300 Migrants Rescued Off Spain At Christmas

File Photo: Migrants

 

Around 100 migrants were rescued off the coast of Spain on Thursday, adding to around another 200 plucked off makeshift boats on Christmas Day, Spain’s maritime rescue service said.

More than half of them were found off the Costa Blanca on Spain’s southeastern coast, with 10 people rescued just before dawn, among them eight men, a woman and a child.

Later in the morning, rescuers saved 16 men off a boat near Torrevieja, while another 12 men were rescued from a dinghy off Xabia, some 45 kilometres (27 miles) up the coast from Benidorm.

And on Spain’s southern coast, 17 men were found in waters off Cabo de Gata near Almeria while another man was found floating on what rescuers described as “an inflatable toy boat” in the Motril area, with his friend feared drowned.

Another 39 people reached the shore at Punta Jandia on the southwestern tip of Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, the spokesman said.

There was no immediate information on the nationalities of those rescued.

Some 200 others were rescued on Christmas Day in a number of separate operations off the coast of Spain and Morocco.

About 120 of them were picked up around the Zaffarin islands off Morocco and the tiny islet of Alboran, Spain’s coastguard said.

Several other dinghies were found off the southeastern coast of Spain, off Gibraltar and near the Canary Islands.

So far this year, at least 1,250 men, women and children have died attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean, the UN’s International Organization for Migration said in a statement correct to December 20.

Christmas Day: Two Killed, Five Crashes Recorded On Lagos-Ibadan Expressway

 

A total of five road crashes were recorded at various sections of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway on Christmas Day.

Spokesperson for the Ogun State Sector Command of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Florence Okpe, confirmed this in a situation report forwarded to Channels Television on Thursday.

The first crash was said to have occurred at about 04:48am on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway around RCCG CAR PARK C.

This involved a tanker laden with Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), also known as petrol, which crashed into the road barriers.

 

Although two persons were involved and none sustained injury or died, the incident impeded traffic for several hours on the outward Lagos section of the highway.

Similarly, a second crash occurred at about 06:55am involving another truck that spilled its alcoholic beverages it was conveying on the road.

Two persons were also involved but no injury or death was recorded from the crash.

The third crash occurred about three hours later also on the highway, claiming the lives of two persons.

 

“A total of five persons were involved, all male adults,” the Sector Command spokesperson said, adding “three persons were injured but two male adults were killed.”

According to her, the cause of the crash was as a result of route violation at a high speed that led to a loss of control.

Florence explained that the vehicle was driving against traffic before it collided with pedestrians waiting to board commercial vehicles.

She noted that the injured victims were rescued and taken to a hospital in Sagamu while the bodies of the killed victims were deposited at a morgue.

 

The fourth crash also occurred on the same route with three vehicles involved but this time, under the Sagamu Interchange Bridge at about 5:30pm.

Two tankers conveying petroleum products were said to have crashed into each other on the outward section of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.

Both vehicles went up in flames due to the impact of the crash and this impaired traffic while the section of the road was temporarily closed to traffic.

 

Six people were involved and no injury or death was recorded from the crash.

About six hours later, the fifth crash occurred around J5 Park at Ogere along the highway, involving three persons.

The three victims were injured but no death was recorded.

Christmas Day Homage: I Hope History Will Be Kind To Me – Buhari

 

President Muhammadu Buhari Wednesday in Abuja declared 2019 as a very successful year for the nation, thanking Nigerians for believing in him and supporting his administration to take Nigeria to the Next Level.

‘‘We thank God. It has been a very successful year, relative to the composition of this country, both politically and ethnically,’’ the President told residents of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) led by the Minister, Mohammed Bello, during the traditional Christmas Day homage.

The President told the delegation, comprising religious, traditional and political leaders as well top civil servants and members of the press: ‘‘You are our eyes and ears, we have to listen to you and I hope you are encouraging your constituencies that this leadership means well and is concerned about them.’’

The President reiterated that his administration would continue to do the utmost best to effectively utilize national resources to rebuild the country, recounting that the extreme infrastructure deficit inherited by his administration was worsened by the volatility in the oil market and the activities of militants in the Niger Delta.

He, however, expressed confidence that in the last four years the federal government had recorded sustainable progress in mobilizing resources to rebuild infrastructure across the country.

