heritage

Tense talks as UNESCO mulls Heritage sites at risk

BY JORIS FIORITI

  • UNESCO, the UN body for education, science and culture, insists that being placed on the narrower list of endangered sites is not a black mark.
  • Tensions are simmering ahead of summer talks on which UNESCO World Heritage sites are deemed to be endangered, with countries battling against featuring on the UN cultural body's list.
  • UNESCO, the UN body for education, science and culture, insists that being placed on the narrower list of endangered sites is not a black mark.
Tensions are simmering ahead of summer talks on which UNESCO World Heritage sites are deemed to be endangered, with countries battling against featuring on the UN cultural body's list.
Terse language can be expected among diplomats at UNESCO's talks starting Sunday in New Delhi as they discuss cases as varied as Britain's prehistoric Stonehenge circle or Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha in Nepal, ahead of a deadline at the end of July.
The battles to come contrast with the usual suspense over which locations may be added to the prestigious World Heritage classification, which can be a lucrative driver of tourism.
UNESCO, the UN body for education, science and culture, insists that being placed on the narrower list of endangered sites is not a black mark.
But many countries affected, especially in the West, see it differently, fighting fierce rearguard actions against their inclusion.
Venice has been on UNESCO's World Heritage List since 1987, but under threat from climate change and over-tourism, it recently imposed a fee on visitors staying only a day at peak times of year after risking addition to the unhappy club in 2023.
And after years facing down UNESCO over its Great Barrier Reef, Australia has pumped billions into improving water quality, cushioning the impacts of climate change on the coral and protecting endangered species.
London, meanwhile, had long pushed for construction of a highway tunnel passing near Stonehenge, which joined the World Heritage list in 1986 as "the most architecturally sophisticated prehistoric stone circle in the world" according to UNESCO.
British courts blocked an initial plan for the tunnel in July 2021 over concerns about the environmental impact on the site dating to between around 3,000 and 2,300 BC.
The 14-year Conservative government nevertheless kept pushing forward with the project, claiming the tunnel would protect Stonehenge by reducing traffic.

'Universal value'

The recently elected Labour government of Keir Starmer has "a different line" on the project, said Lazare Eloundou, head of World Heritage at UNESCO -- although he is in the dark about what London will propose in New Delhi.
In Nepal, the Buddha's birthplace of Lumbini -- rediscovered in 1896 after long being lost to the jungle -- is another sore point.
Added to the World Heritage list in 1997, it is now visited by millions of people each year.
"The site is endangered because many of the monuments are not well maintained and are being seriously degraded," Eloundou said.
Also afflicted with "many completely inappropriate projects", the site's "universal value" is at risk, he added.
"All of southeast Asia is watching this with great concern," Eloundou said.
In New Delhi, the World Heritage committee will also consider sites already seen as in danger due to political instability.
These include the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan or Yemeni's capital Sanaa.
There are some sites which could heave themselves off the endangered list.
In Senegal, for example, elephants are returning to the Niokolo Koba national park that had long been deserted by animals -- though other species' reappearance is yet to be spotted.
UNESCO will consider 25 new candidates for inclusion on the World Heritage list, including the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia, sites linked to the life of Nelson Mandela in South Africa and Brazil's Lencois Maranhenses national park, a vast expanse of sand dunes interspersed with deep blue and turquoise lagoons.
jf/tgb/gv

assault

World Cup winner Boateng let off with warning in assault retrial

  • But in a third legal try, he won a bid for a retrial as the court agreed with Boateng's legal team that one of its challenges for bias had been unfairly decided.
  • Germany's World Cup winner Jerome Boateng on Friday won a legal odyssey against his former girlfriend who had accused him of assault, receiving only a warning from a Munich court in a retrial.
  • But in a third legal try, he won a bid for a retrial as the court agreed with Boateng's legal team that one of its challenges for bias had been unfairly decided.
Germany's World Cup winner Jerome Boateng on Friday won a legal odyssey against his former girlfriend who had accused him of assault, receiving only a warning from a Munich court in a retrial.
Judge Susanne Hemmerich said there was not enough evidence to back the accusation the 2014 World Cup winner was a "notorious woman beater".
She imposed a warning and a conditional fine of 200,000 euros ($217,709) which is only payable in case of any new convictions. 
Boateng's former partner and mother of his twins had accused him of assaulting and insulting her during a Caribbean holiday in 2018.
Boateng, now 35, was convicted in 2021 and fined 1.8 million euros in an initial trial, and his appeal to overturn the ruling then was unsuccessful.
But in a third legal try, he won a bid for a retrial as the court agreed with Boateng's legal team that one of its challenges for bias had been unfairly decided.
During the initial trial, Boateng's former partner told the court he had punched her, causing her to lose her breath for a moment during a heated argument.
The alleged incident happened in the weeks after the 2018 World Cup in Russia, when Boateng was in the Germany squad which was knocked out in the group stage.
Boateng's former partner described how he "pressed against my eye with his thumb, bit me in the head and pulled me to the floor by my hair".
She said he repeatedly insulted her and hit her on the back with "one strong punch and several light punches".
Defender Boateng played for German giants Bayern Munich for a decade before signing for France's Lyon in 2021.
He joined Austrian club LASK earlier this month on a two-year deal.
ran-hmn/fec/iwd/ea

economy

Japan sees 1 mn more tourists post-pandemic, new half-year record

BY KYOKO HASEGAWA AND TOMOHIRO OSAKI

  • In the first six months of 2024, South Korean visitors to Japan topped the list of foreign tourists by country at 4.4 million.
  • Japan welcomed a million more foreign visitors in the first half of 2024 compared to pre-pandemic levels, logging a new record of 17.78 million, the national tourism organisation said Friday.
  • In the first six months of 2024, South Korean visitors to Japan topped the list of foreign tourists by country at 4.4 million.
Japan welcomed a million more foreign visitors in the first half of 2024 compared to pre-pandemic levels, logging a new record of 17.78 million, the national tourism organisation said Friday.
The weak yen is attracting large crowds to Japan, with tourists splashing out on everything from kimonos to knives and pricey meals.
The January-June figure beat the previous high from 2019 of 16.63 million, an influx that has prompted overcrowding concerns at hotspots such as Kyoto and Mount Fuji.
"It's important that we promote rural regions to visitors, while taking measures against overtourism," Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told a cabinet meeting on the nation's efforts to expand inbound tourism.
Japan is expecting 35 million overseas visitors in 2024, with tourist consumption estimated at eight trillion yen ($50 billion).
Over the whole of 2023, 25 million visitors came to Japan, after strict pandemic-era border restrictions were lifted.
The country has set an ambitious goal of luring 60 million tourists a year by 2030 -- around double 2019's full-year record of 31.88 million.
But some residents are already fed up with unruly behaviour and etiquette breaches by some foreign visitors.
In a town near Mount Fuji in May, authorities mounted a large barrier at a popular viewing spot next to a convenience store in an attempt to deter photo-taking.
New crowd control measures have been put in place on the volcano's most popular hiking trail, which now has an entry fee of 2,000 yen ($13) plus an optional donation.
Locals in tradition-steeped Kyoto have complained of tourists harassing the city's famed geisha, with visitors now banned from some private alleys.
And the mayor of Himeji has said the western Japanese city, famous for its castle, could make tourists pay four times as much as locals to visit the World Heritage site.

 'Pretty bad in Kyoto'

"The yen definitely being so weak, we knew our money would go a long way," Ian Dickson, a 41-year-old American, told AFP in Tokyo's Asakusa district, a top tourist draw.
"Love it so far," he added. "There's no trash on the ground, no litter. It's a beautiful country, beautiful culture."
Andrea Bugnicourt, 28, a French tour guide working in Tokyo, said demand has been "crazy" since the pandemic ended.
"I heard it's pretty bad in Kyoto," she said about the overtourism complaints.
"Japan has so many social rules, right? And people are not used to it. So I think the Japanese government should help on educating foreigners."
In the first six months of 2024, South Korean visitors to Japan topped the list of foreign tourists by country at 4.4 million.
China was second at around three million, five times as many as in the same period last year. Visitors from Taiwan were in third place and the United States in fourth.
Kishida's government on Friday presented plans to encourage luxury hotels to come to Japan's 35 national parks, Nippon TV and other local media reported.
The prime minister also instructed ministers to take emergency measures to address a jet fuel shortage, partly caused by surging demand from tourists, that has prevented airlines from increasing flights.
kh-tmo-kaf/sco

