Author Archives: Kristine L Ming

First official NBA Store in the Middle East opens in Qatar

Three-time National Basketball Association (NBA) all-star Richard Hamilton, NBA EMEA vice president of global merchandising Vandana Balachandar and Al Mana sports division general manager Tom Foley attended the opening of the first NBA store in the Middle East on Sunday in Doha Festival City, Qatar.

According to The Peninsula Qatar, Balachandar says that the Qatar market is a key player for basketball officials world-wide and hopes the Qatar opening will act as a catalyst for other markets in the Middle East.

She added, “Doha specifically is the market where people showed lot of interest… a lot of people playing the sport and people buying our merchandise and our partnership with beIN Sports,” makes Doha the “perfect place to launch our store in the region.”

“Our first NBA Store in the region will meet the growing demand that Qatari fans have for authentic NBA products,” she claimed.

Foley said, “With the support of the NBA, we have managed to bring this concept to Qatar. The store has great merchandise and delivers the real NBA experience, which will inspire the Qatari basketball consumer.”

Hamilton said they are, “Excited to be in Qatar and happy to have the opportunity to open this store. It’s heartening to see how the game has spread globally, the excitement from fans all over the world, shows that the game has evolved.”

The new store is 162 square-meters and will feature NBA apparel such as t-shirts, footwear, head wear, basketballs and other basketball-related merchandise. Fans will be able to purchase replicas of the Jerseys worn by their favorite players from the United States and the store will feature special youth apparel and interactive zones.

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Armed group clashes shut airport in Libyan capital

TRIPOLI – Heavy clashes broke out in the Libyan capital Tripoli on Monday, leaving at least nine people dead and forcing the airport to suspend all flights.

Heavy gunfire and artillery could be heard from the city center and Mitiga airport said all flights had been suspended until further notice.

The fighting pitted the Special Deterrence Force (Rada), one of the most powerful groups in the city, against a rival group based in Tripoli’s Tajoura neighborhood.

Rada acts as an anti-crime and anti-terrorism unit and controls Mitiga airport and a large prison next to it. It is occasionally targeted by rivals whose members it has arrested.

The bodies of at least nine combatants had been brought to a nearby hospital, a health ministry official said. Local media reported that at least 28 people had been wounded.

Mitiga is a military air base near the center of Tripoli that has been the city’s main airport for civilian flights since the international airport was partly destroyed by fighting in 2014.

The international airport remains out of service.

Rada said the airport had been attacked by an individual called “Bashir ‘the Cow’” and others it had been seeking following their escape from a detention facility controlled by Rada elsewhere in Tripoli.

Rada posted pictures of streets around the airport, showing pick-up trucks mounted with guns and a tank.

Tripoli has been controlled by a patchwork of armed groups since a 2011 uprising that toppled long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi and led to the splintering of the country.

The factions sometimes clash in turf battles or over killings or detentions of their members, but there has been less open fighting in recent months after several groups aligned with the internationally recognized government, including Rada, consolidated their control of large parts of the capital.

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Seven years later: The Arab Spring’s messy endings

On Sunday protesters clashed with police in Tunis. Some young men threw stones and police used tear gas, local reports said.

The protests were staged in the run-up to the seventh anniversary of the ousting of President Zine El Abiding Ben Ali in 2011, an event that signaled the beginning to the Arab Spring.

Most in the region are not looking back at those momentous events. Instead they are dealing with the aftereffects and many governments appear to hope that not discussing the Arab spring will mean the causes of the frustration that led to it will go away.

In December 2010 Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor in Tunisia, burned himself to death in an act that led to protests sweeping the capital. Many of those protesters were angry at a laundry list of problems, including poverty.

The protests in Tunisia over the last week have sought to capitalize on this memory. Some of the clashes this week took place in the capital’s working class suburb of Ettadhamen, where protesters had also torched cars and buildings in 2011.

According to the BBC, unemployment in Tunisia among youth is around 35%. Thus, the economic issues underpinning some of the demands of the Arab spring have not been met. Tunisia is often held up as the one successful example of the Arab Spring. After the dictator fled, the country held elections in October 2011 and the right wing Islamic Ennahda party won a plurality of 37% of the votes.

Three years later, the secular and centrist Nidaa Tounes party triumphed. The successful elections and peaceful transition of power are a sign of healthy democratization. But economically the country has stagnated with no GDP growth since 2010. GDP per capita has even declined from around $4,000 a year to $3,600.

