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Feature: FAO promotes first Int’l Tea Day to help improve global health, fight poverty

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To promote tea consumption among the world‘s population, the Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has spearheaded the effort to mark May 21 as the International Tea Day that falls on Thursday for the first time.

FAO said that the day was organized in part because of the health benefits of tea, which is believed to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and also as a way to strengthen the economies of the main tea-producing countries, which are clustered in Asia and Africa.

“Welcome excellencies, dear guests, friends and tea lovers,” FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu, said to open a virtual meeting of world leaders, economists, and tea industry figures called to mark International Tea Day.

Qu said, “this day is a proof that the United Nations recognizes the importance of tea”, adding that the economic benefits of tea as a crop were important. “Most tea is grown in poor areas, often mountainous areas that need the economic development that comes from tea.”

Calling the day’s activities a “celebration of life,” Qu called on the world to “celebrate tea and tea farmers and producers around the world.”

In a series of statements FAO furthered Qu’s remarks. “International Tea Day is an opportunity to celebrate the cultural heritage, health benefits, and economic importance of tea, while working to make its production sustainable from the fields where it is grown to individual teacups, ensuring its benefits for people, cultures, and the environment,” FAO said in a statement.

FAO further explained: “The tea industry is the main source of income and export revenues for some of the poorest countries and, as a labor-intensive sector, provides jobs, especially in remote and economically disadvantaged areas,” it said. “Tea can play a significant role in rural development, poverty reduction, and food security in developing countries, being one of the most important cash crops.”

Marco Bertona, president of the Italian Tea & Infusions Association — one of the main organizations that lobbied the United Nations and FAO to celebrate International Tea Day — said the double goal of improving health outcomes and aiding farmers in developing countries is an important combination.

“Tea is a healthy drink and it improves the quality of life for the people who drink it. And encouraging its use helps the economic prospects for tea farmers in poor and developing countries,” Bertona told Xinhua. “Promoting the use of tea spreads benefits.”

According to the statement from FAO, the origins of tea date back more than 5,000 years ago, in what is now southwest China, northern Myanmar, and northeastern India. Today, it is grown in more than 35 countries and more than 13 million people depend on tea in some way for their livelihoods.

International Tea Day, which will be celebrated annually going forward, is part of the United Nations’ far broader Millennium Development Goals, which seek to eradicate poverty and hunger, improve educational outcomes, combat disease, foster sustainability, and promote gender equality, among other areas.

According to FAO, International Tea Day addresses several of those points, including fighting poverty and hunger, empowering women, and sustainable development.

(XINHUA)

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Feature: Unemployed graduates in Gaza Strip earn living by cultivating lands along eastern border

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Wesam Abu Musabeh, a 26-year-old young man, cultivates lands along Gaza’s eastern border with Israel to make a living, with 44 unemployed graduates from the Gaza Strip.

“The eastern border between Gaza and Israel has changed my life,” Abu Musabeh from Khan Younis city in the south of the coastal enclave told Xinhua.

Over two years, Abu Musabeh used to take part in the weekly protests joined by thousands of Palestinians who lost hope in life.

The protestors demanded Israel to end its blockade that has been imposing against them since 2007 following Hamas’ seizure of power, causing harsh living conditions.

After few weeks of demonstrations, Israeli soldiers stationed on the border shot Abu Musabeh twice, leaving him disabled on the left foot.

For Abu Musabeh, who was his 10-member family’s only breadwinner, the injury was a severe blow. The young man has tried to find a job on a number of occasions but has repeatedly failed.

“The situation went from worse to worst,” Abu Musabeh said, adding that “there were no jobs, no security, no food and no hope for a better future.”

Pushed into poverty, Abu Musabeh was desperately looking for a solution.

Together with other 44 unemployed graduates, he went again to the border areas to cultivate lands.

Alaa Abu Tair, who has been unemployed since he graduated in 2009, was one of the young people who joined Abu Musabeh.

