Flaming bus crash in Bulgaria kills 45 Macedonian tourists

Flaming bus crash in Bulgaria kills 45 Macedonian tourists
Children were among the dead. (AP)
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Updated 23 November 2021

Flaming bus crash in Bulgaria kills 45 Macedonian tourists

Flaming bus crash in Bulgaria kills 45 Macedonian tourists
  • Bus was taking tourists home to North Macedonia from Turkey
  • Survivors leapt from burning vehicle, 12 children among the dead — Bulgarian official

SOFIA: At least 45 people, including 12 children, died as a bus carrying mostly North Macedonian tourists crashed in flames on a highway in western Bulgaria on Tuesday, officials said.
Seven people who leapt from the burning bus were rushed to hospital in Sofia and were in stable conditions, hospital staff said. Bulgaria’s interior ministry said 45 people died, one less than the toll given earlier .
The cause of the accident was unclear but the bus appeared to have hit a highway barrier either before or after it caught fire, Bulgarian officials said.
Television footage showed the bus charred and gutted by fire in the middle of the highway.
“We have an enormous tragedy here,” Bulgarian interim Prime Minister Stefan Yanev told reporters.
Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov said: “People are clustered inside and are burnt to ash.”
“The picture is terrifying, terrifying. I have never seen anything like that before,” he told reporters at the site.
Bulgarian investigative service chief Borislav Sarafov said four buses from a North Macedonian travel agency had entered Bulgaria late on Monday from Turkey.
“Human mistake by the driver or a technical malfunction are the two initial versions for the accident,” he said.
The accident happened on Struma highway about 45 km (28 miles) west of Sofia around 2:00 a.m. (0000 GMT).
North Macedonian Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani said the coach party was returning to Skopje from a weekend holiday trip to Istanbul.
“I am terrified. This is such a huge tragedy,” North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told private television channel BTV.


Mobily prepares major announcements for LEAP22 tech conference

Mobily prepares major announcements for LEAP22 tech conference
Updated 21 January 2022

Mobily prepares major announcements for LEAP22 tech conference

Mobily prepares major announcements for LEAP22 tech conference

RIYADH: Etihad Etisalat, known as Mobily, said it will launch a range of innovative and disruptive digital solutions during LEAP22, the technology event scheduled for Riyadh in February.

Mobily’s announcements will be in the area of the Internet of things, artificial intelligence, smart cities, smart health care systems and others, it said in a statement.

“LEAP is a turning point in the Kingdom’s journey toward digital transformation, elevating its position at the forefront of global players who develop and empower the latest technologies that shape the future of our world,” said Mobily CEO Eng. Salman Al Badran. “As the Kingdom moves toward enabling a leading digital economy, Mobily seeks to provide individuals and corporates with the tools they need to unlocking opportunities and pursue their ambitions.”

“At Mobily, we persistently contribute to the realization of Vision 2030 through providing advanced telecommunications services and digital solutions that contribute to transforming the Kingdom’s digitalization ambitions into reality, he said.

Leap will be held in Riyadh from Feb. 1 to Feb. 3, 2022.


Russia: US to provide written responses on Ukraine next week

Russia: US to provide written responses on Ukraine next week
Updated 21 January 2022

Russia: US to provide written responses on Ukraine next week

Russia: US to provide written responses on Ukraine next week

GENEVA: The United States and Russia tried Friday to avert another devastating conflict in Europe, but the two powers’ top diplomats warned no breakthrough was imminent as fears rise that Moscow is planning to invade Ukraine.

Armed with seemingly intractable and diametrically opposed demands, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Geneva at what the American said was a “critical moment.” The talks are shaping up as a possible last-ditch effort at dialogue and a negotiated agreement.

With an estimated 100,000 Russian troops massed near Ukraine, many fear Moscow is preparing an invasion although Russia denies that. The US and its allies are scrambling to present a united front to prevent that or coordinate a tough response if they can’t.

After the meeting, Lavrov said that the US agreed to provide written responses to Russian demands on Ukraine and NATO next week. That could at least delay any imminent aggression for a few days.

But ahead of the meeting, they remained far apart.

“We don’t expect to resolve our differences here today. But I do hope and expect that we can test whether the path of diplomacy or dialogue remains open,” Blinken told Lavrov before their spoke privately. “This is a critical moment.”

