How Australian lawmakers responded to the country’s deadliest mass shooting

How Australian lawmakers responded to the country’s deadliest mass shooting

Legislators in Australia sprang into action to reform the country’s gun laws in 1996 after 35 people were killed and 23 injured in the Port Arthur massacre — the country’s deadliest mass shooting.

In April 1996, lone gunman Martin Bryant used a semi-automatic rifle to carry out the attack near a popular tourist resort in Port Arthur, Tasmania. Soon after the shooting — which took place just weeks after 16 children and a teacher were killed in the Dunblane massacre in Scotland — Australia’s lawmakers moved to transform and enforce gun legislation.

Bryant then barricaded himself in a home with hostages, firing at authorities whenever they neared.

Despite Australia’s long history of hunting and sport, the National Firearms Agreement was passed just weeks after the shooting. The new law instated a national firearm registry and a 28-day waiting period for gun sales, and tightened firearm licensing rules, BBC News reported. It also requires that potential gun owners pass a thorough background check and present a “justifiable reason” for owning a gun.

The agreement also included tougher legislation to restrict rapid-fire weapons from public ownership as well as a provision for a temporary gun buyback program of the newly outlawed guns.

By 2015, more than 1 million semi-automatic weapons, roughly a third of the country’s firearms, were sold back to the government and destroyed, according to BBC News, nearly cutting the number of gun-owning households in Australia in half.

Then-Prime Minister John Howard was able to convince all of Australia’s six states to agree to and pass the sweeping legislation in just 12 days, BBC News reported.

Last year, as the 20th anniversary of the massacre approached, Howard told CBS that it is “incontestable that gun-related homicides have fallen quite significantly in Australia,” citing as evidence a 74 percent drop in gun-related suicide rates.

Since the law went into effect, only one mass shooting has occurred in Australia — a 2014 incident where a farmer shot his wife and three children before killing himself, according to The Associated Press.

A report by the Australia Broadcasting Corporation stated that while Howard’s claim is not “cut and dried,” the Australian Institute of Criminology found that the rate of homicide victims dying from a gunshot wound has dropped since the reforms came into place.

In June, a national firearms amnesty was declared, allowing gun owners in Australia to once again hand in their illegal firearms without penalty over a three-month amnesty period (though not for compensation).

Australia’s Minister for Justice Michael Keenan deemed the new nationwide amnesty necessary over a concern of new security threats, the AP reported. Keenan hypothesized that by turning in the unwanted guns, it would lessen the chances of the firearms falling into the hands of violent criminals, according to the AP.

“My expectation is it’s probably not going to be the case that we would have hardened criminals, for example, who have made a big effort to get hold of illegal guns necessarily handing them in,” Keenan said.

Australian officials also announced in June that it would crack down on illegally purchased firearms by introducing a mandatory five-year prison term for gun traffickers and by boosting screening of international mail.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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How Australian lawmakers responded to the country’s deadliest mass shooting

How Australian lawmakers responded to the country’s deadliest mass shooting

Legislators in Australia sprang into action to reform the country’s gun laws in 1996 after 35 people were killed and 23 injured in the Port Arthur massacre — the country’s deadliest mass shooting.

In April 1996, lone gunman Martin Bryant used a semi-automatic rifle to carry out the attack near a popular tourist resort in Port Arthur, Tasmania. Soon after the shooting — which took place just weeks after 16 children and a teacher were killed in the Dunblane massacre in Scotland — Australia’s lawmakers moved to transform and enforce gun legislation.

Bryant then barricaded himself in a home with hostages, firing at authorities whenever they neared.

Despite Australia’s long history of hunting and sport, the National Firearms Agreement was passed just weeks after the shooting. The new law instated a national firearm registry and a 28-day waiting period for gun sales, and tightened firearm licensing rules, BBC News reported. It also requires that potential gun owners pass a thorough background check and present a “justifiable reason” for owning a gun.

