Poland has 6,000 soldiers to stop migrants: minister

Poland has 6,000 soldiers to stop migrants: minister
EU’s foreign ministers on Monday were considering ways to stop illegal flow of migrants into the 27-nation bloc from neighboring Belarus, including stopping companies from leasing jets to Belarusian airline Belavia. (AP)
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Updated 19 October 2021

Poland has 6,000 soldiers to stop migrants: minister

Poland has 6,000 soldiers to stop migrants: minister
  • Thousands of migrants -- most of them from the Middle East -- have crossed or tried to cross over from Belarus into eastern EU states since the summer
  • Almost 6,000 soldiers are serving on the Polish-Belarusian border, said Poland's defence minister on Twitter

WARSAW: Poland has 6,000 soldiers deployed along the border with Belarus to help stop an influx of migrants, Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said on Tuesday.
Thousands of migrants — most of them from the Middle East — have crossed or tried to cross over from Belarus into eastern EU states since the summer.
The EU suspects this is an effort coordinated by the Belarusian regime in retaliation against EU sanctions and has called the use of migrants a “hybrid attack.”
“Almost 6,000 soldiers from the 16th, 18th and 12th divisions are serving on the Polish-Belarusian border,” Blaszczak said on Twitter.
“The soldiers provide support to border guards by protecting the country’s border and not allowing it to be illegally crossed,” he said.
Border guards are reporting hundreds of attempted crossings every day and accuse Belarusian border guards of helping the migrants cross.
The government has implemented a state of emergency which bans journalists and humanitarian workers from the area and is planning a border wall.
Charities have criticized the government’s hard-line approach, particularly its pushback policy, and have warned of the growing danger for vulnerable migrants crossing through forests in the freezing cold.


Azerbaijan says soldier killed in clashes with Armenia

Azerbaijan says soldier killed in clashes with Armenia
Updated 57 min 57 sec ago

Azerbaijan says soldier killed in clashes with Armenia

Azerbaijan says soldier killed in clashes with Armenia
  • Baku’s defense ministry said an Azerbaijani soldier was killed overnight

BAKU: An Azerbaijani soldier has died in a shootout with Armenian forces, officials in Baku said Thursday, two weeks after the arch-foe countries held talks on easing tensions following their war last year.
The ex-Soviet Caucasus neighbors fought last autumn a six-week war over the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh which has claimed more than 6,500 lives.
Hostilities ended last November with a Russian-brokered cease-fire under which Yerevan ceded swathes of territory it had controlled for decades.
Baku’s defense ministry said an Azerbaijani soldier “was killed overnight as a result of a provocation by Armenia’s armed forces” near the countries’ shared border.
“Full responsibility for the escalation lies with Armenia’s political and military leaders,” the ministry said in a statement.
Armenia, meanwhile, said Baku had opened fire on its positions on Wednesday night on the eastern part of their shared border.
It called on Azerbaijan to “refrain from provocative actions.”
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met for rare face-to-face talks under the mediation of Russian President Vladimir Putin last month.
The talks focused on resolving disputes left over from last year’s war, and were hailed by all sides as positive.
The trio met less than two weeks after the worst fighting since the Karabakh war killed six Armenian troops and seven Azerbaijani soldiers.
They discussed demarcation issues between the two Caucasus countries, as Yerevan accuses Baku’s forces of intruding into its sovereignty territory.
They also addressed the issue of rebuilding Soviet-era transport links between Azerbaijan and Armenia which are currently closed by a mutual blockade.
On December 4, Azerbaijan freed 10 Armenian soldiers it had captured during border clashes last month.
Aliyev and Pashinyan are to meet again in Brussels on December 15 for talks mediated by the European Council President Charles Michel.
Ethnic Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and an ensuing conflict claimed around 30,000 lives.


Virus turns Indonesia holiday island into desert of abandoned resorts

Virus turns Indonesia holiday island into desert of abandoned resorts
Updated 09 December 2021

Virus turns Indonesia holiday island into desert of abandoned resorts

Virus turns Indonesia holiday island into desert of abandoned resorts
  • Situated close to Bali, tourism and the local economy had been booming, with around 1,500 foreign visitors visiting Trawangan every day
  • As fears grow over new Covid variant omicron, Indonesia has extended its mandatory quarantine to ten days