agriculture

Climate change threatens age-old Mauritania date harvest

BY ADRIEN MAROTTE

  • In Mauritania, the government has tried to halt the desertification by planting trees to repel the onslaught of sand.
  • Wandering atop a small sand dune in central Mauritania, Aliene Haimoud gazed despondently at the yellowing date palms before him –- the trees are dying if they are not already dead. 
  • In Mauritania, the government has tried to halt the desertification by planting trees to repel the onslaught of sand.
Wandering atop a small sand dune in central Mauritania, Aliene Haimoud gazed despondently at the yellowing date palms before him –- the trees are dying if they are not already dead. 
The advance of the desert is striking in the oasis village of Azougui, some 450 kilometres (280 miles) northeast of Nouakchott, the West African state's capital.
Despite the ever-encroaching sand which is gradually swallowing up the trees, residents here are preparing for the Guetna -– the annual date harvest.
The popular event is rooted in a long nomadic tradition and involves large family celebrations centred around the small, sweet fruit -- the region's main source of income.
"You go from 10 to 1,000 friends," one local said cheerfully. 
But when a palm tree dies, a little of the life in each village is extinguished.
"Because of the sand, people are forced to settle elsewhere, because here there can be no more harvests," said Haimoud, president of the local cooperative association.
Nearly 20,000 palm trees have perished since the 1980s and his village is becoming emptier every year, he said.
Like other countries in Western Africa and the Sahel region, Mauritania is on the front lines of climate change.
Temperatures in the region are rising 1.5 times faster than the global average, while rainfall is erratic and wet seasons are decreasing, according to a 2022 report from the UN Human Rights Office.
In Mauritania, the government has tried to halt the desertification by planting trees to repel the onslaught of sand.
But the chosen prosopis variety has caused the soil to dry out even more, further exacerbating the palm trees' fragility.  
Around 70 kilometres further south, the green oasis of M'Heiret has also been decimated.
Some 6,000 palm trees, already weakened by years of drought, were swept away two years ago by the massive flooding of a wadi -- a stream that forms during the rainy season.
The trees now lie in the riverbed, which is completely dry at this time of year.
"This place used to be full of palm trees," said Amou Dehah, who was mayor of the village at the time.
"Their owners are still here, but there's nothing left for them," he added.

'Only source of income'

"If there are no more palm trees, there is no more work. If there's no work, there's no money," Dehah said.
"We need to find a solution. If we don't, people will go and live elsewhere, because this is our only source of income," he added.
Beside him, 56-year-old Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Brihm said he was worried about his 50 palm trees which are planted close to the wadi and have been passed down through generations.
"Of course, I'm afraid of losing everything. I'm even afraid that my house will be destroyed," he said.
The residents of M'Heiret, which is renowned for its quality and variety of dates, have called for the construction of a dam which they say would act as a buffer against future downpours and create favourable growing conditions.
"The dam is the best solution," said Houdy Sidina, professor of biology and agronomy at the University of Nouakchott.
"It helps to combat drought, irrigate palm trees and prevent flooding," he added.
Sidina referred to the region's Seguelil Dam, which was inaugurated in 2019, and permanently irrigates the surrounding oasis, transforming the lives of local people.
The government has also improved irrigation systems, provided solar panels and planted new date palms for poor farmers, said Sidi Ahmed, president of a network of groups for the sustainable development of oases.
In his garden of around 20 palm trees near the regional hub of Atar, Moustapha Chibany picked a succulent date and popped it in his mouth.
"What interests me is not the economic aspect, it's the love of dates. Without them, there would be no life here, in such hostile conditions", he said.
Faced with competition from North African dates, Chibany said that sharing the most effective techniques, combating waste and promoting better quality species, would help revive the Mauritanian industry.
amt/lal/acc/nmc/rox/dl

science

'Hong Kong's Dr Fauci' sounds alarm on next pandemic

BY XINQI SU

  • It was in 2003 when he leapt into the public consciousness, after he and his team successfully isolated and identified severe acute respiratory syndrome, better known as SARS. It was a vital step towards testing, diagnosing and treating the disease, which emerged in southern China and Hong Kong before spreading globally.
  • Hong Kong microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung has done battle with some of the world's worst threats, including the SARS virus he helped isolate and identify.
  • It was in 2003 when he leapt into the public consciousness, after he and his team successfully isolated and identified severe acute respiratory syndrome, better known as SARS. It was a vital step towards testing, diagnosing and treating the disease, which emerged in southern China and Hong Kong before spreading globally.
Hong Kong microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung has done battle with some of the world's worst threats, including the SARS virus he helped isolate and identify. And he has a warning.
Another pandemic is inevitable and could exact damage far worse than Covid-19, according to the soft-spoken scientist sometimes thought of as Hong Kong's answer to top US health expert Anthony Fauci.
"Both the public and (world) leaders must admit that another pandemic will come, and probably sooner than you anticipate," he told AFP at the city's Queen Mary Hospital, where he works and teaches.
"Why I make such a horrifying prediction is because you can see clearly that the geopolitical, economic, and climatic changes are changing so rapidly," he told AFP.
Politicians must "come to their senses" and solve "global existential threats," he warns in his new autobiography "My Life in Medicine: A Hong Kong Journey".
While world leaders are more focused on "national or regional interests", Yuen said a rapidly changing climate coupled with emerging infectious diseases should be a top priority.
"This is something so important that we should not ignore."
- Humble background - 
Yuen is a globally recognised authority on coronaviruses and infectious diseases, but he came from humble beginnings.
Born in Hong Kong in the late 1950s, he grew up in a 60-square-foot subdivided flat with his parents and three brothers. 
Since graduating from medical school in 1981, he has worked in the city's public hospitals, where doctors are paid far less than in the private sector. 
It was in 2003 when he leapt into the public consciousness, after he and his team successfully isolated and identified severe acute respiratory syndrome, better known as SARS.
It was a vital step towards testing, diagnosing and treating the disease, which emerged in southern China and Hong Kong before spreading globally.
The virus killed nearly 300 people in the city in just two months, a toll second only to mainland China.
That experience informed Yuen's approach to the Covid-19 pandemic, which ripped through Hong Kong due to lax vaccination, particularly among the elderly.
"We benefited from the 20 years of study that followed the SARS outbreak," he wrote in his book.
"Until factors beyond our ability to stop or overcome -- fear, ignorance, poor messaging, and deliberate misinformation -- the measures were effective" in buying Hong Kong time until the vaccines were developed. 
In the end, despite tough lockdown measures and lengthy quarantines, Hong Kong recorded some three million infections -- about half its population -- and more than 13,800 deaths from Covid-19.
It was a frenetic time for Yuen, who became a familiar face as the government's go-to expert and penned more than 100 peer-reviewed studies on the virus.
It also put him in a delicate position on several occasions, including when his call to lift restrictions in 2022 was rejected when the city stayed aligned with China's zero-Covid doctrine of closed borders and quarantines.
The self-described medical "detective" also faced complaints that put his license at risk after he described the seafood market in China's Wuhan -- where the first cluster of coronavirus cases was detected -- as a "crime scene".
- 'Transparent investigation' - 
Today, Yuen chooses his words carefully and avoids political subjects, but he maintains that understanding the origins of Covid-19 is key.
It is "important to properly do an investigation in a very open, transparent manner" so lessons can be learned for future pandemic prevention, he said.
The World Health Organization has called on China to be more transparent about the pandemic's origins, without making any firm conclusions on the source.
Last year, Yuen set up the Pandemic Research Alliance with peers in mainland China and the United States to share information and research on future threats.
"It is a bad idea to stop or inhibit these exchanges because it protects everyone," he said. 
"If we do not talk about it... then another pandemic comes, we have to pay a huge price again." 
su/dhc/sah/cwl

gender

Trans killings now punishable by up to 70 years in Mexico City

  • Transgender people gathered outside the Mexico City legislature to celebrate the approval of the reforms, known as the "Paola Buenrostro law" in memory of a murdered transgender woman.
  • Murders of transgender people will carry prison sentences of up to 70 years in Mexico City under tough new penalties approved by local lawmakers on Thursday.
  • Transgender people gathered outside the Mexico City legislature to celebrate the approval of the reforms, known as the "Paola Buenrostro law" in memory of a murdered transgender woman.
Murders of transgender people will carry prison sentences of up to 70 years in Mexico City under tough new penalties approved by local lawmakers on Thursday.
The changes, which were promoted by the ruling Morena party, were passed by 45 votes to one, the capital's legislature said on social media platform X.
The killing of transgender people because of their gender -- known as transfemicide -- is "an extreme manifestation of gender violence and discrimination," lawmaker Ana Francis Lopez said.
Transgender people gathered outside the Mexico City legislature to celebrate the approval of the reforms, known as the "Paola Buenrostro law" in memory of a murdered transgender woman.
Mexico City is the second of the country's 32 states to criminalize transfemicide.
In March, the western region of Nayarit introduced prison sentences of up to 60 years for the crime.
About five million of Mexico's 129 million inhabitants identify as LGBTQ, according to the National Survey on Sexual Diversity.
According to the civil organization Letra Ese, 231 members of the LGBT community were murdered from 2021 to 2023, of which 65 percent were transgender.
sem-dr/nro

