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Saudi authorities have warned that anyone spreading "baseless" rumours on social media could face up to five years in prison and a huge fine.

It comes after a cancelled concert in Riyadh led to reports online that young women were being sexually harassed as they tried to make their way home.

Some of the women have told the BBC of their fears over posting about what happened after the event.

The Saudi entertainment chief appeared to mock their claims in several tweets.

This is the latest development in the cultural and social clash that the opening up of Saudi Arabia from an austere and deeply conservative society to one that now hosts mass entertainment events has engendered.

The much anticipated concert, headlined by the K-Pop band Stray Kids, on the evening of 14 January was called off at the last moment due to high winds. Disappointed fans struggled to find their way home from the venue on the outskirts of the Saudi capital.

 

Reports began appearing on social media saying that girls had gone missing, as well as warnings of sexual harassment. Online at least, there appeared to be panic. Hashtags proliferated, amplifying the sense of jeopardy.

The reality is still unclear.

Many people who say they were there have since stated that no such incidents occurred and that the organisers did a good job in difficult circumstances.

Their case is perhaps strengthened by the fact that as the evening progressed, pictures were posted of men who were supposedly harassing women - but some of these were randomly taken from social media accounts or simply those of celebrities. This trolling undermined the assertions by a number of women that such incidents had taken place.

The head of the Saudi Entertainment Authority, Turki al-Sheikh, subsequently posted a number of tweets that appeared to mock the reports of harassment as entirely made up.

Memes swiftly sprang up, ridiculing the reports of harassment or of girls who had gone missing by a host of online accounts that accused those who had posted or reposted them of lying in order to discredit and embarrass Saudi Arabia.

 

But several women who have spoken to the BBC previously about their concerns over harassment of women at entertainment events in the kingdom insist that some of what was reported was genuine. They concede that this is hard to prove - as there don't appear to be videos or photos to back up the claims.

This is a perennial issue in Saudi Arabia where anyone posting such material puts themselves at risk - the women speaking to the BBC keep their identities hidden and use voice disguise devices when appearing on public forums like Spaces on Twitter.

They say that some of those who posted reports on social media or hosted discussions online about what they believed was happening have received threats and closed down their accounts. They believe that the official reaction is aimed at silencing those who might tarnish the new image of Saudi Arabia as an open, welcoming hub of entertainment in the region.

They fear that it will inhibit women in future from going public with experiences of sexual harassment - which they say is already constrained by the traditional social norms of the Kingdom.

This latest furore over an entertainment event comes weeks after the four-day MDL Beast music festival - also in Riyadh - attracted not only hundreds of thousands of people, but also something of a backlash from conservative elements in Saudi Arabia.

The organisers of the event issued a code of conduct that stipulated that there would be zero tolerance for any form of harassment.

 

Bolstering the sense that the Saudi authorities may indeed be taking the issue seriously was the recent case of a man found guilty of sexual harassment. His name was published in local media - the first time that this has happened.

Supporters of the Saudi crown prince's ambitious project for opening the kingdom up to the world say these are teething troubles, inevitable when such a traditional culture is undergoing such huge changes.

But for the women who voiced their concern over what they believe happened on 14 January, the fear is that their freedom to speak out has been further curtailed.

source: BBC.com

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Scientists say the plant enset, an Ethiopian staple, could be a new superfood and a lifesaver in the face of climate change.

The banana-like crop has the potential to feed more than 100 million people in a warming world, according to a new study.

The plant is almost unknown outside of Ethiopia, where it is used to make porridge and bread.

Research suggests the crop can be grown over a much larger range in Africa.

"This is a crop that can play a really important role in addressing food security and sustainable development," said Dr Wendawek Abebe of Hawassa University in Awasa, Ethiopia.

Enset or "false banana" is a close relative of the banana, but is consumed only in one part of Ethiopia.

 

The banana-like fruit of the plant is inedible, but the starchy stems and roots can be fermented and used to make porridge and bread.

