Portugal sets new July heat record, worsening severe drought

Portugal sets new July heat record, worsening severe drought
Portugal recorded its hottest July on record last month, the country’s weather service said Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. (AP/File)
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Updated 05 August 2022

Portugal sets new July heat record, worsening severe drought

Portugal sets new July heat record, worsening severe drought
  • The heat worsened Portugal’s drought, with 45% of the mainland in “extreme drought”
  • Many other parts of western Europe also witnessed torrid conditions in the early summer

LISBON, Portugal: Portugal recorded its hottest July on record last month, the country’s weather service said Friday.
The heat worsened Portugal’s drought, with 45 percent of the mainland in “extreme drought” — the highest classification — and the rest in “severe” drought, which is the second-highest, by the end of July.
Many other parts of western Europe also witnessed torrid conditions in the early summer, and scientists say climate change will continue to make weather more extreme.
Southern Europe’s climate is changing to resemble that of North Africa, according to experts.
The Portuguese weather service, known by its acronym IPMA, said July was the hottest since national records began in 1931.
The average temperature was 25.14 degrees Celsius (77.25 degrees Fahrenheit), it said. That was almost 3 degrees Celsius higher than the expected July average.
National rainfall measured 3 millimeters (0.12 inches), which was around 22 percent of the normal amount, the IMPA said.


UN rights chief says conditions ‘not right’ for Rohingya repatriation

UN rights chief says conditions ‘not right’ for Rohingya repatriation
Updated 18 August 2022

UN rights chief says conditions ‘not right’ for Rohingya repatriation

UN rights chief says conditions ‘not right’ for Rohingya repatriation
  • Bangladesh PM presses organization to move forward with plans
  • Scheme has failed to launch despite repeat pleas from Dhaka

DHAKA: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Wednesday that the repatriation of more than 1 million Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh is not yet possible due to the situation in Myanmar.

Although Bangladesh is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, it has hosted and provided humanitarian support to the Rohingya Muslims who fled neighboring Myanmar during a military crackdown in 2017.

Most of the refugees live in dozens of cramped settlements in Cox’s Bazar District, a coastal region in the country’s southeast. Hosting the refugees costs Bangladesh about $1.2 billion per year.

Bachelet arrived in Bangladesh on Sunday for a four-day working visit — her first to the South Asian country.

Despite multiple attempts from Bangladesh in past years to advance a UN-backed repatriation process, the organization has yet to move forward with a plan.

“The conditions are not right,” Bachelet told reporters. “Repatriation must always be conducted in a voluntary and dignified manner, only when safe and sustainable conditions exist in Myanmar.”

The UN human rights chief spoke after meeting Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who said that the Rohingya must go back home to Myanmar.

Hasina’s press secretary Ihsanul Karim told reporters that during the meeting, the prime minister had pushed for the repatriation process to finally begin.

“The Rohingyas are the nationals of Myanmar, and they have to be taken back,” he quoted Hasina as saying.

With the arrival of the Rohingya, Cox’s Bazar became the world’s largest refugee settlement. Few employment opportunities are available, sanitation is poor and access to education limited.

“The presence of Rohingyas in Bangladesh has created a number of security concerns for Bangladesh,” Prof. Delawar Hossain of the International Relations Department at the University of Dhaka, told Arab News.

Security in the camps came back into focus earlier this month when two refugee community leaders were shot dead, reportedly by an insurgent group active in the Cox’s Bazar camps that has been accused of killing scores of opponents.

Reports of criminal organizations using refugees as drug traffickers have also been on the rise.

International financial support for Bangladesh’s hosting of the Rohingya has fallen since 2020, multiplying the challenges the developing country battered by the COVID-19 pandemic is already facing.  

“Any community with a number of 1.3 million people definitely is a pressure on the economy and society,” Hossain said, adding that a return to Myanmar is an “urgent need” for the Rohingya as only then will they be able to start to live normal lives.

