Baby orca dies in New Zealand after fruitless search for mother

Toa, the baby orca who captured hearts after he was found stranded in New Zealand waters, has lost his fight for survival, conservationists confirmed Saturday.

The killer whale, less than 2.5 metres (eight feet) long and believed to be four to six months old, became front-page news when he washed ashore near the capital Wellington after becoming separated from his pod nearly two weeks ago.

He was unweaned, and hundreds of people volunteered to assist with round-the-clock care as he was unable to survive alone in the ocean.

Conservationists, who named the orca Toa -- Maori for "warrior" -- housed him in a makeshift pen at the seaside suburb of Plimmerton, where he was fed via a special teat every four hours while an air and sea search was mounted to find his mother.

Whale Rescue, an organisation that had been helping care for Toa, posted on social media that his condition rapidly deteriorated on Friday night.

"Vets on site rushed to his aid but were unable to save him," the statement said.

Department of Conservation marine species manager Ian Angus said they were aware that the longer Toa was in captivity and away from his mother, the more likely it was his health would deteriorate.

"Toa passed quickly, surrounded by love with his last days made as comfortable as possible," Angus said.

"Throughout this amazing effort, we've all been united in wanting to do the best for Toa. Finding and reuniting him with his pod was still our goal as we headed into the weekend.

"This calf had captured hearts, and no one wanted to believe that he didn't have a fighting chance."

Despite being known as killer whales, orcas are actually the largest species of dolphin, with males growing up to nine metres.

Recognisable by their distinctive black and white markings, they are listed as critically endangered in New Zealand, where their population is estimated at 150-200.

Pods of orcas are relatively common in Wellington Harbour, where they have been observed hunting stingrays.

© 2021 AFP

6.7-magnitude quake hits Philippines: USGS

A strong earthquake shook the Philippines on Saturday, the US Geological Survey reported, but it was deep, and local authorities said they did not expect damage.

The 6.7-magnitude quake struck off the main island of Luzon at 4:48 am (2048 GMT) at a depth of 112 kilometres (70 miles), USGS said.

It was followed a few minutes later with a 5.8-magnitude quake in the same region that was also deep.

"It's very strong, we're alarmed," said police Major Ronnie Aurellano in Calatagan municipality, Batangas province, which is south of Manila and near the epicentre of the quakes.

"It's raining very hard here as well, but our people here are used to earthquakes. They're aware of the duck, hold and cover when there's an earthquake."

"We're checking low-lying areas in case there's a tsunami," he added.

The Philippine seismological agency said it did not expect damage. And there was no tsunami warning or threat, according to the US Tsunami Warning System.

"It's not as strong compared to the previous quakes here -- there's no damage reported to us," said police Corporal Bernie Faderogao in nearby Mabini.

"Our sliding door was just slightly shaken but it didn't break."

The archipelago is regularly rocked by quakes due to its location on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches from Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.

© 2021 AFP


Do vaccinated people need to go back to masking?

With the Delta variant pushing US Covid cases back up, fully vaccinated people are wondering whether they need to start masking indoors again.

Covid vaccines remain extremely effective against the worst outcomes of the disease -- hospitalization and death -- and breakthrough infections remain uncommon.

But experts told AFP that one size doesn't fit all, and people should consider factors like community transmission, personal risk levels, and their own risk tolerance to help decide what's right for them.

Risk low for vaccinated

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dropped its mask guidance for vaccinated people in May.

At the time, cases were plummeting and the administration of President Joe Biden was keen to declare a return to normal on the back of a vaccination campaign that was still going strong.

On Thursday the country registered more than 50,000 cases, a surge driven by the now overwhelmingly dominant Delta variant, the most contagious strain to date, and centered in low-vaccination regions.

Crucially, however, the rise in cases has been largely decoupled from hospitalizations and deaths.

With 80 percent of seniors fully vaccinated, average daily deaths remain in the 200s -- much lower than the more than 3,500 deaths per day seen in the worst wave over winter.

More than 97 percent of hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said last week, while 99.5 percent of people dying were unvaccinated, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said last weekend.

Walensky defended the unchanged mask guidance Thursday, stressing the agency has always said communities and individuals should consider local conditions.

"If you're in an area that has a high case rate and low rates of vaccination where Delta cases are rising, you should certainly be wearing a mask if you are unvaccinated," she said.

"If you are vaccinated, you get exceptional protection from the vaccines. But you have the opportunity to make the personal choice to add extra layers of protection if you so choose."

Why local conditions matter

Joseph Allen, an associate professor at Harvard's TH Chan School of Public Health, said he supported the CDC's view.

While the World Health Organization has urged fully vaccinated people to continue to wear masks, that is in light of the global situation where just 13.4 percent of the world population is fully vaccinated.

