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Liberian President Wants to Shorten Terms for Legislature, Executive

Liberian President George Weah has proposed reducing term lengths for members of the executive and legislative branches of government.

Under his plan, the president and representatives would serve five years instead of six, while senators would sit for seven years rather than nine.

The idea, says Presidential Press Secretary Smith Toby, is to push officials to begin serving the people from the day they assume office, rather than putting off work until the close of their terms.

As he put it, “if you start [work] immediately on election day “[knowing] that you’ve got five years, you will not play around. They will start work immediately upon their election.”

Some legislators welcomed the idea at a meeting Weah called last weekend to introduce laws he’d like to see passed. He unveiled 25 proposed bills, one of which would allow Liberians to hold dual citizenship.

Representative Richard Nagbe Kunn said, “We embrace the idea [of this retreat which] was the first of its kind since the President took over.’’ He said it is meant to foster reconciliation between the branches of government rather than having “one group of the government strangulating the other.”

Representative Francis Doepoh from Rivergee County thinks the best way to solve some of Liberia’s major issues is to rewrite the constitution.

But his colleague Vincent Willie of Grand Bassa County said reforming the document will take time and resources.

“Rewriting the constitution,” he said, “is very much important but given the time interval, you cannot rewrite the constitution in just six months, you’re talking about a whole year. It’s a process not an event.”

This is not the first time the idea of shortening terms has come up.

A Constitutional Review Committee under former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf made similar recommendations several years ago. But after a nationwide consultation, the recommendations went nowhere.

Among the ideas floated then was limiting the president to two four-year terms instead of the two six-year terms currently allowed.


Allow Iranian Women to Attend Matches, Says Asian Soccer Official

Iranian women should be allowed to attend men’s World Cup qualifiers in the Islamic Republic later this year, a top Asian soccer official said Tuesday, ramping up pressure on Tehran to end a long-running ban.

Iranian women have long been barred from watching men’s teams play, but Tehran relaxed the rule last year to allow hundreds of women to watch the Asian Champions League final organized by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

The AFC, the Asian football governing body which has 47 members that include Iran, said it was working to help world soccer governing body FIFA find an “amicable solution” that would allow them to attend future games.

“Everybody needs to be catered, it’s an inclusive game. Women play the game in Iran, men play the game, so everybody should be able to watch,” AFC general secretary Windsor John told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

FILE – Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Executive Director Windsor John displays a slip during the draw for the AFC Cup Knockout Stage at the AFC House in Kuala Lumpur, June 14, 2012.

“For us at the end of the day, we respect the local law, but we also want to promote the game,” he said at the AFC headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

Female football fans have long campaigned that the ban, imposed under Iran’s Islamic law after the 1979 revolution, be lifted.

Increased pressure

Last year, some risked arrest by donning fake beards and wigs to attend a major game in Tehran’s Azadi Stadium, while others traveled to Russia for the World Cup, plastering social media with photos of themselves cheering on their team.

FIFA wrote to the Iranian Football Federation in June asking it to provide a timeline toward women being able to buy tickets for the qualifiers, which begin Sept. 5.

John lauded the access for Iranian women at the Asian Champions League final last year, but said the current situation involved “different scenarios.”

“[The concern is] if it starts with football, will there be other ripple effects, will other forces or entities now ask for the same privilege,” said the No. 2 at the AFC.

“A lot of things are on the table at the moment, we really don’t know which direction it is going.”

There were hopes that the breakthrough last November would lead to a loosening of the ban, but female fans have been denied access to matches since.

In June, some were detained by security forces when they went to the Azadi Stadium for a friendly against Syria.

FIFA pledge

John said there was “huge potential” for women’s football to develop in Asia, with attitudes changing even in conservative countries such as Saudi Arabia, which lifted a ban on women attending matches last year.

FIFA has pledged to expand women’s role in the sport, appointing Fatma Samoura in 2016 as its first female secretary general, and this year’s women’s World Cup drew record crowds and television audiences.

