April 27, 2017 at 11:11 pm

Calais living conditions now ‘far worse’ for refugees

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The clearance six months ago of the so-called Jungle camp in Calais has not stopped refugees from gathering there, the charity Care4Calais warned on Thursday.

About 400 refugees live in three small camps in the French port city, in far worse conditions than the Jungle, the report said.

“Living rough on the streets means no access to sanitation at all, with scabies, fungal infections and gum infections at an all time high,” the organisation said.

Migrants wait in line at the so-called Jungle camp [Etienne Laurent/EPA/File]

Since the UK halted the transfer of minors last year, some have been returning to Calais with about 150 in the city labelled as unaccompanied children.

There are an estimated 2,000 unaccompanied minors scattered around France.

“Many vulnerable people have been abandoned and are urgently at risk, as highlighted here in Calais,” said Sue Jex, head of Care4Calais’ UK operations.

“The current approach of sweeping it [the refugee crisis] under the carpet represents the unacceptable prioritisation of short-term politics over people’s lives.”

READ MORE: One day in Calais: The refugees hiding in the forest

Calais has been a magnet for refugees trying to reach Britain for more than a decade. From there, refugees try to break into trucks heading to Britain.

French authorities are determined to demonstrate that Calais is now a migrant-free zone, which has led to an increasingly hostile environment for refugees.

Police focus on arrests and detention to discourage refugee presence on the streets.

“Those living in these camps are in daily fear of the authorities, with police visits taking place on a regular basis that often include confiscation of the refugees’ sleeping bags and other possessions,” the report said.

Banning food aid

The Mayor of Calais banned food distributions in a large area of Calais in early March, saying that they spurred ethnic tensions and conflict between rival groups of refugees.

The ban was later overturned by a court at the joint request of associations working with migrants.

Care4Calais said that French police continue to disrupt food distribution “through ongoing intimidation and arrests while it takes place”.

Last summer, the French interior minister strengthened legal processes enabling deportation under the Dublin regulation, which states that asylum seekers must apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter.

Since then transfers have increased, with 17,529 Dublin certificates issues during the first 11 months of 2016, according to statistics provided by the interior ministry.

Source: Al Jazeera

Article source: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/calais-living-conditions-worse-refugees-170427190649136.html

at 11:11 pm

Zoran Zaev hurt as protesters storm Skopje parliament

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Protesters have stormed into Macedonia’s parliament and assaulted the leader of the Social Democrats (SDSM) after his party and ethnic Albanian allies voted to elect an Albanian as parliament speaker.

Police fired stun grenades to disperse protesters outside the parliament and clear the way for the evacuation of lawmakers trapped in the building on Thursday.

SDM leader Zoran Zaev was seen with blood on his face in the chaos.

Interior Minister Agim Nuhiu told media that 10 MPs had been injured, as well as some police and journalists.

“In an attempt to take control of the situation inside and outside the parliament, we have ordered police to use all measures,” Nuhiu, who is part of the interim government, said in a televised interview.

“We are using stun grenades in order to allow the evacuation of the MPs.” 

The violence erupted after more than 100 protesters supporting the rival nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party entered parliament waving Macedonian flags and singing the national anthem.

The protesters’ move came shortly after Zaev announced that the majority coalition, led by his SDSM party, had elected Talat Xhaferi as speaker of the parliament.

“The scariest thing is that this was allowed to happen,” Ivana Jordanovska, a political activist, told Al Jazeera from Skopje.

“For more than two years, we have seen how the police act when anti-government protests take place. And now [when the opposition is targeted], the police did nothing. The police was absent.”

Neighbouring Albania’s foreign ministry reacted to the violence, saying it was monitoring “the escalation of the situation in Macedonia with great concern”.

In Macedonia, Nikola Gruevski, the leader of VMRO-DPMNE, called for people to “calm down” after Thursday’s incident.

“People should not respond to provocations of the SDSM and those who want to push the state into even deeper crisis,” he said on Facebook.