"I just don't think we're at the phase in the US and other highly vaccinated countries where this top-down blanket guidance makes sense anymore," he told AFP.

"For me, the goal is and has always been with all the vaccines to prevent severe disease, and death, and that's exactly what they do really well."

As far as breakthrough infections go, a recent study of a US prison found 27 positive cases from 2,380 vaccinated individuals, or 1.1 percent. All were asymptomatic and detected through routine screening.

Research shows that asymptomatic people are less likely to transmit, while people who develop symptoms are supposed to self-isolate.

Still, the greater the community prevalence of the virus, the more likely such breakthroughs become.

People's personal risk levels vary by their age and underlying conditions, some people may have high risk people at home they want to protect, while some just have lower risk tolerance.

On and off ramps

The divergence in case levels across the country closely correlates with vaccination rates, and parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida are currently experiencing the worst spikes.

Celine Gounder, an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist, compared the situation prior to Delta surges to driving your car in your own neighborhood, while the current scenario is closer to driving on a race car track.

"When you're driving around in your neighborhood, a seatbelt is enough," she told AFP, with the seatbelt representing a vaccine.

"But if you're driving on a NASCAR race track, in addition to seatbelts, those drivers also have helmets, they have airbags," she added, emphasizing that masks add an additional layer of protection.

Even without the CDC, some parts of the country, like Los Angeles County and Philadelphia, have reinstituted mask guidance.

Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease doctor at UC San Francisco told AFP she has been advocating for statistical benchmarks, "as the back and forth is very frustrating for people."

She suggests tying mask mandates to the local hospitalization rate -- a more reliable measure of disease prevalence than cases -- and, along with other experts, has proposed fewer than five hospitalized cases per 100,000 people as the threshold for resuming normal activity.

Gandhi, Allen and others argue such "off-ramps" can also be applied to schools when they reopen in fall, while the American Academy of Pediatrics favors universal masking, even among vaccinated teachers and students.

US, Russia to hold new talks to encourage stability

The United States and Russia will hold high-level talks next week in the second bid in as many months to encourage stability in the tense relationship, officials said Friday.

The so-called Strategic Stability Dialogue, set up during a June 16 summit between US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Geneva, will take place on Wednesday in the same city, the US State Department said.

"Through this dialogue, we seek to lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures," it said in a statement.

It added the US delegation will be led by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and include Bonnie Jenkins, recently confirmed as the under secretary of state in charge of arms control.

The diplomacy comes amid tensions on multiple fronts between the two nations, with Washington warning Moscow of action unless it stops a sharp rise in online extortion attacks, which US officials say largely originate in Russia.

Russia denies responsibility, but Putin has welcomed Biden's efforts to bring more predictability to the relationship between the two global powerhouses.

In announcing the future dialogue, Biden and Putin pointed out that Washington and Moscow spoke to each other to avoid worst-case scenarios even at the height of the Cold War.

Sherman will meet with the Russians days after undertaking a similar mission to China, a visit the State Department described as being aimed at ensuring there are "guardrails" in increasingly hostile US-Chinese relations.

Iraqi PM to focus on US troop withdrawal in Biden meeting

Weakened by pro-Iran factions at home, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi will meet with US President Joe Biden on Monday to discuss a possible full US troop withdrawal from his country.

The White House talks between the two allies come just a week after a deadly attack claimed by the Islamic State group, despite Baghdad declaring the Sunni extremists defeated over three years ago.

Kadhemi finds himself backed into a corner by the influence of Iraq's other main ally -- neighbouring Iran, which has long seen the United States as its arch-nemesis.

Despite shared enmity on the part of the US and Shiite Iran toward a resilient IS, Kadhemi is under intense pressure from pro-Tehran armed factions who demand the withdrawal of 2,500 US troops still deployed in Iraq.

Operating under the Hashed al-Shaabi, a paramilitary network whose tentacles extend deep into the state, these Shiite factions stand accused of carrying out around 50 rocket and drone attacks this year against US interests in Iraq.

"If there is no significant announcement on the withdrawal of troops, I fear that the pro-Iran groups may... increase attacks on the US forces," Iraqi researcher Sajad Jiyad told AFP.

Such concerns are given weight by the leader of one such paramilitary group Asaib Ahl al-Haq, who recently warned that "resistance operations will continue until all American forces have left Iraqi territory".

Most of the US soldiers, deployed in 2014 to lead an international military coalition against IS, left under Biden's predecessor Donald Trump, who hosted Kadhemi at the White House last August.

The troops that remain are officially classed as advisers and trainers for Iraq's army and counter-terrorism units.

'Enduring US presence'

Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein, already in Washington for several days, has assured Iraqi media that "the talks will successfully establish a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces".

But US media outlets have only pointed to a "redefinition" of the troops' mission.

