Algeria shuts schools for 10 days as COVID-19 infections surge

Algeria shuts schools for 10 days as COVID-19 infections surge
Algeria has decided to close its schools for ten days after it registered a rise in omicron cases. (File/AFP)
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Updated 19 January 2022

Algeria shuts schools for 10 days as COVID-19 infections surge

Algeria shuts schools for 10 days as COVID-19 infections surge
  • University staff and health authorities should decide whether to continue with in-person classes: Statement
  • Tebboune urged officials to set a “robust testing structure” in public heath facilities and in private laboratories

ALGIERS: Algeria's leader on Wednesday ordered all elementary and high schools closed for 10 days because of surging COVID-19 infections in the North African country and authorities tightened entry requirements at airports.
The decision by Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to cancel classes starting Thursday came after an emergency meeting Wednesday of the Council of Ministers, members of the COVID-19 scientific committee and the country's security officials.
The presidential statement said university staff and health authorities should decide themselves whether to continue with in-person classes.
Algeria is battling infections from both the delta variant infections and the fast-spreading omicron variant. On Wednesday, heath officials reported a daily record of 1,359 omicron cases and 12 deaths.
Tebboune urged officials to set a “robust testing structure” in public heath facilities and in private laboratories.
In December, Algeria started requiring a vaccine passport to enter many public venues, seeking to boost the country’s low inoculation rate and overcome vaccine hesitancy that has left millions of vaccines unused. Less than a quarter of Algeria’s population has had even one vaccine dose.
The pass is also required for anyone entering or leaving Algeria, as well as for entering sports facilities, cinemas, theaters, museums, town halls and other sites like hammams — bath houses that are popular across the region.
Official figures show Algeria has seen 6,433 COVID-related deaths since the pandemic began, but even members of the government’s scientific committee admit the real figure is much higher. Out of fears of being blamed for getting the virus, some Algerians keep their infections secret, which then puts others at risk.


Israel fires missile defenses near Lebanon after misidentification

Israel fires missile defenses near Lebanon after misidentification
Updated 9 sec ago

Israel fires missile defenses near Lebanon after misidentification

Israel fires missile defenses near Lebanon after misidentification
JERUSALEM: Israel activated its missile defenses on Thursday after mistakenly identifying a threat near the border with Lebanon, the Israeli military said.
The incident also set off air raid sirens in parts of northern Israel.
“Due to a misidentification, the air defense soldiers launched interceptors and as a result an alert was activated,” the military said.

Dubai announces plan to improve municipality and land department services, cut costs

Dubai announces plan to improve municipality and land department services, cut costs
The plan also seeks to promote productive partnerships with the private sector. (WAM)
Updated 53 min 9 sec ago

Dubai announces plan to improve municipality and land department services, cut costs

Dubai announces plan to improve municipality and land department services, cut costs
  • The restructuring plan comes as part of the government’s mission to increase productivity and develop comprehensive strategic plans to achieve the organizations’ objectives

Dubai’s government has announced plans to improve services in the municipality and land departments by 20 percent, while reducing operational costs by 10 percent, state news agency WAM reported.

The restructuring plan comes as part of the government’s mission to increase productivity and develop comprehensive strategic plans to achieve the organizations’ objectives, report added. 

The plan also seeks to promote productive partnerships with the private sector and create new business opportunities worth $2.723bln per year, according to WAM.

The restructuring plan for Dubai Land Department also aims to improve the competitiveness of Dubai’s real estate sector and improve operational efficiency by 20 percent.

WAM reported that the plan also has a focus on making Dubai one of the world’s highest ranked cities in real estate market indicators and enhancing investment in the sector. 

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and First Deputy Chairman of the Dubai Council, and Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Second Deputy Chairman of the Dubai Council, met with Mattar Al Tayer, Commissioner-General for Infrastructure, Urban Planning and Wellbeing and Member of the Dubai Council on Wednesday to discuss the initiative. 

“The comprehensive restructuring plan of Dubai Municipality and Dubai Land Department forms part of Dubai’s efforts to transform itself into the world’s best city to live and work and ensure its services and operations keep pace with the evolving global environment,” Sheikh Hamdan said. 

“The teams in the two departments have a great responsibility to lead and manage Dubai’s strategic projects. We will be closely following their progress and supporting them to achieve their objectives.”