He said: “We should do everything possible so that the repatriation starts, because this is the only solution that we have for the Rohingya crisis.”


Former Australian PM defends secret power grab

Former Australian PM defends secret power grab
Updated 17 August 2022

Former Australian PM defends secret power grab

Former Australian PM defends secret power grab
  • Morrison’s tenure in office, from 2018 to 2022, was a period of crisis for Australia with record bushfires, floods and drought as well as the pandemic and a first-in-a-generation recession

SYDNEY: Australia’s ex-prime minister on Wednesday defended secretly appointing himself to several key ministries during the COVID-19 pandemic, rejecting accusations he created a “shadow government” and undermined the country’s democracy.

Rejecting bipartisan calls to apologize and resign from Parliament, Scott Morrison insisted he was right to take “emergency powers” over the health, treasury, finance, resources and home affairs departments, without telling the public or his Cabinet colleagues.

“I was steering the ship in the middle of the tempest,” the former Conservative leader said in a defiant first public appearance since the scandal broke, dismissing critics who were “standing on the shore after the fact.”

“Only I could really understand the weight of responsibility that was on my shoulders, and on no one else,” Morrison said, describing his moves as “break-glass-in-case-of-emergency” safeguards.

Morrison’s tenure in office, from 2018 to 2022, was a period of crisis for Australia with record bushfires, floods and drought as well as the pandemic and a first-in-a-generation recession.

But revelations that any prime minister could make such an extraordinary power grab without parliamentary or public oversight have left some questioning whether the country’s democracy is also in crisis.

Australia’s new prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has asked the solicitor-general to present advice on whether his predecessor acted legally.

“This is fundamentally a trashing of our democratic system. A trashing of the convention and rules that have operated in Australia for 121 years,” Albanese said Wednesday. “This is unprecedented.”

The Labor leader tied Morrison’s actions to a worldwide “retreat” of democracy.

“There’s people fighting now in Ukraine to protect democracy and a sovereign nation. You have a rise of undemocratic regimes.

“Our democracy is precious. We need to defend it and strengthen it, not undermine it, which is what the former government has done.”

Morrison’s Home Affairs Minister, Karen Andrews, said her former leader “needs to resign and he needs to leave Parliament.”

Morrison said he intended to represent his south Sydney constituency “to the best of my ability” until at least the next election in just under three years’ time.

A devout Christian, he has previously described his election as prime minister as a “miracle.”

In power, he was routinely accused of lacking honesty and transparency — an indictment that burst onto the global stage when French President Emmanuel Macron claimed he had lied over an abandoned submarine deal.

The former prime minister insists he gained “no personal advantage” from being sworn in to administer five portfolios and stressed that the arrangements were only to be used in an emergency, such as if a minister died during the pandemic.

Morrison said he only used the powers once, which was to override his resources minister and block a controversial offshore gas project — a move he conceded was separate from the pandemic.

“I’m very happy with that decision,” he said.

“And if people think I should have made a different decision and allowed that project to proceed... well, they can make that argument.”

His conservative coalition lost power in May elections, ending nearly a decade of center-right rule in the country.

In Australia, elected politicians are selected by the prime minister before being sworn in by the governor-general in a formal ceremony that is usually publicly recorded.


Killing of Afghan refugee prompts police reinforcements in French town

Killing of Afghan refugee prompts police reinforcements in French town
Updated 17 August 2022

Killing of Afghan refugee prompts police reinforcements in French town

Killing of Afghan refugee prompts police reinforcements in French town
  • Quayyem Abdul Ahmadzai shot dead after fight broke out with local youths over noise complaint
  • 60 officers sent to Colmar as govt clamps down on illegal motorcycle activity

