October, 2016

 

Airbnb, New York in talks to resolve rental law lawsuit: source

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Airbnb Inc and New York state are in talks to resolve a lawsuit brought by the company challenging a law it says could expose it to significant penalties for advertising short-term apartment rentals, a person familiar with the matter said on Monday.

The potential accord was revealed after U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan canceled a hearing that had been set for Monday. The person said the hearing was adjourned so both sides could “work out a consensual resolution.”

Without referencing the potential resolution, Forrest, in a one-page order, directed the parties to provide her with a status update by the end of the week.

The company filed the lawsuit in Manhattan federal court on Oct. 21 after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law legislation that imposed fines of up to $7,500 on hosts who advertise illegal short-term rentals on platforms like Airbnb.

Airbnb had contended that the law’s ambiguous wording could allow New York authorities to apply the law to online platforms like itself that host third-party listings, creating the risk of significant civil penalties and criminal liability.

Airbnb did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday. A spokesman for Cuomo had no immediate comment.

The lawsuit came amid ongoing clashes between the online lodging service and local public officials seeking to minimize the impact of short-term rentals on neighborhoods and urban housing markets.

In a case that is a crucial test of Airbnb’s business model, the company has filed a lawsuit in San Francisco to block a new requirement that it reject booking fees from property owners who have not registered with the city.

Airbnb argues it cannot legally be held responsible for how landlords use its platform. If it is required to enforce local laws on short-term rentals, that could drastically reduce listings in some of its biggest markets.

The case is Airbnb Inc v. Schneiderman, et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 16-08239.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; additional reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco; Editing by Andrew Hay and Dan Grebler)


Italy pledges to help displaced, rebuild after quake

(Reuters) – Italy set out plans on Monday to help thousands of people staying in hotels and temporary accommodation in central Italy after the fiercest earthquake in decades struck regions already rocked by repeated tremors in the past two months.

No deaths or critical injuries have been reported after Sunday’s quake, measured at 6.6 magnitude by the U.S. Geological Survey, partly because many had fled their homes after a smaller quake nearby killed almost 300 people in August.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi pledged to rebuild the stricken areas, deploy more emergency and administrative officials, and speed up the provision of containers for people to live in, before eventually building wooden houses.

“We will do everything necessary to put your towns back together,” Renzi said at a news conference after a meeting with Italy’s reconstruction commissioner and civil protection chief.

Renzi said the exact number of people who had been evacuated was still not clear, 36 hours after the strongest quake in Italy since one of 6.9 magnitude killed 2,735 near Naples in 1980.

Italy’s civil protection authority said more than 4,500 people had been moved to hotels on the Adriatic Coast and around Lake Trasimeno, close to the university city of Perugia.

A further 10,000 had been put up in emergency centres in the Umbria and Marche regions, the authority said, adding to thousands already forced out of their homes by August’s quake.

Italy had submitted a budget plan to the European Commission before the latest strong seismic activity started on Oct. 26, citing reconstruction after August’s quake among the reasons for increasing its structural budget deficit.

An EU official said Italy’s response to the Commission’s concerns about its budget had been “un-constructive”, but Renzi brushed off the suggestion there was any tension with Brussels.

“There is no problem with Europe,” Renzi said. He said there was already enough money in the draft budget to cover the plans unveiled on Monday, but this could be reviewed.

CULTURAL HERITAGE

Aerial video footage released by the fire department showed long cracks running through the surface of Redentore Mountain near the epicentre close to the Umbrian walled town of Norcia.

In Norcia, firefighters inspected the damage around the 13th century Basilica of St. Benedict, which collapsed leaving only its facade standing, and the Cathedral of Santa Maria Argentea, whose belltower was severely cracked.

“We will try to rescue all the cultural heritage that has survived but we are right in the centre of seismic activity, the tremors are very, very intense,” fireman Domenico De Vita said.

Reconstruction commissioner Vasco Errani said artistic and architectural treasures would be secured as soon as possible, and the government would focus on relaunching the local economy.

“We cannot leave a piece of the country at risk of being abandoned by its population,” Errani said. “Without those territories, Italy would be something else.”

Sunday’s tremor was felt as far north as Bolzano, near the Austrian border, and in the southernmost region of Puglia.

Schools were closed on Monday in the capital Rome, whose mayor Virginia Raggi said checks were being carried out on buildings and the city’s evacuation plan was being updated.

“Every crack, every fault that might emerge will be checked,” she said. “We cannot delay any more.”

