Australians Warned Worst Bushfires May Be Yet To Come

Firefighters tackle a bushfire to save a home in Taree, 350km north of Sydney on November 9, 2019 as they try to contain dozens of out-of-control blazes that are raging in the state of New South Wales. At least two people have died and 100 homes have been destroyed as an unprecedented number of bushfires tore through eastern Australia.
PETER PARKS / AFP

 

Sydney is facing a “catastrophic” fire threat, authorities said on Sunday, as firefighters in eastern Australia raced to prepare for worsening conditions after ferocious bushfires devastated communities.

Fires have killed three people and razed more than 150 homes since Friday, but cooler weather overnight provided a welcome reprieve for firefighters and residents.

Authorities were assessing the damage on Sunday, with more than 100 fires still burning across New South Wales and Queensland, including several blazes that remained out of control.

Wider swathes of the states — including greater Sydney — are now bracing for perilous fire conditions predicted for the coming days, as is Western Australia state.

It is the first time Sydney has been warned of a “catastrophic” fire danger, the highest possible level, since the grading system was introduced in 2009.

Massive fires tore through several towns on Friday and Saturday.

The mayor of Glen Innes, where two people died, said residents were traumatised and still coming to terms with their losses.

“The fire was as high as 20 foot (six metres) and raging with 80 kilometres-an-hour (50 miles-an-hour) winds,” Carol Sparks told national broadcaster ABC.

Five people reported missing have been found, but the unpredictable nature of the disaster means officials have not ruled out the possibility that others could still be missing, NSW Rural Fire Service spokesman Greg Allan told AFP.

In Old Bar, which was spared the worst when the wind changed direction, hectares of bushland had turned charcoal and small pockets of flames continued to smoulder.

Peter McKellar, 75, was clearing debris from his property as his neighbour’s home sat in ruins.

“The firies (firefighters) saved ours,” he told AFP. “They are doing a wonderful job. They’re angels.”

High temperatures, low humidity and strong winds forecast from the middle of the week are predicted to fuel blazes that authorities have warned they will be unable to contain ahead of time.

“We are ramping up for probably another 50 trucks full of crews to be deployed into New South Wales on Monday night ahead of conditions on Tuesday,” NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shan Fitzsimmons told reporters in Taree, one of the worst-hit areas.

“We have seen the gravity of the situation unfold… What we can expect is those sorts of conditions to prevail across a much broader geographic area as we head into Tuesday.”

‘Primed to burn’

In Queensland, where a state of emergency has been declared, more than 1,200 firefighters were battling over 50 active fires on Sunday.

“Queensland does not usually have a fire season like we’ve experienced this year and last year,” Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters.

With thousands of people forced to flee from their homes, Australia’s government was offering immediate emergency assistance payments of up to Aus$1,000 (US$685) to those affected and extended financial support for anyone unable to work as a result.

Many residents are now returning to their scorched communities to assess the extent of the fire-inflicted damage, amid warnings it could take months for them to rebuild their lives.

Emotions were running high at an evacuation centre in Taree, with one man breaking down in tears as he was embraced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“People are under a lot of pressure,” Morrison told reporters. “The level of optimism, despite the circumstances, is quite inspiring.”

Morrison, whose government has downplayed the threat of climate change, was also heckled about the issue at a fire command centre in nearby Wauchope.

“Climate change is real, can’t you see,” the Australian newspaper reported a man as yelling before he was escorted out of the building.

Bushfires are common in Australia but the country has experienced a dramatic start to what scientists predict will be a tough fire season — with climate change and weather cycles contributing to the dangerous combination of strong winds, high temperatures and dry conditions.

The current disaster has not wreaked the human devastation of Australia’s worst recent bushfires, the Black Saturday fires that killed 173 people in Victoria state in 2009, with some experts attributing that to better early warning systems.

But Ross Bradstock, from the Centre for Environmental Management of Bushfires at the University of Wollongong, described the situation as “unprecedented” for the affected regions, which have rarely — if ever — experienced such severe fires.

