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Qatar rejects Amnesty’s assertion that labour reforms have not translated on ground

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thepeninsulaqatar– The Ministry of Labour has issued a statement in response to Amnesty’s report “Reality Check 2021: A Year to the 2022 WorldCup”, stating that Qatar rejects its assertion that labour reforms have not translated into changes on the ground for hundreds of thousands of migrant workers.

The statement is as follows:

Qatar rejects Amnesty’s assertion that labour reforms have not translated into changes on the ground for hundreds of thousands of migrant workers.

Amnesty fails to document a single story from among the 242,870 workers who have successfully changed jobs since barriers were removed in September 2020, or from the more than 400,000 workers who have directly benefitted from the new minimum wage through salary increases and other financial incentives.

Since exit permits were removed in 2018, hundreds of thousands of workers have left Qatar and returned without permission from their employer; improvements to the Wage Protection System now protect more than 96 percent of eligible workers from wage abuse; new visa centres in labour-sending countries have significantly reduced exploitative practices before workers arrive in Qatar; and new rules extend the ban on summer working to minimise the effects of heat stress.

Qatar has also strengthened its enforcement measures to safeguard workers and prosecute employers who fail to comply with the law. The number of inspectors employed by the Ministry of Labour has increased year on year, as has their capacity to thoroughly investigate working conditions and refer violators for sentencing in the labour courts.

In the first half of 35,280,2021 accommodation and worksite inspections were carried out and 13,724 penalties were issued to violating companies, including worksite closures, fines and prison sentences. A further 4,840 site visits were made by labour inspectors to raise awareness of the new laws among employers and employees.

Every year, more companies are held accountable for violating the law. Systemic reform is a long-term process and shifting the behaviour of every company takes time. Through its actions, the government is sending a strong message to companies that violations will not be tolerated.

Qatar has never shied away from acknowledging that its labour system is still a work in progress. The government is committed to engaging collaboratively and constructively with international partners and critics to further improve standards for all migrant workers in Qatar

Qatar will therefore continue to consult with international experts including the ILO and trade unions. International NGOs will also be routinely consulted to provide their recommendations.

The reality is that no other country has come so far in such a short amount of time. Following Qatar’s lead, and as a sign of the programme’s wider impact, other countries in the region have now taken steps to introduce their own labour reforms.

Labour reform is a complex task, and Qatar believes that solutions are best found through dialogue and engagement. For this reason, and despite Amnesty’s criticism, Qatar will continue to work constructively with a range of labour experts and practitioners to build on the progress that has been made.

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Spain’s Infanta Cristina and Iñaki Urdangarin announce ‘interruption of marriage’

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The sister of Spain’s King Felipe VI, Cristina de Borbón, and her husband Iñaki Urdangarin have decided to “interrupt” their marriage, according to a press release published Monday by Spanish news agency EFE.

“By mutual consent, we have decided to interrupt our marital relationship. Our commitment to our children remains intact. Given this is a private decision, we ask for utmost respect for everyone around us,” the document stated.

The former Olympic handball champion was sentenced to prison in 2018 in connection with a financial crimes scandal known as the Nóos case, and the Infanta – a title Cristina bears for being the daughter of a king – was questioned in court over the matter, although she was later cleared of all criminal charges. Urdangarin has since been moved to an open regime and only reports to prison once a week.

The public announcement comes after Urdangarin was photographed holding hands with another woman last week in Bidart in southwestern France. When asked about his relationship to the woman in question, Ainhoa Armentia, a 43-year-old from the Basque city of Vitoria, Urdangarin replied: “These things happen.”

The relationship between Cristina de Borbón and Iñaki Urdangarin officially began in 1996 at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, where Urdangarin was competing as a member of the Spanish handball team. One year later, they married in a church in Barcelona in a ceremony attended by 1,500 guests. The couple have four children together.

In June 2018, Urdangarin was sentenced by the Supreme Court to six years and three months in prison for his involvement in the Nóos case. He was found guilty of tax fraud, embezzlement and influence peddling, and entered prison on June 18, 2018. He has served five years and 10 months at Brieva penitentiary, and is now allowed to serve out the remainder from home.

Last year, the former Duke of Palma – who was stripped of his title following the scandal – was granted permission to move to a more flexible prison regime, meaning he could serve the remaining 11 months of his sentence from home. Under this regime, Urdangarin does not need to wear an electronic bracelet that tracks his movement, and is only subject to weekly in-person meetings and phone check-ins. Since then, he has been living in Vitoria with his mother, Claire Liebaert, who is in poor health.

The new regime also allowed Urdangarin to start working at the accounting firm Imaz & Associates, which has a good relationship with his family. But the frequency in which the former duke was seen in the streets during working hours – under the pretext that he was teleworking – prompted prison authorities to recommend he work in the office in person. There he met Armentia, a married woman whose marriage was not going well, but who continued living in the same apartment as her husband.

Since the photograph was taken last Wednesday, a scrum of photographers and reporters have been waiting long hours outside the accountancy firm to get a statement from Urdangarin and Armentia. According to sources close to the owner of Imaz & Associates, the media attention has made the director question his decision to hire the former duke, which he did as a personal favor to his family. The media attention has also surprised Armentia, who until a few days ago was just an anonymous accountant with two young children.

According to sources close to the Royal Household, news of Urdangarin’s relationship with Armentia also caught Cristina de Borbón off guard.

In June 2015, Felipe VI stripped his sister of the title of Duchess of Palma after the latter repeatedly refused to give up her hypothetical rights to the throne (she is sixth in line of succession). The decision was made a week after the first anniversary of Felipe’s reign, as the monarchy was going through an institutional crisis derived partly from the Nóos scandal.

