Jewellery Industry Takes Steps to Eliminate “Conflict Gold”

By Carey L. Biron

Washington, DC — Major U.S. jewellery companies and retailers have started to take substantive steps to eliminate the presence of "conflict gold" from their supply chains,...

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Tunisia: Jomaa Offers Condolences On Morocco Floods

Tunis — Interim Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa sent, Tuesday, a message of condolences and sympathy to his Moroccan counterpart Abdelilah Benkirane in the aftermath of floods that killed several...

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Morocco: HM the King Visit to China Postponed for Health Reasons – Release

Rabat — HM King Mohammed VI's official visit to China scheduled as of November 27 has been postponed for health reasons, the ministry of the Royal Household, Protocol and...

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Government accused of failing to provide emergency care for British ebola volunteers

"If a British national looks like they have symptoms of Ebola, they should on a plane within 12 hours in my opinion," said one senior medic. "Instead, the government...

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Meet the women who marry prisoners

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iol news pic Manson wifeYOUTUBE Afton Elaine Burton who is set to marry Charles Manson.

New York – Why would a 26-year-old woman marry 80-year-old maniac Charles Manson? I spent a decade inside the state prisons of New York, where inmates met and wed women every day. Witnessing the range of scenarios, from love matches to patient spouses (like mine) waiting for their husbands’ parole dates, as well as everything in between, I know this type is all about fame and mental illness. But it is also the rarest.

Why do people hitch themselves to convicts? Yes, a few devote themselves to the madmen and sociopaths like Manson. Many others find matches of convenience or even love. Do not dismiss the latter because of the former.

A few years after graduating New York University and beginning a career in publishing, I was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Less than two years of heroin addiction had reduced me to robbery. Luckily I never hurt anyone with my pocketknife (used for camping in better days), and the New York media dubbed me the “Apologetic Bandit” because of the contrition I expressed to my victims. I pleaded guilty to five charges and entered a new world, where everything is for sale. Prisons are economic entities where items in low supply and high demand are worth more. Cigarettes and stamps, in lieu of currency, keep the market liquid. Inmates with assets shop as a kind of status assertion. They purchase the best radios, finest sneakers and snazziest glasses.

But there are limits to what a prisoner may possess, so the item most rare – a wife or girlfriend – is also the most valued. Sometimes this leads to marital transactions, a classic jailhouse hustle. It is somewhere between slavery and matchmaking. (Feminism has made few inroads here; to many prisoners, women are objects.) I once saw a prisoner pay $4 000 for the right to wed another’s backwoods cousin. She was missing teeth and addicted to benzos. The bride badgered him for money from a recent six-figure inheritance and spent it poorly. She arrived full of Xanax and whiled away her visits napping it off on the padded floor of the children’s area. After the inmate paid to move her nearer to the prison, she stopped visiting. Nevertheless, she induced plenty of envy for her husband. Years later, I met her actual and original husband, who was chained to me on a transit bus. Far from being embarrassed, he was proud of his wife’s value and bragged that she was married in a few other states.

A spouse who “looks out” on the outside, keeping the inmate’s interest in mind, is a valued commodity. In prison, the word “woman” was rare, “female” was polite and “bitch” was commonplace. There is even a slang term for a wife kept while incarcerated, a “buck-35,” which means a woman sending a hundred dollars a month and 35 pounds of food. The men appreciate the food, clothes and money that their wives help them with. Many unmarried convicts settle for homosexual admirers with credit cards on the outside. To get his bills paid, one friend of mine talked dirty on the phone and mailed his used underwear to an obsessed man.

Famous convicts such as Manson don’t have to buy their brides, though. I spent four years in Greenhaven Correctional Facility with Ronnie DeFeo, famous for murdering his entire family in a nice house in Long Island in 1974, starting the “Amityville Horror” mythology. Stacks of letters arrived for him every day. By the time we met in 2004, he was on his third wife. (Prisoners have a constitutional right to marry and divorce.) His photo albums and recollections suggested he had a type: plump, lonely blondes with a morbid streak. Manson’s women, even from back in his murderous heyday as a cult leader, are younger and prettier, but also clearly nuttier than the frumpy ladies who took a chance on DeFeo.

