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White House launches survey looking for tech industry bias

SAN FRANCISCO — The White House has launched an online form asking people to share their experiences if they think political bias has led to their posts being removed from social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.The White House’s official Twitter account tweeted a link to the form on Wednesday, saying that “The Trump Administration is fighting for free speech online.” The tweet continues that “no matter your views, if you suspect political bias has caused you to be censored or silenced online, we want to hear about it!”The tweet was sent the same day the White House declined to sign a global pledge to step up efforts to keep internet platforms from being used to spread hate, organize extremist groups and broadcast attacks, citing respect for freedom of expression.The Associated Press read more

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Update on the latest in business

^FINANCIAL MARKETSAsian stocks mostly fall on Wall Street slide, trade fearsTOKYO (AP) — Asian shares were mostly lower today after another round of selling on Wall Street amid investor worries about a trade war.Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 dropped 0.4%, Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 slipped 0.8% and South Korea’s Kospi edged up 0.5%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was down 0.5%, while the Shanghai Composite lost 0.9%.On Wall Street, overnight, the S&P 500 index fell 19.37 points, or 0.7%, to 2,783.02. The index had been down 1.3% earlier. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 221.36 points, or 0.9%, to 25,126.41. It had tumbled 409 points. The Nasdaq composite slid 60.04 points, or 0.8%, to 7,547.31. The Russell 2000 index of small companies dropped 14.07 points, or 0.9%, to 1,489.95.With two more trading days left in May, the S&P 500 is heading for a loss of 5.5%. That would be its first monthly loss since December.^CHINA-TRADEChina dangles a potentially harmful new threat in trade warWASHINGTON (AP) — Facing new trade sanctions and a U.S. clampdown on its top telecommunications company, China issued a pointed reminder Wednesday that it has yet to unleash all its weapons in its trade war with the Trump administration.Chinese state media warned that Beijing could cut America off from exotic minerals that are widely used in electric cars and mobile phones. The threat to use China’s rich supply of so-called rare earths as leverage in the conflict has contributed to sharp losses in U.S. stocks and sliding long-term bond yields.For months, the world’s two biggest economies have been locked in a standoff over allegations that China deploys predatory tactics — including stealing trade secrets and forcing foreign companies to hand over technology — in a drive to supplant U.S. technological dominance.The Trump administration has imposed 25% tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese imports and is planning to tax the $300 billion in imports that have so far been spared. And it escalated the stakes this month by putting the Chinese telecom giant Huawei on a blacklist that effectively bars U.S. companies from supplying it with computer chips, software and other components without government approval.The U.S. claims Huawei is legally beholden to China’s ruling Communist Party, which could order it to spy on their behalf. Washington has offered no evidence that the Huawei has done that, however.Huawei is trying to beat back one punitive U.S. measure in federal court. In a motion filed late Tuesday in eastern Texas, the company argued that a 2018 law that bars it from selling telecom gear to U.S. government agencies and contractors should be struck down as unconstitutional.^JAPAN-MAHATHIRMahathir urges US to talk with China, accept its greatnessTOKYO (AP) — Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is calling for talks to resolve ongoing trade dispute between Washington and Beijing and is urging the world to accept China’s technological prowess.Mahathir says the U.S. cannot expect to always be at the top in technology, and countries need to talk to deal with a powerful China.Speaking at a conference in Tokyo today, Mahathir referred to the Chinese telecom giant Huawei and said nations with differing ideologies must be able to get along.For months, the world’s two biggest economies have been locked in a standoff over trade balances and technology, including allegations that China uses unfair tactics, such as stealing trade secrets.Mahathir has a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday.^CALIFORNIA-LEGISLATURE-RENTCalifornia Assembly votes to cap rent increasesSACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The California Assembly voted Wednesday to cap rent increases for many tenants as America’s most populous state faces a housing crunch.A bill, which now goes to the state Senate, would prohibit landlords from raising rent more than 7% plus inflation over the course of a year. The bill would not apply to newer housing or to landlords with fewer than 10 single-family homes and it would expire in 2023.The bill’s author, Democratic Assemblyman David Chiu, said the measure will protect tenants from what he called rent gouging.But the bill faced persistent opposition, including from Realtors, prompting some last-minute concessions narrowing the bill to win over critics.Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom called on lawmakers in his State of the State Address this year to pass legislation protecting tenants.^PELOSI-FACEBOOKPelosi slams Facebook for not removing altered videoSAN FRANCISCO (AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi slammed Facebook on Wednesday for not removing a doctored video that has spread widely on the social network in which she appears to slur her words.The altered video had been slowed down, giving the false appearance that Pelosi was drunk, ill or otherwise impaired. Facebook did not respond to messages seeking comment.In an interview last week with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Facebook’s Head of Product Policy and Counterterrorism Monika Bickert defended the company’s decision, noting that users are being told that the video is false when they view or share it.Pelosi said in San Francisco that she is no longer giving Facebook the benefit of doubt that it is “unwittingly” spreading false information. She said Facebook is serving an accomplice and enabler of false information and Russian elections interference.Facebook does not prohibit false information from being shared on its service. Instead, the company says it “downranks” such material to make it less prominent in people’s news feeds and more difficult to find. It also employs outside fact-checkers, including The Associated Press, to determine the veracity of questionable material. It includes such fact checks around the disputed articles and videos but does not directly label them as false.Tech industry trade group NetChoice, whose members include Facebook, called Pelosi’s comments “hyperbole” that makes it hard to identify the “real bad actors.”