The agreement also included tougher legislation to restrict rapid-fire weapons from public ownership as well as a provision for a temporary gun buyback program of the newly outlawed guns.

By 2015, more than 1 million semi-automatic weapons, roughly a third of the country’s firearms, were sold back to the government and destroyed, according to BBC News, nearly cutting the number of gun-owning households in Australia in half.

Then-Prime Minister John Howard was able to convince all of Australia’s six states to agree to and pass the sweeping legislation in just 12 days, BBC News reported.

Last year, as the 20th anniversary of the massacre approached, Howard told CBS that it is “incontestable that gun-related homicides have fallen quite significantly in Australia,” citing as evidence a 74 percent drop in gun-related suicide rates.

Since the law went into effect, only one mass shooting has occurred in Australia — a 2014 incident where a farmer shot his wife and three children before killing himself, according to The Associated Press.

A report by the Australia Broadcasting Corporation stated that while Howard’s claim is not “cut and dried,” the Australian Institute of Criminology found that the rate of homicide victims dying from a gunshot wound has dropped since the reforms came into place.

In June, a national firearms amnesty was declared, allowing gun owners in Australia to once again hand in their illegal firearms without penalty over a three-month amnesty period (though not for compensation).

Australia’s Minister for Justice Michael Keenan deemed the new nationwide amnesty necessary over a concern of new security threats, the AP reported. Keenan hypothesized that by turning in the unwanted guns, it would lessen the chances of the firearms falling into the hands of violent criminals, according to the AP.

“My expectation is it’s probably not going to be the case that we would have hardened criminals, for example, who have made a big effort to get hold of illegal guns necessarily handing them in,” Keenan said.

Australian officials also announced in June that it would crack down on illegally purchased firearms by introducing a mandatory five-year prison term for gun traffickers and by boosting screening of international mail.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Catalan officials mull date for independence declaration

Catalan officials mull date for independence declaration

Catalonia’s regional government is mulling when to declare the region’s independence from Spain in the wake of a disputed referendum that has triggered Spain’s most serious national crisis in decades. Some lawmakers say that will happen Monday.

The region’s pro-independence president, Carles Puigdemont, who has said an independence declaration will come in a few days, is delivering a speech later Wednesday. He’s also addressing the regional parliament on Monday to review the vote — a session that his parliamentary supporters in the radical, anti-capitalist CUP group say will consider the independence declaration.

Spain, which has declared Sunday’s referendum illegal and invalid, is bitterly opposed to any independence move.

Spain’s conservative government has said it will respond with “all necessary measures” to counter Catalan defiance, and is holding talks with opposition leaders in Madrid to forge a consensus over what to do in response.

It’s anybody’s guess what might happen if the prosperous northeastern region of Catalonia does actually try to secede. Spain could intervene to take over the regional government or it could even declare a state of emergency and impose martial law.

In a nationally televised address Tuesday night, Spain’s King Felipe VI came out strongly against the actions of Catalan authorities, saying they had deliberately bent the law with “irresponsible conduct.”

The Spanish state, he went on, needed to ensure constitutional order and the rule of law in Catalonia, which is the richest region of Spain.

Catalonia says some 2.3 million people — less than half the region’s electorate — voted in the referendum Sunday. Many of those opposed to independence are thought to have stayed at home after the referendum was ordered suspended by a Spanish court. Of those who voted, some 90 percent backed independence, according to Catalan officials.

Xavier Garcia Albiol, the top politician in Catalonia of Spain’s governing party, called Wednesday for Catalans who want to stay inside Spain to join a rally Sunday in Barcelona that has been organized by the pro-union grassroots Civil Catalan Society group.

The route to becoming independent won’t be easy for Catalonia. The region doesn’t have any power over defense, foreign affairs, taxes, ports or airports, all of which are in the hands of the Madrid government. The European Union has also said that an independent Catalonia cannot stay in the bloc, but must apply to join, a lengthy uncertain process.

The crisis in Spain grew more acute Sunday when some 900 people needed medical attention after police cracked down to try to prevent the vote. Over 400 police also had bruises.

