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Hope for Kidnapped schoolgirls

There is cautious optimism in Nigeria Monday over local reports that the more than 200 abducted Nigerian schoolgirls may soon be released soon as part of a cease-fire agreement with the country's Islamic rebels, Boko Haram.

However, Nigeria's federal government has not yet provided details on the terms of the truce that was announced on Friday by the military.

President Goodluck Jonathan's government is "inching closer to the release of the Chibok girls," government spokesman Mike Omeri, texted The Associated Press over the weekend.

The schoolgirls are "alive and well" and talks to free them will continue this week in Chad, where President Idriss Deby is mediating between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram, said Omeri.

In Abuja, Nigeria's capital, activists continue their daily "Bring Back Our Girls" rallies, marking 174 days of their campaign.

The girls' release "could happen in the coming hours and days," French President Francois Hollande said on Friday in Paris. France was involved in negotiations that led to the release of several of its citizens kidnapped by Boko Haram in neighbouring Cameroon.

But with conflicting reports, the families of the girls who were abducted from Chibok town six months ago say they are confused but clinging to hope.

"Things are still sketchy with lots of holes and varying statements," Allen Manasseh, a brother of one of the kidnapped girls, said to The Associated Press. Manasseh says he relentlessly scours the news headlines to find out when his sister, Maryam, may return home.

The release of the girls may not be in the next few days, however, as events on the ground suggest the cease-fire is not holding. Boko Haram has carried out attacks in Borno state, according to reports trickling in from the remote area where communications are difficult because the rebels sabotaged much of the telecommunication equipment.

The northeastern city of Damboa, in Borno state, was attacked on Sunday evening by Boko Haram fighters driving several pickup vans, according to residents.

"The attack was repelled and more than two dozen of them were killed," said Abbas Muhammad Gava, an official of a Nigerian civilian defence group.

The Nigerian army killed dozens of Boko Haram members in Sunday's attack, said Bashir Abbas, who commands a civilian militia group in Maiduguri, Borno state's capital.

The civilian militia will not comply with any cease-fire order and will continue attacking Boko Haram and manning the road checkpoints, Abbas told AP.

"This cease-fire will not work. Boko Haram is untrustworthy," Abbas said. "It's only politicians who are talking about a cease-fire, but that is not the reality on ground."

The Canadian Press


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Seven women found dead

The bodies of seven women have now been found in Indiana after a man confessed to killing one woman who was found strangled at a motel and led investigators to at least three other bodies, authorities said Monday.

The coroner's office said three of the bodies were found Sunday night at two locations in Gary, a city about 50 kilometres southeast of Chicago, while the other four bodies were found earlier over the weekend. The coroner's office called the new deaths homicides, with one victim strangled and unspecified injuries for the other two women.

At least three of the bodies were found in the same abandoned home in Gary, according to the coroner's office.

It wasn't immediately clear Monday whether the man directed police to the three bodies Sunday night. Phone and email messages seeking comment from Gary police spokeswoman weren't immediately returned.

Police said Sunday that a 43-year-old man confessed to killing a woman whose body was found in a motel in the neighbouring city of Hammond and told investigators where the bodies of three other women could be found in abandoned homes in Gary.

Gary police found the bodies of three women at different locations in Gary late Saturday and early Sunday, following up on information the man provided during questioning, Hammond police Lt. Rich Hoyda said Sunday. Hoyda wouldn't comment on how the man knew the women, on a possible motive or on whether the man confessed to killing any of the other women.

The county coroner's office identified the victim found in Hammond as 19-year-old Afrika Hardy and ruled her death a strangulation. A second victim has been identified by family members as 35-year-old Anith Jones, who had been missing since Oct. 8.

Jones' body was found at the same address where two other bodies were found Sunday night. Autopsies are pending on those three women.

Police discovered Hardy's body about 9:30 p.m. Friday at a motel.

"A friend of the deceased called us, and she was concerned when she didn't respond to her calling," Hoyda said. "We were sent there and found that person dead."

Police investigating her death obtained a search warrant for a home and vehicle in Gary. Police conducted the search Saturday afternoon and took the man into custody. Hoyda said the man confessed during questioning and then told investigators "where several other female victims of possible homicide were located."

