Monthly Archives: July 2019

Afghans to choose new leader amid fears of attacks – National

KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghans choose a new president Saturday in a runoff election between two candidates who both promise to improve ties with the West, combat corruption and guide the nation with a steadier hand than outgoing leader Hamid Karzai.

The Taliban, who have intensified attacks ahead of the vote, issued a new warning to stay away from the polls. Afghan troops stepped up security sharply, erecting more checkpoints, searching cars and banning trucks from the streets of the capital, Kabul.

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With the insurgency showing no signs of weakening as foreign combat troops prepare to withdraw at the end of the year, the winner will have the task of bolstering Afghanistan’s security forces while weighing the possibility of a negotiated peace with the militants. And he will have to find a way to improve the nation’s infrastructure at a time when international aid for Afghanistan is drying up.

Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, whose differences lie more in personality than in policy, each say they would sign a long-delayed security pact with the United States. That would allow nearly 10,000 American troops to remain in the country for two more years to conduct counterterrorism operations and continue training and advising the ill-prepared Afghan army and police.

Karzai, who has grown increasingly alienated from his one-time U.S. allies during his two terms in office, has refused to sign the pact. The issue has gained urgency as Afghans have watched Islamic extremists seize large sections of Iraq nearly three years after U.S. troops withdrew from that country. Iraq’s Shiite-led government had discussed with the Americans the possibility of a residual U.S. force but the two sides were unable to reach an agreement.

“If the foreign troops leave Afghanistan, the same thing will happen,” said Afghan cleric Ghulam Hussain Naseri during a Friday sermon in a Kabul mosque.

The inconclusive first round on April 5 saw a massive turnout with voters excited about participating in the country’s first peaceful transfer of authority and choosing from eight candidates, a crowded field that threw traditional alliances in flux. Analysts have predicted less enthusiasm and a tighter race in the second round following shifting endorsements from various power brokers and other community leaders.

Abdullah emerged as the front-runner after he garnered 45 per cent of votes in the initial balloting; Ahmadzai was second with 31.6 per cent. The two have since campaigned as much for the support from their six former rivals as from Afghans themselves.

“It is very essential for whoever becomes the president to work hard for national unity and to provide opportunities for talented and well-educated people regardless of whether they were their supporters or if they supported the opposition,” said Jawed Kohistani, a political and military analyst in Kabul.

He also said the winner must move swiftly to establish an “environment of trust” with neighbouring countries and the West. “If we don’t have the support of the international community, I don’t think either of these two candidates can do magic to secure this country or have progress and development.”

Abdullah, 53, whose mother was a Tajik, draws his support mainly from that ethnicity although his father was Pashtun. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, he served as adviser to and spokesman for Tajik warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated by al-Qaida two days before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Later that year, Abdullah became the face of Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban movement after the U.S. toppled the Taliban regime, giving frequent press conferences to international media. He served as foreign minister and then was the runner-up in Karzai’s disputed re-election in 2009.

Ahmadzai, a 64-year-old Pashtun, received a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University, taught at Johns Hopkins University and worked at the World Bank. He gave up U.S. citizenship to run in the 2009 election, but received only 3 per cent of the vote. With Karzai constitutionally barred from a third term, Ahmadzai has gained the support of many Pashtuns who voted against him five years ago.

“Ashraf Ghani is the best possible candidate,” said Abdul Hakim Jan, a 24-year-old university student in the southern city of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban. “He has a history that has proved his potential to be a great leader.”

However, Gul Ayat Badazia, a 37-year-old businessman in Kandahar, said he would not go to the polls, pointing to widespread allegations of corruption in the government and security concerns.

“No matter who wins or loses, they will all more likely be allies of the Americans and will think about their needs and wants rather than ours,” he said. “It’s like we are risking our lives for almost nothing.”

Michael O’Hanlon of the Washington-based Brookings Institution think-tank said both men would make good and competent presidents so an important factor was how others would react to their leadership.

“My guess is that Abdullah will win with a solid percentage, but we will have to see!” he said in an email interview. “I could believe either outcome. Pashtuns may decide to rally around Ghani more now that they sense an Abdullah win, for example.”

Interior Minister Mohammad Umar Daudzai said 180,000 police and soldiers would be deployed for Saturday’s vote, which comes eight days after Abdullah narrowly escaped an assassination attempt.

“The threat level is higher compared with what it was in the first round, but on the other hand we also have gained experience and we have better equipment,” he told reporters Friday at a news conference. “We are much better prepared to prevent any possible attack by the terrorists.”

Shah Mirza, 38, who sells vegetable at the side of a road in Kabul, said he couldn’t afford the risk of voting. He said the bombings targeting Abdullah as his convoy left a campaign rally in western Kabul were just about 600 metres (yards) away from his stall.

