“Jasmine Revolution”
Symbol of peace: Flowers placed on the barrel of a tank
in very much calmer protests than in recent days in Tunisia

'The Protester' - Time Person of the Year 2011

'The Protester' - Time Person of the Year 2011
Mannoubia Bouazizi, the mother of Tunisian street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi. "Mohammed suffered a lot. He worked hard. but when he set fire to himself, it wasn’t about his scales being confiscated. It was about his dignity." (Peter Hapak for TIME)

1 - TUNISIA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

How eyepatches became a symbol of Egypt's revolution - Graffiti depicting a high ranking army officer with an eye patch Photograph: Nasser Nasser/ASSOCIATED PRESS

2 - EGYPT Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

''17 February Revolution"

3 - LIBYA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

5 - SYRIA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

"25 January Youth Revolution"
Muslim and Christian shoulder-to-shoulder in Tahrir Square
"A Summary" – Apr 2, 2011 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Religion, Shift of Human Consciousness, 2012, Intelligent/Benevolent Design, EU, South America, 5 Currencies, Water Cycle (Heat up, Mini Ice Ace, Oceans, Fish, Earthquakes ..), Middle East, Internet, Israel, Dictators, Palestine, US, Japan (Quake/Tsunami Disasters , People, Society ...), Nuclear Power Revealed, Hydro Power, Geothermal Power, Moon, Financial Institutes (Recession, Realign integrity values ..) , China, North Korea, Global Unity,..... etc.) -
(Subjects: Egypt Uprising, Iran/Persia Uprising, Peace in Middle East without Israel actively involved, Muhammad, "Conceptual" Youth Revolution, "Conceptual" (without a manager hierarchy) managed Businesses, Internet, Social Media, News Media, Google, Bankers, Global Unity,..... etc.)
"The End of History" – Nov 20, 2010 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll)
(Subjects:Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Muhammad, Jesus, God, Jews, Arabs, EU, US, Israel, Iran, Russia, Africa, South America, Global Unity,..... etc.) (Text version)

"If an Arab and a Jew can look at one another and see the Akashic lineage and see the one family, there is hope. If they can see that their differences no longer require that they kill one another, then there is a beginning of a change in history. And that's what is happening now. All of humanity, no matter what the spiritual belief, has been guilty of falling into the historic trap of separating instead of unifying. Now it's starting to change. There's a shift happening."

“ … Here is another one. A change in what Human nature will allow for government. "Careful, Kryon, don't talk about politics. You'll get in trouble." I won't get in trouble. I'm going to tell you to watch for leadership that cares about you. "You mean politics is going to change?" It already has. It's beginning. Watch for it. You're going to see a total phase-out of old energy dictatorships eventually. The potential is that you're going to see that before 2013.

They're going to fall over, you know, because the energy of the population will not sustain an old energy leader ..."

African Union (AU)

African Union (AU)
African Heads of State pose for a group photo ahead of the start of the 28th African Union summit in Addis Ababa on January 30, 2017 (AFP Photo/ Zacharias ABUBEKER)

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela
Few words can describe Nelson Mandela, so we let him speak for himself. Happy birthday, Madiba.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tunisia's first democratically elected president sworn-in

After years of authoritarian rule, Tunisia has inaugurated its first freely elected president. Beji Caid Essibsi has long held office in Tunis, but insists his administration will not be a continuation of the past.

Deutsche Welle, 31 Dec 2014

Beji Caid Essebsi was sworn in as president of Tunisia on Wednesday in a plenary session of parliament, where his secularist Nida Tounes party holds the largest bloc of seats.

Essebsi is the first democratically elected head of state in the north African country since it gained independence from France in 1956. The 88-year-old veteran of Tunisian politics won 55.68 percent of the votes cast in a run-off election on December 21.

After his swearing-in ceremony was compete, Essebsi was to travel to the presidential palace in Carthage, a suburb of Tunis, for a formal hand over of power from former President Moncef Marouki.

Nida Tounes defeated rival moderate Islamist party Ennahda, to which Marzouki belongs. Marzouki received 44.32 percent of the vote, and his party said it had not ruled out joining a coalition government coming second in the October parliamentary vote.

A 'president for all Tunisians'

Tunisia had only two heads of state between gaing its independence from French colonial rule in 1957 and its revolution nearly four years ago. Habib Bourguiba, a nationalist leader who spearheaded the nation's independence, ruled Tunisia as president for 30 years, before Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was overthrown in the Arab spring revolts in 2011 took power. Essebsi served under both, and has been accused by his detractors as being an extension of the Ben Ali regime.