“Sadly, given the weather forecast for the coming week, the crisis may worsen and extend southward into landscapes primed to burn via extreme dryness,” he said.

‘Uncharted Territory’ As Bushfires Rage Across Australia’s East

Smoke from rural bushfires are seen over Sydney Harbour on October 31, 2019. Sydney residents coughed and spluttered their way around Australia’s largest metropolis as a bank of smoke from rural bushfires enveloped the city prompting health warnings. Saeed KHAN / AFP

 

 

Dozens of bushfires raged out of control across eastern Australia on Friday, blocking escape routes for residents and shuttering the main highway linking major cities on the country’s Pacific coast.

More than 90 blazes pockmarked the New South Wales countryside, 50 of them uncontained, tearing through tens of thousands of hectares.

“We are in uncharted territory,” New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told public broadcaster ABC. “We have never seen this many fires concurrently at emergency warning level.”

Authorities said fires had breached containment lines and forced the closure of the Pacific Highway linking Sydney and Brisbane in two places.

Emergency warnings were introduced for 14 flashpoints, bringing warnings to evacuate immediately.

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In some areas, residents were told to simply “seek shelter as it is too late to leave”.

Local radio stopped normal programming and provided instructions about how to try to survive fires if trapped at home or in a vehicle.

A prolonged drought, strong winds, low humidity and high temperatures have conspired to make the landscape a tinderbox.

“It’s a very dynamic, volatile and dangerous set of circumstances,” said Fitzsimmons.

Bushfires are common in Australia, but the country is gearing up for busy bushfire season with record temperatures predicted for the summer months.

Huge Saltwater Croc Kills Fisherman In Latest Attack On Philippine Island

This undated handout photo received on October 10, 2019 from the Mimaropa regional police shows Philippine police inspecting a 4.9-metre (16-foot) saltwater crocodile after it was killed.

 

A huge saltwater crocodile killed a Philippines fisherman after snatching him from his boat, local authorities said Thursday, the latest in a series of attacks terrorising a remote southern island.

The 20-year-old was taken by a 4.9-metre (16-foot) croc late Tuesday as he and a colleague sailed back to the island of Balabac after a day of fishing, regional police spokesman Socrates Faltado told AFP.

The next day residents found his body, still in the croc’s jaws, Faltado said.

They then used dynamite to kill it.

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A crocodile also killed a 10-year-old boy in the same area less than two months ago, according to Jovic Fabello, spokesman for a government council that oversees conservation efforts in Palawan, where Balabac is located.

And earlier this year a croc killed a 15-year old boy and a fisherman off the island of about 35,000 people.

Last year crocodiles killed two people around Balabac.

“We have to address the root cause of the incident, which is partly due to habitat destruction. The crocodiles have almost nowhere left to hide, and there is not enough food in their habitat,” Fabello said.

“It’s a competition for space because people don’t want to give in,” he added.

The local crocodile population might also have increased, he said.

The Palawan island group is known for its diversity of flora and fauna, but authorities are increasingly wary of its unchecked development.

Paris, Four Other French Cities Ban Use Of Pesticides

This picture taken on September 09, 2019, shows a bottle of weedkilling containing glyphosate in Lille, northern France. DENIS CHARLET / AFP

 

Paris and four other French cities on Thursday banned the use of synthetic pesticides within their boundaries, as an anti-chemicals movement that began in the countryside gains momentum.

Lille in the north, Nantes in the west, Grenoble in the southeast and the central city of Clermont-Ferrand joined Paris in implementing the ban, citing the need to safeguard biodiversity and public health.

The move is mainly symbolic given that the 2017 law already bans the use of synthetic pesticides in public parks and spaces.

And since January, home gardeners countrywide have also been banned from using synthetic pesticides. They may use only those made with natural ingredients.

READ ALSO: WHO Urges World Leaders To Protect Health From Climate Change

The few urban areas not included by the bans include green spaces managed by private property owners, such as in apartment blocks, or by companies such as state rail operator SNCF which use the controversial weedkiller glyphosate on train tracks.