social

Top South Korea court hands gay couple 'historic' win on spouse rights

BY HIEUN SHIN

  • "National Health Insurance should recognise spousal insurance coverage for same-sex couples," the court ruled, with activists breaking into cheers as the verdict was read out.
  • South Korea's Supreme Court recognised new rights for same-sex couples Thursday, saying the state must provide health insurance for a gay man's partner in a landmark ruling that left activists weeping for joy.
  • "National Health Insurance should recognise spousal insurance coverage for same-sex couples," the court ruled, with activists breaking into cheers as the verdict was read out.
South Korea's Supreme Court recognised new rights for same-sex couples Thursday, saying the state must provide health insurance for a gay man's partner in a landmark ruling that left activists weeping for joy.
The country's highest court ruled it was "discrimination" for state health insurers to treat same-sex couples differently from their heterosexual counterparts, in a verdict that activists said could pave the way for the eventual legalisation of same-sex unions in the South.
"National Health Insurance should recognise spousal insurance coverage for same-sex couples," the court ruled, with activists breaking into cheers as the verdict was read out.
The verdict, which cannot be appealed, means common-law spouses of the same sex can now register as dependents on their partners' state health insurance -- something long permitted for heterosexual common-law partners.
The case was brought by a gay couple, So Seong-wook and Kim Yong-min, who live together and held a wedding ceremony in 2019.
It had no legal validity, however, as South Korea does not recognise same-sex marriage.
In 2021, So sued the National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) because it terminated benefits for his partner -- whom he had registered as a dependent -- after discovering they were a gay couple.
In a landmark ruling last year, a Seoul High Court found in favour of the couple, mandating that the NHIS reinstate the dependent benefits.
But the health service appealed the decision, escalating the case to the Supreme Court.
"Today, love won again," said So after the verdict.
His husband Kim struggled to hold back tears outside the courtroom, telling reporters that he had "always called (So) my husband, but he was never seen as my husband in Korea".
But today, "the court called So my same-sex partner and I am so happy for that to be recognised in court".
The Supreme Court ruled that it was "discrimination based on sexual orientation to exclude the couple just because they are same-sex".
The court ruled that the health service "decision to not recognize same-sex partners who have formed an economic community of life similar to a married couple as dependents... is unlawful".
The couple's lawyer Chang Suh-yeon said that the ruling "gives hope" to same-sex couples in South Korea, but said it did not go far enough.
"Guaranteeing simple rights is not considered complete equality and we will keep on fighting for same-sex marriage to be institutionalised," Chang told AFP.

'Historic victory'

The Supreme Court ruling is a pivotal moment for the country's LGBTQI community, and people holding rainbow umbrellas walked out of the court, wiping away tears of joy.
Ryu Min-hee, a lawyer and an LGBTQI activist, told AFP that "the ruling goes beyond just specific rights and benefits."
"It ultimately paves the way for the legalisation of same-sex marriage in South Korea, following the lead of other Asian countries like Taiwan and Thailand," Ryu told AFP.
While South Korea does not recognise same-sex marriages, gay relationships are not criminalised. LGBTQ people tend to live largely under the radar.
Activists have long emphasised the need for legislation against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
A much-discussed anti-discrimination law has languished in the South Korean parliament for years, due to a lack of consensus among MPs.
Outside the court ahead of the verdict, anti-LGBTQI Christian organisations staged a protest, holding up banners saying "let us repent to the Lord".
When the couple initially attempted to hold a press conference after the verdict, Christian activists disrupted it by speaking in tongues and shouting: "homosexuality is a sin!"
Amnesty International said the ruling was "a historic victory for equality and human rights in South Korea".
"The Court has taken a significant step towards dismantling systemic discrimination and ensuring inclusivity for all," the rights group said in a statement.
"While this decision is a major milestone, the case itself is a sobering reminder of the lengthy judicial processes that same-sex couples must endure to secure basic rights that should be universally guaranteed.
"It is disheartening that in 2024, same-sex couples still face such significant barriers to equality."
hs-cdl/ceb/fox

agriculture

'Saint or devil': return of wolf stirs debate in Europe

BY LAURE FILLON

  • He pointed to the role of the predator in ancient legends including a she-wolf who saved the twin founders of Rome; Fenrir, the monstrous wolf of Scandinavian mythology and the blue wolf, the mythical progenitor of the Mongols.
  • Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?
  • He pointed to the role of the predator in ancient legends including a she-wolf who saved the twin founders of Rome; Fenrir, the monstrous wolf of Scandinavian mythology and the blue wolf, the mythical progenitor of the Mongols.
Who's afraid of the big bad wolf? Well, quite a few European governments, it seems.
Grey wolves were virtually exterminated in Europe a century ago but now, thanks to conservation efforts, numbers have rebounded.
The predator's population growth has triggered howls of protest from farmers and concern from conservationists.
In 2023, there were breeding packs of grey wolves in 23 countries of the European Union, with a total population estimated at around 20,300 animals, bringing the elusive creatures into more frequent contact with humans.
Last year, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen lost her beloved pony Dolly to a wolf who had crept into its enclosure on her family's rural property in northern Germany.
Brussels's top official insists it is not a personal vendetta, but now she has wolves in her sights.
Several months after the attack von der Leyen warned that "the concentration of wolf packs in some European regions has become a real danger especially for livestock".
And the European Commission asked EU member states to revise wolves' conservation status, taking it from "strictly protected" to just "protected".
Despite protests from animal protection activists, this would allow hunting to resume under strict regulation.
France is one of a pack of countries trying to deal with the population explosion.  
Wolves had disappeared in the country by the 1930s but began returning in the 1990s. 
France has recently registered a drop in the predator's population, the first in almost 10 years, but the number of wolf attacks is also on the rise.
- 'All kinds of abuses' - 
The estimated number of wolves in France last year stood at just over a thousand, down nine percent from 2022. Wolves can be killed to protect flocks, but only under very specific conditions. 
Around 20 percent are killed each year, and the authorities would like to simplify culling procedures. 
Now, many experts are concerned that wolves will again be under threat.
"If we weaken protection, it would be possible to hunt wolves without justification and this would open the door to all kinds of abuses," said Guillaume Chapron, a researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
Luigi Boitani, professor of zoology at the University of Rome, said "thinking that removing wolves solves everything is actually a dream and will not work."
He said that the focus should be on preventing attacks via electric fences and guard dogs, among other measures. 
Boitani pointed out that other animals such as wild boar, deer and birds cause far more costly damage than wolves.
In France, compensation for damage caused by wolves amounted to four million euros ($4.3 million) in 2022 -- compared with 65 million euros in damage caused by wild boars and deer.
Wolf hunting was institutionalised in the ninth century, when Frankish king Charlemagne, known as the Father of Europe, established the "louveterie", a special corps of hunters responsible for eradicating harmful animals, to protect people and livestock.
The institution has endured in France, with the lieutenants de louveterie now working as volunteers.
- Mythical creatures - 
The wolf became a "strictly protected" species under the 1979 Bern Convention.
Chapron said the move enabled the animal to reclaim the continent, pointing to "a growing awareness that the environment was becoming important."
Saving the animals is "a success story, and we don't have many conservation success stories", he added.
The beast is a common motif in ancient mythology and children's fairy tales portray wolves as threatening creatures.
"Wolves have been and remain an object of fascination for many human societies", said Nicolas Lescureux, who studies human-animal relations at France's CNRS scientific research centre.
He pointed to the role of the predator in ancient legends including a she-wolf who saved the twin founders of Rome; Fenrir, the monstrous wolf of Scandinavian mythology and the blue wolf, the mythical progenitor of the Mongols.
"The close relationship between humans and wolves goes back a very long way since our current dogs are descended from populations of wolves -- this is the oldest form of animal domestication," said Lescureux.
That relationship "undoubtedly became more complicated" with the domestication of livestock such as sheep, goats, cattle and pigs around 10,000 years ago, he said.
Boitani, one of the world's leading authorities on wolves, said it was important to avoid "any fundamentalism" as society seeks to tackle the problem.
"The wolf is not a saint, a secret animal or a devil," he added.
laf-as/dc/bc/dl