“It is not what I had dreamt of. I spent some 12,000 U.S. dollars on education, but I had no job after completing my studies,” the 31-year-old father of three told Xinhua.

“Now, we work eight hours a day to earn 15 dollars only, but we simply don’t have any other choice,” the man said.

However, cultivating the lands has proven to be difficult as the young men often face the shooting of Israeli soldiers if they approach the fence.

Israel imposed a security buffer zone of 300 meters along the Gaza Strip‘s eastern border, making agricultural areas challenging to approach.

Israel claims that the move was necessary to prevent Palestinian armed factions from launching attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel‘s southern communities.

However, Palestinians believe that it is just another means that tightens the loss of Gazans.

Mohammed Abu Lahia, from the town of al-Qarara, is another young man who takes the risk by cultivating the lands close to the border.

He walks about five km a day to reach his team before heading towards the eastern areas where they work under the hot summer sun.

Graduating from the College of Sharia and Fundamentals of Religion, Abu Lahia has been unemployed since 2017, struggling to feed his family.

“There is an army of unemployed graduates who had lost any hope,” Abu Lahia said. “Since there is a lack of justice, it is us, the ordinary Palestinians, who end up paying the price,” he complained.

Nevertheless, the young people who joined in the cultivation of lands believed that the Palestinian youths in the impoverished coastal enclave can overcome the worst circumstances to earn a living and feed their families.

The unemployment in Gaza has reached unprecedented heights after Hamas seized power in 2007 and Israel’s subsequent decision to impose a full blockade of the coastal enclave.

According to estimates, more than 80 percent of Gazans are unemployed, of whom many are educated young people.

A local Gaza-based committee resisting the Israeli blockade has warned in January that Israel‘s embargo has led to a severe humanitarian deterioration in all aspects of life in the Gaza Strip.

(XINHUA)

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Feature: Israel’s effort in digital diplomacy fosters new connections, reaching audiences in hostile countries

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Top Israeli foreign ministry officials say that increasing efforts in social media targeting countries and audiences usually hostile to the Jewish state are increasingly bearing fruit.

In a video briefing held on Wednesday by officials from the digital diplomacy department at the ministry, they described the efforts being made and the results they are increasingly seeing. The online platforms allow direct contact with citizens of neighboring countries which Israel does not have diplomatic relations with.

“Digital activities have become a core activity of the ministry,” said Yiftah Curiel, head of digital diplomacy department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The department was formed in 2011, when it was becoming increasingly evident that what was once a side task for a diplomat, online activity is now a major part of the job. Upon beginning their training, ministry cadets are immediately instructed to open and actively maintain Twitter accounts.

The office operates five channels on the different online platforms in six languages with 80 accounts in total, all run by 25 staffers. According to the officials, they reach 12 million people every week through the various outlets.

One of the concerted efforts undertaken by the ministry is the maintenance of a Persian language Instagram account targeted at bringing in Iranian audiences. Instagram is the only social media platform not banned in Iran. There is a concerted effort by diplomats to establish direct contact with Iranian citizens. The account has half a million followers, a milestone that was celebrated by the ministry earlier this week.

“Our goal is not only to interact directly but also try to break stereotypes about Israel,” said Mr. Yonathan Gonen, director of New Media in Arabic at the Israeli foreign ministry.

There have also been several online exchanges between Israeli and Iranian officials, the only arena in which the two interact.

Gonen and his staff also operate two virtual embassies, one for Iraq and one for the Gulf states. According to him, people are interested in the cultural and hi-tech scenes in Israel. The majority of comments on those pages are positive, Gonen said.

The pages focus on “mutual interests and common values,” with short movies being posted frequently. The recent hot topic is the global fight against the spread of COVID-19, which has further highlighted the commonalities between countries.

According to ministry data, the number of followers on all platforms combined doubles every year. Polls conducted by the department annually demonstrate changes in public opinion towards Israel. They have seen improvement especially in Gulf states and in Iraq, with a slight improvement in attitudes in northern African countries.