Environment Minister Elisabeth Borne slammed Thursday’s announcement by the five cities — all of which are run by left-wing or Green opposition parties — as a “publicity stunt”.

President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist government has proposed banning the use of pesticides to within 5-10 metres (15-35 feet) of residential areas — a proposal slammed by environmentalists as not going far enough.

The head of the Greens group in Lille city council, Stephane Baly, said the cities’ aim was “to make the government cave in”.

The current bans to not cover some 600 hectares (1,500 acres) of land in Paris, according to Penelope Komites, an MP of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s Socialist Party.

“We have to protect our city’s inhabitants,” she said.

France growing green

Dozens of small towns and villages, where houses abut fields, have already issued decrees cracking down on the use of chemical sprays.

The movement began in earnest in May 18 in the Brittany village of Langouet where a mayor banned the use of pesticides within 150 metres of a home or business.

A court later invalidated the ban, ruling that only the state has the power to ban pesticides for public health reasons.

But Mayor Daniel Cueff had by then already won legions of admirers, with villages and towns, from the Normandy town of Val-de-Reuil to the wealthy Paris suburb of Sceaux, following suit.

The bans reflect the growing concern among French citizens, particularly in rural areas, over the continued use of the weedkilling chemical glyphosate, found in herbicides such as Monsanto’s Roundup.

France is one of the EU’s heaviest users of the herbicide, which is widely used by farmers to spray crops even though the World Health Organization has described it as “probably carcinogenic”, a finding disputed by Monsanto.

The impact of chemical pollution has slowly risen up the political agenda in France as voters grow increasingly concerned about environmental degradation and climate change.

The issue is expected to be among voters’ top priorities when they go to the polls in local elections next year.

Tanzanian Arrested With Tusks From 117 Elephants

In this file photo taken on March 20, 2015 an elephant splashes at sunset in the waters of the Chobe river in Botswana Chobe National Park, in the north eastern of the country.

 

A Tanzanian man has been arrested after authorities found a stash of ivory buried under his house, estimated to come from around 117 elephants, authorities said Thursday.

The suspect, who had been sought by authorities since 2016, had in his possession 338 pieces of elephant tusk, and 75 whole tusks, the minister of natural resources, Hamisi Kigwangalla, said in a statement.

He was arrested along with seven alleged accomplices, and the tusks are believed to have come from Tanzania and Mozambique.

“Until his arrest on Tuesday, he was unable to move this stock, because we have become extremely vigilant,” said Kigwangalla.

READ ALSO: Two Aid Workers Killed In ‘Ambush’ In Western Ethiopia

“I am giving a period of grace of one month for any person in possession of elephant tusks to hand them in to authorities without facing prosecution.”

Since 2016, around 1,000 poachers, some heavily armed, have been arrested in Tanzania whose elephant population plunged 60 percent between 2009 and 2014 due to poaching.

In February a Tanzanian court sentenced Chinese citizen Yang Fenlan — dubbed the “Ivory Queen” — to 15 years in jail for her role in trafficking tusks from more than 400 elephants.

Poaching has seen the population of African elephants fall by 110,000 over the past decade to just 415,000 animals, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The slaughter is being fuelled especially by demand in Asia, where ivory is used for jewellery and ornamentation.

Brazil’s Bolsonaro Fuels Spat With Macron Over Amazon Fires

 

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro on Wednesday repeated a demand for French leader Emmanuel Macron to withdraw recent remarks, accusing France and Germany of “buying” the Latin American country’s sovereignty with Amazon fire aid.

Bolsonaro’s latest comments came during an escalating diplomatic spat between Brazil and Europe that threatens to torpedo a major trade deal. They also throw into doubt whether Brazil is still willing to accept the G7’s offer of $20 million to help combat fires raging in the world’s largest rainforest.

Bolsonaro said Tuesday morning he was open to discussing the offer from the G7 only if Macron retracted his “insults” against him.