Leading seismologist Gianluca Valensise warned on Sunday the earthquakes could go on for weeks along the central Apennine fault system.

(Reporting by Isla Binnie in Rome, Roberto Mignucci and Carmelo Camilli in Norcia; editing by Ralph Boulton)


Clinton’s lead slips as FBI looks at more emails: poll

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Democrat Hillary Clinton’s lead in the U.S. presidential race has narrowed slightly since the FBI said late last week it was reviewing new emails in its investigation of the former secretary of state, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Monday.

Clinton had a 5 percentage point lead over Republican rival Donald Trump, according to the Oct. 26-30 survey, down from 6 percentage points posted in the five-day tracking poll last Thursday.

Other polls have also shown Clinton’s lead slipping over the weekend. Real Clear Politics, which averages the results of most major polls, shows that Clinton’s lead has declined from 4.6 points on Friday to 2.5 points on Monday.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey told Congress in a letter made public on Friday that his agency was looking into new emails that may be connected to Clinton, who had been probed by the FBI over her use of a private server and how she handled classified information while America’s top diplomat.

The FBI has revealed very little to the public about the new emails under investigation, except that they were uncovered during an unrelated investigation into the estranged husband of a top Clinton aide.

In July, Comey concluded that Clinton and her staff were “extremely careless” with their handling of classified information, but that there was not enough evidence to bring criminal charges. On Friday, Comey told Congress, “We don’t know the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails.”

According to the poll, 44 percent of likely voters said they would support Clinton, while 39 percent said they would support Trump. In a separate poll that included alternative-party candidates, 43 percent supported Clinton, while 37 percent supported Trump, 6 percent supported Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and 1 percent supported Jill Stein of the Green Party.

The poll determines likely voters according to a number of factors including voting history, registration status and stated intention to vote. It assumes that 60 percent of eligible Americans will vote. The result of the 2016 election will vary greatly depending on how many voters actually cast a ballot.

Currently, Clinton leads Trump in both high and low turnout scenarios, according to the latest poll. Her advantage holds at 5 points if 55 percent of eligible voters participate, and it rises to 6 points if 70 percent of Americans cast a ballot.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English in all 50 states. It included 1,264 people who were considered likely voters under the assumption that 60 percent of eligible voters would participate. The poll has a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of 3 percentage points.

(Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Leslie Adler)


Exclusive: Abortion by prescription now rivals surgery for U.S. women

NEW YORK (Reuters) – American women are ending pregnancies with medication almost as often as with surgery, marking a turning point for abortion in the United States, data reviewed by Reuters shows.

The watershed comes amid an overall decline in abortion, a choice that remains politically charged in the United States, sparking a fiery exchange in the final debate between presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

When the two medications used to induce abortion won U.S. approval 16 years ago, the method was expected to quickly overtake the surgical option, as it has in much of Europe. But U.S. abortion opponents persuaded lawmakers in many states to put restrictions on their use.

Although many limitations remain, innovative dispensing efforts in some states, restricted access to surgical abortions in others and greater awareness boosted medication abortions to 43 percent of pregnancy terminations at Planned Parenthood clinics, the nation’s single largest provider, in 2014, up from 35 percent in 2010, according to previously unreported figures from the nonprofit.

The national rate is likely even higher now because of new federal prescribing guidelines that took effect in March. In three states most impacted by that change – Ohio, Texas and North Dakota – demand for medication abortions tripled in the last several months to as much as 30 percent of all procedures in some clinics, according to data gathered by Reuters from clinics, state health departments and Planned Parenthood affiliates.

Among states with few or no restrictions, medication abortions comprise a greater share, up to 55 percent in Michigan and 64 percent in Iowa.

Denise Hill, an Ohio mother who works full time and is pursuing a college degree, is part of the shift.

Hill, 26, became extremely ill with her third pregnancy, sidelined by low blood pressure that made it challenging to care for her son and daughter. In July, eight weeks in, she said she made the difficult decision to have a medication abortion. She called the option that was not available in her state four months earlier “a blessing.”

The new prescribing guidelines were sought by privately-held Danco Laboratories, the sole maker of the pills for the U.S. market. Spokeswoman Abby Long said sales have since surged to the extent that medication abortion now is “a second option and fairly equal” to the surgical procedure.

“We have been growing steadily year over year, and definitely the growth is larger this year,” Long said.