Ramzy Mardini, an Iraq specialist at the University of Chicago's Pearson Institute, believes there will be no "radical change" in the US position.

The Biden-Kadhemi meeting may cosmetically be "shaped" to help the Iraqi premier alleviate domestic pressures, "but the reality on the ground will reflect the status quo and an enduring US presence," he said.

Mardini points to "political costs" for Biden were he to authorise a full withdrawal of US troops, stemming from the catastrophic "legacy" of the 2011 withdrawal, which created a vacuum exploited by IS during their lightning 2014 offensive.

It took a three-year military onslaught, heavily supported by a US-led coalition at the invitation of Iraq, to wrest back all the urban centres the Sunni jihadists seized.

"The last thing that the US would want would be to quit Iraq and find themselves a few years later facing... a return by IS," according to one diplomatic source.

IS today operates from mountainous and desert regions, activating cells for attacks including Monday's suicide bombing of a market in Baghdad's Shiite district of Sadr City that officially killed 30.

Election calculations

Beyond the ever-present security issues, Kadhemi, in power for little over a year, is grappling with a cocktail of other crises three months ahead of a general election that threatens his tenure.

Severe electricity shortages, endemic corruption, a spate of murders of activists blamed on pro-Iran armed groups, the coronavirus pandemic and diminished oil revenues have all stoked renewed instability.

Kadhemi will therefore also seek to secure a softening of secondary US sanctions relating to Iran when in Washington, to help Iraq honour crucial transactions with its neighbour and tackle the power crisis, according to Jiyad.

Shortages during the stifling summer heat have been exacerbated by Iran suspending crucial gas deliveries in recent weeks, due to payment arrears of $6 billion that Baghdad is unable to settle, in part because of US sanctions on Tehran.

"The prime minister's visit (to Washington) is inextricably tied with his electoral campaign," according to Mardini.

"It's part of an effort to shore up international and regional support" to help him revive a faltering domestic political base, he added.

US celebrity chefs to pay $600,000 settlement over sexual harassment

US celebrity chefs Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich agreed to pay $600,000 in a settlement to 20 former employees over sexual harassment allegations, the New York Attorney General said Friday.

A four-year investigation launched after accusations of sexual harassment were leveled against Batali concluded that "more than 20 employees were subjected to a hostile work environment in which female and male employees were sexually harassed by Batali, restaurant managers and other coworkers," said a statement from the attorney general's office.

"B&B, Batali and Bastianich must pay $600,000 to at least 20 former employees, revise training materials in all B&B restaurants, and submit biannual reports to the (Attorney General's office) to certify compliance with the agreement," the statement added.

The accusations were not the first against the once-prestigious Batali, known for his red ponytail and orange Croc shoes.

Earlier allegations led him to apologize publicly for making "many mistakes" and to take a sidelined role at his businesses, later selling his stake in all of his restaurants.

Batali had partnered with fellow popular chef Bastianich in several restaurants and they teamed up in the Batali and Bastianich Hospitality Group (B&B), which was dissolved in 2019.

The two men, regulars on TV cooking shows, had also created one of New York's temples to Italian cuisine, partnering with the chain of gargantuan Eataly food stores.

The agreement announced Friday implicated several of Batali and Bastianich's New York restaurants: Babbo, Lupa and Del Posto, which is now closed.

New York Attorney General Letitia James said in the statement that at their restaurants, "Batali and Bastianich permitted an intolerable work environment and allowed shameful behavior that is inappropriate in any setting."

Among the investigation findings detailed in the agreement, Batali had "sexually harassed a female server by making explicit comments to her and grabbing her hand... and pulling it towards his crotch" and in another incident showed a male server at Lupa an "unwelcome" pornographic video.

"Between 2016 to 2019, multiple employees witnessed or personally experienced unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate touching, and sexually explicit comments from managers and coworkers, and several female employees were forcibly groped, hugged, and/or kissed by male colleagues," the statement added.

Troubled Tokyo Olympics kick off amid pandemic fears

The most troubled Olympics in modern history finally get under way in Tokyo on Friday, struggling to emerge from the clutches of Covid-19 after a one-year postponement and following a build-up marred by scandal and controversy.

The opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics began in a nearly empty stadium with pink fireworks bursting into the air after a countdown.

The ceremony in the 68,000-capacity stadium was taking place before just a few hundred officials and dignitaries, including Japan's Emperor Naruhito, US First Lady Jill Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country will host the next Olympics in 2024.

The Olympics have faced opposition in Japan over fears the global gathering of 11,000 athletes could trigger a super-spreader event.

Organizers have put strict virus measures in place, banning overseas fans for the first time ever, and keeping domestic spectators out of all but a handful of venues.

Athletes, support staff and media are subject to strict Covid-19 protocols, including regular testing and daily health checks.

