FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Friday - March 17, 2017

Two new flags will be flying high at the Olympic Games in Rio.

(Kosovo's Majlinda Kelmendi. © AP)For the first time, South Sudan and Kosovo have been recognized by the International Olympic Committee. Kosovo, which was a province of the former Yugoslavia, will have 8 athletes competing; and a good shot for a medal in women's judo: Majlinda Kelmendi is considered a favorite. She's ranked first in the world in her weight class.

(South Sudan's James Chiengjiek, Yiech Biel & coach Joe Domongole, © AFP) South Sudan, which became independent in 2011, will have three runners competing in the country's first Olympic Games.

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in Brazil (37)

Wednesday
Jun052013

Brazil tries to defuse conflicts with Indigenous people over land (REPORT) 

(VIDEO:  This is a visit to the Kaingang people in the Paraná state. By rcazangi, 12/1/12)

(HN, 6/5/13) - Lawmakers from the Brazilian farm state of Mato Grosso do Sul asked President Dilma Rousseff's government to send troops to end land invasions by indigenous people claiming their ancestral territory.

Justice Minister Jose Cardozo said a request for troops would have to come from the state governor and announced he will meet with the indigenous people on Thursday in a bid to reach a settlement. The government is seeking to defuse mounting conflicts with indigenous tribes over farm land and hydroelectric dams in the Amazon.

(PHOTO: Brazil Justice Minister, Jose Cardozo/BrazilPortal) troops MERCOPRESSAir Force planes flew 144 Munduruku Indians to Brasilia for talks to end a week-long occupation of the controversial Belo Monte dam on the Xingu River, a huge project aimed at feeding Brazil's fast-growing demand for electricity.

Tensions escalated last week on a farm in Mato Grosso do Sul that was invaded last week for a second time by Terena Indians angered by the fatal shooting of one of their tribe's members.

"We must avoid radicalizing a situation that goes back a long way in Brazilian history. We're not going to put out the flames by throwing alcohol on the bonfire," Cardozo told reporters after meeting the lawmakers.

In Rio Grande do Sul state some 2,000 Kaingang and Guarani Indians were blocking roads to protest the government's decision to put on hold the granting of ancestral lands to indigenous communities, a concession to Brazil's powerful farm lobby.

"The government has abandoned us. Dilma isn't supporting indigenous peoples," Indian chief Deoclides de Paula said by telephone from a blocked highway.

(PHOTO: Panoramic view of Curitiba, Brazil/Wikipedia)In Curitiba, the Parana state capital, 30 Kaingang Indians invaded the offices of the ruling Workers' Party on Monday and only agreed to leave 10 hours later when they were promised a meeting with Rousseff's chief of staff, Gleisi Hoffmann.

Hoffmann, who will run for governor of Parana next year, said May 8 the role of the government's Indian affairs office, Funai, in land decisions would be restricted.

Cardozo, however, stressed on Tuesday that Funai will not be gutted and would continue to play a central role as the main institution that defends Indian rights, though others will be brought in to improve the process of deciding ancestral lands.

(PHOTO: Munduruku Indians, many of who are flying for the 1st time, board a Brazilian Air Force plane to fly to Brasilia for talks with the government, in Altamira June 4, 2013/Lunae ParrachoThe policy change has fueled protests across Brazil and the government is scrambling to avert more violence after a 35-year-old Indian man was shot as police evicted 200 Terena from the disputed cattle ranch of a former congressman.

Angry Terena Indians armed with sticks, bows and arrows reoccupied the property on Friday and set fire to fields.

Late on Monday, a local judge extended for 36 hours the eviction order, allowing more time for a peaceful resolution.

Brazil's indigenous land policy, established in the country's constitution, is considered one of the most progressive in the world, with about 13 percent of the huge South American nation's territory already set aside for Indians.

Farmers say Funai is trying to create reservations on land that has belonged to European-descended settlers for 150 years.

In another move to ease tensions with the indigenous population, one of Rousseff's ministers, Gilberto Carvalho, met in Brasilia with Munduruku Indians, who are from the Tapajos, the only major river in the Amazon basin with no dams. They want the government to shelve plans to build a dozen dams there.

