October, 2015

 

White House says will not release emails between Obama, Clinton

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The White House will not allow the immediate release of emails exchanged between President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton from when she was secretary of state, a senior administration official said on Friday.

The emails may be withheld until after Obama leaves office under the Presidential Records Act, according to the White House, a law that governs public access to the president’s records.

The number of emails involved has not been made public. The White House said Obama and Clinton, who is now running as a Democrat to succeed him in office in 2017, exchanged emails “on occasion.”

A federal judge has ordered the State Department to publicly release all of Clinton’s emails from her four years as the nation’s top diplomat between 2009 and 2013 after a Vice News reporter sued the department under freedom of information laws.

The State Department is releasing them in monthly batches through to next January; another 4,400 were released on Friday. They range from dull exchanges on scheduling matters to information that the government has redacted from public release because it is classified and could harm national security if disclosed.

It was not immediately clear whether U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan would agree with the U.S. executive branch’s decision, which was first reported by the New York Times, that Clinton’s emails with Obama did not have to be released under his order. The State Department declined to comment.

Steven Aftergood, the director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, said that “email messages to the president are potentially exempt” from release under freedom of information laws. However, federal judges have occasionally ruled against this exemption, Aftergood said.

Ryan James, a lawyer representing Vice News in the Clinton email lawsuit before Judge Sullivan, said he planned to challenge every “withholding or redaction” that does not meet the standards of freedom of information laws.

Clinton has spent months defending her decision to use only a private email account connected to a server in her New York home for her work as secretary of state, an arrangement that first came to light in March. She returned the emails to the department late last year.

Although she remains the favorite to become the nominee among Democratic voters, more than half of Americans have said in a series of recent opinion polls that they find her untrustworthy, in part because of her email habits.

Her critics say the set-up was an attempt to skirt transparency laws and may have made classified information vulnerable to hackers, charges she denies.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has taken the server Clinton used while secretary of state, along with other computer hardware belonging to her, to examine whether sensitive government information was mishandled, which can be a crime in some circumstances, or exposed.

Clinton has said she did not knowingly send or receive classified information through her private email system, a practice the government forbids.

But hundreds of emails that have been made public so far contain information that is classified, according to the State Department. The department says it does not know how much of that information, if any, was classified at the time she sent or received it.

Another 270 or so emails released on Friday contain classified information, according to the State Department. At least a couple of those email exchanges include classified information about military plans or weapons systems.

Much of the classified material in her emails is information provided in confidence by foreign governments. Government regulations say this sort of information must be classified, and Clinton has declined to explain why she and her staff often did not treat it as such.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards and Jonathan Allen; Additional reporting by Sarah McBride,Mark Hosenball and Megan Cassella; Editing by Eric Beech, Leslie Adler and Ken Wills)


Uruguay: Heaven for meat eaters, hell for vegetarians

(AFP) – It is not easy being a vegetarian in Uruguay — one of the largest exporters of meat in the world.

“In Uruguay, they laugh at vegetarians, they think we are weird,” says Laura Lacurcia, with a sigh.

The South American country has a peculiar claim to fame — it has three times more cows (10 million) than people (three million) — and is proud of its reputation as a carnivore’s paradise.

So when the UN warned Monday that red meat “probably” poses a cancer risk, many Uruguayans merely shrugged.

“If someone wants to eat Uruguayan food and they are vegetarian, they are in trouble,” joked Gustavo Laborde, an anthropologist and author of a book on the “ritual” that is the barbecue.

Non-meat eaters like Lacurcia have a tough time in the capital, which has a population of 1.5 million but is almost devoid of vegetarian or vegan restaurants.

Titina Nunez, of gourmet magazine “Placer,” says there are a mere handful of vegetarian restaurants in the city.

“It is very hard for Uruguayans to avoid pizza or barbecue and there is a long way to go for us to get to gourmet levels,” she said.

AFP / Miguel Rojo A customer looks at the different meat cuts at the butchery section of a supermarket on October 30, 2008 in Montevideo

“When a Mexican or Japanese restaurant opens, they end up adding local meat dishes to their menu because if they don’t, they close down.”

Lacurcia became a vegan out of concern for animal welfare. She brushes off the incredulous reaction she invariably draws.

“You have to be very tolerant and laugh it off or ignore it,” she said, smiling. “People regard us as strange beasts.”

Her choice certainly sets her apart from the average Uruguayan, who chomps through nearly 60 kilos (130 pounds) of beef a year — over 20 kilos more than the average French person, for example.

– Baby food and meat juice –

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) alarmed many around the world with its findings.

It released a report analyzing 800 studies from around the world, concluding that processed meats such as sausages, ham and hot dogs aggravate the risk of bowel cancer, and red meat “probably” does too.

But many in Uruguay gave the findings short shrift.

Without meat on the menu every day, “Uruguay would not exist,” said one diner at a typical restaurant in Mercado del Puerto, in the heart of Montevideo, where the fare revolves entirely around grilled meat.

Another diner feasting on meat saw a conspiracy in the findings: “Let’s find out what the hidden interests are behind this information.”

An unmistakable smell wafts through the capital every Sunday: that of the barbecue, which is central to family gatherings.

When a Uruguayan real estate agent takes prospective buyers to an apartment, first on his list of amenities to point out is the barbecue on the terrace.

