Luxembourg’s popular grand duke, Jean, dies at age 98



Luxembourg’s popular grand duke, Jean, dies at age 98


His son and successor Grand Duke Henri said Jean died “in peace and surrounded by the love of his family.’’

“I had great esteem for this man of commitment, kindness and courage who, throughout his reign, and in all circumstances, gave the best of himself to his country.

“His passing away is a great loss for the grand duchy and for Europe’’ European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, a fellow Luxembourger, said.

Luxembourg’s royal family was exiled during the German occupation in World War II.

As heir apparent, Jean joined the Irish Guards in the British armed forces in 1942 and took part in the 1944 Normandy landings.

He was enthusiastically greeted by his people when Allied troops liberated the city of Luxembourg in September 1944.

Jean, from 1964 to 2000, served as head of state of Luxembourg, the only grand duchy in the world.

He was widely respected for his discreet manner and absence of scandals.

“He was a role model for all of us, through his commitment, he has left a mark that will last forever,’’ Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said on Twitter.

The state funeral will be held in May, in Luxembourg’s cathedral.


Taiwan presidential candidates seek omens in ballot lottery



Incumbent President (Ms) Tsai Ing-wen


Taipei, Dec. 9, 2019 Candidates in Taiwan`s upcoming presidential election looked for keys to victory on Monday in a lottery for the order in which they would appear on ballots in the Jan. 11 national elections on the self-ruled island.

More than 17.2 million citizens will be eligible to choose between three presidential and vice-presidential tickets as well as elect the next 113-seat national legislature.

The tickets include incumbent President (Ms) Tsai Ing-wen and former Premier Lai Ching-te for the governing centrist Democratic Progressive Party (DPP); Kaohsiung City Mayor Han Kuo-yu and ex-Premier Chang Shan-cheng for the right-wing Kuomintang (KMT).

Former Premier Lai Ching-te

Others are former KMT Secretary-General James Soong and United Communications Corp chairwoman Sandra Yu for the conservative People First Party (PFP)

In a ceremony at the Central Election Commission in Taipei, PFP Secretary-General Lee Hung-chun picked a paper lot marked with “1,” Han pulled out “2” and Lai chose “3.”

The PFP`s Lee told supporters outside the CEC building that “number one” meant that Soong, who is making his fourth presidential run, would stand above the other two camps and “put the people first.”

Han told boisterous backers that “the two of us will run hand in hand with one heart” and “will bring security to the nation and money to the people.”

Lai said “3” signaled to voters that they should cast “three ballots to safeguard Taiwan” by voting for the DPP presidential ticket and for DPP candidates in single-seat districts and the at-large party lists.

Officially called the Republic of China (ROC), Taiwan has had a separate government since Chinese Nationalists fled there in 1949 after losing a civil war to the Communists in China.

Beijing considers the self-governing democracy part of its territory.

Edited by: Fatima Sule/Emmanuel Yashim

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EU Commission probes German casinos’ special tax treatment




Brussels, Dec. 9, 2019 The European Commission has opened an investigation into special tax rules that apply to German casino operators, it said on Monday, after receiving complaints from competitors arguing that these constitute an unfair benefit.

German public casino operators do not have to pay regular taxes such as corporate, income and trade taxes, but are instead subject to a special tax regime, according to the commission.

It said it has received “several complaints” from companies in the gambling sector relating to aspects of this special tax regime, as well as an alleged guarantee ensuring that public casino operators remain profitable.

The investigation aims at clarifying whether public casinos are receiving an unjustified economic advantage, the commission added.

It acts as the EU competition watchdog.

In a separate inquiry, the commission will also follow up on complaints relating to public casino operators in the German state of North Rhine Westphalia, it said.

According to the complaints, the casino operators in question benefited from annual loss compensation payments as well as a capital injection in 2015 by the state of North Rhine Westphalia, giving them an undue advantage.

Edited by: Fatima Sule/Ali Baba-Inuwa

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Russia gives citizenship to 125,000 people from Ukraine



Russia has given citizenship to 125,000 people from rebel-held parts of eastern Ukraine over the past seven months, Russia’s interior minister on Monday said.

More than 160,000 applications have been received by centres in the Rostov region (which borders Ukraine),” Vladimir Kolokoltsev said in comments released by his office.

Citizenship has already been granted to 125,000 applicants,” he said as Russian President Vladimir Putin was set to meet Ukraine’s leader, Volodymyr Zelensky, for peace talks in Paris.

Putin signed a law in April to expedite procedures to grant citizenship to residents of war-torn eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

Edited by: Fatima Sule/Donald Ugwu

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S. Africa calls for robust multilateral response to climate change




Cape Town, Dec. 9, 2019 South Africa on Monday called for a robust multilateral response to climate change in a way that would assist African and other developing countries to adapt to the associated loss and damage.

The Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy said this before leaving for Madrid, Spain to attend the ongoing Climate Change Conference under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Developing countries must secure the finance, technology and other support they require to combat climate change and to transition their economies to more sustainable development pathways, Creecy said.