‘‘This administration sincerely believes that if you get infrastructure right, most Nigerians will mind their own businesses. They may not even care who is in government.

‘‘But when you deny them infrastructural facilities then there is nothing they can do.

‘‘But I can assure you that I thank Nigerians very much from the bottom of my heart.

‘‘When I travelled to all the 36 states before the elections, what I personally observed and the number of Nigerians that turned up in every State to see and listen to me, are more than what anybody can pay or force.

‘‘What I saw made me believe that the majority of Nigerians understand and sympathize with me.’’

The President used the occasion to reassure Nigerians that he was conscious of his duty as president, saying: ‘‘I swore to hold this office in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and God willing, I will follow the system diligently to the end of my term and I hope history will be kind to me and Nigerians.’’

In his remarks, the host Minister said the Christmas Day homage presented an opportunity for FCT residents to thank the President for his unwavering support.

Acknowledging the support of security agencies in the country, Bello said FCT had enjoyed relative peace because of their collaboration.

He promised that his administration will continue to work hard to make the city safe, secure and open to all Nigerians.

Police, Protesters Clash As Hong Kong Celebrates Christmas

A protester reacts after police fire tear gas to disperse bystanders in a protest in Jordan district in Hong Kong, on early December 25, 2019. Philip FONG / AFP

 

Hong Kong‘s Christmas celebrations were marred by sporadic clashes between police and pro-democracy activists on Wednesday as the city’s pro-Beijing leader said the festive season was being “ruined” by demonstrators.

Police used pepper spray and tear gas as activists held small flashmob protests in malls and multiple districts across the city.

In Mong Kok, an area that has seen frequent clashes over the last six months, police fired multiple rounds of tear gas to disperse crowds that were heckling officers, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

Pepper spray was also used in at least two malls as police and protesters clashed. Multiple young protesters were detained, some by plainclothes police who had mixed with the crowds, according to live local TV broadcasts.

Wednesday’s skirmishes were less sustained than those on Christmas Eve, when battles between democracy activists and riot police swept through a major shopping district for hours.

That evening’s unrest was the most serious in what has otherwise been a few weeks of comparative calm for a city upended by more than six months of often-violent protests.

Police used tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray on Christmas Eve in multiple locations while protesters responded with throwing sporadic petrol bombs, blocking roads and vandalising businesses deemed to be sympathetic to the government.

Hong Kong‘s pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam on Wednesday condemned the Christmas Eve protesters on Facebook, describing them as “reckless and selfish rioters”.

“Such illegal acts have not only dampened the festive mood but also adversely affected local businesses.”

Subdued Christmas

A former British colony with a sizeable Christian population, Christmas has been distinctly muted in Hong Kong this year.

Swathes of the population are seething against Beijing’s rule and the semi-autonomous city’s administration as they push for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability.

The months of protest have helped tip a financial hub already battered by the US-China trade war into a recession and intensified political polarisation.

The protests were initially sparked by a now-abandoned attempt to allow extraditions to the authoritarian mainland.

They have since morphed into a popular revolt against Beijing’s rule, with spiralling fears that the city is losing some of its unique liberties.

Among the demands being made by protesters is an inquiry into the police, amnesty for the more than 6,000 people arrested and the right to elect Hong Kong‘s leader.

The city’s many malls have become regular protest venues as demonstrators try to cause economic disruption.

Online forums have called for pop-up protests over the Christmas and New Year period targeting shopping districts.

The recent fall-off in violence came after hundreds of hardcore protesters were arrested during a university campus siege — and after the pro-democracy camp won a landslide in local elections — last month.

But both Lam and Beijing have refused any further concessions since that electoral defeat.

Earlier this month, a huge crowd of some 800,000 people marched peacefully.

The same group behind that rally have applied for permission to hold a similar march on New Year’s Day.

 

AFP

Christmas: Buhari Asks Criminals, Looters To Retrace Their Steps

We Will Surely Leave A Better Nigeria For Future Generations – Buhari
(File) President Muhammadu Buhari speaks at a dinner with National Assembly leaders in Abuja on July 11, 2019.

 

 

President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday rejoiced with Nigerians, especially Christians in the country on the occasion of this year’s Christmas.