Only after that will talk turn to other, secondary matters, such as the size of the place.

AFP / Pablo Porciuncula Cows wait before being taken to the slaughterhouse of the Frigorifico San Jacinto, one of the most important Uruguayan meat processing plants, in San Jacinto, southern Uruguay on October 31, 2012

Nor can you mistake the smell of barbecue on the sidewalks, where workers set up improvised grills at lunch time.

Even on the online dating network Tinder, having a barbecue is a personal selling point — or so it seems from the profile pictures of the many men posing with a barbecue peeking out in the background.

Back at Mercado del Puerto, Jose Fernandez remembers how until the 1970s Uruguayan mothers would add meat juice to babies’ meals.

“They would mix the blood of the meat with mashed potatoes,” said the 66-year-old.

Even local nutritionists are skeptical of the cancer claims.

Rosana Viera branded the WHO findings “very alarmist.”

“Uruguayan meat is very different from that produced in other countries,” she said.

“Here, the cows are raised outdoors and this is what makes the quality — not just quantity — of their flesh different.”


Romanian nightclub fire leaves 27 dead, 184 injured

BUCHAREST (Reuters) – A fire in a Bucharest nightclub killed 27 people and injured 184 during a rock concert that featured fireworks late on Friday, Romanian government officials and witnesses said.

In one of the capital’s worst disasters in decades, about 400 people, mostly young adults, stampeded for the only available exit as the club in the basement of a Communist-era sport-shoe factory filled with smoke.

Several witnesses said there were fireworks inside the club. Colectiv Club’s Facebook page said the show would feature pyrotechnic effects.

Deputy Interior Minister Raed Arafat said 17 of the 27 dead had yet to be identified and that 146 people remained in hospital.

“Unfortunately, the death toll may change taking into account the severity of their injuries,” he said after an emergency meeting early on Saturday.

A pillar covered with foam panels and the club’s ceiling went up in flames and then there was an explosion and heavy smoke, the witnesses said. Many people admitted to hospitals had suffered burn and smoke inhalation injuries or were trampled.

TV footage showed police officers and paramedics trying to resuscitate young people lying on the pavement while sirens wailed with more ambulances deployed to the scene.

“There was a stampede of people running out of the (Colectiv) club,” a man who escaped without shoes told Reuters.

A young woman who was released from the hospital after minor injuries described the club bursting into flames.

“In five seconds the whole ceiling was all on fire. In the next three, we rushed to a single door,” she told television station Antena 3.

Deputy Prime Minister Gabriel Oprea said a criminal investigation into the causes of the incident was already under way, and the health minister launched a public appeal for blood donations.

Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis said in a statement: “I want to assure you of all support from rescuing forces and ask you to trust they put all efforts to limit the impact of this catastrophe.”

The government said it would declare three days of national mourning later on Saturday.

Some of the deadliest nightclub disasters in the world were started by fireworks.

In the southern Brazilian college town of Santa Maria in 2013, a musician lit an outdoor flare inside the Kiss nightclub and started a fire that killed at least 241 people, investigators said.

Fireworks were also blamed for nightclub fires in Russia’s Perm that killed 156 people in 2009 and in Argentina’s Buenos Aires in 2004 that killed 194.

(Reporting by Radu Marinas; Additional reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Lisa Shumakerand Susan Thomas)


Republican Party kicks NBC News out of sponsoring February debate

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican National Committee on Friday dumped NBC News from sponsoring a Feb. 26 debate of presidential candidates in the fallout over a debate conducted by media partner CNBC this week that was roundly criticized by the candidates.

The move comes as several campaigns seek to change the format for the remaining debates due to concerns too many candidates are on stage and do not get enough time to speak.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus cited “bad faith” in announcing the party will suspend its partnership with NBC News for the Feb. 26 debate to be held in Houston. Telemundo and National Review are co-sponsors of the event.

Priebus told NBC in a letter that the committee wanted to ensure its candidates would be given a “full and fair” opportunity to lay out their political visions. The party has complained about the handling of Wednesday night’s debate by CNBC.

The CNBC debate in Boulder, Colorado, was supposed to be devoted to discussing the candidates’ views on how to improve the U.S. economy but frequently strayed from that theme and the moderators struggled to maintain control.

“While debates are meant to include tough questions and contrast candidates’ visions and policies for the future of America, CNBC’s moderators engaged in a series of ‘gotcha’ questions, petty and mean-spirited in tone, and designed to embarrass our candidates,” Priebus wrote.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie were among those candidates who objected to questions during the debate. Christie wondered aloud why they were being asked about Fantasy Football competition when Islamic State militants are killing people in the Middle East.

“This is a disappointing development. However, along with our debate broadcast partners at Telemundo we will work in good faith to resolve this matter with the Republican Party,” an NBC statement said.

Representatives from several campaigns are to meet on Sunday to discuss how to repair what they feel is a broken debate format that is backed by the RNC and TV networks.

At least one campaign has suggested that instead of having 10 or 11 candidates on stage at the same time, that the group be split in two for two debates of 90 minutes each.

A front-running candidate, New York billionaire Donald Trump, welcomed the RNC move to cut NBC out of the debate, citing “the total lack of substance and respect exhibited during Wednesday’s night’s debate.”