DeFeo answered his fan mail, as did other well-known convicts I came across. His correspondents returned the favour by arguing at parole hearings that he was a gentle and innocent man. DeFeo read us all the admiring testimony. But I always thought they preferred him guilty. The proximity to death and violence, the chance to share (in the safety of a prison visiting room) a sandwich and a smooch with someone who has done scary things somehow sanctified their adoration. According to a friend of mine on the outside who wrote to celebrity prisoners during a rough patch she had, the communication feels meaningful and flattering. The rare woman who marries a notorious murderer does so because he is a notorious murderer. She also believes her help and understanding will earn her the prisoner’s utter devotion, which deepens the attraction.

I entered prison married, but it had not been a long or a smooth union. Once I realised the sentence would last a decade or more, I offered my wife an amicable split. She stayed, and in gratitude I wrote a lot of letters. I penned two pages a day, five days a week, for the first seven years. (I slowed the pace when I entered a lower-security prison with better phone access.)

New York is one of only two states with conjugal visits. California, where Manson is imprisoned, does offer the possibility, but it’s unlikely to grant him the privilege. Those who win it get 44 private hours in a motel room-like facility within the prison walls; inmates are eligible for three or four of these each year. The Family Reunion Program is known in the vernacular as “trailers,” and they help. Because I was already married, my wife and I had a shorter waiting period to access them (the waiting period is longer if you marry as a prisoner). Using the trailers helped me keep my marriage intact.

Because most inmates are not famous, marriages are generally quiet. Meetings are arranged through relatives and friends, sometimes even mothers. Courtship means letters, then phone calls, then visits. A prisoner romancing a woman invests: He spends his meagre earnings on gifts ordered from catalogues or bought from prisoner-artists: leather workers and soap-carvers. The prisoner writes with a dictionary, and drafts with his most calligraphic penmanship to present himself as the perfect mate. Success is rewarded with packages, money, trailer visits and jailhouse status. A woman’s appearance doesn’t matter to men who have 25-year sentences, the standard for a murder. Even if a woman isn’t pretty, or if she’s old enough to be a convict’s mother, other attributes compensate: Sometimes the wives are asked to be drug mules. I saw a baby lifted to reveal cocaine in his bedding.

For these reasons, the authorities perform marriages as required by law, but they don’t make it easy. Every milestone requires a waiting period: The results of HIV testing must be disclosed to the women, along with the exact nature of the prisoner’s crime. (This means an uncomfortable conversation with a counsellor.) Marriages are performed on weekdays by a clergyman handling several couples at once; they require witnesses and feature a reception of sorts. I was once a best man, and despite the wedding cake allowed in, the festivities were somewhat dampened by the rule that the new spouses may not use the trailers until after another waiting period. The 44-hour honeymoon is a year away.

It’s not true, from what I saw, that the women who marry prisoners are too unattractive to find companions on the outside. Incarcerated husbands can be good husbands. The wives appreciate the lengths that the prisoners go to make the experience romantic; I was frequently asked my rates for writing love poems. As a Cyrano, I probably could have earned as much as a working poet; the most accomplished balladeers charged three digits per note. Prisoner husbands are always grateful. On visits, they massage and listen. They never come home drunk wearing someone else’s perfume. And wives get to decide how much of their spouses they actually want to see.