In neighboring Egypt, the Arab spring initially produced the same result as Tunisia. Hosni Mubarak was ousted, and the Muslim Brotherhood won the subsequent elections. However within two years, in July 2013, the military was back in charge. In May 2014, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi won presidential elections with 96% of the vote. However, Egypt’s economy has lumbered on, reaching a revised GDP forecast of a healthy 5.5% growth rate for 2017-2018. Per capita earnings have increased 35% since 2010 to $3,500 per person. Although the data may not reflect the lives of ordinary Egyptians, as a benchmark it shows that one of the region’s largest economies is expanding.

The Arab Spring served as a bookend to one hundred years of a certain cycle of the Middle East’s history. The region was carved up by European powers at the end of the First World War as the Ottoman Empire retreated. The monarchies imposed by the colonial powers were overthrown in Egypt (1952), Iraq (1958) and Libya (1969) leading to an era of Arab nationalist strongmen who dominated during the Cold War.

The Arab Spring ate away and destroyed the legacy of those regimes.

Muammar Gaddafi was lynched in 2011 and Mubarak put out to pasture. Ali Abdullah Saleh hung on in a limited role until he was gunned down by his Houthi rebel allies last year. Only the Assad regime has survived.

If Arab nationalism proved a feature of the 20th century, ossifying in the 21st until it crumbled in 2011, its replacement has not been the Islamic parties that initially benefited from nationalist demise. In most countries in the region, right wing Islamic parties challenged the nationalists on anti-corruption bonafides. They argued that religious piety and decades of repression by the thuggish state security of the old regimes gave them the street credibility to govern. In election, they were successful. Hamas was supposed to come to power after the 2006 elections. The Brotherhood in Egypt and its fellow travelers in Tunisia seem poised for power. They thought that they might govern the ship of state as the Justice and Development Party had in Turkey after its form of Islamic conservatism came to power in 2002.

Instead, the Islamic parties failed or were pushed out of office. The democratization drive of the 1990s and early 2000s seemed to meet its fate with the Arab Spring. Demands for democracy in Bahrain in 2011, which would have brought to power the Shia majority and toppled with Sunni monarchy were crushed by the Gulf Cooperation Council. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, leading members of the GCC, saw that if one Gulf monarchy fell, their own days might be numbered.

This fits the general pattern of the monarchies in the region which have fared well since 2011. Morocco, Jordan and the Gulf Kingdoms appear stable, even if they don’t all see eye to eye. Their economies face issues such as stagnation and the need, in the Gulf, to diversify from the addiction to petrodollars. The current changes in Saudi Arabia ushered in by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman are poised to bring Riyadh into the next century.

Overall though, these regimes have not opened up much for fear that an opening will lead to chaos.

Syria’s regime has also successfully defeated most of the remnants of the Arab Spring. Its trajectory has been different due to the fact that its regime is a non-Sunni minority dictatorship that has successfully navigated the complexities of the region with stunning brutality. Allied with Iran and Russia, the Assad family has held on in the way others could not. Syria became the springboard for the rise of Islamic State as well as the rise of a Kurdish-led polity that have been two of the outcomes of the last seven years. The Syrian war has also empowered Iran and its allies such as Hezbollah.

Iraq, which was initially unaffected by the Arab Spring, was scarred by years of war against ISIS which brought genocide and destruction to its Sunni Arab cities where the group was based. As Iraq heads to elections in May 2018, its fifth since the US-led invasion of 2003, it will be in the shadow of the war against ISIS and the dispute between Baghdad and the Kurdish region.

Israel has looked on the chaos unleashed by the Arab spring with skeptical eyes.

Change in government in Egypt took Cairo’s focus off Sinai which led to an Islamist terrorist insurgency which has now allied with ISIS. The extremists in Sinai have benefited from arms flows from Libya after the weapons stocks of Gaddafi were looted in 2012. Libya’s ongoing civil war feeds tensions in neighboring Egypt where Cairo seeks to bring security to its long border.

The Syrian regime’s need for aid to fight Sunni jihadists led to Iran and Hezbollah forces growing in Syria and along the border with Israel. A million Syrian refugees have come to Jordan, Israel’s neighbor where Jerusalem has a vested interest in the Kingdom remaining stable.

The Arab spring has also brought Israel and some of the Gulf states politically and militarily closer in their common opposition to Iranian hegemonic designs on the region.

