Saudi abuse of Palestine is a stigma, claims journalist

A well-known journalist said on Friday that Saudi Arabia’s “abuse” of the Palestinian cause is a “stigma” that harms the Saudis themselves, Shehab news agency has reported. Jamal Khashoggi criticised members of the Saudi elite who have attacked the Palestinian cause and people. The writer is a Saudi citizen who now lives in exile. He described his country as one which is doing deliberate harm to itself by attacking the Palestinians. “It is the worst of campaigns for the Kingdom,” he explained. “If I announced that I had conceded the Palestine cause,” Khashoggi wrote on Twitter, “this would have no value. It would only be a stigma that would accompany my name forever. The one who has the word about […]

Palestinian poet chosen as symbol of Arab culture in 2018

The late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish has been chosen as the symbol of Arab culture in 2018, Safa news agency reported on Friday. The decision was made by the Permanent Committee for Arab Culture, which convened in the Moroccan city of Casablanca to set out the vision for Arab cultural activities. The Deputy Head of the Committee, Jad Izzat Al-Ghazzawi, emphasised the need for consideration to be given to the heritage of Jerusalem as well as Arabic and Islamic heritage. He also called for the design and performance of Arabic programmes in support of Jerusalem’s residents and culture, including cinema, theatre and the arts in order to reinforce the Arab presence in the occupied city and the presence of Jerusalem […]

UAE calls for talks with Iran over disputed islands

The President of the United Arab Emirates, Khalifa Bin Zayid Al-Nahyan called on Friday for Iran to sit at the negotiating table over three disputed islands, or go for international arbitration, has reported. The islands of Tunb Al-Kubra (Greater Tunb), Tunb Al-Sughra (Lesser Tunb) and Abu Musa have been occupied by Iran since 1971. The UAE has been seeking help from international bodies to regain them, stressing that it has the necessary documents to prove that they are part of its sovereign territory. “The UAE rejects any external interference that jeopardises its security and stability, as well as the security and stability of brothers in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and any other friendly state,” the President said in a speech […]

Philippines ‘prepared for worst’ in dengue vaccine concerns

Sat, 2017-12-02 13:18

MANILA: The Philippines is prepared for a “worst-case scenario” following warnings that an anti-dengue vaccine administered to thousands of children may worsen the disease in some cases, a health official said Saturday.
Department of Health spokesman Eric Tayag said the country had already taken precautions against potential mishaps when it became the first country to use the landmark vaccine in 2016.
The developer of the world’s first vaccine for the potentially deadly virus, French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi, revealed earlier this week that it could trigger more severe symptoms in people who had not been previously infected with dengue.
More than 733,000 children have already received Dengvaxia, raising fears that many could develop the harsher form of the disease.
“The Department of Health is prepared for a worst-case scenario,” Tayag told ABS-CBN television, a day after the agency announced it was suspending its mass vaccination program.
Tayag said the government had been careful to only implement the scheme in areas where dengue was already widespread and had only given it to children aged nine or older.
“They are being followed up for adverse effects following immunization,” he said.
He added that the department, which had previously said there were no reported cases of worsened infection among those who received the vaccine, was also checking hospital records for severe cases of dengue.
Sanofi had said such acute dengue cases would not become apparent till about five years after vaccination, Tayag added.
The developer initially said its Dengvaxia vaccine was “critical” in the fight against dengue, the world’s most common mosquito-borne virus.
It said Wednesday that a new study has confirmed Dengvaxia’s benefits for “those who had prior infection” with the potentially lethal disease.
“For those not previously infected by dengue virus, however, the analysis found that in the longer term, more cases of severe disease could occur following vaccination upon a subsequent dengue infection,” Sanofi said.
More than 1,000 people in the Philippines died from dengue last year, out of more than 211,000 suspected cases, according to the government.

Main category: 
Philippines suspends world-first dengue vaccine
Historic dengue vaccine program launched in Philippines

Cairo University dismisses six ‘opposition’ lecturers

Cairo University has dismissed six lecturers who are opponents of the current regime in Egypt, for absenteeism and membership of the Muslim Brotherhood. Amr Hamzawy, assistant professor at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science, was among those dismissed. The university justified his dismissal by his absence from work without permission. Quoting anonymous sources, Al Watan said that Hamzawy exceeded the official absence period, having been away from work since 1 July, 2016 after an attachment period at the American University in Cairo. The lecturer then travelled to the US without the permission or approval of Cairo University, where he remains, apparently for his own safety. The sources added that Hamzawy had asked Cairo University to approve his attachment at […]