Still, these relationships are very difficult to preserve. The women, often older, want their help compensated with affection, but after a while the prisoner can no longer keep it up. He has already benefited from the added status of his wedding band, the only jewellry beyond rosaries and crosses allowed. I watched one such relationship, which had unfortunately gone as far as a child, crumble when the convict had a chance with a nurse who worked in our prison. She was a decade older than he was, but the respect he would win for his affair with her tempted him enough to break up with his wife, even though the nurse made no promises to replace her. He did it during a visit, a table away from me. After throwing a cup of breast milk in his face, his spurned spouse departed with the baby, forever, I hope. Soon afterward, authorities learned of the liaison between staff member and convict; the nurse ended the affair to keep her job, and the prisoner was sent far away – out of the reach of the nurse and the mother of his child.

Occasionally, though, there is a truly lovely match. Jessica had never imagined she would marry a man in prison and was cajoled into writing by a neighbour who had dated a swindler convicted of running a pyramid scheme. She didn’t expect anything. “I wrote out of curiosity to see if I might make a friend,” she told me. But when she began corresponding with Brian, a friend of mine serving a long sentence for embezzlement, she found love. Brian is intelligent, witty and charismatic, but no Adonis. He’s also almost seven feet tall. Still, she said, “it was like lightening to my heart. I never expected to feel that way about a man who was in prison, much less someone I only knew through letters. We collectively understood that we were going to be married within a few months of meeting in person.” Their courtship, conducted mostly by telephone, was simple, she explained:

One of the few benefits of our position is that we had nothing to do but to get to know one another. No distractions, just hours of talking. We have delved the deepest places of each other’s hearts faster than couples talking over breakfast for a lifetime.

I was released in February after completing my minimum 123 months, and next February Brian will follow; he made parole, even though he expected two more years. When I heard, I took Jessica for a walk. She is understandably nervous. Her neighbour relationship lasted only a week after her imprisoned boyfriend got out, and she has never spent a night with Brian, because the waiting periods imposed on newlyweds never permitted a trailer visit. She’s skittish about revealing her middle-aged body to him. (I know he feels the same way, and I was the most nervous of all, returning to my yoga-teaching wife with a mature belly.) Nevertheless, Jessica says, “The biggest obstacle is the wall between us. I count the days until his release, looking over at an empty pillow and knowing that soon his head will be there.”

For the decade I was away, my wife resisted the pressure to move on from all who wished her the best. This motivates me to make her proud. But the women who married Ronnie DeFeo are no different from the collectors of his art: voyeurs excited by holding hands stained with blood. Chatting with counsellors and clergy members, I learned that the prison policymaker, tasked with keeping dangerous men stable, are wary of the way convicts and their outside spouses manipulate each other. They would generally prefer to deny prisoners the right to marry. And it’s true that the young woman marrying Charles Manson is complicit in his sociopathy and egotism.

But then there is Jessica. Should we deny her and Brian their future because of the sicknesses of others? Certainly not. So the priests and magistrates stiffen their lips and perform the ceremony. Only the traditional question – about anyone knowing of a reason why the couple should not be joined – is tactfully omitted.

* Genis is a writer living in Brooklyn. Released in February of 2014, he served a decade in prison. His book is forthcoming from Penguin.

Washington Post- Bloomberg

Parliament to hear EFF report

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IOL PN EFF disruptINDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS EFF MPs disrupt proceedings in Parliament. File picture: Jeffrey Abrahams

Parliament – A report likely to result in the suspension of Economic Freedom Fighters MPs from Parliament for up to 30 days will finally be tabled in the National Assembly on Thursday.

It was confirmed at a meeting of political parties’ chief whips on Tuesday, Democratic Alliance Chief Whip John Steenhuisen told Sapa.

Steenhuisen said the session, the last for the year, would be brief, suggesting that there would be no debate on the report from the legislature’s powers and privileges committee.

Instead parties will be allowed to make declarations before the report is put to the vote.

The committee found 20 MPs from the EFF guilty on a range of charges stemming from their heckling of President Jacob Zuma over his Nkandla homestead on August 21.

ANC sources said the tabling of the report was the reason for the special sitting, as a truce brokered by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa which would have granted the EFF a reprieve has fallen apart.