Polls have consistently found a majority of Japanese are against the Games, with opinion ranging from weary indifference to outright hostility.

But there was plenty of enthusiasm outside the Olympic Stadium in the hours before the ceremony, as hundreds of people gathered hoping to soak up the atmosphere and watch the fireworks expected during the extravaganza.

Mako Fukuhara arrived six hours before the ceremony to grab a spot.

"Until now it didn't feel like the Olympics, but now we are by the stadium, it feels like the Olympics," she told AFP as people snapped selfies nearby.

'Determined'

Traditionally a highlight of any Summer Games, featuring the parade of nations and the lighting of the Olympic cauldron, Tokyo's opening ceremony has been drastically pared back.

Fewer than 1,000 dignitaries and officials were present at the stadium, and in a sign of how divisive the Games remain, several top sponsors including Toyota and Panasonic did not attend.

A few hundred protestors demonstrated against the Games outside the stadium as the ceremony began.

Tokyo is battling a surge in virus cases, and is under emergency measures that means bars and restaurants must shut by 8:00 pm and cannot sell alcohol.

But Olympic officials have put a brave face on the unusual circumstances, with IOC chief Thomas Bach insisting cancellation was never on the table.

"We can finally see at the end of the dark tunnel," he said this week. "Cancellation was never an option for us. The IOC never abandons the athletes."

There are also hefty financial incentives in play. Insiders estimate the IOC would have been on the hook for around $1.5 billion in lost broadcasting revenues if the Games had been cancelled.

The pandemic has not been the only hiccup in preparations though, with scandals ranging from corruption during the bidding process to plagiarism allegations over the design of the Tokyo 2020 logo.

The controversies kept coming right up to the eve of the Games, with the opening ceremony's director sacked on Thursday for making a joke referencing the Holocaust in a video from 1998.

Back in the sporting arenas, a new generation of Olympic stars are looking to shine after a decade dominated by the likes of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps.

US swimmer Caeleb Dressel could target seven gold medals, and in track and field, 400 metre hurdlers Karsten Warholm of Norway and the USA's Sydney McLaughlin are among those hoping to emerge as household names.

Gymnastics meanwhile will see Simone Biles attempt to crown her dazzling career by equalling Larisa Latynina's record of nine Olympic gold medals.

New Olympic sports will also be on display in Tokyo, with surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing and karate all making their debut.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

10 years after Amy Winehouse's death, family 'reclaims' her story

Amy Winehouse may still be best known for her line: "They tried to make me go to rehab. But I said no, no, no."

But 10 years after the British singer's death at 27, her family and friends say it is time to stop defining her by her well-documented struggles with addiction and destructive relationships.

Winehouse's parents have cooperated with a BBC documentary to air on the anniversary of her death on Friday, which her father Mitchell, known as Mitch, says gives a "more rounded image of Amy".

The singer put her own experiences into original songs, such as "Back to Black" and "Rehab", infused with jazz and soul influences and developed a distinctive personal style with a towering beehive hairdo and tattoos.

But her performances grew more erratic due to drug and alcohol use while tabloids published stories calling her "Amy Decline-house" or "wino".

She died from alcohol poisoning on July 23, 2011.

Narrated by her mother Janis Winehouse-Collins and titled "Reclaiming Amy", the documentary to air on BBC2 features interviews with long-standing friends, including one, Catriona Gourley, who reveals she had a romantic relationship with Winehouse.

"You think you know my daughter -- the drugs, the addiction, the destructive relationships -- but there was so much more," her mother says in the voiceover.

The documentary also seeks to counter accusations that her family relished her success and did not do enough to help her overcome addiction.

'You killed your daughter' -

This was the main thrust of "Amy", an Oscar-winning British documentary from 2015, which was particularly damning about Mitch and Winehouse's ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil.

"I still get it now: 'You were complicit in your daughter's death, you killed your daughter'," her father says in the documentary.

Winehouse's friend Gourley told BBC Radio 4, the reality was different: "Janis and Mitch were there, all the time," she insisted, listing "the countless times she (Amy) was taken to rehab facilities or there was an intervention".

Gourley also suggested that with today's greater awareness of mental health issues and addiction, Winehouse would not face such mockery in tabloids and gossip magazines.

"The language... that was used about her at the time. I just don't think people would get away with it, especially when it came to her mental health".

NME music magazine called the documentary "touching if defensive", saying it was a "sweet tribute to a daughter, friend and mercurial talent".

But The Financial Times was more sceptical, writing that Winehouse's parents and especially "lime-light-loving father Mitch were front and centre in her career".

At one point in the documentary, Mitch smiles and is "seemingly oblivious" as he watches a clip in which Winehouse duets with him while "embarrassingly drunk", it adds.

- 'Had it all' -

Her messy private life apart, Winehouse was one of the "icons who changed popular music forever", NME wrote.