Amnesty demands FIFA pay $440m to Qatar’s ‘abused migrant workers’

Amnesty demands FIFA pay $440m to Qatar’s ‘abused migrant workers’
Updated 19 May 2022

Amnesty demands FIFA pay $440m to Qatar’s ‘abused migrant workers’

Amnesty demands FIFA pay $440m to Qatar’s ‘abused migrant workers’
  • FIFA should earmark at least $440 million to provide remedy for the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who have suffered human rights abuses in Qatar during preparations for the 2022 World Cup

LONDON: Rights group Amnesty International on Thursday urged football’s governing body FIFA pay compensation equal to the total 2022 World Cup prize money for migrant workers “abused” in host nation Qatar.
The call, backed by other rights organizations and fan groups, follows allegations that FIFA was slow to safeguard against the exploitation of workers who flooded into the tiny Gulf state to build infrastructure in the years leading up to the tournament that starts November 21.
“FIFA should earmark at least $440 million to provide remedy for the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who have suffered human rights abuses in Qatar during preparations for the 2022 World Cup,” Amnesty said in a statement accompanying a report.
The London-based group urged FIFA president Gianni Infantino “to work with Qatar to establish a comprehensive remediation program.”
It alleged that a “litany of abuses” had taken place since 2010, the year FIFA awarded the 2022 tournament to Qatar “without requiring any improvement in labor protections.”
“Given the history of human rights abuses in the country, FIFA knew — or should have known — the obvious risks to workers when it awarded the tournament to Qatar,” said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty’s secretary general.
Amnesty said some abuses persist and described $440 million as the “minimum necessary” to cover compensation claims and to ensure remedial initiatives are expanded for the future.
The sum is roughly the total prize money for this year’s World Cup. Amnesty’s call was backed in an open letter to Infantino also signed by nine other organizations, including Migrant Rights and Football Supporters Europe.
When asked for comment, FIFA said it was “assessing the program proposed by Amnesty” for Qatar, highlighting that it “involves a wide range of non-FIFA World Cup-specific public infrastructure built since 2010.”
Qatar’s World Cup organizers said they have “worked tirelessly” with international groups for the rights of workers on stadiums and other tournament projects. Much of the criticism has however been directed at construction outside the official tournament where hundreds of workers are said to have died in the past decade.
“Significant improvements have been made across accommodation standards, health and safety regulations, grievance mechanisms, health care provision, and reimbursements of illegal recruitment fees to workers,” said a spokesperson for the organizers, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy.
“This tournament is, and will continue to be a powerful catalyst for delivering a sustainable human and social legacy ahead of, during, and beyond the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.”
Workers’ claims range from unpaid salaries, “illegal” and “extortionate” recruitment fees averaging $1,300 to secure jobs, and compensation for injuries and deaths.
Amnesty welcomed initiatives by FIFA and Qatar, including improvements made on World Cup construction sites and labor legislation reforms introduced since 2014.
Qatar in 2017 introduced a minimum wage, cut the hours that can be worked in extreme heat, and ended part of a system which forced migrant workers to seek employers’ permission to change jobs or even leave the country.
Workers can go to labor tribunals and more government inspectors have been appointed.
Foreign workers, mainly from South Asia, make up more than two million of Qatar’s 2.8 million population.
But Amnesty said only about 48,000 workers have so far been green-lighted to claw back recruitment fees.
It said the requested $440 million represents only a “small fraction” of the $6 billion in revenues FIFA is expected to make over the next four years, much of it from the World Cup.


Second flight lands at Sanaa airport as Yemen parties pressured to extend truce

Second flight lands at Sanaa airport as Yemen parties pressured to extend truce
Updated 18 May 2022

Second flight lands at Sanaa airport as Yemen parties pressured to extend truce

Second flight lands at Sanaa airport as Yemen parties pressured to extend truce
  • The first commercial flight since 2016 took off from Sanaa airport on Monday after the Yemeni government allowed passengers with passports issued by the Houthis to leave the country

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A second commercial flight carrying dozens of passengers landed at the Houthi-held Sanaa airport on Wednesday as international mediators and world powers continue to pressure Yemen’s warring parties to extend the two-month truce.

The plane took off from Amman in the morning and landed at Sanaa airport at 2 p.m., further boosting hopes of the resumption of flights to other destinations, and the strengthening of the ceasefire.

Hans Grundberg, the UN’s Yemen envoy who had helped to negotiate the peace pact, announced the departure of the second flight from Jordan’s capital.

“A second commercial flight took off from Amman to Sanaa carrying Yemeni passengers at 10:30 a.m. today, as per the terms of the truce agreement and is scheduled to return back from Sanaa to Amman with Yemeni passengers at 4 p.m.,” Grundberg tweeted.

The first commercial flight since 2016 took off from Sanaa airport on Monday after the Yemeni government allowed passengers with passports issued by the Houthis to leave the country.

