Saturday, 07 December 2019

Lorry drivers have blocked numerous motorways in France with their vehicles in protest at a tax increase on fuel.

Toll booths on the A8 in southern France and the A36 in the east of the country were blocked on Saturday morning, the broadcaster Franceinfo reported.

The action had been called by the trade union OTRE among others.

“Everything is going according to plan,” Jean-Marc Rivera, spokesman for the union, told the station BFMTV.

The reason for the strike is a planned fuel tax increase for 2020 when a tax break for fuel expires.

Should this tax increase be in fact introduced, that would be a severe blow to the 40,000 freight transport companies, the union said.

“Under the pretext of increasing the budget for road infrastructure … the government is imposing this obligation solely on French companies by protecting foreign lorries,” it said.

Already in recent weeks, construction and agricultural vehicles had blocked oil refineries in the country in protest at the government’s plans, raising concerns that petrol could become scarce.

Meanwhile, strikes by workers in local and long-distance public transport against the government’s planned pension reform continued on Saturday.

The French state railway SNCF had announced that only 10 to 15 per cent of the trains would operate.

The Paris Metro was also on strike again, with many lines still not served.

Published in Travel & Tourism

Donors of the African Development Fund (ADF) on Thursday agreed to commit $7.6 billion to speed up growth in Africa’s poorest nations and help lift millions out of poverty.

This fifteenth replenishment of the ADF (ADF-15), up 32% from the previous cycle, sends a strong signal of trust in the Fund, which is the concessional window of the African Development Bank Group.

The Fund comprises 32 contributing states and benefits 37 countries – including those experiencing higher growth rates, headed towards new emerging markets, and fragile states needing special support for basic service delivery. The Fund’s resources are replenished every three years.

ADF-15 will support Africa’s most vulnerable countries by tackling the root causes of fragility, strengthening resilience, and mainstreaming cross-cutting issues. These include gender, climate change, governance, private sector development, and decent job creation.

“What a great pledge we’ve achieved with your support… Together we’ve exceeded the target set for this replenishment. What a great and successful replenishment story that is,” said Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank.

Over the past 45 years, the ADF has played an important role in the development journey of African low-income countries.

In just nine years, the ADF has made a difference and positively impacted the lives of millions by:

*Improving access to electricity for 10.9 million people;
*Providing agriculture infrastructure and inputs for 90 million people—including 43 million women;
*Improving access to markets and connections between countries to 66.6 million people;
*Contributing to the continent’s regional integration agenda by rehabilitating more than 2,300 km of cross-border roads;
*Improving access to water and sanitation for 35.8 million people.
*ADF-15 covers the period 2020-2022 and will build on successes of the fourteenth replenishment by being more selective and focused.

ADF-15 will focus on two Strategic Pillars: quality and sustainable infrastructure aimed at strengthening regional integration; and human governance and institutional capacity development for increased decent job creation and inclusive growth.

In pursuing these strategic priorities, ADF-15 will pay special attention to gender equality, climate change, the private sector, and good governance promotion.

In his closing remarks, Patrick Dlamini CEO of the Development Bank of Southern Africa, DBSA, who spoke on behalf of South Africa’s Finance minister Tito Mboweni, said “the deliberations and outcome demonstrated the confidence member countries place in the African Development Bank Group as “the cornerstone institution underpinning African development.”

“There is no better vehicle than the ADF,” he said. “Going forward, an ambitious programme of development lies ahead.”

ADF-15 will address the root causes of vulnerability by systematically applying a fragility lens in all its operations. This will be specifically targeted at regions such as the Sahel, which will see a 23% increase in resources from the ADF over the next period.

ADF-15 comes at a time of tremendous opportunities and challenges for ADF countries and the world.

During the next three years, the Fund will scale up its interventions with bold and profoundly transformative projects such as Desert to Power stretching across the Sahel region.

This flagship programme aims at transforming the Sahel into the world’s largest solar production zone with up to 10,000MW of solar generation capacity and 250 million people connected to electricity.

As part of the initiative, the Yeleen Rural Electrification Project in Burkina Faso is set to provide access to electricity to 150,000 households, while the Djermaya Project in Chad will generate 10% of Chad’s power capacity.

“You will see a new spring in our step…we will be bold and decisive. We will stretch ourselves, and we will do more with your support,” Adesina said.

Published in Bank & Finance
Saturday, 07 December 2019 16:15

US, Iran swap detainees in rare exchange

 
 

Iranian stem cell scientist Professor Massoud Soleimani detained in the US since October 2018: now freed by US

The United States and Iran each freed a prisoner on Saturday in a rare swap, an act of cooperation between two longtime foes whose ties have worsened since President Donald Trump took office.

Trump said Xiyue Wang, a U.S. citizen held in Iran for three years on spying charges, was returning to the United States. An Iranian official said that Iranian Massoud Soleimani had been freed from detention in the United States.

Soleimani, a stem cell expert, was arrested at Chicago airport in October 2018 for allegedly attempting to export biological materials to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.

Wang, a Princeton University graduate student, was convicted on espionage charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2017. His family and the university have always said he was in Iran for research into a history degree and denied spying.

Switzerland facilitated the swap and Iranian state news agency IRNA said Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif welcomed Soleimani in Zurich, where it said the swap took place. It said Soleimani was expected to return to Iran in the coming hours.

In a statement issued by the White House, Trump made no mention of the freeing of Soleimani but thanked the Swiss government for its help in negotiating Wang’s release.

“Freeing Americans held captive is of vital importance to my Administration, and we will continue to work hard to bring home all our citizens wrongfully held captive overseas,” he said.

Zarif said earlier the prisoner swap was imminent. Later he posted pictures on Twitter of himself with Soleimani talking on board an Iranian plane.

“Glad that Professor Massoud Soleimani and Mr. Xiyue Wang will be joining their families shortly. Many thanks to all engaged, particularly the Swiss government,” Zarif tweeted.

IRNA reported that Wang was released based on “Islamic clemency”.

Switzerland represents U.S. diplomatic interests in Iran, since Washington and Tehran cut diplomatic ties shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.

According to Princeton, Wang was born in Beijing in 1980, emigrated to the United States in 2001 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2009. His wife and child are Chinese citizens. China, which normally requires its citizens to give up their nationality when they become citizens of another country, has not commented publicly on the case.

A senior U.S. official said Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, accompanied Soleimani to Switzerland to make the exchange and Hook and Wang were now “en route to Landstuhl in Germany where Wang will be examined by doctors”.

The official said Wang was expected to stay in Germany for several days. Landstuhl is home to an American military medical centre.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a tweet that he was “pleased that the Iranian government has been constructive in this matter”. He added “we will not rest until we bring every American detained in Iran and around the world back home”.

Hua Qu, Wang’s wife, welcomed her husband’s release.

“Our family is complete once again. Our son Shaofan and I have waited three long years for this day and it’s hard to express in words how excited we are to be reunited with Xiyue,” she said in a statement.

“We are thankful to everyone who helped make this happen.”

Soleimani, a stem cell expert, was arrested at Chicago airport in October 2018 for allegedly attempting to export biological materials to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.

Washington has demanded that Iran release the Americans it is holding, including father and son Siamak and Baquer Namazi; Michael R. White, a Navy veteran imprisoned last year, and Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent missing since 2007.

Published in World
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