UK marks 2,000 days since Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe detained in Iran

Richard Ratcliffe, husband of imprisoned British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and their seven year-old daughter Gabriella mark 2,000 days she has been detained in Iran in Parliament Square, London, Sept. 23, 2021. (AP)
Richard Ratcliffe, husband of imprisoned British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and their seven year-old daughter Gabriella mark 2,000 days she has been detained in Iran in Parliament Square, London, Sept. 23, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 24 September 2021

UK marks 2,000 days since Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe detained in Iran

UK marks 2,000 days since Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe detained in Iran
  • Zaghari-Ratcliffe was originally sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted of plotting the overthrow of Iran’s government
  • Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her supporters and rights groups deny the charge

LONDON: The UK is working “tirelessly” to secure the return of a British-Iranian mother held in Iran, the new foreign secretary said on Thursday.
Liz Truss said she “pressed” her Iranian counterpart on Wednesday regarding the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, “and will continue to press until she returns home.”
Truss and Hossein Amir-Abdollahian met on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly, which is taking place in New York.
“Today marks 2,000 days since Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s cruel separation from her family,” Truss said. “She is going through an appalling ordeal.
“We are working tirelessly to secure her return home to her family.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a former Thomson Reuters Foundation employee, was detained in Tehran in April 2016 and sentenced a few months later to five years in prison on spying charges.
Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, and daughter, Gabriella, set up a large, interactive snakes and ladders board in Parliament Square on Thursday to symbolize that they have been caught between both governments.
“She (Truss) has met with the Iranian foreign minister, she has been raising Nazanin’s case, there’s been acknowledgement, so it’s felt like, OK, we’re not forgotten and probably after 2,000 days there’s always ups and downs, and drift and things just passing by without anything moving,” Ratcliffe said.
He said he hoped that Nazanin will be home soon, but said in the meantime, both he and his daughter are “holding up.”
Earlier this week he said he had spoken with Truss about the case.
The campaign to free his wife has called on the British government to take tough measures, such as sanctioning individuals, to protect people from what they describe as state-sanctioned hostage taking.


Australians to create ‘black box’ to hold world accountable for climate crisis

Australians to create ‘black box’ to hold world accountable for climate crisis
Updated 07 December 2021

Australians to create ‘black box’ to hold world accountable for climate crisis

Australians to create ‘black box’ to hold world accountable for climate crisis

MELBOURNE: Australian scientists and artists are looking to hold the world accountable for the Earth’s future by creating an “indestructible” storage device to record humanity’s handling of the climate change crisis.
Inspired by an aeroplane’s flight recorder, the “Earth’s Black Box” will be built in 2022 on the remote west coast of Tasmania, an area deemed geographically and politically stable, its creators, ranging from marketing communications company Clemenger BBDO to the University of Tasmania, said in a statement.
It comes after UN climate talks in Glasgow ended last month with a deal that kept alive hopes of capping global warming at 1.5 Celsius.
“Earth Black Box is a structure and device that will record every step that humanity takes toward or away from the impending climate catastrophe,” said Jim Curtis, the executive creative director at Clemenger BBDO, which came up with the idea for the black box.
He said not only would the box provide the world with a wealth of data on climate change, the information recorded would help hold leaders accountable and leave lessons for future generations.
“If the worst is to happen and as a civilization we crash as a result of climate change, this indestructible box will be there and will record every detail of that,” Curtis said.
“So whoever’s left, or whoever finds it afterwards, learns from our mistakes.”
The 10-meter-long steel monolith was designed to withstand natural disasters and will be powered by solar and thermal energy.
The device, which will be connected to the Internet, will use an algorithm to regularly scrape data relating to climate change using a set of 500 metrics and will store it automatically.
It will be filled with storage drives containing climate-change related data such as average temperatures and global energy consumption.