But by evening Bolsonaro appeared to have changed his tune and dropped the demand. His spokesman told reporters that Brazil would accept foreign aid on the condition that it controlled the money.

“Only after he withdraws what he said… we can talk again,” Bolsonaro told reporters Wednesday, referring to Macron, after holding talks with Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera on the Amazon crisis.

“Germany and in particular France are buying our sovereignty,” Bolsonaro said.

“It seems that $20 million is our price. Brazil doesn’t have a price of 20 million or 20 trillion — it’s the same thing for us.”

Bolsonaro said Brazil would accept bilateral aid to fight the fires, raising doubts over whether the country would take up the offer from the Group of Seven, which consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States.

He accepted Chile’s offer of four aircraft to fight the blazes. “We all love the Amazon, but the nine Amazon countries… have sovereignty” over it, Pinera said.

Bolsonaro’s latest remarks make him and his government appear “increasingly unhinged,” said Robert Muggah, from a Rio de Janeiro think tank, the Igarape Institute.

“There don’t appear to be any adults left in the room with the ability or inclination to restrain his worst impulses,” Muggah said.

No liars

Macron and Bolsonaro have repeatedly clashed in the past week.

The French leader accused Bolsonaro of lying to him about his commitments on climate change and vowed to block the EU-Mercosur trade deal involving Brazil that took decades to negotiate.

On Monday, Macron rebuked the “extraordinarily rude” Bolsonaro after the Brazilian leader personally expressed approval for a supporter’s Facebook post implying that Brigitte Macron was not as attractive as his own first lady, Michelle Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro has hit back, accusing Macron of treating Brazil like “a colony or no-man’s land.”

The Brazilian leader has since removed the comment from social media to avoid misinterpretation, his spokesman Otavio Rego Barros told reporters Wednesday.

Vice President Hamilton Mourao — widely considered to be a moderate voice in Bolsonaro’s government — also weighed in publicly for the first time.

In an opinion piece published in the conservative Estado de S. Paulo newspaper, Mourao criticized an “international campaign” against Brazil and said the country “does not lie and nor does its president, its government and its institutions.”

The global outcry sparked by the Amazon fires has alarmed industries in Latin America’s largest economy. They fear potential boycotts of their products.

Global shoe and clothing brands have threatened to suspend leather purchases from Brazil over the country’s environmental policies in the forest, according to a document sent by the Brazil Tanneries Industry Center to the government.

Fires are also ravaging neighboring Bolivia where President Evo Morales and his rival in upcoming elections have suspended campaigning to deal with the blazes.

Bolsonaro on Wednesday supported Peru and Colombia’s proposal for an emergency Amazon summit in September so regional countries could coordinate a strategy to protect the vast rainforest.

The latest official figures show 1,044 new fires were started Monday and Tuesday, taking the total this year to 83,329 — the highest since 2010 — even as military aircraft and troops help battle the blazes.

More than half of the fires are in the massive Amazon basin.

In the hard-hit northwestern state of Rondonia, thick smoke has choked the capital Porto Velho as fires blacken swaths of the rainforest.

But the defense ministry insists the fires are under control. It has published satellite data it says show a reduction in the number of fires in the nine states spanning the Amazon.

Brazil President Says France’s Macron Has ‘Colonialist Mentality’ Over Amazon Fires

 

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro blasted his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron Thursday as having a “colonialist mentality” for rallying G-7 countries to address wildfires raging in the Amazon rainforest.

“The French president’s suggestion that Amazon issues be discussed at the G-7 without participation by the countries in the region evokes a colonialist mentality that is out of place in the 21st century,” Bolsonaro wrote on Twitter.

Macron is using an issue that is a domestic one for Brazil and other regional countries for personal political gain, Brazil’s leader said, calling Macron’s tone “sensationalist.”

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Macron tweeted earlier Thursday that fires burning in the Amazon amount to an international crisis and should be discussed as a top priority when the G-7 countries meet this weekend in France.

“Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rainforest — the lungs which produce 20 percent of our planet’s oxygen — is on fire. It is an international crisis. Members of the G7 Summit, let’s discuss this emergency first order in two days!” Macron said on Twitter.

Bolsonaro noted that Macron’s tweet included a photo of a fire in the Amazon that is at least 16 years old and has been seen often in recent days on social media posts about the fires.

Amazon Fires: Our House Is Burning – Macron

 

Paris and the United Nations called Thursday for the protection of the fire-plagued Amazon rainforest as Brazil’s right-wing president accused his French counterpart of having a “colonialist mentality” over the issue.

Official figures show nearly 73,000 forest fires were recorded in Brazil in the first eight months of the year — the highest number for any year since 2013. Most were in the Amazon.

The extent of the area damaged by fires has yet to be determined, but smoke has choked Sao Paulo and several other Brazilian cities in the past week.

UN chief Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply concerned” by the fires.

“In the midst of the global climate crisis, we cannot afford more damage to a major source of oxygen and biodiversity,” he said on Twitter.

“The Amazon must be protected.”

France’s President Emmanuel Macron said the wildfires were “an international crisis” and called on the globe’s most industrialized nations to address it at their summit this weekend.

“Our house is on fire. Literally. The Amazon, the lung of our planet which produces 20 percent of our oxygen is burning,” Macron said on Twitter.

“It is an international crisis. Members of the G7, let’s talk in two days about this emergency.”

That did not sit well with Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro.

“The French president’s suggestion that Amazon issues be discussed at the G-7 without participation by the countries in the region evokes a colonialist mentality that is out of place in the 21st century,” Bolsonaro wrote on Twitter.

Neighboring Peru, which contains much of the Amazon basin, announced it was “on alert” for wildfires spreading from the rainforest in Brazil and Bolivia.

Paraguay and Bolivia are battling separate wildfires that have devastated large areas of their rainforests.

‘Rapid deforestation’

Environmental specialists say the fires have accompanied a rapid rate of deforestation in the Amazon region, which in July quadrupled compared to the same month in 2018, according to data from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

Bolsonaro instead attributes the fires to increased drought, and accuses environmental groups and NGOs of whipping up an “environmental psychosis” to harm Brazil’s economic interests.

“This environmental psychosis lets you do nothing,” the president lamented, adding that it was hampering the country’s development.

“I don’t want to finish the environment, I want to save Brazil,” said Bolsonaro, a climate change skeptic who had advocated opening up tribal lands and protected areas to farming and mining interests since assuming office in January.

Bolsonaro’s comments come as Brazil hosts a UN regional meeting on climate change in the northeastern city of Salvador ahead of December’s summit in Chile.

A senior Brazilian official defended Brazil’s environmental policy at the conference and said it complied with the Paris Agreement against global warming.

“We are teaching the world how to produce. In only 29 percent of our territory we produce food for everyone.

“Worldwide, the average land use for agriculture exceeds 50 percent — we only use 29 percent,” said Roberto Castelo, an environment ministry official who was roundly booed by greens at the conference.

Not ‘Captain Nero’

“I do not defend the burnings, because there always was and always will be burnings. Unfortunately, this has always happened in the Amazon,” Bolsonaro said, referring to dry season, land-clearing fires.

“But accusing me of being a Captain Nero setting fire to things is irresponsible. It is campaigning against Brazil,” the president told reporters outside his Brasilia residence.

The reference to Captain Nero appeared to be to the Roman emperor said to have fiddled while Rome burned. Bolsonaro is a former army captain.

Forest fires tend to intensify during the dry season, which usually ends in late October or early November, as land is cleared to make way for crops or grazing.

“Just think, if the world begins imposing trade barriers, our agribusiness will fall, we will start to go backwards, the economy will start to get worse — your life, the lives of newspaper editors, television owners, the lives of all Brazilians will be complicated, without exception. The press is committing suicide,” Bolsonaro said.

‘Environmental pariah’

However, there are signs of growing concern from within the powerful agribusiness sector over Bolsonaro’s environmental isolationism.

