Ugandan weightlifter missing in Japan before Olympics

Ugandan weightlifter missing in Japan before Olympics
Ugandan Olympic delegation members pose with their national flags on arrival in Izumisano city, Osaka. A Ugandan athlete was reported missing by local officials Friday. (AP)
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Updated 16 July 2021

Ugandan weightlifter missing in Japan before Olympics

Ugandan weightlifter missing in Japan before Olympics
  • Julius Ssekitoleko, 20, failed to show up for a coronavirus test and was not in his hotel room
  • Ugandan sports officials said the athlete recently found out he wouldn’t compete at the Games due to quota system

TOKYO: A Ugandan weightlifter has gone missing during an Olympic training camp in Japan after learning he would not be able to compete, Japanese and Ugandan officials said Friday.
Authorities were searching for Julius Ssekitoleko, 20, who failed to show up for a coronavirus test and was not in his hotel room, host city Izumisano said in a statement.
Ugandan sports officials said the athlete had recently found out he would not be able to compete at the Games because of a quota system.
“One member of the Ugandan delegation, which the city received as a host town, has gone missing and cannot be reached,” the city near Osaka said in a statement.
“The city is making all efforts to search for the individual. We have reported the matter to police.”
The statement said Ssekitoleko was last seen shortly after midnight inside the hotel by a fellow athlete.
He failed to conduct a required PCR test by shortly after noon and the alarm was raised when he was not found in his hotel room.
Salim Musoke Ssenkungu, president of the Ugandan Weightlifting Federation, told AFP that Ssekitoleko had been training “very hard” for his first Olympic weightlifting competition but was told this week that he would not be allowed to compete and had to return home.
“If someone is there in Japan and is assuming he is going to compete but then gets bad news, of course he is going to be upset,” Ssenkungu said.
The young athlete had recently won a bronze in the Africa Weightlifting Championships and was considered experienced despite his youth, he added.
“He’s not from a rich family so it took a lot of interest and energy from him to be successful,” Ssenkungu said.
Donald Rukare, president of the Uganda Olympic Committee, said officials had only just been informed about the disappearance.
“We are also trying to find out (what happened). We are in contact with the team in Osaka,” he told AFP.
Uganda’s delegation arrived in Japan last month, headed for a pre-Games training camp in Izumisano, in Osaka region.
But a coach tested positive on arrival, and other delegation members were subsequently asked to self-isolate, with a second member later testing positive.
Virus cases are rising in Tokyo, which is under a state of emergency, and there is heavy scrutiny in Japan of infection risks linked to the Games.
Athletes and other Olympic participants are subject to strict rules including regular testing and limits on their movement.
Teams in training camps are limited to their hotels and training sites, and barred from moving around freely and interacting with local residents.
There have been claims however of some violations of the rules by Olympic participants and the government said Friday it had asked organizers to investigate and punish anyone found to be flouting the regulations.
The Games open in a week’s time, but spectators have been barred from all events in Tokyo and surrounding areas, and will be allowed into just a handful of venues outside the capital.


Deja Vu? Lebanese draw similarities between UK and Lebanon fuel shortages

A BP petrol station that has run out of fuel is seen in south London, Britain, September 27, 2021. (Reuters)
A BP petrol station that has run out of fuel is seen in south London, Britain, September 27, 2021. (Reuters)
Updated 27 September 2021

Deja Vu? Lebanese draw similarities between UK and Lebanon fuel shortages

A BP petrol station that has run out of fuel is seen in south London, Britain, September 27, 2021. (Reuters)
  • Gas station pumps ran dry in major British cities on Monday
  • Until recently, Lebanon had been subsidising the price of gasoline by providing dollars to importers

LONDON: Hours of queues at gas stations in Britain have left Lebanese in the country reeling from an unpleasant deja vu as the UK found itself suffering similar problems to the crisis-riddled Middle Eastern nation.

