IAEA chief leading team to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

IAEA chief leading team to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant
The Zaporizhzhia plant, which has six of Ukraine’s reactors, has been occupied by Russian troops since shortly after Moscow launched its invasion on February 24. (File/AFP)
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Updated 29 August 2022

IAEA chief leading team to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

IAEA chief leading team to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant
  • Its Ukraine operator Energoatom warned on Saturday of the risk of radioactive leaks and fire after new strikes

VIENNA: International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi said Monday he was on his way to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, which has been the target of strikes in recent weeks.
“The day has come, IAEA’s Support and Assistance Mission to Zaporizhzhya is now on its way,” Grossi tweeted, saying the team from the UN atomic watchdog would arrive at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant “later this week.”
In a photograph accompanying his tweet, the IAEA chief posed with a team of 13 people wearing caps and sleeveless jackets bearing the nuclear watchdog’s logo.
Grossi has for months been asking to be able to visit the site, warning of “the very real risk of a nuclear disaster.”
The Zaporizhzhia plant, which has six of Ukraine’s reactors, has been occupied by Russian troops since shortly after Moscow launched its invasion on February 24, and has remained on the frontlines ever since.
Moscow and Kyiv have traded blame for shelling around the complex, near the city of Energodar.
Its Ukraine operator Energoatom warned on Saturday of the risk of radioactive leaks and fire after new strikes.
The United Nations has called for an end to all military activity in the area surrounding the complex.
Ukraine initially feared an IAEA visit would legitimize the Russian occupation of the site before finally supporting the idea of a mission.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday urged the watchdog to send a team as soon as possible.
Between Thursday and Friday, the plant was cut off from Ukraine’s national power grid for the first time in its four-decade history due to “actions of the invaders,” Energoatom said.
It came back online Friday afternoon.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed that a team of independent inspectors could travel to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant via Ukraine, the French presidency said on August 20 after a call with Emmanuel Macron.


UN sounds alarm on trafficked medicines in the Sahel

 A pharmacy tech pours out pills of Hydroxychloroquine at Rock Canyon Pharmacy in Provo, Utah, on May 20, 2020. (AFP)
A pharmacy tech pours out pills of Hydroxychloroquine at Rock Canyon Pharmacy in Provo, Utah, on May 20, 2020. (AFP)
Updated 10 sec ago

UN sounds alarm on trafficked medicines in the Sahel

 A pharmacy tech pours out pills of Hydroxychloroquine at Rock Canyon Pharmacy in Provo, Utah, on May 20, 2020. (AFP)
  • The financial benefits from the illicit trade are reaped by many, including pharmaceutical company employees, law enforcement officers and street vendors

DAKAR: Up to 50 percent of medicines in West Africa are substandard or fake, the UN warned Tuesday in a report on the illicit trade in medical products, which can lead to antimicrobial resistance or toxic contaminations while undermining trust in health care systems.
Between January 2017 and December 2021, at least 605 tons of medical products were seized in West Africa during international operations, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said, though reporting is inconsistent and the real number is likely to be higher.
Across sub-Saharan Africa, up to $44.7 million per year is spent on treating people who have used counterfeit or substandard malaria treatments, the report said.
And up to 267,000 deaths are linked each year to the use of substandard antimalarials, according to World Health Organization data cited by the report.
Beyond the risk of counterfeits and poorly made drugs — which at best do not work and at worst lead to toxic contaminations — the report also warned of legitimate medications being used in unauthorized ways.
That can lead to increased resistance to frontline drugs such as antibiotics and antimalarials.
“Once a (legitimate) product is diverted from the supply chain, there is very little (oversight) about how it is being used,” said Francois Patuel, the head of the UNODC’s Research and Awareness Unit.
“If you... ask for an antibiotic in the market, you will be able to purchase it. Whether it is the right antibiotic that should be used, or should be used at all, is not something that is controlled,” he added.
“It is contributing to bacterial resistance and to antimalarial resistance.”
The report, which focused specifically on trafficking within the Sahel countries of Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, said the medical products that have been diverted from the legal supply chain typically come from Europe and to a lesser extent from China and India.
They often pass through seaports in Guinea, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria before being moved into the Sahel.
The financial benefits from the illicit trade are reaped by many, including pharmaceutical company employees, law enforcement officers and street vendors.
Armed groups, however, are less involved, it said.
“Despite terrorist groups and non-state armed groups being commonly associated with trafficking in medical products in the Sahel, most reported cases in the region show that the involvement of such groups is limited and mainly revolves around consuming medical products or levying ‘taxes’ on them in the areas under their control,” it said.

