05 Oct

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective


In more than 70 Italian coastguard-led operations over 48 hours, 28 bodies were reportedly recovered and three babies were born

A child is rescued from a vessel in the Mediterranean, north of Libya, on 3 October

A child is rescued from a vessel in the Mediterranean, north of Libya, by a member of the Proactiva Open Arms NGO on 3 October. Photograph: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

More than 10,000 refugees have been rescued off the coasts of Italy and Libya in the last 48 hours as a result of more than 70 operations led by the coastguard and navy.

It was reported that 28 bodies had been recovered, while Italian officials also said three babies, all in good health, were born on a ship heading to Catania, Sicily. They were delivered with the assistance of doctors from the Order of Malta’s Italian Relief Corp, they said.

The most recent mission, in which 4,655 migrants were brought to safety, took place in the Strait of Sicily, and comprised 33 separate operations involving 27 rubber boats, one barge and five small boats.

While the operations were led by the coastguard, officials said Frontex, the EU rescue mission, and an Irish navy ship were involved in the rescues, as well as the aid groups Moas, Life Boat, Proactiva Open Arms and Watch the Med.

Earlier this week, 6,055 people were rescued over a 24-hour period, with the coastguard, navy and humanitarian groups coming to the aid of 32 rubber dinghies, five large wooden boats and two rafts that were spotted 30 miles (48km) north of Libya.

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  • US says surveillance has ‘increased significantly’ in last two years
  • State department: ‘We have raised our concerns at the highest levels’

The US embassy Moscow, where in June a Russian federal security service guard attacked a US diplomat, breaking his shoulder. Russia said the diplomat was an undercover CIA agent. Photograph: Handout

The US state department has expressed concerns to the Russian government over the harassment of American officials amid reports that two diplomats were slipped date rape drugs in St Petersburg last year.

A man and a woman, both US officials with diplomatic passports, were drugged while they were attending a United Nations anti-corruption conference in November 2015, state news outlet RFE/RL reported, citing unnamed officials. The incident most likely occurred in their hotel bar, investigators concluded.

One diplomat had to be treated at a local hospital before being flown out of the country. Investigators were unable to gather evidence from the hospital or hotel, and Moscow said there was no evidence of drugging when Washington served it a formal note of protest.

When asked about the drugging incident, spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau declined to comment on specific cases but said the state department was “troubled by the way our diplomatic and consular staff have been treated over the past two years” in Russia.

“We have raised our concerns at the highest levels,” Trudeau said at a briefing. “In particular, the harassment and surveillance of our diplomatic personnel in Moscow by security personnel and traffic police has increased significantly.”

Western officials and journalists in Moscow have previously reported finding signs that intruders have entered their homes. During Barack Obama’s first term, Russian agents reportedly even broke in and killed the dog of a US defense attache in Moscow.

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Eradicating extreme poverty by 2030 seems a distant target as Unicef-World Bank figures show almost 385 million children survive on less than $1.90 a day

A mother and child at the UNHCR-managed refugees reception point at Elegu, Uganda

A mother and child at a reception point for refugees at Elegu, Uganda. Children in developing countries are twice as likely as adults to be living in extreme poverty, Unicef says. Photograph: James Akena/Reuters

Nearly half of all children in sub-Saharan Africa are living in extreme poverty, according to a joint Unicef-World Bank report released on Tuesday, with figures showing that almost 385 million children worldwide survive on less than $1.90 (£1.50) a day, the World Bank international poverty line.

Extreme poverty leads to stunted development, limited future productivity as adults, and intergenerational transmission of poverty, the report (pdf) says. The figures – based on data from 89 countries, and representing 84% of the developing world’s population – indicate that much work will be needed to meet the sustainable development goal of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030.

Children are disproportionately affected by extreme poverty – they make up just a third of the population studied, but comprise half of the extreme poor. They are twice as likely as adults to be living on less than $1.90 a day, the report claims, with 19.5% of children in developing countries living in extremely poor households, compared to just 9.2% of adults.

“It’s almost a double blow – firstly, that children are twice as likely as an adult to live in extreme poverty, but also that children are much less likely than an adult to be able to cope with extreme poverty because of stunting, infant mortality, and early childhood development,” said Unicef’s deputy executive director, Justin Forsyth.

“Extreme poverty can either kill you, or ruin your potential for the rest of your life.”

The report follows the release of World Bank data looking at inequality and poverty worldwide, which found that half of the 767 million people living on less than $1.90 per day in 2013 were under 18.

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Teenager who became face of 2014 umbrella protest detained at airport and reportedly told he had been placed on a blacklist

Joshua Wong talking to the press after arriving back in Hong Kong.