In his message to the nation, he urged the people to show love to their fellow neighbours, noting that this among others was the essence of the season.

The President also called on insurgents, armed robbers, and kidnappers, as well as economic saboteurs among others to have a rethink and be of good behaviour.

He, however, warned that those who choose to remain adamant would definitely come to the end of the road as respective government agencies were already making efforts to make Nigeria better.

President Buhari was confident that the recent signing of the 2020 Appropriation Bill into law would help the country to actualise its vision of a bright and prosperous future.

During the period of celebration, he appealed to the people to pray for members of the nation’s armed forces making the sacrifice to protect the people.

He also advised motorists to drive with care and ordered the relevant traffic agencies to ensure compliance with safety measures.

The President, therefore, wished Nigerians a Merry Christmas and a more fulfilling New Year 2020.

Read the President’s message to the nation below:

PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI’S 2019 CHRISTMAS MESSAGE TO NIGERIANS

I felicitate with our Christian brothers and sisters in particular, and all Nigerians in general, on the joyous occasion of Christmas of the year 2019.

As Christendom commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, I enjoin all Nigerians to imbibe and demonstrate the essence of the season of love; goodwill among all the ethnic groups in the country; giving and sharing; strengthening the bonds of brotherhood and good neighbourliness; and focusing on all that bind us together as one united country.

I, therefore, urge our compatriots to shun all actions which negate the spirit of the season.

However, celebrating the spirit and virtues of Christmas need not be a one-day affair, but rather, ought to continue into the New Year.

It is in line with the spirit of Christmas that I call on all elements whose actions are opposed to what the season represents, especially, insurgents, terrorists, armed robbers, kidnappers and economic saboteurs, to retrace their steps and join people of goodwill and common humanity.

If they fail to heed this call, they will meet their end as the armed forces, security and law-enforcement agencies are poised now to confront and defeat them.

Our people must make extra efforts to live in peace and harmony with their neighbours, irrespective of differences.

While it is gladdening to note that incidents of violence and conflicts have reduced drastically owing to the several operations embarked on by our security agencies, we must not let our guards down.

As Christmas indicates good tidings of hope and redemption, Nigerians can look forward to a turnaround in the administration’s priority areas of fighting corruption, providing security, economic diversification, job creation and infrastructure upgrade.

Having recently signed the 2020 Appropriation Bill into Law, I reiterate my promise during the presentation of the Budget Proposals before the National Assembly on October 8, 2019 that, “We remain resolutely committed to the actualization of our vision of a bright and prosperous future for all Nigerians.”

The 2020 Budget of Sustainable Growth and Job Creation will be rigorously implemented to further deepen its impact on the generality of our people.

Let me use this occasion to once more thank the leadership and members of the National Assembly for the speedy consideration and passage of the 2020 Budget Proposals.

We are confident that this new era of cordiality and cooperation between the executive and the legislature will fast-track our collective commitment to giving our people better life and governance.

As we celebrate Christmas, let us remember to pray for members of our armed forces and other security agencies who are making so much sacrifice to protect us from people of evil intent.

We should also extend love to the families of those whose bread-winners made the ultimate sacrifice while defending their fatherland.

I appeal to motorists to drive with care this festive season, while road safety and security officials should ensure compliance with safety measures to avoid needless accidents and attendant loss of life and property.

I wish you a Merry Christmas, and a more fulfilling New Year 2020.

Muhammadu Buhari

President, Federal Republic of Nigeria

December 24, 2019

Wet Christmas As Typhoon Phanfone Hits Philippines

Fishermen carry a boat to higher ground in Baybay, eastern Samar on December 24, 2019, after typhoon Phanfone hit the central Philippines. Alren BERONIO / AFP

 

 

Typhoon Phanfone pummelled the central Philippines on Christmas Day, bringing a wet, miserable and terrifying holiday season to millions in the mainly Catholic nation.

Tens of thousands were stranded at shuttered ports or evacuation centres at the height of the festive season on Wednesday, and residents cowered in rain-soaked homes as Phanfone leapt from one small island to another for the second day.

The typhoon crumpled houses like accordions, toppled trees and blacked out cities in the Philippines’ most storm-prone region.