On Monday, Ramaphosa met opposition leaders for the second time in less than a week and blamed the breakdown on the DA’s insistence on proceeding with a motion last week accusing Zuma of failing to account to the National Assembly every parliamentary quarter.

“(This) departed from the spirit around which the deal was struck and we also said that we must now allow processes in Parliament to unfold,” Ramaphosa told reporters after the meeting.

In terms of the truce, Parliament would have held back the report while parties looked for a political solution to the strife.

Sapa


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Mystery plan to help Eskom recover

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IOL pic nov3 eskom pylonsIndependent Media File photo: Cindy Waxa

Johannesburg – A plan is in the making for Eskom’s financial and operational recovery, Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown said in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

“Yesterday, the Eskom leadership and the leading global expert on the subject walked me through the very latest analysis of the road ahead,” she said.

“The expert on this matter says there is a reasonable chance of success Ä assuming that we can climb mountains, of course.”

Eskom and others would be required to make an “extraordinary effort” over the next three to four years.

This follows Cabinet’s approval of a government bailout of Eskom, including support measures and an equity cash injection of at least R20 billion.

Brown was speaking at the release of Eskom’s interim financial results for the period ended September 30, which painted a bleak picture for the state-owned company’s liquidity.

Eskom’s six-month year-on-year profit was reduced to R9.3

billion, with a projected year end profit of only half a billion rand.

Brown said the mystery plan’s “scale and its breadth are a serious match for the challenges which it sets out to overcome.

“It is multi-faceted and complex and we will have to climb and move mountains to make it work Ä but I believe it is the sea change that we have all been looking for.”

She warned that failure was not an option.

“In short, we must become world-class mountaineers.”

She finished her speech on an enigmatic note:

“No. You will have to wait a while longer before all those plans are fully baked and before you get any more on the subject out of me.”

Eskom revealed on Tuesday that its first-half profit had decreased 24 percent to R9.3 billion, compared to R12.2 billion for the same period last year.

Rising production costs, sales volumes having declined by 1.35 percent (compared to the previous year) and municipal arrears debt of R4 billion compounded its financial difficulties.

The power producer’s finance director Tsholofelo Molefe said Eskom’s sustainability was being threatened by higher production costs, although the government bailout helped to offset this.

“This package will support liquidity in the short-term, but in the long-term it remains absolutely imperative that the tariffs must reflect the cost to supply electricity.”

The National Energy Regulator of SA has approved tariff hikes that would provide an additional R7.8bn for the financial year 2015/2016.

Eskom CEO Tsholofelo Matona warned that until Eskom’s capacity and liquidity were improved “we are living on the edge”.

“We have a crisis on our hands.”

Eskom would take the opportunity to do maintenance whenever this was viable, but maintenance often led to reduced capacity.

In the event of load-shedding, Eskom would continue to “protect the economy” by first cutting residential power supply Ä even though it pained Eskom to do this, Matona said.

“… When we do loadshed, it is out of responsibility to prevent a total blackout that could be catastrophic for the country and the region.”

Matona appealed to South Africans to “live lightly this summer” through conserving electricity.

Normally the demand for power is lower in summer and Eskom used this time to conduct planned maintenance.

Democratic Alliance spokeswoman on public enterprises Natasha Michael said the party “welcomed” Matona’s candidness.

“Eskom is the only business I know of that requests their clients to use less of their product.”

She said the financial results were an indication that drastic changes were needed in the power producer.

“The partial privatisation of Eskom and the involvement of other independent power producers is now a mathematical inevitability.”

On Monday African National Congress secretary general Gwede Mantashe said the ruling party was not in favour of such a step.

“Electricity remains a public good and therefore, if you totally privatise it, it will have problems,” Mantashe told press in Johannesburg.

“Privatisation of electricity supply is not a panacea.”

Sapa


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Jewellery Industry Takes Steps to Eliminate “Conflict Gold”

By Carey L. Biron

Washington, DC — Major U.S. jewellery companies and retailers have started to take substantive steps to eliminate the presence of “conflict gold” from their supply chains, according to the results of a year-long investigation published Monday.