^HOME GROW MARIJUANAIllinois advances legalized pot after home growing settledSPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois lawmakers working to legalize recreational marijuana hit a snag that other states have wrestled with: whether to allow people to grow a few pot plants for personal use.The 10 states that have legalized recreational marijuana have different “home grow” rules, with Michigan allowing individuals to grow as many as 12 plants and Washington state not allowing them to grow any.The question in Illinois was settled Wednesday night when the Senate approved recreational use of marijuana after universal home cultivation of the plant was replaced by a provision allowing only medical-marijuana patients to grow their own.The differences in home grow regulations reflect how states view the competing arguments about home cultivation: Opponents say it fuels the black market sale of the drug while proponents argue that if businesses can sell it, they should be able to grow it.Legalization legislation from two Chicago Democrats — state Sen. Heather Steans and state Rep. Kelly Cassidy — got off to a much better start this year than in the past because of the November election of Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who campaigned on legalizing recreational marijuana.But pushback over policing homegrown pot forced Steans to jettison her original plan allowing cultivation for personal use before Wednesday’s Senate OK.^CUBA-INTERNETCuba legalizes private Wi-Fi, importation of routersHAVANA (AP) — Cuba announced Wednesday that it is legalizing private Wi-Fi networks and the importation of equipment like routers, eliminating one of the world’s tightest restrictions on internet use.The measure announced by state media provides a legal status to thousands of Cubans who created homemade digital networks with smuggled equipment that was illegal but generally tolerated by authorities in recent years. It also appears to allow private businesses to provide internet to customers, the potential start in Cuba of internet cafes, so far virtually unknown here.While the new regulation permits citizens to connect to the internet with their own equipment and share the signal with others, it does not loosen state control of the internet itself. Cuba’s telecoms monopoly, Etecsa, remains the only internet provider on the island. The new rules go into effect on July 29.The government says operators of private networks will not be allowed to charge for the service, although it is unclear how that will be enforced.Until 2015, the only legal internet on the island could be found in government computer centres and hotels frequented mostly by tourists. That changed with the activation of dozens of government routers mounted in parks and on street corners. Cubans could log on to the routers with scratch-off cards bought from the government for several dollars per hour of internet. That cost has declined to $1 an hour.In order to enjoy the internet at home, Cubans smuggled in powerful antennas that picked up the signal from nearby government routers and piped into their bedrooms and living rooms. They still needed government scratch-off cards to access the internet itself.^PERSONAL FLYING VEHICLEHydrogen-power electric flying vehicle: Long road to liftoffLOS ANGELES (AP) — A transportation company is betting its sleek new hydrogen-powered electric flying vehicles will someday serve as taxis, cargo carriers and ambulances of the sky, but experts say they will have to clear a number of regulatory hurdles before being approved for takeoff years in the future.With six rotors on the roof and seats inside for five people, a passenger model of the Skai (pronounced “sky”) unveiled Wednesday near Los Angeles resembles an oversized drone crossed with a luxury SUV.Like a drone, the vehicle from Alaka’i Technologies takes off and lands vertically. It’s one of many similar electric flying crafts in production, including prototypes from Boeing and Airbus that made successful test flights this year, according to Vertical Flight Society, an industry group.Most are powered by batteries, which can add a lot of weight. The Skai instead uses very light hydrogen fuel cells to run its rotors, giving it a range of 400 miles (644 kilometres) and the capacity to carry 1,000 pounds (454 kilograms) in people or freight, the company says.^DISNEYLAND-STAR WARS-GALAXY’S EDGEStar Wars: Galaxy’s Edge offers new world at DisneylandANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is on the same land as Disneyland, but stepping into the new attraction shows an entirely different world.The theme park offered media a glimpse into Galaxy’s Edge on Wednesday. The exclusive tour included a Star Wars-themed food tasting, a stroll through the Black Spire Outpost marketplace and four-minute ride on the Millennium Falcon.A firsthand look took place a couple days before Galaxy’s Edge opens at the California theme park on Friday. That’s when guests with a pre-reservation can experience the largest single-themed land created in a Disney park.Disney officials said it took more the five years to develop and finish the attraction.Galaxy’s Edge is an adventure through the grungy planet Batuu, a remote world in the newest “Star Wars” trilogy, and the fight between the Resistance and the evil First Order. The sprawling 14-acre land has three different areas including the Resistance, First Order and the Village.Guests can build their own droids and lightsabers and interact with aliens. They can also step into the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon, the exact replica of the ship from the films, measuring more than 100 feet long. The interactive experience allows a team of six people to operate the spacecraft during the interactive experience.Some familiar faces including Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren and fan-favourite Chewbacca will be a part of the adventure as visitors explore the immersive world.^VOLKSWAGEN-CHATTANOOGAUnion vote next month at Volkswagen’s Tennessee plantCHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — The United Auto Workers union will hold a vote next month on its representation of all hourly workers at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.The union said the National Labor Relations Board decided Wednesday that the vote will take place June 12, 13 and 14. The board dismissed a previous petition for a vote on a technicality.Volkswagen has said it is neutral on the issue of unionization. But it steadfastly refused to bargain with UAW after the union won representation of maintenance workers at the plant in 2015. The German auto maker has argued the bargaining unit needed to include production workers as well.According to the union, the proposed new bargaining unit would encompass about 1,700 workers at the plant.The Associated Press read more