She recently assumed the Presidency of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) and, in this capacity, has a mandate to advance Africa’s shared priorities.

For Africa and all UN member states, the impacts of climate change are real and most felt by the poor and vulnerable groups in society, the minister said.

According to Creecy, over the past year, every sub-region of Africa has experienced weather events that have caused considerable loss of life and destruction.

South Africa, for example, is experiencing unprecedented increases in the frequency and intensity of heatwaves, bush fires, and droughts, which are placing a tremendous burden on its stressed water resources, said Creecy.

“Given this reality, it is imperative for South Africa to contribute to securing a robust multilateral response to climate change,” the minister said.

The Madrid conference’s priority task is to finalise the implementation guidelines for the Paris Agreement, which becomes fully operational in 2020.

This includes, in particular, reaching an agreement on a market mechanism to replace the current Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol.

Creecy said market mechanisms need to incentivize climate action to achieve the global goal of the Paris Agreement.

“The new market must benefit Africa and help finance our adaptation efforts,” Creecy said.

Africa also requires the Madrid conference to recognise the special needs and circumstances of African countries and to advance work towards achieving the Paris Agreement’s global goal on adaptation, review the work of the Warsaw Mechanism on Loss and Damage and the Gender Action Plan, Creecy said.

The conference comes at a pivotal moment where science is sending a clear message that the world faces a climate emergency and that everybody needs to act with a renewed sense of urgency, said the minister.

South Africa is fully committed to contributing to the success of the conference, she said.

The Climate Change Conference started on Dec. 2 in Spain and will end on Dec. 13.

Edited by: Fatima Sule/Emmanuel Yashim

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S/African electricity utility says incessant rains worsen power crisis



South African electricity utility Eskom on Monday blamed rains for worsening rolling power blackouts that have continued for five days running.

With the incessant rains, Eskom is beginning to experience flooding at some power stations, which led to further load losses and impacted supply as the rainy weather persists, the utility said.

Eskom has lost additional generation units this morning, increasing unplanned breakdowns to 14,200MW as at 09.25.

Along with a higher demand of about 600MW, necessitates load shedding to move up from stage two to stage four from 10.00 today until 23.00,’’ the state-run parastatal said.

Stage two load shedding allows up to 2,000 MW to be shed, while stage four calls for 4,000 MW to be rotationally cut-off.

Under stage four load shedding, South Africans have to endure unscheduled power cuts at any given time without warning for close to four hours at a time.

We remind customers that load shedding, at stage four, is no cause for alarm as the system is being effectively controlled,’’ Eskom said.

Load shedding is a responsible act and highly controlled process implemented to protect the country from a national blackout, the utility said.

This latest round of rolling blackouts comes on the back of an already shrinking economy and will further impact growth as South Africa heads into the festive season and the height of the country’s tourism influx.

As the country’s major electricity supplier, Eskom has maintained a monopoly on the power supply, leaving South Africa a few alternatives for additional energy supplies.

Eskom has been haunted by poor management and alleged corruption, two major factors that have contributed to the worsening power crisis.

Experts estimate that the latest round of load shedding, which began on Dec. 5, has cost the country five billion rands ($340 million) in economic losses.

Edited by: Fatima Sule/Abdulfatah Babatunde

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Sydney readies for ‘very dangerous’ fire conditions on Tuesday




Canberra, Dec. 9, 2019 Firefighters in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) are preparing for “very dangerous” fire conditions on Tuesday as dozens of bushfires continue to burn, authorities have said.

While better weather on Sunday and Monday provided an opportunity to conduct critical back burning and containment work, the weather is forecast to get worse, with temperatures soaring above 40 degrees Celsius amid high winds and low humidity conditions.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Tuesday would be “very dangerous” due to the combination of very hot weather and windy conditions.

“That combination, as we know, has been lethal in the past few months,” she said in Sydney on Monday.

NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the conditions may not be as bad as last month, when the state had to declare a state of emergency.

“But it’s certainly going to be another difficult day, particularly given the scale and complexity of these fires and their proximity to so much more built-up and populated areas,” he said.

Later, he said on Twitter there were 87 fires currently burning in 2.1 million hectares of land with a perimeter of 11,095 kilometres.

According to authorities, fires have now already burned 2.7 million hectares of land in eastern Australia since the bushfire season started early in October.

Nine areas of NSW are under a total fire ban on Tuesday, including Sydney and its suburbs.

Fire authorities continued to work on a so-called “megafire” to the north-west of Sydney after it combined several blazes last week.

Edited by: Fatima Sule/Emmanuel Yashim

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EU approves €3.2bn in public funds for battery research




Brussels, Dec. 9, 2019 Battery producers in seven European Union (EU) countries are set to receive up to 3.2 billion euros (3.5 billion dollars) of research funding by 2031 in a project given the green light by the European Commission on Monday.

Seventeen companies involved in all parts of the battery production chain – from mining raw materials, to design and recycling – stand to benefit, the EU executive said in a statement.

The commission has identified modernised battery production as being of key strategic interest for Europe’s automotive sector and also for its push for cleaner energy.

