Turkey Detains Dozens Over Alleged IS Links

 

Turkish authorities on Friday detained dozens of suspects over alleged links to the Islamic State during morning raids in two provinces, state news agency Anadolu reported.

In Ankara, 52 people were taken into custody after the capital’s chief prosecutor issued 64 arrest warrants as part of a probe into the IS jihadist group.

Raids continued to find the 12 other suspects.

Police discovered weapons including guns and ammunition at the homes of the suspects in Ankara, Anadolu reported.

And in the northern province of Samsun, 10 Iraqis were detained over suspected IS ties, the agency said.

Turkish authorities have conducted similar raids in the capital this year.

Just a few days before national elections in June, 14 suspected IS members were detained accused of planning an attack on the polls.

Turkey was hit by a series of terror attacks in 2015 and 2016 attributed to IS and Kurdish militants. The last attack was in January 2017 when a gunman killed 39 people at an elite Istanbul nightclub during New Year celebrations.

The arrests come as Turkey has vowed to eliminate IS in Syria, threatening to launch an offensive soon against jihadists and a Syrian Kurdish militia in the wake of the US announcement to withdraw all ground forces from the war-torn country.

AFP

Chinese Students Protest Against Alleged Interference Of School Leadership

A group of students hold up signs as they protest against the change in a student-run Marxist group’s leadership at Peking University in Beijing on December 28, 2018. Photo: EVA XIAO / AFP

 

A dozen students from a top Chinese university staged a protest Friday after the school removed the president of an on-campus Marxist group amid an ongoing crackdown on student activists this year.

The students gathered in an open area in front of the science department where they held up signs and shouted slogans protesting the change in the society’s leadership.

But security moved in almost immediately and started pulling students away, forcing some to the ground while others were pushed towards a waiting black car.

Peking University did not immediately respond to AFP’s request for comment.

The university said Thursday that it “restructured” the student-run Marxist group, replacing core members and student leaders, including former president Qiu Zhanxuan, with their own picks.

Many of the 32 new members are from the Communist Youth League or the Communist Party.

The move came one day after Qiu was detained by police for “disturb(ing) the public order” on campus by singing and holding slogans.

An eyewitness told AFP that Qiu was arrested for attempting to commemorate the 125th birth anniversary of Mao Zedong, whose legacy in China remains controversial.

Though President Xi Jinping has called for a refocusing on Communist roots — including a May speech which called for Marxism to be promoted in campuses and classrooms — Beijing is increasingly wary of student-run Marxist societies, especially those that try to apply theory to practice.

Over the summer, when university students joined efforts to organize a labor union for factory workers in southern Guangdong province, Chinese authorities flew into action.

In August, a police raid swept up the student activists, beating several of them and confiscating their phones, according to the Jasic Workers Solidarity group, a labour rights organisation that the students joined.

Several of them, including Yue Xin, a Peking University graduate who became known after co-authoring a petition demanding details of a sexual abuse case at the school, have not been heard from since.

AFP

Albania To Ban Gambling In 2019

File photo

 

 

Albania’s law to ban gambling will take effect on January 1st,2019  to curb domestic violence and poverty to lining the pockets of criminals, Albania’s love of gambling has spawned a scourge of social ills in one of Europe’s poorest countries.

But at the start of 2019, the Balkan state is taking a nationwide resolution to break the addiction in hopes of curbing suffering that has consumed many families.

On January 1 a law will go into effect shuttering the 4,300 betting venues that have cropped up on nearly every street corner in the country of 2.8 million people.

It is an “extremely high” ratio of one shopper 670 people, far above that seen in both neighboring Balkan states and more developed Western European countries, says economist Klodian Tomorri.

The betting blackout will also outlaw online gambling and restrict casinos — some of which are currently near schools — to five-star hotels in licensed tourist resorts.

For people like Arta, a 31-year-old mother of two, the move is welcome although it comes too late to shield her own family from a devastating loss.

Last July her husband leaped off a building after betting for the losing team in Belgium-France football match, she recalls with tears and trembling hands.

“He bet on Belgium, but in fact, what he got was misery,” said Arta, who is now relying on around 100 euros of monthly state aid to raise her young kids.