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Palestinian refugees hurt in blaze at camp on SyrianIraqi border says UN

25 April 2007Fire swept through a refugee camp in the no-man’s-land near the Syrian-Iraqi border last night, injuring 28 Palestinians and destroying the tents and personal possessions of seven families, the United Nations refugee agency reported today, calling this evidence of the poor living conditions in the area. Survivors said they escaped death by only seconds as the Al Tanf camp was engulfed by the blaze on Tuesday night, which was apparently caused by a spark from an electric cable igniting a diesel can and gas cylinder. Strong winds also fanned the flames.Three Palestinian refugees suffered severe burns and 25 others, mostly children, received minor burns and smoke inhalation, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It was the second fire at the camp.One survivor told UNHCR officials that his tent became a fireball within a minute. “There was no time to take anything,” he said. “Our children were sleeping. My neighbour has serious burns because he went into the burning flames looking for his child who had already run out of the tent. Everything is lost, including our hope in life.”Al Tanf is host to 389 Palestinian refugees, mainly women and children, fleeing violence in Iraq. They have been stranded on the border area for the last 11 months after being denied entry to Syria or any other neighbouring country of Iraq. Conditions at the camp are extremely harsh, with a desert climate and winds frequently swirling sand and dust.UNHCR staff have brought fresh supplies, including tents and bedding, from the Syrian capital, Damascus, to replace those lost in the fire.Laurens Jolles, UNHCR’s Representative in Syria described the fire as an accident waiting to happen.“It is an example of how inappropriate and dangerous this place is for humans to live in and underlines the need to move these refugees to an appropriate and safe place,” Mr. Jolles said.More than 1,000 Palestinians are stuck at the Al Tanf and Al Waleed areas along the Syrian-Iraqi border, too afraid to return to their homes, especially in Baghdad, where they have been the target of deadly attacks. An estimated 15,000 Palestinians still live in the Iraqi capital, half the number of the community in 2003. read more

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Vatican City and UN Headquarters have geographical similarities says Pope

18 April 2008Pope Benedict XVI drew a parallel between United Nations Headquarters in New York and the Vatican City today as two tiny geographical entities that are hubs with vast worldwide influence. Vatican City is the world’s smallest fully independent nation-state, with a total area of 110 acres surrounded by Rome and a population of some 800. UN Headquarters is “international territory” under an agreement with the United States, stretching over some 18 acres between New York’s East River and 1st Avenue, and 42nd and 48th Streets. It has no permanent residents although there is a bedroom attached to the Secretary-General’s 38th floor office. “Here, within a small space in the busy city of New York, is housed an Organization with a worldwide mission to promote peace and justice,” the Pope told a meeting of UN staff during his Headquarters visit today. “I am reminded of the similar contrast in scale between Vatican City State and the world in which the Church exercises her universal mission and apostolate.” The Roman Catholic Church has 1.13 billion followers, according to the Vatican’s 2008 yearbook. The population of UN Member States is estimated at some 6.6 billion. read more

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UN human rights expert to visit Myanmar

13 February 2009The independent United Nations expert on the situation of human rights in Myanmar will begin a six-day visit beginning tomorrow to assess developments in the South-East Asian nation since his previous mission last year. Special Rapporteur Tomás Ojea Quintana, who was appointed to his post in May 2008 by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, made his first visit to Myanmar last August.In a report issued following that visit, Mr. Quintana proposed that four core human rights elements be implemented: the revision of domestic laws that limit fundamental rights, the progressive release of the estimated 2,000 prisoners of conscience still in detention, the reform and training of the military so that it conforms with human rights, and changes to the judiciary so that it is fully independent.These four elements must be completed before national elections are held in 2010, he added.The Special Rapporteur will discuss the implementation of these four elements with relevant officials during his 14-19 February mission. He has requested to meet in private with a number of prisoners of conscience as well as leaders of political parties, and also intends to travel to Rakhine, Kayin and Kachin states. read more

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Security Council condemns DPR Koreas recent launch