“We look forward to pursuing alternatives along with the RNC to ensure candidates are given ample opportunity to outline their vision for the future of our country,” a Trump campaign statement said.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Bill Trott, Andrew Hay and David Gregorio)


Russian airliner with 224 aboard crashes in Egypt’s Sinai

ISMAILIA, EGYPT/CAIRO (Reuters) – A Russian airliner carrying 224 passengers and crew crashed in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula on Saturday, and a security officer at the scene said most passengers appeared to have been killed.

The Airbus A321, operated by Russian airline Kogalymavia under the brand name Metrojet, was flying from the Sinai Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg in Russia when it went down in a desolate mountainous area of central Sinai soon after daybreak, the aviation ministry said.

An authoritative Sweden-based aviation tracking service said the aircraft, having made an apparently smooth take off, lurched into a rapid descent shortly after approaching cruising altitude.

“I now see a tragic scene,” an Egyptian security officer at the scene told Reuters by telephone. “A lot of dead on the ground and many who died whilst strapped to their seats.

“The plane split into two, a small part on the tail end that burned and a larger part that crashed into a rock. We have extracted at least 100 bodies and the rest are still inside,” the officer, who requested anonymity, said.

Sinai is the scene of an insurgency by militants close to Islamic State, who have killed hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and police and have also attacked Western targets in recent months.

Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, launched air raids against opposition groups in Syria including Islamic State on Sept. 30.

Civil Aviation Minister Mohamed Hossam Kemal was quoted in a cabinet statement as saying it was too soon to determine the cause of the crash. Security sources said there was no indication the Airbus had been shot down or blown up.

TELEPHONES RINGING

Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail was heading to the crash site in the Hassana area 35 km (22 miles) south of the Sinai Mediterranean coastal city of Al Arish with several cabinet ministers on a private jet, the tourism ministry said.

Russian television showed film of anxious relatives and friends waiting for information at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport. Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a day of national mourning for Sunday.

The A321 is a 185-seat medium-haul jet in service since 1994, with over 1,100 in operation worldwide and a good safety record. It is a highly automated aircraft relying on computers to help pilots stay within safe flying limits.

Saturday’s crash is the second fatal accident involving this variant of the A320 jetliner family, according to data from the Flight Safety Foundation.

Airbus said it had no independent information on the crash and declined to comment on the aircraft involved.

Emergency services and aviation specialists quickly began an inspection of the wreckage for any patterns of damage that could point to the cause. One of two flight recorders was quickly found, but wreckage was scattered over a wide area.

The security officer said 120 intact bodies had been found.

“We are hearing a lot of telephones ringing, most likely belonging to the victims, and security forces are collecting them and putting them into a bag,” he said.

The aircraft took off at 5:51 a.m. Cairo time (0351 GMT) and disappeared from radar screens 23 minutes later, Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry said in a statement. It was at an altitude of 31,000 feet (9,400 meters) when it vanished from radar screens.

Accidents at cruising altitude are one of the rarest categories of accidents but also among the most deadly, accounting for 13 percent of fatal incidents but 27 percent of fatalities since 2005, according to Boeing.

According to FlightRadar24, an authoritative Sweden-based flight tracking service, the aircraft was descending rapidly at about 6,000 (2,000 meters) feet per minute before the signal was lost to air traffic control.

The Russian RIA news agency, citing sources at Sharm el-Sheikh, said: “The pilot contacted the dispatcher and reported technical problems, asking for a change of the route and a landing at Cairo airport, after which communication was broken.”

The aircraft cited in tracking reports had two engines from the International Aero Engines consortium, which includes United Technologies (UTX.N) unit Pratt & Whitney and Germany’s MTU Aero Engines (MTXGn.DE)

(Additional reporting by Ehab Farouk; Writing by Michael Georgy; editing by Ralph Boulton)


Signing of the Nassau Accord was a “remarkable and historic” event, says Prime Minister Christie

By ERIC ROSE

Bahamas Information Services

Signing of the Nassau Accord was a “remarkable and historic” event, says Prime Minister Christie

NASSAU, The Bahamas — Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie said the signing of the Nassau Accord 30 years ago was a “remarkable and historic event” that had a profound and riveting effect on the course of history, and, in particular, the history of South Africa.

“It contributed to the ending of Apartheid in South Africa and the subsequent freedom of Nelson Mandela and his compatriots who had languished in prison for some 27 years, based purely on the reasons that they had sought justice, sought freedom and equality of rights and privileges in their native South Africa,” Prime Minister Christie said during a ceremony commemorating the anniversary of the signing, which was a part of the Caribbean Musik Festival events, held in Rawson Square, on October 29, 2015.

Prime Minister Christie said the dominant issue at the 1985 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was the apartheid in South Africa and whether sanctions should be used to end it.  He gave a brief overview of the treatment of black South Africans at that time — highlighting the plight of the Mandelas — as well as what was being done by relevant world leaders about the situation.

“In the United States, at the time, President Ronald Reagan had vetoed U.S. sanctions against South Africa,” Prime Minister Christie pointed out.  “Similarly, the conservative government in the United Kingdom under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher also opposed using sanctions against South Africa.”

Some Commonwealth countries, he added threatened to revoke Zambia’s membership in the Commonwealth.  Prime Minister Christie said the then Prime Minister of The Bahamas the late Rt. Hon. Lynden Pindling was allied with the African “front-line” nations that were against the British policy with respect to Rhodesia-Zimbabwe and the opposition to use economic sanctions to end the white Rhodesian regime.