The governors of Brazil’s Amazon states have also criticized the government for recent decisions by Germany and Norway to suspend Amazon aid projects.

“This week two big German media outlets expressed the idea that it was time to start boycotting Brazilian products. It’s only a matter of time,” Marcello Brito, head of the Brazilian Agribusiness Association, told the Valor daily.

“The question is, who is interested in transforming Brazil into an environmental pariah,” he asked.

“We cannot change the president of the republic. What our sector can do is work, in a unified way, to try to reverse the damage as much as possible.”

Climate Activist Greta Thunberg Sets Sail For NYC

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg walks along the quayside to board an electric powered RIB. KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH / POOL / AFP

 

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg sets sail on Wednesday for New York, heading for a UN summit on a zero-emissions yacht skippered by a member of Monaco’s ruling family.

The 16-year-old Swede, whose school strikes have inspired children across the world to protest against global warming, refuses to fly because of the carbon emissions caused by planes.

But she has been offered a lift on the Malizia II racing yacht, along with her father Svante and a filmmaker to document the journey, that will allow her to attend the UN talks in September with a clear conscience.

The 60-foot (18-metre) boat is skippered by Pierre Casiraghi, vice president of the Monaco Yacht Club and a member of the principality’s ruling family, and German round-the-world sailor Boris Herrmann.

The journey takes about two weeks — the yacht can travel at speeds of around 35 knots (70 kilometres an hour) but will be heading into the wind for much of the time so will be slower, and the captain wants a smooth ride.

“The objective is to arrive safe and sound in New York,” Herrmann told AFP as he made final preparations in the English port of Plymouth.

‘Pressure on people in power’

Thunberg has become a figurehead for climate action with her stark warnings of catastrophe if the world does not act now to cut carbon emissions and curb global warming.

Speaking to AFP before she set sail, the activist said: “Of course there are many people who don’t understand and accept the science.

“I will just have to do what I have always done — ignore them and just tell the science as it is,” she added in reference to her North American trip.

“We create an international opinion and movement so that people stand together and put pressure on the people in power.”

The yacht is made for racing, with foils, or wings, that lift it out of the water for a faster and smoother ride.

Inside it is sparse, fitted with high-tech navigation equipment, an on-board ocean laboratory to monitor CO2 levels in the water, and four bunks — Herrmann and Casiraghi will share one, sleeping in turns.

The toilet is a blue plastic bucket, complete with a biodegradable bag that can be thrown overboard, and meals will be freeze-dried packets of vegan food mixed with water heated on a tiny gas stove.

But state-of-the-art solar panels adorn the yacht’s deck and sides while there are two hydro-generators, which together provide all the electricity they need on board.

Thunberg has never sailed before this week, and got seasick on their first journey out of Plymouth on Monday, but said she was looking forward to the adventure.

The teenager, who has spent hours on trains across Europe to spread her message, was relaxed about the basic conditions.

“You can’t really ask for that much if you get to sail across the Atlantic for free,” she said, adding: “I am grateful for what I have.”

Grannies For Future: 100-Year-Old German Enters Politics

Lisel Heise, one hundered years of age and member of the town council points at something as she walks on a street on July 4, 2019 in the southwestern German city of Kirchheimbolanden. DANIEL ROLAND / AFP

 

German great-grandmother Lisel Heise’s ambition to enter politics crystalised a few years before her 100th birthday when organisers of a public hearing cut off her microphone.

Heise, who retired from teaching school 40 years ago, was arguing for the reopening of an outdoor pool.

“When I started out, some people really didn’t want to listen to me apparently — they even pulled the plug!” she said, still stunned by the impudence.

“Now people from around the world are coming to talk to me. Who’s laughing now?”

What changed was Heise’s election, against the odds, to the town council of Kirchheimbolanden in southwestern Germany just weeks after she embarked on her second century on the planet.

It was no accident that the pool galvanised Heise, given two issues close to her heart: young people and public health.

Those concerns have also dovetailed in another pet cause: climate protection.