Essebsi has denied these accusations, saying he would be a "president for all Tunisians," adding that Tunisia had turned a page on the past and should look to the future.

Tunisia is the birthplace of the Arab Spring and largely considered its sole success story. Similar uprisings in Libya, Syria, and Yemen have all led to protracted conflicts, while Egypt saw its elected leader, Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, deposed by the army after a year in power.

es/pfd (AFP, dpa)

Four held in Tanzania over albino girl kidnapping

Yahoo – AFP, December 31, 2014

Four held in Tanzania over albino girl kidnapping

Arusha (Tanzania) (AFP) - Police in Tanzania said Wednesday they have arrested four people over the kidnapping of an albino girl in the north of the country, where many are killed and their body parts sold as lucky charms.

Four-year-old Pendo Emmanuelle Nundi was snatched on Saturday from her home in the Mwanza region by attackers armed with machetes, regional police chief Valentino Mlowola told state television.

"We have arrested four people, including the girl's father. We are still in the process of interrogating them so we can find out where the girl is -- if she is still alive," the official said, adding the attackers may have been tipped off by neighbours.

At least 74 albinos have been murdered in the east African country since 2000, according to United Nations experts. After a spike in killings in 2009, the government placed youngsters in children's homes in a desperate effort to defend them.

A hereditary genetic condition which causes a total absence of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes, albinism affects one Tanzanian in 1,400, often as a result of inbreeding, experts say. In the West, it affects just one person in 20,000.

In August a UN rights expert warned that attacks against albinos were on the rise because Tanzania's October 2015 presidential election was on the horizon, encouraging political campaigners to turn to influential sorcerers for support.

Albino body parts sell for around $600 in Tanzania, with an entire corpse fetching $75,000.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Every country fends for itself in the fight against Boko Haram

Boko Haram terrorists have become a threat beyond Nigeria's borders. The governments of the affected states say they have joined forces to combat the extremist group, but their cooperation leaves a lot to be desired.

Deutsche Welle, 30 Dec 2014

In an image taken from a Boko Haram video, the leader of the group Boko
Haram is flanked by masked gunmen holding flags. Photo: (AP Photo)

"There is total panic" is how Danjuma Hamina from Achigachia describes what is happening in her home town in northern Cameroon. Fighters from the terrorist group Boko Haram had taken control of the town, she said, and "even hoisted their flag." Together with dozens of others, Hamina boarded a train and fled to Cameroon's capital Yaounde.

Boko Haram members have been raiding villages near the border between northern Cameroon and Nigeria for several months. But this time things were different, the eyewitness told DW. "We have not seen an attack like this since the whole Boko Haram thing started," she exclaimed.

According to the Cameroonian military, more than 1,000 terrorists have attacked several places in the border area in the past few days. They killed numerous civilians and soldiers. After heavy fighting on Sunday (29.12.2014), they briefly seized a military base in Achigachia.

Chad's military is considered to be strong,
 but the neighboring countries distrust

Chad's government
Only after Cameroon launched its first-ever air strikes against the terrorist group, did the military succeed in retaking the base.

It is still unclear how many people died in the attacks, the Cameroonian military said. But what has become abundantly clear by now is that Boko Haram not only poses a threat to northern Nigeria, but to the neighboring states as well.

The Islamists have been carrying out bloody attacks for five years, most of them in the Nigerian states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. They even control large swathes of the country's northeast, where they have proclaimed the establishment of a caliphate in line with their radical Islamist ideology. They have killed several thousand people and driven between 700,000 and 1.5 million from their homes.

Joint declaration of war, but no consequences

In the past months Boko Haram has been expanding its activities into neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger. For some time now, experts say, the extremists have maintained bases on both sides of various borders as havens to which they can retreat if attacked. The terrorists are recruiting fighters in the neighboring countries as well. Several high-ranking leaders of the group reportedly come from Chad and Niger.

Nigeria's neighbors lie in a poor and unstable region

While the extremists have again proven that they are capable of cross-border attacks, each of the affected countries has by and large been responding to them on its own.

In May 2014, the heads of state of Nigeria and neighboring Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin had declared a "war" against Boko Haram. At a summit hosted by French President Francois Hollande, they agreed on measures to tackle the terrorist threat, including pooling intelligence, joint border surveillance and an intervention force. But very little has happened since.