“It’s not always about numbers though. People tell us in comments that they have changed their mind. This is a sign of success,” said Gonen. But, he says, the change cannot be only attributed to social media activism. Other changes in the Arab world in recent years have also shifted opinions.

While the pages attract many positive responses, the officials acknowledge there are still many negative comments on the pages. They try to answer as many as possible, both favorable and the less sympathetic ones.

“It will take some years, perhaps not generations, before we see more positive than negative comments,” he added.

However, according to the ministry, the change is significant and must not be underestimated.

“Israel is no longer seen as the big problem for their local issues. This is a big change we see,” he said at the briefing, “We hope that we are planting the seeds for the future.

(XINHUA)

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Feature: Angelenos call for change through peaceful demonstrations

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“We need to work for real change — and with our white allies,” George Tunis, an African American film writer and producer, said to Xinhua when participating in Tuesday’s protests in Los Angeles against the death of African American George Floyd due to police brutality.

It was the eighth straight day of nationwide demonstrations over this tragic incident.

Called “Blackout Tuesday,” a protest initiated by the music industry over Floyd’s death on Tuesday soon spread well beyond record labels and musicians, with actors, sports teams, and hundreds of thousands of ordinary people of all races joining protests across the nation, by both protesting online and marching on streets.

On social media around the world, many have chosen to replace their profile photos with a plain black image, in a show of solidarity with African Americans and making a plea for racial equality and justice.

“I was out there, marching,” protester Sarah Hamil told Xinhua. The young, white nurse living in Los Angeles said, “Our protests were peaceful.”

The vast majority of demonstrations across the country have been peaceful, with isolated incidents of violence and looting in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Chicago and elsewhere.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called for a public curfew to keep the situation from escalating, saying in a tweet, “We respect every Angeleno’s right to protest, but violence and vandalism hurts all. Let’s remember why we march, protect each other, and bring a peaceful end to a painful night.”

Noting that there are violent protesters across the country, Tunis, also a graduate of the prestigious Emerson College, who is doing a documentary on an African American artist, stressed that more people, including tens of thousands of black, white, Hispanic and others, demonstrated peacefully to protest against the racial disparity that still exists in this country.

At first, the entire nation was talking about George Floyd and the changes needed to stop racial discrimination, but then, “with the first torched car and looted store, in the blink of an eye, we are suddenly all talking about black violence — again,” he said.

He said he was concerned that many Americans let overheated emotions and hate dictate their responses.

“The actions of a few misguided people don’t represent the black community,” he said. “We need to stop letting them shift focus off what matters.”

“Blacks catch the brunt of injustice and police brutality more than whites do, but whites in this country still get it too,” he noted.

“And we need a shift in consciousness in this country — to really understand that black lives matter and to stay focused on changing our system to make it fairer and more equal,” he added.

Though the protests were basically peaceful, when Tuesday’s curfew fell, local police still used rubber bullets to disperse the demonstrators. Hamil was arrested in the city of Long Beach in Los Angeles County for curfew violation.

On Wednesday night, the curfew continued in the most populous county in the United States, where lives a population of over 10 million.

According to a statement from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, a countywide curfew runs from 9 p.m. local time Wednesday through 5 a.m. Thursday, later than on previous nights.

(XINHUA)

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Feature: Nigerians mourn African music artist Majek Fashek

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Nigerians on Tuesday mourned legendary singer Majek Fashek who died in New York at the age of 57 — marking the end of an illustrious career over a span of three decades.

The guitarist and song composer, whose real name was Majekodunmi Fasheke, died in his sleep, said his manager Omenka Uzoma.

“He’s done a lot for Nigeria and Africa. This is a time for us all to celebrate his achievements, and not mourn,” said Uzoma.