The remarkably spry Heise says she has taken inspiration from the Fridays for Future youth protest movement.

“The kids really give me hope. There is a tendency in politics to favour the car industry and that’s counterproductive,” she said.

“It’s great that the youth aren’t just waiting for the grownups to do something.”

‘Bundles of energy’

Heise, who takes daily walks through the quaint old town of Kirchheimbolanden, population 8,000, is part of a groundswell of seniors unwilling to sit out their dotage on the sidelines of public life.

The Omas Gegen Rechts (Grannies Against the Right) action group fighting extremism launched in Austria in 2017 and has since expanded to Germany. It regularly rallies elderly women, drawing on the lessons of history to stand up to racism.

Heise’s political career began in earnest earlier this year when a town council member, Thomas Bock, 59, saw her as a potential ally.

Bock runs the political group Wir fuer Kibo (WfK, roughly We for Kibo, the town’s nickname), which is agitating against the established parties for more transparency and accountability.

He needed a candidate who would have the gravitas and passion to fight the powers that be.

“She’s got a strong character and bundles of energy,” he said.

Bock said the fact that most middle-aged Kirchheimbolanden natives had had Heise as a teacher when they were young was also a distinct advantage.

“Everyone respects her,” Bock said.

‘Chance to right some wrongs’

The town has been governed for more than two decades by Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU, most recently in a “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats just like the one Merkel leads in Berlin.

But WfK’s success has helped shift the majority, and now a new alliance of left-leaning parties is ready to take over the 24-member council.

Heise said her election was pure luck. “But now that I have the chance to right some wrongs, I’m going to seize it,” she added.

Not only is Heise a political rising star but also, of course, a witness to much of Germany’s tumultuous 20th century.

Born in the aftermath of World War I, Heise said her father Fritz Waltgenbach, who owned a shoe factory, was also a town council member.

After the Kristallnacht pogrom in November 1938, he spoke out before his peers against the torching of the local synagogue and the persecution of Jews in their midst.

“The Nazis always talked about freedom but (in fact) you had to do what the party said and it led to awful things,” Heise said.

Waltgenbach spent several weeks in prison until a friend intervened with well-placed connections in Berlin, preventing him from being packed off to a concentration camp.

Heise said she likes to think she inherited some of his civic courage.

“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” she smiled.

‘Ashamed’ of Trump link

Heise lives a short walk from the site of the former synagogue, where a mature tree and a memorial now stand, in the sprawling house she once shared with her parents.

Widowed four years ago after more than seven decades of marriage, she now lives there with one of her four children and an adult grandson. She has eight great-grandchildren.

Heise regularly entertains visitors in her sitting room, which is filled with books including a prominently displayed volume of photos of Barack Obama.

“A politician needs to have a vision and think logically but also humanistically,” she said.

US President Donald Trump, whose ancestors came from the nearby village of Kallstadt, is “turning the world upside down”, she said.

“I’m ashamed his grandfather is from here.”

Heise stays physically and mentally fit working in her flower garden and watching political talk shows.

Cafe owner Sepandar Lashkari, 44, said Heise had been one of his first customers when he opened for business a few years ago and they’ve been close friends ever since.

Lashkari, who moved to Germany from Iran as a teenager, called Heise “great publicity for the town”. He said she had also drained some of the cynicism that tends to pervade politics.

“A lot of people have become more politically active because of her,” he said. “She inspires young and old in a really positive way.”

AFP

One Dead, 14 Wounded In Clash Near DR Congo Gorilla Sanctuary

 

 

One person was killed and 14 were injured in clashes near a gorilla sanctuary in DR Congo where there has been mounting friction between park guards and local Pygmies, sources said Friday.

The violence occurred near the Kahuzi Biega National Park, a UNESCO heritage site in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo that is a haven for the world’s largest gorilla species.

“A conservation patrol which was pursuing two poachers was ambushed on Wednesday by Pygmies armed with machetes and bows and arrows,” park spokesman Hubert Mulongoy said.