Women who ask for the medication prefer it because they can end a pregnancy at home, with a partner, in a manner more like a miscarriage, said Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, North Dakota.

GAME CHANGER

Medication abortion involves two drugs, taken over a day or two. The first, mifepristone, blocks the pregnancy sustaining hormone progesterone. The second, misoprostol, induces uterine contractions. Studies have shown medical abortions are effective up to 95 percent of the time.

Approved in France in 1988, the abortion pill was supposed to be a game changer, a convenient and private way to end pregnancy. In Western Europe, medication abortion is more common, accounting for 91 percent of pregnancy terminations in Finland, the highest rate, followed by Scotland at 80 percent, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research organization that supports abortion rights.

In the United States, proponents had hoped the medication would allow women to avoid the clinics that had long been targets of protests and sometimes violence.

But Planned Parenthood and other clinics remain key venues for the medication option. Of the more than 2.75 million U.S. women who have used abortion pills since they were approved in 2000, at least 1 million got them at Planned Parenthood.

Many private physicians have avoided prescribing the pills, in part out of concern that it would expose their practices to the type of protests clinics experienced, say doctors, abortion providers and healthcare organizations.

At the same time, the overall U.S. abortion rate has dropped to a low of 16.9 terminations per 1,000 women aged 15-44 in 2011, down from 19.4 per 1,000 in 2008, according to federal data. The decline has been driven in part by wider use of birth control, including long lasting IUDs.

In March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration changed its prescribing guidelines for medication abortion. The agency now allows the pills to be prescribed as far as 10 weeks into pregnancy, up from seven. It cut the number of required medical visits and allowed trained professionals other than physicians, including nurse practitioners, to dispense the pills. It also changed dosing guidelines.

The changes were supported by years of prescribing data and reflect practices already common in most states where doctors are free to prescribe as they deem best.

Ohio, Texas and North Dakota took the unusual step of requiring physicians to strictly adhere to the original guidelines. Many abortion providers were reluctant to prescribe the pills under the older guidelines, which no longer reflected current medical knowledge, said Vicki Saporta, President and CEO of the National Abortion Federation.

Randall K. O’Bannon, a director at the anti-abortion National Right to Life organization, criticized the new guidelines but said his organization had no plans to fight them.

“What they did was make it more profitable,” O’Bannon said. “It will increase the pool of potential customers.”

Planned Parenthood said both types of abortion typically cost from $300 to $1,000, including tests and examinations. The group charges a sliding fee based on a patient’s ability to pay, regardless of which type of abortion they choose.

VARIED ACCESS

Despite a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that abortion is a woman’s right, access varies widely by state. Some states maintain restrictions on both surgical and medication abortions; others have worked to increase access.

In rural Iowa, where clinics are few and far between, Planned Parenthood is using video conferencing, known as telemedicine, to expand access.

The way it works is, a woman is examined in her community by a trained medical professional, who checks vital signs and blood pressure and performs an ultrasound. The information is sent to an off-site doctor, who talks with the woman via video conference and authorizes the medications.

Since the telemedicine program began in Iowa in 2008, medication abortions increased to 64 percent of all pregnancy terminations, the highest U.S. rate.

In New York, Hawaii, Washington and Oregon, a private research institute, Gynuity Health Projects, works with clinics to send abortion pills by mail to pre-screened women.

“Medication abortion is definitely the next frontier,” said Gloria Totten, president of the Public Leadership Institute, a nonprofit that advises advocates.

And in Maryland and Atlanta, the nonprofit organization Carafem opened centers in the last 18 months that offer birth control and medication, but not surgical, abortions. It promotes its services with ads that read: “Abortion. Yeah, we do that.”

(Reporting By Jilian Mincer; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Lisa Girion)


Ricardo Blackman’s Caribbean Headlines News 10/31

By Ricardo Blackman | CDN Barbados

Dateline Bridgetown, BARBADOS:

Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) Leader Mia Mottley has announced a swaithe of new governance measures to be implemented if her party forms the next government.  The plan includes compulsory access to potable water, a guaranteed income for each household, free wifi and increased investments in tourism.  “Barbados has to strop the bleeding.  And we must do all that we can to return growth top this economy, because our revenue will never improve by taxing more, but only if this economy grows.” she told a packed Lester Vaughn  School auditorium.

Government is preparing to significantly boost the Barbados Revenue Authority’s audit capabilities.  The Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) said the Freundel Stuart administration applied for $7 million in financing “towards the cost of the establishment of a Central Revenue Authority (CRA) Project.  It added that a portion of the funds would be for the acquisition and implementation of a computerized audit management system.