LONDON: The death of an Afghan refugee in the eastern French province of Alsace has prompted police to send reinforcements to the area, The Times reported on Wednesday.
Quayyem Abdul Ahmadzai, 27, was allegedly shot in the chest after a fight broke out in the town of Colmar.
He and two other Afghans were having a picnic when the scuffle began, after he told a teenager nearby to make less noise with his motor scooter.
Witnesses said the teenager had been revving the engine of the scooter while standing on the pavement.
After insulting the three Afghans, he left, only to return with a group of friends, at which point the fight broke out and Ahmadzai was shot, said Catherine Sorita-Minard, the state prosecutor.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced in the aftermath of the killing that 60 police officers would be seconded to the town’s standing force of around 150 officers, to “reinforce security” and “reassure the inhabitants” of Colmar. Two teenagers, aged 17 and 18, are being sought by police in connection with the shooting.
Ahmadzai, who fled to France in 2017 and was granted refugee status, lived in the neighboring town of Mulhouse and worked for the car manufacturer Peugeot.
Another Afghan living in Colmar told The Times that Ahmadzai had been forced to leave his wife and children behind in Afghanistan when he fled, and that he “was all on his own here.”
His death has gained broad coverage across France as it came in the wake of a government crackdown on antisocial behavior by youths using motorcycles, which came to a head after four children were severely injured, and a 10-year-old girl in Paris left with severe neurological damage, after a number of accidents due to illegal races and stunts.
Darmanin said so far, 338 arrests had been made in relation to the crackdown nationwide, with 203 people remanded in custody, 157 motorcycles confiscated and 5,712 fines issued.


UK police detail ‘remarkable’ probe into Daesh ‘Beatles’ cell

UK police detail ‘remarkable’ probe into Daesh ‘Beatles’ cell
Updated 17 August 2022

UK police detail ‘remarkable’ probe into Daesh ‘Beatles’ cell

UK police detail ‘remarkable’ probe into Daesh ‘Beatles’ cell
  • Counter-terrorism officers said the hostages' recollections helped "zero in" on three of the British captors
  • The Daesh cell members were known to their captives as the "Beatles" because of their distinctive British accents

LONDON: UK police lifted the lid Wednesday on a years-long probe into the notorious Daesh kidnap-and-murder cell dubbed the “Beatles” by their captives.
Counter-terrorism officers said the hostages’ recollections helped “zero in” on three of the British captors.
The Daesh cell members, who tried to keep their identities hidden, held dozens of foreign hostages in Syria between 2012 and 2015 and were known to their captives as the “Beatles” because of their distinctive British accents.
Two of them — 38-year-old Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, 34 — have been brought to justice in the United States for their part in the gruesome beheadings and killings of several Americans.
Another, Mohamed Emwazi — dubbed “Jihadi John” — died in Syria in 2015.
A fourth alleged British member was remanded in UK custody last week on terrorism charges after Turkey deported him following a jail term there.
Ahead of Elsheikh’s sentencing on Friday, British police have now detailed how their nearly decade-long probe unearthed key evidence used by US prosecutors to convict him in April.
“The building of the case is described as like putting together very small pieces of a jigsaw,” Richard Smith, the head of London police’s counter-terrorism unit, told reporters at a briefing Wednesday.
“What we pieced together here is a trail of breadcrumbs, fragments of breadcrumbs really, among a huge amount of other inquiries, which we were then able to present... to a court to assist the prosecution in the US.”
London’s Metropolitan Police first began probing what would become known as the “Beatles” cell in November 2012, when a spate of kidnappings of Western journalists and aid workers began in northern Syria.
Following some hostages’ release, as well as videos of other captives being beheaded by an executioner with a British accent, officers discovered some of the suspected perpetrators were UK citizens.
From the accounts of freed hostages, alongside other information and intelligence, they first identified the executioner as Emwazi.
Born in Kuwait but raised in the UK since aged six, he was killed by a US drone strike in Syria in 2015.
As British police worked to identify others, Smith said a “snippet of conversation” between captors and captives provided the key breakthrough.
Kotey and Elsheikh had revealed they were once arrested in central London at a far-right English Defense League (EDL) protest, which featured a counter-demonstration by an Islamic group.
Officers were able to trawl back through records of arrests at such events and discovered a September 2011 incident in which the pair were held over a stabbing.
Police then unearthed video footage of the duo from the day, data from their seized mobile phones that showed links to Emwazi, and other evidence leads.
“(That) one piece of information emerged from the hostages we spoke to, which was fairly unremarkable on the face of it to the hostage but proved very significant to us,” said Smith.
Officers also used a 2014 firearms conviction of Elsheikh’s brother to find further evidence from his mobile phone seized in that case.
It included images of Elsheikh in Syria in combat gear with a gun, and graphic pictures of severed heads which the 34-year-old had labelled “Syrian casualties.”
Meanwhile, officers discovered a 2009 police interview with him over an unrelated case that featured his voice, which experts were able to conclude was the same as a captor’s heard in Daesh hostage videos.
The “Beatles” cell is accused of abducting at least 27 journalists and relief workers from the United States, Britain, Europe, New Zealand, Russia and Japan.
Kotey and Elsheikh were captured in January 2018 by a Kurdish militia in Syria and turned over to US forces in Iraq before being sent to the US with UK permission.
There they faced charges of hostage-taking, conspiracy to murder US citizens and supporting a foreign terrorist organization.
Kotey pleaded guilty to his role in the deaths last September and was sentenced to life in prison in April.