"Few tower as high as Amy Winehouse and her unmistakable beehive."

British singer Pete Doherty in an interview with BBC Radio 2 called her "someone like Billie Holiday or John Lennon, just someone who had it all".

Winehouse "looked the part" and "could perform live with scary aplomb" as well as being an "incredible songwriter", said the former Babyshambles singer.

"In a hundred years' time, in 200 years' time, kids are still going to be falling in love with Amy Winehouse."

Pianist Jools Holland, who often accompanied her, told BBC radio: that "it seemed to me that when she was performing she was most content".

"I don't think she would have wanted to be remembered as a tragic figure."

© 2021 AFP

Alaska Coast Guard rescues man who fended off grizzly bear for days

A man who fended off attacks from a wild grizzly bear for a week straight in the Alaskan wilderness is recovering from his injuries after he was found stranded at an encampment, the US Coast Guard said.

An aircrew first spotted an "SOS" sign on top of a shack during a routine helicopter flight over the west Alaskan coast last Friday, according to a Coast Guard statement. It wasn't until the aircraft flew back to inspect the message that it noticed a man waving two hands in the air.

The gesture "is considered an international distress signal," the statement said.

"The aircrew landed and made contact with the individual, who requested medical care after being attacked by a bear a few days earlier," the Coast Guard said.

The bear attack victim suffered from a leg injury and bruising on his torso. He told authorities he was stalked by the bear, which he said returned to his camp site every night for a week.

The Coast Guard transported the victim to the nearby town of Nome, where he was treated for his injuries.

The man had been reported missing by his friends after he did not come back to Nome.

Climate 'mysteries' still puzzle scientists, despite progress

What worries one of the world's leading climate scientists the most?

Heatwaves -- and particularly the tendency of current models to underestimate the intensity of these bursts of deadly, searing temperature.

This is one of the "major mysteries" science still has to unravel, climatologist Robert Vautard told AFP, even as researchers are able to pinpoint with increasing accuracy exactly how human fossil fuel pollution is warming the planet and altering the climate.

"Today we have better climate projection models, and longer observations with a much clearer signal of climate change," said Vautard, one of the authors of an upcoming assessment by the United Nations' panel of climate experts.

"It was already clear, but it is even clearer and more indisputable today."

The assessment, the first part of a trio of reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), will be released on August 9 at the end of meetings starting Monday.

It focuses on the science underpinning our understanding of things like temperature increases, rising ocean levels and extreme weather events.

This has progressed considerably since the last assessment in 2014, but so has climate change itself, with effects being felt ever more forcefully across the planet.

'Phenomenal' heat

Scientists now have a greater understanding of the mechanisms behind "extreme phenomena, which now occur almost every week around the world", said Vautard, adding that this helps better quantify how these events will play out in the future.

In almost real time, researchers can pinpoint the role of climate change in a given disaster, something they were unable to do at all until very recently.

Now, so-called "attribution" science means we can say how probable an extreme weather event would have been had the climate not been changing at all.

For example, within days of the extraordinary "heat dome" that scorched the western United States and Canada at the end of June, scientists from the World Weather Attribution calculated that the heatwave would have been "almost impossible" without warming.

Despite these advances, Vautard said "major mysteries remain".

Scientists are still unsure what part clouds play "in the energy balance of the planet" and their influence on the climate's sensitivity to greenhouse gases, he said.

But it is "phenomenal temperatures", like those recorded in June in Canada or in Europe in 2019, that preoccupy the climatologist.

"What worries me the most are the heat waves" and the "thousands of deaths" they cause, said Vautard, who is director of France's Pierre-Simon Laplace Institute, a climate research and teaching centre.

With rainfall, scientists have a physical law that says water vapour increases by seven percent for every degree of warming, he said, with intense precipitation increasing by about the same amount.

But extreme heat is harder to predict.

"We know that heatwaves are more frequent, but we also know that our models underestimate the increasing intensity of these heatwaves, particularly in Europe, by a factor of two," he said.

Climate models have come a long way, even since 2014, but there is still room for improvement to reduce these uncertainties.

"Before we had models that represented the major phenomena in the atmosphere, in the oceans," said Vautard.

Today the models divide the planet's surface into grids, with each square around 10 kilometres (six miles).

But even now he said the "resolution of the models is not sufficient" for very localised phenomena.

The next generation of models should be able to add even more detail, going down to an area of about a kilometre.

That would give researchers a much better understanding of "small scale" events, like tornadoes, hail or storm systems that bring intense rain like those seen in parts of the Mediterranean in 2020.

Tipping points

Even on a global scale, some fundamental questions remain.

Perhaps one of the most ominous climate concepts to have become better understood in recent years is that of "tipping points".

These could be triggered for example by the melting of the ice caps or the decline of the Amazon rainforest, potentially swinging the climate system into dramatic and irreversible changes.