Gas station pumps ran dry in major British cities on Monday and vendors rationed sales as a shortage of truckers strained supply chains to breaking point in the world’s fifth-largest economy.

“Fuel shortage in Lebanon, people queuing to buy gas. Left Lebanon, came to the UK. Fuel shortage in the UK, people queuing to buy gas. AM I CURSED?” Tweeted Ibrahim Abdallah. 

A dire shortage of lorry drivers as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic recedes has sewn chaos throughout British supply chains in everything from food to fuel, raising the spectre of disruptions and price rises as Christmas looms.

Lebanese who left their home to live or study in the UK cannot help but feel as if their problems are not too far behind, with the country going into its second month of fuel crisis.

“Fuel shortages? Is this the UK or Lebanon?” wrote Amir.

Pumps across British cities were either closed or had signs saying fuel was unavailable on Monday, local media reported, with some limiting the amount of fuel each customer could buy.

“Long fuel queues in London have led to road blocking…I’m sure they do it just for me so I wouldn’t miss Lebanon much while I’m away!” wrote MidEast Correspondent for BBC World Service Nafiseh Kohnavard. 

“On the weekend before my flight to Beirut: Fuel shortages causing queues at UK petrol stations, Bojo considering using army to supply petrol stations, 10 hour power outage in my building. Is the Universe training me for my stay in Lebanon?” Asked Yara.

Until recently, Lebanon had been subsidising the price of gasoline by providing dollars to importers from the central bank at heavily subsidised exchange rates. 

Last week, a convoy of trucks carrying Iranian fuel oil entered northeastern Lebanon near the village of Al-Ain, where Hezbollah’s yellow flag fluttered from lampposts.

While such a sight will definitely not be seen around London’s Trafalgar Square, the county’s Lebanese diaspora has seen this fuel crisis hit too close to home.

(With Agencies)


‘Swift chariots of democracy’: all aboard Washington’s secret subway

‘Swift chariots of democracy’: all aboard Washington’s secret subway
Updated 27 September 2021

‘Swift chariots of democracy’: all aboard Washington’s secret subway

‘Swift chariots of democracy’: all aboard Washington’s secret subway
  • The Capitol Subway System has been ferrying politicians back and forth for more than a century
  • Famous patrons have included actors Richard Gere, Chuck Norris and Denzel Washington and the rock star Bono

WASHINGTON: Frequented by presidents, Supreme Court justices and even the occasional movie star, it is the transport of choice for some of the world’s most powerful movers and shakers — yet few Americans know it exists.
The Capitol Subway System, a network of trolleys in the fluorescent-lit bowels of the labyrinthine, 600-room US Congress in Washington, has been ferrying politicians back and forth for more than a century.
It has made headlines as the scene of a botched assassination bid, an impromptu off-Broadway stage and a hiding place for a president who disappeared from the Oval Office without telling anyone.
“Children love it so there are always senators who are willing to bring family members with young children, nieces and nephews, to ride on it,” Dan Holt, an assistant historian at the Senate Historical Office, told AFP.
“And so I think there’s just something kind of special about it.”
The track stretches 3,100 feet — a shade under a kilometer — with the 90-second hop between stations just enough for serious political debate, idle gossip, an impromptu press conference or a moment of quiet reverie.
“Think about getting on the train to ride to work in other contexts, where you have that moment where you can just sit for a minute and think — or sit and have casual conversation,” Holt said.
“The train in the Capitol has served that purpose as well over time.”
It has also provided useful photo opportunities for presidential hopefuls looking to show the common touch, such as Ronald Reagan, although a boyish JFK — then just plain old Senator Jack Kennedy — was once refused entry and scolded to “stand aside for the senators, son.”

Assassination attempt

Today, the bustling main station is abuzz whenever the Senate is in session, with journalists waiting patiently to swarm legislators as they disembark to vote in the upper chamber.
But the cut-and-thrust of political discourse isn’t always as convivial below ground as it is on the Senate floor.
In 1950, Maine senator Margaret Chase Smith was preparing to deliver a rebuke to fellow Republican Joe McCarthy when the intimidating anti-communist crusader and smear-artist saw her in a subway car.
“Margaret, you look very serious,” Smith later recalled McCarthy saying, according to Holt. “Are you going to make a speech?“
“Yes,” she responded, “and you’re not going to like it very much.”