John said a Saudi woman would be appointed to the AFC committee overseeing the development of women’s football, though he declined to identify the new member by name.

“It’s a huge, huge positive development for football development in Asia,” he said. 

Sudan Forms 11-Member Sovereign Council, Headed by Military Leader

Sudan on Tuesday completed the formation of an 11-member sovereign council that will run the country for a three-year transitional period until elections, a spokesman for the ruling military council told a news conference.

The sovereign council will be led by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who is the head of the transitional military council (TMC), which has ruled Sudan since April, when the military deposed veteran leader Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

Members of the sovereign council and the prime minister will be sworn in Wednesday.

Last week, Sudan’s main opposition alliance nominated economist Abdalla Hamdok to serve as prime minister in the country’s transitional government.

A power-sharing agreement signed Saturday paves the way for a transitional government and eventual elections. It provides for a sovereign council as the highest authority in the country but largely delegates executive powers to the cabinet of ministers.

According to the agreement, the opposition coalition is allowed to choose five members of the council and the military another five, with the two sides jointly choosing a civilian as an eleventh member.

The agreement also provides for a 300-member legislative assembly to serve during the transitional period and a cabinet of technocrats.

The main challenge for the new government will be an economic crisis stemming from a shortage of foreign currency, resulting in a cash crunch and long lines for fuel and bread.

Brazil Extradites Chilean Leftist Guerrilla Convicted of Murdering Pinochet Ally

Brazil said on Tuesday it had extradited to Chile a leftist guerrilla convicted of the murder of a Chilean politician allied with former dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Mauricio Hernandez Norambuena, a member of leftist group Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front (FPMR), was convicted in Chile of the 1991 murder of Chilean Senator Jaime Guzman. Hernandez eventually fled to Cuba and to Brazil, where he was jailed 10 years later for kidnapping advertising executive Washington Olivetto in Sao Paulo.

Brazil’s conservative president, Jair Bolsonaro, said on social media that his government’s decision to extradite Hernandez for the decades-old crime was proof the two countries were overcoming former differences.

“It’s our policy to cooperate with other countries and not give refuge to criminals or terrorists,” Bolsonaro wrote on Twitter.

Previous Brazilian governments had denied Chile’s requests for extradition.

Brazil’s minister of justice and public security, Sergio Moro, said Norambuena was due to serve a prison sentence of up to 30 years in Chile.

In 1996, Hernandez escaped from a maximum-security prison in Santiago with fellow guerrillas in a metal basket dangling from a helicopter, humiliating Chile’s nascent democratic government and stunning the world.

Ricardo Palma Salamanca, another guerrilla and co-conspirator in the murder of Senator Guzman, eventually fled to Mexico, and later to France.

France in January refused to extradite Palma Salamanca, raising questions about whether the former guerrilla had received a fair trial in Chile. Guzman was a key confidant of ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Chile has long maintained it had fairly convicted the guerrillas under a democratically elected government that followed Pinochet’s nearly two decades in power.

US Warns Against ‘Facilitating’ Freed Iranian Tanker

The United States is warning entities in the Mediterranean against working with an Iranian-flagged oil tanker now moving through the region after being freed from detention by Gibraltar.

The U.S. State Department repeated allegations that the Adrian Darya 1 was “transporting illicit oil to fuel the Iranian regime’s and Syrian regime’s campaigns of terror and oppression,” and it said those who assist it could be considered providing support to U.S.-designated terror organizations.

“We have conveyed our strong position to the Greek government on the matter, as well as ports in the Mediterranean that should be forewarned about facilitating this vessel,” it said in a statement Monday.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the decision by Gibraltar authorities to free the tanker after holding it on suspicions the vessel was taking oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions was “unfortunate.”  He told the U.S. cable network Fox News the eventual sale of the oil on board would benefit Iran’s Quds Force.

“If they are successful they will have more money, more wealth, more resources to continue their terror campaign, to continue their assassination campaign.  This is what we’re trying to stop,” Pompeo said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran was being non-committal about the eventual destination of the oil because he said the United States “illegally tries to bully others from purchasing our oil.”