Millions of his fans have paid tribute to the music talent on social media. “Legends don’t die. They live in our hearts forever,” said Oluwatosin Nwodo, a reggae enthusiast who described herself as one of Fashek’s hardcore fans.

Majek Fashek was a quintessential legend whose works will live forever … For he was a soldier and tool for change that reggae musicians are, symbolically,” Nwodo further wrote in a short tribute on Facebook.

Fashek shot to stardom in the 1980s. His musical style resembled Bob Marley, one of the pioneers of reggae music, who had a great influence on Fashek.

Through his inspirational reggae music, “Majek Fashek was a rare gift to mankind,” said Felix Duke, president of Nigeria’s Creative Industry Group.

“His music was always positive, his lyrics unique; a rare breed. Majek Fashek inspired his generation and a lot of us, even the new generation, through his music,” said Duke.

Local media reported that the cause of his death is not clear for now, but he had been ill for some time.

In December 2005, while preparing for a music tour, Fashek said his own death would only occur after his music reached every part of the world.

“I’m not gonna die until my music reaches the ends of the earth,” the African singer told his close associate and former record label owner Charles Novia in a private chat released on Tuesday.

In 2015, there was a hiatus in his career when he landed in a drug rehabilitation center in Nigeria’s capital city Abuja, where he recovered and then returned to music.

“I will always remember Majek Fashek for writing Free Africa, Free Mandela, a song he made to lend a voice for the release of Nelson Mandela, then a leader of the African National Congress in South Africa,” said Sammy Wonder, a Nigerian music instructor.

(XINHUA)

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Feature: Balcony concert in Cuba signals solidarity amid lockdown

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Each Sunday, Cuban tenor Andres Sanchez goes out onto his balcony on the ninth floor of an apartment building in Havana’s Vedado district and belts out a song.

“I want to show that isolating doesn’t necessarily have to be lonely,” the young singer, 26, told Xinhua, referring to the official stay-at-home recommendations in place to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

Armed with a bottle of water, microphone, laptop and speakers, Sanchez sings Cuban and international favorites to the delight of his neighbors, who clap, cheer and yell “Bravo!” from their windows or balconies above the strangely empty streets.

Sanchez usually sings in a theater or concert hall, but since the lockdown has put all cultural events on hold, the balcony has become his stage.

“This has been very challenging. I have to manage my voice in a different way, singing for people who live downstairs, upstairs and 100 meters away. It is totally new to me,” he said.

Awarded an international scholarship to Italy, he has performed iconic roles in local productions of the musical Phantom of the Opera, as well as the operas La Traviatta and Rigoletto.

To spread his message of community solidarity beyond the boundaries of the neighborhood, his girlfriend Jeniffer Villanueva videotapes the performances and posts them online so that others sheltering in place can also enjoy them.

More than half of the country’s 11 million inhabitants have internet access, according to Cuba’s state-run telecommunications company ETECSA.

“Technology provides us with the chance to send music far beyond our neighbors’ windows,” said Villanueva, adding “music is always very good company.”

Sanchez dedicates his concerts to the healthcare workers who selflessly attend to the outbreak’s many victims, such as Dania Sanabria, 56, a Cuban general practitioner at the Martires del Corynthia Polyclinic, located just 50 meters from his building.

“These concerts, and the national applause for doctors and nurses, encourage us to continue to work hard as the epidemic on the island appears to be coming to an end,” Sanabria said.

Sanchez’s concerts have also given hundreds of Cubans who don’t usually attend operas or musicals the opportunity to hear a different genre of music than they are used to.

“To be frank, I have never gone to an opera house. I thought it had nothing to do with me. But thanks to this balcony concert, I’ve come to realize that opera is really charming,” resident Pedro Cruz, 50, said.

Although Cubans expect to gather again at theaters, concerts and other cultural venues once the lockdown is lifted, Sanchez believes “the spirit of (solidarity) of balcony concerts is here to stay.”