Last week they paralyzed work at one of three building sites at Belo Monte, slated to become the world's third-largest dam capable of producing 11,233 megawatts of electricity, equivalent to about 10 percent of Brazil's current generating capacity.

(PHOTO: CGI rendition of the main dam, Belo Monte/Wikipedia)Belo Monte, a pet project of Rousseff that was the target of international criticism by environmental groups, has become a stage for Indians from other parts of the Amazon.

"We went to see for ourselves what a hydroelectric dam is and we saw that it has nothing good in store for us," a Munduruku leader told Carvalho, adding that promised development had not benefited the Indians of the Xingu. "We saw Indians being humiliated and we do not want that for our region."

 - This article originally appeared in the Buenos Aires Herald.

Tuesday
Mar052013

Dengue Fever: 200,000 cases confirmed in triple frontier = Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil (REPORT)

 

(Video DengueInfo)

(HN, 3/5/13) - Paraguay, north Argentina & Brazil are in dengue fever alert following the confirmation of over 200,000 cases of the mosquito transmitted viral disease so far this year. The situation is considered worse than in previous years because of a deep rise in the confirmed cases, the circulation of all four sero-types (strains) of dengue (1, 2, 3 and 4) having been detected - and this also means the disease keeps expanding.

Paraguay has admitted 14,987 confirmed cases and at least 17 deaths in the first two months of the year with the tendency to increase. The situation is similar in Argentina particularly in the northern provinces of Salta, Jujuy, Cordoba, Santa Fe, Chaco and Formosa, plus the confirmation of the four serotypes. There are no official figures in Argentina since local officials are reluctant to release them fearing a panic situation.

Brazilian figures suggest that more than 200,000 people were infected in the first seven weeks of 2013 compared to 70,000 in the same period last year with the southern state of Matto Grosso do Sul the hardest hit.

Officials said the cases were likely to increase as the rainy season advances the risk of reproduction of the mosquito which transmits the disease, Aedes Aegypti.

However Brazilian Health Minister Alexandre Padilha revealed that despite the higher incidence, the cases had been less severe than those recorded last year. He said 33 people had died from the flu-like disease in the first seven weeks of 2013 compared to 41 last year.

According to Mr. Padilha, these figures showed that the authorities were following the right strategies in their fight against the fever. He said extra training given to health care professionals and improvements to the network of basic care providers had clearly paid off.

But Mr. Padilha warned state authorities not to let down their guard as the rainy season could exacerbate the situation, with standing water providing an ideal breeding ground for the mosquitoes carrying the disease.

(MAP: World Health Organization) Apart from Mato Grosso do Sul, seven other states across southern and central Brazil have been affected by the epidemic. More than half of the cases have been caused by the Den-4 strain of the virus, which was first detected in Brazil in 2011.

Mr. Padilha said that because the strain was still relatively new to the country, more people were susceptible to infection. There are four known types of dengue fever (strain). Once people are infected by one type, they become immune to that variation, but not to other strains.

Dengue causes a flu-like illness, occasionally lethal and is the leading cause of serious illness and death among children in some Asian and Latin American countries. There is not specific treatment, but early detection, medical care reduces fatality rates of dengue/severe dengue to below 1%.

The disease is spread in tropical and sub-tropical climates, mostly urban and semi-urban areas. The global incidence has grown dramatically and now about half the of the world's population is now at risk.

(Read more at Mercopress)

Thursday
Jun282012

Rio+20 and the road ahead (PERSPECTIVE) 

(PHOTO: Protestors in Rio de Janeiro at Rio+20 last week/YnetNewsBy Antonio Patriota

Rio+20 is a landmark for the future. As more than 190 countries gathered in Rio de Janeiro last week for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, we witnessed a historic moment. The recent global crisis shows that old-fashioned views about development are misleading. It is now time to rethink the very foundations of how we consider development, wellbeing and wealth.

Over the past four decades, the world has increasingly realized that our natural resources are under serious pressure.

A growing awareness of the need to ensure sustainability has led a new generation to consider the requirements of sustainable development in its decisions to produce or consume. This is no small achievement. Rio 1992 was a major step forward. Important legal texts on key issues were adopted. These conventions ensured important progress that we must maintain and build on.