When CHOGM met, Prime Minister Christie said there was a clear divide between Commonwealth countries on Apartheid.

“It was in this moment of challenge, when the continued existence of the Commonwealth itself was threatened, that a black Bahamian from East Street — who had risen from the working classes of parents from The Bahamas and Jamaica — was to emerge as a statesman, even when he faced his greatest challenge at home,” Prime Minister Christie said.

He went on to relate that Prime Minister Pindling’s formative years in the working class community of Grants Town and as a student at the Government High School, as well as his rising political consciousness as a foreign student in London in the 1950s about the anti-colonial struggles in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, were all to prepare him for the role he was to play in guiding The Bahamas to majority rule and political independence.

“His diplomatic skills convincing Sir Alvin Braynen and Sir Randol Fawkes to support the Progressive Liberal Party helped to forge the great historical compromise that led to the first majority rule P.L.P. Government in 1967,” Prime Minister Christie said.

Prime Minister Christie said that at CHOGM in 1985, Sir Lynden was “supremely prepared” to lead the Commonwealth, and to lead with imagination and courage, in standing firm on the principle of universal adult suffrage for South Africans.

“With his close friend Shridath ‘Sonny’ Ramphal, as Commonwealth Secretary General, Sir Lynden used his diplomatic skills to win the support of Australia, Canada and New Zealand for a comprehensive package of economic measures against apartheid in South Africa,” Prime Minister Christie said.

Prime Minister Christie explained that the Nassau Accord, which was affirmed by all of the Heads at the 8th CHOGM, had two key platforms.

Firstly, Prime Minister Christie said it called on the government of South Africa to dismantle its apartheid policy and enter into negotiations with the country’s black majority and end its occupation of Namibia. Secondly, he continued, it appointed the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group which was charged with the task to investigate the South African issue and report back with recommendations ahead of the special 1986 CHOGM in London.

Prime Minister Christie contended that, all things being equal, it is highly unlikely that prior sessions of CHOGM and those that have followed in subsequent years — including those he had attended, and right up to the present time — have had a more galvanizing effect on the history of the Commonwealth than the outcome that was “sealed” at the 8th Meeting of CHOGM through the declaration known as the Nassau Accord.

“My reasons for asserting this is that the Nassau Accord made a clean break with previous discussions on the situation in South Africa,” Prime Minister Christie said.  “Principally, it established an urgency to deal with the issues of apartheid and the black majority rule.

“This led to an acceleration of the pace of negotiations within and outside of the Government of South Africa and in the international community, all of which eventually led to the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990, and which by 1994 ushered in the first ever elections conducted under universal adult suffrage in that nation,” he added.

“As we all can recall, Nelson Mandela handily won this election, thus ushering in majority rule for the first time in the modern history of South Africa.”

–30–

Caption

Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie brings remarks during a ceremony commemorating the 30thanniversary of the Nassau Accord signing, which was a part of the Caribbean Musik Festival events, held in Rawson Square, Thursday, October 29, 2015.  (BIS photo/Peter Ramsay)


THIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS (26 – 30 OCTOBER 2015)

COMMENTARY BY ELCOTT COLEBY

PM: “I’m supremely confident” on Baha Mar resolution

Less than two days following the effective date of the severance of over 2,000 Baha Mar employees, Prime Minister Christie said that he was “supremely confident” of a resolution to the ongoing Baha Mar impasse. Parties have negotiated out of court and presented legal arguments inside of court since June of this year.

“I’ll just say this, Baha Mar too will be completed. I’m supremely confident with all its complexities, with the enormity of the implication of deteriorating abscess that is not being attended to, that what would have taken $300 million to finish is now double that ($600 million); and every week and every month it deteriorates further.

“But there is absolutely no doubt that I will solve that problem, none” said Mr. Christie of the impasse. “And the parties, with or without the level of togetherness that is necessary, will see it happen.”

The Prime Minister revealed this while addressing insurance stakeholders at the 40th anniversary of the Bahamas Insurance Association (BIA) at the British Colonial Hotel on Saturday past.

This level of confidence and optimism was expressed by the Prime Minister during a Diplomatic Week address last Friday and again on Monday of this week after a weekend of conference calls with the relevant stakeholders. He told the media that he knew more than he was allowed to divulge at that time.

In related news, the SLS Lux group has expressed a desire to expand its investment interests in the Baha Mar campus according to Chairman Sam Nazarian. This is reason for greater government optimism.

“Not only are we excited about it but I think more importantly, we would like to do more within the campus of Baha Mar” said Chairman Nazarian, eyeing the former five star Rosewood branded property. “We would love to explore that option” said Nazarian and speaking of the construction quality of the hotel, he had this to say.

“We think that the Rosewood property also was built at a level of quality and its positioning within the campus is unbelievably well with the other brands like Hyatt and the casino hotel itself so like I said we’d love to do more and whatever the final stakeholders will have us do we’ll do it willingly with a lot of confidence moving forward” said Nazarian.

Prime Minister Christie said he is working with the partners to cause for the resumption of construction before Christmas.

To allow for an out of court settlement, all parties agreed with the Supreme Court to reschedule the liquidation hearing for Wednesday, 25th November.

Prime Minister calls for constructive engagement on NHI

“So you decide you want to have a major public relations campaign going on. The reason why I am talking to you, and I’ve come to talk to you, is that whenever you finish it and you want to sit down, that’s what I’m about.”