In a statement read out by Ambassador Claude Heller of Mexico, which holds the Council’s rotating presidency, the 15-member body deems the 5 April launch to be in contravention of resolution 1718, which demanded that the country “not conduct any further nuclear test or launch of a ballistic missile,” following its claims to have conducted a nuclear test in October 2006.“The Security Council demands that the DPRK not conduct any further launch,” according to today’s statement, which expressed the body’s desire for a “peaceful and diplomatic solution to the situation” and welcomed Member States’ efforts to reach a “comprehensive solution through dialogue.”It also said that it will adjust sanctions, imposed by the 2006 resolution, by the end of this month.Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the adoption of today’s statement, “which sends a unified message of the international community” on the DPRK’s launch.According to a statement issued by his spokesperson, Mr. Ban voiced hope that the Council’s actions today will “pave the way for renewed efforts towards the peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues in the region, including through the early resumption of the Six-Party Talks and the inter-Korean dialogue.”Expressing its support for the also expressed it support for the resumption of the so-called Six-Party Talks – involving China, DPRK, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Russia and the United States – the Council called on these nations to step up efforts to implement the Joint Statement of 19 September 2005 in which the DPRK committed itself to abandon nuclear weapons and rejoin the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).Addressing reporters after today’s Council meeting, Mr. Heller said the statement adopted unanimously sends a “clear message” to the DPRK, signalling that the East Asian nation must “show that it’s capable [of fulfilling] this confidence gap that exists before the international community for past actions.” 13 April 2009The Security Council today spoke out against the recent rocket launch by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), stressing the importance of preserving peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and in North-East Asia. read more

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Women business executives have key role in ensuring better world – Ban

23 October 2009Women business executives have a major role to play in helping help to achieve a green economy, safeguard the environment and improve living conditions around the world while at the same time ensuring the profitability of their enterprises, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today. “We both recognize the important link between empowering women and achieving development,” he said in a message to the 57th Congress of the Worldwide Network of Women Entrepreneurs (Femmes Chefs D’Enterprises Mondiales – FCEM) in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon. “Your organization and the United Nations share a common interest in promoting economic and social progress.”Mr. Ban voiced the hope that those executives who are not yet members will join the UN Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate responsibility initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with 10 universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption.“Businesses that lead responsibly will help to green our economy, protect our environment and promote better living conditions around the world – all while realizing their own goals, too,” Mr. Ban concluded. “I look forward to the contributions you and your entrepreneurial spirit will make to building a more prosperous future for all.” read more

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Iraqi calligrapher and Polish publisher win UNbacked Arab culture award

Ghani Alani, considered an artistic heir to the Baghdad school and one of the great masters of contemporary calligraphy, was awarded the prize for introducing Arab/Islamic calligraphy to the West, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said today.Anna Parzymies, the director of a publishing house devoted to Arab culture who has taken part in the publication of more than 80 books and set up the Department for European Islam Studies at the University of Warsaw, won her award for her invaluable contribution to promoting Arab culture in Poland.UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova will present the prize at a ceremony at the agency’s headquarters in Paris on 9 February. The laureates were recommended by an international jury that examined 28 nominations from 21 UNESCO Member States.The Sharjah Prize, worth $30,000 for each laureate, was proposed by Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohamed Al-Qassimi and approved by UNESCO’s Executive Council in 1998, with funds from the Emirate of Sharjah.Initially awarded every two years, it has been given out annually since 2003 and honours individuals, groups or institutions that have made a significant contribution to the development, dissemination and promotion of Arab culture throughout the world, as well as the conservation and revitalization of Arab intangible heritage. 18 January 2010An Iraqi poet and calligrapher and a Polish publisher and academic have been awarded the United Nations-backed Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture for 2009. read more

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Haitis cholera cases approach 50000 as preparations for polls continue – UN

23 November 2010The number of reported cases of cholera in Haiti is now approaching 50,000, but health experts have cautioned that the figure could be higher because data on the epidemic has not been received from some rural communities, a United Nations relief official said today. Nigel Fisher, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Haiti, said that epidemiologists in the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) – the regional arm of the World Health Organization (WHO) – estimate that the number of cases could be as high as 70,000.The death toll, as of yesterday, stood at 1,200, but the experts have said that the disease might have claimed as many as 2,000 people, with some fatalities in remote areas going unreported.Speaking via a video link from the capital, Port-au-Prince, Mr. Fisher told a news conference in New York that PAHO epidemiologists have also revised their projections of the spread of the disease and now anticipate that cases could rise to 200,000 over the next three months. The experts had earlier estimated that the number of cases could rise to that figure in six months.“This epidemic is moving faster,” Mr. Fisher said.Meanwhile, general elections will proceed on Sunday as planned, despite the cholera outbreak and the recent streets protests in the country, Edmond Mulet, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), told the same press briefing.“In spite of all that, the electoral process continues unabated – the Government and the vast majority of the candidates are determined that these elections be held as planned and as the Constitution states on 28 November,” Mr. Mulet said.Mr. Fisher said that although the Government of Haiti and its humanitarian partners are carrying out significant anti-cholera activities with awareness campaigns, the setting up of treatment centres and making clean water and sanitation facilities available, the effort needed to be strengthened.“Although there has been a significant mobilisation of resources, both national and international … we need to significantly ratchet up the response,” said Mr. Fisher, who is also the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Haiti.He called for more doctors and nurses, especially from neighbouring countries, to be deployed to Haiti to help combat cholera, which he said is projected to remain a problem in the Caribbean country for at least one year.On the elections, Mr. Mulet said that an estimated 4.5 million voters will cast their ballots on Sunday to elect the president and senators and members of parliaments in constituencies where elections are due.There are 19 presidential candidates and 96 senatorial contestants running for 11 seats, while 816 candidates are competing for 99 seats in parliament. Sixty-six political parties are taking part in the elections.Some 14 million ballots have already been printed and distributed, and the training of poll officials is due to conclude in the next two days, Mr. Mulet said. All voting materials have been transported to MINUSTAH’s regional offices, he added.The MINUSTAH police unit has assisted the Haitian National Police assess security risks in all voting areas, he said, and both forces have developed a comprehensive security plan.Voters will cast their ballots in more than 11,000 polling stations located in some 1,500 voting centres.Preliminary results will be announced on 7 December, with the next two days set aside for candidates to launch complaints, which will be investigated and candidates given time to appeal between 11 and 19 December. The declaration of the final results will be made on 20 December, Mr. Mulet said. read more