rivers

'I feel empty': Cambodians on canal route await fate

BY SARA HUSSEIN AND SUY SE

  • The waterway will run 180 kilometres (110 miles) from the Mekong to the Gulf of Thailand, travelling part of the way along the Bassac river.
  • Food stand owner Dem Mech wells up as he sits in the yard of the home he will lose if Cambodia proceeds with a massive new canal running from the Mekong river to the sea.
  • The waterway will run 180 kilometres (110 miles) from the Mekong to the Gulf of Thailand, travelling part of the way along the Bassac river.
Food stand owner Dem Mech wells up as he sits in the yard of the home he will lose if Cambodia proceeds with a massive new canal running from the Mekong river to the sea.
"I won't challenge the government, but what I want is decent compensation," the wiry 57-year-old told AFP, seated in the shade of the house he shares with eight relatives.
"We don't have any official information. We have only heard about it from social media."
Mech is one of thousands of Cambodians living along the projected route of the $1.7 billion Funan Techo canal -- an ambitious infrastructure project the government says will offer vast economic benefits.
The waterway will run 180 kilometres (110 miles) from the Mekong to the Gulf of Thailand, travelling part of the way along the Bassac river.
It will offer an alternative for container ships that currently cross into Vietnam before heading to the sea, and allow Cambodia to keep transport revenue in-country.
The government plans riverside economic zones along the route that it says could create tens of thousands of jobs.
That could be a key boost for an economy struggling to recover its pre-pandemic growth rate.
But it is little consolation to Mech.
"If the compensation is tiny, I will move out with tears," he said.
"There is nothing we can do but cry. The villagers cannot stand up against them."
His sentiments are echoed along the projected canal route, where the excavation rattles the homes of those who live there.
Many who spoke to AFP declined to be named for fear of official backlash.

'Equitable compensation'

Lim Tong Eng's home abuts a channel leading from the Mekong that is already being widened. 
On August 5, a groundbreaking ceremony will be held on the opposite bank, with the government urging temples to ring bells in celebration.
The 74-year-old retired farmer will not participate. He is still waiting to learn when he will have to leave and what compensation he might get for his home and farmland.
"From the time I was young until this age, this is all I have acquired. But now it is over," he told AFP.
Infrastructure projects the world over often involve expropriation, and Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister Sun Chanthol has promised that "community voices will be heard and their welfare prioritised".
Writing in the Nikkei Asia in May, he promised "participatory planning and equitable compensation".
There are also signs that the project has support among at least part of the population, with analysts saying it is intended as a unifying national project that evokes Cambodia's historical standing in the region.
Rights activists however point to a pattern of expropriation for infrastructure projects that has left people struggling to relocate with minimal compensation.
Despite government promises, citizens have little recourse, said Am Sam Ath, operations director at rights group LICADHO.
While the constitution allows legal challenges, "in Cambodia, when it comes to courts, the lawsuits against authorities and the state, the possibility of winning is so minimal".
Some experts said the government may be delaying an announcement on compensation to stop speculative land purchases along the route.
But local residents say landlords nearby have already raised their prices, anticipating an influx of displaced buyers.
Sok Rom, a 56-year-old widow, said she struggles to sleep with worry about where she will go.
"I feel empty inside. We are losing the place where we lived in happiness."
suy-sah/mca/cwl

dinosaur

Dinosaur skeleton breaks auction record with $44.6 mn sale in New York

  • The previous auction record of $31.8 million for a dinosaur skeleton was set in 2020 for a Tyrannosaurus Rex nicknamed "Stan." 
  • The largest stegosaurus skeleton ever found, nicknamed Apex, sold for a record breaking $44.6 million at auction in New York on Wednesday, Sotheby's said. 
  • The previous auction record of $31.8 million for a dinosaur skeleton was set in 2020 for a Tyrannosaurus Rex nicknamed "Stan." 
The largest stegosaurus skeleton ever found, nicknamed Apex, sold for a record breaking $44.6 million at auction in New York on Wednesday, Sotheby's said. 
Estimated to be 150 million years old, Apex is said to be "among the most complete skeletons ever found," according to the auction house.
It measures 11 feet (3.3 meters) tall and 27 feet long and counts 254 fossil bone elements of an approximate total of 319.
The previous auction record of $31.8 million for a dinosaur skeleton was set in 2020 for a Tyrannosaurus Rex nicknamed "Stan." 
Sotheby's had expected Apex to fetch between $4 million and $6 million, but the price quickly skyrocketed as telephone bidders deluged the sale, prompting gasps and clapping in the auction room. 
After the record-breaking sale, the auctioneer asked her colleague Cassandra Hatton, Sotheby's global head of science, "do you need a cigarette?"
Apex was discovered in May 2022 on the private land of paleontologist Jason Cooper. The auction house says it has collaborated with Cooper to "document the entire process, from discovery and excavation to restoration, preparation and mounting," in order to guarantee the "highest standards and transparency."
In 2022, Christie's auction house had to withdraw a T-rex skeleton a few days before auction in Hong Kong, due to doubts about its authenticity.
Wednesday's auction follows an increasing trend for the sale of dinosaur remains.
Stegosaurus skeletons are already on display around the world, but according to Sotheby's, Apex is 30 percent larger than Sophie, the most complete stegosaurus on public display to date, which is housed in the Natural History Museum in London.
gc/gw/md

Global Edition

FIFA says opening probe into Argentina players' racist chants

  • "I stand against discrimination in all forms and apologise for getting caught up in the euphoria of our Copa America celebrations."
  • FIFA said on Wednesday it was opening an investigation into racist chants by Argentina players after they won the Copa America.
  • "I stand against discrimination in all forms and apologise for getting caught up in the euphoria of our Copa America celebrations."
FIFA said on Wednesday it was opening an investigation into racist chants by Argentina players after they won the Copa America.
"FIFA is aware of a video circulating on social media and the incident is being looked into," a spokesperson for world football's governing body said.
They added: "FIFA strongly condemns any form of discrimination by anyone including players, fans and officials."
The chants were heard during a live video posted on social media by Chelsea and Argentina midfielder Enzo Fernandez from the team bus in the wake of the Copa victory over Colombia in Miami on Sunday.
Some players, including 23-year-old Fernandez, sing a chant dating back to the 2022 World Cup final in which Argentina beat France.
The song targets France's star striker Kylian Mbappe among others and includes racist and homophobic insults.
Chelsea had earlier announced they had launched an internal disciplinary procedure against Fernandez over the incident.
Fernandez has apologised and the club said in a statement it had launched an "internal disciplinary procedure".
"Chelsea Football Club finds all forms of discriminatory behaviour completely unacceptable," it added. 
"We acknowledge and appreciate our player's public apology and will use this as an opportunity to educate."
Fernandez, who joined Chelsea from Benfica for a Premier League record fee of £105 million ($136.8 million) in 2023, said in his apology: "The song includes highly offensive language and there is absolutely no excuse for these words.
"I stand against discrimination in all forms and apologise for getting caught up in the euphoria of our Copa America celebrations."
Javier Mascherano, the coach of Argentina's Olympic football team, said he felt the video had been "taken out of context" as he sprang to the defence of Fernandez.
"Argentines, if there's one thing we're not, it's racists, far from that," said Mascherano.
"I know Enzo, he's a great guy. He doesn't have any problems like that," insisted the former Liverpool and Barcelona midfielder.
"Often, as part of a celebration, you can take part of a video and take it out of context.
"If there's one thing we are as a country, it's a totally inclusive country. People from all over the world live in Argentina and we treat them as they should be treated."
The French Football Federation (FFF) complained to FIFA about the chants on Monday.
FFF president Philippe Diallo "condemned with the greatest firmness the unacceptable racist and discriminatory remarks made against players of the France team".
France beat Argentina in the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup.
ali/gj/mw/ea

women

French church's best-known humanitarian accused of sexual assault

BY MARINE PENNETIER

  • On Wednesday, however, it was revealed that seven women had made allegations of sexual assault or harassment by the elderly cleric dating back to between 1970 and 2005.
  • France's best-known priest, the late Abbe Pierre, a beloved champion of the homeless, has been accused of sexually assaulting several women and a girl, his charities said Wednesday.
  • On Wednesday, however, it was revealed that seven women had made allegations of sexual assault or harassment by the elderly cleric dating back to between 1970 and 2005.
France's best-known priest, the late Abbe Pierre, a beloved champion of the homeless, has been accused of sexually assaulting several women and a girl, his charities said Wednesday.
A Capuchin monk since 1932 and an ordained Catholic clergyman since 1938, Henri Groues died in 2007 aged 94. He left behind a legacy as a friend to the poverty-stricken and founder of the charities Emmaus and the Abbe Pierre Foundation.
On Wednesday, however, it was revealed that seven women had made allegations of sexual assault or harassment by the elderly cleric dating back to between 1970 and 2005.
"Our organisations celebrate the courage of the people who have given testimony and, through their words, allowed these facts to come to light. We believe them," homeless charity Emmaus and the abbot's foundation said in a joint statement.
The allegations are detailed in an independent report commissioned by the charities after a first claim that Groues had assaulted a woman.
"This work meant the testimonies of seven women could be gathered, attesting to behaviour that could be interpreted as sexual assault or sexual harassment," between 1970 and 2005, the charities said.
One of the women "was underage at the time of the events", they added.
A source at Emmaus told AFP that no criminal complaint had so far been filed.
In a social media post the bishop's conference of France's Catholic Church expressed "shame that such acts could be committed by a priest".