These were the direct words from Prime Minister Christie to the chairman of the Bahamas Insurance Association (BIA) Emmanuel Komolafe on negotiations around National Health Insurance (NHI).

The BIA has been very vocal about the universal health insurance initiative, saying that NHI is too expensive, a threat to their way of life and that to date there has been “minimal progress” on consultations, laying the blame squarely at the feet of the Ministry of Health and its NHI consultant Sanigest. BIA claimed this is injurious to the local insurance industry.

The Prime Minister’s message to the insurance industry was that as Prime Minister he was flexible and reasonable and only through constructive engagement can they design an insurance model that benefits all stakeholders. He said that he was prepared to be “innovative and introduce a hybrid model” of NHI that takes into consideration the needs of the local insurance industry.

“But for God’s sake, if you say the cost is so much, and my advisors say the cost is that, then sit with me.

“But you’re not going to get it by beating on me. You get it by talking to me, Mr. Komolafe” said Mr. Christie referring to the futile acrimonious rhetoric that has littered the pages of the local dailies in recent times.

Drawing parallels with negotiations on Value Added Tax (VAT), the Prime Minister told the gathering that he had gone down this road before but at the end of the day when VAT is distilled to its bare essence, “we agreed it was the best thing to do.”

The BIA is on record as being in support of NHI, but there is no consensus on cost with the BIA estimating the cost at $1 billion annually compared to Sanigest who pegged phase one at around $350 million and at over $600 million by phase three.

Government discusses “Joaquin factor” on NHI funding

Prime Minister Christie and National Insurance Minister Hon. Shane Gibson spoke candidly about NHI funding this week in light of the post Joaquin reconstruction costs in the southern Bahamas.

This comes as engineers and technical officers finalize their assessments and costing for restoration and reconstruction on affected islands and the revelation of the latest estimated price tag of around $80 million. State Minister for Finance Hon. Michael Halkitis revealed that the government expects to get close to a final cost “in a couple of days.”

Speaking with the media earlier this week, Gibson conceded that in the wake of the devastation of Hurricane Joaquin, “…funding for any major initiative at this time would be a concern to the government…”but certainly when it comes to NHI, it is important to this government, it’s a priority.” Other major pre-hurricane infrastructure development projects are road works in Acklins, Crooked Island and the reconstruction of the main thoroughfare between North and Central Andros.

In light of this fiscal strain, Mr. Gibson said that he thinks “the idea is to introduce a benefits package that is minimal at this time and you increase the benefits package over time.”

In addressing the media on NHI funding after a NHI committee meeting, Prime Minister reiterated yet again that his government will not harm the country’s economy as it implements National Health Insurance (NHI).

“I think the government made a commitment to taking steps that are in the best interest of the economy of the country and doing nothing to disrupt the economy of the country, and so that’s what will govern us.

“So even if rates come in the next budget year, those rates would conform to what we would regard as the obligation of the government to ensure that the economy is not unduly disturbed by any rate or tax that we impose” said Mr. Christie.

The initial phase of NHI involves the upgrade of the health delivery infrastructure. This includes longer operating hours at clinics; refurbishing satellite clinics; opening more clinics; deploying a doctor on every family island; the expansion of the Rand Memorial Hospital (RMH) in Freeport and a $60 million upgrade of the Princess Margret Hospital (PMH) here in Nassau.

Attorney General rejects culpability in Baha Mar redundancy exercise

Days after 2,000 Baha Mar employees were laid off the Attorney General issued a statement rejecting any suggestion that the redundancy programme adopted by the Joint Provisional Liquidators could have been avoided if Baha Mar had continued to pursue its bankruptcy reorganization in the United States.

The statement said that as “debtors-in-possession” under the US Bankruptcy Code, the Baha Mar companies faced the same cash shortage that now confronts the Joint Provisional Liquidators and that in a July 10 affidavit Baha Mar told the Bankruptcy Court in Delaware that in the absence of an agreement “in the near term” with the Export-Import Bank, Baha Mar would “be compelled to immediately downsize their operations to a minimum over approximately 45 to 60 days, which includes . . . reducing their work force to a skeletal staff . . . .” The affidavit further stated that the “skeletal staff” would have comprised only 52 employees, plus an additional 47 employees “to assist with the wind-down of their respective operations . . . notwithstanding their impending termination.”

This means that Baha Mar’s management was planning to implement “draconian work force reductions long before the Joint Provisional Liquidators were compelled to pursue their redundancy programme. Unlike Baha Mar management, however, the Joint Provisional Liquidators have realistic prospects for obtaining necessary funding” said the statement.

The statement went on to say that the August 26 Baha Mar filing with the Bankruptcy Court proposed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization plan that “was entirely hypothetical, and it offered no hope of avoiding workforce reductions. The plan hinged entirely on the availability of at least $400 million to $600 million of ‘Exit Financing,’ for which Baha Mar management did not purport to have any  commitment from anyone.”

Maurice Glinton QC found guilty of contempt of court

Noted attorney Maurice Glinton, QC, was found guilty of two counts of contempt of court on Monday, 26th October and fined $15,000 or spend fourteen days in the Department of Corrections. He was given fourteen days to pay the fine.

