Thai cave rescue

TWELVE boys and their football coach have been trapped for two weeks inside a flooded Thai cave.

They were found alive following a gruelling search by divers, who must now determine how to free the youngsters.

With fresh monsoon rains due, rescuers warn the window of opportunity to evacuate the boys is “limited”.

Here is how the rescue attempt has unfolded so far:

Saturday, June 23

The youngsters, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old coach enter the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand during heavy rains after football practice.

They are reported missing by a mother after her son does not come home that night. Local officials find bicycles locked to a fence and shoes and football boots close to the entrance.

Sunday, June 24

Park officials and police find handprints and footprints believed to belong to the boys and think they likely retreated into the winding tunnels as they became hemmed in by rising floodwaters. Relatives start to keep a vigil outside the cave.

Monday, June 25

Thai Navy SEAL divers enter the cave searching for the boys. Makeshift shrines are set up for parents to pray and make offerings, as heavy rains continue.

The boys are believed to have retreated further into the cave to an elevated air pocket called “Pattaya Beach”.

Tuesday, June 26

Divers reach a T-junction several kilometres inside the cave but are forced back by rushing floodwaters that clog a narrow crevice near Pattaya Beach.

Wednesday, June 27

A team of more than 30 American military personnel from the US Pacific Command arrive, including pararescue and survival specialists. They are joined by three British diving experts who go into the cave’s entrance but quickly retreat because of heavy flooding.

Thursday, June 28

The underwater rescue is temporarily halted because of the fast-moving floods inside the cave as downpours refuse to let up.

Water pumps are shipped in to drain the rising, murky floodwaters. Drones are dispatched to help find new chimneys.

Friday, June 29

Thailand’s junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha visits the site and leads a meditation, jokes and cooks with relatives, asking them not to give up hope.

Saturday, June 30

A break in the bad weather allows divers to reach further inside the cave but they are still far away from where the boys are believed to be.

Sunday, July 1

Divers inch further into the cave, as an operating base is set up inside and hundreds of air tanks and other supplies are pulleyed in. Rescuers can now remain underground for longer.

Monday, July 2

A miracle, finally: the 12 boys and their coach are found alive late Monday evening about 400 metres beyond Pattaya Beach — which had become threatened by encroaching flood waters.

Crowds at the teeming rescue site cheer the good news and a nation breathes a sigh of relief. But attention turns to the difficult task of getting the boys out safely.

Tuesday, July 3

Much-needed food and medical supplies — including high-calorie gels and paracetamol — reach the boys as rescuers prepare for the possibility that they may remain in the cave for some time.

Wednesday, July 4

Officials say the group are being taught how to use diving masks and breathing apparatus. Authorities are pumping out water round-the-clock, aware of the bad weather forecast in the days ahead.

Thursday, July 5

In a sign of increased urgency, Thai rescuers say they may be prodded into a complex extraction if forecast rains hammer the mountainside. A team of bird’s nest collectors scour the mountainside for openings.

Friday, July 6

Tragedy strikes: a diver helping to establish an airline to the boys dies after passing out while returning from the chamber.

Saman Kunan’s death raises serious doubts over the safety of trying to bring them out through the cramped, waterlogged passageways.

Thailand’s Navy SEAL commander says oxygen levels inside have dropped. He warns the window of opportunity to free the youngsters is “limited”, in the first official admission that they cannot wait out the monsoon underground.

Saturday, July 7

Rescue operation chief Narongsak Osottanakorn says it is “not suitable” to make the boys dive to safety yet.

A scrawled message emerges from the coach of the team, offering his “apologies” to their parents.

The head of the rescue mission says more than 100 chimneys are being drilled into the mountainside in a frantic bid to reach the boys. — AFP

World Cup sees Iranian women score spot in the stands

TEHRAN: For many of the thousands of joyful women packed into Tehran’s largest football stadium, their first ever chance to watch a game at a sports arena was a victory for freedom despite Iran’s agonising World Cup elimination.

Cheering and with their cheeks painted with the national colours, women showed they were just as caught up in the World Cup fever sweeping the country as they seized the opportunity to attend a live screening at the 100,000 capacity Azadi (Freedom) Stadium, which, like other sports arenas, has been off-limits to them since the the Islamic revolution of 1979.

While the exuberance turned to tears when Iran missed the chance to snatch a last gasp winner against Portugal, ending their tournament dreams, some in the mixed gender stands said they would still treasure the landmark night watching an open-air screening of the national team.

“It felt weird to buy my ticket online, it’s so exciting to come to the stadium,” said Arezou, a psychologist in her thirties.

