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British billionaire Richard Branson calls for ‘Marshall Plan’ after Irma ravages Caribbean

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British billionaire Richard Branson has called for a “Marshall plan” to help the Caribbean recover from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma, which left tens of thousands homeless and sparked looting on islands left short of food and water.

Irma ripped through the Leeward Islands last week as one of the Atlantic’s strongest ever storms, uprooting trees, tearing down power cables and severely damaging the homes of poor locals and the global jet-set alike. Nearly 40 deaths were reported across the Caribbean.

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As the storm crashed into Florida at the weekend, looting erupted on some Caribbean islands where residents and tourists were stranded with little food, shelter or drinking water.

Despite sending troops and ships to deliver help, France, Britain and the Netherlands have been criticized for an insufficient response in islands that are their territories.

Branson, who has lived in the British Virgin Islands for the past 11 years, weathered Irma on Necker, his private island. In a blog post on www.virgin.com, he said the region needed a “Disaster Recovery Marshall Plan” to aid in recovery and the long-term revitalization of its economy – a reference to the multibillion-dollar U.S. program that helped rebuild Western European after the devastation of World War Two.

“We must get more help to the islands to rebuild homes and infrastructure and restore power, clean water and food supplies,” said Branson, head of the Virgin Group conglomerate.

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He said he was writing from Puerto Rico, where had traveled to mobilize aid efforts, and said he would be returning to the Virgin Islands soon for recovery work.

Branson said the British government had a “massive role to play” in rebuilding its territories, including the British Virgin Islands, an offshore financial center.

The premier of the British Virgin Islands, Orlando Smith, also appealed for urgent aid from Britain, saying the situation was critical and calling for a comprehensive package. He said the plan should include the possibility of higher intensity and extreme weather “as the effects of climate change continue to grow”.

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Britain has defended its effort as “as good as anybody else’s”.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander was due to visit the Dutch side of Saint Martin on Monday, the palace said in a statement. French President Emmanuel Macron was expected in the Caribbean on Tuesday.

President and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd Michael Bayley said the company was allocating four ships for humanitarian aid and already had carried out some evacuations.

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Britain’s Labour Party has accused Branson of being a tax exile. In 2013, Branson said he moved to Necker out of his love for the Virgin Islands, not for tax reasons.

(Additional reporting by Daniel Flynn; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Bill Trott)


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Swiss holding ‘funeral march’ to mark disappearance of an Alpine glacier

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Dozens of people will undertake a "funeral march" up a steep Swiss mountainside on Sunday to mark the disappearance of an Alpine glacier amid growing global alarm over climate change.

The Pizol "has lost so much substance that from a scientific perspective it is no longer a glacier," Alessandra Degiacomi, of the Swiss Association for Climate Protection, told AFP.

The organisation which helped organise Sunday's march said around 100 people were due to take part in the event, set to take place as the UN gathers youth activists and world leaders in New York to mull the action needed to curb global warming.

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2020 Election

UAW strike ‘threatens to upend the economy in Michigan’ — and could destroy Trump’s re-election: report

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At the end of the first week of a major strike by the United Auto Workers, the employment standoff threatens to upend President Donald Trump's 2020 re-election map, the Chicago Times reported Saturday.

Approximately 46,000 workers have been striking against General Motors.

There are two major threats to Trump's campaign from the strike.

The first is that the strike could cause regional recessions -- threatening Trump's political standing in key Rust Belt states.

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Security forces fired live rounds at protesters calling for the ouster of Egyptian president: report

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Egyptian security forces clashed with hundreds of anti-government protesters in the port city of Suez on Saturday, firing tear gas and live rounds, said several residents who participated in the demonstrations.

A heavy security presence was also maintained in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the epicentre of Egypt's 2011 revolution, after protests in several cities called for the removal of general-turned-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Such demonstrations are rare after Egypt effectively banned protests under a law passed following the 2013 military ouster of Islamist ex-president Mohamed Morsi.

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