The president of the Appeals Court cited Mr. Glinton for contempt when during an extradition hearing Mr. Glinton questioned the constitutional legitimacy of presiding Justice Abdulai Conteh who he claimed was at the age of retirement and therefore could not legally preside over the case.

Further, Mr. Glinton disrobed before the court and walked out after it was ruled that the extradition hearing must proceed. A bench warrant was issued for his arrest when he arrived late for his initial contempt hearing on Friday, October 9. He was later arrested and detained at the Cable Beach police station.

Mr. Glinton’s attorney, Wayne Munroe QC, argued unsuccessfully that Mr. Glinton’s tone, tenor and actions before the court may not have been graceful but did not rise to the level of contempt of court.

Christie: Learning Channel viable alternative to traditional teaching mode 

Telling those gathered that the Learning Channel can be an answer to meeting the education needs of students challenged by traditional teaching methods, Prime Minister Christie officially launched the Learning Channel.

“I realized that it could, in fact, be an answer to meeting the needs of those students who are challenged by traditional modes of teaching,” Prime Minister Christie said. “I am not here asserting that this is the only option; but it is certainly one of the many strategies and methods of reaching those students who are not traditional learners.”

According to the Ministry of Education, under the theme “Bahamian Education Today: Building a Proud Nation”, the learning channel seeks to provide “lifelong learning for all Bahamians” through specific informational, instructional and motivational programming delivered through the medium of television.

Further, this latest education initiative seeks to “further the mission of making educational opportunities available for all, through programming geared towards the ‘special or exceptional populations’ in our schools and community at large.”

The Bahamas Learning Channel, which the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has termed a “crucial programme for distance education”, has almost 20 locally-produced programmes, such as the game shows “Science Bowl” and “GLATT Attack”, “Gary the Explorer”, “Tell Me a Story”, “Once Upon a Time” and “Parent Talk”, all showcasing students, teachers and education stakeholders.

The official launch of the Bahamas Learning Channel (BLC) took place on October 27, 2015, at The College of The Bahamas Performing Arts Centre. 

Soweto celebrates the historic NASSAU ACCORD

In a relatively low key affair, the Grammy Award winning Soweto Gospel Choir is in The Bahamas this week to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the NASSAU ACCORD.

Music enthusiasts would remember that this choir was formed in Soweto by choir directors David Mulovhedzi and Beverly Bryer. Their blend of gospel, Negro spirituals, reggae and American popular music has won them two Grammy Awards.Their albums Blessed and African Spirit   both won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional World Music Album in 2007 and 2008 respectively.

It was in October 1985 right here in Nassau on the Cable Beach property now known as the Baha Mar resorts campus when Commonwealth Heads of Government held their inter-sessional meetings and high on the agenda was apartheid in South Africa and the imprisonment of freedom fighter Nelson Mandela. The world community considered Nelson Mandela a prisoner of conscience and a political prisoner.

As fate would have it, Tourism Minister the Hon. Obie Wilchcombe was the lead journalist from the Bahamas Broadcasting Corporation (ZNS) to cover this event and record its historic significance. The Religious Tourism Department of the Ministry of Tourism is playing host to this choir’s visit this week.

Then Prime Minister the late Sir Lynden Pindling was elected chair of the CHOCM, a policy decision was made to impose broad based sanctions against South Africa because of its race-based policies and the rest as they say is history. All formally banned political parties were legalized on 2nd February 1990; Mandela left the Victor Verster prison on 11th February a free man and was sworn in as the country’s president on 10th May 1994, forming the first majority rule cabinet since the imposition of apartheid. Mr. Mandela would serve until the 14th June 1999.

During their tour, the Soweto Choir was serenaded by the National Boys Choir, the National Youth Choir and components of the College of The Bahamas Choir on Wednesday night at the Center for the Performing Arts. They also performed in concert during the Caribbean Music Festival in Rawson Square on Thursday evening at 7pm.

Mitchell thanks diplomats and allies in Bahamas’ unsuccessful UNHRC bid

The Bahamas made history on Wednesday of this week as the first English speaking country in the Caribbean to contest a seat on the United Nation’s Human Rights Council.

When the votes were tallied, The Bahamas secured 113 votes or the fourth most votes behind Panama, Ecuador and Venezuela. Under UN rules only the top three vote getters are elected to this prestigious council.

In a press statement shortly after the election, Bahamas Foreign Minister Hon. Fred Mitchell issued a statement thanking the diplomats for their gallant efforts and the 113 UN member states who supported The Bahamas in its election bid.

In passing…

Rebuild Bahamas held a fundraising telethon at the Atlantis resort on Tuesday evening and managed to raise a reported $236,930 to assist with post hurricane relief and reconstruction efforts. On hand to show his support was Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie who underscored the demonstrable spirit of national unity in the aftermath of this natural disaster. Some of the participants who worked the phone banks were Captain Stephen Russell, Director of NEMA; Hon. Melanie Griffin, Minister of Social Services and Community Development; Leon Williams, CEO of BTC; Hon. Khaalis Rolle, State Minister for Investment in the Office of the Prime Minister; Hon. Hubert A. Minnis, leader of the Opposition and David Burrows, Cable Bahamas Limited senior exec utive.