In some ways, the last seven years helped integrate Israel into the region’s troubles, but in other ways it is still very much an outsider. It is not invited to peace talks in Astana or Sochi where Russia sits with the Turkish and Iranian leaders. It is also not involved in the US-Jordan-Russia brokered ceasefire that affects southern Syria and the Quneitra region near the Golan. One thing unites Israel with the region and some of the Arab Spring demands. Economic and anti-corruption protests affect people in Tunis as much as Jerusalem or Tehran.

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‘Floating on air’ after surgeons remove 19kg tumour

Watch surgeons in the operating theatre as they remove a tumour weighing 19.5kg (three stone) from Jasmine’s body.

The operation was carried out at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham.

Viewers in the UK can watch Jasmine’s story in full on Surgeons: At the Edge of Life at 21:00 on Monday 15 January on BBC Two, or on iPlayer.

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Huge oil spill left after burning tanker sinks off China

Media captionFootage said to be filmed on Sunday 14 January showed huge plumes of smoke

Chinese ships are racing to clean up a giant oil spill after an Iranian tanker sank in the East China Sea.

The 120 sq km (46 sq mile) oil slick is thought to be made up of heavy fuel that was used to power the vessel.

The Sanchi oil tanker sank on Sunday and officials say all its crew members are dead.

It was carrying 136,000 tonnes of ultra-light crude oil from Iran which generates a toxic underwater slick that would be invisible from the surface.

Both the fuel and the ultra-light oil could cause devastating damage to marine life.

The Sanchi and a cargo ship collided 260km (160 miles) off Shanghai on 6 January, with the tanker then drifting south-east towards Japan.

It caught fire after the collision and burnt for more than a week before sinking off China’s east coast.

Iranian officials now say all 32 crew members – 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis – on the tanker were killed.

On Monday, China Central Television said a search and rescue operation had been cancelled and a clean-up operation had begun after a fire on the surface was extinguished.

They said two ships were spraying the water with chemical agents designed to dissolve the oil.

Media captionBodies were airlifted off the tanker on Saturday

The BBC’s China correspondent Robin Brant says the oil slick has more than doubled in size since Sunday.

The big concern now is for the environmental impact, he said. There could also be a very tall plume of condensate, this ultra-refined form of oil, underneath the surface.

Condensate, which creates products such as jet fuel, is very different from the black crude that is often seen in oil spills.

It is toxic, low in density and considerably more explosive than regular crude.

The cause of the collision is still not known.

Some 13 vessels and an Iranian commando unit took part in the salvage operation, amid bad weather.

On Saturday, salvage workers boarded the vessel and found the bodies of two crew members in a lifeboat.

Only one other body had been found during the week of salvage operations.

The rescue workers also retrieved the ship’s black box but had to leave quickly because of the toxic smoke and high temperatures.

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Black Death ‘spread by humans not rats’

Black rat (Rattus rattus) (c) SPLImage copyright
Science Photo Library

Image caption

The bite of rat-borne fleas infected with the bubonic plague has been blamed for disease transmission during the medieval pandemic

Rats were not to blame for the spread of plague during the Black Death, according to a study.

The rodents and their fleas were thought to have spread a series of outbreaks in 14th-19th Century Europe.

But a team from the universities of Oslo and Ferrara now says the first, the Black Death, can be “largely ascribed to human fleas and body lice”.

The study, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, uses records of its pattern and scale.

The Black Death claimed an estimated 25 million lives, more than a third of Europe’s population, between 1347 and 1351.

Image copyright
Science Photo Library

Image caption

Has the black rat (Rattus rattus) been falsely blamed for spreading plague during the Black Death?

“We have good mortality data from outbreaks in nine cities in Europe,” Prof Nils Stenseth, from the University of Oslo, told BBC News.

“So we could construct models of the disease dynamics [there].”

He and his colleagues then simulated disease outbreaks in each of these cities, creating three models where the disease was spread by:

  • rats
  • airborne transmission
  • fleas and lice that live on humans and their clothes

In seven out of the nine cities studied, the “human parasite model” was a much better match for the pattern of the outbreak.

It mirrored how quickly it spread and how many people it affected.

“The conclusion was very clear,” said Prof Stenseth. “The lice model fits best.”

“It would be unlikely to spread as fast as it did if it was transmitted by rats.

“It would have to go through this extra loop of the rats, rather than being spread from person to person.”