No deaths have been confirmed, but rescuers said they have yet to reach the more isolated areas, some in neck-deep floods.

Though weaker, Phanfone was tracking a similar path as Super Typhoon Haiyan — the country’s deadliest cyclone on record which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in 2013.

More than 16,000 people spent the night in improvised shelters in schools, gyms and government buildings as the typhoon made landfall Tuesday, civil defence officials said.

“It was frightening. The glass windows shattered and we took cover by the stairs,” Ailyn Metran told AFP after she and her four-year-old child spent the night at the local state weather service office where her husband worked.

The typhoon ripped a metal window frame off the building and dropped it onto a car parked outside, she said.

With just two hours’ sleep, the family returned to their home in Tacloban city Wednesday to find their two dogs safe, but the floor was covered in mud and a felled tree rested atop a nearby house.

The weather office said the typhoon strengthened slightly overnight Tuesday and was gusting at 195 kilometres (121 miles) an hour, which can knock down small trees and destroy flimsy houses.

Survivors took to social media with pictures and videos of crushed homes, buses half-submerged in brown-coloured floods, roads strewn with tree trunks, and coconut and banana plants being shredded by ferocious winds.

The typhoon hit land as millions of Filipinos trooped to once-yearly clan reunions centred on the “Noche Buena”, a sumptuous midnight meal that is the highlight of the Catholic nation’s holidays.

More than 25,000 people remained stranded at ports on Christmas Day with ferry services still shut down, the coast guard said.

Scores of flights to the region also remained cancelled, though the populous capital Manila, on the northern section has so far been spared.

Phanfone ravaged the north of the island of Cebu overnight Tuesday, and residents decamped from evacuation centres only to find their homes damaged, civil defence official Allen Froilan Cabaron told AFP.

“They were safer at the evacuation centres. At least they were able to eat the Christmas Eve meal there, even if only tinned fish and instant noodles were available,” Cabaron said.

“But even with food on the table, the atmosphere would have been different because they were not at home,” Cabaron added.

“Obviously, they were unable to celebrate Christmas properly because some spent the night at evacuation centres,” rescue official Cecille Bedonia told AFP by phone from Iloilo city.

At the western island resort of Coron, the beaches emptied and boat tours were suspended as Western tourists stayed in their rooms to await the typhoon onslaught later Thursday.

“Many of the tourist establishments here are closed, and some of our guests failed to arrive because their flights were cancelled,” hotel receptionist Nina Edano told AFP by phone.

“We’re not scared, but the ambience here is generally gloomy,” she added.

The Philippines is the first major landmass facing the Pacific cyclone belt.

As such, the archipelago gets hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year, killing scores of people and wiping out harvests, homes and other infrastructure and keeping millions perennially poor.

A July 2019 study by the Manila-based Asian Development Bank said the most frequent storms lop one per cent off the Philippine economic output, with the stronger ones cutting output by nearly three per cent.

AFP

Notre-Dame Misses Christmas Mass For First Time In 200 Years

A picture taken on December 19, 2019, shows cranes outside the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, which was partially destroyed when a fire broke out beneath the roof on April 15, 2019. Thomas SAMSON / AFP

 

 

Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris was unable to hold Christmas Eve Mass for the first time in more than 200 years — after a fire ravaged its structure in April.

With heavy hearts, French Catholics instead gathered at the nearby church of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois, a few hundred metres away, for a service celebrated by the cathedral’s rector Patrick Chauvet.

“It isn’t the same feeling but it’s still a Christmas Mass,” said 16-year-old Juliette, who had made the 700-kilometre trip from Aix with her family. “There will be a thought for Notre-Dame tonight, that’s for sure.”

“We have been crying since April 15, and today even more,” said Danielle, a Parisian, who attended last year’s mass at the Paris landmark. However, she was lifted by the choir of Notre-Dame, who performed at the mass.

Meanwhile, workers continue to repair and rebuild the cherished cathedral.

Notre-Dame, part of a UNESCO world heritage site on the banks of the River Seine lost its gothic spire, roof and many precious artifacts in the fire, which was watched by huge crowds.

The building had remained open for Christmas through two centuries of often tumultuous history — including the Nazi occupation in World War II — being forced to close only during the anti-Catholic revolutionary period in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

President Emmanuel Macron has set a timetable of five years to completely repair the eight-centuries-old structure, which remains shrouded in scaffolding with a vast crane looming over it.