“When I felt the heat of the crowd in the stadium, I told myself I really wanted to remember this moment as one of the best of my life.”

The decision to throw open the gates of the iconic stadium came after Iran’s opening victory over Morocco, when tens of thousands took to the streets of the capital in rare and wild celebration, many of them women.

Many Iranian clerics oppose women attending football matches, saying they must be protected from the masculine atmosphere, though the ruling is frequently criticised from across the political spectrum.

“It’s the first time I have come to the stadium. I really wanted to be here and I am so happy! Even if we don’t win, it will still be a victory and we are proud of our players,” said Raana, a flight attendant.


A good natured family atmosphere prevailed among the young crowd in the stands, who watched the crunch match in Russia on a screen placed below twin portraits of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The match was one of nail-biting drama and controversy after Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo caught Iran defender Morteza Pouraliganji with an elbow to the face.

In an electrifying game that went down to the wire, Portugal defender Cedric was penalised in stoppage time for a handball, and Karim Ansarifard converted from the spot to give Iran a lifeline.

Mehdi Taremi nearly snatched a dramatic winner after a deflected shot rolled into his path, but he fired into the side netting as Iran were eliminated, ending their hopes of reaching the knockout phase for the first time.

New freedoms?

The vacillation by Iranian authorities over whether mixed spectators would be allowed to attend open-air screenings of the country’s World Cup bid shows their deep sensitivity over women’s rights.

Iran’s opening game had initially been due to be shown live in stadiums and parks but authorities cancelled all open-air screenings just hours before kick-off forcing fans to watch in cinemas.

After the public celebrations of that victory, Tehran provincial council buckled and again said stadiums would screen the games.

“I really hope this is the start of a culture in which women can go see games in stadiums. From now on, it’s possible,” said Arezou.

At half-time, from a podium on the Tehran pitch, well-known actress Behnoosh Bakhtiari thanked President Hassan Rouhani for the evening and expressed hope that similar opportunities will follow.

A moderate conservative, who was re-elected in May 2017, Rouhani has said repeatedly he wants to see women at sports stadiums, but the idea has met fierce opposition from hardliners.

After the game, fans both female and male celebrated in the streets into the early hours, undaunted by Iran’s elimination. — AFP

Displaced Syrians find relief in tent-side World Cup screenings

AT a camp for the displaced in northern Syria, men and boys huddled near a projector to watch some of the world’s best footballers play on the side of a tent.

For these soccer enthusiasts uprooted by Syria’s seven-year war, World Cup games such as these offer brief respite from their woes and the daily grind at the camp.

Throughout the championship, a local charity is screening all matches for free at the Ain Issa camp for the displaced in the northern province of Raqa.

“Showing the World Cup at the camp is such a beautiful initiative because it draws people out of their torment,” spectator Abdallah Fadil al-Ubayd said.

“Everybody loves football,” said the 38-year-old, dressed in a red sports T-shirt to watch Mexico play Germany on Sunday.

As the players dashed across the portable screen, the commentator’s voice boomed out from loud speakers and across surrounding tent tops.

When Mexico scored, the cheers of dozens of spectators rose up above the camp.

Ubayd used to play for a local team in his hometown of Maskana in the northern province of Aleppo, before jihadists overran it more than four years ago, imposing their rigid interpretation of religion on residents.

“Daesh would come to the matches, confiscate our ID cards and throw the athletes in jail,” he said, referring to the Islamic State jihadist group.

An ‘extremely hard’ time

IS swept across large parts of Syria in 2014, declaring a “caliphate” there and in swathes of neighbouring Iraq, but separate offensives have since expelled the group from all major urban centres they once held.

“Thank God we got rid of them and we can watch games again,” said Ubayd, whose hometown was retaken by Syrian regime forces in June last year.

He was supporting Egypt, he said, and hoped its star Mohamed Salah would return to the pitch and lead his team to victory on Tuesday.

Syria’s war has killed more than 350,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

Thousands of people who have fled their homes live in the camp in Ain Issa, where the World Cup games are screened outside on the side of a tent in the evening, but inside during the day.

Within the hot tent, children sit by their fathers, gazing up at the figures running on the screen.

Some carry a pillow on which to rest during the game, while others lay a piece of material on the ground to sit on.

Outside, Mubad al-Mohammad, 23, says the World Cup this year comes at a time of his life that is “extremely hard”.

The young man has been living in a tent at Ain Issa for more than a year after fleeing his home city of Raqa.