We now face a complex challenge. Protecting the environment is not enough. We need to encourage public and private decision-makers to incorporate environmental and social concerns into economic planning and growth strategies. This will require a new thinking from policymakers, experts, business people, project managers and many other public and private actors in order to plan and implement sustainable development initiatives.

From now on, a three-dimensional approach to development is crucial, one that combines social, economic and environmental concerns. Rio+20 is the launch pad for this new development model. This is why one of the main topics of Rio+20 was to build consensus around the need for "sustainable development goals". They offer a blueprint for international cooperation on sustainable development for years to come.

In order to achieve this result, Brazil decided to adopt new methods. Innovative tools for multilateral meetings were introduced, bringing national governments and global civil society together. Through an online platform, more than 1 million votes were cast, expressing views on 10 issues related to the conference. Topics ranged from energy and water to sustainable cities and food security. During four days in Rio, sharing the venue of the summit, experts, businessmen, activists and journalists engaged in live debates and streamlined the proposals that will be handed to the heads of state and government. It was so successful that the United Nations is now considering turning this initiative into a standard practice for future summits.

Rio+20 involves an assessment of the past 20 years and allows for a look into the next few decades. We are confident that this message will echo through the years, fostering new initiatives which can lead to a more sustainable future for all.

-- Antonio Patriota is minister of external relations, Brazil. The views expressed by the author are personal. This commentary originally appeared HERE in the Hindustan Times.

Monday
May142012

Historic Brazil, Mexico Droughts Cause Distress, Economic Conflict (REPORT) 

(Video IBNTimes)

(HN, 5/14/12) - In Brazil the worst drought in 30 years is underway in the country's  poor north-eastern region, destroying crops and prompting officials to limit water use in the 266 districts that have declared a state of emergency.  Lakes have dried up, forcing thousands of families who live in remote areas to walk miles in order to pick up water.

The agriculture secretary in the town of Maracas, Gilmar Rocha, said the drought problems have become constant in the region.  "The local neighborhood of Porto Alegre, is located close to the Contas' river, and we use the river's water in our homes. But the river is drying up and the problems are constant now," he said.

As a result of the drought, ranchers have been struggling to feed and water cattle while farmers have been left to watch their crops shrivel into the dusty soil.  Forty-two-year-old Jose Oliveira de Sousa, who works at a raft station in the district of Maracas, said many of his colleagues have been left unemployed as a result of the drought.

"Everyone is going through a big crisis because of the drought. Our jobs have been taken away from us, from the fishermen to the farmers to the boat and raft operators," he said.

According to weather experts, the drought may last up to October. The drought in the Southern hemisphere is caused by La Nina, which is cooling equatorial Pacific waters.

- By Marisa Krystian originally for IBNTimes

(PHOTO: A northern Mexico river location/El Universal) In Mexico a cold and dry winter in the north of the country has exacerbated conditions there with reports of widespread famine, escalating food prices and extreme dry conditions that have forced the Mexican government to truck drinking water to nearly a half million residents in remote villages across six northern states where lakes and ground wells have run dry.

In addition, Mexican aid workers have been offering food rations throughout the winter to more than 2 million residents who are desperately clinging to life in a region that is experiencing its driest period on record. 

The drought is credited with destroying some 7.5 million acres of cultivable land in 2011 and is responsible for $1.18 billion in lost harvests and has destroyed about 60,000 head of cattle and weakened 2 million more causing a substantial spike in food prices.

Officials say acute food and grain shortages caused Mexico’s imports to soar 35% last year and they could go even higher in 2012 as conditions worsen.

Dr. Mark Welch, grain marketing economist with Texas AgriLife Extension in College Station, says while Texas is not a big corn producing state, he thinks shortages for grain and food corn will cause many US growers to look hard at market potential in Mexico in the months ahead.

“We have been watching corn imports trend higher in Mexico over the last 25 years, but the recent spike related to the drought there is significant as it is not just yellow corn that is in demand, but white corn for food,” Welch says.