Not long ago Cameroon again declared that it would cooperate more closely with Chad, Niger and Nigeria, according to Jesper Cullen, a security analyst for the British consultancy Risk Advisory Group. "But just [now] the Cameroonian government said one of the problems they're really facing is that the limit of their military is the border with Nigeria, and as soon as Boko Haram crosses over, Boko Haram are free to run around pretty much as they want." This shows that there is no coordination between the two armies, the expert said.

Distrust between intelligence agencies

Niger's south has also been massively affected by Boko Haram violence.

More than 120,000 people have already
fled from Nigeria to the south of Niger
The president of Diffa's regional parliament says his region has already accepted more than 120,000 refugees from northern Nigeria. "More come every day," Mahirou Malam Ligari said in an interview with DW. The government of Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, was doing all it could, Ligari said. "But we need more help," he stressed.

The wave of refugees is not only a social challenge. Along with the refugees, Boko Haram fighters enter the country. Niger's security forces had already arrested several suspected terrorists, Ligari said. But he warned that the threat of attacks in the border region remained high.

Although they have a common enemy, there is distrust among the affected countries. Nigerian media have repeatedly accused Chad's leaders of supporting Boko Haram. Cameroon also suspects that the terrorists are receiving help in other countries. "You have to ask yourself how a movement like this, whose supply lines have been cut, can continue to cause damage on this scale," Cameroonian military spokesman Didier Badjeck told DW. "This means that behind the scenes strange things are happening with respect to Boko Haram."

The security forces and the governments in the region do not accuse each other openly. But the massive distrust between them also manifests itself in the lack of cooperation between their intelligence agencies, according to a statement given by Comfort Ero, Africa director for the International Crisis Group, to the news agency AP. "None of the sides is willing to share information with the other," Ero said.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Church of England still homophobic, says bishop

Bishop of Buckingham Alan Wilson praises ‘courage and determination’ shown by gay members of clergy

The Guardian, Nicholas Watt Chief political correspondent, Wednesday 24 December 2014

In his Christmas sermon, Alan Evans complains that churches have a 'funny way' of showing Christian love towards gay people. Photograph: bishopalan.blogspot.com
The Church of England is still guilty of “serious institutional homophobia” and has yet to overcome “inertia and ignorance” towards same-sex couples, an Anglican bishop has claimed.

Alan Wilson, the bishop of Buckingham, praised gay members of the clergy for showing “considerable courage and determination” as they fight deeply ingrained prejudices to marry.

“In very few years people will wonder what the fuss was all about,” the bishop says in a Christmas sermon for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community recorded for Pink News. He adds: “But for now it’s a path that calls for considerable courage and determination. So please spare a thought this Christmas for them.”

Wilson’s intervention comes days after Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, said he was seeking to heal divisions between opponents and supporters of gay marriage.

In an appearance on Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4, the archbishop declined to say whether he had dropped his own opposition to gay marriage as he said of the two sides in the debate: “If you love them you have to listen to them very, very carefully.”

Richard Chartres, the traditionally minded bishop of London who is close to the Prince of Wales, is an opponent of same sex marriage. But Chartres, who led the funeral service for Lady Thatcher, praised Welby on BBC London 94.9 for authorising “properly disciplined conversations” to allow the church to deal with its differences on the issue.

In his Christmas sermon, the bishop of Buckingham complains that the Church of England and other churches have a “funny way” of showing Christian love towards gay people.

“Christians believe God is love and those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them,” he says. ”But, you may say, churches have a funny way of showing that sometimes. We still have a legacy of serious institutional homophobia, inertia and ignorance to overcome. The fact is, however, where people dare to think things could be different, think things through without prejudice, there is hope.”

The bishop said there was hope, but also danger in some parts of the world, for gay people. He said: “There is hope – I notice a new generation of evangelical Christians rethinking the implications of their faith in a far more truthful, just and generous way. At the same time, around the world, there are many places that are anything but safe for gay people.

“A Ugandan member of parliament is promising to bring back the notorious ant-gay bill that fell over this autumn. He calls it his Christmas gift to Ugandans – very much the sort of present you can do without. Wouldn’t peace on earth and goodwill to everybody be far more appropriate? But Christmas is Christmas. Love came down at Christmas, and the nativity story takes us back to the heart of everything. The miracle. The beauty of every human life is a gift of God deserving total respect full of hope. Happy Christmas.”

The bishop earlier this year criticised the Church of England for preaching a 1950s “Janet and John” view of human relationships even though many bishops have been and are gay.