On Tuesday, huge crowds held street protests and unions staged a strike in Catalonia to protest the alleged police brutality.

Spain’s National Court on Wednesday said it will quiz two senior officers of Catalonia’s regional police force and the leaders of two pro-Catalan independence civic groups who have been placed under investigation for sedition.

The court said the four will be questioned Friday about their roles in demonstrations Sept. 20-21 in Barcelona, when Spanish police arrested several Catalan government officials and raided offices in a crackdown on preparations for the referendum.

Spanish authorities say the demonstrations hindered the police operation. During the rallies, there were some disturbances.

The four include regional police chief officer Josep Lluis Trapero and Jordi Sanchez, the head of the Catalan National Assembly that has been the main civic group behind the independence movement.

———

This story has been corrected to fix date of Sept. 20-21 demonstrations.

————

Giles contributed from Madrid.

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Witnesses testify VX killed brother of North Korean leader

Witnesses testify VX killed brother of North Korean leader

The cause of the death of the estranged half brother of North Korea’s leader dominated the second day Tuesday of the trial of two women accused of killing him at a busy airport terminal in Malaysia.

Prosecutors at Malaysia’s High Court were seeking to establish the basic facts regarding Kim Jong Nam’s death on Feb. 13. There has been no testimony about the motive for the killing, but North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is believed to have considered his older sibling a potential rival for power.

Siti Aisyah of Indonesia and Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam have pleaded not guilty to charges they smeared the nerve agent VX on Kim’s face. They have yet to testify, but diplomats from their countries have quoted them as saying they believed they were playing a harmless prank for a hidden-camera TV show and had been hoodwinked by men suspected of being North Korean agents.

Monday’s testimony reconstructed Kim Jong Nam’s final moments at the airport, while Tuesday’s session focused on the cause of death.

DR. NIK MOHAMAD ADZRUL ARIFF RAJA AZLAN, airport clinic physician

Nik continued his testimony from Monday, in which he described how Kim arrived at the airport clinic conscious but in pain, with very high blood pressure and pulse. He said Kim then had seizure-like symptoms and his blood pressure, blood oxygen level and pulse plunged. Nik said he injected Kim with atropine, a standard procedure to boost slow heart rates, and said he did not know at the time that it is also a treatment for counteracting VX and other nerve agents.

Nik said he also inserted a tube into Kim’s trachea to improve his oxygen level, and that stabilized Kim’s blood pressure and oxygen level so he could be transported to the hospital.

DR. NUR ASHIKIN OTHMAN, chemical pathologist at Kuala Lumpur Hospital

Nur Ashikin said Kim’s blood had a very low level of 344 units per liter of cholinesterase, an enzyme used to break down neurotransmitters in the body that send signals to the brain and control the muscles. The normal level is above 5,300 units per liter, she said.

The low level “could be caused by poison such as pesticide or nerve agent,” she told the court, and can cause heart and lung problems and symptoms such as profuse sweating and vomiting.

She said blood tests on the two women accused of murdering Kim showed normal enzyme levels, but this may not conclusively show they were not exposed to VX because the women may have been in contact with a low concentration level or have decontaminated themselves by washing their hands with soap or taking an antidote.

DR. MOHAMAD SHAH MAHMOOD, head of the Forensic Unit at Kuala Lumpur Hospital

Dr. Mohamad Shah, one of two pathologists who examined Kim’s body and prepared the post-mortem report, said the cause of death was determined to be “acute VX nerve agent poisoning.” He said Kim was dead on arrival at the hospital.

A copy of the post-mortem report, submitted as evidence, showed that traces of VX were found not only on Kim’s eyes and face but also in his blood and urine, and on his clothing and bag.

An examination of Kim’s body found damage in his organs including part of the brain, both lungs, liver and spleen, Mohamad Shah said, adding that this could be caused by poison or a drug overdose. But based on his examination and toxicology and chemist reports, he said there were no contributing factors to Kim’s death apart from VX.