‘Miss the excitement’

“It’s so hot and we miss our friends, the excitement of watching games,” said Mohammad, whose city was under IS rule from 2014 to last year, when a US-backed alliance seized it.

He said he followed the last World Cup from home in Raqa – even as IS members raided coffee shops showing the games, forcing football fans to go home to pray.

“War has taken away so many good things from us including sport,” said the Brazil supporter.

Nearby, Abdallah Abdelbasit, 47, said he was delighted the camp’s footballers could follow their teams on the big screen.

Nicknamed Abu Ashraf, the man with a neatly trimmed grey beard and haircut still plays himself and has been active in organising the camp’s youth into teams.

The free screenings were very welcome, he said, especially after attending fixtures at a local cafeteria proved to be too expensive for many camp residents.

With three World Cup matches a day, the initiative fills “the void and boredom”, allowing spectators to “forget some of their troubles”, he said.

But enthusiasm this year is still not the same as for previous championships, said Abdelbasit, who claims he has followed games for the past 30 years.

“Before there used to be great excitement and cheering, but at the camp the spectators don’t clap except if a goal is scored.”

“The war has affected this generation, depriving it of sport for seven years,” he said.

But Abdelbasit remained optimistic for the future.

“We hope to watch the next World Cup in our homes,” he said. — AFP

Ultra-secure lab in Gabon equipped for Ebola studies

AT a research facility in Gabon, one isolated building stands behind an electrified fence, under round-the-clock scrutiny by video cameras. The locked-down P4 lab is built to handle the world’s most dangerous viruses, including Ebola.

“Only four people, three researchers and a technician, are authorised to go inside the P4,” said virologist Illich Mombo, who is in charge of the lab, one of only two in all of Africa that is authorised to handle deadly Ebola, Marburg and Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever viruses. The other is in Johannesburg.

The P4 was put up 800m distant from older buildings of the Franceville International Centre for Medical Research (CIRMF), in large grounds on the outskirts of Franceville, the chief city in the southeastern Haut-Ogooue province.

Filming the ultra-high-security lab or even taking photos is banned and the handful of people allowed inside have security badges. Backup power plants ensure an uninterruptable electricity supply. “Even the air that we breathe is filtered,” Mombo explains.

When he goes into the P4 lab to work on a sample of suspect virus such as Ebola – which has claimed 28 lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during an outbreak in the past six weeks – Mombo wears a head-to-foot biohazard suit.

The special clothing is destroyed as soon as he has finished. Draconian measures are in force to prevent any risk of contamination, with potentially disastrous effects.

‘Teams on alert’

Once a suspect virus has been “inactivated” – a technique that stops the sample from being contagious – it is carefully taken from the P4 unit to other CIRMF laboratories in the compound, where it is analysed.

Specialised teams will scrutinise it, looking to confirm its strain of Ebola and hunting for clues such as the virus’s ancestry and evolution, which are vital for tracking the spread of the disease.

CIRMF director Jean-Sylvain Koumba, a colonel in the Gabonese army and a military doctor, said lab teams had been “placed on alert” to handle Ebola samples sent on by the National Institute of Biomedical Resarch in the DRC capital Kinshasa.

The nature of the sample can be determined with rare precision, for the facility has state-of-the-art equipment matched in few other places worldwide.

“On average, it takes 24 to 48 hours between the time when a sample arrives and when we get the results,” Mombo said.

Founded in 1979 by Gabon’s late president Omar Bongo Ondimba to study national fertility rates, the CIRMF moved on to AIDS, malaria, cancer, viral diseases and the neglected tropical maladies that affect a billion people around the world, according to the WHO.

The centre is financed by the Gabonese state, whose main wealth is derived from oil exports, and gets help from France.

In all, 150 people work for the CIRMF and live on the huge premises. Its reputation draws scientists, students and apprentices from Asia, Europe and the United States, as well as Africa.

“(The) CIRMF is uniquely suited to study infectious diseases of the Congolese tropical rain forest, the second world’s largest rain forest,” two French scientists, Eric Leroy and Jean-Paul Gonzalez, wrote in the specialist journal Viruses in 2012.

“(It) is dedicated to conduct medical research of the highest standard … with unrivalled infrastructure, multiple sites and multidisciplinary teams.”

Animal ‘reservoir’?

The facility also conducts investigations into how lethal tropical pathogens are able to leap the species barrier, said Gael Darren Maganga, who helps run the unit studying the emergence of viral diseases.

“A passive watch consists of taking a sample from a dead animal after a request, while the active watch is when we go out ourselves to do fieldwork and take samples,” he said.