In a blog about his book on same sex marriage in September, he wrote: “In the book I articulated the drearily obvious and well-known fact that a fair number of bishops in the past and present have been, in fact, gay … What matters to me is the fact that bishops have a range of sexual orientations including gay, not which bishops have what. Which particular bishops are Saggitarian, left-handed or red-haired? I know not in detail, neither do I care. I can, however, understand that curiosity about this is greater than it would be for a group of people who did not set themselves up as professionally straight while behaving in discriminatory ways towards gay people.”

Libby Lane's interests include learning to play the saxophone,
supporting Manchester United and doing cryptic crosswords.
Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

Related Articles:

Church of England’s first female bishop named as Libby Lane

First in East Asia, Taiwan reviews marriage equality bill
China court raps clinic over 'gay conversion' therapy

Question: Dear Kryon: Regarding homosexuality or transsexuals. WHY are they the way they are and WHY are they not accepted in mainstream society?

Answer: [From the Kryon Office]
There is often a tremendous amount of information on subjects that are not necessarily part of the on-line magazine Q&A database. Kryon has been channelling for fourteen years, with 9 books covering many, many topics. Homosexuality was one of them from the very beginning. Please see our "Books index page" for subjects contained in the Kryon books: [http://www.kryon.com/direct.html]

An excerpt from Kryon Book 6, page 306

Question from the book: Dear Kryon, I am gay, and an enlightened man. I live in an American society that barely tolerates me, and actually has some laws against my way of life. The church I used to belong to cast me out as being evil and anti-God. I don't feel that I am violating some Human ethic. My love is as true as any heterosexual, and I am a light worker. Tell me what I should know.

Answer from the book: Dear one, less than two generations from now, there will be those who find this book and laugh at the quaintness of this very question. Before I answer, let me ask you and those reading this to examine a phenomenon about Human society and "God."

Thirty years ago, interracial marriage was considered to be wrong by the laws of God. Now your society finds it common. The spiritual objections around it were either dropped or "rewritten" by those divinely inspired and authorized to do so. Therefore, your actual interpretations of the instructions from God changed with your society's tolerance level--an interesting thing, indeed, how the interpretations of God seem to change regularly to match a changing culture!

The truth, of course, is that you find yourself in a situation that is known to create a test for you. Right now, in this time, you have agreed to come into your culture with an attribute that may alienate you from friends and religious followers. You have faced fear of rejection and have had to "swim upstream," so to speak, just as an everyday life occurrence. Your contract, therefore, has been set up well, and you are in the middle of it. Additionally, like so many like you, you have a divine interest in yourselves! You feel part of the spiritual family. What a dichotomy indeed, to be judged as evil by those who are the high spiritual leaders--interpreting God for today's culture.

Now I say this: What is your intent? Is it to walk with love for all those around you and become an enlightened Human Being in this New Age? Is it to forgive those who see you as a spiritual blight on society? Can you have the kind of tolerance for them that they seem not to have for you? Can you overlook the fact that they freely quote their scriptures in order to condemn you, yet they don't seem to have the love tolerance that is the cornerstone of their own message?

If the answer is yes, then there is nothing else you must do. Your INTENT is everything, and your life will be honored with peace over those who would cause unrest, and tolerance for the intolerable. Your sexual attributes are simply chemistry and setups within your DNA. They are given by agreement as gifts for you to experience in this life. Look on them in this fashion, and be comfortable with that fact that you are a perfect spiritual creation under God--loved beyond measure--just like all humans. But then you know that, don't you?

"The Akashic Circle" – Jul 17, 2011 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll) - (Subjects: Religion, The Humanization of GodBenevolent Design, DNA, Akashic Circle, (Old) Souls, Gaia, Indigenous People, Talents, Reincarnation, Genders, Gender Switches, In “between” Gender Change, Gender Confusion, Shift of Human Consciousness, Global Unity,..... etc.)  - (Text version)

“… Gender Switching

Old souls, let me tell you something. If you are old enough, and many of you are, you have been everything. Do you hear me? All of you. You have been both genders. All of you have been what I will call between genders, and that means that all of you have had gender switches. Do you know what happens when it's time for you to switch a gender? We have discussed it before. You'll have dozens of lifetimes as the same gender. You're used to it. It's comfortable. You cannot conceive of being anything else, yet now it's time to change. It takes approximately three lifetimes for you to get used to it, and in those three lifetimes, you will have what I call "gender confusion."