In Mexico the shortage of white corn is marked by higher food prices and a shortage in tortillas, a food staple for Mexican families.

(MAP: El Universal) “And this is not the first time we have seen an extreme shortage. The last time was in 2008 when corn shortages caused a tortilla crisis that resulted in riots and price limit controls by federal authorities,” he added.

Welch says even if drought conditions improve in Northern Mexico over the summer months, the trend for white corn imports are expected to trend upward.

“The demand for grain corn may be directly associated with the drought in Northern Mexico. Once conditions improve there we will see Mexican grain corn imports leveling off. But white corn imports have been trending up for several years, and it could be that a growing population base is driving demand - and I expect that to continue,” he says.

Meanwhile, Mexico continues to struggle with more than just grain shortages as a result of dry conditions. The 2011 price of beans has doubled in just over a year, and consumers are feeling the pinch in other food staples. On a whole, prices for basic foods—including beans, tortillas, vegetable oil, meat and dairy - rose 45% in 2011, and since October last year prices have exploded another 35%.

While the situation is most dire in the impoverished areas of the north, metropolitan areas including highly industrialized Monterrey are also feeling the squeeze. Recently the Mexican Red Cross estimated that some two million people are chronically hungry in the state of Nuevo Leon.

The crisis is becoming a political thorn in the side of Mexican President Felipe Calderon. While Mexico grows substantial food crops for export to the US - some $21 billion last year - it is struggling to grow enough for its resident population, a problem some argue is being driven by greed from Mexico’s upper class.

Economists say Mexico will continue to struggle with becoming more sustainable and self-sufficient, but drought conditions will continue to complicate those efforts until substantial rains fall.

-- A version of this article by Logan Hawkes appeared in the Southwest Farm Press

Monday
Apr162012

Nigeria: World Bank Presidency - US vs the World? (PERSPECTIVE) 

By Yemi Ajayi

(PHOTO: Dr. Jim Yong Kim, new World Bank President/Dartmouth College) *Since this article posted on Monday, the World Bank board voted to confirm Jim Yong Kim as the next World Bank President. He will start his tenure on June 30 when Robert Zoellick steps down from this same post.

The race for the World Bank presidency will enter the homestretch Monday when the bank's 25-member executive board votes on who succeeds its outgoing president, Robert Zoellick.

It is a defining race for the Bretton Woods institution (comprising the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) founded in 1944. It is also a race that has assumed the character of a clash between an arcane tradition and the quest for change in the way the international finance institution with the official goal of fighting poverty picks its president.

In the race for the World Bank presidency were initially three candidates: Nigeria's Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Colombian Minister of Finance, Jose Antonio Ocampo and a public health expert and president of Dartmouth College in the United States, Jim Yong Kim. The number was reduced to two last Friday with Ocampo's withdrawal for the post.

However, the candidates are merely instruments in a proxy war between Washington and its European allies, which has traditionally produced the president and the rest of the world that is clamouring for a paradigm shift in how the leadership of the World Bank emerges.

The clamour has pitted the rest of the world against the US, which is out to defend its tradition of producing the World Bank president since foundation.

(PHOTO: Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria/NigeriaMailOnline)For US President Barack Obama, he cannot afford to fail where his predecessors had succeeded. Losing out in the jostling for the post, especially in a crucial election year, is to hand the Republicans the ammunition to make a bid at undoing his attempt to renew his tenancy at the White House.

Withdrawing from the race last Friday, Ocampo, in a letter to the World Bank, said he was doing so because "it is clear that this is becoming no longer a competition on the merits of the candidates, but a political exercise."

"For me, as an economist and as a Colombian, it has been a great honour to participate in this first open competition for the presidency of the World Bank... to facilitate the desired unity of the emerging and developing economies around a candidate, today (last Friday) I am retiring from the race to support the minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who I wish the best of luck in this final stage."

If it were going to be a straight fight based on merit on a level playing field for the candidates, Okonjo-Iweala could start preparing her handover notes for her successor in Nigeria and return to the organization where she was managing director before her call to national duty last year.

Even though she was reluctant to join the race some weeks ago, her candidacy has gathered rave endorsements from the media at home and abroad, 35 former World Bank economists and managers, Africa and other developing nations since she threw her traditional headgear into the ring.