A major centre of interest is the bat, seen as a potential “reservoir” – a natural haven – for the Ebola virus, said Maganga. Staff regularly go out all over Gabon to take samples of saliva, faecal matter and blood.

The consumption of monkey flesh and other bush meat is common practice in central Africa.

“It’s still a hypothesis, but the transmission to human beings could be by direct contact, for instance by getting scratches (from a bat) in caves, or by handling apes which have been infected by bat saliva,” he said. — AFP

S.Africa’s black majority battles apartheid urban planning

“(SKIN) colour gets darker the further away you are” from the town centre, says Lindiwe, a middle-aged squatter explaining how land distribution in South Africa has barely changed since apartheid.

Since last July she has been squatting in a rundown building in central Cape Town, a well-off and largely white tourist area.

“Here I am close to everything. I am close to the shops, to the bus stop. There is no security issue,” says the 51-year-old, who is cooking on a gas stove and will only give her first name.

Her second-floor studio apartment is in a former nurses’ lodging in the chic Sea Point neighbourhood.

But it has neither electricity nor water, forcing her to go down to the tap on the ground floor — which is the only water source for more than 300 people.

Beachfront and luxury stores lie a short walk from the front door of the grey, concrete four-storey building, as does a stadium built for the 2010 football World Cup.

Lindiwe has a seasonal job renting out parasols but receives some money from her employed eldest children.

She once rented a home complete with functioning utilities in Gugulethu, a township some 20km from Cape Town.

“There were too many fights. My son was not in any gang and his life was in danger,” she said softly.

Her new neighbour experienced firsthand the violence of the township.

“My child was raped, my husband was stabbed with a panga (blade), the gangsters stole my bag twice. After that, my head was not right,” said Nomhle, as she washed her clothes in the communal bathroom under fading light.

All the rooms in the squat were taken when she arrived in Sea Point.

But returning to her former home in the Delft township was not an option.

Instead she moved into a cupboard of little more than a few square metres (feet), along with her husband and 15-year-old mentally handicapped daughter.

A waste bin is used for storing clothes and a mattress is propped in a corner, while the stench of paraffin permeates the entire space.

“It’s dirty here but I feel safer,” explained Nomhle, who with her husband sells newspapers for the homeless to motorists pulled up at traffic lights.

Owned by Western Cape province authorities, the building was taken over by squatters in March 2017.

As well as having the water and electricity supplies cut, the squatters have been asked by letter recently when they would be able to leave but so far have not faced a formal eviction procedure.

‘End white property power’

South Africa has one of the world’s highest crime rates, recording 51 murders a day on average.

Gangs are prominent in Cape Town’s townships, where most of the population is non-white, almost a quarter of a century after the fall of apartheid.

Most of their white compatriots, on the other hand, live in desirable suburbs, often in secure gated communities.

The situation is much the same as it was in apartheid times, when black people were forced out from the inner cities, often to live a life of hardship on the periphery.

South Africa’s recently sworn-in President Cyril Ramaphosa has vowed to “accelerate” efforts to fix the gaping disparities and mend historical injustices.

In cities, the government’s goal is to “overcome the divide between wealthy white suburbs and black townships”, according to Ruth Hall, a land expert at the Plaas Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies.

“Black people say we want secure access to well-located land in the cities, access to land close to jobs and economic opportunities,” she added.

Joyce, a waitress, once spent a full quarter of her pay — 30 rands (RM8.93) — commuting to and from her job at a Cape Town restaurant.

Since she moved to the squat in Sea Point, she has saved 20 rands a day.

South Africa has built more than four million social homes for the nation’s poor since 1994, one of the world’s most ambitious construction efforts.

“The government failed by making us live far from the inner city. There is still apartheid,” said Mpho, one of the Sea Point squatters. “End white property power”, screamed a poster in Mpho’s tiny room.

‘What apartheid did to our people’

Another issue facing the city has been resettling poor black and mixed-race residents in new homes far from the city centre as gentrification accelerates.

Two “resettlement camps” have opened — 30km away from central Cape Town.

The modest social homes on offer are free but isolated and prone to crime, drugs and serious poverty, according to the Ndifuna Ukwazi organisation, which advocates for fair land distribution.

“Relocating people to the outskirts is a constant reminder of what apartheid did to our people and the current government is continuing with that trend,” said Nkosikhona Swaartbooi, one of the group’s leaders.

Councillor Brett Herron, responsible for urban development in the city, said the desperate situation had required compromises.

“To some extent, we delivered a lot of houses — but in the wrong place,” he said.