Kenyan ‘rogue’ policeman kills five in rampage – police

Kenyan ‘rogue’ policeman kills five in rampage – police
Updated 07 December 2021

Kenyan ‘rogue’ policeman kills five in rampage – police

Kenyan ‘rogue’ policeman kills five in rampage – police
  • Three of the men who were killed were mourners who had just attended preparations for a funeral

NAIROBI: A Kenyan police officer shot dead five people in a rampage through the capital, Nairobi, on Tuesday and then shot and killed himself, the police Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) said.
The officer first shot and killed his wife at their home before setting off with his service-issued AK-47 rifle to shoot dead another four people, the directorate said on its Twitter account, describing the shooter as a “rogue officer.”
Three of the men who were killed were mourners who had just attended preparations for a funeral, the DCI said.
“After killing the three, the cop then turned his rifle at two boda boda (motorcycle) riders, one of whom lost his life while undergoing treatment,” police said.
Francis Wahome, the officer in charge of Nairobi’s Dagoretti area, had earlier confirmed the incident and put the number of people the officer killed at six. A police report had also put the number of dead at six.
Angry residents near where the incident took place later set fire to tires on a road in a protest against the violence, a Reuters witness said.
In a 2010 incident, a police officer in Siakago town, 120km northeast of Nairobi, shot 10 people dead including two of his colleagues.
A police spokesman said at the time the officer tried to shoot himself but had run out of ammunition, forcing him to surrender to police.


Mexico moves migrants from southern state; asylum seekers awaited at US border

Mexico moves migrants from southern state; asylum seekers awaited at US border
Updated 07 December 2021

Mexico moves migrants from southern state; asylum seekers awaited at US border

Mexico moves migrants from southern state; asylum seekers awaited at US border
  • Many of the migrants had waited months in Tapachula, near the Guatemala border, to try to regularize their migration status
  • US President Joe Biden’s administration on Thursday said it would re-instate the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), a contentious Trump-era policy that requires asylum seekers to wait out their cases in Mexico

MEXICO CITY: Mexican officials have sped up the transfer of thousands of migrants from southern Mexico to other regions as northern border states prepare to receive asylum seekers sent back to Mexico from the United States.
Dozens of buses full of migrants, mostly from Central America as well as some from Cuba and Venezuela, have the city of Tapachula in Chiapas state in recent days to head to other states, a Reuters witness and an activist said on Monday.
Many of the migrants had waited months in Tapachula, near the Guatemala border, to try to regularize their migration status. Many have left violent and impoverished home countries hoping to eventually seek asylum in the United States.
US President Joe Biden’s administration on Thursday said it would re-instate the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), a contentious Trump-era policy that requires asylum seekers to wait out their cases in Mexico, a decision that shelters along the northern border have said could overwhelm their capacity.
The first group of migrants under the revamped program are expected to be returned to Mexico this week.
In Tapachula, 45 buses took migrants out of the city on Saturday, said a government source who requested anonymity.
Migrant rights activist Luis Garcia Villagran said migration officers took 32 full buses of migrants out of the city on Sunday, and another 70 on Monday.
“They are trying to not saturate the northern border now that MPP is starting,” he said. “That’s why they are moving them more quickly, controlling where the migrants are going.”
Mexico’s national migration institute did not respond to a request for comment.
A Nicaraguan migrant who declined to be identified said he was relived to get on a bus to the city of San Miguel de Allende in the central state of Guanajuato.
“I was here for a few months but thank God we are going,” he said.
Large numbers of migrants, especially from Haiti, remained clustered in Tapachula waiting for buses, with some sleeping in a camp outside a stadium that migration officers have used as a processing center.


Omicron v. delta: Battle of coronavirus mutants is critical

Omicron v. delta: Battle of coronavirus mutants is critical
Updated 07 December 2021