Dateline Basseterre, ST. KITTS:

The Chief Executive Officer of the St. Kitts and Nevis Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation (SIDF) Terrance Crossman, has been fired.  Crossman was handed a termination letter on Friday.  Reasons for his dismissal are unclear but the dismissal comes days after Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris indicated during his most recent press conference that ongoing investigations into the Foundation were just about completed and the SIDF will soon be brought under Parliamentary scrutiny.

Dateline Providenciales, TURKS AND CAICOS:

General elections in the Turks and Caicos Islands have been postponed by ten days from the  December 5th, 2016 date.  The election will now be held on December 15, 2016.

Dateline Port of Spain, TRINIDAD:

A new joint report by the Development Center of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United Nations Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF) says that regional Gross Domestic Product will shrink by between 0.9 per cent and one per cent this year.  ECLAC says this will be the second consecutive year of negative growth and a rate of contraction not seen since the early 1980s.  According to the Latin American Outlook 2017, the region should, however, recover in 2017, but with modest GDP growth of between 1.5 per cent and two per cent, still below growth in advanced economies.


Most Republicans believe Russia is meddling in U.S. election: Reuters/Ipsos poll

(Reuters) – Most Republicans believe Russia is attempting to influence the U.S. presidential election, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, despite comments by the party’s nominee, Donald Trump, downplaying the possibility.

Some 55 percent of U.S. adults, including 51 percent of Republicans and 65 percent of Democrats, said they thought Russia was trying to tip the scales in the Nov. 8 presidential election, according to the survey.

Most American adults – 62 percent of Democrats and 48 percent of Republicans – think Putin is supporting Trump for the White House, the poll found.

Some 71 percent of those who suspect Russia of meddling believe Moscow is doing so through the recent hacks of Democratic emails, according to the Oct. 18-24 survey. But 57 percent of those who suspect Russian interference also believe Trump has “no involvement in Russia’s release of unflattering information” on his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

The U.S. government has accused Russia of a campaign of cyber attacks targeting the Democratic Party that has led to the release of thousands of illegally obtained emails, revealing the sometimes unflattering inner workings of the party, Clinton’s campaign, and her family’s charitable foundation.

Clinton has said she believes the Kremlin is trying to help Trump, calling her rival a “puppet” of the Russian leader. Trump has declined to implicate the country in any wrongdoing.

“I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the (Democratic National Committee),” Trump said during the first presidential debate last month. He suggested the culprit could be anyone from Russia, to China or even “a 400-pound person lying in bed.”

Russia has denied it sponsors or encourages hacking activity. Russian President Vladimir Putin accused U.S. politicians on Thursday of whipping up “hysteria” about a nonexistent threat in order to distract voters.

Putin, who has described Trump as “very talented,” said on Thursday the New York businessman “behaves extravagantly” to “get through to voters’ hearts.”

Trump has said he is not close with Putin, but has also said he believes the Russian president is a stronger leader than U.S. President Barack Obama.

Already chilly relations between the United States and Russia have deteriorated over disagreements over the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

U.S. officials say U.S. agencies have concluded that two Russian intelligence agencies – the military’s GRU and the civilian foreign intelligence agency, the FSB – are behind U.S. political hacking, particularly that directed against Democratic Party organizations and individuals.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English, and included 2,008 American adults. It had a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of 3 percentage points.

(Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Peter Cooney)


France and Britain feud over young Jungle camp migrants

CALAIS, FRANCE (Reuters) – Dozens of youngsters woke under the watchful eyes of French riot police on Friday after a chilly night outdoors near the “Jungle” migrant camp in Calais, as Paris and London squabbled over their fate and that of hundreds more bent on getting to Britain.

Charity workers offered them food and warm drinks, telling journalists that the youngsters were just a small sample of the scores of minors who are in limbo since the evacuation this week of the camp, now being demolished.

The vast site on sandy scrubland, a symbol of Europe’s fraught efforts to deal with a record influx of refugees from war-ravaged zones such as Sudan and Afghanistan, was evacuated this week before bulldozers moved in to flatten it.

Government officials in the region say that more than 6,000 people had been moved out of the squalid, ramshackle camp and transferred to towns throughout France.

But concern has switched to upwards of a thousand isolated minors who have been put in large container-box shelters nearby or have simply not signaled their existence. Many want just one thing – transfer to Britain, which is almost visible across the sea from Calais.