“We (the authorities) have not done enough to correct the apartheid spatial planning in our cities (but) we are making every effort to bring about spatial transformation.”

Indeed the city has contributed to the construction of 4,000 social homes in 11 city centre developments.

But that will be unlikely to offer much comfort to the 350,000 people waiting for housing help. — AFP

‘Peter Pan’ at 65: boy who wouldn’t grow up comes of age

MOST of us need eight hours’ sleep, posh skin cream and a macrobiotic diet to halt the advancing years. Peter Pan — that lucky little imp — gets by on a little faith, trust and pixie dust.

J.M. Barrie’s creation may never age but this year marks the 65th anniversary of the Disney movie that set imaginations soaring with tales of Lost Boys, swashbuckling pirates and an ominously ticking crocodile.

A paean to the wonder of youth but a poignant reminder that it doesn’t last forever, “Peter Pan” is steeped in “a child’s imagination and where it can take us,” says Disney historian Mindy Johnson.

“We as adults need to return to that sometimes and this is a constant reminder of that — to regain our sense of wonder, magic and imagination,” she told AFP at the Disney lot in Burbank, California.

Barrie, a Scottish writer, created Pan in stories that he told the sons of his friend Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies, naming the character for the youngest of the boys and the Greek god of the woodlands.

His 1904 play and 1911 novel follow the Darling children — Wendy, John and Michael — as the mischievous Peter and his fairy friend Tinker Bell whisk them off to the magical island of Never Land.

They visit Peter’s secret hideout with the Lost Boys and leap into high-flying battles with the infamous villain Captain Hook, who has his own problems as the quarry of Tick-Tock the Croc.

“Here is a story, it seemed to me, which had never been quite fulfilled, despite its wonderful career on the living stage, a story which deserved the added dimension of animation on the screen,” Walt Disney said.

A million drawings

The impresario deployed his elite animation team — known affectionately as the “Nine Old Men” — and they completed around a million drawings, taking around a week each to come up with five seconds of footage.

Kathryn Beaumont was 12 when she was chosen to voice Wendy, and to double as a model that the animators could attach to high-wire rigging whenever they needed reminding of what children look like flying.

She had already voiced the titular character in “Alice In Wonderland” (1951) and is the only actress in the world who can boast of spending time in both Wonderland and Never Land.

Beaumont, who spent most of her working life as a teacher but still lives near the Disney studio lot, remembers Walt inviting her to visit the various departments making the movie, from animation to ink and paint.

“It was a learning experience but I was so fascinated, and the fact that he allowed me to go freely through these places to learn about all that was just wonderful,” the 79-year-old told AFP.

“So I had a lovely few years working with Walt Disney and getting to know him as a person.”

While 2018 is a significant milestone, it also marks a darker aspect of the production — the 50th anniversary of the death of Bobby Driscoll, the child star who voiced Peter.

After filming ended, Disney told Driscoll he would be better suited to “young bully” roles and then canceled his contract altogether, blaming the sudden onset of severe acne.


Driscoll, a Hollywood outcast by his late teens, started using heroin and divorce, jail time and unemployment followed. He was found dead, alone and in penury, in an abandoned building a few days after turning 31.

Beaumont shared the stage for the live-action aspect of her role with another actor but remembers her voice work with Driscoll as a “lovely experience.”

The movie became one of Disney’s biggest hits, contributing to the struggling studio’s economic recovery that had begun a few years earlier with “Cinderella” (1950).

The delightfully impish Tink went on to embody the magic of Disney, hosting a TV series and appearing at theme parks, as well as starring in her own spin-off movies.

More recently, there was the smash-hit spin-off, “Hook” (1991), a moderately successful sequel — “Return to Neverland” (2002) — a 2003 live-action remake and an ill-advised 2015 prequel called “Pan.”

“Tink,” a live-action film with Reese Witherspoon in the title role, is in the works and the 1953 movie gets a new release jam-packed with extras on Blu-ray on Tuesday to mark the anniversary.

The New York Daily News declared on Feb 12, 1953 that “Peter Pan” was one of Disney’s best productions and closer to Barrie’s conception than any other adaptation.

“So many writers, artists, directors, decorators and colors stylists worked on the film that there isn’t space enough to mention them all,” noted the paper’s reviewer Kate Cameron.

“Between them, however, they have created a delightful, entertaining film that will appeal to the young and the not-so young alike.” — AFP

Bushmeat loses its appeal as Congo city fights Ebola

MBANDAKA, DR Congo: In the city of Mbandaka, “bushmeat” is a cheap, time-honoured form of food — monkeys, bats, antelopes, crocodiles and other species caught in the wild.