The violence erupted after more than 100 protesters entered parliament waving Macedonian flags and singing the national anthem [Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters]

Gruevski and his nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party ruled Macedonia for a decade until December last year when the election saw VMRO-DPMNE secure 51 seats in the 120-seat parliament – two more than the SDSM – but the conservatives failed to reach a deal with kingmaking Albanian parties.

Although Zaev reached an agreement with the Albanian groups, President Gjorge Ivanov refused to give him a mandate to form a government, leaving the country without a functioning leadership.

An ally of Gruevski, the president expressed concern over the controversial demand of Albanian parties that Albanian be made an official language across Macedonia.

Critics of the demand feared it could lead to the break-up of the country of about two million people – a quarter of whom are ethnic Albanians.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

Article source: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/stun-grenades-protesters-storm-parliament-170427193654918.html

at 10:39 am

Sports Doping: The Endless Chase

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Filmed in 11 countries, Sports Doping: The Endless Chase is a two-part documentary exploring the financial, political and ethical implications of the use of drugs in sport.

Yuliya Stepanova, Russia’s 800-metres champion in 2011, and her husband Vitaly revealed to the world how they saw Russia as having created its champions. For five years, Yuliya performed among the world’s top-flight athletes and Vitaly was an adviser to the director of the Russian anti-doping agency, RUSADA.

In 2014, the couple decided to go public on the systematic doping of Russian athletes, causing one of the world’s biggest sporting scandals – and putting into question Russia’s participation in international competition.

“Many champions are not gods, they are not even real champions,” says Yuliya. “That’s what disgusted me, the lies. These people are admired, but they’re just liars and cheats.”

Reacting to Yuliya and Vitaly’s revelations, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) suspended 4,000 Russian athletes, forcing President Vladimir Putin to reassure the world that he was taking the matter seriously.

Russia, however, does not have the monopoly when it comes to doping.

Every year 3,000 athletes worldwide test positive for banned substances.

Along with track-and-field athletics, body-building, baseball, American football, weightlifting, boxing, wrestling, cycling, ice hockey, rugby, swimming and basketball all have a track record of using performance-enhancing drugs in recent years.

“Doping can make a difference even in technical sports. It’s true that no drug can make a poor tennis player into a good one. But between two excellent tennis players the one who is less tired is more likely to win a tense final set,” explains Gilles Goetghebuer, editor-in-chief of the French magazine Sport and Vie.

Legally, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) defines doping as “any method or substance that enhances performance, that damages health or is contrary to the values of the sport,” according to Eduardo De Rose, a WADA executive committee member.

However, WADA has no operational role.

In theory, every country needs a national anti-doping agency that’s able to independently organise the testing of its athletes. However, in many countries, interference by government and by national sporting federations means that agencies don’t always carry out anti-doping tests.

The 2015 Beijing World Athletics Championships, for example, was organised by the IAAF. It sells TV rights to broadcasters at the same time as being responsible for enforcing anti-doping regulations – a system which makes the IAAF both judge and jury.

So in 2012, there were no urine tests in Jamaica during the six months preceding the London Olympics at which Usain Bolt won three gold medals.

In 1998, FIFA had all the samples destroyed after the World Cup, avoiding any subsequent investigation of alleged drug offences.

In 2006, no blood samples were taken in Germany during the FIFA World Cup. In the 2014 World Cup in Brazil , the laboratory that tested the samples was in Lausanne, Switzerland, more than 12 hours from Rio. After 12 hours, tiny doses of EPO or testosterone are no longer detectable in urine samples.

So is football as clean as it claims?  

Retired Brazilian player Rai Souza, a world champion in 1994, is skeptical.

“The investigations carried out are not proportionate to the issues raised. This doesn’t help to establish whether or not soccer really does have fewer doping cases or whether it’s just a lack of testing. I certainly think we need better, more frequent and more accurate testing,” Souza says.

Who benefits from doped athletes? Some say the sponsors, sports federations and even governments are to blame.

“States are complicit because they also play a role in the performance cult. By winning medals and hosting big events Vladimir Putin has a very coherent promotional strategy for his regime and his power,” says sports economist Jean-Francois Bourg.