There are still "a lot of uncertainties and mysteries" about tipping points, Vautard said, including what level of temperature rise might set them off.

Currently, they are seen as low probability events, but he said that it is still crucial to know more about them given the "irreversible consequences on the scale of millennia" that they could cause.

Another crucial uncertainty is the state of the world's forests and oceans, which absorb about half of the CO2 emitted by humans.

"Will this carbon sink function continue to be effective or not?" Vautard said.

If they stop absorbing carbon -- as has been found in areas of the Amazon, for example -- then more C02 will accumulate in the atmosphere, raising temperatures even further.

"It is a concern," said Vautard.

Haiti holds funeral for slain President Moise under tight security

Mourners were set to offer their final farewell to Haiti's slain president Jovenel Moise under tight security on Friday, just over two weeks after his assassination rattled a country mired in poverty, corruption, and political instability.

Moise, who was 53 when he was shot dead in his home in the early hours of July 7, is set to be interred in Cap-Haïtien, the main city in his native northern region.

According to the official program, the funeral is due to begin in the morning and last for several hours, with large screens set up for mourners to follow the event.

Moise's widow is expected to be joined at the event by the late president's relatives, cabinet members, and current and former senior government officials, as well as religious figures and representatives of trade unions and civil society groups.

Cap-Haitien was calm Thursday, but a day earlier clashes broke out when police chief Leon Charles visited. He was booed and heckled while inspecting security arrangements for the funeral.

Local residents blame the police chief for not protecting Moise, whose wife Martine was seriously wounded in the gun attack seemingly carried out by a group of mainly Colombian retired soldiers – with no injuries to the presidential guard.

So far, more than 20 people have been arrested, most of them Colombians, and police say the plot was organized by Haitians with political ambitions and links outside the country.

But the case remains murky, with many unanswered questions.

Haitians have expressed shock that those tasked with protecting the president and his home failed him so abjectly. The impoverished Caribbean nation is riddled with crime and powerful gangs – problems that were exacerbated during Moise's presidency.

His death has rekindled long-standing tensions between the north of Haiti and the west, which in part stems from historic racial divisions dating back to French colonialism between northern blacks who are descendants of slaves and lighter-skinned Haitians of mixed race living in the south and west.

Some residents have even set up barricades on roads leading to Cap-Haitien to keep people from the capital Port-au-Prince from attending the funeral.

"We are going to do everything we can to honor him the way he deserves, in line with his importance for our city," said Cap-Haitien Mayor Yvrose Pierre.

Praying for justice

A Catholic mass was held for Moise Thursday at the city's cathedral, followed by a procession in his honor.

"His assassination saddened me very much. I prayed for his soul. I prayed that justice will be rendered," said a woman standing near the cathedral, who only gave her first name Carine.

Memorial ceremonies in honor of Moise have been held this week in Port-au-Prince as well.

Attending one of them was new Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who was sworn in Tuesday and vowed to restore order and organize long-delayed elections as sought both by Haitians and the international community.

The US State Department on Thursday named a new special envoy to Haiti tasked with helping to usher along the organization of elections.

Haiti currently has no working parliament and only a handful of elected senators. The interim government installed this week has no president.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Henry on Thursday to express Washington's "commitment to supporting the Haitian people following the heinous assassination" of Moise.

Blinken also "emphasized the importance of establishing the conditions necessary for Haitians to vote in free and fair legislative and presidential elections as soon as feasible."

Washington earlier said those elections should be held later this year.

France on Thursday called for legislative and presidential elections to be held "as soon as conditions allow it."

Moise had ruled Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, by decree after legislative elections due in 2018 were delayed in following multiple disputes.

As well as presidential, legislative and local elections, Haiti had been due to have a constitutional referendum in September after it was twice postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

(AFP)

Hacked US tech firm secures tool to restore services

A US tech firm hit by a massive ransomware attack said it had obtained a decryption tool that allows it to unlock networks for the approximately 1,500 businesses affected.

Miami-based Kaseya shut down its servers after the July 2 attack that affected businesses from pharmacies to gas stations in at least 17 countries and forced most of Sweden's 800 Coop supermarkets to lock their doors for days.

"We can confirm that Kaseya obtained the tool from a third party and have teams actively helping customers affected by the ransomware to restore their environments," Kaseya said in a statement released Thursday.

The firm did not disclose the third party used to obtain the decryptor or say whether it had paid the hackers, who demanded $70 million in bitcoin in exchange for data stolen during the attack.

"Kaseya is working with Emsisoft to support our customer engagement efforts, and Emsisoft has confirmed the key is effective at unlocking victims," the company added.

An increasingly lucrative form of digital hostage-taking, ransomware attacks typically see hackers encrypting victims' data and then demanding money for restored access.

