GUINEA POLITICAL TENSION: Ten killed in February alone

Conakry – VIJAY SHAH via the International Crisis Group

A crisis is brewing in the west African country of Guinea after ten people died in politically motivated clashes after a controversial election held on the 4th of February this year, the International Crisis Group (ICG) has warned.

Tensions have been growing since the election and the opposition parties having had accused the Guinean ruling party of fraud in local polls held last month. Clashes between opposition supporters and strikers and Guinean security forces have led to the deaths of ten people already, according to the ICG’s CrisisWatch website. The president of Guinea, Alpha Condé, who has been at the helm of government since December 2010, has himself being accused of fraud in the election along with his party, the Guinean People’s Assembly.


Battles have been fought between Condé loyalists and opposition supporters  in the capital Conakry and also in the town of Kindia. Five children were reported to have been killed in clashes in the town of Dinguiraye. They perished in a fire, the ICG stated. Further clashes occurred between the gendarmerie, teachers and students who have been on strike or unable to learn since the 12th February. Teachers were later joined in their industrial action by union members of the Guinea General Union of Workers (UGTG). Strikers fought with the gendarmerie leading to around four deaths.

The government is in talks with the Guinean teachers’ union in an attempt to stem the tension. Talks began on the 28th of last month, but no word was made of progress in these talks by the ICG.


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ICELANDIC BITCOIN RUSH: Cryptocurrency mining drains entire country’s electricity supply

Reykjavik – VIJAY SHAH via Grande Medios

Bitcoins have become the source of what could be described as this century’s very own Gold Rush. The mining of cryptocurrencies, which is the most widespread method of obtaining this cyber money, requires a significant amount of both computing power and electrical current. In the northern European island of Iceland, the residents have taken to bitcoin mining in such a way that it is causing the country to actually run out of electricity.

Iceland has around 340,000 inhabitants, one of the smallest in Europe. Famed for its volcanic landscapes and breathtaking landscapes, the country is also well-known for living progressively. Renewable electricity, particularly from the Nordic nation’s many geothermal sources, is a big thing. But it seems the nation’s appetite for the financial game changer that is bitcoin is causing quite a headache for utilities companies, reports Spanish-language online magazine Grandes Medios.


Residential electricity consumption in Iceland barely exceeds 700 Gigawatt-hours per year, but the sudden uptake of mining activities for cryptocurrencies, including the highly profitable Bitcoin itself, which at one point in 2017 was trading at USD 8,000 per BTC, has seen miners add another 100 Megawatts to the consumption total. This could see usage push past the 800 gW/h mark.

Johann Snorri Sigurbergsson, a manager at utility firm HS Orka, told the Associated Press that “Four months ago I could not have imagined that we would reach this trend, but at that time the price of Bitcoin skyrocketed and we received many more requests. Just hours ago I met with a mining company that wants to buy 18 megawatts, “

Iceland’s electricity producers now fear that the increased demand will outstrip their capacity of supply, sparking a national energy crisis. Now in addition to the tech-savvy individuals who were the earliest adopters of mining in Iceland, there are several startups appearing who specialise in bitcoin mining on an industrial scale, meaning this virtual Gold Rush could see a painful run on the Icelandic electricity meter, and a lot of lights switching off.

Despite the volatility of bitcoin prices on the markets, with a crash in trade prices happening earlier this year, more and more Icelanders are flocking to bitcoin, meaning the country’s government in Reykjavik possibly planning to bring in regulation of the bitcoin mining industry in the near future to help conserve the electricity supply and prevent a island-wide blackout.


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“La minería de bitcóin en este país pronto consumirá más electricidad que sus residentes” – Grandes Medios (13 February 2018)


“Bitcoin Mining” – Marco Verch, Flickr (23 January 2018)

SRIDEVI: Bollywood film icon passes on

Dubai – VIJAY SHAH via Filmfare, sources

The Indian film star Sridevi Kapoor, popularly known as simply Sridevi, has died at the age of 54 after suffering a cardiac arrest while attending a nephew’s wedding in Dubai, UAE. 

The actor, known for her screen siren roles in the Mumbai-based film industry during the 1980s and 1990s, was once one of the Indian film industry’s most highly paid. Famed for her good looks and superb acting, her death yesterday was greeted with shock by India’s film fraternity and her worldwide army of fans.