Omicron v. delta: Battle of coronavirus mutants is critical

Omicron v. delta: Battle of coronavirus mutants is critical

As the omicron coronavirus variant spreads in southern Africa and pops up in countries all around the world, scientists are anxiously watching a battle play out that could determine the future of the pandemic. Can the latest competitor to the world-dominating delta overthrow it?
Some scientists, poring over data from South Africa and the United Kingdom, suggest omicron could emerge the victor.
“It’s still early days, but increasingly, data is starting to trickle in, suggesting that omicron is likely to outcompete delta in many, if not all, places,” said Dr. Jacob Lemieux, who monitors variants for a research collaboration led by Harvard Medical School.
But others said Monday it’s too soon to know how likely it is that omicron will spread more efficiently than delta, or, if it does, how fast it might take over.
“Especially here in the US, where we’re seeing significant surges in delta, whether omicron’s going to replace it I think we’ll know in about two weeks,” said Matthew Binnicker, director of clinical virology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Many critical questions about omicron remain unanswered, including whether the virus causes milder or more severe illness and how much it might evade immunity from past COVID-19 illness or vaccines.
On the issue of spread, scientists point to what’s happening in South Africa, where omicron was first detected. omicron’s speed in infecting people and achieving near dominance in South Africa has health experts worried that the country is at the start of a new wave that may come to overwhelm hospitals.
The new variant rapidly moved South Africa from a period of low transmission, averaging less than 200 new cases per day in mid-November, to more than 16,000 per day over the weekend. omicron accounts for more than 90 percent of the new cases in Gauteng province, the epicenter of the new wave, according to experts. The new variant is rapidly spreading and achieving dominance in South Africa’s eight other provinces.
“The virus is spreading extraordinarily fast, very rapidly,” said Willem Hanekom, director of the Africa Health Research Institute. “If you look at the slopes of this wave that we’re in at the moment, it’s a much steeper slope than the first three waves that South Africa experienced. This indicates that it’s spreading fast and it may therefore be a very transmissible virus.”
But Hanekom, who is also co-chair the South African COVID-19 Variants Research Consortium, said South Africa had such low numbers of delta cases when omicron emerged, “I don’t think we can say” it out-competed delta.
Scientists say it’s unclear whether omicron will behave the same way in other countries as it has in South Africa. Lemieux said there are already some hints about how it may behave; in places like the United Kingdom, which does a lot of genomic sequencing, he said, “we’re seeing what appears to be a signal of exponential increase of omicron over delta.”
In the United States, as in the rest of the world, “there’s still a lot of uncertainty,” he said. “But when you put the early data together, you start to see a consistent picture emerge: that omicron is already here, and based on what we’ve observed in South Africa, it’s likely to become the dominant strain in the coming weeks and months and will likely cause a surge in case numbers.”
What that could mean for public health remains to be seen. Hanekom said early data from South Africa shows that reinfection rates are much higher with omicron than previous variants, suggesting the virus is escaping immunity somewhat. It also shows the virus seems to be infecting younger people, mostly those who are unvaccinated, and most cases in hospitals have been relatively mild.
But Binnicker said things could play out differently in other parts of the world or in different groups of patients. “It’ll be really interesting to see what happens when more infections potentially occur in older adults or those with underlying health conditions,” he said. “What’s the outcome in those patients?”
As the world waits for answers, scientists suggest people do all they can to protect themselves.
“We want to make sure that people have as much immunity from vaccination as possible. So if people are not vaccinated they should get vaccinated,” Lemieux said. “If people are eligible for boosters, they should get boosters, and then do all the other things that we know are effective for reducing transmission — masking and social distancing and avoiding large indoor gatherings, particularly without masks.”


Dutch court to rule on Palestinian’s case against Israeli defense minister

Dutch court to rule on Palestinian’s case against Israeli defense minister
Updated 07 December 2021

Dutch court to rule on Palestinian’s case against Israeli defense minister

Dutch court to rule on Palestinian’s case against Israeli defense minister
  • Universal jurisdiction allows countries to prosecute serious offences such as war crimes and torture no matter where they were committed

THE HAGUE: An appeals court in the Netherlands rules on Tuesday in a case alleging war crimes against Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who is blamed by a Dutch Palestinian for the loss of six relatives in an Israeli air strike on Gaza in 2014.
Ismail Ziada filed the civil case against Gantz and another former senior Israeli military official, seeking unspecified damages under Dutch universal jurisdiction rules. His case was thrown out by a lower Dutch court in January 2020.
Universal jurisdiction allows countries to prosecute serious offences such as war crimes and torture no matter where they were committed.
But the lower court ruled that the principles of universal jurisdiction could be applied for individual criminal responsibility, but not in civil cases.
Ziada appealed, arguing that universal jurisdiction should be applied in civil cases if the alleged conduct involved serious violations of international humanitarian law. He asked the appeals judges to reverse the decision, which effectively granted Gantz immunity from prosecution.
Gantz, a career soldier turned politician, was commander-in-chief of the Israeli armed forces during a war against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip in 2014, when the incident took place.
About 2,200 Palestinians are estimated to have been killed, up to 1,500 of them civilians, in the conflict, according to U.N. figures. Ziada said he lost relatives when his family home in Gaza was bombed during a June 2014 Israeli air strike. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and five civilians were killed.
Gaza is controlled by the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement, regarded by the West as a terrorist organization. Israel says Hamas puts civilians in harm's way by deploying fighters and weaponry inside densely populated areas of Gaza.
Human rights groups have accused both sides of war crimes in the 2014 conflict. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently investigating alleged war crimes committed on Palestinian territory since June 2014 by both Israeli defense forces and Palestinian armed groups.