 


Countries call for WHO swift action on sexual abuse

Countries call for WHO swift action on sexual abuse
Updated 9 min 10 sec ago

Countries call for WHO swift action on sexual abuse

Countries call for WHO swift action on sexual abuse
  • “Complaints must be addressed in a timely manner, and perpetrators held to account, so we strongly support efforts to strengthen WHO’s investigative capacity,” the member states said

GENEVA: More than 50 countries on Tuesday told the World Health Organization that they wanted perpetrators of sexual abuse within the WHO to be swiftly held to account.
Survivors of sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment (SEAH) must also be given proper support, the countries told the UN health agency’s executive board meeting.
The WHO has been under intense pressure to make far-reaching changes following revelations in 2020 of widespread sexual abuse by humanitarian workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
British ambassador Simon Manley delivered a joint statement on behalf of 57 countries, voicing “deep concerns” about allegations of SEAH, and the alleged abuse of authority by WHO staff and contractors.
The countries included all 27 EU member states, South Africa, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Chile, Japan, the United States, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, South Korea and Ukraine.
They recognized that progress had been made in recent years, and praised the bravery of survivors and whistleblowers in speaking out.
“Building a culture based on integrity, transparency and accountability is crucial,” the countries said.
“We encourage WHO management to set the tone and lead by example in these areas, particularly by establishing clear responsibility and accountability lines.
“We strongly support WHO’s investment in capacity-building and training for staff. This work should build awareness of the power differentials and inequalities between victims and perpetrators that lie at the root of SEAH.”
They called for a shift toward an approach centered on victims and survivors.
“Complaints must be addressed in a timely manner, and perpetrators held to account, so we strongly support efforts to strengthen WHO’s investigative capacity,” the member states said.
“We expect prompt and confidential reporting to be provided to member states, including on the actions taken to address SEAH.”
The 34-member executive board’s job is to advise the World Health Assembly of member states — the WHO’s decision-making body — and implement its decisions.
The 152nd session of the WHO executive board started on Monday and runs until February 7.
The WHO says it has zero tolerance for any form of sexual misconduct by any of its workforce and takes prompt action whenever an allegation is raised.
 

 


US, India partnership targets arms and AI to compete with China

US, India partnership targets arms and AI to compete with China
Updated 25 min 12 sec ago

US, India partnership targets arms and AI to compete with China

US, India partnership targets arms and AI to compete with China
  • Washington wants to deploy more Western mobile phone networks in the subcontinent to counter China’s Huawei Technologies, to welcome more Indian computer chip specialists to the United States

WASHINGTON: The White House is launching a partnership with India on Tuesday that President Joe Biden hopes will help the countries compete against China on military equipment, semiconductors and artificial intelligence.
Washington wants to deploy more Western mobile phone networks in the subcontinent to counter China’s Huawei Technologies, to welcome more Indian computer chip specialists to the United States and to encourage companies from both countries to collaborate on military equipment like artillery systems.
The White House faces an uphill battle on each front, including US restrictions on military technology transfer and visas for immigrant workers, along with India’s longstanding dependence on Moscow for military hardware.
Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, and his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, are meeting with senior officials from both countries at the White House on Tuesday to launch the US-India Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies.
“The larger challenge posed by China — its economic practices, its aggressive military moves, its efforts to dominate the industries of the future and to control the supply chains of the future have had a profound impact on the thinking in Delhi,” said Sullivan.
New Delhi has frustrated Washington by participating in military exercises with Russia and increasing purchases of the country’s crude oil, a key source of funding for Russia’s war in Ukraine. But Washington has held its tongue, nudging the country on Russia while condoning India’s more hawkish stance on China.
On Monday, Sullivan and Doval participated in a Chamber of Commerce event with corporate leaders from Lockheed Martin Corp, Adani Enterprises and Applied Materials Inc.
While India is part of the Biden administration’s signature Asian engagement project Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), it has opted against joining the IPEF trade pillar negotiations.
The initiative also includes a joint effort on space and high-performance quantum computing.
General Electric Co, meanwhile, is asking the US government for permission to produce jet engines with India that would power aircraft operated and produced by India, according to the White House, which says a review is underway.


Baldwin charged for ‘reckless handling’ of gun in ‘Rust’ shooting

Baldwin charged for ‘reckless handling’ of gun in ‘Rust’ shooting
Updated 15 min 35 sec ago

Baldwin charged for ‘reckless handling’ of gun in ‘Rust’ shooting

Baldwin charged for ‘reckless handling’ of gun in ‘Rust’ shooting
  • Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was fatally shot on the set of Western movie ‘Rust’ in 2021
  • Alec Baldwin has denied responsibility for the shooting, saying he cocked the revolver but never pulled the trigger