The report said Kim weighed 96 kilograms (211 pounds) and had tattoos on his chest, arms and back, including a colored dragon head breathing fire and a man with two fish-like figures.

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Mattis voices support for Iran deal ahead of deadline

Mattis voices support for Iran deal ahead of deadline

Twelve days before the Trump administration will decide whether or not to re-certify Iran’s compliance with the Iran deal, Secretary of Defense James Mattis told Congress it’s in America’s national security interest to keep the agreement.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Mattis replied in the affirmative to a question about whether it was in the U.S. national security interest to stay in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — better known as the Iran deal — an international agreement which restricts Iran’s enrichment of uranium and its stockpiles.

“If we can confirm that Iran is living by the agreement, if we can determine that this is in our best interest, then clearly, we should stay with it,” Mattis said. “I believe, at this point in time, absent indications to the contrary, it is something the president should consider staying with.”

President Trump, who has repeatedly called the agreement one of the “worst deals” for the U.S., last re-certified Iran’s compliance in July. The next deadline for certification is Oct. 15.

If Trump de-certifies Iran’s compliance, Congress must decide within 60 days whether or not to reimpose nuclear sanctions against Iran. This would constitute a material breach and essentially destroy the agreement.

“The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into frankly that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it,” Trump said during an address before the United Nations General Assembly in September.

Testifying beside Mattis on Tuesday, the top U.S. general said Iran is in compliance with the deal.

“Iran is not in material breach of the agreement, and I do believe the agreement to date has delayed the development of a nuclear capability by Iran,” Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said.

In his reconfirmation hearing before the same committee last week, Dunford warned that “holding up agreements that we have signed, unless there’s a material breach, would have an impact on others’ willingness to sign agreements.”

Given the country’s compliance with the agreement, Dunford urged the U.S. to focus on other challenges with Iran, namely missile, maritime and cyberthreats, as well as their support for terrorist organizations.

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Russian strike ‘injures top jihadist’

Russian strike ‘injures top jihadist’

Russia says one of its air strikes in Syria has critically injured the leader of an al-Qaeda-linked jihadist alliance and 12 of his field commanders.

The defence ministry cited its sources as confirming that Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani lost limbs in the attack in the north province of Idlib on Tuesday.

The strike came after Russia’s military learnt where Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) commanders were due to meet, it added.

There was no immediate comment from jihadist sources on the Russian claim.

However, HTS-linked news outlet Iba reported on Tuesday that Russian air strikes had targeted an airport and courthouse around Abu al-Zuhur in eastern Idlib, killing three people and wounding several others.

Russia said in July that it might have killed the leader of the rival jihadist group Islamic State (IS), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. But there was no confirmation from IS and a new audio message purportedly from Baghdadi was released last week.

Russia has conducted air strikes in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since 2015, targeting both jihadists and Western-backed rebel forces.

A defence ministry statement said that on Monday Russian military intelligence had “uncovered information on the time and place of a meeting” of the HTS leadership.

“Following confirmation via various sources that the terrorists had arrived and the meeting had begun, the command headquarters of the Russian forces in Syria took the decision to carry out an air strike. Su-34 and Su-35 aircraft from the Russian aviation on duty were allocated for this task.”

As a result of the air strike, Jawlani sustained “a number of serious shrapnel wounds and lost limbs” and was in a critical condition, the ministry added, citing “several independent sources”.

Twelve HTS field commanders – including Akhmad al-Gizan, the head of Jawlani’s security service – were “eliminated”, along with about 50 guards, it added.

HTS is one of the most powerful armed groups in Syria and has controlled most of Idlib since dislodging previously allied rebel factions earlier this year.

Idlib – which is home to two million people, many of them displaced by fighting elsewhere in Syria – forms one of four “de-escalation zones” agreed in May by Russia, fellow Assad ally Iran and Turkey, which backs the rebellion.