GILI TRAWANGAN: Chef Ilhani used to serve up Japanese cuisine to holidaymakers every night, now he makes just $3 a day selling fried snacks on the near empty streets of once bustling Gili Trawangan.
The coronavirus pandemic has shuttered almost all the resorts and restaurants across Indonesia’s Gili Islands, famed for their turquoise waters, sandy beaches, and diverse marine life.
Situated close to Bali, tourism and the local economy had been booming, with around 1,500 foreign visitors visiting Trawangan every day.
But when authorities first imposed a nationwide virus lockdown in March 2020 and then closed borders to international travelers, his restaurant could not survive the loss of business.
Almost two years on, he says he is struggling to support his wife and four children.
“Life is painfully difficult now. I sell fried snacks because it is something that locals can afford,” he told AFP, adding: “In the past, whatever we sell there are tourists who will buy, but now as you can see the island is deserted.”
The three Gili islands — Trawangan, Meno and Air — have long been reliant on foreign travelers. There are some 800 hotels with 7,000 rooms but only between 20 and 30 properties remain open, according to Lalu Kusnawan, the chairman of Gili Hotel Association who runs a resort in Trawangan.
Shops, bars, cafes, restaurants all stand empty, some up for sale, others abandoned altogether. Dust and spider webs gather on long unused tables and chairs.
Staff that once worked there have been forced to find other ways to earn a living — some have turned to fishing just to feed their families.
The coronavirus pandemic will cost the global tourism sector $2.0 trillion in lost revenue in 2021 — the same losses as 2020, the UN’s tourism body warned last week.
International tourist arrivals will this year remain 70-75 percent below the 1.5 billion arrivals recorded in 2019 before the pandemic hit, according to the World Tourism Organization, adding that the sector’s recovery will be “fragile” and “slow.”

Ilhani fears the suffering will be prolonged because the Indonesian government is now planning to impose stricter virus restrictions in anticipation of a fresh wave of infections.
In Gili Trawangan’s port, most of the boats — used to transfer tourists from one island to another or to reach diving sites — have been anchored for months. A bit further, a pontoon is left to rot.
Borders were officially re-opened in October, but direct international flights to Bali are yet to resume as tourists face a quarantine and strict visa requirements, limiting the demand.
And as fears grow over new Covid variant omicron, Indonesia has extended its mandatory quarantine to ten days, dashing hopes of an imminent tourism revival.
Kusnawan fears he and his fellow islanders cannot take much more.
“We are not just bleeding, but we no longer have blood to bleed out... We were already in a bad shape even before the omicron,” he added.
Abdian Saputra, who runs a boat service from Bali to the islands, said he had to sell his assets and lay off half his staff in order to keep his business open as the pandemic meant far fewer sailings were necessary.
“I rarely see any new passengers since the pandemic. If we stop, businesses such as hotels will also die. We are helping each other to be able to survive,” he said.
“But if the situation stays like this, my business could see its last breath in January or early February next year,” he added.
But for foreign travelers who reached Indonesia before the borders closed, or who already lived in the country, the situation has enabled them to explore the island paradise untroubled by mass tourism.
Nicolas Lindback, who is originally from Norway, explained: “I will never experience the island like this again, but if I have to choose I prefer the tourism back...because locals are already suffering long enough.”


New Zealand’s plan to end smoking: A lifetime ban for youth

New Zealand’s plan to end smoking: A lifetime ban for youth
Updated 09 December 2021

New Zealand’s plan to end smoking: A lifetime ban for youth

New Zealand’s plan to end smoking: A lifetime ban for youth
  • Because the current minimum age to buy cigarettes in New Zealand is 18, the lifetime smoking ban for youth wouldn’t have an impact for a few years