The National Health Insurance commission convened a meeting on Wednesday morning at the office of the Prime Minister as the government continues to work towards its January 2016 implementation deadline. Prime Minister Christie, the chairman of the public/private committee, invited the media to reiterate the point that the process must and will be fully transparent at al material times. Also in attendance were Labour Minister Hon. Shane Gibson, Finance State Minister Michael Halkitis and National Security Minister Hon. Bernard Nottage.

The Caribbean Music Festival kicked off this week and on Thursday evening in Rawson Square, the 30th anniversary of the Nassau Accord was remembered. That thirty year old treaty led to the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa and the release of Nelson Mandela. Also awarded on that night were several Living Legend Awards. Our Bahamian thespian, music and cultural icon Ronnie Butler was honoured as a living legend.

On Thursday, the cost of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (cooking gas) was reduced from $120 to $90 for a 100-pound cylinder, including Value Added Tax. This represents a sixteen percent decrease in the cost. Price Control Commissioner Ernest J. Bowe said it “couldn’t have come at a better time“ for Bahamian consumers ahead of the holiday season. Family Island rates have been cut to $70 for for suppliers and $100 for distributors per 100-pound cylinder, inclusive of VAT and sea freight charges.

Deputy Prime Minister the Hon. Philip Brave Davis and CARICOM Ambassador Hon. Picewell Forbes visited Long Island and San Salvador today where Mr. Davis assessed ongoing post hurricane rebuilding efforts in those islands. He also delivered supplies including laptop computers to students in San Salvador. This corresponds to the assessments being conducted by the National Restoration and Reconstruction Unit headed by Jack Thompson, Barbara Burrows and Melanie Roach.

Reports surfaced on Friday afternoon that the China Exim Bank has foreclosed on the Baha Mar property and has appointed Raymond Winder of Delloite and Touche as receiver. Meanwhile Bloomberg Business reported yesterday that developer Sarkis Izmirlian offered to invest more of his personal funds into Baha Mar in order to avoid the property going into full liquidation.

Do not forget to turn your clocks back one hour before retiring to bed on Saturday night as The Bahamas reverts to Daylight Saving Time at 2am on Sunday morning.


Argentine cabinet chief downplays tension with presidential candidate

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – A loyal ally of Argentina’s outgoing president, Cabinet chief Anibal Fernandez, on Friday dismissed talk of a rift with the ruling party’s presidential candidate after Sunday’s weak election result.

The ruling Front for Victory party has been slow to rally around Daniel Scioli after the surprisingly strong performance of conservative rival Mauricio Macri forced a run-off vote next month, in which Macri is being touted by some observers as the slim favorite.

In one of the biggest shocks of Sunday night, Fernandez lost the governorship race for Buenos Aires province, a post Scioli currently holds in a region that has traditionally been a stronghold of the Peronist movement represented by the Front for Victory party.

“I haven’t stopped talking to Scioli,” Fernandez told reporters in his daily news briefing. “And I’m not going to stop collaborating with my candidate’s presidential campaign.”

Scioli tweaked his campaign this weak in an attempt to woo voters of Sergio Massa, who placed third in Sunday’s vote and unveiled a list of key policy demands on Wednesday.

Simmering tensions surfaced midweek between allies of President Cristina Fernandez and Scioli’s inner circle over the direction of Scioli’s campaign.

Policy and personality differences have strained relations for years between the fiery president, who is not related to her Cabinet chief, and Scioli, a former businessman and speedboat champion who favors more mainstream macroeconomic policies.

Scioli was viewed inside the presidency as the leftist ruling party’s best shot at snaring enough middle-ground voters to win the election. President Fernandez swung behind his candidacy when he took on one of her close confidants as running mate.

On Thursday, the president spoke publicly for the first time since the ballot. She urged Argentines to vote for the continuity of her populist policies, implicitly backing Scioli though she did not once mention him by name.

“Fernandez’s speech will have restored some calm, for now,” said Juan Cruz Diaz, head of the Cefeidas political consultancy.

Scioli fought a guarded first-round campaign, promising continuity of her generous social welfare programs, talking only of “gradual changes” to win new investment. He vows now “to be more Scioli.”

On Friday, Scioli said this was a “new election”, he had listened to the electorate and would adapt. He pledged to peg the lowest pensions to 82 percent of a worker’s last salary and toughen the fight against nacro-gangs – two key Massa demands.

(Reporting by Richard Lough, Additional Reporting by Sarah Marsh, Editing by W Simon and David Gregorio)


Italy to relocate 100 refugees to France, Spain: immigration chief

ROME (Reuters) – Italy will send 100 refugees to France and Spain next week as part of a European Union relocation plan aimed at easing the burden on border states, the country’s top immigration official said on Friday.

Italy, with roughly 100,000 migrants living in immigration centers, is supposed to relocate 24,000 over two years as part of the voluntary plan, and about 16,000 more as part of an obligatory program, but so far fewer than 90 have been moved.

“Another 100 refugees will leave at the beginning of next week for France, Spain and maybe Sweden,” Mario Morcone, the official in charge of implementing national immigration policy, told Reuters in an interview.

“So far, offers from other countries to take them has been limited,” he said, noting that he hoped the plan’s complicated bureaucratic procedures could be simplified.

In October, Italy sent 86 Eritrean refugees to Sweden and Finland. Nine states have volunteered to take in as many as 854 people from Italy or Greece, according to the European Commission, but Morcone said so far Italy had received a maximum of 350 offers.