Paris prosecutors suspect criminal negligence and opened an investigation in June, suggesting a stray cigarette butt or an electrical fault could be the culprit.

The culture ministry said in October that nearly one billion euros ($1.1 billion) had been pledged or raised for the reconstruction.

AFP

Pope Ushers In Christmas With Message Of ‘Unconditional Love’

Pope Francis leads a Christmas Eve mass in St Peter’s Basilica to mark the nativity of Jesus Christ on December 24, 2019, at the Vatican. Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

 

 

Pope Francis ushered in Christmas on Wednesday for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics with a message of unconditional love, saying “God continues to love us all, even the worst of us”.

“You may have mistaken ideas, you may have made a complete mess of things, but the Lord continues to love you,” the pontiff told crowds gathered at the Vatican for his Christmas Eve midnight mass.

The Argentinian also emphasized “unconditional” love, in a year that has seen the Pope move to combat silence surrounding paedophilia in the Roman Catholic church, which has been rocked by thousands of reports of sexual abuse by priests around the world and accusations of cover-ups by senior clergy.

Earlier this month, he removed a Pontifical secrecy rule, which critics said prevented priests and victims from reporting abuse, and in May passed a landmark measure to oblige those who know about sex abuse to report it to their superiors.

Francis will at noon on Wednesday give the traditional Christmas Day mass — his seventh — addressed to the world in front of St Peter’s Square.

Meanwhile, thousands of Palestinians and foreigners converged in the biblical town of Bethlehem, revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

A few hundred worshippers gathered in the church on the site of Jesus’s birth for midnight mass, attended by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas. Hundreds more gathered outside, watching on screens in the crisp air.

– ‘Special greetings’ to Gaza –

But fewer Christians from the Gaza Strip were in attendance than in previous years, as Israel had granted permits to just around 300 of some 900 people who applied, said Wadie Abunassar, an adviser to church leaders in the Holy Land.

At midnight bells rang out throughout the town, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the most senior Roman Catholic official in the Middle East, led hymns and said prayers.

“At Christmas all the world looks to us, to Bethlehem,” he said.

“Special greetings to our brothers and sisters in Gaza, with whom I celebrated Christmas two days ago,” he added.

Pizzaballa, who had to cross Israel’s separation barrier to get from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, said after his arrival that it was a difficult time but there was reason for hope.

“We see in this period the weakness of politics, enormous economic problems, unemployment, problems in families,” he said.

“On the other side, when I visit families, parishes, communities, I see a lot of commitment… for the future. Christmas is for us to celebrate the hope.”

Earlier on Christmas Eve, a few thousand people watched in the winter sun as Palestinian scouts paraded in front of a giant Christmas tree.

“The church is beautiful and it puts what we know in the Bible (in) place,” said Laneda, an American tourist visiting the site. “Everything is just very meaningful.”

French Catholics endured a sad moment as Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris was unable to hold Christmas Eve Mass for the first time since 1803 — after a fire ravaged its structure in April.

In the Philippines, a majority Catholic country, typhoon Phanfone brought a wet and miserable Christmas Day to millions, many of them stranded at shuttered ports or evacuation centres.

AFP

Bethlehem Welcomes Pilgrims For Christmas Celebrations

Tourists and pilgrims visit the Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity in the biblical West Bank city of Bethlehem on December 24, 2019.  HAZEM BADER / AFP

 

Pilgrims from around the world gathered Tuesday in the biblical city of Bethlehem, revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus, ushering in Christmas celebrations across the globe.

Thousands of Palestinians and foreigners converged on the “little town” in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, with Christmas Eve festivities taking place in and around the Church of the Nativity.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and the most senior Roman Catholic official in the Middle East, arrived from the holy city at the head of a procession.

Bethlehem is close to Jerusalem but cut off from it by Israel’s separation barrier.

After crossing through the wall, Pizzaballa said it was a difficult time but there was a reason for “hope”.

“We see in this period the weakness of politics, enormous economic problems, unemployment, problems in families,” he said.

“On the other side, when I visit families, parishes, communities, I see a lot of commitment… for the future.

