fbpx 234Radio | ...exporting Africa to the world

Dozens arrested in Italo-Swiss sting against 'Ndrangheta Mafia

The Guardia di Finanza said the sting targeted ‘Ndrangheta families based on the coast of Calabria [File: Miguel Medina/AFP]

Italian and Swiss authorities have arrested 75 people in a joint raid against Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta Mafia.

The operation was the result of “years of intense investigative work” between Italian and Swiss prosecutors and police, said a statement from Italy’s financial crimes police, the Guardia di Finanza, on Tuesday.

Those arrested were accused of several crimes, including Mafia association, international drug trafficking, money laundering, false registration of assets, and corruption.

Authorities also seized assets worth 169 million euros ($193m) and placed under investigation – but did not arrest – a further 83 suspects, the Guardia di Finanza said.

Only one person was arrested in Switzerland, where several suspects’ homes and businesses were searched, according to a separate statement from the Swiss government.

The Swiss prosecutor’s office said police seized weapons and ammunition in raids in the cantons of Argovia, Solothurn, Zug and Ticino.

“If anybody still thinks that the ‘Ndrangheta is a purely Italian problem, this operation shows the opposite,” said the head of the Italian parliament’s anti-mafia commission, Nicola Morra.  

Calabria

The Guardia di Finanza said the sting targeted members of ‘Ndrangheta families based on the western coast of Calabria, between the towns of Lamezia Terme and Vibo Valentia.

Calabria, the impoverished southern region that forms the tip of Italy’s boot, is the historical home of the ‘Ndrangheta, one of the world’s most powerful organised-crime groups.

AU-led talks latest bid to break deadlock over Ethiopia's GERD

The 6,600-kilometre-long (4,100-mile) Nile is a lifeline supplying both water and electricity to the 10 countries it traverses [File: AFP]

The African Union (AU) is due to hold a mini-summit to discuss the contentious mega-dam Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile River, which has triggered a major diplomatic standoff with downstream neighbours Egypt and Sudan.

The multibillion-dollar Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam (GERD) has been a source of friction in the Nile River basin ever since Ethiopia broke ground on the giant project in 2011, with multiple rounds of tripartite talks ending in deadlock.

Tuesday’s virtual meeting will be hosted by AU chair and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. Leaders from Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan are expected to take part, as well as officials from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya and Mali.

Observers from the United States, European Union and World Bank will also be in attendance.

Ethiopia says the hydroelectric dam, set to be Africa’s largest, is a critical opportunity to pull millions of its nearly 110 million citizens out of poverty. It has long planned to begin filling its reservoir this month, during its rainy season, though it has not said exactly when.

But Egypt and Sudan are pushing for the three countries to first reach a legally binding deal on how the dam would be operated during periods of drought and how disputes would be resolved.

Egypt, which relies on the Nile for almost 90 percent of its already limited water supply, fears GERD will lead to damaging water shortages. Last month, it accused Ethiopia of “intransigence” and appealed to the United Nations Security Council to intervene.

Sudan, meanwhile, stands to benefit from the project through access to cheap electricity and reduced flooding, but it has also raised fears over the dam’s operation, which could endanger its own smaller dams, depending on the amount of water discharged downstream daily.

A Sudanese official said the dispute should only be resolved “by negotiation”.

“Every country has to benefit without harming the other,” the unnamed official told AFP news agency on Monday.

“Ninety percent of the issues have been agreed, and we believe that 10 percent of the pending issues can be solved.”

Duterte threatens arrests, government vows to step up testing

In the absence of a clear healthcare approach, critics say Duterte has increasingly militarised efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus [File: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters]

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened on Tuesday to arrest anyone not wearing a mask, as the government vowed to step up testing for the coronavirus amid a sharp rise in infections and deaths since a lockdown was eased in June.

“We do not have any qualms in arresting people,” Duterte said in a recorded address aired on Tuesday. It was a “serious crime” to spread the respiratory disease, also known as COVID-19, he added.

“If you are brought to the police station and detained there, that would give you a lesson for all time,” he said of anyone caught not wearing a mask.

Duterte’s statement follows an earlier warning from an interior department senior official that the government should consider a “shame campaign” against violators of the coronavirus restrictions, as well as people with possible infections quarantined in their homes.

In April, Duterte also received condemnation after he said violators of lockdown rules could be shot for causing trouble.

A recent study conducted by the Asian Development Bank, however, showed that the Philippines already ranks second in Asia-Pacific in the stringency of its coronavirus curbs, while an Imperial College London and YouGov survey showed that 91 percent of Filipinos were already compliant with the rules on wearing masks.

Rights groups and the opposition have been warning of abuses during the pandemic lockdown, during which allies of the president have also passed an anti-terror law, which critics say could be used to target dissent.

According to the police, more than 61,000 people have already been arrested for breaking lockdown rules. 

Critics say Duterte has increasingly militarised efforts to curb the spread of the disease without addressing the more immediate need to implement contact tracing and other health protocols.