It isn't confusion at all. It's absolutely normal, yet society often will see it as abnormal. I'm sitting here telling you you've all been through it. All of you. That's what old souls do. It's part of the system. …”

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Elephant ivory smuggling 'kingpin' arrested in Tanzania

Suspected organised crime boss Feisal Ali Mohammed is arrested following publication of Interpol most-wanted list

The Guardian – AFP, 23 December 2014

Feisal Mohamed Ali, bottom-right, has been arrested in Tanzania following
an Interpol most-wanted list. Photograph: Interpol

A suspected organised crime boss alleged to be a leading figure in the illegal ivory trade has been arrested by Interpol agents in Tanzania, officials said on Tuesday.

The international police organisation last month put Kenyan national Feisal Ali Mohammed on a list of nine most-wanted suspects linked to crimes against the environment.

“Feisal Ali Mohammed was arrested by Interpol officers in Dar es Salaam. He was then booked in Musimbasi police station at 10:42pm last night,” Kenya’s director of public prosecutions said in a statement.

It said he is facing charges in Kenya’s port city of Mombasa for “dealing and possession of elephant tusks” weighing more than two tonnes and equivalent to at least 114 poached elephants, which were found during a raid in June.

Herd of elephants in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania. Photograph:
Ingvild Holm/Environmental Investigation Agency

Two alleged accomplices, Abdul Halim Sadiq and Ghalib Sadiq Kara, were arrested then, but Mohammed managed to escape and has been on the run since. According to an Interpol source, Mohammed was caught in “a string operation” conducted in conjunction with Tanzanian police.

He is the second of the nine alleged “environmental criminals” listed by Interpol to have been arrested since the Interpol appeal last month. Earlier this month, Zambian national Ben Simasiku was arrested on charges of possessing ivory from Botswana.

In November, Interpol said the arrest of the suspects would “contribute to the dismantlement of transnational organised crime groups who have turned environmental exploitation into a professional business with lucrative revenues.”

Ivory is sought out for jewellery and decorative objects and much of it is smuggled to China, where many increasingly wealthy shoppers are buying ivory trinkets as a sign of financial success.

A sharp rise in poaching in Kenya, which is home to an estimated 30,000 elephants and just over a thousand rhinos, has sparked warnings from conservation groups that the government is losing the fight against the slaughter.

New leader vows Tunisia has 'turned the page' after vote

Yahoo – AFP, Antoine Lambroschini, 23 Dec 2014

Anti-Islamist Beji Caid Essebsi, named as the winner in Tunisia's first free 
presidential election, arrives at his party's headquarters on December 22, 2014
in Tunis (AFP Photo/Fethi Belaid)

Tunis (AFP) - Tunisia's new leader Beji Caid Essebsi says the country has turned the page on dictatorship after a presidential vote that rounded off its transition to democracy.

Essebsi, an 88-year-old veteran of previous Tunisian regimes, was on Monday declared the winner of a vote hailed as a landmark for the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

European Union observers were to report later Tuesday on whether the election met democratic standards but it has already won praise from Western leaders including US President Barack Obama.

A young supporter of newly-elected
 President Beji Caid Essebsi celebrates
his victory on December 22, 2014
in Tunis (AFP Photo/Fethi Belaid)
After an often bitter and divisive campaign that saw anti-Islamist Essebsi defeat incumbent Moncef Marzouki, some have raised concerns that his victory marks the return of Tunisia's old guard.

But Essebsi insisted Tunisia would not turn back history.

"I am for completely turning the page on the past, we must go beyond the past and look to the future," Essebsi said in a nationally televised interview late on Monday.

Marzouki, a long-exiled 69-year-old former rights activist, has conceded defeat and called for calm after hundreds of his supporters clashed with police on Sunday and Monday.

On national television late Monday, Marzouki urged supporters to respect the result and return to their homes "in the name of national unity".

"These are the rules of the democratic process," he said.

Essebsi is now expected to begin forming a government, after his Nidaa Tounes party won parliamentary polls in October.

The moderately Islamist Ennahda party, which was in power after the revolution and installed Marzouki as president, came second in the general election and has not ruled out joining in a governing coalition.

No 'blank cheque'

The presidential vote -- the first time Tunisians have freely elected their head of state since independence in 1956 -- was seen as a milestone for the country that sparked the Arab Spring with the 2011 ouster of longtime strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The revolution that began in Tunisia spread to many parts of the Arab world, with mass protests in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

In every country except Tunisia the revolution was followed by violent turmoil or, as in Syria's case, a devastating civil war.

Obama congratulated Essebsi and hailed the vote as "a vital step toward the completion of Tunisia's momentous transition to democracy".