“I don’t want to come out of my house on Saturday. I am afraid that an attack could happen at any minute,” he said. “If I am killed, who will take care of my children?”

Associated Press writers Mirwais Khan in Kandahar and Kim Gamel in Cairo contributed to this report.

©2014The Canadian Press

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34 sick in Canada following salmonella outbreak linked to chia seeds

TORONTO – A salmonella outbreak linked to chia seeds has left at least 21 Americans and 34 Canadians from four provinces sick, health officials say.

In Canada, six people in B.C., four in Alberta, 22 in Ontario and two in Quebec have reported sickness from eating products with sprouted chia seeds. Last month, the Public Health Agency of Canada recalled the products and removed them from grocery store shelves because of possible salmonella contamination. Five cases led to hospitalizations.

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On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. issued a new warning to consumers who may eat chia powder, made from ground chia seeds and often added to smoothies and other foods for its health benefits. There, 21 people in 12 states have fallen ill.

READ MORE: National recall issued after salmonella outbreak linked to chia seeds

The Canadian recall includes chia seed products under the brands Organic Traditions, Back 2 the Garden, Intuitive Path SuperFoods, Harmonic Arts Botanical Dispensary, Naturallyorganic, and Peter’s Gluten Free.

Read the Canadian consumer warning here.

Read the CDC consumer warning here.

The products have a long shelf life, so health officials say they might still be in people’s homes. If you have these brands of chia seeds in your home, don’t eat them.

Chia seeds have been touted as a nutrition supplement that help in weight loss.

Those suffering from a salmonella infection usually experience fever, digestive problems and chills.

In healthy people it often clears up without treatment.

– With files from the Canadian Press

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City looks to smart meters for utility readings – Saskatoon

SASKATOON – A report heading to Saskatoon’s planning and operations committee is recommending the development and implementation of smart meters.

Administration officials said if the recommendation is accepted, it could save the city tens of millions of dollars over a 20-year period while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

A study carried out last fall looked at the feasibility and cost of installing smart meters for power and water readings.

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Related

  • SaskPower reports small number of smart meter concerns

  • Smart meter installation begins in Saskatchewan

“Our investigation confirmed an AMI system offers many benefits to our customers and the City,” said Trevor Bell, the director of Saskatoon Light & Power.

“Customers would receive monthly bills based on the actual amount of electricity and water they use. This would eliminate reliance on estimated usage between meter readings, and help residents manage their electricity and water,” said Bell.

The system would also be able to detect unusual consumption patterns.

The total capital cost is estimated at $24.31 million and system operation costs are estimated at $22.1 million. The project would pay for itself in just over 11 years with total projected savings of $76.1 million over a 20-year period.

Some of those savings will come from the costs associated with manual meter readings. Along with reduced labour costs, there would be a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions – the equivalent of removing over 685 cars from Saskatoon roads each year.

Revenue lost from meter failures would also be reduced.

If the recommendation is approved, customers who already have smart meters installed would have them read electronically by the end of 2015.

SaskPower and SaskEnergy are currently replacing and upgrading meters in Saskatchewan with smart meters in a joint project.

The report heads to the planning and operations committee on June 17.

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Winners and losers from the E3 video-game show

LOS ANGELES – The 2014 Electronic Entertainment Expo wasn’t as dramatic as last year’s, when Sony and Microsoft were battling for attention in advance of the fall debuts of their new game consoles, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

GALLERY: New games announced at E3

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This year, the focus was on new games to play on those machines, so those of us who attended E3 at the Los Angeles Convention Center this week had a lot more fun. And the competition is far from over. Here are some winners and losers from the video-game industry’s biggest convention.

PLAYSTATION VS. XBOX:

Consumers have bought a few million more PS4s than Xbox Ones, but that doesn’t mean Sony can rest on its laurels. Upcoming PS4 games include the steampunk thriller “The Order: 1886,” new installments of the popular “Uncharted” and “LittleBigPlanet” franchises, and a promising batch of games from smaller studios, like the psychedelic journey “Entwined” and the sci-fi exploration game “No Man’s Sky.” The Xbox One countered with the goofy “Sunset Overdrive,” the haunting “Ori and the Blind Forest” and new chapters of the “Halo,” ”Forza Horizon” and “Crackdown” series.

WINNER: Xbox, by a very slim margin.

NINTENDO VS. THE SKEPTICS:

The Wii U has had a rough time in the market, but Nintendo rewarded its diehard fans this year. There’s a new “Legend of Zelda” game (finally!) on the way. “Splatoon” brings Nintendo-style whimsy to the online shooter. “Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker” is a delightful puzzle game. And the Amiibo line, which connects real-world toys of Mario, Donkey Kong and the rest of Nintendo’s heroes to their digital counterparts, has collectors psyched.

WINNER: Nintendo.