According to the Indian Express, many current Bollywood stars including Priyanka Chopra, Jacqueline Fernandes, Sidharth Malhotra and others have taken to social media to express their condolences. Initial reports and commentary suggest that she suffered a ‘massive heart attack’ while attending the marriage celebration of her relative Mohit Marwah, along with her husband Bonny Kapoor and one of her daughters, Khushi. Initially regarded as a hoax when first reported, Sridevi’s death was confirmed as fact by her brother-in-law Sanjay Kapoor. Sridevi was said to have had no history of heart problems.

Sridevi was born in the Indian town of Sivakasi, in the Tamil Nadu state in the south of the country, in 1963. Named originally as Shree Amma Yanger Ayyapan to mixed-race Tamil and Telugu parents, she began her career as a child actor aged just four in regional movies in both the Tamil and Telugu languages, before getting her big break in mainstream Hindi cinema in 1975, in the hit iconic film Julie. She won several awards and wowed observers with her sensual dance numbers and duplicity of roles. Her fame became global, even gaining a cult following in Afghanistan after the fall of the film-hating Taliban administration. In later years, she had invigorated her career and also took up modelling.

The actor’s body will be repatriated back to her home in Mumbai in the forthcoming days. Concerned fans and friends of the Kapoor family have being heading to her home to comfort her other daughter Jahnvi, who did not attend the wedding due to work commitments.


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WATERFALL PHOTO DEATH: Tourist dies in fall while posing for photo


A tourist has died after falling a hundred feet while posing for a holiday snap at a waterfall, reports the newspaper Metro today.

Jiri Barta, a man aged 32 from the Czech Republic, was visiting the tourist spot on the popular holiday island of Koh Samui, Thailand with a group of eight fellow travellers. They had reached the Khun Sri waterfall, where Barta and another group member decided to sit at a cliff edge to take pictures. However, Barta lost his footing and tumbled off the cliff, falling 100 feet (30.5 metres) to the ground below. His horrified companions desperately tried to give him first aid, but he did not survive.


Local ambulance rescue teams were called and arrived at the scene. They also attempted to save Barta’s life but later declared him deceased and ferried his body to a local hospital for a post-mortem.

According to a friend of the deceased quoted in the Metro article, Barta was part of a group of five tourists who arrived in Thailand on February 5, and hired five motorcycles to travel around Koh Samui island. The friend, Romana Uassara, told the paper: We were just admiring the beauty of the waterfall and he walked over to the edge for a picture.

‘The edge is so steep and he fell onto his back. It took a long time for his body to hit the bottom. I don’t know why. ‘

We went down and he was still alive. We tried to do CPR and asked for help from villagers in the neighbourhood”

Tourist police spokesperson Boonchai Wannawatchanasuntorn said that rescuers spend five hours negotiating the terrain to retrieve Jiri Barta’s body. He added There is a sign in both Thai and English barring people from entering, but tourists keep ignoring it.

Accidents happened often because the slope is very steep, at almost 90 degrees, and it is very slippery.”

Lieutenant Colonel Piyawat Chunwat added: “This is a very dangerous area and we advise all tourist [sic] to stay away and be extra careful.

‘The rescue and recovery of the body was made more difficult by the steep cliffs and dangerous conditions.”

Koh Samui, with a population of 62,500, is Thailand’s second largest island and is popular with budget travellers. The island is famed for its many beaches and mountainous scenery.


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“Tourist fell 100ft to his death whilst posing for a photograph on waterfall” – Georgia Diebelius, Metro/Associated Newspapers Limited (24 February 2018)


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BAHRAIN ACTIVISTS: Human rights group appeals for release of detained brothers


As the government of Bahrain is being slammed for widespread human rights violations against protesters calling for greater transparency and democratic rights, a U.S. based charity is calling for the release of two young brothers detained by authorities in the Middle Eastern ‘oil state’ for activism and pro-democracy demands.


Activist group Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) has recently released a statement calling for Bahrain to release siblings Ahmed AlArab, aged 27, and Ali AlArab, 25 years who are facing life imprisonment as well as possible death sentences. According to the charity, the AlArab brothers were arrested and tortured by authorities in connection with a prison escape from the Jau correctional centre near the capital Manama, in January 2017. According to Al Jazeera news network, armed men attacked the prison where several anti-government protesters were detained, killing one security guard and setting free an unknown number of the jailed.