“This is a fundamental factor in the state’s strategy to show off their excellence on a global scale. States and sport authorities take advantage of the situation by winning medals but officially they speak out against doping.”

Source: Al Jazeera

Article source: http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/specialseries/2017/04/sports-doping-endless-chase-170413073512026.html

at 10:39 am

Donald Trump: US to renegotiate NAFTA, not scrap it

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US President Donald Trump has told the leaders of Mexico and Canada that he will not pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), just hours after administration officials said he was considering a draft executive order to do just that.

The White House on Wednesday made the surprise announcement in a read-out of calls between Trump, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“President Trump agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time and the leaders agreed to proceed swiftly, according to their required internal procedures, to enable the renegotiation of the NAFTA deal to the benefit of all three countries,” the White House statement said.

“It is my privilege to bring NAFTA up to date through renegotiation,” Trump said in the statement.

READ MORE: Mexicans left behind by NAFTA see opportunity in Trump

The Mexican government confirmed the conversation in a statement issued late on Wednesday.

“The leaders agreed on the convenience of maintaining the North American Free Trade Agreement and working together with Canada to carry out a successful renegotiation for the benefit of all three countries,” the statement read.

The White House announcement came hours after administration officials said Trump was considering a draft executive order to withdraw the US from the deal – though administration officials cautioned it was just one of a number of options being discussed by the president and his staff.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer declined to comment on the potential executive order, which was first reported by Politico.

Some saw the executive order threat as posturing by Trump to gain leverage over Mexico and Canada as he tries to negotiate changes to the deal. Trump railed against the decades-old trade deal during his campaign, describing it as a “disaster”.

The NAFTA trade deal, which took effect in 1994, has been blamed by Trump and other critics for wiping out US manufacturing jobs because it allowed companies to move factories to Mexico to take advantage of low-wage labour.

Trump told the AP news agency in an interview last week that he planned to either renegotiate or terminate the NAFTA.

“I am very upset with NAFTA. I think NAFTA has been a catastrophic trade deal for the United States…It hurts us with Canada, and it hurts us with Mexico,” he said.

The administration appeared to be divided on Wednesday over how and when to proceed, as they balanced a newfound cautiousness with the desire to rack up accomplishments before Trump’s 100th day on the job.

Hundred days of Trump

Some were gunning for Trump to sign a draft order this week, while others were weighing the complications surrounding withdrawing from or renegotiating the deal without congress fully onboard.

Trump could withdraw from NAFTA – but he would have to give six months’ notice. And it is unclear what would happen next. The law congress passed to enact the trade pact might remain in place, forcing Trump to wrangle with lawmakers and raising questions about the president’s authority to raise tariffs on Mexican and Canadian imports.

OPINION: Mexico needs to stop accommodating Trump

The US administration announced earlier this month that it would slap hefty tariffs on softwood lumber being imported from Canada. Trump has also been railing against changes in Canadian milk product pricing that he says are hurting the American dairy industry.

In January Trump pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which would have been the largest-ever trade pact as measured by the gross domestic product of the 12 intended member countries in the Americas and Asia.

The Trump administration last month submitted a vague set of guidelines to congress for renegotiating NAFTA, disappointing those who were expecting Trump to demand a major overhaul.

In an eight-page draft letter to congress, acting US Trade Representative Stephen Vaughn wrote that the administration intended to start talking with Mexico and Canada about making changes to the pact.

The letter spelled out few details and stuck with broad principles. But it appeared to keep much of the existing agreement in place, including private tribunals that allow companies to challenge national laws on the grounds that they inhibit trade – a provision that critics say allows companies to get around environmental and labour laws.

Reports on Wednesday of the possible executive order drew objections from some in congress, including Senator John McCain of Arizona.

“Withdrawing from #NAFTA would be a disaster for #Arizona jobs economy,” he tweeted. “@POTUS shouldn’t abandon this vital trade agreement.”

Source: News agencies

Article source: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/donald-trump-renegotiate-pull-nafta-170427033819900.html

at 10:39 am

Ramadan fasting to start May 27 or May 28

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Moon sighting committees in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim-majority countries confirmed that Shaban, the last lunar month before Ramadan, will start on Thursday evening.