EnsetIMAGE SOURCE, RBG KEW
Image caption,
The plant is a close relative of the banana and looks similar to its 'cousin'

Enset is a staple in Ethiopia, where around 20 million people rely on it for food, but elsewhere it has not been cultivated, although wild relatives - which are not considered edible - grow as far south as South Africa, suggesting the plant can tolerate a much wider range.

Using agricultural surveys and modelling work, scientists predicted the potential range of enset over the next four decades. They found the crop could potentially feed more than 100 million people and boost food security in Ethiopia and other African countries, including Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.

Study researcher Dr James Borrell, of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said planting enset as a buffer crop for lean times could help boost food security.

"It's got some really unusual traits that make it absolutely unique as a crop," he said. "You plant it at any time, you harvest it at any time and it's perennial. That's why they call it the tree against hunger."

Ethiopia is a major centre of crop domestication in Africa, home to coffee and many other crops.

 
EnsetIMAGE SOURCE, RBG KEW
Image caption,
Enset reaches 10 metres (39 feet) tall

Climate change is predicted to seriously affect yields and distribution of staple food crops across Africa and beyond.

There is growing interest in seeking new plants to feed the world, given our reliance on a few staple crops. Nearly half of all the calories we eat come from three species - rice, wheat and maize.

"We need to diversify the plants we use globally as a species because all our eggs are in a very small basket at the moment," said Dr Borrell.

The research is published in Environmental Research Letters.

source: BBC.com

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A new, “reliable indicator” of a person’s health problems, ones that may cause early death, has been found by a team of international scientists. Using artificial intelligence (AI) techniques, researchers studied the eyes of nearly 47,000 people and concluded that the state of our retina may signal a heightened risk of death.

The study, published this week in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, is based on pinpointing the difference between one’s biological ‘real’ age and one’s chronological age. This can be measured by examining the condition of the retina, the nerve tissue at the back of the eye that has cells sensitive to light.

The observational study, which only puts forward certain conclusions without establishing a cause, involved data from the long-term study UK Biobank. Over 80,000 retina images taken from 46,969 adults aged between 40 and 69 years old were analyzed through computer algorithms during an average monitoring period of 11 years. A proportion of so-called “fast agers,” or people whose retinas looked older than their real age, were calculated.

Large retinal age gaps in years were significantly associated with 49%-67% higher risks of death, other than from cardiovascular disease or cancer,” researchers found. They also suggested this could be used as a screening tool, measuring the retina’s age to predict increased mortality risk.

While the eye tissue naturally deteriorates as a person grows older, the recent research learned to measure what it calls a “retinal age gap.” Being unique to each individual, biological ageing is a better indicator of potential serious health conditions, researchers say. The overall health of the body’s circulatory system and the brain might be studied through looking at the retina, allowing for the evaluation of underlying pathological processes.

source: rt.com

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The Earth’s molten interior is cooling faster than expected, which could turn the planet into a cold, inactive world similar to neighboring Mercury and Mars sooner than previously thought, researchers have warned.

The study, published in the Earth and Planetary Science Letters journal, examined how well bridgmanite – the primary mineral found at the boundary between the planet’s core and mantle layers – conducts heat from the hot, molten core to the surface.

Researchers irradiated a bridgmanite crystal with pulsed lasers on a diamond anvil press to simulate the effects of intense heat and pressure at the boundary. They found that the rate at which the mineral conducted heat was “about 1.5 times higher than assumed.”

The findings mean that the cooling of the Earth’s core is speeding up, and it is “becoming inactive much faster than expected."

The rapid cooling could in turn lead to an earlier slowing-down of processes like plate tectonics, which are related to the movements of large underground slabs composed of the crust and outer mantle layer, and volcanic activity.

This heat exchange from the planet’s core helps generate the Earth’s magnetic field, which is understood to be protecting the planet’s atmosphere from solar radiation and allowing life to thrive.

The rapid cooling may accelerate even more in the future, since cooled bridgmanite transforms into a mineral known as post-perovskite, which conducts heat even more quickly.