The US has offered a reward of up to $10m (£7.5m) for information on Jawlani, a Syrian national who founded al-Nusra Front in 2011 with the help of what was then known as Islamic State in Iraq (ISI).

Two years later, he rejected the announcement by Baghdadi of a merger between ISI and al-Nusra, and instead pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and its leadership.

In 2016, Jawlani declared that al-Nusra had broken off formal ties with al-Qaeda and said it was changing its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. However, the attempt to distance the group from al-Qaeda failed to convince the international community.

Then at the start of this year, the group announced that it had merged with four smaller factions to form Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Liberation of the Levant Organisation).

Jawlani was initially named the new alliance’s “general military commander” rather than its leader. That position went to former Ahrar al-Sham leader Hashim al-Sheikh, also known as Abu Jabir.

But on Sunday, a short statement issued by HTS announced the resignation of Abu Jabir as leader and the appointment of Jawlani as caretaker.

HTS was recently hit by a crisis after conversations involving senior officials, including Jawlani, were leaked, prompting the resignation of a high-profile Saudi cleric. One of its biggest factions, Jaysh al-Ahrar, also left the alliance.

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Iran deal in US interest – defence chief

Iran deal in US interest – defence chief

The US should consider staying in the Iran nuclear deal, Defence Secretary James Mattis has suggested.

Asked in a Senate hearing whether he thought this was in the national interest, he said that it was.

President Donald Trump, who is highly critical of the deal, is to decide by 15 October whether Iran is complying. The White House has not commented on the defence secretary’s remarks.

The 2015 accord was designed to prevent Iran developing a nuclear weapon.

“I believe at this point in time, absent indications to the contrary, it is something that the president should consider staying with,” Mr Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington.

“If we can confirm that Iran is living by the agreement, if we can determine that this is in our best interest, then clearly we should stay with it,” he added.

Last month, President Trump said Iran was keeping to the spirit of the agreement “atrociously”.

He also described the agreement – signed by Iran, the US, the UK, France, China, Russia and Germany – as the “one of the worst deals I’ve seen”.

In April, Mr Trump ordered a review into whether a suspension of sanctions on Iran, linked to the deal curbing its nuclear activities, was in the US national interest.

If the US president does not recertify by the set deadline that Tehran is complying with the agreement, he could withdraw his approval.

Congress would then have 60 days to decide whether to re-impose sanctions on Iran suspended under the deal.

Iran has always said it has the right to nuclear energy – and insists that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said last month that Iran was implementing the nuclear-related commitments from the deal.

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Anger over Johnson Libya ‘bodies’ comment

Anger over Johnson Libya ‘bodies’ comment

Boris Johnson has said Libyan city Sirte could be the new Dubai, adding, “all they have to do is clear the dead bodies away”.

The foreign secretary’s comments at a Conservative conference fringe meeting have sparked anger, with Labour calling them “crass, callous and cruel”.

Conservative MP Heidi Allen said he should be sacked, as did the Lib Dems.

Mr Johnson claimed his critics had “no knowledge or understanding of Libya” and accused them of playing politics.

“I look at Libya, it’s an incredible country,” he told the meeting.

“Bone-white sands, beautiful sea, Caesar’s Palace, obviously, you know, the real one.

“Incredible place. It’s got a real potential and brilliant young people who want to do all sorts of tech.

“There’s a group of UK business people, actually, some wonderful guys who want to invest in Sirte on the coast, near where Gaddafi was captured and executed as some of you may have seen.

“They have got a brilliant vision to turn Sirte into the next Dubai.

“The only thing they have got to do is clear the dead bodies away,” he said, before laughing.

The host of the conference fringe event, Legatum Institute chief executive Baroness Stroud, stepped in to say “next question”, as the foreign secretary continued to speak.

The coastal city of Sirte is the former stronghold of so-called Islamic State, or Daesh, and recently the scene of fierce fighting.

Reacting on Twitter, Ms Allen said: “100% unacceptable from anyone, let alone foreign sec. Boris must be sacked for this. He does not represent my party.”

Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston called on Mr Johnson to apologise and urged him to “consider his position”, adding that the comments were “crass, poorly judged and grossly insensitive – and this from the person who is representing us on the world stage. I think they were really disappointing.”

But fellow Tory MP Nadine Dorries tweeted that “the campaign by Remain MPs on here calling for Boris to resign” was “co-ordinated and mendacious”.

Mr Johnson defended his remarks, adding on Twitter that he had been making a point about the need for optimism in Libya, after a recent visit to the country.

“The reality there is that the clearing of corpses of Daesh fighters has been made much more difficult by IEDs and booby traps,” he tweeted.

“That’s why Britain is playing a key role in reconstruction and why I have visited Libya twice this year in support.”

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But Damian Green, the first secretary of state, told BBC 5 live he believed Mr Johnson’s remarks were unacceptable, adding: “It was not a sensitive use of language. As I say, we all need to be sensitive in our use of language, particularly in situations like that.”

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, said: “It is less than a year since Sirte was finally captured from Daesh by the Libyan Government of National Accord, a battle in which hundreds of government soldiers were killed and thousands of civilians were caught in the crossfire, the second time in five years that the city had seen massive loss of life as a result of the Libyan civil war.

“For Boris Johnson to treat those deaths as a joke – a mere inconvenience before UK business people can turn the city into a beach resort – is unbelievably crass, callous and cruel.

“If these words came from the business people themselves, it would be considered offensive enough, but for them to come from the foreign secretary is simply a disgrace.

“There comes a time when the buffoonery needs to stop, because if Boris Johnson thinks the bodies of those brave government soldiers and innocent civilians killed in Sirte are a suitable subject for throwaway humour, he does not belong in the office of foreign secretary.”

Lib Dem deputy leader Jo Swinson said the “unbelievably crass and insensitive comment” was further proof Mr Johnson was “not up” to a job for which diplomacy was “a basic requirement”.

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First global pledge to end cholera

First global pledge to end cholera

Health officials from around the world are meeting in France to commit to preventing 90% of cholera deaths by 2030.

The disease, which is spread through contaminated water, kills about 100,000 people every year.

It is the first time governments, the World Health Organization, aid agencies and donors have made such a pledge.

It comes as Yemen continues to fight one of the worst cholera outbreaks on record.

Cholera has been spreading in the war-torn country due to deteriorating hygiene and sanitation conditions and disruptions to the water supply.

More than 770,000 people have been infected with the disease, which is easily treatable with the right medical equipment, and 2,000 have died. Many of the victims are children.

These huge outbreaks tend to grab the headlines, but there are also frequent outbreaks in so-called cholera “hotspots”.

Disease of the poor

Cholera is an acute diarrhoeal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholera.

It can spread quickly and widely in cramped, dirty conditions.

The infection is cheap to treat with rehydration salts, and easy to avoid altogether if people have access to clean water and decent toilet facilities.

But about two billion people globally lack access to clean water and are potentially at risk of cholera, according to the World Health Organization.

The UN health agency says weak health systems, and outbreaks not being detected early enough also contribute to the rapid spread of outbreaks.

Dr Dominique Legros, who heads up the WHO’s cholera programme, told the BBC: “We can’t keep seeing these huge outbreaks every year.

“We have the tools at hand to prevent them, so let’s use them.

“If you provide water and sanitation, it’s enough to stop the transmission of cholera.

“We’ve seen that today in countries like Senegal, where we have been able to stop transmission.”

Cholera is a disease of the poor, and building basic infrastructure for communities costs money.

However, there is no expectation of any major pledges of cash at Tuesday’s meeting.

‘Badge of shame’

The charity Wateraid estimates it would cost $40 (£30) per person to provide water, sanitation and hygiene.

Its chief executive, Tim Wainwright, says that is “surprisingly affordable”.

“Looking around the world, the map of cholera outbreaks is essentially the same as a map of poverty and marginalisation.