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan will thus begin either on Saturday, May 27 or on Sunday, May 28, depending on moon sighting on the eve of May 27.

Muslim lunar months last between 29 and 30 days, depending on sighting of the moon on the 29th night of each month. If the moon is not visible the month will last 30 days.  

By the Gregorian solar calendar, Ramadan comes 11 to 12 days earlier each year. Last year, the first day of Ramadan was on June 6, 2016. 

In order to declare the beginning of Ramadan, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim-majority countries depend on the testimonies of local moon sighters. The Judicial High Court then makes a decision on when Ramadan begins.

Holy month

For Muslims, Ramadan is the month in which the first verses of the Quran, Islam’s holy book, were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad over 1,400 years ago.

During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from sunrise to sunset. This fasting is intended to bring the faithful closer to God and to remind them of the suffering of those less fortunate.

Ramadan fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with the Muslim declaration of faith, daily prayer, charity and performing the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

In Muslim-majority countries, offices are required by law to reduce working hours and many restaurants are closed during daylight hours.

WATCH: Is Ramadan becoming a business? (22:34)

At the end of Ramadan, after 29 or 30 days, Muslims celebrate the Eid al-Fitr holiday. Eid al-Fitr in Arabic literally means “festival of breaking the fast”.

Depending on the actual start date of Ramadan and moon sighting on the 29th night of Ramadan, the Eid al-Fitr this year will fall between Sunday, June 25 and Tuesday, June 27.

Source: Al Jazeera

Article source: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/ramadan-fasting-start-date-170427062743037.html

April 26, 2017 at 10:25 pm

Drone strike that killed Reyaad Khan ‘not transparent’

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British politicians who examined the details of a drone strike which killed a British man in Syria said they were disappointed by the government’s lack of transparency during investigations.

On August 21, 2015, the UK conducted a drone strike in Raqqa for the first time outside the traditional theatre of war, killing 21-year-old British national Reyaad Khan, a suspected fighter with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), and two other people.

“We are in no doubt that Reyaad Khan posed a very serious threat to the UK,” the Intelligence and Security Committee in the UK said in a report on Wednesday.

“There is nevertheless a question as to how the threat is quantified and in this instance whether the actions of Khan and his associates amounted to an ‘armed attack’ against the UK or Iraq – which is clearly a subjective assessment,” the committee said.

“The [government’s] failure to provide what we consider to be relevant documents is profoundly disappointing,” the report added.

Cameron’s self-defence justification

Despite not having a parliamentary mandate to take military action in Syria, then Prime Minister David Cameron told MPs at the time that Khan was “seeking to orchestrate specific and barbaric attacks against the west, including directing a number of planned terrorist attacks right here in Britain, such as plots to attack high profile public commemorations”.

Cameron described the attack in ISIL’s defacto capital as an act of self defence.

“The strike against Khan was also thought to have killed two other individuals travelling in the same vehicle: Rahul Amin and another passenger,” the committee said, adding that it was possible the deaths of the pair was “collateral damage”.

READ MORE: The future of war – Inside UK drone command

“We have … been prevented from looking at this issue in as much detail as we consider it requires. On the basis of the information that was made available to us, there would appear to be questions around the assessment of the possibility of collateral damage which would benefit from further scrutiny,” the report explained.

For the strike to be justified under the UN Charter, an assault must be a necessary and proportionate response to an armed attack which is deemed imminent.

‘Government should be more transparent’

However, the investigating MPs said they were unable to assess if this was the case, as the government failed to disclose vital documents.

“The government should be more transparent about these matters and permit proper scrutiny of them,” said Dominic Grieve, chair of the committee.

The group had initially sought to investigate two other drone strikes which killed UK nationals Junaid Hussain and Mohammed Emwazi in August and November 2015, Yasmine Ahmed, Rights Watch director, told Al Jazeera.

But the group was unable to do so because US-operated drones were used on both occasions.

This curtailed the scope of the committee’s probe, despite the UK being complicit and perhaps even facilitating the attack, Ahmed claimed.

“It appears that there is no oversight or accountability on strikes of this nature,” Ahmed said.