According to a study by the University of Tirana, one out of four gamblers has attempted suicide at least once.

Another 70 percent have struggled with stress and psychological problems.

“We also found a close link between domestic violence and gambling, which has led many families to experience very serious crises,” said Iris Luarasi, who runs a counseling line for victims of violence.

Losing everything 

Ilir Musta, a heavyset 35-year-old man, experienced that type of family catastrophe first hand.

“I don’t know how to get out of this, please help me,” he recently told a doctor in Tirana, where he was seeking help for anxiety.

“The game was good at first, but now it’s cancer. I lost my life, my wife, my daughter, I’m a living dead,” added Ilir, speaking in a shaky voice as his eyes darted around the room.

He started betting on sports just two years ago, convinced he was on the verge of making a fortune.

But instead, he found himself drowning in debt and ended up in prison for violently beating his wife after she asked for a divorce.

There are scores of other families who have been ruptured by the destructive addiction.

According to Tirana lawyer Vjollca Pustina, some 70 percent of divorce cases brought to court in the capital this year have been linked to gambling.

The government says rehabilitation centers will be opened to help gamblers who will be forced to quit cold turkey.

But there is concern that the centers will not be ready soon enough.

“Gambling addiction is a disease and must be managed once the betting rooms are closed for players, but for the moment rehabilitation centers are completely missing,” said Menada Petro, professor of social sciences at the University of Durres.

 Cash and crime 

The industry has also been criticized for draining money from families in a country where the average monthly salary is below 300 euros ($342).

According to official figures, Albanians spend some 140 to 150 million euros ($170 million) on sports betting annually, which amounts to 70 percent of what the average family spends on healthcare.

But when accounting for illegal betting, the real figure is estimated to be around 700 million euros ($798 million), according to the government.

For Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama, another core goal is cutting off cash flow for organized crime groups who profit from the industry and use it to launder money.

But he admits that the new law will not end the fight against gangs, a key task for a government that wants to kickstart EU accession talks.

“The war will continue as criminals change their skin and strategy,” Rama said in a recent TV interview.

Going underground 

Some betting shops already closed in December while others are trying to profit from a final year-end rush, said Artan Shyti, president of the Federation of Albanian Betting Companies.

The next battle will be controlling illegal venues, especially online.

Betting firms “have started to move to Macedonia, Montenegro, and Kosovo where they already have their subsidiaries and can operate quietly (online),” Shyti told AFP.

Albania tried to reduce the number of betting clubs in 2013, but politics and special interests got in the way.

Now the new law, passed in October, will put some 8,000 people out of work.

“The authorities have allowed (this industry to grow) and now they are forcing us to suddenly close our business without distinguishing between clean and dirty (operations),” says Arjan Gumi, 47, who has run small betting club in Tirana for 16 years.

He says he doesn’t yet know what to do next and is hoping the government follows through on a promise to assist the unemployed.

“It is tragic for our families too,” he added.

AFP

Paris: New Year’s Eve Bash To Hold Despite ‘Yellow Vest Protest’

Yellow vest member Vincent installs a sign on the roundabout (rond point) next to a tent where people can write their demands (in French “Cahier de doleances”) in Cagnes sur Mer,
VALERY HACHE / AFP

New Year’s Eve celebrations on the Champs-Elysees in Paris will go ahead despite plans for another “yellow vest” anti-government protest on the famed avenue, city officials said on Thursday.

Tens of thousands of tourists and locals traditionally ring in the new year on the wide shopping boulevard, which ends with the Arc de Triomphe monument.

The Champs-Elysees has since last month been the epicenter of repeated violent protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s government, with the Arc de Triomphe ransacked on December 1.

While the numbers turning out at protests across the country have dwindled dramatically, some “yellow vests” have called online for a New Year’s Eve protest on the Champs-Elysees.

On Facebook 7,400 people are listed as planning to attend what it calls a “festive and non-violent event”.

Paris officials said they would continue as planned with preparations for a fireworks display and sound and light show on the Champs-Elysees under the theme “fraternity”.

The avenue is a regular gathering point for national celebrations such as Bastille Day, the Tour de France and France’s victory this summer in the football World Cup.

