’s initiative.

Signatories would “encourage media outlets to apply ethical standards when depicting terrorist events online, to avoid amplifying terrorist and violent extremist content,” although the initiative is non-binding, light on details leaves countries and companies to decide how to apply guidelines.

Countries including Australia, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, India and Sweden said they backed it, as did U.S. tech giants Microsoft, Alphabet’s Google and its video platform YouTube and Amazon.

But the White House said in a statement the United States was “not currently in a position to join the endorsement,” although it added: “we continue to support the overall goals reflected in the call”. (REUTERS)

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Mali: At least 15 killed in Bamako floods

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Friday, May 17th, 2019

Courtesy : Reuters

At least 15 people died at the start to the rainy season in Bamako, the capital of Mali, following heavy overnight rain that flooded several parts of the city on Thursday (May 16).

Torrential rain started to fall at around 3a.m. (0300gmt) and stopped around 8a.m. (0800gmt), with residents waking to flooded streets, floating cars and damaged shops.

The spokesman for the Ministry of Internal Security Amadou Sangho said the flooding had caused serious damage and rescue teams were also deployed.

At least 10 people were reported to have died in Niamakoro where a bridge was badly damaged.

There residents blamed local government for not managing the area. They said there was too much rubbish left in the streets and that it blocked the evacuation canals.

“For me this is a warning for the Niamakoro residents. the government only comes after the damage is done. We need to take care not to lose lives. they are talking about 6 to 10 people killed . And we need to be cleaner. Its because of the rubbish that it overflowed (the river),” said Moustapha Doumbia, resident of Niamakoro,

By early afternoon traffic resumed after the flood waters receded leaving behind thick mud, broken buildings and homeless residents left in the street with the few belongings they managed to rescue. (REUTERS)

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Qatar brings first newly-built 2022 World Cup stadium to life

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Friday, May 17th, 2019

Courtesy : Reuters

Qatar inaugurated the first of seven new World Cup 2022 stadiums on Thursday (May 16), just weeks before a crucial FIFA summit will decide whether to expand the tournament and potentially push it beyond the tiny Gulf state’s borders to accommodate a larger format.

Fans packed into the Al Janoub stadium, a 40,000 seat venue designed by late architect Zaha Hadid and made to resemble the sail of a dhow, or traditional wooden sailboat, to cheer on Qatari teams playing in the final of the Emir Cup, a local tournament for the country’s club sides.

The inauguration comes as soccer’s world governing body FIFA floats a plan to expand the next World Cup to 48 teams from 32, which could require a last-minute co-host despite a protracted dispute between Qatar and some of its neighbours, bans on alcohol and a lack of facilities restricting likely candidates.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have imposed a political and trade boycott on Qatar since mid-2017, accusing it of supporting terrorism, which Doha denies.

That rift has strained efforts by FIFA President Gianni Infantino to push for a suitable Word Cup co-host even as qualifying matches begin early next month.

FIFA will host its annual congress in Paris on June 5, where it is expected to make a final call on the expansion, though any decision must be signed off by Qatar, the first Arab country to win hosting rights for the tournament in 2010.

The finals will start in November 2022, having been moved from the usual June-July slot to avoid the searing summer heat.

Al Janoub, a fully air-conditioned stadium which kept the temperature 10 degrees lower than the 29 Celsius outside during Thursday’s inauguration match, was previously called Al Wakrah after the city hosting it just south of Doha.

However, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani tweeted before the match that it was being renamed.

It is one of seven venues built from scratch for the 2022 World Cup, with an eighth stadium renovated and opened in 2017.

Qatar has pushed ahead with an ambitious scale-up of its infrastructure ahead of 2022 that includes $6-8 billion on stadiums and sporting facilities, part of efforts to use the tournament to diversify its energy economy and project itself on to the world stage through sport. (REUTERS)

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Smog-ridden Mexico City suspends school classes due to pollution

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Friday, May 17th, 2019

Courtesy : Reuters

Mexico’s government ordered schools in and around Mexico City to be closed on Thursday (May 16) in an extraordinary step taken due to elevated levels of pollution in the smog-wreathed capital.

The education ministry said in a statement on Wednesday (May 15) that the measure applies to public and private schools in the Mexico City metropolitan area, which is home to well over 20 million people. It recommended that children avoid exercise, remain indoors and avoid using contact lenses.

Two of the city’s principal seats of higher learning, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the National Polytechnic Institute, also said they would suspend classes in the metropolitan area on Thursday due to the pollution.

On Tuesday (May 14) the city’s authorities declared an environmental emergency. They have come under pressure to act due to reduced visibility caused by smoke and ash in the air during an extended dry spell.

“The increase in the temperature will worsen air pollution in cities because the chemical that pollution carries is dependent on the temperature. A prediction that is materialising is that there are an increasing numbers of forest fires because there is more drought, higher temperatures,” said the Environmental Consultant for the Mexico City Government.

“We have already seen this in the United States in California. We’ve had a very clear example of this in recent years,” it added.

Smoke from nearby wildfires has pushed pollution to levels deemed potentially harmful to human health.

“There are winds over Mexico City that are bringing with them particles that are setting off fires in different areas of the metropolitan area of the Mexico City valley area. Also, we’ve been informed that hopefully, this changes by the end of the week,” said Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum.

“I have a one-and-a-half year old baby and I am looking to protect myself from getting sick, so as not to have the medical expenses and from feeling bad. It (mouth mask) is more preventative and for my baby,” said Pamela Barajas, a local resident.

“As citizens there are issues that we don’t know about, for example, with the particles (in the air) that are affecting breathing. We are affected because we suddenly feel that our eyes and nasal passages are irritated so in this respect it is alarming. And for children, there was a child that got a haemorrhage (from the pollution). So, I want to think that this (school closure) is because of the pollution and heatwave, combined with the heatwave it (pollution) is a more serious problem,” said Natividad Malpica, a local resident.

The Federal Environment Department said Wednesday that 3,800 firefighters are combating an average of about 100 fires a day in brush, scrub, agricultural and forest land throughout the country. Fire risk is highest in the spring for much of Mexico because the summer rainy season has not yet started. (REUTERS)

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