(XINHUA)

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Feature: City of Cars embraces art in age of coronavirus

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Artists brought a breath of fresh air to Los Angeles in back-to-back weekends that ended on Sunday, with an unusual, coronavirus-inspired art exhibition entitled, Drive-by-Art, or Public Art in This Moment of Social Distancing.

REFUSE ISOLATION

Just as novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, has impacted every aspect of the world‘s society and industries, so it has impacted art, by generating what is believed to be the first outdoor art exhibition that one can view from the safety of one’s car.

“It is a message for our times, art seen through the lens of COVID-19,” Warren Neidich, artist and founder/co-organizer of the Drive-by-Art event told Xinhua. Neidich‘s work has shown at the Whitney Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Louvre and elsewhere. He is also a professor at Weissensee Academy of Art, Berlin, Germany.

“People don’t realize, artists are the voice of the world, and by being unable to share our art, the virus was suffocating our voices just as it suffocated our lungs,” he noted, adding the virus forced the world to embrace a different way of viewing art and of sharing art, now that museums and galleries, the normal venues for displaying art, have been shuttered, roaring into the void with its pedal to the metal is art seen from the safety of one’s car.

“It seemed like an exciting premise: stay in your car, protect yourself, yet be able to access unique experiences presented by artists,” said the organizer, Neidich.

“Like everyone else, it was very difficult for me and other artists to be so isolated during the outbreak. It was depressing for so many of us,” Neidich revealed to Xinhua. “It felt like the whole art community kind of funneled their consciousness and need for expression and solidary into me … I felt I had to do something.”

HELP EACH OTHER

After launching a smaller version of the concept on the east coast in Long Island, New York, Neidich decided to bring the concept to Los Angeles and enrolled the help of three prominent co-organizers: writer, curator and educator, Anuradha Vikram; artist and professor Rene Petropoulos; and Michael Slenske, a writer, curator and contributing editor to publications like the LA Times’s DesignLA, Galerie, Art + Auction, Los Angeles Magazine and others.

Anuradha Vikram, former Artistic Director of the 18th Art Center and visiting Lecturer at LA’s Otis College of Art and Design told Xinhua, “We saw a lot of need… artists were having their shows cancelled and were feeling really cut off from the things that keep them alive – their work and each other. We needed to do something to help.”

“This was a very DIY type of project. We felt it like it was a good opportunity to do something fun. And the artists really responded,” Vikram said.

Of the 125 artists featured in the exhibition, some are more well-known and others haven’t had many opportunities to express their voice, Renee Petropoulos, Professor at Otis College of Art and Design in the Graduate Fine Arts, Graduate Public Practice and Graduate Graphic Design departments told Xinhua.

“The most famous artists had too much fear to leave their institutional exhibitors, so we went with some established and many new artists and gave them the opportunity to share their voices,” Neidich explained.

For Petropoulos, creating an online community and archive of local artists morphed into something greater.

“It was important to acknowledge the artists and collect more documentation on them to build a real archive of artists for the Los Angeles art community. That became an interesting part of the process itself,” she said. Vikram also praised the website team for putting together the compelling Drive-by-Art website virtually overnight.

DIVERSIFIED THEMES

The exhibition itself became a metaphor for the coronavirus era, with cars acting as “safety bubbles” that enabled mandatory social distancing and interaction with art without the fear of infection.

“I was amazed how different the city itself looks during COVID. Combining the city, the art, and the impact of COVID was a fascinating perspective to explore,” Petropoulos told Xinhua. “We felt excited by it. Viewing art this way opens people up, yet they’re still in a protected environment.”

“This idea is right for the time. It’s not only good for the artists, it’s good for the people who want to see art,” Neidich said “It‘s only when people had time to reflect and think deeper, when they weren’t rushing from place to place that an idea like this could rise up above the din of our ‘mediated’ experience.”

“For me, the exhibition is my art, part of my own artistic expression,” he asserted, adding that diversity was also a priority for an art show.