'I need it'

Some 17 years after his death, Groues remains a familiar sight on charity shops posters and in metro stations urging French people to think of the poor.
He gave his inheritance away aged 18 to join the order of Capuchin monks, later becoming active in the Resistance to Nazi occupation and spending several post-war years as a member of parliament.
In 1949, he founded the Emmaus community that preaches self-help for excluded people, which has since spread to dozens of countries.
He was also a backer of the "Restos du coeur" soup kitchens movement and clashed with city authorities that failed to lodge the homeless.
The report's author Caroline de Haas said she had gathered testimony pointing to "inappropriate behaviour of a personal nature, a sexual proposition, repeated comments with sexual connotations, attempts at unsolicited physical contact and unsolicited contact on the breasts".
One of the women reported that Abbe Pierre had "started groping her left breast" while she was "at the foot of the stairs" in a hallway.
She said that a few years later she approached him in an office.
"I walked up to him to shake his hand. He tried to pull me towards the window. I told him 'No, Father'. He told me, 'I need it'. I said: 'No', and he left," she told the investigation.

'Idolatry'

Another woman said Abbe Pierre would "put his hands on her chest, breasts" while they "were talking about work".
And another stated that, one day, "when saying goodbye, he inserted his tongue into my mouth in a brutal and totally unexpected way".
De Haas said the investigation had triggered rising astonishment that Abbe Pierre's behaviour had gone unexposed for so long.
She pointed to a "form of influence fuelled by the age difference, the status of Abbe Pierre and a form of idolatry, or the situation of subordination between him and the people."
After the initial complaints had been heard, a confidential system for gathering evidence was put in place at three associations.
The Abbe Pierre Foundation's managing director Christophe Robert described the revelations as "a terrible shock".
He said the organisation decided to "shed light" on the allegations and "give a voice to these victims".
mep-dc/as/rlp/giv

women

French church's best-known humanitarian accused of sexual assault

BY MARINE PENNETIER

  • "This work meant the testimonies of seven women could be gathered, attesting to behaviour that could be interpreted as sexual assault or sexual harassment," between 1970 and 2005, the charities said.
  • France's best known priest, the late Abbe Pierre, a revered and beloved champion of the homeless, has been accused of sexually assaulting several women and a girl, his charities said Wednesday.
  • "This work meant the testimonies of seven women could be gathered, attesting to behaviour that could be interpreted as sexual assault or sexual harassment," between 1970 and 2005, the charities said.
France's best known priest, the late Abbe Pierre, a revered and beloved champion of the homeless, has been accused of sexually assaulting several women and a girl, his charities said Wednesday.
A Capuchin monk since 1932 and an ordained Catholic clergyman since 1938, Henri Groues died in 2007 aged 94. He left behind a legacy as a friend to the poverty-stricken and founder of the charities Emmaus and the Abbe Pierre foundation.
On Wednesday, however, his reputation was in tatters after it was revealed that seven women had made credible allegations of sexual assault or harassment by the elderly cleric dating back to between 1970 and 2005.
"Our organisations celebrate the courage of the people who have given testimony and, through their words, allowed these facts to come to light. We believe them," homeless charity Emmaus and the abbot's foundation said in a joint statement.
The allegations are detailed in an independent report commissioned by the charities after a first claim that Groues had assaulted a woman.
"This work meant the testimonies of seven women could be gathered, attesting to behaviour that could be interpreted as sexual assault or sexual harassment," between 1970 and 2005, the charities said.
One of the women "was underage at the time of the events", they added.
A source at Emmaus told AFP that no criminal complaint had so far been filed.
In a social media post the bishop's conference of France's Catholic Church expressed "shame that such acts could be committed by a priest".

'I need it'

Some 17 years after his death, Groues's gaunt, bearded features remain a familiar sight on charity shops posters and in metro stations urging French people to think of the poor.
He gave his inheritance away aged 18 to join the order of Capuchin monks, later becoming active in the Resistance to Nazi occupation and spending several post-war years as a member of parliament.
In 1949, he founded the Emmaus community that preaches self-help for excluded people, which has since spread to dozens of countries.
He was also a backer of the "Restos du coeur" soup kitchens movement and clashed with city authorities that failed to lodge the homeless.
The report's author Caroline de Haas said she had gathered testimony pointing to "inappropriate behaviour of a personal nature, a sexual proposition, repeated comments with sexual connotations, attempts at unsolicited physical contact and unsolicited contact on the breasts".
One of the women reported that Abbe Pierre had "started groping her left breast" while she was "at the foot of the stairs, in an airlock type place".
A few years later, she was in an office. 
"I walked up to him to shake his hand. He tried to pull me towards the window. I told him 'No, Father'. He told me, 'I need it'. I said: 'No', and he left," she told the investigation.

'Idolatry'

Another woman said Abbe Pierre would "put his hands on her chest, breasts" while they "were talking about work".
And another stated that, one day, "when saying goodbye, he inserted his tongue into my mouth in a brutal and totally unexpected way".
De Haas said the investigation had triggered rising astonishment that Abbe Pierre's behaviour had gone unexposed for so long.
She pointed to a "form of influence fuelled by the age difference, the status of Abbe Pierre and a form of idolatry, or the situation of subordination between him and the people." 
After the initial complaints had been heard, a confidential system for gathering evidence was put in place at three associations.
mep-dc/as/jj

opioids

'Unnoticed, catastrophic': Rising opioid fears in Eastern Europe

BY KATARZYNA SKIBA

  • Since then, the use of synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, "is on the rise" in fellow Baltic state Lithuania, a spokesperson for the Lithuanian health ministry, Julijanas Galisanskis, told AFP. Pietschmann, one of the main authors of the World Drug Report 2024, warned that the 95 percent reduction in Afghan opium production would "be felt on the market" and people will likely "switch to other opiates".
  • Eastern Europe, once seen as immune to the opioid crisis wreaking havoc across North America, has been ramping up its fight against the rise of the dangerous, synthetic drugs.
  • Since then, the use of synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, "is on the rise" in fellow Baltic state Lithuania, a spokesperson for the Lithuanian health ministry, Julijanas Galisanskis, told AFP. Pietschmann, one of the main authors of the World Drug Report 2024, warned that the 95 percent reduction in Afghan opium production would "be felt on the market" and people will likely "switch to other opiates".
Eastern Europe, once seen as immune to the opioid crisis wreaking havoc across North America, has been ramping up its fight against the rise of the dangerous, synthetic drugs.
There have been dozens of deaths and many more arrests in Poland this year linked to synthetic drugs, including mephedrone -- an alternative to cocaine -- as well as fentanyl and nitazenes.
Poland's Central Investigation Bureau of Police has dismantled 33 illegal synthetic drug "factories" this year, according to its spokesman Krzysztof Wrzesniowski.
Two of them were exclusively producing mephedrone, used to replace cocaine at a cheaper cost.
Aside from causing problems in Poland, media reports found that such laboratories were also found to be exporting drugs throughout the European Union, including to the neighbouring Czech Republic and Slovakia.
"It is a constant race between criminals who produce these substances... and laboratories and the sanitary inspection," Poland's Chief Sanitary Inspector Pawel Grzesiowski said.
"They are constantly looking for new substances, new varieties."
- 'Crooked drug business' - 
Zuromin, a town of about 9,000 people two hours north of Warsaw, has been named the region's unofficial fentanyl capital.
For some, it is reminiscent of small towns in the United States which were the first to fall victim to the country's opioid epidemic.
In June, local police seized a total of 300 patches of the drug, capable of intoxicating 4,800 people, and arrested four people suspected of involvement in the illegal fentanyl trade.
But for the town's residents, this is not a new problem.
"From the beginning, the problem seemed to me to be marginalised, unnoticed, catastrophic," Adam Ejnik, a teacher and journalist from Zuromin, told AFP.
As early as 2015, Zuromin's inhabitants appealed for help in an open letter published in the local newspaper.
"No city in Poland has such statistics," the letter read.
In response to growing concern, Poland's health ministry introduced a system for monitoring opioid prescriptions, building upon an existing policy to limit the amount of prescriptions by individual doctors.
Widespread fears prompted Prime Minister Donald Tusk to call a meeting with the attorney general, health minister and police chiefs.
"No one who is involved in this crooked drug business in Poland will remain safe," Tusk said in a statement on X.
- Replacing heroin - 
Until recently, fentanyl constituted "a rather small problem for Europe", with one notable exception, Thomas Pietschmann, a senior research official at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, told AFP.
"For a long time... Estonia was really the outlier in this story."
Issues with fentanyl in the Baltic country first began in 2001, owing to Taliban bans on heroin.
"In Estonia, instead of the heroin, people switched to fentanyl," Pietschmann said, adding that the drugs initially came from neighbouring Russia.
Since then, the use of synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, "is on the rise" in fellow Baltic state Lithuania, a spokesperson for the Lithuanian health ministry, Julijanas Galisanskis, told AFP.
Pietschmann, one of the main authors of the World Drug Report 2024, warned that the 95 percent reduction in Afghan opium production would "be felt on the market" and people will likely "switch to other opiates".
"The most problematic ones will be the fentanyls or the nitazenes."
Nitazenes -- "synthetic opioids which can be even more potent than fentanyl," according to the UN -- have also emerged in high-income countries, including Latvia, Estonia and France.
Nitazenes are "one of the main problems" on the drug market in Estonia, said Mikk Oja, a senior specialist at the country's National Institute for Health Development.
"The heroin shortage could bring a spike in synthetic opioids in other countries too, and with it likely a serious spike in overdose deaths," Oja added.
Experts warn that the potency of fentanyl, which is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, poses additional risks.
"The advantage of fentanyl as a highly efficient drug for cartels is obvious –- you don't have to transport dozens of tons, you can only transport dozens of kilos," the Czech government's director for anti-drug policy, Jindrich Voboril, told AFP.
"We have to be careful, because the problem may emerge quite fast."
str/mmp/amj/dl