Ahmed AlArab, a former nursing student, has been repeatedly put in jail over his political activism, calling for greater rights and freedoms for Bahraini citizens and was said to have been regularly harassed by security forces before his latest arrest. He was said to have been tortured for 21 consecutive days at the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) and forced to confess to criminal activity, according to ADHRB. His right to a fair trial was violated and was even stripped of his citizenship, despite being a native Bahraini.

Ahmed’s brother Ali was himself arrested on 9th of February, 2018 by security agents of the Ministry of Interior while visiting a friend. He was also taken to Criminal Investigations Directorate headquarters where, it is alleged, he was forced to sign a confession while blindfolded. He was then transferred to another detention facility, named the Dry Dock, where he underwent torture, and was beaten by guards there for refusing to bow down and kiss a guard’s boot. It is also claimed Ali’s toenails were ripped off, and his injuries were bad enough to prevent him from walking or praying, necessitating a visit to the prison clinic.

In a mass trial held at the end of January, Ali was sentenced to death for the killing of the security guard at Jau prison a year previously and was also stripped of his passport. His trial was not held under fair legal rulings, with lawyers warned off taking on Ali’s case and Ali himself not allowed to receive legal counsel.

ADHRB condemned the actions of Bahrain’s government, citing that the Gulf emirate is a signatory of many international legal frameworks, including the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Both of these treaties are said to have been violated in the case of the treatment and detention without proper trial of the activist brothers.

ADHRB ended their statement by calling on Bahrain to cancel the AlArabs’ convictions as they did not receive a fair trial and retry them under international treaty requirements. It also appealed for the AlArabs’ citizenship to be restored and for allegations of torture and maltreatment to be fully investigated, and the torturers to be brought to book.


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“Profiles in Persecution: Ahmed and Ali AlArab” – Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (16 February 2018)


BATHINDA GO-KARTING TRAGEDY: Woman dies in accident at go-kart course

Bathinda – VIJAY SHAH via LUCIA SUAREZ SANG, Fox News and India sources

A go-kart fan in India has died after getting her hair caught in the wheel of the vehicle she was racing in, according to a news report published in the US’s Fox News website yesterday.

Puneet Kaur, aged 28 years, was visiting the Aqua Village amusement park, a popular destination for families near her home in Rampura Phul, a locality of the Punjab city of Bathinda, when the incident occurred. She had been visiting the park with her husband, Amardeep Singh and their 2-year-old son and their family when they decided to try out the go-kart racing course.


According to police sources mentioned in the Indian national newspaper the Hindustan Times, Kaur and her husband Amardeep Singh got in one cart, while their child and his grandmother rode in another one. As the vehicles began racing, Kaur’s hair was suddenly trapped in the wheel of her cart, causing catastrophic injuries to her scalp.

“My wife and I were enjoying the ride on the go-kart. Suddenly, my wife’s hair got loose and I heard her scream. I raised an alarm and when the kart stopped, her scalp was peeled off. I do not know the quality of the rubber band and the helmet given to my wife,” Kaur’s husband told police, according to the Indian Express, another national newspaper.

After the accident, Puneet Kaur was immediately rushed to hospital, but tragically, she failed to make it. The incident is now under investigation by the Punjab police and the amusement park has closed the race track to visitors, pending the investigation’s outcome.

“The exact cause of death is unclear, but we will know after we receive details of the post mortem report,” a police officer told the British public service broadcaster BBC.

The manager for the amusement park told the Hindustan Times that the incident has “left everyone shocked.”

“Usually, all safety measures are followed,” Yadavindra Gardens manager Neeraj Gupta told the newspaper. “One person has been tasked with ensuring that all people wear proper head gear and follow other rules before using a go-kart. It is shocking this incident happened.”


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“Woman dies after her hair gets caught in go-kart wheel, police say” – Lucia I. Suarez Sang, Fox News/FOX News Network, LLC. (16 February 2018)


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SYRIA CONFLICT: Israeli fighter jet shot down in large-scale assault

Damascus – VIJAY SHAH via JUDITH VONBERG and The Independent

A fighter jet belonging to the Israeli air force participating in air strikes in Syria has reportedly been shot down while taking part in large scale anti-drone attacks against weaponry allegedly supplied by Iran, the UK’s Independent newspaper reported earlier today.