President Francois Hollande of France, Tunisia's former colonial ruler, also praised Tunisians for their "determination, sense of responsibility and spirit of compromise".

The next government will face major challenges.

Electoral officials hold a press conference
 on December 22, 2014 in Tunis to
announce the results of Tunisia's
presidential vote (AFP Photo/
Fethi Belaid)
Tunisia's economy is struggling to recover from the upheaval of the revolution and there are fears widespread joblessness will cause social unrest.

A nascent jihadist threat has also emerged, with militant groups long suppressed under Ben Ali carrying out attacks including the killings of two anti-Islamist politicians.

Ahead of the vote, jihadists issued a videotaped threat against Tunisia's political establishment.

Tunisian newspapers on Tuesday underlined the difficulties ahead, with daily La Presse saying the new leader must deal with "a massive debt, weak growth, high unemployment, deteriorating competitiveness and highly threatened security".

Le Temps hailed Tunisia for emerging "victorious from a gruelling and painful ordeal," adding that voters had not given Essebsi a "blank cheque" to do as he pleases.

"No party is in a position to claim that it alone can solve the country's problems," the daily said.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Star-Gazing Tourists Flock to Africa’s Darkest Place

Jakarta Globe – AFP, Andrew Beatty, Dec 07, 2014

Active regions on the sun combine to look something like a jack-o-lantern's face,
 as pictured in this image provided by NASA on Oct. 8, 2014. In addition to the Namib
 desert, Hawaii and Chile have become renowned as astro-tourism hot spots,
according to AFP. (Reuters Photo/NASA/Handout)

The Namib Desert, Namibia. Not many tourist spots boast of being dark and difficult to get to, but the Namib desert is one of a number of remote “Dark Sky Reserves” drawing in stargazers for a celestial safari.

In the cool night air, an urbane Austrian tourist climbs rocky steps behind a chic hotel lodge and peers into a matte-black metal cylinder containing a spine of mirrors and lenses that reveal the universe.

“My mum wanted to set him on fire yesterday when he said, ‘We are looking ten million years in the past!’” he joked, pointing at the resident astronomer.

Not everyone is ready to face the enormity of the universe laid out so starkly by powerful magnification and the crisp desert sky.

But across the starkly beautiful Namib, hotels and lodges are betting that the stars will lead to more business rather than a spike in Galileo-esque witch hunts.

Many lodges have bought research-grade or “prosumer” telescopes and hired live-in astronomers as they try to lure tourists who want to gaze deeper into space and time.

According to consultancy Euromonitor, astro-tourism holidays are growing in line with increased urbanization, with Africa in particular “taking off”.

“Most people come here for the other activities, visiting the dunes or the nature reserve where you see all the wildlife. This is kind of a bonus,” said Misha Vickas, formerly a guide at a public observatory in Sydney, but now resident at the AndBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge.

“Most people have never looked through a telescope and a lot of them have just never looked up.”

Vickas operates a “go-to” telescope, a device which, once calibrated, pivots on demand to any star or planet with little more than a mechanical hum and whir.

Not that a telescope is really needed in the Namib.

Across as much as 50 percent of the Earth the starry firmament is obscured by an orange glow of man-made light pollution.

During the day, the Namib’s sea of copper red and ecru yellow dunes and mountains glow blindingly, befitting the world’s oldest desert.

But in the inky night sky, the Milky Way seems much closer than Windhoek, a half day’s drive away across dirt track and sun-rippled single-lane carriageway.

Mars’s red glow, Magellanic clouds — dwarf galaxies outside our own — and assorted gaseous nebulae are all visible with the naked eye.

“The sky is particularly good to look at here, because the Milky Way, which is the main part of our galaxy, is usually very high overhead,” meaning light refraction is at a minimum, Vickas said.

“There is a lot to look at.”

Darkest places on earth

In 2012, a sliver of the central Namib the size of Mauritius — the NamibRand — was named Africa’s first “Dark Sky Reserve,” in recognition of the sky’s special allure here.

A handful of similar sites exist across the world, including Aoraki Mackenzie on New Zealand’s South Island and the Iveragh Peninsula on Ireland’s southwest coast.

Hawaii and Chile have also become renowned as astro-tourism hot spots.

“The darkest places are almost inevitably distant from populated places,” said John Barentine of the Arizona-based International Dark-Sky Association, which awards the designation.

“The glow of cities can often be seen several hundred kilometers away under good conditions.”

To rank sky quality, scientists use measurements like the Bortle scale.