Rights advocates, backed by the United Nations, have been warning for years that mining revenues are funding warlords and militia groups operating in the Great Lakes region of Africa, particularly in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In 2010, such concerns resulted in landmark legislation here in the United States aimed at halting this trade, and those laws have since spurred similar legislative proposals in the European Union and Canada.

“Just a few years ago, jewellery companies were pretty resistant to making progress on this, but today there is clearly interest in supporting peace and finding out more about the role they can play in this issue.” — Holly Dranginis of Enough Project

Three of the most problematic of these “conflict minerals” – tin, tantalum and tungsten, collectively known as 3T – are used primarily by the electronics industry. In recent years, that sector has made notable progress in certifying and otherwise regulating its use of these materials.

Yet forward movement has been slower on the fourth conflict mineral from the Great Lakes region – gold.

“Over two-thirds of the eastern Congo’s 3T mines are conflict-free today,” a new report from the Enough Project, a Washington-based watchdog group, states.

“Gold, however, remains a major financial lifeline for armed actors. Ninety-eight percent of artisanally mined gold … is smuggled out of the country annually, and much of that gold benefits armed commanders.”

Last year, the report estimates, some eight to ten tons of gold were smuggled out of eastern DRC. That would have been worth more than 400 million dollars.

Much of this smuggling is thought to take place through Congo’s neighbours, particularly Uganda and Burundi, and onwards to Dubai. From there, most of this gold is able to anonymously enter the global marketplace.

The jewellery industry, meanwhile, is the largest user of global gold supplies, constituting slightly less than half of worldwide demand. “Conflict gold thus taints the industry as whole,” the report warns.

Pledging to stay

According to the Enough Project’s new rankings, however, the industry is starting to respond to these concerns. Researchers looked at both past and pledged actions by 14 of the largest jewellery companies and retailers in the United States – part of an industry worth some five billion dollars a year – and found a spectrum of initiatives already underway.

On the one hand, some companies appear to have undertaken no conflict minerals-related initiatives whatsoever, at least as far as the new report’s metrics were concerned. Three companies scored zero points, while others – including major retailers such as Walmart, Sears and Costco – scored very low.

On the other hand, the researchers found a few key companies that have undertaken particularly notable responses. They say there is reason to believe that these leaders could now influence the rest of the industry.

“We really wanted to focus on the leading jewellery retailers in the U.S. because of their leverage over the industry – we wanted to take lessons from our experience with the electronics industry, that leading companies can move an entire industry,” Holly Dranginis, a policy analyst with the Enough Project and the lead author on the new report, told IPS.

“Just a few years ago, jewellery companies were pretty resistant to making progress on this, but today there is clearly interest in supporting peace and finding out more about the role they can play in this issue. We found two very clear leaders among the 14.”

Those are two of the most recognizable jewellery brands and retailers in the world, Signet Jewelers and Tiffany & Co. Three others highlighted for recognition in the rankings are the commercial retailers J.C. Penney Company, Target Corp. and Cartier.

The Enough Project researchers sent a broad questionnaire to these companies, and Signet and Tiffany received the highest overall rankings. Yet Dranginis notes that what differentiates these companies is merely the fact that they have put in place policies around the sourcing of gold from the Great Lakes region.

Perhaps more importantly, these companies have also started engaging on the ground in countries such as the DRC. Over the past three years, for instance, Signet has pledged to continue sourcing certified gold from the country, rather than simply moving on to another country entirely. The company is also making its sourcing strategies open to others in the industry.

“We see our involvement in industry guidance and standards in the gold sector and the development and implementation of the Signet Responsible Sourcing Protocols as part of a broader initiative of ensuring responsible business practices through the entire jewellery supply chain, for gold and for all other materials,” David A. Bouffard, a vice president for Signet Jewelers, told IPS in a statement.