But on recent Saturdays, it has been the scene of violent clashes between riot police and “yellow vest” protesters who accuse Macron of favoring the rich with his policies.

The movement sprang up online in October and spiraled into the worst crisis of Macron’s presidency, with tens of thousands blocking roads and protesting across France.

Macron sought to defuse the crisis in mid-December by announcing a 10 billion euro ($11.4 billion) package of measures to help pensioners and low-paid workers.

Since then the “yellow vests” have been split between moderates willing to engage in dialogue with the government and others intent on remaining at the barricades.

US Warns Of Possible Christmas Attack In Barcelona

 

Barcelona was on alert on Monday after the US State Department warned of the risk of a terrorist attack in Spain’s second-largest city during the Christmas holidays.

“Exercise heightened caution around areas of vehicle movement, including buses, in the Las Ramblas area of Barcelona during Christmas and New Year’s. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, and other public areas,” the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs said in a tweet on Sunday.

Asked about the warning during an interview with Rac1 radio on Monday, Catalonia’s regional interior minister Miquel Buch said police “were working on this threat”.

“We take seriously all threats, all of them are investigated,” he added, without giving further details.

Top-selling Spanish newspaper El Pais, citing anonymous police sources, said the authorities were looking for a 30-year-old Moroccan man with a licence to drive buses.

Barcelona-based daily El Periodico de Catalunya said Catalan regional police had circulated an internal note that the man could try to drive a bus into crowds in Barcelona.

Contacted by AFP, a spokesman for the regional police force in Catalonia did not confirm police were seeking a Moroccan man but said a “temporary reinforcement of security measures in areas of high concentration of people” was in place.

Spain has kept its terrorist alert unchanged at the second-highest level despite the US State Department warning, although security measures were boosted in December for the Christmas holiday period, a Spanish interior ministry spokesman said.

On August 17, 2017 a van rammed into crowds on Barcelona’s tree-lined Las Ramblas boulevard, killing 14 people. The 22-year-old Moroccan driver then stole a car after killing the driver and fled.

Several hours later five of his accomplices mowed down pedestrians on the promenade of the seaside resort of Cambrils south of Barcelona before stabbing a woman to death.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, Spain’s deadliest in over a decade.

AFP

Pakistani Ex-Leader Sharif Sentenced To Seven Years In Prison For Graft

File photo of Nawaz Sharif.

 

The  state media reported on Monday,The Former Pakistani leader Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to seven years in prison for corruption, after the latest conviction in a series of allegations which saw him ousted from power last year.

Sharif, a three-time prime minister, has denied all the charges against him and claims he is being targeted by the country’s powerful security establishment.

Monday’s conviction, centred on family businesses in the Middle East, is his second stemming from a corruption investigation spurred by the Panama Papers leak, and comes as new Prime Minister Imran Khan has vowed to tackle endemic graft in Pakistan.

He was taken into custody and will be sent to a prison in Lahore, and was also fined 1.5 billion rupees ($10.8 million), according to state-run Pakistan Television.

Security was tight at the court, with some scuffles breaking out between Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supporters and security forces, who responded with tear gas.

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who succeeded Sharif as prime minister last year, said the PML-N would appeal the verdict but would “not resort to violence”.

“The people of Pakistan and history will not accept this decision,” he told reporters in Islamabad.

The Supreme Court disqualified Sharif from politics for life over the allegations last year, and directed an anti-corruption body to investigate three different charges regarding his family’s properties and businesses.

The months-long saga has seen him appear before accountability courts 165 times since September 2017, according to the English-language Dawn newspaper.

In July this year, he was convicted in one case revolving around family properties in London, and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

He was in London at the time as his wife received cancer treatment, but returned to Pakistan days ahead of the election, only to be arrested and imprisoned on arrival.

He was released in September after a court suspended his sentence pending an appeal hearing.

He was acquitted on the third charge, relating to business in Britain.

Sharif has been prime minister three times but power has been a rough ride.

He was first expelled from office in 1993 on suspicion of corruption. He won an election in 1997, only to be ousted and exiled after a military coup in 1999.

He returned to Pakistan in 2007 and took power once more in 2013 until his ousting last year.