Hoyda said the man's name wasn't being released because he had not yet been formally charged. He would not say when charges will be filed.

The Canadian Press


Pistorius to be sentenced Tuesday

Oscar Pistorius will finally learn his fate Tuesday when a judge is expected to announce the Olympic runner's sentence for killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Pistorius could be sentenced to years in prison, or he could be given a suspended sentence and a fine and receive no jail time for shooting Steenkamp multiple times through a toilet cubicle door in his home.

More than seven months after Pistorius' trial started, Judge Thokozile Masipa will announce what punishment she has decided on after finding him guilty of culpable homicide, which is comparable to manslaughter, but acquitting him of murder.

Prosecutors have demanded at least 10 years in prison for the double-amputee athlete. His defence lawyers have suggested that three years of correctional supervision, with periods of house arrest and community service, would be appropriate.

Pistorius testified during his murder trial that he mistook Steenkamp for a dangerous nighttime intruder about to come out of the cubicle and attack him when he shot four times through the door with his 9 mm pistol. Judge Masipa last month ruled that Pistorius did not intend to kill Steenkamp, but he acted negligently and with excessive force in the Valentine's Day 2013 killing.

He was also convicted of unlawfully firing a gun in a restaurant weeks before Steenkamp's death. That normally carries a fine for a first offence, but has a maximum of five years in prison.

Masipa has a wide range of options available to her at the climax of the trial because there is no minimum sentence for culpable homicide.

Pistorius, 27, could serve no jail time, and possibly consider returning to the career that made him one of the world's most recognizable runners on his carbon-fiber running blades, and the first amputee to compete on the track at the Olympics in 2012. He could be placed under house arrest, or he could be sent to prison for up to 15 years, almost certainly ending his running days.

During his sentencing hearing last week, Pistorius' chief defence lawyer called social workers and a psychologist who testified that the athlete had suffered significantly already, both emotionally and financially.

"He's not only broke, but he's broken," chief defence lawyer Barry Roux said of Pistorius. "There is nothing left of this man."

Pistorius' defence team also argued that South African prisons cannot cater for his disability and he would be vulnerable. Roux even cited an alleged threat against Pistorius by a reputed prison gang leader.

Prosecutors insist Pistorius must go to prison because of what they called the "horrific" nature of Steenkamp's death. The 29-year-old model was hit in the head, arm and hip with hollow-point bullets fired by Pistorius.

The Canadian Press


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120 being monitored for Ebola

Texas health officials say 120 people are still being monitored for possible infection with Ebola because they may have had contact with one of the three people who got the disease in Dallas.

Officials said Monday that 43 of 48 people on an original watch list had passed the 21-day incubation period for the viral disease and are now in the clear.

But others who cared for a Liberian man who died Oct. 8 at a Dallas hospital remain at risk, along with two nurses he infected there. Nov. 7 is when the wait period will end for all of those being monitored.

Health officials also say they were unaware that federal officials had allowed one of the nurses to fly the day before she was diagnosed with the deadly virus.

The Canadian Press


$6M for Ebola food shortages

China has donated $6 million to help stave off food shortages in the three African countries worst affected by the Ebola virus, the World Food Program announced Monday, part of Beijing's growing assistance to a continent where its companies have become major investors.

WFP China representative Brett Rierson said the money is being spent on one month of emergency food rations of mainly rice, lentils and yellow peas for 300,000 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The Ebola outbreak in those countries has killed more than 4,500 people out of the 9,000 infected and led to widespread transport disruptions, higher food prices and the abandonment of crops and livestock by some farmers fleeing to areas considered safe.

The WFP has now raised $59 million of a $179 million appeal for emergency Ebola food aid, with the U.S. contributing $8.8 million and Japan $6 million.

Altogether, donors have given nearly $400 million to U.N. agencies and aid groups, still far from the $988 million requested.

China has already dispatched several planeloads of medical material and aid teams to the three worst affected countries, and at least one Chinese pharmaceutical firm is among those working on a vaccine.

With the world's second-largest economy and a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, China is beginning to make larger contributions to international aid efforts.