An inner city is level nine, meaning you can see very little. Bright constellations like Orion may be faint or even invisible.

At the other end of the scale, in a first-class sky like the Namib, Venus and Jupiter shine bright, a white swathe of zodiacal light smears the sky.

Like parts of Chile, the Namib’s good weather and ultra-dry atmosphere make for clear nights and particularly transparent air all the way to the horizon.

“A visitor to NamibRand has a statistically high probability of experiencing that exceptionally dark sky on any given night,” Barentine said.

Namibia has just over two million people spread over an area roughly the size of Pakistan or Nigeria, making it one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world.

“NamibRand is located in one of the darkest accessible places that remain on Earth,” said Barentine.

“It is as close as you get to the way the world was long ago, before the invention and proliferation of artificial lights.”

That may be the only thing this remote region is close to — thankfully for stargazing tourists.

Agence France-Presse

Saturday, December 6, 2014

An organic garden of plenty in Mali's arid soil

Yahoo – AFP, December 6, 2014

An organic garden of plenty in Mali's arid soil

SATINEBOUGOU (Mali) (AFP) - In a strikingly green corner of Mali, one man is leading an agricultural revolution, using organic farming methods to get the most out of the land -- and pass his techniques on to others in west Africa.

Oumar Diabate has established a reputation for raising chemical-free vegetables, fruit and medicinal plants at his small farm about 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the capital Bamako.

In a vast country where two-thirds of the terrain is desert, Diabate, 47, lovingly tends his two hectares (five acres), nudging tomatoes, courgettes, lettuce and beetroot from the ochre soil.

He and five permanent employees also grow fruit trees and plants required for traditional medicine, while dairy cows and sheep graze nearby and chickens fuss about in a separate enclosure.

Diabate acquired the small farm in the village of Satinebougou in 2005 after years away from home doing his veterinary training in Moscow.

A big man with a boxer's build, Diabate was inspired by French environmentalist and farmer Pierre Rabhi, the pioneer of techniques known as "agro-ecology".

By mixing Rahbi's methods with lessons from his studies in Russia, Diabate was soon bucking the trend in a country where agriculture usually means traditional subsistence farming with low yields.

'Even grass wouldn't grow'

"The land that I had bought here was very poor. Even grass wouldn't grow," Diabate recalls, but he had more than the soil to win over, because local peasants didn't believe in his project.

"At the beginning it wasn't easy to show other farmers this, they thought I had something, a magic potion that I was using," he said.

Diabate rejects using chemical fertilisers and pesticides on his farm -- a widespread practice in Mali -- instead he sticks to compost and manure, while rotating his crops to maintain the nutrients in the soil.

He feeds weeds to his cows and in addition to their manure, a natural fertiliser, he cultivates a range of special plants that help ward off potentially damaging insects, worms and parasites, in place of insecticides.

"Marigolds attract destructive insects to their flowers," Diabate explains.

"It means that the tomatoes can grow without being bothered. At the same time the marigolds produce a nematicidal agent in the ground and so repel parasites that were attacking the roots of the tomato plant."

Huts for trainees

Tapping his veterinary background, Diabate has experimented with cross-breeding cows. He mixed local varieties with two European types, black-and-white Holsteins and red-and-white Montbeliards, to produce what he says is an animal more resistant to disease.

"This cross also allowed us to boost milk production," he adds. "Instead of two to three litres (quarts) per cow, we have 10 to 15 litres per cow per day."

Diabate now collects about 30 baskets of fruit and vegetables a week for direct sale to consumers, just as other organic farmer increasingly do in Europe and the United States.

The aim is to support small farms and avoid losing money to middlemen. So far, Diabate has 29 regular clients in Bamako and the surrounding area, to whom he delivers once a week, on Saturdays or Tuesdays.

The baskets, prepared by Diabate's wife Fatoumata, cost 5,000 FCFA (about 7.6 euros, $9.4). Diabate said he takes home 40 percent of this -- a critical return in a nation where the average monthly salary is 50,000 FCFA (76 euros, $94).

But his other goal is to share his know-how in a land-locked nation that ranks among the world's 25 poorest and where 80 percent of the labour force works in agriculture -- mainly small-scale traditional or subsistence farms.

Diabate has built several huts and a classroom and since 2007 has welcomed trainees from inside Mali and abroad, such as Cheikh Ndour from Senegal who came to learn his techniques last year.