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Quake spotlights room for Turkey to improve building practices – UN official

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction Margareta Wahlström said there was still room for improvement in Turkey’s building practices, but praised its progress, saying: “Turkey’s seismic code provides the basis for safer structures and better urban planning.“The country has made progress in Istanbul and elsewhere in retrofitting and rebuilding public buildings, schools and hospitals to the required standard. There has been vigorous prosecution of corrupt municipal officials for allowing unlicensed construction,” she said.But she noted that new buildings that follow safety standards are not the only way to minimize disaster damages, pointing to the importance of preventive measures in areas with old and poor quality buildings.“Despite any rebuilding or retrofitting and enforcement of standards for new construction, it is clear that in most earthquake zones there are large existing stocks of poor-quality buildings so preparedness measures are essential.”Ms. Wahlström also commended the Turkish Government’s quick response to yesterday’s quake, saying it has been “fast and efficient with the dispatch of over 1,500 search, rescue and health personnel to the affected areas with impressive logistical support.”At least 70 people reportedly died when athe7.2-magnitude quake shattered more than 1,000 buildings near the city of Van, while an unknown number remain trapped under rubble.The President of the General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, expressed his sadness and sent his deep sympathies to the Government and people of Turkey for their loss. He commended the country’s authorities and the various rescue groups for their rapid response and diligent assistance.He also stressed the need for all Member States to do more to improving disaster preparedness and response, saying the issue that is one of the key focus areas for the current 66th session of the Assembly. 24 October 2011The deadly earthquake that has struck Turkey’s southeast highlights the importance of providing incentives for the construction of safe buildings and establishing preventive and response measures in the world’s most dangerous quake zones, a senior United Nations official said today. read more

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Libya UN official impressed by pace of returns to cities emerging from

Georg Charpentier, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, who visited the cities on Tuesday and yesterday, noted that an estimated 60 per cent of the population displaced by the fighting had returned to Bani Walid and Sirte.He voiced his admiration of the strong resilience amongst residents and the local council’s striving to tackle the prevailing humanitarian challenges.“Following the liberation of Bani Walid and Sirte in October and the progressive return of their populations over the last months, the two cities now need more attention and concrete action to accelerate their full return to normalcy,” Mr. Charpentier, who is also the deputy head of the UN Support Mission for Libya (UNSMIL).“Public infrastructure, housing, education and health facilities need to be rehabilitated, reconstructed and reactivated, intense and focused reconciliation efforts also need to be encouraged in these two cities.”During his visit to the three cities, Mr. Charpentier met with members of the local and military councils, as well as representatives of the local population and viewed houses and public facilities that were destroyed during the conflict.He also visited a local warehouse in Bani Walid to see the distribution of relief supplies, including food aid by the UN World Food Programme (WFP). Beneficiaries included residents and people from the other countries.The violent uprising in Libya, which led to the overthrow of Mr. Qadhafi’s long-standing regime, caused the deaths of thousands of civilians and the displacement of tens of thousands of others, including many foreign nationals and refugees. 5 January 2012A senior United Nations official who has visited the Libyan cities of Bani Walid, Sirte and Misrata, which saw some of the most intense fighting during last year’s military campaign to oust Muammar al-Qadhafi’s regime, said today he was impressed by the rate of return of displaced residents to their homes. read more

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Gildan Activewear hires new finance chief — for the second time this

MONTREAL — Gildan Activewear is hiring a new chief financial and administrative officer, for the second time this year.Rhodri Harries, 51, who has been CFO for Rio Tinto Alcan, will be Gildan’s No. 2 executive — a position that Gildan has been trying to fill since longtime CFO Laurence Sellyn told the company that he intended to retire by mid-2015. Sellyn returned to the CFO’s post on an interim basis in February after his previous replacement, James Kehoe, resigned after about a month to take the CFO’s position at his former employer, Kraft Foods Group Inc. Gildan said Wednesday that Sellyn will remain for a short time to ensure an orderly transition to Harries. Harries originally joined Alcan in 2004 and held various finance positions with the aluminum company after it was acquired by Rio Tinto. He became CFO for Rio Tinto’s aluminum business in 2014. Gildan reports its first-quarter results on May 14. Its net earnings are expected to decrease nearly 27 per cent to US$58 million despite higher revenues at US$631 million, according to analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. read more