Capitol Hill staffers are seen on a subway car at the US Capitol on Sept. 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP) 

Three years earlier the subway had seen its only recorded assassination attempt, when disgruntled ex-Capitol Police officer William Kaiser opened fire from a .22-caliber pistol on presidential hopeful John Bricker.
The Ohio senator dived for cover into the waiting subway car, yelling at the driver to whisk him away, as a second bullet whistled over his head.
“Only good fortune and the bad marksmanship of his assailant saved the senator,” The New York Times reported after the gunman fled the scene, only to be arrested later.
In less querulous times, political leaders have seen the subway as something of a refuge from the frenetic pace of Washington politics.
William Howard Taft, the 27th president, alarmed aides one Saturday in January 1911 when he went missing for around an hour to go see the trains.
“A keen thrill of fear swept over the city when anxious inquiries at the White House brought forth the reply that the president could not be found. The alarm spread like a forest fire,” the Washington Times reported at the time.

First subway

The first subway was opened on March 7, 1909 for senators hoping to avoid the punishing Washington heat as they went between their offices and the upper chamber.
Electric Studebaker automobiles were replaced by a monorail with its own track three years later and, in 1960, officials added four $75,000 electric subway cars — dubbed “swift chariots of democracy” by the Senate chaplain.
A House line connected the Rayburn House Office Building to the Capitol five years after that and, in 1993, an $18 million Disneyland-style driverless train was introduced to great fanfare.
Not everyone supported these improvements. Some senators grumbled about bumpy rides while others complained that their delicately coiffured hair was being ruined by gusts of wind. Ohio’s Mike DeWine banned his staff from riding in protest against government waste.
Future presidents aside, the system’s famous patrons have included actors Richard Gere, Chuck Norris and Denzel Washington, satirist Jon Stewart and the rock star Bono.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Tony Award-winning creator of hit musical “Hamilton,” decided to take a midnight ride and belt out show tunes for his Twitter following when he was in the building to receive an award in 2017.
Some Capitol Hill staff see the gentility of subway interactions becoming rarer as health-conscious politicians with step-counting devices increasingly take to walking between buildings.
But the clientele will never truly disappear as long as the urgent task of running the country requires busy people to be in 10 places at once.
“If you’re in a rush, it’s great,” Holt told AFP.


Man drives from Ohio hoping to help Haitian friend at border

Man drives from Ohio hoping to help Haitian friend at border
Updated 25 September 2021

Man drives from Ohio hoping to help Haitian friend at border

Man drives from Ohio hoping to help Haitian friend at border
  • Dave wore the bright safety vest so his friend Ruth would be able to spot him in the crowd when she arrived with her husband and 3-year-old daughter
  • “I feel like my friend is worth my time to come down and help,” he told AP on Friday