“Our results could give us a new perspective on the evolution of the Earth’s dynamics. They suggest that Earth, like the other rocky planets Mercury and Mars, is cooling and becoming inactive much faster than expected,” said ETH Zurich Earth scientist Motohiko Murakami, who led the study.

However, it remains unclear exactly how long it will take for thermal convection currents within the mantle to stop entirely. Murakami said that not enough is known about such events to “pin down their timing.”

Besides a better understanding of mantle convection in “spatial and temporal terms,”Murakami noted that any predictive timeline would also need to account for how mantle dynamics are affected by the decay of radioactive elements in the core, which is a key source of the Earth’s internal heat.

source: rt.com

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Airlines that have canceled flights due to 5G concerns include Emirates, Air India, Japan Airlines, and All Nippon Airways

Prominent airlines from Japan, India, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have suspended flights to airports across the United States after expressing concern over the deployment of 5G.

Emirates, Air India, Japan Airlines, and All Nippon Airways canceled flights to New York, New Jersey, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Seattle, among other US cities.

Air India announced on Tuesday that it would no longer operate flights the next day to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, and New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport “due to deployment of the 5G communications in USA.”

On the same day, Emirates canceled flights to at least nine US cities, again “due to operational concerns associated with the planned deployment of 5G mobile network services in the U.S,” while Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways canceled at least 13 flights.

Airlines and the FAA previously repeatedly voiced concerns about C-band 5G potentially disrupting airplane instruments, namely radio altimeters. So far, the US aviation body cleared less than a half of the nation’s commercial fleet for low-visibility landings at the airports potentially affected by 5G interference. International airlines were also seriously affected, with All Nippon Airways saying that while its Boeing 787 aircraft could operate under the new guidelines, 777’s could not.

In response to concerns, AT&T and Verizon postponed the Wednesday rollout of 5G service near some airports, but not all.

Airlines For America warned the White House this week that American commerce would “grind to a halt” if the deployment was not delayed, and that “the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded.”

“This means that on a day like yesterday, more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers would be subjected to cancellations, diversions or delays,” the organization said.

source: rt.com

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The pandemic has made the world's wealthiest far richer but has led to more people living in poverty, according to the charity Oxfam.

Lower incomes for the world's poorest contributed to the death of 21,000 people each day, its report claims.

But the world's 10 richest men have more than doubled their collective fortunes since March 2020, Oxfam said.

Oxfam typically releases a report on global inequality at the start of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos.

That event usually sees thousands of corporate and political leaders, celebrities, campaigners, economists and journalists gather in the Swiss ski resort for panel discussions, drinks parties and schmoozing.

However for the second year running, the meeting (scheduled for this week) will be online-only after the emergence of the Omicron variant derailed plans to return to an in-person event.

This week's discussions will include the likely future path of the pandemic, vaccine equity and the energy transition.

Danny Sriskandarajah, Oxfam GB's chief executive, said the charity timed the report each year to coincide with Davos to attract the attention of economic, business and political elites.

"This year, what's happening is off the scale," he said. "There's been a new billionaire created almost every day during this pandemic, meanwhile 99% of the world's population are worse off because of lockdowns, lower international trade, less international tourism, and as a result of that, 160 million more people have been pushed into poverty."

"Something is deeply flawed with our economic system," he added.

According to Forbes figures cited by the charity, the world's 10 richest men are: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bernard Arnault and family, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Ballmer and Warren Buffet.

While collectively their wealth grew from $700bn to $1.5tn between March 2020 and November 2021, there is significant variation between them, with Mr Musk's fortune growing by more than 1,000%, while Mr Gates' rose by a more modest 30%.

 

Oxfam's decision to measure the growth from the start of the pandemic, when global share prices plummeted, also skews the findings slightly.

The wealth of the world's richest is typically tied up in their stock holdings, which fell sharply in March 2020, meaning the subsequent growth was from this lower base.

If Oxfam had measured from just before the pandemic began, the growth would have been less pronounced.