The Israel Defence Force (IDF) plane was part of a bombing raid on Iranian and Syrian-operated targets on Syrian soil including an aerial defence system. According to the Independent, the raid targeted twelve such targets, and the IDF reported that one of the F-16 bombers was knocked out, severely injuring the pilot. The crash took place in the north of Israel, close to the border with Syria. The pilot has been taken to hospital, according to armed forces sources.


Israel is said to have been plagued recently by drones operated by Iran crossing into its airspace. A drone was shot down early this morning and was seized by the Israeli military, which then authorised retaliatory raids on locations in southern Syria and just outside the capital Damascus, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war watchdog based in London, UK.

One raid attacked a base in the south of Syria said to be used by forces allied with the country’s president Bashar al-Assad and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, which is claimed receives funding and training from Iran’s government. Several soldiers and militants among the Syrians and Lebanese are reported to be among the casualties, although no toll has been published yet.

Syria is currently riveted by a multi-party civil war between various rebel groups and the official government of the Assad administration, with the UK, US, Israel, Russia and Iran also involved in the conflict on either side. Islamic State (Daesh) and Al Qaeda, two notorious Islamist groups have also inserted themselves into the calamity. 400,000 people have been killed so far in the civil war (up to April 2016), according to the United Nations, and hundred of thousands of refugees have fled Syria to escape the battles and bombings of civilian areas.


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“Israeli fighter jet shot down during large attack against targets in Syria” – Judith Vonberg, The Independent (10 February 2018)


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GOOGLE, SPEAK TO ME!: Google Assistant now has a voice in smart speakers


Google Assistant, the voice-activated virtual personal assistant technology widely used on home devices and mobile phones, is destined to make an appearance on new ‘smart speakers’ fitted with screens, reported CNNtech magazine, an imprint of U.S. news network CNN, recently.

The devices, known at Google HQ as ‘smart displays’, are a step up from the current wave of internet connected home speakers such as Alexa/Amazon Echo devices. Instead of just a round box with a speaker and lights, the new technology incorporates a screen for greater user-friendliness and accessibility.

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Google announced the technology officially at the renowned CES technology show which was held in Las Vegas, USA from the 9th to the 12th of January this year, and the first smart displays packaged together with the Google Assistant are planned to made available in stores and online later in 2018. Not only will the displays be an improvement on current assistant devices, but also remove the need for people to rely on using mobile phones in having to stand them up in, say, the kitchen.

Google has partnered with hardware manufacturers such as Lenovo of China, and has shown some prototypes. According to CNNtech, the smart displays are sleek rectangular devices, much like a tablet, which can be stood up on counters and tables like a picture frame.

The smart displays are expected to have compatibility with other Google products, such as Photos, Duo and searches using the eponymous search engine. There is also the possibility of being able to watch YouTube videos. The company also announced it has grand plans for its Assistant, hinting that it is planning to bring the voice to more smart televisions, headphones and Android Auto, an app that links Android devices with systems in vehicles.


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NUTS ABOUT NUTELLA?: French shoppers riot over heavily discounted chocolate spread

Paris – VIJAY SHAH via CHRIS BAYNES and The Independent

Everyone loves a bargain. But on the negative side, a shopper’s paradise can very rapidly turn into a shopper’s nightmare when people turn ugly over bagging cut-price goods. Just ask any retail worker on a Black Friday in Britain. That free-for-all mentality became very obvious this past week in France, when local supermarket chain Intermarché heavily reduced the price of Nutella hazelnut and chocolate spread, only for riots to ensure and people reported injured in mad scrambles and store fisticuffs.

Intermarché unveiled a special promo on the popular spread, manufactured by Italian firm Ferrero SpA, reducing the price from €4.50 (£3.90) to €1.41 (£1.23) for the 950 gram jar. Customers keen to get their Nutella crepe fix practically fought over the jars in the aisles, causing police to be called to several of the chain’s outlets. There were reports of people pushing and shoving, with one woman left bleeding and a supermarket worker ambushed as they brought fresh stocks of Nutella to the shop floor.


According to UK newspaper the Independent, French social media users shared footage of shoppers swarming around shelves of the spread, jostling each other. “Seriously? All this for Nutella,” remarked one stunned bystander. Another commented: “This is not normal.”