DEL RIO, Texas: As Haitian migrants stepped off a white US Border Patrol van in the Texas border city of Del Rio after learning they’d be allowed to stay in the country for now, a man in a neon yellow vest stood nearby and quietly surveyed them.
Some carried sleeping babies, and one toddler walked behind her mother wrapped in a silver heat blanket. As they passed by to be processed by a local nonprofit that provides migrants with basic essentials and helps them reach family in the US, many smiled — happy to be starting a new leg of their journey after a chaotic spell in a crowded camp near a border bridge that links Del Rio with Ciudad Acuña, Mexico.
Dave, who didn’t want to share his last name because he feared a backlash for trying to help people who entered the US illegally, didn’t see his friend Ruth in this group. But he wore the bright safety vest so she would be able to spot him in the crowd when she arrived with her husband and 3-year-old daughter.
“I feel like my friend is worth my time to come down and help,” he told The Associated Press on Friday.
On Tuesday, Dave set out from his hometown of Toledo, Ohio, and made the nearly 1,300-mile (2,092-kilometer) drive to Del Rio, where up to 15,000 migrants suddenly crossed in from Mexico this month, most of them Haitian and many seeking asylum.
The 64-year-old met Ruth over a decade ago during a Christian mission to Haiti. Over the years, Dave would send Ruth money for a little girl he met in an orphanage whom he’d promised himself he’d support. Ruth always made sure the girl had what she needed.
Last month, Ruth and her family left South America, where they briefly lived after leaving their impoverished Caribbean homeland, to try to make it to the United States. Dave told her he’d be there when they arrived to drive them to her sister’s house in Ohio.
“I just see it as an opportunity to serve somebody,” he said. “We have so much.”
The nonprofit, the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition, has received dozens of drop-offs from US Border Patrol agents since the sudden influx of migrants to Del Rio became the country’s most pressing immigration challenge. Its operations director, Tiffany Burrow, said the group processed more than 1,600 Haitian migrants from Monday through when the camp was completely cleared Friday, assisting them with travel and resettlement necessities.
This is nothing new for Burrow, who has watched Haitian migrants cross into Del Rio in smaller numbers since January. But this recent wave overwhelmed her small group.
“It’s a different volume. And the eyes of the world are on us this time,” Burrow told the AP.
As Dave waited Friday for the next bus to arrive, he shimmied a child seat into place in the back seat of his vehicle. It was for Ruth’s toddler and was the first thing he spotted when he stopped at a thrift store on his way out of Toledo. He viewed it as a little sign he was doing the right thing.
Ruth and her family had spent the past week at the bridge camp and Dave had been communicating with her through WhatsApp. But all communication stopped Thursday around noon, and he said Ruth’s sister in Ohio also hadn’t heard from her.
Still, Dave waited, scrolling through a list of “what ifs.” He wondered aloud if her phone died or if she was in a Border Patrol facility with strict rules about electronic devices. “I’m putting a lot of faith in my phone,” he said, laughing.
Like Dave, Dr. Pierre Moreau made the trip to Del Rio from Miami to help. A Haitian immigrant himself and US Navy veteran, he saw the images unfolding from the camp and booked a flight.
“That was devastating. My heart was crying,” Moreau said. “And I told my wife I’m coming. And she said go.”
Moreau didn’t have a plan — just a rental car full of toiletries and supplies he hoped to pass out to any migrants he came across.
“I’m concerned about my brothers and sisters. And I was concerned with the way they were treated,” he said.
Dave said he hates how politicized the border issue has become. He considers himself a supporter of former President Donald Trump but said he’s more complicated than a single label.
As he waited in his car, Dave gushed over how hard Ruth had worked as a nurse to get to the United States — a dream she’s held for over a decade. He said he knows she’ll do the same in the US and that all he’s doing is giving her and her small family a leg up.
“I help them with their first step,” Dave said. “And like a little child, next time you see them, they’ll be running.”
Every time a Border Patrol bus or van pulled up to the coalition, Dave and his yellow vest would cross the street. He waited as each migrant climbed out, hoping to see Ruth, and he even darted over to one woman thinking it was her. “That sounded just like Ruth’s voice,” he said.
As news broke Friday that the camp had been cleared, Dave still held out hope that she’d arrive. But 10 hours after he pulled up, the coalition announced it had received its last busload and that no more migrants would be arriving from the camp.
This wave, at least for now, was over for Del Rio. But Burrow said there will likely be others.
“Right now, we’re in a cycle,” she said. “We’re learning to work with it.”
Dave stood up from his folding chair and started walking back to his car. He still hadn’t heard anything from Ruth and he again speculated as to where she and her family might be, including that they could have been sent on a deportation flight back to Haiti.
He looked defeated but said he didn’t plan to drive back to Ohio until he heard from Ruth — not until he knew his friend was OK.
“I cringe when I hear the beep that it’s going to be the wrong message,” Dave said. “But I try to keep hoping. I don’t know what else I can do.”