But local bushmeat hawkers say sales have slumped since an outbreak of Ebola was declared in the northwest of the Democratic Republic of Congo on May 8.

While scientists say contaminated bushmeat carries an Ebola risk, local people are pointing to rumours of sorcery — that the bushmeat has been “cursed”.

“Takings have fallen,” said Sebastien Nseka Lokila, who manages the biggest market in the city of 1.2 million people, blaming a lack of supplies from Bikoro, a remote rural area that is the epicentre of the outbreak.

Far fewer shoppers than usual were in front of the bushmeat stands on Tuesday. Hawkers chopped up pieces of meat with gloveless hands, and many buyers, also without protection, touched and poked the meat as a prelude to haggling over the price.

“I love fresh bushmeat — it’s never caused any disease,” said Nelly Mboyo, a housewife in the market, but other women passed by the bushmeat stand without stopping.

Health experts say the virus that causes Ebola holes up in species of tropical fruit bats.

The bats themselves are asymptomatic — they do not themselves fall ill, but pass it on in their droppings to other mammals, including monkeys, which in turn fall sick.

The disease then gets passed onto humans if they hunt and butcher an infected animal. The virus may enter the bloodstream through a scratch or a cut, infiltrating cells and then multiplying.

Scientists say this risk — and that posed by eating smoked or cooked bushmeat — seems to be low.

They warn the problem amplifies when an infected human comes into close contact with another, helping the disease to spread through body fluids.

Since the outbreak was declared in Bikoro on May 8, 58 cases of Ebola have been reported with 27 deaths. Seven cases have surfaced in Mbandaka districts, the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

One superstition that has spread in Mbandaka, said nurse Julie Lobali, is that Ebola began in Bikoro as “a curse on those who ate stolen meat.”

Blandine Mboyo, who lives in the district of Bongondjo, told AFP “a hunter put a curse on the village because his big game was stolen.”

“This curse is so powerful because it hits those who ate this meat, having heard about the theft or having seen the stolen animal,” said Nicole Batoa, a market vendor.

Epidemic’s ‘ground zero’

In December 2014, a German-led team of scientists determined that the world’s biggest Ebola epidemic could be traced to a colony of free-tailed bats that lived in a hollow tree in a remote village in Guinea.

“The close proximity of a large colony of free-tailed bats … provided opportunity for infection. Children regularly caught and played with bats in this tree,” they reported in the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine.

Guinea, along with Sierra Leone and Liberia, bore the brunt of an epidemic that ran from 2013-15, with 29,000 recorded cases and 11,300 deaths.

Bushmeat, for many poor Congolese, is not an exotic food but a cheap and unpretentious part of their diet.

According to the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), people living in the Congo Basin annually eat five million tonnes of bushmeat — the equivalent of the cattle production of Brazil and the European Union.

Many anthropologists contend the risk from Ebola is relatively small and are angry with those who, they say, are harming poor people in rural areas by demonising the practice.

Conservationists, for their part, are deeply worried about bushmeat’s impact on biodiversity, which adds to habitat loss as a threat for vulnerable species. — AFP

Anwar’s release marks the end of his 20-year dark episode

KUALA LUMPUR: The full pardon for an immediate release of jailed Datuk Sri Anwar Ibrahim today marks the end of 20 years of going in and out of prison, and the resumption of the political career of a leader touted to be the country’s next prime minister.

Anwar’s journey over the past two decades added colour to the country’s political landscape with the emergence of the reformation movement that eventually contributed to the Pakatan Harapan (PH) taking control of the federal administration in the 14th general election on May 9.

After his release, Anwar told reporters his appeal for the pardon was on the basis of a ‘miscarriage of justice’ or ‘travesty of justice’ and this meant that his convictions and sentences had been erased from the records.

The 71-year-old PKR de facto leader was born on Aug 10, 1947, in Cherok Tok Kun, Bukit Mertajam, Penang.

He received his early education at Sekolah Kebangsaan Cherok Tok Kun, Sekolah Kebangsaan Stowell and the Malay College Kuala Kangsar, and acquired his Bachelor’s Degree in Malay Studies at Universiti Malaya.

Anwar married Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail on Feb 28, 1980. The couple has six children, namely Nurul Izzah, Nurul Nuha, Mohd Ihsan, Nurul Ilham, Nurul Iman and Nurul Hana.

Anwar has been actively involved in politics since his university days. He was also involved in the setting up of the Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement (ABIM). He was a committee member of the Asia Youth Council; a member of the World Youth Council and a committee member of the Asia Pacific region for the World Assembly of Youth.

