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Nigerian anti-graft office charges former oil official over failed gas deal
20 September 2019, 8:27 PM

Nigeria’s anti-fraud office on Friday charged a former petroleum ministry official with accepting bribes and failing to follow protocol over an ill-fated gas deal that has left the government facing a disputed bill of more than $9 billion.

Grace Taiga, former petroleum ministry director of legal, pleaded not guilty in a court in the capital of Abuja to eight counts of wrongdoing put forward by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

In court documents, the EFCC also alleged the now-deceased former petroleum minister and OPEC official Rilwanu Lukman broke the law by signing the deal without proper approvals and protocol.

The charges relate to a 2010 contract with British Virgin Islands-based firm Process and Industrial Developments (P&ID) to build and operate a gas-processing plant in the southeaster port city of Calabar.

P&ID took the government to international arbitration after the deal’s collapse, eventually winning a $6.6 billion award. It has been accruing interest since 2013 and is now worth more than$9 billion.

The government has said the deal was designed to fail, and called the award “an assault on every Nigerian and unfair.” P&ID said the EFCC had harassed, intimidated and denied due process to individuals associated with the company and the contract.

The EFCC alleges Taiga accepted bribes, made false statements and signed the contract without approval from the federal executive council and Bureau of Public Procurement.

It said she received $1,000 in 2015 and payments of $10,000in each of December 2017 and June 2018 as a reward for favours to P&ID.

The judge remanded Taiga in prison until her application for bail is determined on Sept, 25.

Trump welcomes Australia’s PM, cementing strong trade, security ties
20 September 2019, 6:11 PM

US President Donald Trump welcomed Australia’s prime minister on Friday for only the second state visit of his administration, signaling the close bond between the two allies as Washington takes on Beijing and Tehran.

Trump and Scott Morrison are expected to discuss security and trade, as China’s increasing assertiveness, especially in the energy-rich South China Sea, has raised concerns within the region and the United States.

The leaders are also set to release a plan on Friday aimed at securing the supply of rare earth minerals, as concerns grow that China, the world’s largest processor and producer of the minerals, could cut off shipments of the prized commodities.

Days before the visit, a sign draped across the Australian Embassy in Washington proclaimed “100 years of mateship” between the two countries. On Friday, Trump feted Morrison’s arrival at the White House’s South Lawn with a 19-gun salute and US Marine Band performances of each nation’s national anthems.

“It’s highly symbolic of where the relationship sits at the moment,” said Patrick Buchan, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, noting that Morrison’s state visit was second only to French President Emmanuel Macron’s last year.

“Australia played a very smart game with Trump,” he added, noting the country had avoiding directly criticizing him, unlike some European counterparts.

Trump got off to a smooth start with Morrison in May, congratulating him on his surprise election victory in a tweet noting there were “no greater friends” than the United States and Australia.

The two also met on the sidelines of the G20 in June, cementing warm ties that Trump did not enjoy with Morrison’s predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull. Trump berated Turnbull in February 2017 over a bilateral refugee agreement before abruptly ending their telephone conversation.

Australia also agreed last month to join a coalition to protect oil tankers and cargo ships from threats posed by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz after a series of attacks there that Washington has blamed on Tehran.

Australia has also banned China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd HWT.UL, the world’s top provider of telecoms equipment, from its 5G network, something the Trump administration has struggled to persuade other allies to do. The United States says Huawei’s ties to Beijing make the network equipment it sells to telecoms firms a security risk.

Australian intelligence concluded China was responsible for a cyber attack on Australia’s parliament and its three largest political parties, Reuters reported on Monday.

Following an arrival ceremony, bilateral meetings, and a joint news conference, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will host a luncheon for Morrison to be followed by a state dinner at the White House.

SECURITY AND TRADE

During a visit to Sydney last month by Pompeo and US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the United States and Australia pledged to strengthen opposition to Chinese activities in the Pacific.

China has unnerved the region and angered the United States by installing military equipment and other facilities on artificial islands it has made in the disputed South China Sea.

The United States and its Western allies also worry that China is using foreign aid to secure greater influence over small Pacific countries that control vast swath of resource-rich ocean.

Australia, traditionally the major power in the South Pacific, has promised up to A$3 billion ($2 billion) in grants and loans to counter what Washington describes as China’s “payday loan diplomacy.”

But Morrison has pressed Trump to end his trade war with China, which has roiled markets and hammered global growth.

A girl receives anti-measles vaccination drops
Philippines to vaccinate millions as polio virus resurfaces in 2 children
20 September 2019, 5:32 PM

The Philippines recorded its second case of polio on Friday, as it prepared to vaccinate millions of children against a disease it believed to have been eradicated two decades ago.

A five-year-old boy in Laguna, south of the capital Manila, tested positive for the polio virus, the health department said, the second case this week after a three-year-old girl was confirmed to be infected on Monday in a province about 1,400 km(870 miles) away.