He also said that while Iran believes the United States is seeking “more escalation” with Iran, the Islamic Republic is “happy this ordeal (over the oil tanker) has ended and I hope this will lead to less escalation.”

Marine tracking data on Tuesday showed the tanker continuing on course for a port in Greece with an expected arrival early next week.

Greek authorities said they have not received any official information about the tanker coming to Kalamata.

Gibraltar denied several U.S. requests to prevent the vessel from leaving the waters of the British territory, and said Iran had given written assurances the oil on board would not be shipped to Syria.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told reporters Monday that Iran had warned the United States through official channels against making any new attempt to seize the tanker, saying the result would be “heavy consequences.”

Mousavi also denied there was a connection between the early July detention of the Adrian Darya 1 and Iran’s move to seize the British-flagged Stena Impero tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.

British officials have said they saw Iran’s action as a reciprocal move.

First Vegan Investment Fund Coming to New York Stock Exchange

An investment fund designed for animal rights advocates and environmentalists, the first of its kind according to financial experts, is set to begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) next month.

VEGN, as it will show on the NYSE’s floor, enters the fray of hundreds of funds that consider environmental, social or governance (ESG) factors in their investment decisions but will be unique in going animal cruelty-free, experts said.

U.S. assets under management that follow ESG principles have been surging, representing one in four dollars last year, up from one in five in 2016, according to The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, a Washington-based non-profit.

Holding such investments is a way to pressure companies to change their behavior in order not to miss investors, said Tensie Whelan, who heads the New York University’s Center for Sustainable Business.

“It’s an interesting offering because it’s the only one of its kind,” she said in a telephone interview.

VEGN, the ticker symbol for the exchange-traded fund (ETF), whose full name is US Vegan Climate Exchange Traded ETF, will exclude stocks among the 500 largest U.S. companies that “rely on animal exploitation”, said its creator Beyond Investing.

It will be listed on the NYSE starting on Sept. 10.

Selecting companies whose businesses do not test products on animals, or use animal-derived products, fossil fuels, plastic or agrochemicals, has meant tossing out 43% of the top 500 companies, said Claire Smith, the Switzerland-based chief executive of Beyond Investing.

The fund’s portfolio guidelines mean it doesn’t include many pharmaceuticals, materials and consumer-sector stocks, said Smith.

“Things like clothing, shoe manufacture … (involve) so much animal products,” she said.

Still, a market index of stocks that a parent company of Beyond Investing launched in June last year and that VEGN will track – meaning it will be used to guide what stocks go into the fund – has outperformed the market this year, said Smith, after “a little bit of underperformance last year.”

Beyond Investing identifies companies that follow VEGN’s criteria by researching their business models, regulations and internal policies, said Smith.

In a report published earlier this month the United Nations called for diets less reliant on meat in order to combat climate change and ensure enough food for all.

Animal Rebellion, a group inspired by Extinction Rebellion’s non-violent civil disobedience climate activism, also is pushing for diets without meat.

Aniket Shah, a senior fellow at Columbia University’s Center on Sustainable Investment in New York, said a challenge environmental, social and governance-focused funds have typically faced was small scale.

One of the largest ESG funds, run by Blackrock, has more than $1 billion in investment, a relatively small amount compared to mainstream funds, Shah said.

NASA Data: Russia’s Norilsk and S. African Coal Town Kriel Top SO2 Emissions Hot Spots

Russia’s Norilsk smelter complex and a town in South Africa’s eastern coal mining province have the highest sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions in the world, according to satellite data from U.S. space agency NASA.

The NASA-compiled data published on Monday was commissioned by environmental group Greenpeace India and used the space authority’s satellites to track anthropogenic sulphur dioxide emission hot spots around the world.

Scientists say that excessive exposure to SO2 particles causes long-term respiratory difficulties and stunted growth in infants among other problems.