politics

US right takes aim at women Secret Service agents who protected Trump

  • Women are too short, too weak -- and in some cases, too overweight -- to protect someone like Trump, according to people on the US political right who accused the Secret Service of "woke" hiring practices they say nearly got the former president killed.
  • As questions swirl over how a would-be assassin managed to get anywhere near Donald Trump, some conservatives are blaming the Secret Service for hiring the women agents who threw themselves into the line of fire to protect the former president.
  • Women are too short, too weak -- and in some cases, too overweight -- to protect someone like Trump, according to people on the US political right who accused the Secret Service of "woke" hiring practices they say nearly got the former president killed.
As questions swirl over how a would-be assassin managed to get anywhere near Donald Trump, some conservatives are blaming the Secret Service for hiring the women agents who threw themselves into the line of fire to protect the former president.
Women are too short, too weak -- and in some cases, too overweight -- to protect someone like Trump, according to people on the US political right who accused the Secret Service of "woke" hiring practices they say nearly got the former president killed.
Several women can be seen among the black-suited, sunglass-clad agents racing to shield Trump with their bodies as the gunman opened fire at a rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday, before hustling him from the stage and into a waiting car and safety.
But they, along with their boss Kimberly Cheatle -- only the second-ever woman director of the federal agency tasked with protecting presidents current, former and would-be -- are now caught in the intense scrutiny over the nearly catastrophic attack.
"There should not be any women in the Secret Service. These are supposed to be the very best, and none of the very best at this job are women," right-wing activist Matt Walsh wrote on X, in one typical post.
"I can't imagine that a DEI hire from @pepsi would be a bad choice as the head of the Secret Service. #sarcasm," tweeted Republican congressman Tim Burchett.
Burchett was referring to Cheatle's previous job as director of global security for Pepsi -- a post she held for several years before returning to the Secret Service, where she had previously spent nearly three decades.
With the phrase DEI -- diversity, equity and inclusion -- he was invoking one of the most popular conservative fronts in the culture wars: the so-called "wokeification" of the workplace as employers strive to diversify their hiring practices beyond white men.
The first women were sworn in as Secret Service agents in 1971. CBS News reported last year that the agency aims to have 30 percent women recruits by 2030.
"I'm very conscious ... of making sure that we need to attract diverse candidates and ensure that we are developing and giving opportunities to everybody in our workforce, and particularly women," Cheatle told CBS at the time. 
The wildly popular conservative Libs of TikTok account cited that interview in a post also blaming hiring practices for the Trump shooting that has received more than 10 million views on X.
"The results of DEI. DEI got someone killed," it read.

'Secret Service A-team'

Diverse hiring practices accelerated in 2020 after the George Floyd killing forced America into a new reckoning over racism and inclusivity.
But they have seen a growing backlash from conservatives in recent months who complain they unfairly disadvantage white workers in general, and white men in particular.
None other than Ohio Senator J.D. Vance -- Trump's newly-announced running mate -- has spearheaded a recent bill to do away with such efforts.
"DEI is racism, plain and simple. It's time to outlaw it nationwide, starting with the federal government," he tweeted last month as the bill was introduced.
Such practices at the Secret Service faced scrutiny as recently as May, when Congress launched an investigation after a female agent in Vice President Kamala Harris's detail reportedly got into an altercation with colleagues.
The incident raised concerns about this agent's hiring, Kentucky Republican James Comer said in a letter to Cheatle -- specifically, whether staff shortages "had led the agency to lower once stricter standards as a part of a diversity, equity and inclusion effort."
The Secret Service did not immediately respond to questions from AFP.
But in response to the Comer letter, spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told US media that Secret Service employees "are held to the highest professional standards... at no time has the agency lowered these standards."
Cheatle has shrugged off calls for her resignation since the shooting, and the agency has agreed to cooperate with an independent review ordered by President Joe Biden. 
Comer has also announced that Cheatle will appear before a congressional panel on July 22 for a hearing on the assassination attempt.
Biden -- in whose detail Cheatle served when he was vice president -- told NBC News on Monday that he feels "safe with the Secret Service," though he agreed it was an "open question" whether they should have anticipated the shooting.
When Trump made his first public appearance after the shooting, at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee on Monday, he appeared to be surrounded by an all-male Secret Service detail.
"Now THIS is how you protect a President," posted conservative commentator Rogan O'Handley on X.
"Trump gets the Secret Service A-team now."
bur-st/dw

luxury

Fake luxuries supplant tradition in Istanbul's Grand Bazaar

BY REMI BANET

  • Two aisles down, tea set-seller Gazi Uludag lamented that the Grand Bazaar has "lost its unique character".
  • Cut-price branded perfumes and fake high-end handbags line the ornate alleys of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, with traditional merchants saying the luxury counterfeits are stripping the marketplace of its character.
  • Two aisles down, tea set-seller Gazi Uludag lamented that the Grand Bazaar has "lost its unique character".
Cut-price branded perfumes and fake high-end handbags line the ornate alleys of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, with traditional merchants saying the luxury counterfeits are stripping the marketplace of its character.
Where heritage Turkish crafts once flourished under the Ottoman-era marketplace's painted ceilings, the elegant carpet store run by Hasim Gureli is now surrounded by shops selling designer dupes.
"Back in the day, imitations were rare," said Gureli, who is vice-president of the bazaar's traders' association and a member of its board of directors.
"When some people started selling fake bags, they kept themselves hidden. They were afraid of the state," the carpet-seller added.
Many others among the bazaar's old-timers, who have fond memories of the small workshops that used to fill its labyrinthine alleyways, despair at seeing it overrun by fraudulent facsimiles.
Two aisles down, tea set-seller Gazi Uludag lamented that the Grand Bazaar has "lost its unique character".
"There is nothing but imported or counterfeit goods left and it's getting worse every year," he said.
In her handmade carpet store, Florence Heilbronn-Ogutgen bemoaned the fact that an artisan friend "who used to make real, beautiful bags in very good leather" had to shutter his shop, unable to make a living.
For the shopkeeper, who has been at the bazaar since 1998, artisans "can no longer survive" in the face of competition from the dubious dupes.
"These days, the finest boutiques are the counterfeit ones!" she said. 
"They're the only ones left who can afford the $10,000 to $15,000 a month rent on the main alley. The bazaar has lost its soul."

Cheap luxury

One of the world's largest covered markets, the almost six-centuries-old Grand Bazaar attracts millions of tourists every year -- many of them lured by the promise of cheap luxury. 
"All of Europe comes here! I've even had footballer's wives," beamed 36-year-old Kemal, reluctant to give his surname for fear of checks on his merchandise.
Kemal made his living selling "made in Turkey" counterfeits for 15 years, before luxury fakes began taking over each of the bazaar's hallowed shop windows one by one.
His imitation Celine calfskin and Saint Laurent quilted leather handbags "are of the same quality as the originals, but five to 10 times cheaper", the vendor promised.
Whatever the bag, a knock-off can be found at the Grand Bazaar.
"If you can find it on the Champs-Elysees, then you can find it here," he said.