China now spends about $5 billion annually in foreign aid, about 55 per cent of which is offered in the form of low-interest loans, according to a government report issued in July. Just over half of the money goes to African countries, helping China build market share in a continent where its companies have found customers for infrastructure, telecommunications and manufactured goods.

China is Africa's largest trading partner, with about $200 billion in commerce between them, twice the level of Africa's trade with the United States.

The Canadian Press


Nepal to end rescue operation

Nepal was wrapping up rescue operations in its northern mountains Monday, saying all the hikers believed to be stranded on a trekking route by a series of blizzards and avalanches that left dozens of others dead have been rescued and are safe.

The last flights by rescue helicopters in Mustang, Manang and Dolpa districts will be Monday, said Yadav Koirala of Nepal's Disaster Management Division. All the casualties were in those three districts, located northwest of the capital, Kathmandu.

"We believe that all the trekkers and guides have been helped and as far as we know there are no more people stranded on the route," Koirala said, adding that some soldiers would be camped in parts of the area.

At least 38 people, including trekkers from Canada, India, Israel, Slovakia, Poland and Japan, died in the blizzards and avalanches that swept the Himalayas last week.

So far, 34 bodies have been identified. Most of them have been flown to nearby towns or Kathmandu for autopsies.

Rescuers retrieved the bodies of nine Nepalese porters Sunday from a mountain slope. The bodies were spotted a day earlier by a rescue helicopter, but it took hours for rescuers to reach them on foot.

Also Sunday, Nepalese officials closed a section of the popular Annapurna trekking circuit because new groups of hikers had been streaming into the area where most of the victims died.

The snowstorms were whipped up by the tail end of a cyclone that hit the Indian coast a few days earlier. Hikers were caught off-guard when the weather changed quickly.

Most of the victims were on or near the Annapurna trekking route, a 220-kilometre (140-mile) collection of trails through the mountain range. Most of the casualties were among those caught on the Thorong La pass, one of the highest points on the circuit.

The Canadian Press


Face-veil ban lifted in Australia

Australia's Parliament House on Monday lifted a short-lived ban on facial coverings including burqas and niqabs after the prime minister intervened.

The government department that runs Parliament House announced earlier this month that "persons with facial coverings" would no longer be allowed in the open public galleries of the House of Representatives or the Senate. Instead, they were to be directed to galleries usually reserved for noisy schoolchildren, where they could sit behind sound-proof glass.

The Oct. 2 announcement was made a few hours before the end of the final sitting day of Parliament's last two-week session and had no practical effect.

Hours before Parliament was to resume on Monday, the Department of Parliamentary Services, or DPS, said in a statement that people wearing face coverings would again be allowed in all public areas of Parliament House.

It said face coverings would have to be removed temporarily at the security check point at the front door so that staff could "identify any person who may have been banned from entering Parliament House or who may be known, or discovered, to be a security risk."

"Procedures are still in place to ensure that DPS security manage these procedures in a sensitive and appropriate manner," the statement said without elaborating.

The ban on face veils in the public galleries had been widely condemned as a segregation of Muslim women and a potential breach of federal anti-discrimination laws.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott later revealed that he had not been notified in advance that the ban was planned and had asked House Speaker Bronwyn Bishop to "rethink that decision."

The restriction had been authorized by Bishop, who has campaigned for a ban on Muslim head scarves in government schools, as well as Senate President Stephen Parry.

The controversy came as the government attempts to assure Australia's Muslim minority that tough new counterterrorism laws and police raids on terror suspects' homes in recent months were directed at countering criminal activity, not any particular religion.

The opposition welcomed the overturning of what it described as a "burqa ban," and demanded an explanation for why it had been introduced in the first place.

"In 2014 for two weeks, the official policy of the Australian Parliament was to practice segregation and we need to ensure this does not happen again," senior opposition lawmaker Tony Burke said in a statement.

But Senator Jacqui Lambie, from the minor Palmer United Party, said the ban's reversal made Australia appear weak and indecisive on national security.

"The decision today to allow burqas and other forms of identity-concealing items of dress to be worn in Australia's Parliament will put a smile on the face of the overseas Islamic extremists and their supporters in Australia who view the burqa or niqab as flags for extremism," Lambie said in a statement.