“Christmas is for us to celebrate the hope.”

In the square outside the church, a few thousand people watched in the winter sun as Palestinian scouts paraded in front of a 15-metre Christmas tree.

“The church is beautiful and it puts what we know in the Bible (in) place,” said Laneda, an American tourist visiting the site.

“Everything is just very meaningful.”

As evening fell, crowds thinned as the church closed to tourists ahead of midnight mass, which Pizzaballa was to lead, with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas expected to attend.

Pope Francis was set to address the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics late Tuesday evening.

‘Bumpy year’

The first church was built on the site of Jesus’s birth in the fourth century, though it was replaced after a fire in the sixth century.

This year celebrations were bolstered by the return of a wooden fragment believed to be from the manger of Jesus.

Sent as a gift to Pope Theodore I in 640, the piece had been in Europe for more than 1,300 years before being returned last month, Francesco Patton, chief custodian for the Holy Land, said.

“We venerate the relic because (it) reminds us of the mystery of incarnation, to the fact that the son of God was born of Mary in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago,” Patton told AFP at the time.

In the square by the church, Palestinian tourism minister Rula Maayah told AFP it had been a good year, with 3.5 million tourists visiting the city.

But fewer Christians from the Gaza Strip were in attendance than in previous years, as Israel had granted permits to just around 300 of some 900 people who applied, said Wadie Abunassar, an adviser to church leaders in the Holy Land.

The Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza are separated by Israeli territory and crossing between them requires hard-to-get permits.

Around the world, people were getting ready to ring in the Christmas festivities.

In her traditional Christmas Day message, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II was to describe 2019 as “quite bumpy” after a year of crises in the royal family.

In France, travellers were meanwhile facing more woe in the bitter nearly-three week strike by train drivers fighting government pension reform plans.

The walkout has ruined Christmas travel plans for tens of thousands of French ticket holders unable to reach loved ones in time for Christmas Day.

A frantic scramble for gift promotions left a dozen people injured in an Australian mall.

But in Hong Kong chaos broke out in an upscale mall after pro-democracy protesters planned a series of Christmas Ever demonstrations.

And in the central Philippines, where Christmas is widely celebrated among the country’s Catholics, thousands of people were warned to leave their homes as a severe tropical storm approached.

AFP

Christmas: Buhari Asks Criminals, Looters To Retrace Their Steps

Minimum Wage: Buhari Meets With Implementation Committee, To Receive Report
President Muhammadu Buhari speaks during a meeting at the State House in Abuja.

 

 

President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday rejoiced with Nigerians, especially Christians in the country on the occasion of this year’s Christmas.

In his message to the nation, he urged the people to show love to their fellow neighbours, noting that this among others was the essence of the season.

The President also called on insurgents, armed robbers, and kidnappers, as well as economic saboteurs among others to have a rethink and be of good behaviour.

He, however, warned that those who choose to remain adamant would definitely come to the end of the road as respective government agencies were already making efforts to make Nigeria better.

President Buhari was confident that the recent signing of the 2020 Appropriation Bill into law would help the country to actualise its vision of a bright and prosperous future.

During the period of celebration, he appealed to the people to pray for members of the nation’s armed forces making the sacrifice to protect the people.

He also advised motorists to drive with care and ordered the relevant traffic agencies to ensure compliance with safety measures.

The President, therefore, wished Nigerians a Merry Christmas and a more fulfilling New Year 2020.

Read the President’s message to the nation below:

PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI’S 2019 CHRISTMAS MESSAGE TO NIGERIANS

I felicitate with our Christian brothers and sisters in particular, and all Nigerians in general, on the joyous occasion of Christmas of the year 2019.

As Christendom commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, I enjoin all Nigerians to imbibe and demonstrate the essence of the season of love; goodwill among all the ethnic groups in the country; giving and sharing; strengthening the bonds of brotherhood and good neighbourliness; and focusing on all that bind us together as one united country.

I, therefore, urge our compatriots to shun all actions which negate the spirit of the season.

However, celebrating the spirit and virtues of Christmas need not be a one-day affair, but rather, ought to continue into the New Year.

It is in line with the spirit of Christmas that I call on all elements whose actions are opposed to what the season represents, especially, insurgents, terrorists, armed robbers, kidnappers and economic saboteurs, to retrace their steps and join people of goodwill and common humanity.