Additional reporting by Jenna Belhumeur

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

Article source: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/drone-strike-killed-reyaad-khan-transparent-170426195532654.html

at 10:25 pm

Trump administration proposes major tax overhaul

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US President Donald Trump unveiled plans to dramatically cut taxes for US businesses and individuals, slashing the corporate rate to 15 percent, but the once-in-a-generation overhaul is headed for a tough fight in Congress.

Trump proposed on Wednesday slashing tax rates for businesses and on overseas corporate profits returned to the country, in a plan that his fellow Republicans in Congress generally welcomed but viewed as an opening gambit.

“Under the Trump plan, we will have a massive tax cut for businesses and massive tax reform and simplification,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced from the White House.

Corporate tax rates would be more than halved from the current 35 percent, and tax brackets for individuals would be compressed from seven to just three – 10, 25 and 35 percent.

Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic adviser who unveiled the plan alongside Mnuchin, dubbed it “the most significant tax reform legislation since 1986, and one of the biggest tax cuts in American history”.

But the long-anticipated overhaul –  the details of which remain unclear beyond headline measures – could face stiff opposition in Congress, including from some Republicans, with lawmakers sharply divided over the prospect of fuelling already-rising deficits.

“This isn’t going to be easy. Doing big things never is,” Cohn said. “We will be attacked from the left and we will be attacked from the right. But one thing is certain: I would never ever bet against this president.”

Following the announcement, Wall Street stocks finished slightly lower. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 0.1 percent to end the session at 20,975.09.

The broad-based SP 500 also slipped 0.1 percent to end at 2,387.45, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index finished at 6,025.23, dipping slightly from Tuesday’s record when it closed above 6,000 for the first time.

READ MORE: Donald Trump signs executive order to reform H-1B visas

Slashing taxes on income and business was a key part of Trump’s election platform.

Mnuchin declined to set a deadline for the reform passing Congress, but he said the administration was “determined to move this as fast as we can and get this done this year”.

A key element is the repatriation of corporate profits from overseas.

“We will have a one-time tax on overseas profits which will bring back trillions of dollars that are offshore to be invested here in the US,” Mnuchin said.

‘Explode the deficit’

Democrats sounded an immediate warning.

“If the president’s plan is to give a massive tax break to the very wealthy in this country, a plan that will mostly benefit people and businesses like President Trump’s, that won’t pass muster with we Democrats,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

He also warned that a plan that dramatically shrinks tax revenues would “explode the deficit”.

Analysts have said cutting the top marginal corporate tax rate by 20 percentage points could add a whopping $2 trillion or more to the deficit over a decade. 

Source: News agencies

Article source: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/trump-administration-proposes-major-tax-overhaul-170426203543210.html

at 10:25 pm

US wants to bring North Korea ‘to path of dialogue’

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The United States wants to bring North Korea back to the “path of dialogue” over its nuclear weapons programme and will use diplomatic measures and additional sanctions to increase pressure on it.

After briefing senators in a highly unusual meeting at the White House on Wednesday, Pentagon chief Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a statement that toned down military rhetoric and urged the international community to help find a solution to North Korea’s nuclear programme.

President Donald Trump aims to “pressure North Korea into dismantling its nuclear, ballistic missile, and proliferation programs by tightening economic sanctions and pursuing diplomatic measures with our allies and regional partners”, the statement read. 

“We are engaging responsible members of the international community to increase pressure on the DPRK in order to convince the regime to de-escalate and return to the path of dialogue,” the statement added, using North Korea’s official name.

An administration official said Trump attended only the first five minutes of the meeting. He delivered opening remarks before handing it over to his national security team.

The latest move comes as tension soars on the Korean Peninsula following a series of missile launches by the North and warnings from the Trump administration that military action was an “option on the table”.

Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett, reporting from The White House, said a whole range of options were discussed including using a leverage by China, North Korea’s main trade partner.

“There was also the option of putting North Korea on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism,” she said.

“We’re told the priority is still the diplomatic option, trying to isolate North Korea economically, making it difficult for it to get components that may be needed for many of its military capabilities. But also on the table is the military option – the one that is less preferred, we’re told.”