“Thirteen park wardens were wounded in the clash, three of them seriously,” he said. “One of the seriously injured had his fingers severed by a machete.”

Separately, Ntavuna Cizungu, a representative of a Pygmy community that lives on the edge of the park, told AFP that a Pygmy named lwaboshi Simba was shot dead during the confrontation “and died immediately.”

Another Pygmy was injured, he said.

Mulongoy said there had been a “resurgence of tension in the past few days between indigenous people and the park.”

In April, a warden was killed in a clash, the park said, denying that this episode was associated with the death of a Pygmy the previous day.

The Pygmies are angry about being denied access to Kahuzi Biega.

The park says they illegally entered the sanctuary between August and October last year, and have been carrying out acts of “deforestation” since then.

The park wardens are chiefly recruited among former soldiers and police and include a number of Pygmies.

Kahuzi Biega, named after two extinct volcanoes, is the only place in the world where visitors can see eastern lowland gorillas in the wild, the park says on its website.

The 6,000-square-kilometre (2,300-square-mile) haven, created in 1970, is a magnet for well-heeled tourists, providing an important source of revenue for the DRC.

AFP

Kenya To Launch Africa’s Biggest Wind Farm

In this file photo taken on June 29, 2018 wind turbines of the Lake Turkana Wind Power project (LTWP), which have been standing idle for nearly a year, are seen in Loiyangalani district, Marsabit County, northern Kenya. YASUYOSHI CHIBA / AFP

 

Kenya will on Friday inaugurate Africa’s biggest wind power plant, a mammoth project in a gusty stretch of remote wilderness that now provides nearly a fifth of its energy needs.

The $680-million (600 million euro) project, a sprawling 365-turbine wind farm on the eastern shores of Lake Turkana, will deliver 310 megawatts of renewable power to the national grid of East Africa’s most dynamic economy.

The largest private investment in Kenya’s history, the Lake Turkana Wind Power project was beset with delays and took nearly a decade to rise from the arid landscape 600 kilometres (372 miles) north of Nairobi.

The Turkana project, lying in a natural corridor dubbed “the windiest place on earth”, is promised to harness this endless power at low cost, officials say.

“It has been an incredible journey. Clearly (this is) a very historic day,” Rizwan Fazal, the executive director of the Lake Turkana Power Project said ahead of a ceremony launching the project.

“It sends a very strong signal about Kenya being ripe for projects.”

The project, far more ambitious in scale than rivals elsewhere on the continent, has been closely watched as a case study of investing in renewables in Africa, where demand for energy is soaring as economies grow and populations swell.

In Kenya — which relies heavily on hydropower and geothermal — power is unreliable and costly, hindering business as energy-intensive sectors such as manufacturing look to take off.

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President Uhuru Kenyatta has previously committed to 100 percent renewable energy for Kenya by 2020 — a pledge the government has been accused of betraying with plans to build a coal-fired power plant off the coast in Lamu.

That project — deemed unnecessary by experts — has been stalled by legal challenges.

The Turkana Corridor

The Lake Turkana wind plant, connected through a 428-kilometre power line to the national grid in Suswa, is now generating 15 percent of Kenya’s entire installed capacity.

The windmills, manufactured by Danish company Vestas, had to be brought one-by-one overland from the Kenyan port of Mombasa, some 1,200 kilometres away. More than 200 kilometres of road leading to the site had to be upgraded.

The nearly-50 metre turbines were engineered to handle the fierce gusts that tear through the “Turkana Corridor”, a wind tunnel that generates optimal conditions, year round.

The project involved years of planning and construction but the turbines went up quicker than one a day, with the last raised in March 2017, ahead of schedule.

But difficulties in financing the transmission line, being laid by state-owned power company Ketraco, and problems acquiring land, meant this landmark project didn’t connect to the grid for another 18 months — in September 2018.

The wind farm attracted a $200 million loan from the European Investment Bank, the EU’s lending facility, as well as finance from a consortium of European and African companies.

AFP