Experts believe this could be the biggest ransomware attack on record.

Russia-based hackers REvil, who released private data of companies whose computers they took over on their "Happy Blog" to pressure them to pay a ransom, are widely believed to be behind the ransomware scam.

US President Joe Biden issued warnings to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin about harboring cybercriminals and suggested Washington could take action in the face of growing online attacks.

REvil went offline soon after the warnings, giving rise to speculation about whether their disappearance was the result of government-led action.

While Kaseya is little known to the public, analysts say it was a ripe target as its software is used by around 40,000 businesses, allowing the hackers to paralyze many companies with a single blow.

The firm offers cybersecurity and IT services to smaller companies, allowing the hackers to invade Kaseya's clients and affiliates.

© 2021 AFP

Death toll from rioting in South Africa rises to more than 330, government says

Rioting in South Africa this month has claimed 337 lives, the government said Thursday, marking a further jump in the death toll from the 276 announced the previous day.

"The South African police has revised the total number of deaths in Gauteng (province) to 79 and KwaZulu-Natal to 258 as related to the unrest," said Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, a minister in the president's office.

She added that some of the latest deaths were of people succumbing to injuries sustained during the riots.

Widespread looting and burning of businesses broke out earlier this month, a day after ex-president Jacob Zuma started serving a 15-month jail term for ignoring a corruption inquiry.

The violence escalated into the worst unrest since the end of apartheid, prompting President Cyril Ramaphosa to label it an attempted "insurrection".

It has so far caused an estimated $3.4 billion of damage.

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Violence spread through Zuma's home province KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, the two most populous provinces which together account for half of South Africa's economic output.

Zuma was on Thursday allowed to briefly leave jail in the southeastern town of Estcourt to attend the funeral of his brother Michael, who died from illness several days after the ex-president was put behind bars.

The violence has abated, and six people including a radio DJ have so far been arrested on charges of incitement to commit public violence.

Several thousand more are being held for looting and arson.

(AFP)

Barack and Bruce publishing book based on podcast

Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen are releasing a book in October based on conversations from their podcast, the publisher Random House said Thursday.

Like the podcast of the same name, "Renegades: Born in the USA," out worldwide on October 26, will see the pair ruminate on the state of America and their "enduring love" for it, "with all its challenges and contractions."

The podcast released this year has seen the duo wax poetic on themes including racism, music and masculinity.

The book will also feature handwritten lyrics from rocker Springsteen along with annotated speeches from former president Obama.

"Over the years, what we've found is that we've got a shared sensibility. About work, about family, and about America," writes Obama, according to an excerpt of the opening pages.

"In our own ways, Bruce and I have been on parallel journeys trying to understand this country that's given us both so much. Trying to chronicle the stories of its people. Looking for a way to connect our own individual searches for meaning and truth and community with the larger story of America."

Acquisition of the podcast was a marketing coup for Spotify, which has focused on podcasting as a growth driver since 2019, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars.

Tokyo Olympics: Female athletes face double standards over uniforms

The Norwegian women's beach handball team were fined because their shorts were too long, British Paralympian Olivia Breen was told by an official that her briefs were too short and Olympic swimmer Alice Dearing won't be allowed to wear a swimming cap for natural black hair at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Ahead of the Games, set to start on July 23, female athletes are being scrutinized for their choice of sportswear. FRANCE 24 looks at why athletic uniform regulations for women are so harsh.

The 2021 Tokyo Olympics haven't even begun and the run-up is already fraught with debate on what female athletes should or shouldn't wear.

Double Paralympic world champion Olivia Breen is the latest Olympic athlete to be caught in a sartorial storm. After competing in the long jump at the English Championships in Bedford on July 18, an official said her briefs were "too short and inappropriate".

"She said to me that I should consider wearing shorts because my briefs were too revealing," Breen told FRANCE 24. "I was so taken by surprise and gobsmacked that I asked her if she was joking. She said no, and insisted I should buy a pair of shorts."

Writing about the incident in a Twitter post, Breen pointed to a double standard regarding athletic dress codes and questioned whether male athletes would be subjected to the same level of scrutiny.

"I have been wearing the same style sprint briefs for many years," she said in her post. "I recognize that there needs to be regulations and guidelines in relation to competition kit, but women should not be made to feel self-conscious about what they are wearing when competing, [they] should feel comfortable and at ease."

The 24-year-old says she was in full compliance with athletic uniform regulations, which allow athletes in her department to wear sponsor gear (the briefs), as long as they also don a club vest or a national kit. Their outfits cannot be "objectionable or see-through".

"It's 2021, it's not the 18th century," she told FRANCE 24. "I shouldn't be told what I can and can't wear."