However, one of the report's authors Max Lawson told the BBC: "If you take the wealth of billionaires in mid-February 2020 instead, we estimate that the increase in the top ten richest men is more like 70% - which would still represent a record breaking increase, and something the like of which we have never seen before."

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How does Oxfam work out the figures?

Oxfam's report is based on data from the Forbes Billionaires List and the annual Credit Suisse Global Wealth report, which gives the distribution of global wealth going back to 2000.

The Forbes survey uses the value of an individual's assets, mainly property and land, minus debts, to determine what he or she "owns". The data excludes wages or income.

 

The methodology has been criticised in the past as it means that a student with high debts, but with high future earning potential, for example, would be considered poor under the criteria used.

Oxfam also says that due to the fact prices have risen during the pandemic, it has adjusted for inflation using the US Consumer Price Index (CPI), which tracks how fast the cost of living is increasing over time.

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Oxfam's report, which was also based on data from the World Bank, said a lack of access to healthcare, hunger, gender-based violence and climate breakdown contributed to one death every four seconds.

It said 160 million more people were living on less than $5.50 (£4.02) a day than would have been without the impact of the Covid pandemic.

The World Bank uses $5.50 a day as a measure of poverty in upper-middle-income countries.

The report also says:

  • The pandemic is forcing developing countries to slash social spending as national debts rise
  • Gender equality has been set back, with 13 million fewer women in work now than in 2019 and over 20 million girls at risk of never returning to school
  • Ethnic minority groups have been hardest hit by Covid, including UK Bangladeshis and the US's black population

"Even during a global crisis our unfair economic systems manage to deliver eye-watering windfalls for the wealthiest but fail to protect the poorest," Mr Sriskandarajah said.

He said political leaders now had an historic opportunity to back bolder economic strategies to "change the deadly course we are on".

Girls coming home from school in LiberiaIMAGE SOURCE, GETTY IMAGES
Image caption,
Many girls are unlikely to return to school after the pandemic, according to Oxfam

That should include more progressive tax regimes, which impose higher levies on capital and wealth, with the revenue spent on "quality universal healthcare and social protection for all" Mr Sriskandarajah said.

Oxfam is also calling for the intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines to be waived to enable wider production and faster distribution.

Earlier this month the president of the World Bank, David Malpass, voiced his concerns over widening global inequality, arguing the impact of inflation and measures to tackle it were likely to cause more damage to poorer countries.

"The outlook for the weaker countries is still to fall further and further behind," he said.

source: BBC.com

 

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Rabat - Spain Medgaz has reported  54 hours of "restrictions" in the transfer according to Spanish outlet OKDiario. The restriction took place from November 29 to December 1. 

Medgaz, a Spanish firm dedicated to the development of gas infrastructure in the country, announced the restrictions on November 30.

The gas "restrictions" happened in the operations of gas transfers via the Medgaz pipeline, which connects Algeria directly to the port of Almeria.

The company did not link the gas supply shortage to the "restriction of the flow through the [pipeline] on the Algerian side." The International Energy Agency’s Executive Director Fatih Biral however blamed “the deliberate policies of energy producers” for Europe’s soaring energy prices.

The restrictions occurred only one month after Algeria decided not to renew the Maghreb Europe gas agreement amid rising prices for gas in Europe ahead of a particularly cold winter.

The issue is creating a lift in EU politics, with Spain and France among others demanding reform of the European gas market, while a bloc led by Germany opposes such changes.

Pedro Sanchez has placed hope in this pipeline to face the repercussions of the end of the Maghreb Europe agreement.

Spain has been suffering a reduced gas flow since November 24, when Enagas reported on the daily evolution of gas stock. The report confirmed 13 hours of minimum distribution of gas.

Algeria has traditionally supplied 45% of the gas consumed in Spain. The Maghreb Gas Pipeline had been in operation since November 1996, transporting over 13,500 million cubic meters of natural gas each year.

Amid tough political tensions between Morocco and Algeria, the Algerian president decided to terminate the Maghreb Europe agreement on October 31. Now, Medgaz is the only firm that remains active in supplying gas from Algeria to Spain.