The briefing team was to meet House members in the Capitol later.

OPINION: Is war coming to North Korea?

In the past two weeks, Trump has ordered high-powered US military vessels, including an aircraft carrier, to the region in a show of force to deter North Korea from more nuclear and missile tests.

On Tuesday, North Korea conducted large-scale, live-fire artillery drills, witnessed by national leader Kim Jong-un, as a reminder of its conventional threat to US-allied South Korea.

And on Wednesday, South Korea started installing key parts of a contentious US missile defence system against North Korean missiles that also has sparked Chinese and Russian concerns.

America’s Pacific forces commander, Admiral Harry Harris Jr., told Congress on Wednesday the system would be operational within days. He said any North Korean missile fired at US forces would be destroyed.

“If it flies, it will die,” Harris said.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Harris said he expects North Korea, under Kim’s autocratic rule, to soon be able to develop a long-range missile capable of striking the United States, despite some spectacular failures in its ballistic missile programme.

“One of these days soon, he will succeed,” Harris said.

North Korea routinely accuses the United States of readying for an invasion, and threatens pre-emptive strikes to stop the US.

On Wednesday, North Korea’s UN mission said it would react to “a total war” with the US with nuclear war. It said it would win in a “death-defying struggle against the US imperialists”.

China has been urging restraint by both Pyongyang and Washington.

China opposes the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, being installed in South Korea.

The US says it will only target North Korean missiles, but China and Russia see the system’s powerful radars as a security threat.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

Article source: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/bring-north-korea-path-dialogue-170426205059347.html

at 10:15 am

Reporters Without Borders: Journalism at tipping point

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Press freedom has never been as threatened as it is now, in the “new post-truth era of fake news”, strongmen and propaganda, Reporters Without Borders said.

Its annual World Press Freedom Index, published on Wednesday, warned of a “tipping point” for journalism.

“Attacks on the media have become commonplace and strongmen are on the rise. We have reached the age of post-truth, propaganda, and suppression of freedoms – especially in democracies,” the report said.

“Media freedom has never been so threatened.”

Syria, where a bloody civil war has entered its sixth year, was the deadliest country for journalists, according to the watchdog, known by its French initials RSF. 

Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, which has jailed 81 journalists after a failed coup attempt, and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s Egypt, where Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Hussein has been detained, were branded the world’s biggest prisons for journalists.

Hussein is awaiting trial on charges of spreading false news, a charge Al Jazeera denies.

READ MORE: How to fight ‘fake news’ in a post-truth environment

Also in several democracies, “nothing seems to be checking” the erosion of liberty of the press, RSF said. 

It blamed the continuing fall to “an obsession with surveillance and violations of the right to confidentiality of sources”.  

These include the US and Britain, which both slipped two places in the index to 43rd and 40th.

The report also warned of the “highly toxic” media-bashing of US President Donald Trump’s election campaign and Britain’s Brexit referendum, saying this has pushed “the world into a new era of post-truth, disinformation and fake news.”

RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire said: “The rate at which democracies are approaching the tipping point is alarming for all those who understand that, if media freedom is not secure, then none of the other freedoms can be guaranteed.”

“Where will this downward spiral take us?” he asked.

In the past year nearly two thirds of the countries had registered a deterioration in their situation, while the number of countries where the media freedom situation was “good” or “fairly good” fell by more than two percent, the report found.

“Media freedom has retreated wherever the authoritarian strongman model has triumphed,” the report went on.

Turkey “swung over into the authoritarian regime camp” after the failed coup against President Erdogan in July, it said, adding that it “now distinguishes itself as the world’s biggest prison for media professionals”.

Seven places ahead of Turkey, “Vladimir Putin’s Russia remains firmly entrenched in the bottom fifth of the index,” in 148th place, it added.

Liberty of the press is in peril or in a “very serious situation” in 72 countries, including Russia, India and China, the report found.

Norway came out top of the index with the world’s freest media.

North Korea took bottom place from another repressive closed state, Eritrea, which has propped up the table for a decade.