Health officials appealed to parents and care givers of children to take part in the government’s polio vaccination programme, which comes as the Philippines grapples to tackle twin outbreaks of dengue and measles that have killed more than 1,000 people since January, most of them children.

“The polio vaccinations happen all year round, but our coverage dropped for the past five years,” Rolando Enrique Domingo, an undersecretary of the Department of Health, told Reuters.

“We’ve learned our lesson. It is time to move on and really start vaccinating all kids and make sure we sustain this every year.”

The polio virus was detected in the sewage systems of Davao in a nearby province two months ago, and in Tondo, a rundown area of Metro Manila notorious for slum communities, Domingo said.

Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan are the last three countries where the disease is endemic. The last known case in the Philippines had been in 1993, the World Health Organisation says.

Immunisation coverage in the Philippines is at 70%, below the recommended rate of 95%, Domingo said, as trust in vaccines declines.

The boy who tested positive in Laguna has been discharged from hospital already, officials said on Friday. The other case was confirmed on Monday and reported on Thursday in Lanao del Sur, one of the country’s poorest provinces. Vaccination teams will aim to administer polio drops to every child younger than five, he added.

There is no cure for polio, which invades the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours, but it can be prevented with vaccines.

The virus spreads rapidly among children, especially in unsanitary conditions in underdeveloped or war-torn regions where healthcare access is limited.

Children nationwide are at risk as long as a single child remains infected, the United Nations agency for children,UNICEF, has said.

The Philippines has faced a challenge recently in convincing parents to vaccinate children after it scrapped a dengue immunisation programme using Sanofi’s Dengvaxia in late 2017,following its linkage to child deaths.

More than 800,000 children received the vaccine. The records of 119 dead children are being examined to determine if Dengvaxia was to blame, a panel of medical experts said in March.

The inquiry continues and Sanofi has repeatedly said its vaccine is safe.

A vaccine campaign started in August in the historic heart of Manila will be expanded to cover more than 5 million children and go nationwide next year, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said in a speech on Friday.

Egypt appoint former Al Ahly coach El-Badry as head coach
20 September 2019, 5:20 PM

Egypt have appointed former Al Ahly player and coach Hossam El-Badry as manager to replace sacked Mexican Javier Aguirre, the country’s FA announced on its website.

Aguirre was dismissed in July after The Pharaohs’ shock home elimination in the last 16 of the Africa Cup of Nations.

The 59-year-old former Egypt defender has completed three stints as head coach of Cairo-based Al Ahly, starting in 2009 and most recently from 2016-18. He has also coached clubs in Sudan and Libya.

He will be the first Egyptian to coach the national team since Shawky Gharib in 2014. Argentine Hector Cuper preceded Aguirre.

Jittery Japan open World Cup with scrappy win over Russia
20 September 2019, 4:55 PM

Winger Kotaro Matsushima scored a hat-trick as Japan overcame a severe case of opening-night nerves to give the host nation a winning start to the Rugby World Cup with a 30-10 victory over a spirited Russia side on Friday.

After an opening ceremony featuring a dazzling laser light show and appearances by Japan’s Crown Prince Akishino and All Blacks great Richie McCaw, there were quickly a few fireworks on the pitch.

The Russians, laid on as sacrificial lambs for the opening party, stunned the noisy crowd of 48,745 into silence when they pounced on a Japanese error and scored the tournament’s first try through winger Kirill Golosnitskiy in the fourth minute.

Man of the Match Matsushima replied with Japan’s first try seven minutes later but it was not until he went over for his second just before the break that the error-prone home side took the lead at 12-7.

Flanker Pieter Labuschagne added another try after the break and 12 minutes from time Matsushima got his third to secure the bonus point that might be key to Japan’s hopes of advancing from Pool A, which also includes Ireland, Scotland and Samoa.

Russia, who only qualified when Romania and Spain were disqualified for using ineligible players, impressed with hard tackling and a willingness to take the game to their opponents.

The Bears also bullied Japan’s scrum on more than one occasion and troubled the hosts with their direct running, a tactic Japan’s other Pool A opponents Ireland, Scotland and Samoa will look to emulate but with greater efficiency.

The home side looked a different proposition when on the few occasions they managed to get the ball through hands out to the wings and South Africa-born Matsushima cashed in with the first World Cup hat-trick for a Japan player.

He could have had a fourth only for the TMO to adjudge that he had not grounded the ball properly but a further inflated scoreline would have been unfair on the Russians, who put their bodies on the line for the full 80 minutes.

Japan’s next game is against the number one ranked Irish in Fukuroi City on Sept 28, a match the hosts will be desperate to win if they wish to progress to the quarter-finals for the first time.

The Russians take on Samoa in Kumagaya on Sept 24.

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