Cyclone batters southwestern India coast killing 14, many missing

Sat, 2017-12-02 09:42

COLOMBO: Thousands took to relief camps in Sri Lanka and southern India on Saturday to escape rising floodwaters after a cyclone killed at least 26 people.
Cyclone Ockhi has left 13 people dead in Sri Lanka and killed an equal number in India’s Kerala and Tamil Nadu states since Friday as it churns in the Arabian Sea.
Eleven people, mostly fishermen, remained missing in the two countries as nearly 9,000 people sought shelter in relief camps.
Scores of localities suffered flooding and cut power and telephone lines as winds of up to 130 kilometers per hour swept the region.
Weather experts warned of more heavy rains to come, as the water level rose in several rivers in southern India.
The tiny Indian island of Lakshadweep off the country’s western coast braced for winds of 145 kilometers per hour.
The Sri Lankan disaster management center said 77,000 people in 16 districts have been affected, with the highest number in the southern Galle district.
Nearly 4,000 people are in Sri Lankan relief camps amid widespread destruction of property.
Authorities are on red alert in coastal areas, with five deaths already reported in Kanyakumari on the southern tip of India.
Schools and colleges in parts of India’s southern states have been shut as authorities try to restore nearly 4,000 snapped power lines.
The Kerala state emergency department said nearly 3,200 people were in relief camps. “Seven people died in several incidents and 218 were rescued from the sea,” an agency official said.
Weather officials said the storm was likely to move north into Tamil Nadu and the east coast state of Andhra Pradesh in the next four days.
India’s eastern coast — including major cities like Chennai and Bhubaneswar — are prone to storms that wreak immense damage between April and December.
In 1999, more than 8,000 people were killed when a cyclone battered the eastern state of Orissa.
While Cyclone Ockhi was said to be weakening, another tropical storm was brewing in the Bay of Bengal on the east coast, officials said.

Main category: 
Flooding maroons people in Indian states, eases in Nepal
Thousands uprooted as floods kill 143 in India, Nepal
Cyclone batters south India coast killing two

More Bali flights canceled on forecast of volcanic ash from Mount Agung

Sat, 2017-12-02 11:06

DENPASAR, Indonesia: Airlines canceled more flights departing the Indonesian holiday island of Bali on Saturday, citing forecasts of deteriorating flying conditions due to a risk of volcanic ash from the erupting Mount Agung volcano.
A Bali airport spokesman said the airport was still operating normally, but airlines such as Jetstar and Virgin Australia had opted to cancel some flights.
“Bali flying conditions expected to be clear throughout the day, but forecast for tonight has deteriorated so several flights have been canceled,” Australian budget airline Jetstar said on its Twitter account.
The erupting volcano had closed the airport for much of this week, stranding thousands of visitors from Australia, China and other countries, before the winds changed and flights resumed
Twenty flights were canceled on Friday evening due to concerns over ash. Some airlines including Malaysia’s AirAsia have said they would only operate out of Bali during the day, as the ash could impair visibility at night and wind conditions in the area were unpredictable.
Airlines avoid flying through volcanic ash as it can damage aircraft engines, clogging fuel and cooling systems, hampering pilot visibility and even causing engine failure.
There are also concerns over changing weather conditions with a tropical cyclone south of Java island impacting weather and wind in the area, including for Bali, the Indonesian Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysics agency said
With some airlines continuing to fly normally on Saturday, there was frustration among passengers.
Australian couple Justine and Greg Hill were on holiday with their two teenage children and had been due to fly out today but their flight later this evening was canceled.
“It’s more an inconvenience than anything. Don’t understand why if other airlines are flying, some others aren’t. Obviously there must be safety protocols but there’s no detailed explanation,” said Greg Hill, 46, who was waiting at the airport.
Several foreign consulates have set up booths in the international departures area to assist stranded passengers.
Subrata Sarkar, India’s vice consul in Bali, told Reuters at the airport’s international departure area that they had helped around 500 passengers so far this week.
“We have advised citizens the volcano may erupt. We never say ‘please don’t come’. But we have issued travel adviseries. If it’s urgent business, then ok, but if it’s only tourism, then plans should be reconsidered,” said Sarkar.

Main category: 
Airlines limit Bali flights to guard against volcanic ash from Mount Agung eruption
Tourists leave as Bali’s volcano-hit airport gets back to business
Indonesia says 40,000 evacuated from Bali volcano, more need to move

UAE best in MENA for entrepreneurs

The UAE is the best country in the Middle East and North Africa to start a new business, the recently released Global Entrepreneurship Index for 2017 has revealed. The index, which saw the US take poll position, ranks 137 countries according its overall entrepreneurship attitude and potential. On a global standing, the UAE came 19th with Qatar coming in at 21st spot and Saudi in 30th. Mauritania was the worst performing MENA country, with Libya and Iran ranking a little better than it. Due to the ongoing unrest and lack of bodies which can report on the measured indicators, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Somalia were not included in this year’s rankings. Sudan was also omitted due to the lack of […]