North Korea continues to keep “its population in ignorance and terror,” RSF said. “Even listening to a foreign radio broadcast can lead to a spell in a concentration camp.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

Article source: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/reports-borders-journalism-tipping-point-170426055328722.html

at 10:15 am

Cassini spacecraft poised to dive beneath Saturn rings

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An unmanned NASA spacecraft, Cassini, is poised to plunge into the gap between Saturn and its rings, a pioneering journey that could offer an unprecedented view of the sixth planet from the Sun.

The first of the spaceship’s 22 deep, daring dives between Saturn and its innermost ring is scheduled for April 26 at 5:00am Florida time (09:00 GMT), NASA said.

If everything goes to plan, the spacecraft will offer the closest-ever views of Saturn’s rings – but first NASA faces a nail-biting wait.

A NASA illustration shows Cassini diving through the plume of the Saturn moon Enceladus [File: EPA/NASA]

Communications with the spacecraft will go dark during the dive and for about a day afterwards, while it makes scientific observations of the planet.

If Cassini survives the trip, it could make radio contact with Earth as early as 3:05am (07:05 GMT) on April 27.

NASA said that images and other data are expected to begin flowing in shortly after communication is established.

WATCH: NASA’s space lab (24:00)

An ultraviolet image from the Cassini spacecraft shows Saturn’s rings [File: Reuters]

Cassini is a 20-year-old joint mission of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency.

The 6.7-metre spacecraft launched in 1997, back when Bill Clinton was president, and began orbiting Saturn in 2004.

Cassini’s latest adventure is a swansong for the spacecraft, as it is running low on fuel, and will make a death plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere on September 15.

But first, Cassini has to complete its most perilous feat.

‘A dangerous moment’

Venturing between the planet and its rings for the first time represents “a dangerous moment for the mission,” Luciano Iess, Cassini team member at Italy’s Sapienza University of Rome, said at a meeting of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna.

Skimming above Saturn at an altitude of about 3,000 kilometres, the spacecraft will be closer than ever to the band of ice and space rocks that encircle Saturn.

The debris moves at speeds of around 109,000 km/h.

The most detailed look ever at Saturn’s rings, obtained by the Cassini spacecraft [File: NASA/JPL/Reuters]

The rings around Saturn – a gas giant second in size in our solar system only to Jupiter – are thousands of kilometres wide, but only around nine to 90 metres deep.

The spacecraft’s final dives aim to offer a fresh look at the rings, potentially revealing more about their mass and whether they are old or new.

Some scientists believe that rings could have formed after asteroids smashed into some of Saturn’s moons, creating a trail of debris.

Earlier this month, ESA called for increased international cooperation to head off a threat posed to its network of satellites by debris flying around space.

“No country can stand or act alone,” Jan Woerner, the chief of ESA, told an international conference in the western German city of Darmstadt.

“It’s clear to us that the issue of space debris is serious,” he said at the opening of the four-day summit..

Life on Saturn?

Saturn has more than 60 moons, and Cassini has made new discoveries on some of them, which may have conditions suitable for a form of life.

Cassini dropped a European probe on Saturn’s massive moon, Titan, and revealed its surface of liquid methane seas, including a complex system of methane rain and runoff.

It discovered that the icy moon, Enceladus, conceals a sub-surface, salty ocean beneath its crust, and may be able to support living microbes.

 Photo from the Cassini spacecraft: Two of Saturn’s moons, Dione, left, and Enceladus [File: NASA/Reuters]

The decision to end Cassini’s mission was made in 2010, as scientists feared the spacecraft could crash into and damage moons like Enceladus, which could be explored for signs of life in the future.

Cassini also observed storms, lightning and clouds around Saturn for the first time.

Cassini has made “a wealth of discoveries,” said Nicolas Altobelli, Cassini project scientist with the European Space Agency.

“We will have to rewrite many textbooks on planetary science.”

Saturn’s atmosphere and its rings in a false colour composite made from 12 images [File: NASA/JPL/Reuters]

Source: News agencies

Article source: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/nasa-cassini-poised-dive-beneath-saturn-rings-170426055856864.html

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