If they fail to heed this call, they will meet their end as the armed forces, security and law-enforcement agencies are poised now to confront and defeat them.

Our people must make extra efforts to live in peace and harmony with their neighbours, irrespective of differences.

While it is gladdening to note that incidents of violence and conflicts have reduced drastically owing to the several operations embarked on by our security agencies, we must not let our guards down.

As Christmas indicates good tidings of hope and redemption, Nigerians can look forward to a turnaround in the administration’s priority areas of fighting corruption, providing security, economic diversification, job creation and infrastructure upgrade.

Having recently signed the 2020 Appropriation Bill into Law, I reiterate my promise during the presentation of the Budget Proposals before the National Assembly on October 8, 2019 that, “We remain resolutely committed to the actualization of our vision of a bright and prosperous future for all Nigerians.”

The 2020 Budget of Sustainable Growth and Job Creation will be rigorously implemented to further deepen its impact on the generality of our people.

Let me use this occasion to once more thank the leadership and members of the National Assembly for the speedy consideration and passage of the 2020 Budget Proposals.

We are confident that this new era of cordiality and cooperation between the executive and the legislature will fast-track our collective commitment to giving our people better life and governance.

As we celebrate Christmas, let us remember to pray for members of our armed forces and other security agencies who are making so much sacrifice to protect us from people of evil intent.

We should also extend love to the families of those whose bread-winners made the ultimate sacrifice while defending their fatherland.

I appeal to motorists to drive with care this festive season, while road safety and security officials should ensure compliance with safety measures to avoid needless accidents and attendant loss of life and property.

I wish you a Merry Christmas, and a more fulfilling New Year 2020.

Muhammadu Buhari

President, Federal Republic of Nigeria

December 24, 2019

Pilgrims Gather In Bethlehem For Christmas Celebration

Christian pilgrims visit the Church of the Nativity in the biblical West Bank city of Bethlehem on December 24, 2019. Pilgrims from around the world gathered today in the biblical city of Bethlehem, revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus, to celebrate Christmas in the Holy Land.
HAZEM BADER / AFP

 

Pilgrims from around the world gathered Tuesday in the biblical city of Bethlehem, revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus, to celebrate Christmas in the Holy Land.

Palestinians and foreigners began converging on the  “little town” in the Israeli-occupied West Bank from early morning, with Christmas Eve festivities taking place in and around the Church of the Nativity.

Tourists queued to visit the grotto inside the church, believed to be the exact site where Jesus was born, with Ola, a Nigerian visitor, saying it was a “special day.”

READ ALSO: US Welcomes Saudi Khashoggi Verdicts As ‘Important Step’ – Official

Outside in the winter sun, hundreds watched as Palestinian scouts paraded to the sound of drums.

“I feel really emotional to be here today, it’s wonderful,” said Germana, an Italian travelling with her husband and two children.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, an apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and the most senior Roman Catholic official in the Middle East, was due to travel from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on Tuesday morning.

He will lead midnight mass in the Church of the Nativity, with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas expected to attend.

Bethlehem is close to Jerusalem but cut off from the holy city by Israel’s separation barrier.

The first church was built on the site in the fourth century, though it was replaced after a fire in the sixth century.

This year celebrations were bolstered by the return of a wooden fragment believed to be from the manger of Jesus.

Sent as a gift to Pope Theodore I in 640, the piece had been in Europe for more than 1,300 years before being returned last month, Francesco Patton, chief custodian for the Holy Land, said.

“We venerate the relic because (it) reminds us of the mystery of incarnation, to the fact that the son of God was born of Mary in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago,” Patton told AFP at the time.

‘Tough Christmas In Gaza’

In the square by the church, Palestinian tourism minister Rula Maaya told AFP it had been a good year, with 3.5 million tourists visiting the city.

But fewer Christians from the Gaza Strip were in attendance than in previous years, as Israel granted permits to just around 200 of some 900 people who applied, said Wadie Abunassar, an adviser to church leaders in the Holy Land.

The Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza are separated by Israeli territory and crossing between them requires hard-to-get permits.

Abunassar said Christmas remained a time for hope.