“We have an incredibly diverse artist scene in LA, so it was inevitable that we were going to have a diverse group of artists,” Vikram told Xinhua. There was a tremendous age diversity in the exhibition too – multi-generations of artists who had been taught by other artists in the exhibition.

Vikram felt it could leave a more lasting mark. “This probably is one of the ways we are going to be looking at art from now on,” she predicted.

Their hope is that it may also lead to a greater appreciation for the arts and artists in Los Angels.

“Our artist community is so special here in LA,” Vikram told Xinhua. “But as our city gets more expensive and space gets more contested, our artists are at risk. Many artists situations are a lot more precarious than people realize. We need to support them,” she contended.

For the organizers, an important goal of this project was just trying to feel ok, trying to reconnect with humanity. “People really need this and it’s making them feel better. That’s the real achievement here. I got involved because I was depressed,” Vikram told Xinhua. “And I feel better now.”

(XINHUA)

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Feature: Rome’s heralded Raphael exhibition reopens with coronavirus restrictions

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Nearly three months after it was shut down at the start of Italy’s national coronavirus lockdown, the largest-ever retrospective of the life and work of Renaissance maestro Raphael reopened Tuesday with a choreographed trickle of visitors expected to become the new norm for public places.

The “Raffaello 1520-1483” exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome, was under development for three years, featuring works on loan from 52 different museums and collections around the world. It added up to the most comprehensive collection of the work of a painter who died at the age of 37 but who was still as acclaimed as contemporaries Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo.

The exhibition opened amid great fanfare on March 5, but was forced to close days later when Italy announced Europe‘s first nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

The exhibit reopened Tuesday with the opening-day fanfare replaced by a methodical entry scheme designed to assure social distancing. Visitors, who had to wear face masks, were required to reserve precise entry times. Each visitor had his or her temperature taken by a digital thermometer upon entry.

Organizers allowed one group of six visitors to enter every five minutes and each group was given five minutes in each of 10 halls featuring a period of Raphael’s works and objects important to his career, starting from his death 500 years ago and going back to his youth. A bell chimed at the end of each five-minute period to let each group know when it was time to move onto the next hall.

“It may seem a little mechanical, but it is what we needed to do to allow people to enjoy the exhibition safely,” Matteo Lafranconi, co-curator of the landmark retrospective, told Xinhua. Lafranconi personally greeted many of the groups coming to the exhibition on the first day.

“We’re thrilled we were able to make it work out,” he said, a reference to the challenge of convincing museums and curators of private collections to extend the loan of Raphael’s works for an additional three months. In the end, Lafranconi said, every single lender agreed.

Tuesday had originally been scheduled to be the closing day for the exhibition, which has now been extended to Aug. 30.

On a busy day before the global coronavirus outbreak, the Scuderie del Quirinale museum could host as many as 5,000 visitors. Now, even with extended hours, the daily number will not surpass 800, museum officials told Xinhua.

Museum curators and directors have said this new kind of opening strategy is likely to be the norm as long as the coronavirus remains a threat. But visitors to the Raphael exhibition on Tuesday said they did not mind the new rules.

“It’s very different to visit a museum in this way, but everything is very different if you compare it to before the lockdown,” Antonia Esposito, a retired office worker, said in an interview. “Coming here feels a lot more normal than going to a restaurant or a hair salon these days. I have no complaints. I’m thankful to be able to come here.”

Theresa Verratti, a high school history teacher, agreed.

“I’ve spent the last two or three months teaching classes online,” Verratti told Xinhua. “It feels like a luxury to actually see these beautiful works of art in real life and not in a book or on a computer screen.”

The reopening coincided with Italy’s Republic Day, which marks the 74th anniversary of the national referendum that created Italy’s post-World War II republic, and it comes a day before the country opens its borders to restriction-free tourist arrivals from 25 Schengen countries.