British company Sound Energy announced on November 30 that it is bidding for a  “gas sales and purchase” agreement with Moroccan Office Electricity and Water Office (ONEE) to revive the Maghreb Europe Gas Pipeline.

Source: Morocco World News

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Fez - The US-based Predator Oil & Gas Holdings has announced the discovery of a new gas field likely to be commercially viable in Guercif, northeastern Morocco.

A reassessment of the potential of the Guercif MOU-4 prospect led to this discovery, compared to the last update published in 2020 by SLR Consulting, an Irlandese international environmental consultancy company.

The firm's report indicated that the prior gross estimate for the project was 393 billion cubic feet, with Predator owning a 75 percent stake in 295 billion cubic feet.

Based on a higher gas initially in place (GIIP) estimate for the thicker reservoirs found in the MOU-4 discovery, the net reserves attributable to Predator's interest now reflect 708 billion cubic feet of gas.

In a Competent Persons Report (CPR) document published on January 13, SLR announced that “based on the potential size of the MOU-4 well structure, the project is likely to be commercially viable.”

The company pledged that once reserves are proven and the perimeter is developed it will seriously examine the likelihood of manufacturing compressed natural gas (CNG) on-site.

Predator intends to serve the industrial sector on a limited scale, based on Morocco's current pricing per mcf (thousand cubic feet) of $11.40. “The Company will consider all options to monetize its asset during 2022,” it said in its statement.

The net capital expenses for Predator's 75% ownership in a CNG pilot development are $12.21 million, with operational costs of $2.3/mcf, according to the SLR Consulting report.

“The Guercif license covers an area of 7,269 km²,” according to the company.

“We are pleased to report the results of the CPR confirming the continuity of the MOU-1 and MOU-4 structures which has established material Contingent Gas Resources net to the Company of 295 BCF and an unrisked ENPV of US$592million,” said Paul Griffiths, CEO of Predator Oil & Gas.

Predator Gas Ventures Ltd contracted with the Star Valley Rig 101 to start drilling the MOU-1 well in northeastern Morocco on June 16, marking the start of Predator's Guercifdigging activities.

Seven days ago, Chariot, a British gas exploration company, announced a “promising” gas discovery at the Anchois-2 offshore well off Morocco's northern Larache coast. In an upbeat statement, the company said the significant gas discovery considerably surpassed its initial expectations.

Source: Morocco World News.

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A monthly benefit introduced by the US government in 2021 amid a sharp surge in the cost of living and the continued spread of Covid-19 saw its last payout in December, leaving millions of American families in a cleft stick.

This weekend marks the first time in six months that families across the US won’t get a monthly payment from the federal child tax credit program.

The legislation provided low- and middle-income parents with up to $3,000 for every child aged six to 17, and $3,600 for every child under age six. The payments were income-based and began to phase out for individuals earning more than $75,000 and married couples earning more than $150,000. The first half was delivered in monthly payments from July to December.

Monthly child tax credits, worth up to $300 per child per month, expired after Congress failed to renew them with President Joe Biden’s social spending plan known as the Build Back Better Act. The legislation is stalled in the Senate.

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), some 36 million families, or about 60 million children, received the payments each month. 

Some 10 million children are currently at risk of falling below the poverty line without the enhanced tax credit, according to data provided by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, as quoted by Fox Business.

The US authorities pledged that the benefits would be renewed for years to come. However, parents could be waiting months for the next payment to arrive with Congress deadlocked.

“This is devastating for families,” Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus on Children, told Bloomberg.

“This disruption is creating a chaotic situation, particularly for lower-income families. Many have come to rely on it as a huge piece of how they are making ends meet,” he added.
source: rt.com

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Rabat - The US has welcomed UNSG personal envoy for Western Sahara first regional visit, which kicked off earlier this week with a high-profile meeting in Morocco.

De Mistura arrived in Morocco on Wednesday. A Moroccan delegation, including Morocco’s Foreign Affairs Minister Nasser Bourita and Permanent Ambassador to UN Omar Hilale welcomed and hosted de Mistura for wide-ranging discussions on the Sahara dossier on Thursday.