The resumption of the flights from Sanaa is one of several terms of the truce that came into effect on April 2. Under the agreement, the Yemeni parties would stop fighting on all fronts, allow fuel ships to enter Hodeidah seaports, and work with the UN to open roads in Taiz and other provinces.

At the same time, the UN envoy said on Wednesday that he resumed his meetings with Yemeni economists, politicians and security figures in Amman to produce ideas for his peace plan.

“The UN envoy for #Yemen resumes today his consultations to identify economic, political & security priorities for the multi-track process. Today he meets with a diverse group of Yemeni public figures, experts & civil society actors,” his office tweeted.

In his remarks to the press after his closed briefing to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Grundberg said that he discussed extending the pact with various Yemeni parties. “Yemenis can’t afford to go back to the pre-truce state of perpetual military escalation and political stalemate. I continue to engage the parties to overcome outstanding challenges and to ensure the extension of the truce,” he said, adding that the Houthis have not nominated their representatives for a meeting with the Yemeni government that would discuss ending their siege on Taiz.

Tim Lenderking, the US’ envoy to Yemen, also urged the warring factions to uphold and extend the truce, and to jointly work on opening roads in Taiz.

“We hope the resumption of flights to & from Sanaa brings relief to Yemenis. We must ensure the freedom of movement of people & goods, incl opening roads to Taiz. We call on the parties to adhere to & extend the @UN truce,” Lenderking tweeted.

In the besieged Taiz, residents have intensified their campaigns on the ground and on social media to draw attention to their daily suffering.

“This siege has turned the city of Taiz into a large prison and caused a real human tragedy. They opened Sanaa airport and ports and ignored Taiz’s suffering from the siege,” Ahmed Al-Qaidhy, an activist from the area, told Arab News.


Hamas-backed bloc wins West Bank student elections

Hamas-backed bloc wins West Bank student elections
Updated 18 May 2022

Hamas-backed bloc wins West Bank student elections

Hamas-backed bloc wins West Bank student elections
  • The Hamas-backed bloc with 5,060 votes won 28 seats, while the Fatah-supported bloc with 3,379 votes bagged just 18 seats

RAMALLAH: The Islamic bloc affiliated with Hamas won the student council elections at Birzeit University in the West Bank on Wednesday, defeating their Fatah rivals in the tightly contested vote.

The Hamas-backed bloc with 5,060 votes won 28 seats, while the Fatah-supported bloc with 3,379 votes bagged just 18 seats.

Five blocs contested 51 seats, while the voter turnout was 78.1 percent. 

Students witnessed an intense debate between representatives of the rival blocs the previous day, with both parties’ policies and programs coming in for criticism.

The Islamic bloc has led the student council in recent years.

Their Fatah-backed rivals say they are paying the price for the mistakes of the Palestinian Authority in terms of corruption, nepotism and security coordination with Israel, and losing elections frequently.

A day before the vote, seven senior student members of the Islamic bloc were arrested by an Israeli undercover unit, which generated sympathy for the group and translated into votes, experts told Arab News.

Ghassan Al-Khatib, vice president of the university, said that the student council vote is an indicator of Palestinian public opinion and political balances in Palestinian society “because of the credibility, integrity and democracy at the Birzeit elections.”

Mohammed Daraghmeh, a senior Palestinian writer, told Arab News that Birzeit students are not influenced by employment interests or work, so the electoral process takes place “in a democratic atmosphere and with great integrity.”

He added: “If Hamas wins, the street is supportive and biased toward it. If Fatah wins, this means that the street is with it.”

Daraghmeh said that both Fatah and Hamas make great efforts to win the students’ backing.

The election “helps Hamas strengthen its political discourse, and show that Palestinian public opinion in the West Bank supports its path and political line,” he said.

Meanwhile, Fatah “wants to defend the legitimacy of the Palestinian political system in light of its inability to organize Palestinian general elections.”

Birzeit elections are held every two years, with about 15,000 students voting for 51 seats. There was no vote in 2021 owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

The secretariat of the administrative body of the council consists of 13 members.

Birzeit was established in 1973 as a public university, and is the only West Bank academic institution that allows Hamas to practice its activities and politics without interference from Israel or the PA.

A number of prominent Palestinian leaders have graduated from the university, which offers 36 bachelor’s degree programs and 13 master’s programs, and employs 500 teachers.

Students from the West Bank and a few hundred Palestinians living in Israel study there.

Basem Naim, a prominent Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, told Arab News that the political group views the student vote as “an essential indicator” because it highlights the direction of future generations.

“The Birzeit University elections constitute an essential platform for Hamas because most Palestinian leaders are university graduates. Therefore, their strength today indicates the type of future leaders of the Palestinian people in all sectors and fields,” he said.