Breen filed an official complaint to England Athletics on Monday, but says she hasn't heard anything back. The young athlete is set to take part in the Tokyo Paralympics this August and intends on wearing the "contentious" briefs. "I'm not letting them stop me from wearing them. I will be wearing them in Tokyo," she said.

Racist measures and double standards

Breen's case is in no way singular. Alice Dearing, the first black swimmer ever to represent Team Great Britain at the Tokyo Olympics, will not be allowed to wear the swimming cap made specifically for natural black hair she has been promoting.

Earlier this month, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) banned the use of swimming caps made specifically to protect dreadlocks, afros, weaves, braids and thick curly hair for the 2021 Games. Soul Cap, the company behind the swimming caps, were told by FINA that it was because their product doesn't fit "the natural form of the head".

In yet another effort to sanction female athletes for their uniforms, the European Handball Federation (EHF) fined the Norwegian women's beach handball team 1,500 euros for wearing shorts instead of bikini bottoms at the Euro 2021 championships. Calling it a case of "improper clothing", the EHF said players didn't abide by athlete uniform regulations, which require women to wear bikini bottoms "with a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg" and are determined by the International Handball Federation.

Male beach handball players, on the other hand, are free to wear shorts as long as 10 centimeters above the knee just as long as they aren't "too baggy".

The team had approached the EHF before the competition, asking for permission to play in shorts. They were told that any breach of protocol would be met with fines.

Although beach handball isn't part of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, it's a stark reminder of the glaring double standards held when athletic uniform regulations are devised.

Who decides?

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), the authority in charge of organzing the Olympic Games, says it is not responsible for establishing and enforcing uniform regulations. Instead, it's up to international federations for each individual sport to decide what the appropriate attire for each gender group is.

According to the most recent Olympic Charter published by the IOC, they have the "sole and exclusive authority to prescribe and determine the clothing and uniforms to be worn, and the equipment to be used, by the members of their delegations on the occasion of Olympic Games".

International sports federations don't make their criteria for athletic uniform regulations public. FRANCE 24 tried to contact FINA and England Athletics for comment, but received no response.

Helen Jefferson Lenskyj, a professor at the University of Toronto and author of "The Olympic Games: A Critical Approach", says uniform decisions are based on either "practical considerations related to the demands of the sport", "traditional roots like the GI for martial arts" or gender differentiation. Some federations also argue that their decisions are purely based on performance, or that they ensure fairness.

But Lenskyj sees clear gender discrimination at play, especially given that many federations are still largely run by men. "Sports judged on aesthetics like figure skating have clothing rules consistent with judges' often stereotypical views of what a 'feminine' skater should look life. Women's beach volleyball uniform regulations are based solely on heterosexual sex appeal," she says.

"What's clear is that a lot of it is commercial," Janice Forsyth, former director of Western University's International Center for Olympic Studies in Ontario, told FRANCE 24. "[The international federations] try to appeal to what they think is a heterosexual male audience, try to titillate them into watching women's sports, arguing that it raises interest thereby making it more lucrative by potentially attracting sponsors and TV contracts or even corporate sponsorships for athletes."

If motivated, international federations could move quickly to change uniform regulations for women. The fact that they choose not to, according to Forsyth, is purely for marketing reasons.

A little bit of history repeating

Not every Olympic sport is stuck in the "18th century", as Paralympic star Olivia Breen put it, but many have a history of controversy when it comes to female athletic uniform regulations. Swimming, athletics, badminton, boxing, gymnastics and beach volleyball, for example, have particularly poor track records.

Just before the 2012 London Olympics, the Amateur International Boxing Association tried to make female boxers wear skirts instead of shorts. Their reasoning was that spectators would be able to discern more easily between female and male boxers, as they couldn't "tell the difference" before.

The suggestion sparked outrage and an online petition started by amateur London-based boxer Elizabeth Plank demanded women be free to choose what they wear in the ring. After garnering more than 57,000 signatures, the decision was amended and female boxers were free to choose between shorts or a skirt.

That same year, the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) changed its dress code. Before the amendment, women players were forced to wear bikinis or bodysuits during games. But public pressure mounted and the FIVB published new rules, allowing women to wear shorts and sleeved tops out of respect for "religious and cultural requirements" of some participating countries.

In 2011, the Badminton World Federation were less forgiving about their uniform requirements. Ahead of the London Olympics the following year, the organization decided that female athletes playing at an elite level must wear dressers or skirts. They defended their decision saying this would create a more "attractive presentation".

But recent sartorial debates are just the latest hurdle for female athletes, particularly when it comes to the Olympic Games. Women were barred from joining the games for decades and even subjected to gender testing. And even though the IOC openly promotes inclusivity, female athletes are still subjected to more scrutiny than their male counterparts.

"We're just scratching the surface," Forsyth from Western University says. "If we're just talking about and debating uniforms, imagine what we're going to find if we dig a little deeper."

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