PARIS URGES LONDON TO ACT

In an overnight statement, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said he was “surprised” by declarations by British opposite number Amber Rudd and was counting on London to honor an obligation to take minors from Calais.

Rudd appeared to have raised eyebrows when she said France must protect migrant children still in Calais and suggested at least some of them should remain in France rather than be moved to Britain, which is obliged under EU law to reunite minors with family there.

According to a spokesman at her ministry, Rudd said: “Any child either not eligible or not in the secure area of the camp should be cared for and safeguarded by the French authorities.

“We understand that specialist facilities have been made available elsewhere in France to ensure this happens,” she added in comments that refer to accommodation France has opened up to rehouse those who agreed to leave the Jungle.

A joint statement by Cazeneuve and France’s housing minister said France hoped Britain would “quickly execute its responsibilities to take in these minors, who hope to come to the United Kingdom. This is the best way to give them the protection they are due.”

The French statement followed media reports of unsupervised children sleeping rough around the port town since the clearance operation was launched, even though some 1,451 minors have been housed separately near the camp.

France says Britain has so far accepted 274 children from among this group.

European Union rules say Britain must take in unaccompanied children who have family ties in the country under so-called Dublin rules. An amendment to those rules adopted in Britain this year states that such minors whose best interests are served by doing so should also be admitted.

Smoke and dust spiraled from the heart of the site on Friday as demolition teams went back to work and one group of youngsters who slept a short walk from there emerged from blankets to take tea and breakfast from charity workers.

Abdul Hadi, an Afghan youth who reports his age as 16, says he spent 10 months in the Jungle but failed to register with the French authorities for help when the evacuation began last Monday.

“I hope I can get to the UK this week,” he said.

Sylvie Poirier, a helper from the local Auberge des Migrants charity, says the official registration center where migrants were urged to sign up had now closed and that scores of people like Hadi are now roaming the streets, where riot police arrest those they find.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Callus; Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Richard Balmforth)


Italian earthquakes cause widespread damage, but no-one killed

VISSO, ITALY (Reuters) – Earthquakes caused widespread damage and terrified residents in central Italy overnight, two months after a strong quake left nearly 300 dead and razed villages in the same area, but no-one was killed.

Several people were slightly injured, but only a few needed hospital treatment, the Civil Protection Agency said.

In Visso, one of the larger hill towns hit, the mayor said most of the damage had been to buildings already weakened by the Aug. 24 earthquake.

“The situation is ugly and you can see the noticeable damage, but luckily I can say it’s better than it looks. We don’t have victims or seriously injured people or anyone missing,” Giuliano Pazzaglini said.

The quake was nonetheless a shock to a town that had started to work on rebuilding after the last tremor, Pazzaglini said, and the hours following it were full of anxiety for people in the border area of the Marche and Umbria regions.

Many people slept in their cars. In Campi, a town of about 200, rescue workers set up some 50 beds in a quake-proof building for people who could not sleep in their homes.

“I can’t shake off the fear,” said Mauro Viola, 64, who said he had not slept and had spent the night outside.

“I am afraid to see what my house looks like.”

Police had blocked off the road to his home with a bench, and Viola said a chapel nearby had collapsed.

Boulders tumbled down the valley into roads around Visso. Officials restricted access to its historic center, awakening grim memories of the leveling of the hilltop town of Amatrice in August.

“The only time I have cried today was when I wasn’t allowed to go into the historic center,” said Visso restaurateur Elena Zabuchynska, 43.

“I thought of Amatrice, all fallen down, and I thought our city center might look like Amatrice.”

RENZI SOLIDARITY

The government on Thursday set aside 40 million euros ($44 million) for immediate costs related to the earthquakes, and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi visited the area affected.

“The whole of the population is by your side,” he told local officials in the town of Camerino, adding that the latest tremors underlined the need for investments to make Italy’s buildings earthquake proof.

Renzi has said spending under a plan to reinforce the country’s schools should be excluded from European Union limits on budget deficits.

The three main overnight quakes came about two hours apart. Close to Visso, the rose-windowed facade of a late 14th century church, San Salvatore a Campi di Norcia, was reduced to rubble.

The first tremor measured magnitude 5.4, causing many people to flee their homes and the second was stronger at 6.1, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

A 4.9 aftershock came a couple hours after that, and dozens of weaker ones followed.