The State Department said the US welcomes the first regional visit of de Mistura.

“We support his efforts in restarting a credible political process leading to an enduring and mutually acceptable political solution to the Western Sahara conflict,” the State Department said in a tweet.

During their talks with the newly appointed UN envoy for Western Sahara, the Moroccan delegation renewed the country’s commitment to the UN-led political process.

The talks also served as an opportunity for the Moroccan delegation to emphasize that Morocco’s sovereignty over the region is non-negotiable.

The Moroccan delegation stressed the fundamentals of Morocco’s position on the Sahara conflict, citing King Mohammed VI’s speeches on the 45th and 46th anniversaries of the Green March.

In both speeches, the monarch emphasized Morocco’s attachment to its southern provinces and recalled the credibility and effectiveness of the Autonomy Plan as the basis to end the conflict over Western Sahara.

De Mistura’s regional visit is ongoing. He recently arrived in the Tindouf camps, where he will meet with Polisario representatives, before moving to Algiers for talks with the Algerian government.

He will then travel to Mauritania, the final stop of his first regional visit as the UNSG’s personal envoy for Western Sahara.

The UN appointed de Mistura in August as Western Sahara envoy. He replaced former German president Horst Kohler who resigned from this position in 2019 due to health issues. 

As Kohler was able to inspire a “new momentum” by convening the conflicting parties to two roundtable discussions in Geneva, his resignation caused consternation both among observers and diplomats of the parties to the conflict. 

It remains to be seen whether de Mistura will be able to convince the parties to the conflict to commit to a new round of talks amid rising tensions, including the severance of ties and the simmering hostility between Algeria and Morocco.

Source: Morocco World News by 

Safaa Kasraoui

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Rabat - The Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jose Manuel Albares, has commented again on the absence of the Moroccan ambassador to Spain from her posting in Madrid.

In an interview with Spanish news outlet ElDiario, Albares dedicated a long passage to bilateral relations between Spain and Morocco.

Among the questions the chief of Spanish diplomacy answered were those asking Albares whether he expects the Moroccan ambassador to Spain to return to Madrid soon.

In response, the Spanish FM said, “It is an answer and a decision that only Moroccans can give.”

He added, “The Moroccan embassy in Spain is open and there is a charge d'affaires in charge of it. Of course I would like the Moroccan ambassador to return, but the relationship between the Spanish Foreign Minister and the Moroccan Embassy here and their charge d'affaires is very fluid.”

Karima Benyaich, Morocco’s envoy to Spain, returned to Rabat for consultations last year a few months after the Spanish government allowed Polisario leader Brahim Ghali to enter its territory.

Ghali used a fake name and identity to enter Spain for hospitalization in April, a situation that created an unprecedented crisis between Morocco and Spain.

In addition, Albares also commented on Spain’s cooperation with Morocco and the current state of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

The Spanish FM said the two countries are building a 21st century relationship, noting: “We are looking to the future. The relationship between Spain and Morocco is a rich and complex relationship in the best sense of the world, with a network of interests and different aspects that we have to advance.” 

Albares recalled King Mohammed VI’s speech in August, saying that it “is rare for the monarch of Morocco to mention a specific country in his speeches and he does not speak very often either.”

In the speech, the monarch said he was personally monitoring the state of Spain-Morocco cooperation and that he hoped to see improvement in relations between the two countries. 

The Spanish government expressed satisfaction with the monarch’s position, increasing attempts to restore Madrid-Rabat cooperation after the Brahim Ghali episode.

Albares said the King is encouraging dialogue between the two countries to restore normalcy to their bilateral ties.

Regarding irregular migration cooperation, Albares asserted that he wants more collaboration with Morocco in the field.

He praised Morocco's role in channeling irregular migratory flows, adding that only in the Christmas period, in a period of about 15 days, more than 1,000 people were prevented from jumping over the fences of Ceuta and Melilla.”

The Spanish official said that it would be very difficult to achieve such an outcome without Morocco’s collaboration.