Parry revealed Monday that the policy on face coverings was not made on the advice of police or the national domestic security agency.

Security has increased at Parliament House since the government stepped up its terror warning to the second-highest level on a four-tier scale last month in response to the domestic threat posed by supporters of the Islamic State group. Australia is participating in the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State militants, with its warplanes flying combat missions in northern Iraq and special forces preparing to deploy in Iraq to help train Iraqi security forces.

Abbott on Monday was in Jakarta, the capital of the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation, for the inauguration of new Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo.

The Canadian Press


US airdrops supplies to Kurds

The U.S. military said Sunday it had airdropped weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to Kurdish forces defending the Syrian city of Kobani against Islamic State militants.

The airdrops Sunday were the first of their kind and followed weeks of U.S. and coalition airstrikes in and near Kobani, near the Turkish border. The U.S. said earlier Sunday that it had launched 11 airstrikes overnight in the Kobani area.

In a statement Sunday night, U.S. Central Command said U.S. C-130 cargo planes made multiple drops of arms and supplies provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq. It said they were intended to enable continued resistance to Islamic State efforts to take full control of Kobani.

The airdrops are almost certain to anger the Turkish government, which has said it would oppose any U.S. arms transfers to the Kurdish rebels in Syria. Turkey views the main Kurdish group in Syria as an extension of the Turkish Kurd group known as the PKK, which has waged a 30-year insurgency in Turkey and is designated a terror group by the U.S. and by NATO.

President Barack Obama called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday to discuss the situation in Syria and notify him of the plan to make airdrops Sunday, one administration official told reporters. He would not describe Erdogan's reaction but said U.S. officials are clear about Turkey's opposition to any moves that help Kurdish forces that Turkey views as an enemy.

In a written statement, Central Command said its forces have conducted more than 135 airstrikes against Islamic State forces in Kobani.

Using an acronym for the Islamic State group, Central Command said, "Combined with continued resistance to ISIL on the ground, indications are that these strikes have slowed ISIL advances into the city, killed hundreds of their fighters and destroyed or damaged scores of pieces of ISIL combat equipment and fighting positions."

In a conference call with reporters after Central Command announced the airdrops, senior administration officials said three C-130 planes dropped 27 bundles of small arms, ammunition and medical supplies.

One official said that while the results of the mission are still being assessed, it appeared that "the vast majority" of the supplies reached the intended Kurdish fighters. That official also said the C-130s encountered no resistance from the ground in Syria during their flights in and out of Syrian airspace. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House.

One of the administration officials said the airdrops should be seen as a humanitarian move. He said U.S. officials believe that if Kobani were to fall, the Islamic State militants would massacre Kurds in the town.

Another administration official said "you might see more" U.S. resupply missions to benefit the Kurdish fighters in Kobani in the days ahead. Yet another administration official said a land route to resupply the Kurds had been under discussion but would require Turkish co-operation. He said talks on resupply needs and means would continue.

The Canadian Press


Spanish nurse beats Ebola

A Spanish nursing assistant infected with Ebola after treating missionary priests with the disease repatriated from West Africa has managed to beat it after nearly two weeks of treatment in Madrid and has no traces of the virus in her bloodstream, according to test results released Sunday night by Spain's government.

Teresa Romero, 44, is believed to be the first person to have caught Ebola via transmission outside of West Africa in the current outbreak. Two nurses in the U.S. later contracted Ebola after treating a Liberian man who died at a Dallas hospital.

Romero was among Spain's team of health care workers caring for the priests in August and September and told officials she remembered touching a glove to her face after leaving the hospital room of Father Miguel Pajares, who died Sept. 25. She entered his room twice — once to change his diaper and another time after he died to retrieve unspecified items.

Romero, who remains quarantined at Madrid's Carlos III hospital, must undergo another Ebola test to make sure she is virus free after testing positive on Oct. 6.

The second Ebola test is usually performed within two to three days and Spain's committee dealing with the country's Ebola crisis said in a statement that the confirmation test to make sure Romero no longer has Ebola would happen in "coming hours."