(Additional reporting by Massimiliano Di Giorgio; Writing by Steve Scherer, Isla Binnie and Gavin Jones; Editing by Andrew Roche)


Uber sees flying commuters in 10 years

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Flying commuters like George Jetson could be whizzing to work through the sky less than 10 years from now, according to ride-services provider Uber, which believes the future of transportation is literally looking up.

Uber Technologies Inc released a white paper on Thursday envisioning a future in which commuters hop onto a small aircraft, take off vertically and within minutes arrive at their destinations. The flyers would eventually be unmanned, according to the company.

It sounds like the opening sequence to “The Jetsons”, the 1962 U.S. cartoon about a future filled with moving sidewalks, robot housekeepers and spaceflight, but Uber sees flying rides as feasible and eventually affordable.

Uber already offers helicopter rides to commuters in Brazil. The company plans to convene a global summit early next year to explore on-demand aviation, in which small electric aircraft could take off and land vertically to reduce congestion and save time for long-distance commuters, and eventually city dwellers.

Others have also envisioned such aircraft, akin to a helicopter but without the noise and emissions. Vertical take off and landing aircraft (VTOL) have been studied and developed for decades, including by aircraft makers, the military, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Uber is already exploring self-driving technology, hoping to slash costs by eliminating the need for drivers in its core business of on-demand rides. On-demand air transport marks a new frontier, set squarely in the future.

Uber’s vision, detailed in a 97-page document, argues that on-demand aviation will be affordable and achievable in the next decade assuming effective collaboration between regulators, communities and manufacturers.

Ultimately, using VTOLs for transport could be less expensive than owning a car, Uber predicted.

Such on-demand VTOL aircraft would be “optionally piloted,” Uber said, where autonomous technology takes over the main workload and the pilot is relied on for situational awareness. Eventually, the aircraft will likely be fully automated, Uber said.

Hurdles include battery technology. Batteries must come down in cost and charge faster, become more powerful and have longer lifecycles.

Regulatory hurdles must also be solved such as certification by aviation regulators as well as infrastructure needs, such as more takeoff and landing cites.

Uber plans to reach out to stakeholders within the next six months to explore the implications of urban air transport and share ideas before hosting a summit in early 2017 to explore the issues and solutions and help accelerate urban air transportation.

(Reporting By Alexandria Sage; Editing by David Gregorio)


Islamic State using tens of thousands as human shields in Mosul: U.N.

GENEVA (Reuters) – Islamic State forces in Iraq have abducted tens of thousands of men, women and children from areas around Mosul and are using them as “human shields” in the city as Iraqi government troops advance, the U.N. human rights office said on Friday.

The hardline Sunni militants, known as ISIL, killed at least 232 people on Wednesday, including 190 former Iraqi troops and 42 civilians who refused to obey their orders, U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said.

“Credible reports suggest that ISIL has been forcing tens of thousands of people from their homes in sub-districts around Mosul and have forcibly relocated numbers of civilians inside the city itself since the operation began on the 17th of October to restore Iraqi government control over Mosul,” Shamdasani told a briefing.

This was to “use them as human shields, to be able to keep them close to military installations…to try to frustrate the military operation against them,” she said.

Nearly 8,000 families, of roughly six people each, were abducted in sub-districts including Shura, she said.

“ISIL’s depraved cowardly strategy is to attempt to use the presence of civilian hostages to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations, effectively using tens of thousands of women, men and children as human shields,” Shamdasani said.

“Many of those who refused to comply were shot on the spot,” she said.

The reports, from people who have fled as well as aid groups, have been corroborated by the United Nations, she added.

Iranian-backed Iraqi Shi’ite paramilitary groups are about to launch an offensive on Islamic State positions west of Mosul, assisting in the military campaign to take back the city, a spokesman said on Friday.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has voiced deep concern at reports that some individuals in the areas south of Mosul have “embarked on revenge killings and have vowed on television that there would be ‘eye-for-eye’ revenge against those who sided with ISIL”, Shamdasani said.

“Some people say that ‘I saw this man coming, and he killed my father, so I couldn’t resist, I had to exact revenge’, she said.

Some villagers have been prevented from returning to their villages due to their perceived support of ISIL, she said.

Government screening is in place to check people fleeing Mosul but the process must be carried out in humane conditions respecting international standards, Shamdasani said.

“Captured ISIL fighters and those perceived to have supported them must be treated fully in accordance with international law and held accountable for their crimes by properly constituted tribunals.”

(Editing by Tom Miles and Angus MacSwan)