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Singapore to hire more Sri Lankan maids next year

Ms Jayaprema said that the processing time for recruitment of these maids could be faster.The Association of Employment Agencies led a delegation of 30 maid agents to Sri Lanka recently to renew contacts with their counterparts.It met with the Sri Lankan Bureau for Foreign Employment, which is the regulatory body for overseas recruitment of workers, and the Sri Lankan Foreign Employment Agency.In addition, the association met over 60 Sri Lankan recruitment agencies. The last time the association organised a visit there was in 2007.Maid agents say Sri Lankan workers can between S$400 and S$500 a month.Sri Lanka is the fifth biggest source of maids in Singapore after Indonesia, the Philippines, India and Myanmar.A recent report from the National Population and Talent Division forecast that Singapore is going to need some 100,000 more maids by 2030.Muniyandi Vasanthakumari has been working as a domestic helper in Singapore for 15 years. The 45-year-old Sri Lankan is happy here and gets along well with her employer’s family.“She reads what we want, she knows our preference and she does it beforehand. Before I can tell her what I need, it’s already done,” said her employer Komathi Anbalahan. (CNA) The association is working with Sri Lankan authorities to spell out training requirements for maids, and speed up the hiring process.Sri Lanka has an extensive training programme of more than 20 days for maids.Singapore maid agents would like the programme to focus more on aspects such as household skills and safety. Maid agents in Singapore are looking to hire more foreign domestic helpers from Sri Lanka.From next year, the Association of Employment Agencies plans to bring in between 500 and 1,000 Sri Lankan maids a month, up from the current 100 to 200 a month. Based on records from the Sri Lankan High Commission in Singapore, there are about 4,500 Sri Lankan maids here. The association said this will help to make up for the shortfall in maids from traditional source countries, such as Indonesia and Philippines. It will be signing an agreement with Sri Lankan authorities and employment agencies next month to facilitate the recruitment of maids.The move to bring in more domestic helpers from Sri Lanka is part of efforts to improve the quality of domestic helpers here. Most of the Sri Lankan maids speak English and have at least 10 years of education. About 40 per cent of them have ‘A’ level qualifications.Employment agencies here said it is important to make Singapore an attractive destination for Sri Lankan women hoping to work as domestic helpers overseas.K Jayaprema, the president of the Association of Employment Agencies said: “It’s very important that when we are reviving this new market, we don’t want it to go wrong because we are focusing on attracting quality FDWs (foreign domestic workers) to Singapore and for that to happen, we need to have good employment terms, the welfare of the domestic workers have to be taken care of and it must be attractive for them to come in.” A J Razzy, director of maid agency Cobb Douglas said: “There are some things that have changed for example, with the scrapping of the entry test, there are many more opportunities for agents at Sri Lanka to recruit Sri Lankan foreign domestic workers for the Singapore market.” read more

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Over 80000 affected by rain

It said that 89868 people from 20720 families have been affected by the rain, floods and strong winds around the country so far. The Department of Meteorology said this afternoon that a low pressure area has formed to the East of Sri Lanka and is located about 800km to the East of Hambantota. As a result it said the sea areas beyond 300km from Hambantota will experience strong winds, rough conditions and intermittent rain. The department urged fishing and naval community to refrain from maritime activities in these sea areas.It also said that generally cloudy conditions will prevail over most parts of the island and showers or thundershowers will be fairly widespread over the island during the afternoon and night. Heavy falls are also likely at some places. Over 80,000 people have been affected so far as a result of the heavy rain over the past few days, the Disaster Management Center (DMC) said today.The DMC said that 7720 people have been displaced with the most number of people displaced in the Western Province. It also said that the general public is request to be vigilant about heavy rain, lightning activities and localized strong winds during thundershowers. read more

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Tense situation at immigration office involving FSP members

Gunaratnam was yesterday sentenced to one year in jail for violating local immigration laws.He was also imposed a fine of Rs. 50,000. Gunaratnam was sentenced by the Kegalle Magistrates’ court. (Colombo Gazette) A tense situation developed at the immigration and emigration department in Borella involving members of the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP).The FSP members were protesting over the detention of FSP politburo member Kumar Gunaratnam.