Missed targets

During the televised meeting aired on Tuesday, Duterte’s Health Secretary Francisco Duque also announced that the government is aiming to test as many as 40,000 people a day compared with the current number of between 20,000 and 23,000.

It is unclear how the government will reach that target since it has not met an earlier target of 30,000 daily tests that was announced in May.

So far, the Philippines has tested nearly 1.1 million people, and Duque said the aim was for 10 million people – or nearly a tenth of the population – to be tested by the second quarter of next year.

“We cannot test every citizen as no country has done it, even the richest, the United States,” Duque said.

In Southeast Asia, the Philippines ranks second to Indonesia in terms of the number of cases and deaths, with cases jumping nearly four-fold and deaths nearly doubling to 1,835 since the government relaxed lockdown measures in June.

Restrictions have been reimposed in some of the hardest-hit areas.

Of 30 countries most affected by the pandemic, the Philippines ranked 24th in terms of testing rate, data from statistics aggregator Statista showed.

Last week, officials also said health workers and police would take patients with mild or no symptoms from their homes and place them in isolation centres.

South Korea launches first military satellite

Falcon 9 rocket carrying the ANASIS-II satellite blasts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida [DAPA/ Handout via AFP]

Private operator Space X has launched South Korea’s first military communications satellite into space as Seoul looks to build up its defence capabilities against its nuclear-armed neighbour, North Korea.

South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), in a statement on Tuesday, said the ANASIS-II satellite lifted off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in the US state of Florida at 5:30pm local time the previous day.

SpaceX, the private rocket company belonging to billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, confirmed the satellite deployed about 32 minutes after lift-off.

DAPA said the launch made South Korea the 10th country in the world to own a military-only communications satellite, which will provide “permanent and secured military communications”.

The satellite is expected to reach its orbit level in two weeks, it said, adding that South Korea’s military will take over the system in October after testing.

Seoul is looking to enhance its military capabilities as it pushes to end an arrangement under which, if war breaks out, US commanders would have authority over their combined forces.

The satellite was “expected to improve the South Korean military’s independent operational capabilities”, an official at its defence ministry told Yonhap news agency.

Strains in alliance

Seoul and Washington are security allies and the US stations 28,500 troops in the country.

But their relationship has been strained in recent years, triggered by differences in their approaches to Pyongyang and over cost-sharing responsibilities.

Reuters news agency, citing South Korean officials, said the two allies were yet to agree on the scale, scope and timing of annual military exercises, which usually begin in early August, because the coronavirus pandemic had disrupted travel by US troops.

South Korean Minister of Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo and US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper had a telephone call on Tuesday but could not decide on details of the exercises, the officials told Reuters.

Coronavirus: How to make sports events safe during a pandemic

Editor’s Note: This series is produced in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO).

After months of cancellations and suspensions of sports events because of the coronavirus pandemic, athletes and teams are gradually returning to competition around the world.

While many professional leagues have resumed play behind closed doors, spectators are being allowed to attend games in some countries.

But with the virus still prevalent, confirmed cases surging and no vaccine available, is it safe to open stadiums to fans? And how can the players be better protected?

National federations, sport unions, club owners and leagues, in conversation with the WHO, have been advised to evaluate the risks of each event by answering a set of questions, making the necessary changes to mitigate those risks and then effectively communicating the steps to the public.

“The decision and protocols can only be local, sports-specific as the risks are different in different countries at different times,” Maurizio Barbeschi, senior adviser to the executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, told Al Jazeera.

“There is no unique set of prescription,” he said. “There is a baseline of guidance, which evolves with increasing knowledge, and that guidance should be used more and more to take these decisions by a risk-based approach.”

Across the globe, countries have taken different measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 – the highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus – such as physical distancing among fans, families being allowed to sit together and limiting the number of spectators at matches.

Using a single venue or staging events outdoors, as opposed to a closed indoor setting, may reduce the risk of exposure, according to the WHO. Since older people and those with underlying health conditions are at a greater risk of severe illness, their attendance could be restricted.

Use of hand sanitisers and masks, disinfecting equipment and surfaces, screening, preventing overcrowding and, where possible, shortening the duration of the event are recommended.

On the field, handshakes, hugs, high fives and spitting have been discouraged by several leagues.

Where the stadiums remain closed for fans, a “safe bubble” approach is also being taken, restricting all the participants to one location for the duration of the tournament. This model will be used in football at the European Champions League in Lisbon, Portugal next month.

More:

But authorities must also consider the risks associated with fans gathering outside of the stadiums to watch the games and celebrate, Barbeschi, the WHO expert, said

“Even if you only have the teams, staff, and journalists present, there will still be a lot of tourism associated with events, fans sitting in pubs, going to the streets, so you cannot be taking a mass gathering decision in sporting events without thinking about these broader risks,” he said.

Looking ahead, what can we expect from the postponed Tokyo Olympic Games next year and the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar?

“Nobody has this answer,” Barbeschi said. “What I can say is that both FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are using some of the best tools for monitoring the situation, the risks and they are getting the best advice.”