“It is important to us that our SRSPs are open public protocols which can be used by anyone in our industry, and which Signet’s suppliers can use to their benefit in their relationships with other customers.”

Tiffany, meanwhile, is making a concerted effort to assist local communities, particularly small-scale miners and their families. Both companies reportedly have individual executives that have taken a particular interest in the issue.

“One of the concerns has been that compliance with [U.S. conflict minerals laws] has pushed some companies to think they should leave the region and source elsewhere,” the Enough Project’s Dranginis says.

“Supporting community initiatives in the region is critical, because a lot of communities are affected by major market changes. We also need to ensure that gold miners and their families are supported in a comprehensive way, looking into sustainable projects, alternative livelihoods, financial inclusion and related issues.”

Certification capacity

Action by major brands is, of course, a key component in driving the global response to the impacts of conflict gold. Yet an important collection of multistakeholder and trade mechanisms has also sprung up in recent years, directly facilitating these initiatives.

Central to any attempt at tracking and regulating raw commodities, for instance, is a system of certification. And just as the electronics industry has been able to use metals smelters as an important lynchpin in this process, so too has the gold industry been able to start certifying gold refiners.

According to the new report, in 2012 just six gold refiners had been certified as “conflict free” by one such initiative, the Conflict Free Smelter Program. Two years later, that number has risen to 52 – though “there are still many refiners outside the system,” the study notes.

Advocates are also calling for stepped-up and coordinated action by governments. While the United States, European Union and Canada could all soon have legislation on the use of conflict minerals, some are increasingly pushing for action from the government of the United Arab Emirates aiming to constrict the flow of conflict gold through Dubai.

Likewise, India, Pakistan and China are among the most prominent consumers of gold worldwide, and thus constitute key sources of demand.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

Follow @clbtea

Copyright © 2014 Inter Press Service. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Illicit smokes a crime catalyst: Phiyega

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iol news pic cigarettes 1AP File image – Illicit trading in the tobacco sector creates a catalyst for other crimes, national police commissioner Riah Phiyega said. AP Photo/Dave Martin

Johannesburg – Illicit trading in the tobacco sector creates a catalyst for other crimes, national police commissioner Riah Phiyega said on Tuesday.

“Illegal trade in tobacco products is huge business which often spread to other crimes, like money laundering and drug dealing,” Phiyega said in a speech prepared for delivery at a conference in Cape Town.

“Due to this illicit trade, criminals use the informal markets they have built to distribute other counterfeit goods and committing other crimes.”

She highlighted the impact that illicit tobacco trading had on the economy and job creation.

“We understand how illicit trading undermines social and economic factors of society.”

The conference would address the issues facing the illicit tobacco market, such as the taxes in the tobacco industry, strategies to curb illegal tobacco trading and corruption within the industry.

Phiyega said illicit trading created an environment for organised crime, which had a negative impact on the economy, the functioning of the state and the rule of law.

“Organised crime knows no borders, has no regard for the law and the criminals involved have massive resources and networks they have developed in pursuit of their objectives.”

She made reference to Czech fugitive Radovan Krejcir, who faces a string of charges including kidnapping and attempted murder.

“What I mean by this is that when you have someone like Krejcir, who is able to pollute various spheres of government including the police, prosecutors, home affairs officials as well as use corrupt means through institutions such as banks, insurance companies and vehicle dealership to commit crimes, then we have a serious problem.”

“That is why it is important for us to fight any activity which may aid organised crime.”

Phiyega urged all entities, including police, government and members of the public, to work together to combat the illicit trade of tobacco.

“Combating the illicit trade in tobacco needs concerted collaborative approaches.

“The police and all relevant role players, including the community, have a big role to play in enabling and maintaining a safe and secure platform for trade in South Africa and the SADC region.”

Sapa

SA drug mule held in Kenya

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Supplied Cocaine seized by the South African Police Services.
Johannesburg – A 45-year-old South African woman has been in arrested in Kenya for allegedly being in possession of cocaine with a street value of R1.7 million, the SABC reported on Tuesday….