She is the official candidate of Africa and its allies who have canvassed the argument that someone with high-flying credentials and requisite experience like hers is better placed to make the World Bank deliver on its goals of helping developing nations to improve on their peoples' wellbeing.

Since March when Obama picked him as the US candidate for the post, Kim has come under global scrutiny. Despite his credentials and achievements, especially in public health, including his stint as a director of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organization, he is considered as one who lacks the "appropriate finance and economic credentials" to lead the World Bank.

(PHOTO: Jose Antonio Ocampo of Colombia/Columbia Univ) In contrast, Okonjo-Iweala has institutional knowledge, hands-on experience in development economics and public finance and has proven to be reform minded. In her first appointment as Nigeria's Minister of Finance, she superintended over the country's historical debt relief, an exercise that earned her global accolades; spearheaded the reform of the public sector in Nigeria leading to greater transparency and the monetization policy of the federal government; and championed the creation of the Excess Crude Account that largely provided a buffer for Nigeria during the global economic crisis between 2008 and 2009.

Notwithstanding his diminished credentials, Kim, by some quixotic arrangement, is most likely to succeed Zoellick who bows out on June 30 after a five-year term during which the bank provided over $247 billion to help developing countries boost growth and overcome poverty. His being the US candidate, which some analysts have described as a "wrong call," guarantees him victory under the weighted voting system that Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are calling for a review.

Under the voting system, the US, which is the bank's largest shareholder, Europe and Japan control 54 per cent of the votes. The trio has formed an alliance which ensures that the bloc votes are delivered to the US' candidate. Europe is under obligation to back the US as repayment for its support in always ensuring that the headship of the International Monetary Fund, is held by the continent under an informal pact.

According to reports at the weekend, so far, US, Russia, Canada and Japan are lining up behind Kim alongside Spain, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia and South Korea. This follows a move last Friday by the US members on the World Bank executive board to block the board from transparently assessing the outcome of the interviews of the three candidates, which took place earlier last week.

With Ocampo's withdrawal for Okonjo-Iweala, his backers - Brazil and Argentina - may team up with the three African constituencies to vote for the Nigerian minister.

However, the straw poll held by the bank's board last Friday before Ocampo's withdrawal, showed that Kim was guaranteed 36 per cent of the votes, Okonjo-Iweala about five per cent and six per cent for Ocampo. The votes reflect the voting rights of the countries or regions backing each of the candidates.

The undecided were the European Union with 29.2 per cent; India, 4.6 per cent; China, 3.4 per cent; Switzerland, 3.0 per cent; Saudi Arabia, 2.4 per cent; and Asia, 9.5 per cent bloc votes.

Monday's decision by the bank's executive board was some three weeks ago clearly encapsulated for the members by the Financial Times. The newspaper in an editorial on March 27, in which it endorsed the candidacy of Okonjo-Iweala, said: "In this less than ideal world, Mr. Kim's appointment seems inevitable. But if the Bank's shareholders wanted the best president, they would opt for Ms. Okonjo-Iweala."

Will the board heed the voice of reason as the World Bank, for the first time in its 68 years of existence, chooses between candidates?

Well, if the Nigerian minister loses, as that fact cannot be discounted, given the high stakes politics, she can take solace in the immortal word of American journalist and writer, Damon Runyon, "The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong...."

--- This editorial originally appeared in AllAfrica HERE

Monday
Apr092012

Mr. Gay World Takes Africa by Storm as Controversy Continues on the Continent (NEWS) 

(PHOTO: A billboard advertises the Mr. Gay World finals at South Africa's Gold Reef City, Johannesburg, on Sunday/MABUTI KALI)(HN, April 9, 2012) - A 32-year-old New Zealand manager for a chain of stationery stores, won the title of Mr. Gay World during the final competition that ended late Sunday at the Gold Reef City resort in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The grand finale was hosted by local stars Soli Philander and Cathy Specific, who were joined onstage by the group African Umoja, and international performers such as Ukraine's top pop star, Kamaliya and guest artist Baby M from Japan, as well as local stars Terrence Bridgett and Alexander Steyn.