WHO urges caution after dog catches monkeypox

WHO urges caution after dog catches monkeypox
Updated 17 August 2022

WHO urges caution after dog catches monkeypox

WHO urges caution after dog catches monkeypox
  • A first case of human-to-dog transmission of monkeypox was reported last week in the medical journal The Lancet
  • "This is the first case reported of human-to-animal transmission," said WHO's technical lead for monkeypox

GENEVA: The World Health Organization called Wednesday for people infected with monkeypox to avoid exposing animals to the virus following a first reported case of human-to-dog transmission.
A first case of human-to-dog transmission of monkeypox — between two men and their Italian greyhound living together in Paris — was reported last week in the medical journal The Lancet.
“This is the first case reported of human-to-animal transmission... and we believe it is the first instance of a canine being infected,” Rosamund Lewis, the WHO’s technical lead for monkeypox, told reporters.
Experts, she said, had been aware of the theoretical risk that such a jump could happen, and that public health agencies had already been advising those suffering from the disease to “isolate from their pets.”
In addition, she said “waste management is critical” to lower the risk of contaminating rodents and other animals outside the household.
It was vital, she said, for people to “have information on how to protect their pets, as well as how to manage their waste so that animals in general are not exposed to the monkeypox virus.”
When viruses jump the species barrier it often sparks concern that they could mutate in a more dangerous direction.
Lewis stressed that so far there was no reports that was happening with monkeypox.
But, she acknowledged, “certainly as soon as the virus moves into a different setting in a different population, there is obviously a possibility that it will develop differently and mutate differently.”
The main concern revolves around animals outside of the household.
“The more dangerous situation... is where a virus can move into a small mammal population with high density of animals,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told reporters.
“It is through the process of one animal infecting the next and the next and the next that you see rapid evolution of the virus.”
He stressed though that there was little cause for concern around household pets.
“I don’t expect the virus to evolve any more quickly in one single dog than in one single human,” he said, adding that while “we need to remain vigilant... pets are not a risk.”
Monkeypox received its name because the virus was originally identified in monkeys kept for research in Denmark in 1958, but the disease is found in a number of animals, and most frequently in rodents.
The disease was first discovered in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the spread since then mainly limited to certain West and Central African countries.
But in May, cases of the disease, which causes fever, muscular aches and large boil-like skin lesions, began spreading rapidly around the world, mainly among men who have sex with men.
Worldwide, more than 35,000 cases have been confirmed since the start of the year in 92 countries, and 12 people have died, according to the WHO, which has designated the outbreak a global health emergency.