Actor Alec Baldwin and set armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed were charged with involuntary manslaughter on Tuesday for the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of Western movie “Rust” in 2021, according to court documents.
District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies filed charges following months of speculation as to whether she had evidence that Baldwin showed criminal disregard for safety when a revolver with which he was rehearsing fired a live round that killed Hutchins.
A probable cause statement accompanying the charges names Baldwin as both an actor and producer on the movie and says: “On the day of the shooting alone, evidence shows that no less than a dozen acts, or omissions of recklessness, occurred in the short time prior to lunch and the time of the shooting, and this does not include the reckless handling of the firearm by Baldwin.”
The “30 Rock” actor has denied responsibility for the shooting, saying he cocked the revolver but never pulled the trigger and it was the job of Gutierrez-Reed and other weapons’ professionals to ensure it was unloaded.
Gutierrez-Reed has said she checked the rounds she loaded into the gun were dummies before handing it to first assistant director Dave Halls. Halls handed it to Baldwin, telling him it was a “cold gun,” meaning it did not contain an explosive charge, according to police.
Halls has signed a plea deal for a misdemeanor charge and is expected to cooperate with the prosecution.
On Dec. 13 Halls testified to New Mexico’s worker safety bureau that Gutierrez-Reed handed the gun to Baldwin and that he never declared the Pietta reproduction Colt .45 a “cold gun.”
Industry-wide firearms safety guidelines instruct actors to assume a firearm is loaded with blank ammunition. Live ammunition is strictly forbidden on sets.


French protests against Macron’s pension reform gather momentum

French protests against Macron’s pension reform gather momentum
Updated 01 February 2023

French protests against Macron’s pension reform gather momentum

French protests against Macron’s pension reform gather momentum
  • Two more days of strikes and protests were announced for next week on Tuesday and Saturday

PARIS: Protests against French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to reform the pension system gathered momentum on Tuesday, with more than 1.27 million people in the street according to the interior ministry.
The number of demonstrators increased slightly compared to a first round of protests on January 19, putting pressure on the government which is struggling to convince voters of the need for the changes.
“The government must hear the massive rejection of this project and withdraw it,” Patricia Drevon from the Force Ouvriere union told a joint press conference with other labor leaders on Tuesday evening.
Two more days of strikes and protests were announced for next week on Tuesday and Saturday.
Macron’s plan to raise the age of retirement from 62 to 64 is a flagship policy of his second term in office which he defended on Monday as “essential” given forecasts for deficits in the coming years.
“The reform of the pension system is causing questioning and doubts. We hear it,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, while insisting on the government’s “responsibility” to carry out the changes.
Unions claimed turnout nation-wide on Tuesday was around 2.5 million, with the hard-left CGT suggesting 2.8 million earlier in the day.
Strikes crippled transport, schools and other public services around the country.
“It’s one of the biggest demonstrations organized in our country in decades,” the head of the moderate CFDT union, Laurent Berger, said as a large crowd dominated by union members, public sector workers and students began marching in Paris.
The last comparable protests were in 2010 — also against pension reform — which reached 1.23 million people at their peak according to official figures, and 3.5 million according to unions.
Despite the prospect of an increasingly bitter and costly stand-off, Macron has shown no sign of stepping back over an issue that has put his credibility on the line only nine months after his re-election.
France currently has the lowest qualifying age for a state pension among major European economies and spends the second-highest amount on pensions relative to the size of its economy compared to other industrialized countries, according to OECD data.
“We need people to join the movement, rolling strikes that have a real impact,” Viviane Rongione, a retired teacher, told AFP as she marched on Tuesday. “Protests every 10 days won’t be enough to make the government back down.”
Tuesday’s demonstrations were peaceful, but minor scuffles broke out in Paris in the afternoon between anarchist and far-left activists and police. Police said they had arrested 18 people.
Large crowds also took to the streets in the rest of the country including in Marseille, Montpellier, Lyon, Nantes and Bordeaux.
“I don’t want to wait until I’m 64. I’m a nursery schoolteacher and it’s impossible to teach until that late in life,” said Sandrine Carre, 52, in the southwestern city of Bordeaux.
“We’re always having to crouch down, and already my knees hurt.”
The most controversial part of the overhaul is hiking the minimum retirement age, but it would also increase the minimum number of years needed to qualify for a full pension.
Opponents say the measures penalize the unqualified or unskilled workers who tend to start their working lives much earlier than graduates.
In the southwestern city of Toulouse, flight simulator repairman Christian, 54, said he could not wait until he was 65 to receive the maximum allowance.
“I’m already doing night shifts and it’s getting tougher,” he said.
Across the country, millions had to adapt their daily routines as workers in transport and education staged walkouts.
The SNCF national railway company said it had canceled 65 percent of high-speed TGV trains and 75 percent of regional trains.
France’s oil industry was mostly paralyzed, with the CGT union at energy giant TotalEnergies reporting between 75 and 100 percent of workers on strike.
Public opinion is likely to be crucial in the coming weeks as the government looks to swiftly pass the legislation in parliament and unions prepare more public defiance.
Sixty-one percent of French people support the protest movement, a poll by the OpinionWay survey group showed on Monday — a rise of three percentage points from January 12.
“The more French people find out about the reform, the less they support it,” said Frederic Dabi, a prominent pollster at the Ifop institute. “This is not good at all for the government.”
Macron’s centrist allies, short of an absolute majority in parliament, will need votes from conservatives to push through the new legislation.