(XINHUA)

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Feature: Istanbul’s cafe resorts to well-dressed mannequins to ensure social distancing after reopening

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Customers entering a cafe in central Istanbul on Tuesday were surprised when they saw some well-dressed mannequins sitting at some tables among other customers.

My friend and I decided to have a chat in this cafe for the first time in three months as the figures related to the COVID-19 cases have been in decline for a while in Turkey,” Mahmut Nuvit, a customer of the cafe, told Xinhua.

“We thought it would be empty over hygiene and social distancing concerns,” he continued with a smile on his face. “As soon as we stepped in, we noticed a different kind of crowd, and later realized that … some were mannequins.”

The management of the Varuna cafe and restaurant in the crowded Beyoglu district on the European side of the city has recently decided to use mannequins to implement the social distancing rule differently.

“Instead of leaving some of our tables empty, which would make the venue look bizarre and isolated, we simply treated the mannequins as our customers,” Ulas Volkan Celik, a manager of Varuna, told Xinhua.

On Monday, Turkey reopened restaurants, cafes, and many other facilities under strict precautions against the COVID-19 pandemic as the government decided to further ease restrictions.

The health ministry demanded the facilities leave at least 1.5 meters between each table and 60 centimeters between the chairs to secure the social distancing rule.

“We didn’t want to close some of our tables to the service or remove them to follow the rules,” Celik said. “After a brainstorming period, we came up with this creative idea.”

Now, there are a total of 16 mannequins sitting on eight out of 35 tables, all wearing daily outfits.

The staff had spent almost three weeks in preparing them for the big reopening on Monday.

“We found out that there are dressers specialized in dressing up mannequins,” Celik explained the process.

“But we did not apply to any stylist. We dressed our own clothes on mannequins,” he added.

The management has received a significant interest both from passersby and the customers, according to Celik.

“Even at the stage of our preparation, those who saw the models walked in and started taking photos,” he said, noting since the reopening, the customers have been saying of the cozy atmosphere inside the cafe.

“There is nothing more repellent than an empty cafe or restaurant, no matter where you are in the world,” Celik said.

(XINHUA)

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Feature: Lebanese retail shops suffer low activity in wake of COVID-19 outbreak

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Emptiness is what characterizes a large number of retail shops along the downtown streets of Lebanon’s capital Beirut on Monday, the first day that the retail shops in the country are supposed to resume their full operations in a deteriorating financial environment.

Dory Slim, owner of Petals and Pearls, a well-known clothing shop in Beirut, has decided to shut her business down after 15 years of work in the industry.

She said her business bore the brunt of nationwide protests that broke out last year when people started having difficulties in withdrawing their money at banks, before the COVID-19 outbreak early this year exacerbated the situation.

“I have to pay a big amount for rent and I do not have fresh money to import products,” Slim told Xinhua.

Lebanon has witnessed in the past few months a shortage in the United States dollar because of an economic slowdown and the drop in cash injections from the Lebanese abroad.

Hence, banks decided to restrict withdrawals of depositors and their money transfers abroad, creating a huge crisis for local businesses who largely rely on import.

The dollar shortage has also created a parallel market, in which a greenback is exchanged for 4,000 Lebanese pounds and more, as opposed to the official price of about 1,514 pounds.

“If I secure dollars at the current market rate of over 4,000 pounds, I will have to increase my prices and no one will be able to afford my items,” Slim explained.

Nicolas Chammas, head of Beirut Traders’ Association, warned that many of the shops operating in malls will also not reopen.

“Many brands operating in Lebanon have numerous branches. Some must shut a few ones … while others have shut down all their branches,” he said.

In addition, the sharp loss in the value of the Lebanese pound against the United States dollar has caused a dive in the purchasing power of the Lebanese, Chammas noted.

After defaulting on its debt earlier this year, Lebanon has been negotiating with the International Monetary Fund the possibility of acquiring funds to save the country from further deterioration.

(XINHUA)

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