One customer was said to have suffered a black eye during a fight that broke out over the sweet spread in a store in the town of L’Horme, in the central Loire region. That store sold out of Nutella in only fifteen minutes, a store employee told newspaper Le Progres. The manager of another Intermarché in Rive-de-Gier, central France, said 600 pots were sold within five minutes. One customer described shoppers as “like animals”.

“A woman had her hair pulled, an elderly lady took a box on her head, another had a blood [sic] hand,” they said. “It was horrible.”

Some extremely desperate Nutella fans in the town of Montbrison, also in central France, went to the extent of hiding Nutella jars in secret places in the shop, ready to harvest them the next day, while keeping the precious foodstuffs out of the sight of rival shoppers. The manager of that store, Jean-Marie Daragon, tried to remedy the madness by bringing in a Nutella rationing scheme, limiting customers to three jars per person.

Alba, Piedmont-based manufacturer Ferrero condemned the violence across the border but also distanced itself from Intermarché and its controversial promotion. “We wish to clarify that this promotion was decided unilaterally by the Intermarché brand,” it said in a statement. 

Nutella is extremely popular in France, with 100 million jars a year consumed by citizens, making France one of the hazelnut and chocolate flavoured spread’s biggest markets globally.


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“Nutella ‘riots’: Sale on chocolate and hazelnut spread sparks chaos in French supermarkets” – Chris Baynes, Independent (26 January 2018)


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RADIO MASHAAL: Pakistan shuts down US-funded radio station

Islamabad – VIJAY SHAH via CPJ

Pakistani media authorities have ordered Radio Mashaal, a radio station funded by the US, to close operations on the nation’s soil, causing protests and condemnation among advocates for freedom of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported on Friday. The shutdown affects Radio Mashaal‘s bureau in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. The radio station broadcasts in the Pashto language, a relative of Persian, which is spoken in Pakistan’s northern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province and which is also a national language of neighbouring Afghanistan. The station is headquartered not in Pakistan, or indeed Asia, but in Prague, Czech Republic, with the Islamabad bureau being a satellite office.


Radio Mashaal is a Pakistani subsidiary of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), a former anti-Communist propaganda and news station currently sourcing funds from the US Congress, according to the CPJ.

Local news reports claimed that recommendations made by the country’s secret intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, prompted the Interior Ministry to order the shutdown of the radio outlet. According to Radio Mashaal’s parent broadcaster, the ministry stated that the station’s programming were “found against the interests of Pakistan and are in line with [a] hostile intelligence agency’s agenda.” Relations between Pakistan and the US have been lukewarm in recent years. Reasons included alleged Pakistani top-level support of the Taliban fighting NATO forces in Afghanistan, the fact that Osama bin Laden, once America’s most wanted terrorist, was able to escape detection for many years in Pakistani territory, and only this year, US President Donald Trump threatened to end aid to Pakistan for not pulling its weight in the ‘war on terror’.

The Interior Ministry was also troubled by what it considered to be Radio Mashaal’s negative attitude towards Pakistan, including claiming that the country was a ‘failed state’ and a ‘hub of terrorism’ and that Pashtun Pakistanis were ‘dissatisfied’ with their nation. The station was also accused of factual distortion.

The CPJ roundly condemned the closing of Radio Mashaal in Pakistan in their article. The committee’s Asia programme coördinator, Steven Butler, said “The order to close Radio Mashaal’s office in Islamabad is a draconian move by Pakistani authorities and a direct threat to press freedom in the country,

‘Radio Mashaal is an important source of information in Pakistan and should be allowed to continue operating in the country without further harassment from the government.”

Meanwhile, Radio Mashaal’s parent company has also expressed dismay over the enforced closure, stating it was ‘extraordinarily concerned’ and is “urgently seeking more information about the Pakistani authorities’ intentions,” adding that the station is “an essential source of reliable, balanced information for our Pakistani audience.”

While the country’s constitution guarantees press freedoms in theory, the Pakistani government does clamp down on critical reporting or stories that could, in its eyes, cause harm to the country. There have been claims of violent attacks on journalists, even assassinations. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has ranked Pakistan 147 on the 2016 World Press Freedom Index.


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“Pakistan orders closure of US-funded Radio Mashaal office in Islamabad” – Committee to Protect Journalists (19 January 2018)


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