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UN hails Lankas decision to pay victims raped by peacekeepers

The United Nations has commended Sri Lanka for arranging a one-time ex-gratia payment to a victim and child born as a result of sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations peacekeepers from Sri Lanka.Briefing the General Assembly on the challenges being faced and progress being made to end the exploitation and abuse by United Nations peacekeepers, senior UN officials indicated that immediate concerns have been focused on providing protection and support to the victims, and reiterated the need for collective efforts to put stronger measures in place to ensure prevention and greater accountability. Khare noted that the trust fund to support the provision of services to victims is operational, and that Member States have been requested to consider making contributions. He said he has also instructed field missions to respond to the immediate needs of victims using their existing resources.Khare highlighted that in 2015, the UN had made progress in facilitating paternity and child support claims against peacekeepers. He commended Sri Lanka in particular, which he said has arranged a one-time ex-gratia payment to a victim and child born as a result of sexual exploitation and abuse. Speaking at an informal meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York, Atul Khare, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, emphasized that the priority must be for the Organization to provide victims with support and assistance. “First and foremost, the victims – many of whom are children – need our protection and support,” he said. “The provision of assistance to victims is an area where experience has shown that the United Nations needs additional resources and strong collaboration among peacekeeping, the United Nations and local actors to have a tangible impact.” Reiterating that there can be no impunity for sexual exploitation and abuse, Khare stressed that if allegations are substantiated, the Organization “takes all action within its control.”Khare also said that in the face of allegations, the Secretariat has requested Member States to appoint National Investigation Officers (NIOs) within five days, rather than the ten-day period normally required by the Memorandum of Understanding. (Colombo Gazette) read more

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AG to file case against former JMO in Thajudeen case

The Attorney General (AG) is to file a case against the former Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) of Colombo Dr Ananda Samarasekera in the Wasim Thajudeen murder case.The case is to be filed over body parts which went missing after the initial post-mortem was conducted by Samarasekera on Thajudeen’s remains soon after his death. According to police reports in 2012, the rugby player was driving home after attending a party when he lost control of the car and crashed into a wall on Park Road. The police claimed that the car had exploded instantly and burnt the victim.However suspicions later arose over the manner in which he died and it was believed that he was murdered. (Colombo Gazette) Thajudeen died on May 17, 2012 in Kirulapone and his body was found in his car which had crashed into a wall. read more

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Deep concerns raised over recent attempts to silence dissent