Indian man on bail must wash women’s clothes for six months

Indian man on bail must wash women’s clothes for six months
Updated 24 September 2021

Indian man on bail must wash women’s clothes for six months

Indian man on bail must wash women’s clothes for six months
  • Lalan Kumar will have to buy detergent and other items needed to provide six months of free laundry services to about 2,000 women in the village
  • Kumar, who washes clothes for a living, was arrested in April on charges including attempted rape

PATNA: An Indian man accused of attempted rape has been given bail on condition that he wash and iron the clothes of all women in his village for six months.
Lalan Kumar, 20, will have to buy detergent and other items needed to provide six months of free laundry services to about 2,000 women in the village of Majhor in Bihar state, under the ruling made Wednesday.
Kumar, who washes clothes for a living, was arrested in April on charges including attempted rape, Santosh Kumar Singh, a police officer in Bihar’s Madhubani district, told AFP.
No date has been set for his trial.
“All the women in the village are happy with the court decision,” Nasima Khatoon, the head of the village council, told AFP.
“It is historic. It will boost respect for women and help to protect dignity,” added Khatoon, one of the village dignitaries who will monitor Kumar.
Women in the village said the order had made a positive impact by making crime against women a subject of discussion in their community.
“This is a remarkable step and a different kind of punishment that sends a message to society,” said Anjum Perween.
India’s rape laws were overhauled after a 2012 gang rape in New Delhi but the number of offenses remains high, with more than 28,000 rapes reported in 2020.
Police have long been accused of not doing enough to prevent violent crime and failing to bring sexual assault cases to court.


UK court jails blind Paralympian for gluing self to plane

UK court jails blind Paralympian for gluing self to plane
Updated 24 September 2021

UK court jails blind Paralympian for gluing self to plane

UK court jails blind Paralympian for gluing self to plane
  • James Brown, 56, climbed on top of a British Airways plane during an Extinction Rebellion protest at London City Airport and superglued his hand to the roof
  • London's Southwark Crown Court sentenced him to 12 months in prison for causing public nuisance

LONDON: A British court on Friday sentenced a former Paralympian gold medallist to a year in jail for gluing himself onto the roof of a plane at a climate protest.
James Brown, 56, was born in Northern Ireland and won two gold medals for Great Britain and a bronze for Ireland in cycling at the Paralympics. He is registered blind.
He climbed on top of a British Airways plane during an Extinction Rebellion protest at London City Airport and superglued his hand to the roof.
A judge at London’s Southwark Crown Court sentenced him to 12 months in prison after a jury found him guilty of causing a public nuisance.
Judge Gregory Perrins told Brown the sentence showed those “tempted to seriously disrupt the lives of ordinary members of the public in the way that you did and then seek to justify it in the name of protest” that “they will face serious consequences.”
Extinction Rebellion said he would spend at least six months behind bars, slamming the ruling as “a dangerous judgment for our right to free speech, our right to protest and for those who campaign on environmental issues.”
Lawyer Raj Chada, who acts for the group, said they would be appealing the sentence.
Alanna Byrne, of Extinction Rebellion UK, said fellow activists were “shocked and devastated” but called Brown “a hero to us all.”
Prosecutors said the protest action disrupted flights for more than 300 passengers, costing the airline around £40,000 ($55,000, 47,000 euros).
Brown was one of hundreds of activists who attempted to lay siege to the east London airport to protest against an expansion project.
The group’s colorful protests have attracted a mass following since it was formed by UK academics studying the effects of harmful carbon emissions on Earth.
It calls for the British government to take a more radical approach to reducing emissions.
Last month, Extinction Rebellion held a series of protests in the City of London financial district amid a heavy police presence.
An offshoot group, Insulate Britain, on Friday blocked access to the port of Dover, demanding the government step up action insulating homes.