Tunisia: Jomaa Offers Condolences On Morocco Floods

Tunis — Interim Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa sent, Tuesday, a message of condolences and sympathy to his Moroccan counterpart Abdelilah Benkirane in the aftermath of floods that killed several citizens in Southeastern Morocco.

Jomaa said he learnt the news with “deep emotion” and “great sorrow.”

In these painful circumstances, I express, in my name and on behalf of the Government, sincere condolences and sympathy to the families of the victims and the Moroccan people, Jomaa was quoted as saying in a Prime Ministry press release.

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AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

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Morocco: HM the King Visit to China Postponed for Health Reasons – Release

Rabat — HM King Mohammed VI’s official visit to China scheduled as of November 27 has been postponed for health reasons, the ministry of the Royal Household, Protocol and Chancellery announced in a statement.

The official visit of His Majesty King Mohammed VI to the People’s Republic of China, which was due to start on 27 November 2014 “is postponed for health reasons”, the ministry said in a statement.

HM the King’s personal physician stated that the Sovereign has, since Monday, acute influenza syndrome with to 39.5 degrees fever complicated by bronchitis.

Further, the Royal Audience to the South Korean Mrime Minister Chung Hong-won, scheduled Tuesday at the Royal Palace in Fez as well as the works launching ceremony of the M’daz dam, slated for the same day (November 24) has also been canceled for the same reasons, teh same source, noted.

Copyright © 2014 Maghreb Arabe Presse. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Liberia: Liberia Keeps Its Foot on the Pedal to End Ebola

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Photo: Boakai Fofana/AllAfrica

Tents at a U.S.-built Ebola Treatment Unit in Liberia.

By Boakai Fofana

The incidence of reported Ebola cases is no longer increasing nationally in Liberia, enabling the United States government to consider scaling back the number of Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs) it is building in the country. But while there is debate among some Liberians about how many new facilities are still needed, those building them are determined to “keep the accelerator… down until Ebola is gone from Liberia.” AllAfrica’s Boakai Fofana reports from Buchanan on the opening of the first completely American-built ETU in the country.

Locals watched in awe from a distance as dozens of United States Army engineers prepared to take journalists on a guided tour of a newly-built Ebola Treatment Unit in the port city of Buchanan, about 70 miles southeast of Monrovia.

A few children scavenged in a pile of building waste from the 100-bed facility, as grown-ups looked on, unperturbed. And the adults were justified in their lack of worry, according to 32-year-old Albertha Dunn. Not only had the new unit admitted no patients yet; even during the heyday of the epidemic in Liberia, the city was not greatly affected.

“I only heard on the radio one time that we had about 12 persons with Ebola in the county,” she said. Albertha believes Grand Bassa County, where Buchanan is situated, was saved from the scourge by God. “We have been having strong prayers here”. But she added that people have stopped shaking hands and they follow the preventive measures laid down by health workers. The mother of five had been coming out every day to watch the month-long construction of the facility with another concern: she’s hoping to get a job as a cook.

In September, President Barack Obama authorized the deployment of thousands of American soldiers to help corral the Ebola outbreak which was ravaging Liberia and some of its neighbors. Their mission included building 17 treatment centers and training thousands of local health care workers. But as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control begin to report that the outbreak is stabilizing in Liberia, officials are reassessing their strategy.

“If you look back to August, we were all under attack,” said Mia Beers, the leader of the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team for the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. She announced that because the nature of the epidemic is changing, they were looking to build 15 ETUs instead of the planned 17, so that there will be one in each of the counties. “The strategy now is to go out in the rural areas and really hunt down Ebola,” she added, warning that although the numbers have dropped, “the fight is not over”.