The political leadership of Anwar, who was elected as a member of parliament in 1982 after winning the Permatang Pauh seat, was also recognised by world bodies, especially during his tenure as the finance minister.

In 1996, Euromoney recognised him as one of the world’s four best finance ministers and Asiamoney named him Asia’s Best Finance Minister.

Besides serving as the finance minister, Anwar also held various other posts, such as Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department; Culture, Youth and Sports Minister; and Agriculture Minister. He was appointed the Deputy Prime Minister on Dec 1, 1993.

On May 19, 1997, Anwar was appointed the acting Prime Minister and Home Minister during the absence of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who was then on leave for two months.

Anwar was sacked as the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister on Sept 2, 1998, and it was followed by his expulsion from Umno the next day.

Then began Anwar’s dark episode. He was sentenced to six years in prison on April 14, 1999, by the Kuala Lumpur High Court.

He was found guilty of four corruption offences in relation to abuse of power by interfering in police investigations into alleged sexual misconduct.

Anwar was released on Sept 2, 2004, after nearly six years in prison.

On Aug 28, 2008, Anwar returned to the Dewan Rakyat after winning the Permatang Pauh by-election on a PKR ticket following Dr Wan Azizah’s resignation as the MP of the constituency to give way to Anwar to contest the seat.

He retained the seat in the 13th General Election, in 2013.

However, Anwar was sentenced to five years jail on March 7, 2014, by the Court of Appeal, after the court found him guilty of having sodomised Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan six years earlier. — AFP

Healing wounds in Spain’s Basque Country after ETA

PORTUGALETE, Spain: Ivan Ramos often sees the ETA-linked murderer of his mother in his Basque town of Portugalete and has had to learn to live with it.

Just a five-minute drive away, Encarni Blanco, a one-time collaborator of the Basque separatist group, has struggled to piece her life back together years after she said police detained and tortured her.

Once on opposite sides of the deadly campaign waged by ETA for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southern France, both went through years of therapy to try and come to terms with what happened and move on.

Their individual struggle is a micro-example of what awaits the region as it tackles the delicate balancing act of healing and remembering after ETA’s expected dissolution next month.

No to hate, resentment

“I was one of the first victims who coexisted with the murderers of my mother,” says Ramos, 44, sitting in a bar which used to be part of the Socialist party headquarters in the industrial town of Portugalete.

Behind him is a mural representing part of Picasso’s anti-war painting Guernica complete with “1987” — the year his mother Maite Torrano, an activist of the Socialist party in power in Spain at the time, was killed by separatists who threw petrol bombs inside.

She later died of her wounds, one of at least 829 victims of ETA, a group created in 1959 at the height of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship that laid down its arms in 2011.

Not content with having killed his mother, one of the perpetrators taunted Ramos for years after his release from prison, following him in the streets for instance.

While that has stopped, he still sees him often.

“I’ll go to the pool, and he’ll be in a hammock there … My son will play in the same park as his son,” he says.

With the help of a “great psychiatrist,” Ramos learnt to deal with it.

But while he has yet to tell his eight-year-old how his grandmother died, he has one thing clear — he will never reveal who murdered her.

“I don’t want to pass on any hate, any resentment to him.”

He warns though that as more and more ETA prisoners are released after serving their sentences, other victims are going to face the same problem. And they “aren’t being prepared for this.”

Ramos himself has put hate behind and participates in regional government or Church-run gatherings where he recounts his experience — part of a process towards reconciliation.

‘Shatter as a person’

Some of these meetings gather together victims of ETA and those whose loved ones were hurt or killed by anti-ETA groups like the GAL death squads — later found to be linked to the Spanish interior ministry — or tortured by police.

People like Blanco, 59, who still wakes up with a start when she hears noises at night, years after the Guardia Civil police came for her and her husband in January 1992.

For five days, she was held incognito and says she was hooded, beaten up and given electroshocks, a case she later took to the United Nations which criticised Spain for not investigating it.

“You shatter as a person,” she says, standing next to the entrance of the apartment building in the Basque town of Santurtzi where police came to get her in 1992, and which she eventually left after years of sleeplessness.

“At the end you ask ‘what do you want of me. Whatever you want, I’ll do it because I want to get out of this hell.’ When they said I was going to prison, I was happy.”

She and her husband Josu were sentenced to six years in jail for collaborating with ETA — a fact they don’t deny.

Blanco says they had agreed to house ETA members when they were in town, even if that never happened in practice.