After Felipe’s father Juan Carlos I abdicated the throne in 2014, the Royal Household announced that membership in the royal family was being reduced to include just Felipe and Queen Letizia, their daughters Leonor and Sofía and Felipe’s parents Juan Carlos I and Doña Sofía. Felipe’s sisters, the infantas Elena and Cristina, were excluded from this group and do not receive any allowances from the Spanish budget.

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Swiss company helps recycle Morocco’s organic waste

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africanews– In Morocco, a Swiss company is helping to process organic waste.

EV or Green Elephant has an annual turnover of 40,000 tonnes of compost and organic fertiliser.

In Morocco, nearly 80% of household waste is organic compared to less than 30% in Europe.

“Our sector of activity is the recovery of agricultural by-products through an industrial process called composting. There are different raw materials of vegetable and animal origin that are mixed together, with well-defined ratios”, says Mohamed El Kabous, EV production manager.

The organic waste is processed and replaces chemical fertilisers improving sustainability.

Traditionally, in Morocco, most household waste is buried.

According to official data, 66 illegal dumps have been rehabilitated so far.

“All our products are organic and can be used in organic farming to replace some of the chemical fertilisers that kill the soil, and also to participate and offer customers a healthy and sustainable agriculture” promises EV’s production manager.

According to the Ministry of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development, in 2015 only 6% of household waste was recycled.

A national waste programme whose objective was to reach a recycling rate of 20% by 2022 was pushed back to 2030.

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Kentucky tornadoes: Biden declares federal disaster as hopes rise that death toll could be lower than feared

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theguardian– US president Joe Biden declared a major federal disaster in Kentucky after a swarm of deadly tornadoes hit the state on Friday, as representatives of a candle factory destroyed by a twister said far fewer people may have died than previously feared.

Biden had previously declared the storms a federal emergency and the move to designate the storms a federal disaster paves the way for additional aid, as thousands face housing, food, water and power shortages.

It follows a formal request from Kentucky governor Andy Beshear who said the tornadoes were the most destructive in the state’s history.

Beshear had initially said the death toll could exceed 100 after twisters tore through the US midwest and south on Friday night.

Dozens of people in several counties in the state are still believed to have died in the storms, but Beshear said on Sunday afternoon the death toll might be as low as 50, according to the Associated Press.

“We are praying that maybe original estimates of those we have lost were wrong. If so, it’s going to be pretty wonderful,” the governor said.

Among the 110 people who were at the candle factory, eight have been confirmed dead and eight others remained missing, said Bob Ferguson, a spokesperson for Mayfield Consumer Products, which owns the factory. He said 90 people had been located, a figure that authorities were trying to confirm.

“There were some early reports that as many as 70 could be dead in the factory. One is too many, but we thank God that the number is turning out to be far, far fewer,” Ferguson said, adding that rescue teams were still searching for the eight who remained unaccounted for.

It was unclear how many factory workers Beshear was counting in the latest death toll estimates.

“We’re still getting information in on the candle factory. The owner has been in contact and believes he has some different information. We are trying verify it. If so, it may be a better situation and the miracle we were hoping for,” Beshear told a news conference on Sunday evening.

Rescue workers continued to scour debris for survivors and many people without power, water or even a roof over their heads salvaged what they could two days after disaster struck.

While Kentucky was hardest hit, six workers were killed at Amazon.com Inc warehouse in Illinois after the plant buckled under the force of the tornado, including one cargo driver who died in the bathroom, where many workers said they had been directed to shelter.

A nursing home was struck in Arkansas, causing one of that state’s two deaths. Four were reported dead in Tennessee and two in Missouri.

Nowhere suffered as much as Mayfield, a community of about 10,000 in the south-western corner of Kentucky, where the large twisters also destroyed the fire and police stations. The governor said the tornadoes were the most destructive in the state’s history.

“The very first thing that we have to do is grieve together and we’re going to do that before we rebuild together,” Beshear said, noting that one tornado tore across 227 miles (365 km) of terrain, almost all of that in Kentucky.

A vast storm front moved across the Mississippi basin and parts of the US south-east and midwest on Friday night, spawning more than 30 tornadoes.

Spring is the main season for tornadoes and this latest event was very unusual coming in December, when colder weather normally limits tornadoes, said Victor Gensini, an extreme weather researcher at Northern Illinois University.

Asked if he thought the intensity of the storms was related to climate crisis, president Biden said: “All I know is that the intensity of the weather across the board has some impact as a consequence of the warming of the planet. The specific impact on these specific storms, I can’t say at this point.”

Illinois was hit, too, and six people were killed in the collapse of an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, with another injured worker airlifted to a hospital, fire chief James Whiteford said.

In addition, so far four people have been reported killed in Tennessee, two in Arkansas and two in Missouri as well as the high toll in Kentucky.

Kyanna Parsons-Perez, who was at the candle factory in Mayfield, said she felt the building was making her and her co-workers “rock from one side to the other” right before it collapsed.

Parsons-Perez was stuck for three hours in the rubble, and documented part of it in a livestream on Facebook in which her co-workers can be heard crying in fear.

Sitting in the hospital, she told the Guardian how a gust of wind suddenly changed everything. “My ears started popping and I felt my body swaying,” she said of the moments right before the building collapsed.

She became very scared upon learning that she was buried under. “When I found out it was an air conditioner on me and five people on the debris on top of me is when I got scared,” she said.

The storm was so powerful that a photograph from a tornado-damaged home in Kentucky was found almost 130 miles away in Indiana.

The US uniquely experiences more than 1,200 tornadoes annually, more than four times the number in other countries around the world where they occur, combined, according to experts.

With Reuters and the Associated Press

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