The Buchanan unit is the first exclusively built by U.S. Army engineers and sits on more than four acres of land outside the city. The few units already constructed in other parts of the country were built in collaboration with either the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) or local contractors. Major General Gary J Volesky, who heads the U.S. military mission to Liberia, praised the role of the AFL: “With our Armed Forces of Liberia brothers, we are going to complete all the ones… under the current plan,” he said at the opening.

In addition to the ETUs donated by the Americans, facilities are being built by donors including WHO and the Chinese government, who have brought in 160 military health workers to staff a U.S. $41 million facility they are constructing at the country’s international sports stadium. But with two-thirds of the hundreds of beds currently available empty, according to the Liberian health ministry, and WHO’s recent announcement that Ebola is “no longer increasing” across the country as a whole, pundits are beginning to question the rationale for building more.

“They would be fools to spend all that money on ETUs,” Stephen D. Cashin, chief executive of the Pan African Capital Group, told the New York Times. He suggested that some of the money be spent on putting in place the expertise and skill sets needed “to provide care to the masses of people of Liberia”. However, not everyone sees it that way, and along with the Liberian government, aid organizations warn against the country letting its guard down.

Lifting the 90-day state of emergency imposed at the height of the epidemic, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf cautioned Liberians that “until the national goal of zero-new-cases by Christmas is achieved all across the country, we will keep many of the previous measures in place.” She said notwithstanding the gains, “a number of our compatriots are still lying in ETUs, hot-spots are springing up in rural areas, and many are still dying of Ebola.”

General Volesky echoed the president’s point at the unveiling in Buchanan: “We are going to keep the accelerator on that car down until Ebola is gone from Liberia.” He announced that the U.S. is bringing in three more mobile labs to be deployed in the southeastern counties.

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Government accused of failing to provide emergency care for British ebola volunteers

“If a British national looks like they have symptoms of Ebola, they should on a plane within 12 hours in my opinion,” said one senior medic. “Instead, the government wants to wait until somebody is sick enough that they might need dialysis, at which point you might not be fit for transport by plane anyway.”

An Ebola treatment facility in Sierra Leone

The medic issued the warning as the first tranche of 30 NHS volunteers arrived in Sierra Leone for a five-week stint working at Ebola treatment centres. Should any of them fall sick, they will be looked after in a 12-bed centre staffed by British Army medical experts specially set aside for health care workers.

Treatment for Ebola victims in the early stages is a relatively simple matter of ensuring that patients are properly fed and hydrated, and does not require sophiscated medical equipment. For that reason, the government says there is no need to offer automatic evacuation.

However, Ebola sufferers whose condition continues to worsen can require dialysis or ventilators. Some medics that believe that for that reason, it would be better simply to evacuate people immediately. The specialist evacuation planes that are used to transport Ebola sufferers also have limited ability to do so if the patient is suffering particularly acute symptoms.

“The plans are rather vague, and I think volunteers are owed some clarity,” said the medic. “If they have tested positive for Ebola, they and their families have enough to worry about, without the additional factor of whether they are coming back to Britain or not.”

Similar concerns are understood to have been shared by number of British consultants, and the matter is believed to have been raised with Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer for England.

British nurse William Pooley, who caught Ebola while working in Sierra Leone

In August, a British nurse, William Pooley, was repatriated by RAF jet from Sierra Leone after contracting Ebola, and made a full recovery. However, some doctors fear that were there to be some unexpected Ebola outbreak in Britain, as has already happened in Spain and the US, public opposition to repatriating aid workers might grow, especially if it involved large numbers of volunteers.

There is also a concern that other British expatriates living in Sierra Leone might demand the same treatment.

“I think the government needs to see the way the public wind is blowing at the time,” said the medic. “My feeling is that the politicians don’t want to bring people back for treatment, but they don’t want to actually say that.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “We are clear that whatever care is best clinically for a patient will be provided. If we need to medevac people, we can do that, but decisions must always be taken on a case by case basis. The clinical advice is that high quality supportive care, like keeping someone hydrated, is the best approach to treating Ebola.”