Her husband, Javier Limon, is among 15 people who came into contact with Romero after she started feeling feverish after treating Pajares and stayed mostly at home in the Madrid suburb of Alcorcon before being hospitalized. Spanish authorities said none of them — including Limon — have shown symptoms of Ebola so far.

"I am very happy today, because we can now say that Teresa has vanquished the disease," Limon said Sunday night in a video showing him sitting on his hospital bed that was released to reporters by his spokeswoman, Maria Teresa Mesa.

Mesa told reporters outside the hospital Sunday night that Romero was "doing spectacularly well" and is eager to leave the hospital as soon as she can.

"She's capable of getting out of bed and eating practically anything," said Mesa, adding that Romero told her: "I shouldn't have to die, I'm too young." Mesa has also contradicted Spanish officials' accounts on how Romero might have been infected by saying she followed all protocols and does not remember the incident with the glove.

Romero was treated with blood plasma from people who have been infected with Ebola, but Spanish authorities have not released more details of how she was cared for because she requested that no details be released about her treatment program.

The nursing assistant still does not know that Spanish health authorities approved the killing of the couple's mixed breed dog named Excalibur on Oct. 8 instead of isolating the pet, unlike U.S. authorities who quarantined the King Charles Spaniel belonging to one of the infected Dallas nurses.

On Sunday, there was a shrine with flowers and sympathy notes to Excalibur outside the Alcorcon apartment complex where Limon and Romero live.

Before Romero's test result was released Sunday, hundreds of Madrid health care workers protested demanding the ouster of Spanish Health Minister Ana Mato, saying she should resign for the country's handling of Romero's infection and blaming government austerity cuts to national health care for allowing it to happen.

Health care unions have claimed they were badly prepared for the Ebola crisis in Spain and received substandard protective gear and training for putting the suits on and taking them off when dealing with suspected Ebola cases.

A regional Madrid health official came under harsh criticism for suggesting that Romero lied about her posing a risk to Spaniards because she did not tell the first doctor she saw after she felt sick that she had been among those treating Ebola patients.

The government has denied botching Ebola preparations, but changed protocols for dealing with the disease after Romero was infected. To comply with World Health Organization guidelines, Spanish health care workers must now be monitored while getting in and out of protective gear when dealing with suspected Ebola cases.

The government also announced new Ebola protective gear training to ensure workers learn how to put on and take off the gear themselves instead of relying on someone else to watch them doing it.

Over the weekend, Spain accepted a request by American authorities to allow the U.S. to use two military bases in the country to support its efforts to combat Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The deal allows U.S. forces to use an air base at Moron de la Frontera near Seville and the naval station at Rota on Spain's Atlantic coast to transport personnel and materials to and from Africa, Spain's Defence Ministry said in a statement.

It was reached after Spanish Defence Minister Pedro Morenes met with his U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel in Washington.

The Canadian Press


Paralyzed groom walks aisle

New York resident Matt Ficarra has been paralyzed from the chest down since an accident three years ago, but that didn't stop him from walking down the aisle.

Ficarra was able to stand and walk during the wedding ceremony in suburban Syracuse on Saturday with the help of a battery-powered robotic exoskeleton called an Ekso. He tells the Syracuse Post-Standard (http://bit.ly/1yNLcr6 ) he's been driving to a rehabilitation centre in Allentown, Pennsylvania, weekly since April to practice walking with it.

Ficarra has been paralyzed since he broke his neck in a boating accident in 2011. He married Jordan Basile in the ballroom of the Doubletree Hotel in DeWitt.

The couple leaves Monday for a honeymoon in Jamaica.

The Canadian Press


Africa: Ebola stigma widespread

In the United States, some parents fearful of deadly Ebola pulled children out of a school after the principal returned from Zambia, an African nation far from the area hit by the disease. In Geneva, a top U.N. official warned against anti-African discrimination fueled by fears of Ebola. The disease has ravaged a small part of Africa, but the international image of the whole continent is increasingly under siege, reinforcing some old stereotypes.

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — the African countries afflicted by the Ebola outbreak — have a combined population of about 22 million on a continent with more than 1 billion people. Their corner of West Africa encompasses an area the size of California, or almost as big as Morocco. Yet the epidemic feeds into a narrative of disaster on a continent of 54 countries that has seen some progress in past years, and false perceptions of Ebola's reach are hurting African business distant from the affected areas.