Lavrov, meanwhile, said he did not “expect a breakthrough at these negotiations either. What we expect is concrete answers to our concrete proposals.”

But ahead of the meeting, they remained far apart.

“We don’t expect to resolve our differences here today. But I do hope and expect that we can test whether the path of diplomacy or dialogue remains open,” Blinken told Lavrov before their spoke privately. “This is a critical moment.”

Lavrov, meanwhile, said he did not “expect a breakthrough at these negotiations either. What we expect is concrete answers to our concrete proposals.”

Washington and its allies have repeatedly promised “severe” consequences such as biting economic sanctions — though not military action — against Russia if an invasion goes ahead.

Blinken repeated that warning Friday. He said the US and its allies were committed to diplomacy, but also committed “if that proves impossible, and Russia decides to pursue aggression against Ukraine, to a united, swift and severe response.”

But he said he also wanted to use the opportunity to share directly with Lavrov some “concrete ideas to address some of the concerns that you have raised, as well as the deep concerns that many of us have about Russia’s actions.”

Ukraine is already beset by conflict. Russia’s Putin seized control of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in 2014 and backed a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, part of a simmering but largely stalemated conflict with Ukrainian forces that has taken more than 14,000 lives. He faced limited international consequences for those moves, but the West says a new invasion would be different.


Should flaunting wealth on social media be deemed vulgar?

Should flaunting wealth on social media be deemed vulgar?
Updated 21 January 2022

Should flaunting wealth on social media be deemed vulgar?

Should flaunting wealth on social media be deemed vulgar?
  • Rise of luxury content on social media reflects different reality as businesses struggle in post-pandemic world

DUBAI: With 1 million followers, Busra Duran’s Instagram presence is nothing short of a fairytale. From traveling through Moscow to sipping drinks in Dubai, Duran is living the life of a classic luxury influencer in the Middle East.

In fact, it is why she moved from Turkey to Dubai. “This is where the big brands are,” her husband Gokhan Gunduz told The Guardian. “She’s showing off her lifestyle in Dubai, to attract people. It’s not just Busra who benefits — Dubai benefits too.”

Duran is, of course, one of the many social media influencers whose accounts are flooded with pictures and videos of exotic locations, fancy restaurants, the latest beauty treatments, and so on.

The same is true for many Lebanese influencers whose Instagram accounts tell stories of travel, food, beauty, and shopping. There is, of course, no mention of closed businesses, lost jobs, ill health, or abandoned homes. The reality of the country’s condition is betrayed by its social media accounts.

Lebanon’s economy contracted by 20 percent in 2020, according to data from the World Bank, and 35 percent of businesses shut down stores or closed branches in 2021, according to the Beirut Traders Association.

The Lebanese are a resilient people. Through bombings and assassinations, the country has survived, and its people have found success and happiness in Lebanon and other countries.

However, now, with the Lebanese pound trading on the black market at nearly 20 times its value two years ago, many are struggling to afford even basic necessities, let alone a holiday or fancy night out. The economic situation in the country is the worst it has been in more than 150 years. Prices have skyrocketed in Lebanon, which imports more than 80 percent of its basic goods.

But such stories are not posted on Instagram.

Flaunting wealth on social media can have a dire impact on the emotional and mental well-being of users — especially when people are struggling for basic necessities and businesses are shutting down.

Aditi Bhatia, a lecturer in psychology at Middlesex University Dubai, told Arab News: “At a time when many have suffered financial losses themselves, seeing wealth or luxury being flaunted on social media is likely to remind people of their own inadequacies and also create a false impression of their peer group.”

“We live in a world in which many people across the globe are without basic necessities or otherwise in need, and that’s an unfortunate reality in both good times and bad,” said Dubai-based influencer Becky Jefferies. “But I don’t see social media as a cause — or solution — to economic challenges on a micro or macro level.”

“That said, I do feel that influencers should assume a certain level of responsibility when it comes to how they utilize their personal platforms. Many of them have earned the trust of a mass audience and should therefore be mindful about doing the right thing, such as not tolerating or spreading hate, or not feeding into unrealistic beauty standards,” Jefferies added.

Despite several influencers and celebrities trying to show the reality of life on social media, much of the content tends to highlight the good parts of their lives, not the bad. “People tend to selectively share a higher number of personal successes online than failures,” Bhatia said.