AFP

Volunteers In Santa Claus Outfits Flood Seoul Street On Christmas Eve

South Korean volunteers in Santa Claus outfits throw Santa hats during a ceremony before the delivery of Christmas gifts in Seoul on December 24, 2018. photo: Jung Yeon-je / AFP

 

Hundreds of volunteers in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, has flood the streets dressed in Santa Claus outfits.

The Seoul Santa Clauses are using the Christmas celebration to reach out to the less privileged, and to share love amongst the poor and the needy.

The volunteers will today, December 24 deliver Christmas gifts to 1,200 kids from 800 poor families in Seoul.

As an act of celebration, the Seoul Santa Clauses throw their hats into the air and dance before offering Christmas gifts to the children.

See photos below..

Davido Institutes Talent Hunt Show For Upcoming Rivers Artistes

 

Super-Star Musician, David Adeleke popularly called Davido has instituted a talent hunt show for upcoming artists based in Rivers State.

Davido said this during his visits to the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, at the Government House Port Harcourt.

Simeon Nwakaudu, Special Assistant to the Rivers State Governor, Electronic Media, said the musician also pledged to work towards the re-election of Governor Wike whom he described as his godfather.

READ ALSO: American Rapper Busta Rhymes Mimes Davido’s ‘Fall’

Addressing the Governor, Davido noted that the show was in line with his discussions with the State Government to support upcoming artists.

He said that he was in Port Harcourt for a musical show tagged ” Plugged” where he will perform with indigenous artists.

“I am planning a talent hunt show in Port Harcourt. One of the lucky artists will perform at my show in Lagos on 27th December 2018 he said.

“I am also here to wish the Governor a happy birthday. In the New Year, there are several things that we are planning for the good of the music industry “.

Davido was accompanied by the organizer of Plugged, Mr. Chima Aguma and Music Promoter, Soso Soberekon.

Governor Wike, a youth-friendly administrator, had earlier pledged to promote the entertainment industry for the creation of jobs for the youths.

 

 

Vienna Shooting Leaves One Dead, Another Injured

An ambulance and police officers stand close to the crime scene where a person died and an other has been injured by gunshots in the historic center in Vienna, Austria, on December 21, 2018. 
GEORG HOCHMUTH / APA / AFP

 

Vienna shooting leaves one dead, another has been seriously injured after shots were fired in the historic center of the Austrian capital Vienna, an ambulance service spokesman told AFP.

Police said a man fired several shots in the vicinity of a street called Lugeck in the city’s first district at 1:30 pm (1230 GMT).

It said that early indications pointed to a “targeted crime”.

“Following the shooting in the city center, there are intensive search operations going on throughout the city,” police said in a tweet.

“There is no danger to bystanders at this time!” it added.

A police helicopter hovered over the city center near where the two casualties were found.

Local media reported that several streets had been cordoned off and that police in bulletproof vests and helmets had been deployed.

One witness told the Kurier newspaper that the victims had been shot at in a passageway.

“There were two people lying on the ground, and the third guy was saying: ‘Brother, brother!’ in a Slavic language,” the witness said.

AFP

Church Will ‘Never Again’ Ignore Abuse Accusations – Pope

File photo of Pope Francis 

The Catholic Church will never again treat abuse allegations without “seriousness and promptness”, Pope Francis told the Church’s governing body on Friday.

“The Church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case,” the pope said in his annual address to the Roman Curia at the Vatican.

“Let it be clear that before these abominations the Church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes,” the pope said.

“It is undeniable that some in the past, out of irresponsibility, disbelief, lack of training, inexperience, or spiritual and human short-sightedness, treated many cases without the seriousness and promptness that was due.

“That must never happen again. This is the choice and the decision of the whole Church.”

AFP

Germans Turn To ‘Medibus’ As Doctors Desert Villages

A picture was taken on October 8, 2018, shows the “Medibus” mobile doctor’s office in front of the town hall in Cornberg, central Germany. The “Medibus” is a complete doctor’s office in a red-and-yellow bus that sets up shop in small communities for a few hours on some weekdays. 
Yann Schreiber / AFP

 

For years after the last doctor left the small German village of Weissenborn, 79-year-old former mayor Arno Maeurer had to rely on his car to reach the nearest clinic, as a chronic shortage of practitioners gripped his rural region.