"It speaks to a whole discourse about the danger of Africa," said Michael Jennings, a senior lecturer in international development at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

He cited the recent decision of a British school to postpone a visit by a teacher from the West African country of Ghana after parents expressed concern about the Ebola virus. Ghana does not border the hard-hit nations and has not reported any cases of the disease.

Jennings said fearful people don't necessarily react in a rational way and the message of some comments on social media in Britain is: "Why don't we just stop everyone in West Africa from coming?"

Africa has had a troubled image. Famine in Ethiopia, chaos in Somalia and genocide in Rwanda drove the idea of a continent in perpetual crisis. In recent years, though, an end to a number of wars and ensuing stability and growth pointed to a turnaround that some enthusiasts dubbed "Africa Rising."

Now the economic impact of Ebola fears is being felt in many parts of Africa. Hotels, tourism operators and conference organizers are recording increasing cancellations.

Thirty international buyers pulled out of an annual tourism expo that began Thursday in Zimbabwe's resort town of Victoria Falls, said Karikoga Kaseke, the national tourism agency chief. He said business travellers from China and Malaysia were among those who recently cancelled trips, and Jamaican musicians have also skipped Zimbabwean shows.

The southern African country is more than 4,800 kilometres (3,000 miles) from Ebola-hit Liberia, or about twice the distance between London and Moscow.

In the U.S. state of Mississippi, a middle school principal has taken a week of vacation in an attempt to allay parents' fears about Ebola after he returned from a trip to Zambia, another southern African nation without any reported Ebola cases. In Pennsylvania, two high school soccer coaches resigned last week after their players hurled Ebola taunts at an opponent from West Africa.

Soccer players on Sierra Leone's national team have been treated as Ebola risks in African Cup qualifying games even though none of the squad lives in Sierra Leone because they play for clubs in Europe and elsewhere. Opponents have sometimes refused to shake the hands of the Sierra Leoneans or swap shirts — a soccer tradition after a game — because of fears of catching the deadly virus.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein has warned against "a mentality that locks people into rigid identity groups and reduces all Africans — or all West Africans, or some smaller, national or local group — to a stereotype."

Jens David Ohlin, a professor at Cornell Law School in the United States, said discrimination was a concern as states seek to prevent the Ebola virus from entering their borders, but he warned against "oversensitivity to discrimination that will prevent governments from appropriately dealing with the situation."

The early international response to Ebola's spread, described by some as slow, is linked to its location, according to Ohlin.

He said: "Because it was in Africa, people just sort of threw their hands up."

The Canadian Press


US monitors worker on cruise

A cruise ship carrying a Dallas health care worker who was being monitored for Ebola returned to port Sunday after an eventful seven-day trip in which passengers had their vacations briefly disrupted with an infectious disease scare.

A lab supervisor who handled a specimen from a Liberian man who died from Ebola at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas showed no symptoms during the cruise but self-quarantined out of caution. Carnival Cruise Lines told passengers the unidentified woman was tested for Ebola but the results were negative.

Vicky Rey, vice-president of guest care for Carnival Cruise Lines, said the woman and her husband drove themselves home after arriving in Galveston early Sunday. She showed no symptoms of Ebola, and the Galveston County Health Department said Sunday that lab tests on the passenger assured officials she and the public were not at risk.

The Ebola scare added some drama to the trip for the hundreds of passengers on the ship.

They learned through a public address system announcement that one of the passengers was being monitored for Ebola. They watched developments about the Ebola outbreak and their ship on the news. The boat was not allowed to dock in Cozumel, Mexico. depriving passengers of one of the top port destinations. Travelers snapped pictures of a Coast Guard helicopter as it landed to get a blood sample from the passenger.

"We weren't worried. We ended up just hanging out and enjoying the rest of the trip," said Meredith Brooks, a Houston banker who was on her honeymoon during the cruise.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that when the woman left the U.S. on the cruise ship from Galveston, Texas, on Oct. 12 health officials were requiring only self-monitoring. Officials stepped up their response while the cruise was underway and two nurses were diagnosed with Ebola.