She noted that the social comparison theory suggested “that humans have an innate need to compare themselves with others, in order to make sense of their own abilities and social standing.”

According to the theory, people either made upward comparisons by comparing themselves to those they considered better or more successful, or downward comparisons by comparing themselves to those they felt were worse off or less successful.

“Individuals who tend to make more upward social comparisons can experience a range of negative mental health effects such as low self-esteem, increased stress, self-harm, depressive symptoms, and loneliness,” Bhatia added.

In February last year, Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, announced it had banned almost 4,000 users for deliberately showing off their wealth. In November, Xiaohongshu, an app similar to Instagram, said its team had disciplined 240 accounts since May for posting “wealth-bragging content.”

The moves are part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s nationwide effort to redistribute wealth. Authorities have ordered social media platforms to remove any content that flaunts wealth, although the standards for determining content that qualifies are vague.

Speaking at a news conference last year, Zhang Yongjun, a senior official at China’s cyberspace administration, said: “The standard is the effect the content has. Can the spread of this content inspire people to be healthy, ambitious, and work harder for a beautiful life? Or does it cater to people’s vulgar desires?”

Despite the potential ill-effects of flaunting wealth on social media, regional authorities seem unlikely to regulate such content.

Fiona Robertson, partner, head of Cedar White Bradley’s media and technology practice, said: “China doesn’t allow a lot of content that we would consider benign. And that’s just the very controlling nature of the Chinese government, which we don’t have here.”

She pointed out that every country and government had its “thing” when it came to media regulation.

“The UK, for example, is very big on defamation. In this region, privacy is a big thing and breaching that privacy is taken very seriously. In the US, they take nudity in mainstream media very seriously.

“It’s just common worldwide and everyone has these rules that they have to comply with,” she added.

The region does have other rules, however, that social media influencers are expected to comply with. Last year, a Bangladeshi waiter in Dubai was sentenced to six months in prison after he added fake gunshots to a TikTok video.

Soon after, a social media influencer was jailed for three months and fined 100,000 Emirati dirhams ($27,225) following video footage that showed him driving a luxury vehicle at more than 205 kilometers an hour in Abu Dhabi. The passenger who recorded him also received a similar fine and both men were suspended from driving for six months and the car and their phones were confiscated. They were also banned from using their social media accounts for six months.

The Commercial Compliance and Consumer Protection sector in Dubai Economy fined a car showroom last October for a misleading campaign that offered cars with special specifications, benefits, and gifts for consumers buying through a social media influencer.

“Dubai Economy holds the trader responsible for any misleading campaign found on the social media account of the company or conducted through a social media promoter,” the CCCP said in a statement.

Robertson said that liability often lay with the brand that the influencer was working with, an important consideration when brands used foreign influencers. “The influencers themselves are not licensed underneath our local laws so effectively, they haven’t necessarily signed up to the compliance that the brands themselves should and would have,” she added.

Around 85 percent of luxury consumers use social media, with each using an average of three platforms, according to a Deloitte study. It is no surprise then that social media plays a huge role for luxury brands, just like influencers play a huge role within social media.

“It’s important to keep in mind that many influential social accounts are just another medium for brands to reach people,” said Jefferies. “Faulting influencers for posting about their experiences would arguably be like denouncing brands for advertising premium goods and services.

“The fact that social media can encourage audiences to get out of their houses and try that new restaurant, shop at that new local boutique, or travel to that cool destination, it’s a positive thing — including for the economy,” added Jefferies.

On TikTok, for instance, users like to share specifics on what they are buying and make recommendations to their audiences leading to the hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt, which amassed 4.6 billion views in 2021.

In the US alone, Generation Zs and millennials represent approximately $350 billion of spending power, according to management consulting firm McKinsey. These younger consumer groups — the biggest users of social media — have unprecedentedly higher spending power today. And while that may not be reflected in the world’s economies, it is on social media.

“Social media today has evolved to serve many roles beyond connecting people and providing a source of entertainment, one of which is giving individuals a voice and enabling access to information that could otherwise be censored, carefully spun, or filtered out by traditional news outlets,” said Jefferies.