“The fact that this preventable disease still sickens 2.9 million people every year and kills 95,000 people is a global badge of shame.”

The oral cholera vaccine is another important part of the fight against this enduring disease.

It only offers protection for up to 3 years. But in situations where outbreaks are highly likely, it can save thousands of lives.

Some 900,000 doses of the vaccine are currently being sent to refugee camps in Bangladesh where almost half a million Rohingya Muslim refugees are gathering in squalid conditions after fleeing violence in neighbouring Myanmar, also known as Burma.

“The vaccine alone doesn’t solve the problem, the water and sanitation is a more long-term solution,” said Dr Seth Berkley, chief executive of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations.

“In the interim, we need to work to ensure we are doing both.”

Northern Europe and the US managed to eliminate cholera 150 years ago.

Tuesday’s pledge aims to, finally, achieve that goal for some of the world’s poorest people.

Estimated global annual cholera cases:

  • India: 675,188 cases, 20,266 deaths
  • Ethiopia: 275.221 cases, 10,458 deaths
  • Nigeria: 220,397 cases, 8,375 deaths
  • Haiti: 210,589 cases, 2,584 deaths

Source: Johns Hopkins University

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Egypt ‘escalates LGBT crackdown’

Egypt ‘escalates LGBT crackdown’

Egyptian authorities have arrested at least 22 people in the past four days as part of a campaign against LGBT people, Amnesty International says.

Thirty-two men and one woman have now been detained since rainbow flags were displayed at a pop concert in Cairo last month, according to activists.

Anal examinations have been reportedly carried out on five of those arrested.

The flag-raising provoked a public outcry and prompted the public prosecutor to order an investigation.

Homosexuality is not explicitly criminalised under Egyptian law.

But the authorities routinely arrest people suspected of engaging in consensual homosexual conduct on charges of “debauchery”, “immorality” or “blasphemy”.

The raising of rainbow flags at the concert by the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila – whose lead singer is openly gay – on 22 September was a rare public show of support for the LGBT community in the conservative Muslim country.

Three days later, after images went viral, Public Prosecutor Nabil Sadek ordered State Security prosecutors to investigate an “incident” that “incited homosexuality”.

On Sunday, six men were charged in connection with the flag-raising and went on trial alongside at least 10 others arrested last week, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a local human rights organisation. A verdict in their trial is expected on 29 October.

A woman suspected of raising a rainbow flag at the concert has also been charged with “promoting sexual deviancy” and “habitual debauchery”.

On Monday, Amnesty reported that a seventh man had also been detained in the city of Damietta in relation with the flag incident, and that six other men had been detained in Cairo in recent days for promoting “habitual debauchery” through online dating applications. Four further arrests took place in Giza, it said.

A 19-year-old man arrested a day after the concert was meanwhile sentenced last week to six years in prison after being convicted of “debauchery”, Amnesty added, and four other men were being held at Cairo police stations.

The Forensic Medical Authority has carried out anal examinations on at least five of those arrested, according to Amnesty. Such procedures are used regularly in prosecuting homosexual sex in Egypt.

“Forced anal examinations are tantamount to torture – there is no scientific basis for such tests and they cannot be justified under any circumstances,” said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty’s North Africa campaigns director.

“The scale of the latest arrests highlights how dangerously entrenched homophobia is within the country. Instead of stepping up arrests and carrying out anal examinations, the authorities must urgently halt this ruthless crackdown and release all those arrested immediately and unconditionally.”

Members of Mashrou’ Leila, whom the Egyptian Musicians Syndicate has vowed to bar from performing, said the crackdown had left them “heartbroken”.

A statement issued on Monday evening said they had initially remained silent on the advice of activists for fear of “further inflaming the situation”, but that it had since become apparent “that the state apparatus is hell-bent on executing the most atrocious of human rights violations”.

“We denounce the demonisation and prosecution of victimless acts between consenting adults,” it added. “It is sickening to think that all this hysteria has been generated over a couple of kids raising a piece of cloth that stands for love.”

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