Only Eritreans, Syrians and Iraqis, whose asylum requests have a high rate of acceptance, qualify to be relocated, according to the plan.

Italy is struggling to use the relocation plan drafted by the EU to overcome deep divisions in the 28-nation bloc about how to handle the continent’s biggest immigration crisis since World War Two. About 140,000 migrants have entered Italy this year by boat from North Africa.

To be able to relocate refugees, Italy is being asked to set up immigration centers managed jointly with EU officials called “hotspots”. The hotspots are intended to better identify migrants and keep those who do not qualify for asylum from moving to northern Europe.

Italy is due to have four “hotspots” operating by the end of November, and two more by the end of the year.

“We’re still not fully operational,” Morcone said. “It’s in an experimental phase,” he said. EU interior ministers meeting next month are likely to further discuss hotspots, he said.

EU partners have put pressure on Italy to set them up because in recent years the country failed to identify tens of thousands of migrants who landed on its shores, and most of them then continued their journeys to northern Europe.

Frontline countries, Italy and Greece, consider the flood of refugees and migrants a problem that the EU must handle as a bloc, while other countries – especially those on the eastern flank – balk at taking in migrants.

Greece, which has seen more than a half million arrivals so far this year, so far has relocated none of them. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Friday he was ashamed to be part of an EU leadership unable to successfully manage the crisis.

(Editing by Philip Pullella and Louise Ireland)


Film-maker Polanski relieved after court rejects U.S. extradition request in child sex case

KRAKOW, POLAND  (Reuters) – Oscar-winning film-maker Roman Polanski said on Friday he was grateful and relieved after a Polish court rejected a U.S. request for his extradition over a 1977 child sex conviction.

The case of the Polish-born Polanski, now 82, remains an international cause celebre nearly four decades after the crime, with some demanding harsh punishment and others urging that extradition efforts be dropped.

A judge in a Polish court in the southern city of Krakow ruled against the extradition, saying the U.S. judiciary had violated Polanski’s rights in the past and that he would be subject to infringements if handed over now.

“The extradition is inadmissible”, judge Dariusz Mazur said.

“The case is over, at least in Poland, I hope. I can sigh with relief. It’s difficult to describe how much time, energy and effort this costs, how much suffering it brought on my family,” Polanski told a news conference in Krakow.

“It’s simple. I pleaded guilty, I went to prison. I served my punishment. It’s over,” he said.

Polanski pleaded guilty in 1977 to having sex with a 13-year-old girl during a photo shoot in Los Angeles. He served 42 days in jail after a plea bargain but later fled the United States fearing a lengthy jail time if the deal was overruled.

In 2009, he was arrested in Zurich on a U.S. warrant and placed under house arrest. He was freed in 2010 after Swiss authorities decided not to extradite him.

The United States requested Polanski’s extradition from Poland after he made a high-profile appearance in Warsaw in 2014.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has long insisted that Polanski remains a fugitive and subject to immediate arrest in the United States because he fled the country before sentencing. It says his case cannot be resolved until he returns to California to face justice.

“Our position on this matter remains the same,” Shiara Davila-Morales, a spokeswoman for the D.A., said on Friday, declining to comment further.

Since fleeing the United States, Polanski won an Oscar for best director for The Pianist, a film based on a memoir of a famous Polish Jewish pianist and composer who survived the Holocaust. Polanski, who holds both French and Polish citizenship, lives in Paris but also has an apartment in Krakow and regularly visits Poland.

REPEATED VIOLATIONS

Mazur said it was clear Polanski was guilty and deserved to be punished. But he said Polanski’s right to a fair trial and right of defence had been “grossly and repeatedly violated” over the years by several U.S. judges and prosecutors, including when the first bargain deal was annulled.

The decision is not legally binding and prosecutors can appeal.

The judge said extraditing Polanski would lead to him being held in harsh conditions for weeks or months in the United States while his case was being processed and would violate his human rights, potentially putting Poland at odds with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

He said the defendant’s rights had often been curtailed, judges had failed to live up to standards of judicial independence and Polanski had already been sufficiently punished.

Polanski’s U.S.-based lawyer Chad Hummel on Friday declined to comment on the Polish decision. The U.S. State Department had no immediate comment.

Samantha Geimer, the victim in the case, has long made clear she believes Polanski’s long exile has been punishment enough.

Geimer, now in her 50s and living in Hawaii, said in a series of posts on her Facebook page ahead of the Polish ruling that Los Angeles prosecutors should abandon their efforts.

“The message is they will use a teenage rape victim until their dying breath to get some PR, and justice is NOT something they seek for victims,” she wrote.

Polanski’s defence lawyers said the film director’s fame had made him a target for some U.S. judges and prosecutors who wanted to build a reputation out of the case.

“Roman Polanski’s fame has been a burden,” said defence lawyer Jan Olszewski. “There will always be someone who wants to promote themselves on a case attracting wide attention.”

Olszewski expressed disquiet at comments by some members of Poland’s conservative Law and Justice party, which has just won an outright majority in parliament, suggesting that Polanski was getting undue lenient treatment.

Polanski appeared, too, to refer to this, saying: “If any decision were to be based on facts, there are so many elements in the case that are in my favour, that I see no risk. But, should it be a political decision – I should be worried.”

(Additional reporting by Jill Serjeant, Writing by Wiktor Szary and Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Gareth Jones)