But this year a clinic started coming to him.

The “Medibus” is a complete doctor’s office in a red and yellow bus that sets up shop in the community of around 1,000 people for a few hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“The day will come when I won’t be able to drive anymore, so I’ll be totally dependent on the Medibus,” Maeurer says.

For the time being, he turns to the mobile practice now and then but still sees his doctor when he isn’t completely booked up.

Every week, the bus, set up by the Hesse state medical association, stops off in six villages in western Germany.

As in many areas of western Europe, they are afflicted both by an aging population and a scarcity of practitioners to take care of them.

On board the Medibus, doctor Matthias Roth saw around 35 patients a day in the summer months, or roughly the same number as a traditional GP’s practice, the association says.

Around 70 percent of the patients were more than 55 years old, and 30 percent older than 76.

“It’s a full practice, we have everything on board to diagnose and care for patients,” Roth tells AFP, from his chair behind the tiny desk squeezed into the consulting room in the vehicle’s rear.

Outside on the town square of Cornberg — population 1,600 — project supervisor Carsten Lotz from the medical association declares the project a “very big success, we’re very satisfied.”

 Creeping ‘medical deserts’ 

Across Hesse, more than 170 doctors’ posts are unfilled, according to data from the medical association.

Even the offer of a bonus of up to 66,000 euros ($75,000) over five years to those setting up in specific areas has failed to lure enough new blood, while doctors delaying retirement are offered up to 2,000 euros per quarter.

The shortage is so acute that the Medibus received a special exemption from a general ban on itinerant doctors.

Fearing the initiative might speed up the growth of so-called “medical deserts”, some local officials have resisted the bus, Lotz says.

“It’s still our job to bring young doctors to the towns, the Medibus is just there as a top-up” where that isn’t possible, he says.

For doctor Roth, it’s “a good solution given what’s available,” even if it’s “certainly not an ideal state of affairs”.

“We aren’t competing with local doctors,” he adds.

While waiting for the “miracle” of a new permanent doctor arriving, former mayor Maeurer says the bus “must absolutely be kept going… it’s better than nothing.”

Managers, for now, plan to keep the Medibus going for two years at a total cost of 600,000 euros.

 Europe-wide problem

Europe-wide, the problem of medical deserts is spreading, with falling numbers of generalists, a wave of older doctors heading into retirement and their young successors looking for a more balanced lifestyle.

In the UK, the British Medical Association estimates there are around 2,000 patients for every GP, and rural areas struggle to lure young doctors away from the cities, a spokesman told AFP.

The country’s National Health Service (NHS) has offered bonuses of 20,000 pounds (22,500 euros, $25,500) to newly qualified practitioners setting up in the least attractive areas.

And in France, around eight percent of the population — 5.3 million people — lives in one of the 9,000 municipalities judged to have an undersupply of doctors, according to the French government.

While France has a similar ban on itinerant medicine to Germany’s, the medical association has authorized the practice in exceptional cases “in the interests of public health” — with a first mobile unit planned in the central Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region early next year.

AFP

Russia Probes BBC After British Regulator Warns RT

 

Russia’s broadcasting watchdog on Friday said it was probing the BBC in retaliation after the British regulator said Kremlin-funded RT television broke broadcasting standards.

The Roskomnadzor watchdog said it is “starting control measures” into the compliance with Russian law of BBC World News, an international channel available in Russia, and the BBC’s websites.

The BBC’s Russian-language service is online only.

Roskomnadzor said the checks were “due to the situation over the issuing of a decision by the British regulator on violations by RT channel.”

Britain’s Ofcom regulator said Thursday it had found violations of impartiality rules in seven of RT’s shows broadcast after the Salisbury nerve agent attack on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

“We have told RT that we are minded to consider imposing a statutory sanction,” Ofcom said. “The broadcaster now has an opportunity to make representations to us, which we will consider before proceeding further.”

RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan criticized Britain’s claims of violations as “drivel” on Twitter on Friday.

“Yesterday the British media watchdog rolled out SEVEN warnings against us, absolutely out of the blue. And they made it clear to us that they will take away our license,”  she wrote.

She said that in her view Roskomnadzor will have to use a microscope to find an alternative point of view on the BBC.

AFP