European battery producers are lagging well behind their Asian counterparts, particularly when it comes to those used for electric cars.

Around 80 per cent of batteries worldwide are produced in Asia compared to 3 per cent in Europe, estimates show.

Big names like Germany’s BASF and BMW are to gain, as well as smaller companies like Italy’s Endurance.

Germany and France are to receive the lion’s share of the funds with a combined total of up to 2.2 billion euros.

Companies from Belgium, Sweden, Finland, and Poland are also to benefit.

The EU taxpayer money should also unlock 5 billion euros of private finance, according to the commission.

Edited by: Fatima Sule/Emmanuel Yashim

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S’African president vows to reduce dependence of SOEs on govt’s bailouts



President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday vowed to reduce the dependence of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) on bailouts and guarantees from the government.

Ramaphosa disclosed this in his weekly address in Pretoria. “for too long, the South African taxpayer had been funding inefficiency and mismanagement in SOEs, adding that it must come to an end.

Although many of these SOEs are deeply in debt, they remain valuable state assets with immense capacity.

We will not allow any of these strategic entities to fail. Rather, we need to take all necessary steps, even drastic ones, to restore them to health,” he said.

South Africa has a suite of major SOEs such as electricity utility Eskom, South African Airways (SAA), Transnet (a large South African rail, port and pipeline company), weaponry manufacturer Denel, PRASA (Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa).

It also has National Post Office, all of which had been haunted by mismanagement and alleged corruption tendencies.

He noted that recently, the government placed debt-laden SAA under business rescue as the financial crisis at the airline had become so grave that the only way to secure its survival was to take this extraordinary measure.

Business rescue is not the preferred option for fixing our state-owned enterprises, nor would it necessarily be advisable in other circumstances.

But the resolve we have shown in putting SAA into business rescue cuts across all key SOEs,“ he said.

Ramaphosa, however, upon assumption of duty, took steps to strengthen governance and reinforce effective management at strategic SOEs. New boards had been appointed and executives with the requisite skills and experience put in place.

An immediate challenge was to end state capture and tackle the corruption that had crippled a number of our state-owned companies.

As the new leadership has undertaken this work, several individuals have been charged and, in some cases, stolen funds have been recovered, according to the president.

This work must necessarily continue until all corrupt activities have been uncovered and those responsible held to account before a court of law,“he said.

Ramaphosa added that financial systems must be strengthened and diligently observed to avoid any form of corruption.

As we do this work, we are clear that the state will retain ownership of all those state-owned enterprises that are strategic.

This is to allow entities to perform the crucial economic and developmental functions that the market would not be able to perform on its own.

Where necessary, and where appropriate, the government will seek strategic equity partners to assist with raising capital, injecting skills and technology, and improving efficiency at SOEs.

“This must be done transparently and in a manner that strengthens, rather than weakens, the ability of the state to meet the development needs of the people,’ he said.

Edited by: Yahaya Isah/Emmanuel Yashim

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French unions dig in against Macron on day 5 of strikes




Paris, Dec. 9, 2019 Drivers on two Paris metro lines voted on Monday to extend a walkout until the end of the week as France grapples with the fifth day of strikes.

This is a sign transport workers will keep up a fight against President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to streamline pensions.

The week ahead will test Macron’s mettle and his ability to deliver the social and economic change he says is necessary for France to compete with powers like China and the U.S.

The public sector strike has hit the transport sector the hardest.

In Paris, train, bus and metro services faced severe disruption and monster tailbacks clogged the roads as commuters took to their cars.

After months of consultations, Macron’s pension tsar Jean-Paul Delevoye is scheduled to meet union leaders later on Monday before presenting his reform proposals to Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

“We will see if he has not just listened, but heard. They have to pull the reform,” Philippe Martinez, leader of the CGT union, France’s largest in the public sector, said.

That appears unlikely.

Philippe told the weekly Journal du Dimanche that he was determined to see through the overhaul of what is one of the most generous pension systems among developed industrialised nations.

The unions have called for mass protests on Tuesday and the government will be watching closely to see if more than the 800,000 who marched through French cities on Thursday turn out.

Macron wants to replace the convoluted system comprised of more than 40 separate pension plans; each with varying benefits, with a single, points-based system under which for each euro contributed, every pensioner has equal rights.

Public sector unions fret that their workers will come out worse because under the current system the state makes up for the chronic shortfall between contributions and payouts in the sector.

The unions, fighting to show they remain relevant after Macron loosened the labour code and reformed the state-run SNCF, also fret they will lose influence over contributions and benefits under a centrally managed points-based system.

Who emerges victor will in part hinge on the battle for public opinion.

Opinion polls ahead of the strikes showed that the public was relatively evenly split.

On the metro on Monday, there was both sympathy and irritation toward the strikers.

“I don’t understand. It’s not the right way to do things, for (metro operator) RATP to block people like this.

“It will turn against the unions,” said commuter Charles Ramm.

Accountant Lamia Massoudi said she backed the strike, even if it meant inconveniences.

“I’m with them,” Massoudi added.

Edited by: Fatima Sule/Emmanuel Yashim

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