Andreas Derleth, 32, a German man who lives in New Zealand won the competition which included 24 other delegates from all over the world including:  Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Hong Kong, Ireland, Mexico, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland and the United States. Only three of them are from Africa and it's also the first time black Africans took part.

Founded in 2008, the Mr. Gay World competition was created as`a positive environment for gay men to share their stories. The winner would not only have the inner beauty of confidence, self-assurance, charisma and natural leadership abilities, but would also take care of his physical beauty.'

Prizes included $25,000 in travel vouchers to enable the winner to spread his message around the world.

Gay rights have been under pressure in many parts of the globe recently - Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East - but primarily in African nations where gay rights activists have been threatened and killed and where dozens of countries have passed laws banning homosexuality.  

Of particular concern in recent years have been attacks on lesbians sometimes called "corrective rapes."

(PHOTO: Lexus sponsors the Mr. Gay World contest, Johannesburg, SA/Mr. Gay World) Prominent African politicians ridicule gays and minor politicians grab headlines by proposing even tougher anti-gay laws.

In nations such as Uganda, Zimbabwe  and Ethiopia court battles and street clashes have defined the movement with strong feelings on both sides as the continent modernizes.

Therefore, many of the African participants faced the most intense discrimination and prejudice, though the location of the event took place in South Africa - the only country on the continent where gay marriages are allowed.

The bill of rights adopted after apartheid ended in South Africa in 1994 explicitly bans `discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation'. Same-sex couples can marry and adopt children in South Africa.

Originally, Africa was to be represented by South Africa, Namibia, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, as a lack of sponsorship and funding prevented delegates from Tanzania, Ghana and Kenya from taking part.

But relentless government pressure on the Zimbabwean delegate, Taurai Zhanje, forced him to withdraw from the competition fearing the publicity was making life difficult for his mother. 

Namibia's representative, Wendelinus Hamutenya, was attacked in early December and landed in hospital but his family accompanied him to the airport for a warm send-off when he left for the competition.  "Bring the trophy home,"  Hamutenya's mother said to him.

Though he lost, a disappointed Hamutenya said he would nonetheless return to Namibia to fight "for gay rights and human rights."

Since becoming Mr. Gay Namibia, Hamutenya has lobbied for a repeal of his country’s anti-sodomy law. And he says, politicians have been receptive to his arguments.

The Ethiopian delegate, Robel Hailu, is a student in South Africa and after his candidacy was announced on Ethiopian radio a media storm broke out and his father cut off all communications.

(PHOTO: Andreas Derleth beat out 24 other contestants to be crowned Mr. Gay World/Mr. Gay World) It wasn't just African gays who faced difficulties this year however. The Chinese contestant was unable to come to Johannesburg because of anti-gay pressure there, organizers said. 

Mr. Gay World includes an essay test on the history of the gay rights movement. But the swim suit competition counts for more, according to the judges’ handbook. The seven judges from around the world include journalists and an actor.

South Africans Charl van den Berg and Francois Nel were Mr. Gay World in 2010 and 2011 respectively, bringing home the honor of winning a world event twice in a row.

"We look for the best man, whether he’s white or black or any other color," said Tore Aasheim, one of the Mr. Gay World organizers, adding he hoped more contestants from Africa would participate in future contests.

---HUMNEWS

Thursday
Apr052012

The Dangers of Journalism (REPORT) 

(Video 25 years of Reporters Without Borders)

(HN, 4/5/12) - Yesterday's suicide bombing at the newly opened National Theater of Somalia is now believed to have killed four people, including the nation's Olympics chief and FIFA head among them; just as a ceremony began in celebration of the Somali National Television's one-year anniversary.

It was meant  to be a moment of lightness in the much darkness Somalia has experienced in 25-plus years of unrest, famine, and chaos.

It also - again - highlighted the dangerous situations global journalists contend with - even at an afternoon cultural event - to tell the story.

(PHOTO: Advocates in Sri Lanka/JNEWS) Journalism, on any stage, is never safe.

Various reports say that at least 10 journalists - four of them women - were seriously injured when the blast ripped through the  theater 5 minutes into a speech by the Somali Prime Minister, Abdiwelli Mohamed.