'Very high profits'

As one of the main countries for the production and transit of counterfeit goods, along with China and Hong Kong, knock-offs are ubiquitous in Turkey.
The trade supports a whole economy of its own, from the small retailers to the manufacturers who also export their counterfeits to the European Union. 
"They make very high profits. You can see handbags being sold for thousands of dollars in the Grand Bazaar," said Dilara Bural, a criminologist at the UK's University of Bath.
Organised crime may be at work, "but we can't generalise and say that every single counterfeiting scheme in Turkey is linked to organised crime. That's not true," she underlined.
For Bural, the trade is enabled by a "widespread cultural acceptance of counterfeiting" in Turkey which "in some cases extends to key enforcers, including the police and the judiciary".

'I have no choice'

Turkish law firms hired by the luxury behemoths are trying to clamp down on the counterfeiters, but that task is easier said than done. 
"The problem is that you need to get search warrants for every address. There are thousands of shops in the Grand Bazaar so you need to get thousands of seizure orders," lawyer Sena Yasaroglu told AFP.
He said that even with 20 people dealing with intellectual property cases at the Moroglu Arseven law firm where he works, the challenge was formidable.
A spokesman for the Grand Bazaar's board of directors insisted that "the Istanbul police carry out frequent inspections" on the shops.
Standing in front of his miniscule shop of 2.5 square metres (three square yards), which he rents for $1,000 a month, Murat said he worries about the inspections "every day".
In 2018, he and his brother saw the police swoop in on their business.
The bill was hefty: 800 fake bags seized and 40,000 euros ($43,500) in fines and legal fees.
Yet the 27-year-old shopkeeper from the southeastern agricultural province of Sanliurfa resumed trading straight away.
"I have no choice," he said.
"Otherwise, what would I do? Go back to be a shepherd in my village? I don't want to do that."
rba/sbk/gv/dl

space

Musk to move companies out of California over transgender law

  • "Because of this law and the many others that preceded it, attacking both families and companies, SpaceX will now move its HQ from Hawthorne, California, to Starbase, Texas," Musk said.
  • Elon Musk on Tuesday said he will move the headquarters of SpaceX and X to Texas after a California law blocked schools from forcing teachers to notify parents about changes to a student's gender identity.
  • "Because of this law and the many others that preceded it, attacking both families and companies, SpaceX will now move its HQ from Hawthorne, California, to Starbase, Texas," Musk said.
Elon Musk on Tuesday said he will move the headquarters of SpaceX and X to Texas after a California law blocked schools from forcing teachers to notify parents about changes to a student's gender identity.
"This is the final straw," Musk said on X a day after California governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill that fired up the already fraught culture wars in a tumultuous US election year.
"Because of this law and the many others that preceded it, attacking both families and companies, SpaceX will now move its HQ from Hawthorne, California, to Starbase, Texas," Musk said.
The multi-billionaire also said that he is transferring X, formerly Twitter, from its art-deco headquarters in San Francisco to Austin, a threat he has made before but never saw to completion.
"Have had enough of dodging gangs of violent drug addicts just to get in and out of the building," Musk wrote.
Musk has already moved Tesla's headquarters from Palo Alto in Silicon Valley to Austin, Texas, but still maintains an "engineering headquarters" in California.
The tycoon has expressed deep disdain for the use of preferred pronouns, often mocking the practice on social media and dismissing it as part of a "woke" agenda that was dangerous for society.
Musk is the father of a trans daughter from whom he is estranged, and he blames her California private school education for making her politically far left and turning her against him.

Gender issues

Newsom on Monday enacted the law after a contentious legislative process that pitted a handful of school boards fighting for parental rights against LGBTQ activists concerned about the welfare of vulnerable students.
The law reversed decisions in conservative school districts that ordered teachers to notify parents if a student changed their name or pronouns, or requested to use facilities or participate in programs that didn't match their official gender.
Newsom, who is seen as a potential alternative to President Joe Biden as the Democratic candidate for the White House, has often exchanged fire with conservatives over gender issues at state schools.
Last year, he signed a law that sets fines for school districts that ban textbooks portraying LGBTQ people and other marginalized groups. 
Newsom also fought bitterly with a conservative school board over its opposition to the study of gay rights figure Harvey Milk, a San Francisco public official who was assassinated. 
Musk has previously sparred with Newsom, who is a former San Francisco mayor, during the deadliest stages of the Covid-19 pandemic when he challenged the decisions of city and state health officials.
arp/bjt

Trump

Trump faithful see God's hand in assassination escape

BY MOISES AVILA WITH ISSAM AHMED IN WASHINGTON

  • Some "personalist" leaders are dictators, others are elected, but their goal is the same: "To get people to blindly obey them and to be mystified by their superhuman qualities," she told AFP.  Trump casting himself as America's sole savior is nothing new -- but escaping the assassination attempt has elevated the rhetoric to Biblical proportions, she added.
  • Devotees of Donald Trump have long proclaimed he was chosen by God to save the United States -- but the messianic fervor has hit new heights after the Republican presidential candidate narrowly survived an assassination attempt.
  • Some "personalist" leaders are dictators, others are elected, but their goal is the same: "To get people to blindly obey them and to be mystified by their superhuman qualities," she told AFP.  Trump casting himself as America's sole savior is nothing new -- but escaping the assassination attempt has elevated the rhetoric to Biblical proportions, she added.
Devotees of Donald Trump have long proclaimed he was chosen by God to save the United States -- but the messianic fervor has hit new heights after the Republican presidential candidate narrowly survived an assassination attempt.
At the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee this week, the party faithful have been quick to credit divine intervention with saving their leader's life after he was wounded in a shooting at his Pennsylvania rally.
Images of the bloodied former president raising his fist defiantly in the air as the Stars and Stripes fluttered in the background have only served to bolster his image among his supporters.
"Evil came for the man we admire and love so much," said the right-wing firebrand Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. "I thank God that his hand was on President Trump."
House Speaker Mike Johnson told a news channel that Trump's escape, with only a slight ear wound, was "a miraculous thing," while Senator Marco Rubio of Florida wrote on X that "God protected Trump."
Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, currently serving a prison sentence for contempt of Congress, said "Trump wears the Armor of God."
Never mind that one rally-goer was killed -- a volunteer firefighter who died shielding his family -- while two others were seriously wounded.
Nor that, until his foray into Republican politics, tycoon Trump displayed a distaste for religion, even mocking believers, according to a former aide.
He also boasted in one of his books about affairs with "beautiful, famous, successful, married" women, and has been found liable by a civil court for sexual abuse.

Personality cult

Trump, who has said he was raised Presbyterian but now considers himself a "non-denominational Christian," has encouraged the attention, writing on Truth Social that "God alone who prevented the unthinkable from happening."
For Natasha Lindstaedt, a political scientist at the University of Essex, the episode underscores the cult of personality that Trump and his inner circle have meticulously cultivated and reinforced over several years. 
Some "personalist" leaders are dictators, others are elected, but their goal is the same: "To get people to blindly obey them and to be mystified by their superhuman qualities," she told AFP. 
Trump casting himself as America's sole savior is nothing new -- but escaping the assassination attempt has elevated the rhetoric to Biblical proportions, she added.
Consider for instance, the meme circulating across conservative social media depicting Jesus Christ himself placing his hands on the 78-year-old's shoulders.
Trump's daughter-in-law Lara Trump, who co-chairs the Republican National Committee, posted the image on her Instagram page with the caption "Fear not, for I am with you."
"I'm a Christian and a Catholic by faith," Jack Prendergast, a Republican delegate from New York at the convention, told AFP. Trump "had an angel sitting on his shoulder --  the hand of God in my opinion, moved his face aside."
Such hero worship benefits both the mythologized leader and followers, said Natalie Koch, a political geographer at Syracuse University.
"By building up that cult and joining that and being part of that, they get a sense of community," she told AFP.