READ MORE: Montreal game developers steal the show at E3 2014

OCULUS VS. MORPHEUS:

The most heavily hyped technology at E3 involved strapping on a headset and immersing your senses in 3-D virtual reality. Sony showed a few simple demos for its Project Morpheus device, letting you swing swords at a dummy or luge down a busy highway. The Oculus Rift inserts you right into Sega’s terrifying “Alien: Isolation,” a Mario-style platform game called “Lucky’s Tale” and the time-bending shooter “SuperHot.” I’m still skeptical about VR’s viability — neither headset is particularly comfortable — but Oculus is clearly further along.

WINNER: Oculus.

MULTIPLAYER VS. SOLO:

The buzziest demos at E3 were 2K Games’ four-versus-one monster hunt “Evolve,” Ubisoft’s five-on-five SWAT team drama “Rainbow Six: Siege” and Nintendo’s four-on-four paintball competition “Splatoon.” There were a few solo acts like Sony’s “The Order” on the floor, but if you want to play the hottest games this year and next, you had better find some friends.

WINNER: multiplayer.

MOVING VS. SITTING:

Motion-detecting game devices that force you to get off the sofa were all the rage a few years ago, thanks to Nintendo’s Wii and Microsoft’s Kinect. But now that you can buy an Xbox One without Kinect, you can sit down. I saw just one new Kinect game — Harmonix’s “Dance Central Spotlight” — and nothing in the Wii U lineup will burn any calories.

WINNER: sitting.

©2014The Canadian Press

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B.C. pledges end to aboriginal violence

NORTH VANCOUVER, B.C. – British Columbia’s premier signed an agreement with First Nations and Metis leaders Friday pledging to end violence against aboriginal women and girls, acknowledging that a history of colonialism and racism has left scars that continue to put the province’s most vulnerable people in danger.

But the memorandum of understanding did not come with any specific plans for new policies or programs and follows criticism that the government has been slow to heed previous calls for change.

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Premier Christy Clark gathered at a First Nations community centre in North Vancouver to sign an agreement with the First Nations Summit, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the B.C. Assembly of First Nations and Metis Nation B.C.

The one-page document says the signatories recognize that aboriginal women and girls suffer disproportionately high levels of violence, which it says is rooted in years of “colonial policies and practices that sought to exclude aboriginal people economically and socially, and attempted to destroy their culture.”

The government and the aboriginal groups agreed to set priorities and then develop policies to address them. The document says they’ll meet at least once a year to track their progress.

“Victims live with shame, they live with guilt, they live with the fear that if they speak out it will only get worse,” said Clark.

“In publicly acknowledging it, we give permission for those who witness it to speak out, because no one deserves to be a victim of violence.”

Clark used the event to announce an additional $400,000 in government funding for the Giving Voice project, which helps communities speak out against violence against women and girls.

Aboriginal leaders praised the provincial government, while promising to do everything they can to ensure Friday’s event is more than just a photo-op.

“We need to make sure that we take concrete steps so this is not an event where photographs can be taken but that this is the start of something meaningful,” said Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould, regional chief for the B.C. Assembly of First Nations.

“We must do better for our women and girls.”

Many speakers, including Clark, said poverty and inequality were the root causes of violence, and those issues must be addressed to keep women and girls safe.

B.C. has a dark history of such violence, with dozens of aboriginal women and girls, many of them living in poverty on the margins of society, disappearing or being murdered during the past several decades.

That phenomenon was put into stark relief by the Robert Pickton serial killer case, which prompted a public inquiry that examined not only that case but also the broader issues related to missing and murdered women. A report, released in December 2012 by commissioner Wally Oppal, included more than 60 recommendations.

The province has faced criticism that it has been slow to adopt those recommendations.

The government released its own status report last fall that listed only two recommendations as complete — both of which were announced the day the Pickton inquiry report was released.

Oppal’s report also contained several recommendations to address the so-called Highway of Tears, a stretch of highway in the province’s north where at least 18 women and girls have been murdered or have disappeared. Despite publicly claiming it was busy consulting on the issue, as of early May, the government had held only one meeting with local governments in the previous year and a half.

On Friday, Clark insisted the government had made “significant” progress on the Oppal report, though she declined to provide any examples, instead leaving that for an updated status report expected in the coming months.

A government spokesman later noted several things the province has done in recent months to address the Oppal report, such as announcing compensation for the children of missing and murdered women, revising missing-person legislation for cases involving vulnerable people, tweaking a number of other laws related to the justice system, and announcing funding and grants for community groups.

The premier also suggested the issues raised in the Oppal report are not the same as the focus of Friday’s agreement.

“It’s related to some of the other discussions that we’ve had about the Oppal report and missing women, but it’s also different,” Clark said after the signing event.

“We are absolutely committed to making sure we address these issues of domestic violence across our society, but recognizing that aboriginal women feel domestic violence more often than other women. It’s wrong and it’s going to need a really careful and targeted approach.”

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