Witnesses said they believed the bomber had been a female who mingled with the crowd before detonating. The explosion killed 4 people.  The nation's Olympics chief and FIFA head among them.

The Al-Shabaab militant group has taken responsibility.

The hurt reporters are named as (SEE PHOTOS HERE):  Said Shire Warsame of Shabelle TV, Ahmed Ali Kahiye of Radio Kulmiye; Ayaan Abdi (female) of S24 TV/Somalie 24  and Hamdi Mohamed Hassan Hiis (female) of Somali Channel TV; Deeqa Mohamed (female) of the state-run Radio Mogadishu/ Radio Mogadiscio; Mohamed Noor and Mohamed Sharif of Radio Bar-kulan; Somali National Television staffers and Abdulkadir Mohamed Hassan, and freelance journalists Suleiman Sheikh Ismail and Mulki Hassan Haile (female) of Royal TV.

Reporters Without Borders in Paris said, “We condemn this despicable attack in the strongest possible terms and our thoughts are with the many victims,”

By all accounts, being `on assignment' can sometimes mean life or death for a journalist - and not always glamorous. 

DEATH AND IMPRISONMENT

In its annual "Attacks on the Press" report, the New York-based Committee  to Protect Journalists (CPJ) detailed intimidation and deaths to journalists. 

Imprisonments of reporters worldwide shot up more than 20% to its highest level since the mid-1990s in 2011, according to the annual survey - an increase driven largely by widespread jailings across the Middle East and North Africa;  finding, 179 writers, editors, and photojournalists behind bars on December 1.  More than 34 higher than in 2010.

Additionally Iran was the world’s worst jailer, with 42 journalists behind bars. Eritrea, China, Burma, Vietnam, Syria, and Turkey also ranked among the world’s worst.

Losing their lives in 2011 were 46 journalists who were killed in the line of work around the world - undertaking dangerous assignments such as covering street protests and civil strife which reached a record level last year (2 more than 2010) as political unrest swept the Arab world. 

Reporters Without Borders puts that number at 66; and a tally by Switzerland Press Emblem Campaign says the total is as high as 106.

Photographers and camera operators made up about 40% of the overall death toll and noted an increase in the deaths of Internet journalists - who rarely have appeared in the totals before - with nine killed last year.

(Video of the moment of blast in Somalia yesterday, captured - via The Guardian)

BY  GEOGRAPHY 

Country-by-country, in 2011, Pakistan had the most deaths with seven, while Libya and Iraq followed with five each, and Mexico had three.

So far in 2012, the most hazardous duty ranks are:  Syria- 7, Somalia-3, India-2, Nigeria-2, Thailand-1, Pakistan-1, Brazil-2, Bangladesh-2, Afghanistan-1, Philippines-1

By all accounts approximately 22 journalists have died this year alone.  

They are:

Ali Ahmed Abdi, Radio Galkayo, Puntlandi - 3/4/12 in Galkayo, Somalia

Rajesh Mishra, Media Raj - 3/4/12 in Rewa, India

Abukar Hassan Mohamoud, Somaliweyn Radio - 2/28/12 in Mogadishu, Somalia

Anas al-Tarsha, Freelance - 2/24/12 in Homs, Syria

Rémi Ochlik, Freelance - 2/22/12 in Homs, Syria

Marie Colvin, Sunday Times - 2/22/12 in Homs, Syria

Rami al-Sayed, Freelance - 2/21/12 in Homs, Syria

Mario Randolfo Lopes, Vassouras na Net - 2/9/12 in Barra do Piraí, Brazil

Mazhar Tayyara, Freelance - 2/4/12 in Homs, Syria

Hassan Osman Abdi, Shabelle Media Network - 1/28/12 in Mogadishu, Somalia

Enenche Akogwu, Channels TV - 1/20/12 in Kano, Nigeria

Mukarram Khan Aatif, Freelance - 1/17/12 in Shabqadar, Pakistan

Wisut "Ae" Tangwittayaporn, Inside Phuket - 1/12/12 in Phuket, Thailand

Gilles Jacquier, France 2  - 1/11/12 in Homs, Syria

Samid Khan Bahadarzai, Melma Radio - 2/21/12  in Orgun, Afghanistan

Chandrika Rai, Navbharat, The Hitavada - 2/18/12 in Umaria, India

Paulo Roberto Rodrigues, Jornal Da Praça, Mercosul - 2/12/12 in Ponta Porá, Brazil