‘Stay at home’

Prof Stenseth said the study was primarily of historical interest – using modern understanding of disease to unpick what had happened during one of the most devastating pandemics in human history.

But, he pointed out, “understanding as much as possible about what goes on during an epidemic is always good if you are to reduce mortality [in the future]“.

Plague is still endemic in some countries of Asia, Africa and the Americas, where it persists in “reservoirs” of infected rodents.

According to the World Health Organization, from 2010 to 2015 there were 3,248 cases reported worldwide, including 584 deaths.

And, in 2001, a study that decoded the plague genome used a bacterium that had come from a vet in the US who had died in 1992 after a plague-infested cat sneezed on him as he had been trying to rescue it from underneath a house.

“Our study suggests that to prevent future spread hygiene is most important,” said Prof Stenseth.

“It also suggests that if you’re ill, you shouldn’t come into contact with too many people. So if you’re sick, stay at home.”

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Tunisia arrests 41 more after fresh anti-austerity protests

TUNIS – Tunisian police arrested 41 more protesters after fresh violent protests against austerity measures in the North African country, the interior ministry said on Monday, bringing the number of arrested to around 850.

Protests which started about a week ago erupted again on Sunday, fuelled by anger at tax and price increases imposed by the government to cut a budget deficit.

A Reuters witness saw youths throwing stones at police cars and setting fire to tires before security forces drove them back with tear gas in the Ettadamen district in Tunis last night. There were also protests in Kram district.

On Monday, the situation was calm.

“The movements (protests) were limited to Ettadamen, Daoura, Hicher and Kram in the capital and in Sidi Bouzid and Feriana,” Khelifa Chibani, spokesman of the interior ministry, said. Some protestors had tried to break into a customs building, he added.

A total of 41 protesters were arrested, he said.

The government pledged on Saturday extra aid for poor families and those in need in response to the demonstrations.

Tunisia has been hailed as the only democratic success of the Arab Spring: the one Arab country to topple a long-serving leader in those uprisings without triggering widespread violence or civil war.

But Tunisia has had nine governments since Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali’s overthrow in 2011, none of which have been able to resolve deep-rooted economic problems. The economy has worsened since a vital tourism sector was nearly wiped out by a wave of deadly militant attacks in 2015.

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Iran frees 440 people arrested during protests

LONDON – Iran has freed 440 people arrested in Tehran during anti-government protests, a judiciary official said, amid continuing uncertainty over how many were detained around the country.

The demonstrations, which began over economic hardships in late December, spread to more than 80 cities and towns and resulted in 25 deaths.

Demonstrators initially vented their anger over high prices and alleged corruption, but the protests took on a rare political dimension, with a growing number of people calling on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down.

Howard Stern Goes Off on Lorde Roger Waters (Youtube/ Howard Stern Show 2018)

Judicial officials have announced more than 1,000 arrests around the country, but lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeghi said last week that at least 3,700 people had been detained.

Several detainees have died in custody, and human rights activists have called for an independent investigation of their cases.

The deputy speaker of parliament, Ali Motahari, was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA on Sunday that based on reports received “one detainee in Tehran and two in other provinces” had died in jail.

The judiciary has confirmed two deaths in custody but said they have committed suicide.

“More than 440 people who were arrested in Tehran riots have been released,” Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi was quoted as saying by Mehr news agency on Sunday.

Dolatabadi said most of those held during the protests were from low income families, and were 18 to 35 years old.

Iran’s judiciary spokesman said on Sunday that Iranian authorities had arrested a dual national who was taking pictures during recent unrest, but gave no details of the person’s nationality.

The United States imposed sanctions on 14 individuals and entities on Friday for human rights abuses in Iran and for supporting Iranian weapons programs, including the head of Iran’s judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani.

Larijani is a close ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Larijani was quoted by ISNA news agency as saying on Monday that imposing sanctions on him as the head of the judiciary was “crossing the line” and said Iran would not remain silent against such action.

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Erdogan: We will ‘strangle’ U.S.-backed force in Syria ‘before it’s even born’

BEIRUT/ISTANBUL – Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan threatened on Monday to “strangle” a planned 30,000-strong US-backed force in Syria “before it’s even born,” as Washington’s backing for Kurdish fighters drove a wedge into relations with one of its main Middle East allies.

The United States announced its support on Sunday for plans for a “border force” to defend territory held by US-backed, Kurdish-led fighters in northern Syria.