She added: “Some influential users choose to use their platform in a positive way and some don’t. If some followers find certain types of content to be offensive or tone-deaf, they have the freedom to unfollow, just like we all have the freedom to share or say anything (in accordance with each platform’s respective community guidelines) — and that’s the beauty of social media.”


Female artists craft tributes to agate in new exhibition at Scitech

Female artists craft tributes to agate in new exhibition at Scitech
Updated 21 January 2022

Female artists craft tributes to agate in new exhibition at Scitech

Female artists craft tributes to agate in new exhibition at Scitech
  • ‘The Agate’ features 70 artworks and runs until January 27

ALKHOBAR: It’s been said that diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but a new exhibition at the Sultan bin Abdulaziz Science and Technology Center suggests that agate is the gemstone that best symbolizes femininity.  

“I see agate (as representing) the inner beauty of a woman,” Saudi artist Esmat Mohsen Almohandis, the curator of the exhibition, which is called “The Agate,” told Arab News. Since most women are fond of jewelry, agate seemed like a good theme for an exhibition of the work of female artists, she explained.

According to the International Colored Gemstone Association, “Agate was highly valued as a talisman or amulet in ancient times. It was said to quench thirst and protect against fever. Persian magicians used agate to divert storms.” In Arabian folklore, agate is said to contain healing properties and bring power to its wearer.

The exhibition, hosted by Scitech in partnership with Alwan Al-Sharqia, consists of 70 paintings, all by female artists. Most of the artists are from Saudi Arabia, but a few are from neighboring Arab countries.

One of the participants, Hind Al-Tharman, used sustainable material in her work. “Since the theme of the exhibition was the agate stone and women, I used agate as the lip color of the woman in (my) painting,” Al-Tharman told Arab News. “My piece was not painted on canvas but on wood — on a table I already had. It can be turned into a table again or be displayed as a painting on the wall. I like to use recycling and to provide options.”

The paintings on show, if viewed in order, collectively tell a story of feminism and folklore by using fragmented storylines to build a narrative showcasing various milestones from many women’s lives, from marriage to motherhood, but also depicting the trials and triumphs of living in the era of COVID-19.

Much like the gemstone for which it is named, the exhibition is both beautiful and valuable.


Synagogue attacker was referred to UK counter-radicalization scheme

Synagogue attacker was referred to UK counter-radicalization scheme
Updated 21 January 2022

Synagogue attacker was referred to UK counter-radicalization scheme

Synagogue attacker was referred to UK counter-radicalization scheme
  • Malik Faisal Akram was referred to Prevent after breakdown of his marriage
  • Scheme under review amid string of deadly failings, boycott by rights groups

LONDON: A British man who took four people hostage in a Texas synagogue was referred to the UK government’s counter-radicalization program Prevent, it has emerged.

Malik Faisal Akram was referred to Prevent in 2016 following the breakdown of his marriage. MI5 also tracked him for a month in 2020.

Akram was shot dead by the FBI last week while holed up with hostages in a Texas synagogue. He was the only person killed in the ordeal.

Leaked audio revealed that his brother tried to convince him to abort the attack, but was told that Akram would be returning home “in a body bag.”

According to his brother, Akram’s life fell apart in 2016 after he split from his wife. His brother told The Times that he was bitter that his wife had taken his six children after their split, and that Akram had closed his pharmacy business, which ran five locations across the north of England.

It was after this string of events that Akram was referred to Prevent. The new revelations about his referral are likely to pile more pressure on the British government to rethink its de-radicalization strategy.

The Prevent program is currently under review by the government, and a string of failings — some with deadly consequences — add further impetus to strengthening or modifying the program.

Last year, MP Sir David Amess was murdered in his constituency by Ali Harbi Ali, who had also previously been referred to and later discharged by Prevent.

Another attacker, Khairi Saadallah, had been referred to the program by refugee groups. He later killed three in a knife rampage in the English town of Reading.

Prevent’s review, undertaken in 2019, had initially been scheduled for completion in 2020, but a series of delays means it still has not been published.

Rights groups including Amnesty International have boycotted the review, saying William Shawcross, who is leading it, had previously expressed anti-Muslim views that call into question the review’s validity.

A joint statement by the rights groups said: “Shawcross’s appointment, given his well-known record and previous statements on Islam … brings into question the good faith of the government in establishing the review and fundamentally undermines its credibility.”