Meherun Runi, ATN Bangla Television - 2/1112 in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Golam Mustofa Sarowar, Maasranga Television - 2/11/12 in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Nansok Sallah, Highland FM - 1/18/12 in Jos, Nigeria

Christopher Guarin, Radyo Mo Nationwide/Tatak - 1/5/12 in General Santos City, Philippines

Shukri Abu al-Burghul, Al-Thawra/Radio Damascus - 1/3/12 in Damascus, Syria

-- HUMNEWS

Monday
Apr022012

FARC: Colombia Prepares For `Humanitarian' Hostage Release (NEWS)

(Video: ICRC)

Colombia's largest rebel group, The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), agreed to release the last ten hostages -- all soldiers and policemen, many of whom have been held in captivity for 14 years.

Set to be released on Monday and Wednesday in two groups, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) along with the former Colombian senator Piedad Córdoba  have coordinated the pick-up. Two Brazilian military helicopters are positioned near a Colombian jungle to collect the first set of hostages.

The helicopters arrived in Villavicencio airport.  The International Committee of the Red Cross is facilitating this operation after agreement between the parties involved.

The FARC rebel group is notorious for their use of kidnapping as a coercive tactic and a strategy to pressure the Colombian government, abducting 4,000 individuals in the year 2000 alone, including soldiers, police, political figures, and even civilians.

In fact, FARC rebels make a point to refer to their captives, not as hostages, but instead as "prisoners of war."

This particular release sets the stage for possible peace negotiations, after five decades of conflict between FARC rebels and the Colombian government. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos asserted that the release was a necessary condition for peace-talks.

Ms. Córdoba, who is overseeing the hostage hand-over, considers it a "unilateral gesture of peace" and stated: "Once this is finished, we'll keep working toward negotiations."

Indeed, FARC rebels have already promised to end their practice of kidnapping for ransom.

Meanwhile, the top priority for the government will be to bring these 10 hostages -- who, in Colombian foreign minister Angela Holguín's words, have "suffered such inhuman conditions" -- to safety.

Cartagena, Colombia will host the Sixth Summit of the Americas April 14th and 15th.

---HUMNEWS (A version of this article appeared on the International Business Times)

Friday
Mar302012

BRICS 4th Meeting: `Non-West, Not Anti-West' (REPORT)  

(Video via IBTIMES)

Top emerging economies, coming under the banner of BRICS, on Thursday criticized the West for financial mismanagement, called for a "merit-based" selection of the next World Bank chief, rued the slow pace of reforms in the International Monetary Fund, declared that dialogue was the only way to a peaceful resolution in Syria and Iran, but failed to go beyond motherhood statements and give the bloc a meaningful push.

The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries took baby steps towards facilitating intra-BRICS trade and investment in local currency, but failed to reach any agreement on a BRICS development bank. They signed an agreement to extend credits in local currencies under the BRICS Interbank Cooperation Mechanism.

However, the suggestion for a BRICS Development Bank was pushed to a later date, since there were major differences among the members.

Spreading themselves beyond economics, the BRICS members articulated an alternative political vision with regard to current international issues.

(PHOTO: BRICS summit handout of leader photo op; l to r, Brazil's Dilma Rousseff, Russia's Dmitry Medvedev, India's Manmohan Singh, China's Hu Jintao, South Africa's Jacob Zuma) "The views were more non-West, than anti-West", explained an official. While these were mainly broad-brush positions on current events, their importance lay in the fact that five emerging global leaders actually sat across the table to agree on these points.

In a statement at the end of the plenary session, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, "The world is passing through uncertain times. The rapid recovery of the BRICS economies from the financial crisis highlighted their role as growth drivers of the global economy. Our cooperation is intended to explore meaningful partnerships for common development, address global challenges together