Carnival Cruise Lines said in a statement that the woman was "not deemed to be a risk to any guests or crew."

"We are in close contact with the CDC, and at this time it has been determined that the appropriate course of action is to simply keep the guest in isolation on board," the statement said, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Petty Officer Andy Kendrick told The Associated Press that a Coast Guard crew flew in a helicopter Saturday to meet the Carnival Magic and retrieved a blood sample from the woman. He said the blood sample was taken to a state lab in Austin for processing.

The ship was refused clearance to dock in Cozumel, Mexico on Friday, a day after Belize refused to let the passenger leave the vessel to be flown home. There were no restrictions placed on other passengers aboard the ship, officials said.

Passenger James Dinkley of Thelma, Texas, took the cruise to celebrate his one-year wedding anniversary with his wife. He said there was some initial confusion and agitation after they learned of the situation, were delayed in Belize for several hours and had the Cozumel visit cancelled. But he said the cruise line kept everyone informed with regular updates after that.

"There was a lot of confusion, especially when they cancelled our Cozumel day," he said.

Carnival gave passengers credit for the missed Cozumel leg.

 

The Canadian Press


Pope beatifies Paul VI

Pope Francis on Sunday beatified Pope Paul VI, concluding the remarkable meeting of bishops debating family issues that drew parallels to the tumultuous reforms of the Second Vatican Council which Paul oversaw and implemented.

Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI was on hand for the Mass, which took place just hours after Catholic bishops approved a document charting a more pastoral approach to ministering to Catholic families.

They failed to reach consensus on the two most divisive issues at the synod: on welcoming gays and divorced and civilly remarried couples. But the issues remain up for discussion ahead of another meeting of bishops next year.

While the synod scrapped its ground-breaking welcome and showed deep divisions on hot-button issues, the fact that the questions are on the table is significant given that they had been taboo until Francis' papacy.

"God is not afraid of new things!" Francis exclaimed in his homily Sunday. "That is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways."

He quoted Paul himself as saying the church, particularly the synod of bishops which Paul established, must survey the signs of the times to make sure the church adapts methods to respond to the "growing needs of our time and the changing conditions of society."

Paul was elected in 1963 to succeed the popular Pope John XXIII, and during his 15-year reign was responsible for implementing the reforms of Vatican II and charting the church through the tumultuous years of the 1960s sexual revolution.

Vatican II opened the way for Mass to be said in local languages instead of in Latin, called for greater involvement of the laity in the life of the church and revolutionized the church's relations with people of other faiths.

He is perhaps best known, though, for the divisive 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which enshrined the church's opposition to artificial contraception.

More than 50 years later, Humanae Vitae still elicits criticism for being unrealistic given the vast majority of Catholics ignore its teaching on birth control. In their final synod document, bishops restated doctrine, but they also said the church must respect couples in their moral evaluation of contraception methods.

The bishops also signalled a muted opening toward gays, saying they should be "welcomed with respect and sensitivity." That language was far less welcoming than initially proposed, and it failed to get the necessary two-thirds majority vote to pass.

"I have the impression many would have preferred a more open, positive language," Canadian Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher wrote on his blog in explaining the apparent protest vote on the gay paragraph. "Not finding it in this paragraph, they might have chosen to indicate their disapproval of it. However, it has also been published, and the reflection will have to continue."

The beatification marked the third 20th century pope Francis has elevated this year: In April, he canonized Sts. John Paul II and John XXIII. That historic event marked the first time a reigning and retired pope — Francis and Benedict — had celebrated Mass together in public in the 2,000-year history of the church.

Benedict returned to the steps of St. Peter's Basilica for Paul's outdoor beatification Mass in a potent symbol of the continuity of the church, despite differences in style and priorities that were so evident in the synod meetings this week.

Paul was beatified, the first step toward possible sainthood, after the Vatican certified a miracle attributed to his intercession concerning a California boy whom doctors had said would be born with serious birth defects. The boy, whose identity has been kept secret at his parents' request, is now a healthy teen.

A second miracle needs to be certified by the Vatican for him to be canonized.