“The Holy Land is not only the site of the birth and crucifixion (of Jesus), it is also the place of resurrection,” he told AFP.

“Despite all challenges, difficulties, pain and problems we are facing, we keep the hope in God and people.”

‘Bumpy Year’

Around the world, people were getting ready to ring in the Christmas festivities.

In her traditional Christmas Day message, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II was to describe 2019 as “quite bumpy” after a year of crises in the royal family.

In France, travellers were meanwhile in for more woe in the bitter nearly-three week strike by train drivers fighting government pension reform plans.

The walkout has ruined Christmas travel plans for tens of thousands of French ticket holders unable to reach loved ones in time for Christmas Day.

A frantic scramble for gift promotions left a dozen people injured in an Australian mall.

And in the central Philippines, where Christmas is widely celebrated among the country’s Catholics, thousands of people were warned to leave their homes as a severe tropical storm approached.

AFP

Christmas Havoc Feared As French Transport Strike Continues

A commuter enter in a train at Gare de L’Est trains station in Paris, on December 13, 2019, during a strike of Paris’ public transports operator RATP and of the French state railway company SNCF employees over French government’s plan to overhaul the country’s retirement system.
Martin BUREAU / AFP

 

France reeled under a crippling public transport strike for a 10th day Saturday aimed at forcing the government to scrap a pension revamp, as fears grew of travel mayhem during Christmas.

Train traffic was severely disrupted with only one out of four TGV high-speed long-distance trains and three of 10 regional trains running across the country.

But Paris and its environs remained the worst hit. Nine metro lines in the capital remained closed and there were skeletal transport services between the city and its suburbs.

Only 60 percent of the city’s bus services were running.

Strikers have warned of similar disruptions on Sunday and Monday and national rail operator SNCF and the RATP Paris transport network confirmed service would be very limited with just one in four TGVs running.

On Saturday, SNCF managing director  Rachel Picard, told Le Parisien daily that “half of the passengers” would have trains to visit family for Christmas” but did not elaborate.

Unions are hoping for a repeat of 1995 when they forced a rightwing government to back down on pension reform after three weeks of metro and rail strikes just before Christmas.

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The prospect of a protracted standoff has businesses fearing big losses during the crucial year-end festivities, and travellers worried that their holiday plans will fall through.

On Friday, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe asked SNCF chief Jean-Pierre Farandou to draw up a list of exactly which trains would be running during the festive season.

Philippe told the Parisien daily in an interview for its Sunday edition that the French would not accept being “deprived” of festive transport options.

“I can well see that everyone is worried as they see Christmas near. Christmas is an important time.

“Everybody must take their responsibilities. I do not think the French would accept people depriving them of this moment,” Philippe warned.

But unions said they would not give in — and that the government would have to.

“If the government wants the conflict to end before the holidays, they have all of next week to take the wise decision and scrap the point-based pension plan,” Laurent Blum, the general secretary of the hard-line CGT-Cheminots, the main SNCF union, told AFP.

Historic Reform

The reform would do away with 42 separate regimes, some of which offer early retirement and other benefits to public sector workers such as train drivers, dockers, and even Paris Opera employees.

The strike organisers have announced a massive protest for Tuesday when tens of thousands are expected to take to the streets again.

Meanwhile, teachers, who have been mobilised since the start of the protest, on Friday gained guarantees from the government of salary reviews which would cost the state 10 billion euros. The details were not revealed.

Policemen meanwhile ended their protest on Friday after managing to get assurances that their early retirement scheme would be maintained, owing to the “dangerous” nature of their job.

Both Paris operas, the Garnier and the Bastille, cancelled Friday performances, and more through the weekend.

President Emmanuel Macron’s government insists the changes will make for a fairer system and help erase pension system deficits forecast to reach as much as 17 billion euros ($19 billion) by 2025.

The average French person retires at just over 60, years earlier than most in Europe or other rich OECD countries.

Prime Minister Philippe has held talks with union leaders and more negotiations are scheduled over the coming week.

Philippe on Friday struck a combative note, saying he “has absolutely no fear of implementing this reform”.

Macron, who has maintained a studied silence since the protests began, told reporters in Brussels on Friday that it was a “historic reform” while expressing solidarity with those affected by the fallout.

AFP