Senate OKs tax bill as Trump, GOP near big legislative win

Sat, 2017-12-02 03:00

WASHINGTON: Republicans pushed a nearly $1.5 trillion (SR5.63 trillion) tax bill through the Senate early Saturday after a burst of eleventh-hour horse trading, as a party starved all year for a major legislative triumph took a giant step toward giving President Donald Trump one of his top priorities by Christmas.
“Big bills are rarely popular. You remember how unpopular ‘Obamacare’ was when it passed?” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said in an interview, shrugging off polls showing scant public enthusiasm for the measure. He said the legislation would prove to be “just what the country needs to get growing again.”
Senate approval came on a 51-49 roll call with Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, the only lawmaker to cross party lines. The measure focuses its tax reductions on businesses and higher-earning individuals, gives more modest breaks to others and offers the boldest rewrite of the nation’s tax system since 1986.
Republicans touted the package as one that would benefit people of all incomes and ignite the economy. Even an official projection of a $1 trillion, 10-year flood of deeper budget deficits couldn’t dissuade GOP senators from rallying behind the bill.
“Obviously I’m kind of a dinosaur on the fiscal issues,” said Corker, who battled to keep the bill from worsening the government’s accumulated $20 trillion in IOUs.
The Republican-led House approved a similar bill last month in what has been a stunningly swift trip through Congress for complex legislation that impacts the breadth of American society. The two chambers will now try crafting a final compromise to send Trump.
After spending the year’s first nine months futilely trying to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law, GOP leaders were determined to move the measure rapidly before opposition Democrats and lobbying groups could blow it up. The party views passage as crucial to retaining its House and Senate majorities in next year’s elections.
Democrats derided the bill as a GOP gift to its wealthy and business backers at the expense of lower-earning people. They contrasted the bill’s permanent reduction in corporate income tax rates from 35 percent to 20 percent to smaller individual tax breaks that would end in 2026.
Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation has said the bill’s reductions for many families would be modest and said by 2027, families earning under $75,000 would on average face higher, not lower, taxes.
The bill is “removed from the reality of what the American people need,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. He criticized Republicans for releasing a revised, 479-page bill that no one can absorb shortly before the final vote, saying, “The Senate is descending to a new low of chicanery.”
“You really don’t read this kind of legislation,” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, told home-state reporters, asked why the Senate was approving a bill some senators hadn’t read. He said lawmakers needed to study it and get feedback from affected groups.
Democrats took to the Senate floor and social media to mock one page that included changes scrawled in barely legible handwriting. Later, they won enough GOP support to kill a provision by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, that would have bestowed a tax break on conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan.
The bill hit rough waters after the Joint Taxation panel concluded it would worsen federal shortfalls by $1 trillion over a decade, even when factoring in economic growth that lower taxes would stimulate. Trump administration officials and many Republicans have insisted the bill would pay for itself by stimulating the economy. But the sour projections stiffened resistance from some deficit-averse Republicans.
But after bargaining that stretched into Friday, GOP leaders nailed down the support they needed in a chamber they control 52-48. Facing unyielding Democratic opposition, Republicans could lose no more than two GOP senators and prevail with a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence, but ended up not needing it.
Leaders’ changes included helping millions of companies whose owners pay individual, not corporate, taxes on their profits by allowing deductions of 23 percent, up from 17.4 percent. That helped win over Wisconsin’s Johnson and Steve Daines of Montana.
People would be allowed to deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes, a demand of Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. That matched a House provision that chamber’s leaders included to keep some GOP votes from high-tax states like New York, New Jersey and California.
The changes added nearly $300 billion to the tax bill’s costs. To pay for that, leaders reduced the number of high-earners who must pay the alternative minimum tax, rather than completely erasing it. They also increased a one-time tax on profits US-based corporations are holding overseas and would require firms to keep paying the business version of the alternative minimum tax.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona — who like Corker had been a holdout and has sharply attacked Trump’s capabilities as president — voted for the bill. He said he’d received commitments from party leaders and the administration “to work with me” to restore protections, dismantled by Trump, for young immigrants who arrived in the US illegally as children. That seemed short of a pledge to actually revive the safeguards.
The Senate bill would drop the highest personal income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 38.5 percent. The estate tax levied on a few thousand of the nation’s largest inheritances would be narrowed to affect even fewer.
Deductions for state and local income taxes, moving expenses and other items would vanish, the standard deduction — used by most Americans — would nearly double to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for couples, and the per-child tax credit would grow.
The bill would abolish the “Obamacare” requirement that most people buy health coverage or face tax penalties. Industry experts say that would weaken the law by easing pressure on healthier people to buy coverage, and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said the move would push premiums higher and leave 13 million additional people uninsured.

Main category: 
Trump proposes biggest US tax overhaul in 30 years
Trump tax plan could be good news for many, bad for deficit
Tax-exempt bonds already pinched by proposed Trump tax cuts