“That is what makes it a strategic partner for Spain and also for Europe. Obviously I am not satisfied with that, but I want to go further. And I understand that Morocco is also in that line,” he said.

 

Source: Morocco World News.

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Novak Djokovic has been deported from Australia after losing a last-ditch court bid to stay in the country.

Judges rejected a challenge launched by the unvaccinated tennis star after the government cancelled his visa on "health and good order" grounds.

Djokovic said he was "extremely disappointed" but accepted the ruling. He left on a flight to Dubai on Sunday.

It marks the end of a 10-day saga, in which Djokovic fought to stay to defend his title in the Australian Open.

Djokovic's supporters fell silent outside the courtroom as the decision was announced on the eve of his opening match in the tournament. One fan told the BBC that her summer would be "empty" without the 34-year-old playing at the Open.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed "the decision to keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe".

Supporters of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic listen to the court hearing at the offices of his legal team that will decide whether or not he can stay in Australia and defend his Open title, in Melbourne, Australia, January 16, 2022.IMAGE SOURCE, REUTERS
Image caption,
Supporters of the Serbian tennis star gathered outside the court on Sunday

Djokovic launched the case after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used his ministerial powers to cancel the Serbian player's visa, arguing that his presence in the country risked fanning anti-vaccine sentiment.

It was the second time his visa had been revoked, after a first cancellation over not following Covid entry rules was overturned by a different judge.

During Sunday's court hearing before a three-judge panel, Djokovic's defence unsuccessfully argued that the grounds given by the government were "invalid and illogical".

Chief Justice James Allsop said the federal court's ruling was based on the legality of the minister's decision, not on whether it was the right decision to make.

Full reasoning for the ruling will be made public in the coming days, he said.

Deportation orders usually include a three-year ban on returning to Australia, though this can be waived in certain circumstances.

There has been much public anger in Australia over the player's attempt to enter the country without being vaccinated against Covid-19. The federal government has repeatedly said people must comply with the strict laws in place to deal with the pandemic, and that no-one is "above the law".

Djokovic was originally granted a medical exemption to enter Australia by two different independent health panels - one commissioned by Tennis Australia, the other by the state government of Victoria - after testing positive for coronavirus in mid-December.

However, the Australian Border Force detained him on 5 January for not meeting federal coronavirus requirements, and his visa was revoked.

A judge later overturned that decision, but the government stepped in last Friday to revoke the visa again, saying doing so was in the public interest.

Although Djokovic is not vaccinated against Covid-19, he has not actively promoted anti-vax disinformation. However, Australian anti-vaxxers have been using the hashtag on social media.

Novak Djokovic of Serbia plays a backhand during a practice session ahead of the 2022 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 14, 2022 in Melbourne, AustraliaIMAGE SOURCE, GETTY IMAGES
Image caption,
Djokovic had been training in Melbourne for the Australian Open

The visa battle is also at the centre of a political row in the country.

 

In his statement on Sunday, Mr Morrison said the government was "prepared to take the decisions and actions necessary to protect the integrity of our borders".

But Australian opposition politician Kristina Keneally said Mr Morrison had made himself a "laughing stock" by mishandling the Djokovic case, as she questioned why the unvaccinated player was granted a visa in the first place.

Mr Morrison and his government also faced anger from Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

"He [Djokovic] came to Australia with a medical exemption proposal and then you were mistreating him for 10 days. Why did you do it? Doing a witch hunt against him? This is something that no one can understand," he said.

The men's tennis governing body ATP called the saga a "deeply regrettable series of events", while British tennis star Andy Murray said the situation was "not good" for anyone.

Djokovic on Sunday said he was "uncomfortable" with the focus placed on him as a result of the the visa row, adding: "I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love."

The Australian Open could have seen Djokovic make history by winning his 21st Grand Slam.

Italy's Salvatore Caruso, ranked 150th in the world, is the "lucky loser" who will now replace Djokovic in his match against Serbia's Miomir Kecmanovic on Monday.

source: BBC.com