'Imperfect vessel'

They also gain a vehicle to pursue their political interests, from evangelicals with a religious agenda to the ultra wealthy hoping for massive tax cuts, Koch added.
And for all the criticism from liberal quarters that Trump's faith is a facade, he proved to be the "imperfect vessel" evangelicals hoped he would become, fulfilling their decades-long agenda of tilting the Supreme Court heavily conservative and overturning the national right to abortion.
Even Trump's embattled Democratic opponent President Joe Biden has begun to adopt certain Trumpian flourishes of late, telling ABC News only "Lord Almighty" could convince him to end his re-election bid amid questions about his mental acuity.
"Personality cults are really bad for democracy," said Lindstaedt, "because it gets people to blindly obey things that they normally wouldn't, they refuse to question the authority figure."
Coupled with the Supreme Court's recent decision bolstering presidential immunity, "the guardrails of democracy are not really protecting the US from whatever Trump plans on doing once he gets elected, which I think will happen." 
ia/des

mining

Nickel hub 'apocalyptic' for uncontacted Indonesia tribe, say NGOs

BY MARCHIO GORBIANO

  • The Weda Bay nickel mine on Halmahera island -- by some estimates the largest in the world -- has left the Indigenous group encircled, said Syamsul Alam Agus, an advocate at the Association of Indigenous Peoples' Defenders.
  • Deforestation at one of Indonesia's largest nickel processing hubs is threatening an Indigenous group that is among the country's last uncontacted tribes, rights groups allege. 
  • The Weda Bay nickel mine on Halmahera island -- by some estimates the largest in the world -- has left the Indigenous group encircled, said Syamsul Alam Agus, an advocate at the Association of Indigenous Peoples' Defenders.
Deforestation at one of Indonesia's largest nickel processing hubs is threatening an Indigenous group that is among the country's last uncontacted tribes, rights groups allege. 
Nickel is a key component in the batteries of electric vehicles, and Indonesia is both the world's largest producer and home to the biggest known reserves globally.
The government is keen to boost output, but there are growing concerns about the environmental consequences and impact on local residents.
Two NGOs told AFP that mining operations in North Maluku province are endangering the O'Hongana Manyawa people by stripping forests and pumping pollution into surrounding waters.
The Weda Bay nickel mine on Halmahera island -- by some estimates the largest in the world -- has left the Indigenous group encircled, said Syamsul Alam Agus, an advocate at the Association of Indigenous Peoples' Defenders.
"They are surrounded... their territory is controlled," he told AFP.
While some of the community have settled over decades, an estimated 300-500 people from the group maintain a nomadic, hunter-gatherer existence isolated from outsiders. 
As they lose more land and sources of food, they are being forced into more human contact, potentially exposing them to novel diseases, experts said.
"The world has become apocalyptic for the O'Hongana Manyawa," said Callum Russell, an advocacy officer at Indigenous rights NGO Survival International.
They are being "forced to essentially surrender" their lifestyle and "often come out to beg for food", he told AFP.

'This is our home'

Apparent encounters between the tribe and mine workers have recently circulated on social media, sometimes going viral in Indonesia.
In one, two men hold spears as they apparently face off against workers and a bulldozer. Another shows a man and two women appearing to approach mine workers to ask for food.
AFP could not immediately verify the videos but Dewi Anakoda, a local environmentalist who describes herself as a "companion" of the O'Hongana Manyawa, confirmed they are authentic.
"It's not them entering the concession area but Weda Bay Nickel that entered their area," she told AFP.
"They have always lived in the forest. They say, 'this is our territory, this is our home. We never bother you, why do you disturb us?'"
Weda Bay began operations in 2019, with the deposits being developed by Indonesian company PT Weda Bay Nickel.
The firm is majority-owned by Strand Minerals, whose shares are divided between French mining giant Eramet and Chinese steel major Tsingshan.
According to Eramet, about 6,000 hectares of Weda Bay Nickel's 45,000-hectare concession will be mined over a 25-year period.
It says around 2,000 hectares have been "exploited", including for a nickel plant part of the sprawling Indonesia Weda Bay Industrial Park (IWIP).
NGO Climate Rights International (CRI) this year found that around 1,400 hectares of forest had already been lost inside Weda Bay Nickel's concession.
Citing interviews with local residents, it alleged "people living near IWIP have had their land taken, deforested, or excavated by nickel companies and developers without their consent".
It said sampling of local rivers and coastal waters found contamination from heavy metals believed to be linked to mining.

Deforestation

Weda Bay Nickel, Tsingshan, Indonesia's Investment Coordinating Board and its Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
Eramet told AFP it is "aware" of the O'Hongana Manyawa and understands the "critical importance" of responsible mining and the well-being of Indigenous people.
It also touted the project's economic benefits, including the creation of 14,000 direct jobs and more than 1.4 million euros ($1.525 mn) in "community investment spending".
Deforestation is a longstanding problem in Indonesia, and primary forest loss jumped 27 percent in 2023 after falling for several years from a peak in 2015-2016, according to the World Resources Institute.
Much of that is linked to fires or palm oil and wood pulp plantations, but mining-related deforestation accounted for the loss of about 10,000 hectares of primary forest last year, according to conservation start-up The TreeMap.
Concerns about Weda Bay's environmental cost prompted a campaign urging German firm BASF to abandon plans with Eramet to build a nickel-cobalt refinery project in the area.
The $2.6 billion project was scrapped last month, though both firms said the decision was motivated by changing market conditions. The move does not affect existing operations.
NGOs have called on the government to set up protected areas for the O'Hongana Manyawa.
Dewi warned the development poses a threat to wildlife as well as humans.
It's "not only the O'Hongana Manyawa tribe, there are Halmahera's endemic birds, other birds, other habitats", she said.
"I think in less than 20 years our forests will be completely cleared and we will feel the lasting ecological impact."
agn-mrc/sah/jfx/mca/fox

politics

Division trumps unity in US election rhetoric

BY ANUJ CHOPRA

  • In an interview with NBC on Monday, Biden admitted it was a mistake to call for Trump to be put in the "bullseye" days before the assassination attempt, but he defended his repeated warnings that the former president poses an existential threat to American democracy That line of attack is one his campaign has identified as resonating with key independent voters, and it is not one they are likely to drop or moderate.
  • Donald Trump and Joe Biden have both stressed "unity" in the wake of the stunning assassination attempt on the Republican presidential contender, but any shift to a more civil political discourse is likely to be short-lived.
  • In an interview with NBC on Monday, Biden admitted it was a mistake to call for Trump to be put in the "bullseye" days before the assassination attempt, but he defended his repeated warnings that the former president poses an existential threat to American democracy That line of attack is one his campaign has identified as resonating with key independent voters, and it is not one they are likely to drop or moderate.
Donald Trump and Joe Biden have both stressed "unity" in the wake of the stunning assassination attempt on the Republican presidential contender, but any shift to a more civil political discourse is likely to be short-lived.
For months, the two campaigns have shredded the other's candidate with a ferocity that exceeds the already bruising nature of US political races, and observers say there is little chance of that dynamic being altered in any significant way.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting at a Trump rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday, both men struck a moderate tone and avoided language that could escalate the febrile political atmosphere.
Biden called on Americans to "lower the temperature" in an address from the Oval Office, and Trump said it was "more important than ever that we stand united." 
The two men even spoke to each other on the phone  -- after refusing to so much as shake hands at their televised debate last month.
"In the immediate aftermath of a national tragedy or a near-tragedy, politicians want to appear empathetic and say the kinds of healing things people want to hear," Roy Gutterman, an expert in communications law at Syracuse University, told AFP.
"I am sure it will not take long for the vitriol to start flowing" again, he added.

Mockery and insult

Trump has always favored an extremely aggressive stance towards political opponents, whom he has collectively described as "vermin." 
His personal attacks on Biden have ranged from theatrically mocking the president's stammer to labeling him a "mental catastrophe."
Biden for his part refused to even mention Trump by name earlier in the race, and in recent months the president and his campaign have sharpened and personalized  their messaging about Trump as an "unhinged" would-be dictator with the "morals of an alley cat."
Their June 27 debate, meanwhile, descended into an argument about who was the worst president in US history.
"I am hopeful, if skeptical, that political rhetoric in the US will get less hateful and driven by rage," Peter Loge, director of George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs, told AFP.
"That American politics has often been awful doesn't mean it needs to always be awful."
In an interview with NBC on Monday, Biden admitted it was a mistake to call for Trump to be put in the "bullseye" days before the assassination attempt, but he defended his repeated warnings that the former president poses an existential threat to American democracy
That line of attack is one his campaign has identified as resonating with key independent voters, and it is not one they are likely to drop or moderate.
The same day, after Trump formally won the Republican nomination at his party's convention, Biden's campaign blasted his newly unveiled running mate J.D. Vance as a "far-right MAGA extremist."
Trump meanwhile posted a message on his Truth Social platform accusing Biden of conducting an "elections interference conspiracy" and weaponizing the justice system against his political enemies.

'Loudest voices'

"Extremists on both sides of the political spectrum seem to have the loudest voices these days," Gutterman said.
"They probably do not spend too much time weighing on a more moderate voice of reason or calls for peace or moderation."
As the race to the White House heats up, political pundits have called on both campaigns to tone down the rhetoric -- while urging the media to hold them accountable if they cross the line.
"The media needs to treat political violence as abnormal and destructive," Loge said.
"One way to do that is to call out all of the politicians who told everyone to calm down yesterday, and who start shouting tomorrow."
bur-ac/nro