Joshua Wong talking to the press after arriving back in Hong Kong. Photograph: Eric Cheung

Hong Kong’s best-known democracy campaigner, Joshua Wong, has accused Thailand’s military junta of political “suppression” after he was barred from entering the country, apparently after Beijing asked for his name to be placed on a travel blacklist.

Speaking after arriving back in Hong Kong on Wednesday afternoon, the teenage activist described how he had spent almost 12 hours inside a detention centre at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport after he was picked up by Thai police when he landed in Bangkok the previous night.

Wong, 19, who became an international symbol of the fight for democracy during Hong Kong’s 2014 umbrella movement street protests, said about 20 police officers had taken him into custody at about midnight on Tuesday.

“For almost 12 hours I was detained alone inside a cell,” he told reporters. “When I asked what the reason for them detaining me … they just said: ‘We will not give you any explanation. You have been blacklisted already.’

“When I requested to contact my lawyer in Thailand or at least notify my parents that I had already arrived in Bangkok, they still rejected my request,” he added. “It is really out of my expectation to have this kind of suppression from the Thailand government. For me, I think this is illegal detention.”

Wong touched down in Hong Kong at about 3.40pm on Wednesday having spent the night being questioned at Suvarnabhumi airport.

The activist had been due to speak about his quest for democracy at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok on Thursday.

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Company complied with a classified directive, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of NSA or FBI, say former employees

According to former employees, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to obey the directive led to the departure of chief information security officer Alex Stamos.

According to former employees, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to obey the directive led to the departure of chief information security officer Alex Stamos. Photograph: Julie Jacobson/AP

Yahoo last year secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers’ incoming emails for specific information at the request of US intelligence officials, according to a report.

The company complied with a classified US government directive, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency (NSA) or FBI, two former employees and a third person who knew about the program told Reuters.

Some surveillance experts said this represents the first known case of a US internet company agreeing to a spy agency’s demand by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time.

It is not known what information intelligence officials were looking for, only that they wanted Yahoo to search for a set of characters. That could mean a phrase in an email or an attachment, said the sources.

Reuters was unable to determine what data Yahoo may have handed over, if any, and whether intelligence officials had approached other email providers besides Yahoo with this kind of request.

According to the two former employees, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to obey the directive troubled some senior executives and led to the June 2015 departure of the chief information security officer, Alex Stamos, who now heads security at Facebook.

“Yahoo is a law abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States,” the company said in a brief statement in response to Reuters questions about the demand. Yahoo declined any further comment.

Andrew Crocker, staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that the use of the word “directive” to describe the program indicated that the request may have been ordered under the section 702 of the 2008 Fisa Amendments Act, which allows the government to target non-US citizens abroad for surveillance.

Revelations by Edward Snowden about the Prism and Upstream programs – of which the Yahoo program looks like a hybrid, Crocker said – show that US citizens were also subject to mass surveillance.

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Some say Hurricane Matthew, which slammed Haiti and is headed towards the US, is the sort of fierce lashing that will be more common due to climate change

Government officials are now confident enough to say there has been a ‘substantial increase’ in Atlantic hurricane activity since the 1980s.

Government officials are now confident enough to say there has been a ‘substantial increase’ in Atlantic hurricane activity since the 1980s. Photograph: Ezekiel Abiu Lopez/AP

Major storms such as Hurricane Matthew, which has slammed into Haiti and is now headed towards the US, will grow in menace as the world warms and sea levels rise, scientists have warned.

Hurricane Matthew is already feared to have caused seven deaths after it hit Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Tuesday, bringing 145mph winds, pounding rain and storm surges to coastal communities.

The category 4 storm, the strongest hurricane to hit Haiti in 50 years, is expected to surge northwards towards Florida’s east coast and up the south-eastern US coast by the weekend. It follows September’s Hurricane Hermine, which was the first hurricane to hit Florida in nearly 11 years.

While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s prediction of a “near-normal” Atlantic hurricane season is still on track, scientists have pointed to Hurricane Matthew as the sort of fierce lashing that will become more common due to climate change.

There was previously far more certainty amongst climate scientists over the increase of temperatures than trends in hurricanes, but government officials are now confident enough to say there has been a “substantial increase” in Atlantic hurricane activity since the 1980s, with the destruction set to ratchet up further as the world warms.

“We expect to see more high-intensity events, category 4 and 5 events, that are around 13% of total hurricanes but do a disproportionate amount of damage,” said Kerry Emanuel, a climate scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The theory is robust and there are hints that we are already beginning to see it in nature.”

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