Norilsk, 300km (186 miles) inside the Arctic Circle, has the largest individual SO2 emissions, followed by the South African town of Kriel, about 150km east of Johannesburg, Monday’s report found.
The industrial city of Norilsk is home to Norilsk Nickel, the world’s leading nickel and palladium producer.

The company is implementing  a massive program to improve the ecology of the city and its surroundings.

The first stage of the program is complete. After the closure of an old nickel plant and reconstruction of nearby plants, emissions in the city’s residential area fell by 30%, Nornickel told Reuters on Monday.

The second phase will involve a $2.5 billion sulphur project to help to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions in and around Norilsk by 75% from 2015 levels by 2023.

FILE – Molten nickel is poured at the Norilsk Nickel company’s Nadezhda Metallurgical Plant in the Arctic city of Norilsk, Jan. 23, 2015.

Under snow for up to nine months of the year and in darkness for more than a month in winter, Norilsk has acquired a reputation as one of the most polluted settlements in the world because of its metals plants. Prisoners from Joseph Stalin’s labor camps built the first smelters there 80 years ago.

Power Pollution

The South African town of Kriel, meanwhile, is home to state power utility Eskom’s 2,850 megawatt Kriel Power Station, a short distance from two other coal-fired plants – Matla and Kendel – as well as Sasol’s coal-to-liquid plants.

The town is part of a 31,000-sq-km area that covers three provinces and houses 12 coal power stations. It was declared a high-priority zone by the government in 2007 because of dangerously high pollution.

South Africa is Africa’s worst polluter and one of the world’s top 10 coal producers, with an estimated 3.5% of the world’s coal resources, according to the International Energy Agency.

Environmental and community groups sued the government in June for failing to tackle high pollution in the Highveld Priority Area. The groups want the court to force the government to implement an air quality management plan that was published by the environmental affairs minister in 2012.

Environmental ministry spokesman Albi Modise said the NASA report was worrying and that national air quality plans needed to be reviewed urgently but that economic growth also had to be protected.

“You can’t wake up and say you’re closing all the coal power stations; imagine what will happen to electricity supply and the communities around them? We have to balance growth with protecting the environment.”

Eskom, which provides 90% of the country’s power, relies on a fleet of aging coal-fired plants to power Africa’s industrialized economy and is struggling to meet its emissions target.

The utility implemented nationwide rolling power cuts this year because of capacity shortages.

($1 = 15.3404 rand)

Few Demonstrators Turn Up for Zimbabwe Protest in Bulawayo

Few people have turned up for an opposition protest in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city, on Monday as armed police maintained heavy presence on the streets and at a courthouse where the opposition is pressing to be allowed to hold the demonstration.

Business in Bulawayo’s usually bustling downtown was subdued with the most traffic from police trucks, water cannons and dozens of police officers patrolling on foot.

The opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, had called the protest as part of a planned series of demonstrations to push President Emmerson Mnangagwa to agree to a transitional government amid a rapidly deteriorating economy and rising political tensions.

But the police banned the protest in the southern city, citing security concerns. A Bulawayo magistrate is hearing the opposition party’s challenge to the ban.

The protest was planned as a follow up to demonstrations held in the capital, Harare, on Friday when several hundred demonstrators marched in defiance of a police ban that was upheld by the High Court. Police used tear gas and beatings with batons to quell the Harare protest.

Juncker has Successful Surgery; Will Miss G7 Biarritz Summit

The EU says European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has undergone a successful operation to remove his gallbladder but will not be able to attend this weekend’s Group of Seven meeting in Biarritz, France.

EU spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said Juncker’s doctors banned him from traveling in the foreseeable future and plans are still being formulated as to how his absence at the summit will be dealt with. The 28-nation EU is also represented by EU Council President Donald Tusk.

Juncker remained in the hospital Monday after he has had to cut short his summer holiday in Austria and was rushed to his home nation of Luxembourg for the emergency operation.

He is in the final months of his five-year term as Commission president, one of the leading jobs in the 28-nation EU.