Government reforms

The pioneering farmer has established a Sahelian Centre for Training and Research in Agro-Ecology (CSFRA), backed by a little financial support from Urgenci, a non-governmental organisation promoting community-supported agriculture around the world.

Diabate has a place on Urgenci's committee and has joined forces with another Malian activist, Ousmane Camara, to promote agro-ecology and sustainable development.

Diabate's methods have aroused some interest, but organic production is still marginal in Mali, where subsistence farming accounts for nearly 40 percent of GDP.

Authorities have slowly introduced reforms over the past few decades and last year announced they want to make the country a regional agricultural force by 2017, in a document that resonated with some of Diabate's principles.

The goal, an official statement said, is to create jobs and revenue "following the logic of sustainable development and respect for the environment".

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Arab League backs plan to seek Palestinian statehood in UN Security Council

The Arab League has backed a plan by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to seek international approval for a Palestinian state at the UN Security Council. Member state Jordan is due to present the draft resolution.

Deutsche Welle, 29 Nov 2014

Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said on Saturday that Jordan, which is currently a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, would present a draft resolution setting out a timetable for the creation of a Palestinian state.

"The Palestinian issue has been circulated in the past, but what is new today is that the Arab states and Palestine decided to go to the Security Council, through Jordan, with an Arab draft resolution," Elaraby said following an extraordinary meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Egypt's capital Cairo, according to Reuters news agency.

Arab League foreign ministers attending in extraordinary League meeting decided to press the issue and to create a follow-up committee to seek international backing for the draft resolution. It comprises Kuwait, Mauritania, Jordan and Arab League chief Nabil al-Araby.

'Internationalizing' the issue

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said there had been no other option but to turn to the international community.

"The current situation in the Palestinian territories cannot continue," he told League ministers in Cairo, according to Reuters.

"There is no longer a partner for us in Israel and there is nothing for us but to internationalize the issue," Abbas said.

The proposed resolution is not likely to be passed by the UN Security Council because the United States, Israel's main ally, holds veto powers. It may also fall short of the needed number of votes.

'Jewish nation' not recognized

Elaraby also ruled out League recognition Israel as a Jewish nation, following moves by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to enshrine Israel's status as the Jewish national homeland in Israeli law. Israel's Knesset parliament is due to vote on the proposal on December 3.

The last round of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations brokered by the United States collapsed in April. Since then, relations have worsened, with Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip fighting a deadly 50-day war earlier this year.

Fatal outbreaks

That was followed by continued settlement-building by Israel on occupied territory and fatal outbreaks of violence between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem and further afield.

Palestinians seek to establish a state on land captured by Israel in a 1967 war, encompassing the Israeli-occupied West Bank, blockaded Gaza Strip and a capital in East Jerusalem.

Several countries have held symbolic votes on whether to recognize Palestine as a state, including Spain and and Sweden. Parliamentarians in France are due to hold a similar vote on the issue on December 2.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Europe and Africa pledge new approach on migration issue

European and African ministers have agreed to adopt a coordinated approach to deal with the issue of migration. They are in Rome to discuss the humanitarian crisis caused by a surge in the number of migrants.

Deutsche Welle, 28 Nov 2014

Interior ministers of 58 European and African countries convened on Friday for a summit on migration in the Italian capital of Rome.

In a joint commentary published in the German daily Frankfurter Rundschau on Friday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his Italian counterpart Paolo Gentiloni said that by strengthening the educational and health systems in African countries, Europe can tackle the refugee problem.

The two ministers emphasized the importance of comprehensive strategies and a collaborative approach - that goes beyond the policing of borders - to deal with the issue.

Senegal's interior minister, Abdoulaye Daouda Diallo, said Thursday the migration issue was creating problems for both the European countries and their Mediterranean neighbors. However, Diallo said the fourth round of the so-called Rabat process in Rome had resulted in a "significant forward step" in terms of its objectives.

"For Africa, it is not desirable to see some of its best people leaving while European countries find themselves with newcomers they feel they cannot deal with," Diallo said.

Italy, the host of the summit, has been particularly affected by a rise in the number of North African migrants seeking to enter Europe by sea. At least 165,000 migrants - an increase of about 100,000 people compared to last year - have entered Europe via the Mediterranean this year, according to some estimates.

The meeting of the EU and African ministers comes as a ship carrying more than 700 men,women and children broke down in international waters about 30 nautical miles (56 kilometers) from the Mediterranean on Thursday. The ship was later towed to the Greek island of Crete. It is one of the largest refugee boats to make the crossing in recent months.

shs/kms (AFP, dpa)