The Syrian government of President Bashar Assad responded on Monday by vowing to crush the new force and drive US troops from the country. Assad’s ally Russia called the plans a plot to dismember Syria and place part of it under US control.

But the strongest denunciation came from Erdogan, who has presided as relations between the United States and its biggest Muslim ally within NATO have stretched to the breaking point.

“A country we call an ally is insisting on forming a terror army on our borders,” Erdogan said of the United States in a speech in Ankara. “What can that terror army target but Turkey?”

“Our mission is to strangle it before it’s even born.”

Erdogan said Turkey had completed preparations for an operation in Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria.

The United States has led an international coalition using air strikes and special forces troops to aid fighters on the ground battling Islamic State militants in Syria since 2014. It has about 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria.

The US intervention has taken place on the periphery of a near seven-year civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than 11 million from their homes.

Islamic State was effectively defeated last year, but Washington says its troops are prepared to stay to make sure the Islamist militant group cannot return, also citing the need for meaningful progress in UN-led peace talks.

For much of the war, the United States and Turkey worked together, jointly supporting forces fighting against Assad’s government. But a US decision to back Kurdish fighters in northern Syria in recent years has enraged Ankara.

Meanwhile, the Assad government, backed by Russia and Iran, has made great strides over the past two years in defeating a range of opponents, restoring control over nearly all of Syria’s main cities. It considers the continued US presence a threat to its ambition to restore full control over the entire country.

On Sunday, the US-led coalition said it was working with its militia allies, the mainly Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to set up the new force to patrol the Turkish and Iraqi borders, as well as within Syria along the Euphrates River which separates SDF territory from that held by the government.

Turkey views the Kurdish forces supported by the United States as a national security threat. It says the Syrian Kurdish PYD movement and the affiliated YPG militia, the backbone of the U.S.-backed SDF force in Syria, are allies of the PKK, a banned Kurdish group waging an insurgency in southern Turkey.

“This is what we have to say to all our allies: don’t get in between us and terrorist organizations, or we will not be responsible for the unwanted consequences,” Erdogan said.

“Either you take off your flags on those terrorist organizations, or we will have to hand those flags over to you, Don’t force us to bury in the ground those who are with terrorists,” he said.

“Our operations will continue until not a single terrorist remains along our borders, let alone 30,000 of them.”


Syria’s main Kurdish groups have emerged so far as one of the few winners in the Syrian war, working to entrench their autonomy over large parts of northern Syria. Washington opposes those autonomy plans even as it has backed the SDF.

The Syrian government and the main Kurdish parties have mostly avoided conflict during the civil war, as both sides focused on fighting other groups. But Assad’s rhetoric towards the Kurds has turned increasingly hostile.

Damascus denounced the new border force as a “blatant assault” on its sovereignty, Syrian state media said. It said any Syrian who joined the force would be deemed “a traitor.”

“What the American administration has done comes in the context of its destructive policy in the region to fragment countries … and impede any solutions to the crises,” state news agency SANA cited a foreign ministry source as saying.

Assad’s allies have also chimed in. In an apparent reference to the force, senior Iranian official Ali Shamkhani said it was “doomed to failure,” Fars news agency reported.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “The actions that we see now show that the United States does not want to maintain the territorial integrity of Syria.”

“Fundamentally, this means the breakup of a large territory along the border with Turkey and Iraq,” Lavrov said. The zone would be controlled by groups “under the leadership of the United States,” he added.

The coalition said the Border Security Force would operate under SDF command, and about 230 individuals were currently undergoing training in its inaugural class.

Its ethnic composition will reflect the areas in which the force serves. More Arabs would serve along the Euphrates River Valley and the Iraqi border, and more Kurds would serve in areas of northern Syria, the coalition said.

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Burning Iranian oil tanker finally sinks after Jan. 6 accident

BEIJING – A burning Iranian oil tanker that had drifted into Japan’s exclusive economic zone has sunk after a collision on Jan. 6, Chinese state television said on Sunday.

The ship which had 32 mariners on board, carrying almost 1 million barrels of condensate, has been ablaze for almost a week since it collided with another vessel in the East China Sea.

Two bodies were recovered from the tanker a day earlier, when a four-member salvage team managed to get on board.

According to CCTV, footage filmed off a screen in the Shanghai Maritime Search and Rescue Centre showed the flames of the burning ship rising as high as 800 to 1000 metres.

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