A million Indians in fear as Kuwait looks to cap migrant numbers

Labourers wear protective face masks as they wait in line to get temperature checked before entering construction worksite, following the coronavirus outbreak in Ahmadi, Kuwait [File: Stephanie McGhee/Reuters]

In spite of having neither job nor savings, Indian electrician Shibhu Clemance was still hopeful that he would be able to find work again in Kuwait – until he learned of a proposal to drastically cut back on migrants in the country.

The 38-year-old, who lost his job in February due to the coronavirus pandemic, is among more than a million Indians in Kuwait, the largest expat group in the Gulf country of 4.4 million.

But after the pandemic hit oil prices and local jobs, Kuwait is considering setting new limits that could force about 800,000 Indians to leave the country, potentially slashing their remittances – a crucial lifeline for families back home.

The proposal is in a new bill that would cut the total number of migrant workers in the country by 40 percent and require that the number of Indians not exceed 15 percent of the Kuwaiti population.

“I came to the Gulf and toiled hard to provide a better life for my children. The COVID-19 crisis and now the new Kuwait law have shattered my dreams,” Clemance told Reuters news agency by phone from the coastal city of Mangaf.

Before he lost his job in February, he was able to send 40,000 Indian rupees ($530) to his wife and two children who live in a cramped house in the southern Indian state of Kerala with his in-laws and six other relatives.

With no home of his own in Kerala and little hope of finding work in a state that has been receiving India’s largest influx of returning migrants, Clemance fears going back to his family.

We will virtually be on the street if my husband is compelled to return.

The Kuwaiti government has yet to approve the bill, but the prime minister said last month he wants to cut the expat population of about 3 million.

Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem has proposed a gradual reduction in foreign workers, starting with a 5-percent cut in numbers, and indicated the country needed fewer low-skilled migrants.

Parliament will finalise the bill during the current session that ends in October, before sending it to the government for approval.

Indians working in Kuwait sent home almost $4.6bn in 2017, about 6.7 percent of the country’s total incoming remittances that year, according to World Bank data.

But a global recession in the wake of COVID-19 has decimated jobs and slashed cash flows. The World Bank estimates remittances to India will drop by 23 percent from $83bn last year to $64bn this year.

We will virtually be on the street

For Litty Shibhu, Clemance’s wife, managing the household and taking care of her large family without the monthly transfer from Kuwait has been tough.

“We are in real trouble since the money stopped coming … Every day, Shibu calls me and shares his sorrows. I’m planning to sell my gold to help him,” the 29-year-old said.

“We will virtually be on the street if my husband is compelled to return. I can’t even sleep thinking about this.”

Her concerns are echoed throughout the southern state of Kerala, which has about 2 million people working in the Gulf, according to a 2018 migration survey by the Centre for Development Studies.

State data shows 70 percent of the Indians in Kuwait are from Kerala.

Since the 1960s, remittances from the Gulf have been the backbone of Kerala’s economy, making up nearly 20 percent of the state’s gross domestic product, according to the survey.

If Kuwait passes the bill, it could further overwhelm Kerala at a time when it has been scrambling to reintegrate nearly half a million people returning from overseas and other Indian states, migration experts say.

Expats employed in ‘3D jobs’

S Irudaya Rajan, a member of the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs’ research unit on international migration, said the expat bill was a knee-jerk reaction that would fizzle out after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Even if Kuwait means business, it will not have a huge impact on expatriates since most of them concentrate on the 3D jobs – dirty, dangerous and demeaning,” he said.

“These are categories that local nationals are unlikely to step in and take.”

A spokesman for India’s foreign ministry said it was monitoring developments in Kuwait and the foreign ministers of both countries had discussed the bill.

Robert Mogielnicki, resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, DC, said the impact on remittances would depend on when and how Kuwait enforces the expat quota.

“We’re talking about a tremendous demographic transformation. What is clear is that that’s not going to happen overnight,” he said.

He said Kuwait had historically been slow to enact economic reforms, but the current pressures had brought a sense of urgency.

[Most] of them [expats] concentrate on 3D jobs – dirty, dangerous and demeaning.

Last month, the Indian government created a database of the skills and experience of returning migrants to help fill jobs in Indian and foreign companies.

Kerala has already devised a plan for the reintegration of incomers, said Harikrishnan Nampoothiri, chief of NORKA-Roots, a state government agency for the welfare of expats and returnees.

It includes upgrading skills to help people migrate again in the future, a financial scheme of up to 3 million rupees ($40,000) so they can start their own businesses, subsidised loans and mentoring camps.

Yet Vinoy Wilson, a father of three who works as a department store supervisor in Kuwait, had little hope of finding a job in India that would pay enough to fund his children’s education and repay the money he borrowed for a new home in Kerala.

Although his salary was slashed by 25 percent a few months ago, the 40-year-old said it was still enough to cover monthly expenses and send money back home to his mother-in-law.

He said he worried that he would be among the first low-skilled workers to be packed off, meaning he would have to sell his “dream” home.