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: New Zealand’s government believes it has come up with a unique plan to end tobacco smoking — a lifetime ban for those aged 14 or younger.
Under a new law the government announced Thursday and plans to pass next year, the minimum age to buy cigarettes would keep rising year after year.
That means, in theory at least, 65 years after the law takes effect, shoppers could still buy cigarettes — but only if they could prove they were at least 80 years old.
In practice, officials hope smoking will fade away decades before then. Indeed, the plan sets a goal of having fewer than 5 percent of New Zealanders smoking by 2025.
Other parts of the plan include allowing only the sale of tobacco products with very low nicotine levels and slashing the number of stores that can sell them. The changes would be brought in over time to help retailers adjust.
Because the current minimum age to buy cigarettes in New Zealand is 18, the lifetime smoking ban for youth wouldn’t have an impact for a few years.
In an interview with The Associated Press, New Zealand’s Associate Health Minister Dr. Ayesha Verrall, who is spearheading the plan, said her work at a public hospital in Wellington involved telling several smokers they had developed cancer.
“You meet, every day, someone facing the misery caused by tobacco,” Verrall said. ”The most horrible ways people die. Being short of breath, caused by tobacco.”
Smoking rates have steadily fallen in New Zealand for years, with only about 11 percent of adults now smoking and 9 percent smoking every day. The daily rate among Indigenous Maori remains much higher at 22 percent. Under the government’s plan, a taskforce would be created to help reduce smoking among Maori.
Big tax increases have already been imposed on cigarettes in recent years and some question why they aren’t hiked even higher.
“We don’t think tax increases will have any further impact,” Verrall said. “It’s really hard to quit and we feel if we did that, we’d be punishing those people who are addicted to cigarettes even more.”
And she said the tax measures tend to place a higher burden on lower-income people, who are more likely to smoke.
The new law wouldn’t impact vaping. Verrall said that tobacco smoking is far more harmful and remains a leading cause of preventable deaths in New Zealand, killing up to 5,000 people each year.
“We think vaping’s a really appropriate quit tool,” she said.
The sale of vaping products is already restricted to those aged 18 and over in New Zealand and vaping is banned in schools. Verrall said there was some evidence of a rise in youth vaping, a trend she is following “really closely.”
New Zealand’s approach to ban the next generation from tobacco smoking hasn’t been tried elsewhere, she said.
But she said studies have shown youth sales decrease when minimum ages are raised. In the US, the federal minimum age to buy tobacco products was raised from 18 to 21 two years ago.
While public health experts have generally welcomed the New Zealand plan, not everybody is happy.
Sunny Kaushal said some stores could be put out of business. Kaushal chairs the Dairy and Business Owners Group, which represents nearly 5,000 corner stores — often called dairies in New Zealand — and gas stations.
“We all want a smoke-free New Zealand,” he said. “But this is going to hugely impact small businesses. It should not be done so it is destroying dairies, lives and families in the process. It’s not the way.”
Kaushal said the tax increases on tobacco had already created a black market that was being exploited by gangs, and the problem would only get worse. He said smoking was already in its twilight in New Zealand and would die away of its own accord.
“This is being driven by academics,” he said, adding that stakeholders hadn’t been consulted.
But Verrall said she didn’t believe the government was overreaching because statistics showed the vast majority of smokers wanted to quit anyway, and the new policies would only help them achieve their goal.
She said the pandemic had helped people gain a new appreciation for the benefits of public health measures and rallying communities, and that perhaps that energy could be harnessed not only to tackle smoking but also diseases like diabetes.
Verrall said she had never smoked herself but her late grandmother did, and it likely compromised her health.
“It’s a really cruel product,” Verrall said.


Acting now on COVID-19 will help avoid lockdown later, Britain’s Javid says

Acting now on COVID-19 will help avoid lockdown later, Britain’s Javid says
Updated 09 December 2021

Acting now on COVID-19 will help avoid lockdown later, Britain’s Javid says

Acting now on COVID-19 will help avoid lockdown later, Britain’s Javid says
  • Javid said there was no plan to impose mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for the general population

LONDON: Britain’s decision to impose restrictions to slow the spread of the omicron variant of the novel coronavirus will likely avoid the need to impose much tougher controls in the new year, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Thursday.
Javid said the omicron variant was spreading more swiftly than any other variant studied and could result in around 1 million infections across the United Kingdom by the end of the month if transmission continued at the current rate.
“I hope that most people will understand that by taking some decisive action now, we can potentially avoid action later,” Javid told Sky.
Asked if tougher measures could be imposed in January, Javid said: “No. I hope not.”
Javid said there was no plan to impose mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for the general population.


India’s defense chief to be laid to rest with full military honors

India’s defense chief to be laid to rest with full military honors
Updated 09 December 2021

India’s defense chief to be laid to rest with full military honors

India’s defense chief to be laid to rest with full military honors
  • General Bipin Rawat, his wife and 12 defense personnel were en route to a military staff college when their helicopter crashed

NEW DELHI: The bodies of India’s defense chief and 12 others who died in a helicopter crash will be brought to New Delhi on Thursday, where the top general will be laid to rest with full military honors, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said.
General Bipin Rawat, his wife and 12 defense personnel were en route to a military staff college in southern India when the air force helicopter they were traveling in came down near the town of Coonoor on Wednesday.
Only one of the 14 on board survived the crash. The cause of the crash is being investigated.
Rawat, 63, was appointed as India’s first chief of defense staff by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in late 2019. The position was set up with the aim of integrating the army, navy and air force.
In a brief statement in parliament, Defense Minister Singh said the Mi-17 V5 helicopter took off at 11.48 a.m. on Wednesday from the Sulur Air Base. The base lost contact with the aircraft seven minutes before it was scheduled to land at a hillside military area at 12.15 p.m.
“Locals spotted a fire in the forest near Coonoor and rushed to the spot where they observed the wreckage of military helicopter engulfed in flames,” Singh said.
Rawat, who served in the army for over four decades, would be laid to rest with full military honors, Singh said.
The lone survivor of the crash, an air force group captain, is on life support at a military hospital.
“All efforts are being made to save his life,” Singh said.