Minister Rajapakshehas since been reported reiterating his comments in an interview to a newspaper, claiming that “NGO funded traitors” are fermenting unrest in the country. He also claimed that the NGOs misled the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, who, in her latest report, highlighted some serious shortcomings in Sri Lanka’s justice system. The statement notes that the Minister’s rhetoric, troublingly reminiscent of the rhetoric of the previous regime, is indicative of the continued legacy in Sri Lanka of Governments attacking those speaking inconvenient truths.“Indeed, this also echoes in the recent decision of President Sirisena to sack Sajeeva Samaranayake as Deputy Chairman of the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), and the NCPA’s decision to interdict its own Attorney, Preethika Sakalasooriya. It is widely reported that Mr. Samaranayake’s affidavit, which was attested by Ms. Sakalasooriya, to an Australian court listing shortcomings in the country’s child protection system, was what prompted action against them,” the statement added. Signatories;Individuals The signatories to the statement called on the President and the Prime Minister to:Formally distance the government from the threats made by Minister Rajapaksheand publicly reaffirm respect for human rights activists and NGOs;Cease actions against conscientious public officials who do not hesitate to point out shortcomings in the working of state agencies, and instead, encourage them to do so, and take their concerns seriously;Create an environment both within government and in society at large that is conducive to expressions of human rights concerns, dissent and criticism.They also called on individuals and organisations committed to democratic freedoms and human rights, to seriously re-consider the terms of engagement with the present government. The outcomes of the processes of public consultation and engagement with civil society with respect to constitutional reform and transitional justice have been ignored or instrumentalised in forums like the UN Human Rights Council.In the meantime, the democratic space and freedoms that this Government promised to protect are facing serious threats as a result of its own actions or inaction. With the space for principled engagement with the Government continuing to narrow, those who signed the statement said they are bound by their principles to challenge and question the Government. (Colombo Gazette) A group of individuals and organisations committed to human rights and democratic freedoms, and the rights of freedom of expression and dissent, have expressed deep concerns over recent attempts to stifle voices of human rights activists and silence dissent.A statement signed by nearly 100 individuals and organisations noted that on 17th June, Minister for Justice and Buddha Sasana, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, publicly threatened to remove Lakshan Dias, Attorney-at-Law, and a well-known human rights activist, from the legal profession, in response to Mr. Dias raising the issues of attacks on Christian places of worship since 2015. The Minister prefaced this by virtually condemning human rights NGOs in general. He said, “In our country there are organisations who claim to be protecting human rights, who are dependent on NGO funds, who are trying to destroy the peace between the peoples of our country and turn this country back into a heap of fire; there are a few individuals like that.” Ceylon Industrial Workers’ UnionCitizens for a Secure Sri LankaEnvironmental Conservation TrustEQUAL GROUNDFloating Space Theatre Co.Future in Our Hands – BadullaINFORM Human Rights Documentation CentreInstitute for Social Development (ISD)Lanka Farmer ForumMannar Women’s Development Federation (MWDF)Movement for Land and Agriculture ReformsNational Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO)People to People Dialogue on Peace and Sustainable Development.People’s Alliance for Right to Land (PARL)Plantation Community Development CentrePrajaAbilasha Land Rights NetworkProgressive Farmer CongressPuttlam District Fisheries Solidarity OrganizationRural Workers OrganizationSavistri Women’s MovementSri Lanka Nature GroupSri Vimukthi Fisher Women OrganizationUnited Federation of LabourUwaWellassa Women OrganizationWomen’s Action Network (WAN) Ainslie JosephAnurathaRajarathnamAsmaEdrisBalachandran GowthamanBhavaniFonsekaBishop Kumara IllangasingheChintakaRajapakseB.S.Jeyaraj – JournalistDeanne UyangodaDinushikaDissanayale – Attorney-at-LawLionel WeerakoonMaureen ErnestEmil van der PoortenErmizaTegal- Attorney-at-LawFarzanaHaniffaGaminiAkmeemanaGehanGunatilleke – Attorney-at-LawGodfrey Yogarajah – Deputy Secretary General,World Evangelical AllianceHerman KumaraIan FerdinandsJake OorloffJayadevaUyangodaJayantha DhanapalaJayanthiKuru-UtumpalaAingkaran – Attorney-at-LawLinus JayatilakeLucille AbeykoonK. JayatissaMahinda GunarathneMala LiyanageMarisa de SilvaMirak RaheemMujeebur Rahman P.M.Najah MohamedNeil Priyantha FernandoNigel NugawelaNilshanFonsekaSelvaratnamN. Singham – ActivistPadma PushpakanthiPeriyasamyMuthulingamPrabath KumaraPremaGamagePriyadarshanieAriyaratneJayantha SeneviratneRaja SenanayakeRenukaSampathFr. SarathIddamalgodaSr. Nichola EmmanuelSr. Noel Christine Fernando – SramabimaniKendrayaRizaYehiyaRohiniWeerasingheRuhaniePereraRuki FernandoC.C.ElankovanSajeewaChamikaraSampathPushpakumaraSampathSamarakoonSandunThudugalaSarah Arumugam – Attorney-at-LawSarala EmmanuelShamilaRathnasooriyaSheila RichardsShenali de SilvaShivanthaRathnayakeShreen Abdul SaroorSubhaWijesiriwardenaSunandaDeshapriyaTehaniAriyaratneThilakKariyawasamUdayaKalupathiranaVisakhaTillekeratneOrganizations “It is as much a matter of great concern as it is revealing, that a senior cabinet minister presiding over the Ministry of Justice in the so-called Yahapalanaya government, resorts to vilifying, demonizing and threatening human rights activists and human rights NGOs. While hardly the first such instance, it is especially ironic that his comments come as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has launched a consultation process with human rights activists and NGOs on its draft report to the UN Human Rights Council as part of its Universal Period Review (UPR). Human rights activists and NGOs have been issued an open invitation to participate in the meetings as part of this UPR process. Under the circumstances the question arises to whether and how we can expect a principled engagement given the failure of the government to officially distance itself from Minister Rajapakshe’s disturbing comments,” the statement said. According to newspaper reports, the President has ordered an investigation into“how and why the affidavit was issued, whether such actions had been done before, and whether NCPA officials had received any ‘benefits’ from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for engaging in such activities.”These are but the most recent in a series of incidents that point to a disturbing tendency of shrinking space for critique within and outside government, and signs of intolerance for expressions of dissent. It was not long ago that that the President himself called on Field Marshall Fonseka to discipline the country and restore order in the face of strikes.“But this has already been the practice. Beginning with the brutal police attack on Higher National Diploma in Accountancy students in October 2015, there have been many instances of police attacking peaceful protests by students. The brutal attack on the student protest over SAITM last week, and the subsequent arrests, is only the latest manifestation of the repressive face of the Yahapalanaya state. Protesting workers have also been targeted, with the Navy being deployed to suppress protesting port workers in Hambantota in December 2016 while contract workers from the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) were arrested for a peaceful protest in January 2017,” the statement added. Human rights activists in the North and East continue to remain under surveillance and subject to restraints and threats. The blocking of a remembrance event in Mullivaikal on May 18, and police harassment of the organizers and activists involved, also underlines disturbing continuities of policies from the previous regime.  These concerns are further amplified by certain significant legal reforms and measures proposed recently, especially the new counter terrorism law, the media standards council bill, and the recently withdrawn amendment to the code of criminal procedure, all of which encroach in different ways upon fundamental rights and freedoms. read more

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UN refugee agency alarmed over incident at Colombo refugee shelter

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is alarmed and concerned by yesterday’s incident at a refugee shelter housing mostly women and children on the outskirts of Colombo.On Tuesday, a group protested outside the shelter housing 31 refugees – most of them women and children – who had been rescued by the Sri Lankan Navy from a boat in Sri Lankan waters in April this year. UNHCR emphasizes that refugees are victims of violence and persecution who need international protection and assistance. UNHCR urges the public and all those concerned with refugees to continue extending protection and to show empathy for civilians fleeing persecution and violence.In Sri Lanka, the presence of refugees and asylum-seekers is authorized by the Government. In consultation with the authorities, UNHCR provides assistance to refugees until longer-term solutions can be found. (Colombo Gazette) The refugees were eventually evacuated to safety by the authorities to whom UNHCR is grateful for support and protection extended to refugees. UNHCR is equally concerned for the safety and security of its partner’s staff present during the incident who were providing humanitarian assistance to the refugees. read more

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