The Vatican said 70,000 people attended Sunday's Mass, held under sunny Roman skies, far fewer than the 800,000 people who attended the dual canonization earlier this year. Paul is often called the "forgotten" or "misunderstood" pope, caught between the "good pope" John XXIII and the crowd-pleasing, globe-trotting John Paul.

 

The Canadian Press


Turkey: No US arms for Kurds

Turkey wouldn't agree to any U.S. arms transfers to Kurdish fighters who are battling Islamic militants in Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying Sunday, as the extremist group fired more mortar rounds near the Syrian-Turkish border.

Turkey views the main Syrian Kurdish group, the PYD — and its military wing which is fighting IS militants — as an extension of the PKK, which has waged a 30-year insurgency in Turkey and is designated a terror group by the U.S. and NATO.

Washington has said recently that it has engaged in intelligence sharing with Kurdish fighters and officials have not ruled out future arms transfers to the Kurdish fighters.

"The PYD is for us, equal to the PKK. It is a terror organization," Erdogan told a group of reporters on his return from a visit to Afghanistan.

"It would be wrong for the United States — with whom we are friends and allies in NATO — to talk openly and to expect us to say 'yes' to such a support to a terrorist organization," Erdogan said. His comments were reported by the state-run Anadolu agency on Sunday.

Turkey's opposition to arms transfers to the Kurdish forces is hampering the U.S.-led coalitions' efforts to fight the extremists and further complicating relations between Turkey and Washington. The countries are involved in negotiations about Ankara's role with the U.S. and NATO allies fighting the Islamic State group, which is attempting to capture the strategic town Kobani on the Syrian-Turkish border.

Turkey has demanded that the coalition widen its campaign against the militants by providing greater aid to Syrian rebels, who are battling both the IS and President Bashar Assad's forces. Turkey has so far provided sanctuary to an estimated 200,000 Syrians fleeing Kobani, and recently agreed to train and equip moderate Syrian rebel fighters trying to remove Assad from power.

The White House said President Barack Obama spoke with Erdogan on Saturday about the situation in Kobani and steps that could be taken to counter IS advances.

"The two leaders pledged to continue to work closely together to strengthen co-operation against ISIL," a statement said, using another name for IS militants.

Fighting between the militants and the Kurdish fighters defending Kobani continued on Sunday. Mortar strikes hit the town, sending plumes of smoke into the air. Three mortars also fell on the Turkish side of the border, landing in an open field where they caused no injuries. On Saturday and Sunday, IS appeared to be targeting the border crossing area, potentially in a bid to hamper Kobani's last link to the outside world.

In an attempt to stave off the advance, a U.S.-led coalition has been carrying out airstrikes on IS positions in and near the town, as well as in other parts of Syria, particularly in the oil-rich eastern province of Deir el-Zour, as well as in Iraq. Several airstrikes hit Kobani on Saturday evening.

The flow of migrants into Turkey has intensified since IS' push to take Kobani and cut access for Kurdish fighters to other areas of Syria they control.

On Saturday, IS fighters also weighed in on their attempts to take Kobani, arguing it wasn't a fight against the Kurds.

"We came to establish the laws of God — not to fight the Kurds," a fighter in army fatigues said on a video uploaded to YouTube. The video was uploaded by a user who appears to be embedded with the militants in Kobani. It appeared genuine and reflected Associated Press reporting.

But another fighter who appeared to be from a European country, judging from his accent in Arabic, described their aim "to liberate the land from the fifth of the apostates, the PKK and others," referring to Kurdish secular fighters — who are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim — as apostates.

The fighter said the U.S.-led coalition to fight the militant group was a sure sign of the justness of their cause.

"As for the planes that shell us 24 hours, day and night, by God we say: they increase our faith, assuredness and steadfastness. We know we are on the right path because all the (non-believers) of the world have gathered against us."

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, visited one of the refugee camps set up in a school in the Turkish border town of Suruc.

While 900,000 people have been registered as refugees in Turkey since the Syrian crisis began four years ago, "the reality is that the numbers are nearer to 1.6 million," Amos said.

"Of course countries have concerns about security, and about the impact on their economies and on essential services like health and education. But it's also a crisis with a huge human impact," she said. "The international community has to continue to do all it can to find a political solution to this crisis."

 

The Canadian Press




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