But she insists the state should recognise what they did to her and others to move on, speaking on the same day as ETA itself acknowledged the harm done and apologised to its victims — although not to those it considered legitimate such as police.

According to a December report commissioned by the Basque regional government, more than 4,100 complaints of police torture were made between 1960 and 2014.

Gaizka Fernandez Soldevilla, a historian for the Memorial Centre for Terrorism Victims in the Basque capital Vitoria, estimates around 60 people have been proven to have died at the hands of the GAL, para-police or far-right groups.

“That must be told, but you can’t put it all on the same level,” he says.

For him, the Basque separatist left-wing movement is trying to portray decades of bombings and kidnappings as a conflict between two belligerent sides to justify what happened.

But for Fernandez, “there was a terrorist group that killed.”


He adds it is crucial to teach the past in schools in a country where dark periods of history like the 1936-9 civil war or ETA violence are often skirted over.

Especially given around half of the Basque population wants to “turn the page without having read it first,” according to a survey conducted by the centre.

“Fear of talking politics is still very present in the Basque Country,” he says.

But “if you don’t know your history, there is a danger that you will repeat the worst of it.”

And that’s where gatherings attended by the likes of Ramos are of double help.

Manu Arrue, a Jesuit priest active in the reconciliation process, recalls one such meeting last year when a woman who attended “talked for the first time of her father who had been killed (in the civil war), of an uncle who is still missing.”

“These meetings help to unite, to build bridges between … all sorts of different sufferings.” — AFP

As the Castro era wanes, Cuba’s youth have doubts, and dreams

THEY are the children of the new millennium. Like their parents, they have known no leader but the Castro brothers. Now, on the eve of a historic generational change, Cuba’s young people hold conflicting opinions about a future they will help to forge.

The island’s youth tend to see the announced departure of President Raul Castro, who will pass the mantle of leadership to a new generation on April 19, as natural and necessary.

“Many generations have passed since the revolution (of 1959) triumphed,” said communications major Hayla Torres, evoking 86-year-old Raul Castro and other members of the revolutionary old guard.

“But they are people of another time, and society is demanding change,” added the 19-year-old from western Matanzas province, who wore a Real Madrid team shirt tied around her waist.

For the first time in more than 40 years, the Cuban president will not be named Castro and will not come from the generation that spearheaded the revolution. For now, the government’s current number two, 57-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel, is expected to assume the top role.

“Time has passed,” said Yoendris Alarcon, a 22-year-old student at the aptly named University of the Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth) in southwest Cuba, adding that it was time to give a new generation a chance to “take Cuba forward”.

“I have confidence in our future,” Torres added. “I believe that despite everything that has been happening, one can see the results of things.” She praised the first reforms undertaken by Raul Castro to “update” the Cuban economic model.

‘Everything will stay the same’

Others, however, were quick to express their reservations about Raul Castro’s legacy and the changes that can be expected ahead.

“At the rate things are going, I do not think we’ll see improvement,” said Marlon Borrero, 19, who is doing his compulsory military service. “I think everything will stay the same.”

“Life is complicated for my family,” he said, adding that there was little work available and “if you don’t work, you don’t live”. Just to keep up one’s weight, Borrero said, “almost requires magic”.

The son of a public official, Borrero plans to pursue a career in tourism, probably working “more abroad than in Cuba”.

He hopes that will take him to the United States, “because whatever you say, there is a better way of life there. You work a little more, but in the end the sacrifice is worth it,” said Borrero, a hip-hop fan who sports tattoos and wears earrings and who had decided to grant himself a day off.

Yoel, a 24-year-old unemployed youth in Havana, said he, too, is sceptical of promised change, and he rejects Cuba’s indirect voting system to elect a new president, saying it was designed to keep power in the hands of those who already have it.

“The people play no part in that vote, so we continue on the same path,” he said. “We will never see change.”

‘Nothing is impossible’

Yet while many young Cubans are not optimistic, they realise that the island’s future rests partly on their shoulders, and they say they are ready to take up the burden.

“The young people of Cuba can contribute,” said Luis Orlando, a physical education student, as he walked the streets of the south-central city of Cienfuegos. “We need to take this revolution forward.”

“I understand that we have to open ourselves more to other countries, market ourselves better … and leave the old thoughts behind if we are to make Cuba better,” said Orlando, a soccer fan.

Hayla agreed. “The Cuban economy has declined, but nothing will lower the spirit” of the island’s youth, who are ready to “play their part,” she said.

“Nothing is impossible,” added Yoendris. “We are going to keep fighting. Everything depends on us putting our heads down and staying in the fight.” — AFP