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RIO DE JANEIRO: Standing among sacks of used supermarket shopping bags, soft drink bottles and detergent containers, Evelin Marcele is scornful of Brazil's efforts to recycle plastic waste.
"Almost nothing," said the 40-year-old director of CoopFuturo, a sorting center for recyclable material in Rio de Janeiro, where plastic makes up 60 per cent of the roughly 120 tonnes of garbage delivered to the facility every month.
Brazil is the fourth biggest producer of plastic rubbish in the world, beaten only by the United States, China and India, according to a recent report published by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
But the Latin American country recycles just 1.28 per cent of the 11.4 million tonnes it generates every year, which the WWF said was well below the global average of nine percent.
An estimated 7.7 million tonnes of plastic ends up in landfills.
"People are consuming more, generating more garbage and the governments didn't prepare the cities with the infrastructure that was required to deal with this problem," Anna Lobo of WWF-Brazil told reporters.
"Ninety percent of Brazil's population has heard about sustainability and say they understand the problems in the environment. In reality few people change their habits."
The world currently produces more than 300 million tonnes of plastics annually, and there are at least five trillion plastic pieces floating in our oceans, scientists have estimated.
At a UN meeting in Kenya in March nations committed to "significantly reduce" single-use plastics over the next decade.
But Brazil is "way behind," said Marcele as CoopFuturo workers wearing black gloves rummaged through a pile of rubbish bags to find material that could be recycled.
More government investment in infrastructure - such as sorting and recycling plants - and individual action was needed.
"Infrastructure, help - we don't have either," she complained.
Political leaders "are not worried about this, they're worried about other things."
Brazilians are huge consumers of throwaway plastic, particularly carrier bags which are free in much of the country and are offered for even the smallest purchase.
At supermarkets in Rio de Janeiro plastic bags are often lined with a second one to ensure they do not break.
Most people do not bother with reusable shopping bags that are on display and cost as little as 5.50 reais (US$1.35).
Buying a fresh juice at one of the ubiquitous bars in the beachside city results in the use of at least one plastic cup and lid - and a plastic bag to carry it in.
A take-away meal is often accompanied by a plastic packet of plastic cutlery and a plastic carrier bag.
"Right now I don't have any other way of taking my shopping home," said Israel Washington as he sat at a bar next to several plastic bags full of groceries.
"I should have a (reusable) bag with me but I don't."
But he also blamed the government.
"Their focus isn't the environment, they are more worried about arming people."
Legislation introduced in parts of Brazil has had some success in forcing Brazilians to adopt better habits.
Rio recently prohibited the use of plastic drinking straws, while Brazil's biggest city of Sao Paulo has banned petroleum-based plastic bags.
The Senate is now considering a proposal to outlaw the manufacture, distribution and sale of throwaway plastic, including straws and carrier bags, across the country.
CoopFuturo is one of 22 collectives involved in sorting rubbish in Rio, a city of more than six million people.
They receive rubbish from the local government's Coleta Seletiva, or Selective Collection, service and then sell the sorted material to specialized recycling companies.
But of the 40 per cent of household waste that is potentially recyclable, Coleta Seletiva and independent collectors only get seven percent, an official said, blaming households for not separating their garbage properly.
Environmental activists are trying to encourage Brazilians to take responsiblity for their waste.
But many people still "don't recognize the problem that rubbish causes in the sea," said Paulo Salomao, a biologist at Rio's aquarium.
"So far people don't have the awareness to change their habits," said WWF's Lobo.
"People don't stop to think about it."
ALABAMA: The last ship known to smuggle slaves from Africa to the United States has been discovered in Alabama's Mobile River, nearly 160 years after it was deliberately sunk, a historical commission said on Wednesday (May 22).
The Alabama Historical Commission, in a post on its Facebook page, called the effort to locate the ship, the Clotilda, a "yearlong scientific investigation".
The Clotilda was discovered by a company called SEARCH Inc in collaboration with the commission and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The Clotilda has previously been documented by historians as the last ship known to bring African captives to the United States. It operated in secret, decades after Congress banned the importation of slaves into the country in 1807.
The Clotilda carried 110 men, women and children from Africa to Alabama in 1860, according to the 2007 book Dreams Of Africa In Alabama by Sylviane Anna Diouf, who relied on testimony from the slave traders and their captives.
The ship is believed to have been intentionally sunk in 1860 to hide evidence of its use in the slave trade.
Three years later, in the middle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation declaring the end of slavery in the United States.
"The discovery of the Clotilda sheds new light on a lost chapter of American history," said Fredrik Hiebert, archaeologist-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, which supported the search.
Hiebert spoke to National Geographic magazine, which first reported the discovery.
Researchers used insurance records to determine the Clotilda's dimensions and its other unique characteristics, such as planks of southern yellow pine over white oak frames, according to National Geographic.
The team behind the search for the Clotilda discovered a ship with its identifying features under water in a section of the Mobile River, according to National Geographic.
A representative from the Alabama Historical Commission could not be reached for comment late on Wednesday.
Among the captives on the Clotilda were Cudjo Lewis, who lived until 1935 and was long described as the last survivor of the Atlantic slave trade between Africa and the United States.
Earlier this year, researcher Hannah Durkin of Newcastle University in Britain published a paper naming the last known survivor as Redoshi, who also went by the name Sally Smith.
She died in 1937, two years after Lewis, and also was a captive of the Clotilda, according to Durkin's findings.
WELLINGTON: The lawmaker in charge of New Zealand's parliament said Wednesday (May 22) he fears a rapist is stalking the building's corridors, after an inquiry exposed the toxic work culture that staffers endure.
Speaker Trevor Mallard said he was disturbed by the findings of the independent inquiry, which said bullying, harassment and other abusive conduct was rife in the parliamentary precincts.
The most serious accusations concerned three sexual assault allegations against an unnamed man, which the inquiry's report said "appeared to be part of a multi-year pattern of predatory behaviour".
Mallard, who is responsible for administering the parliament, said such behaviour amounted to rape.
"We're talking about serious sexual assault. Well, for me, that's rape," he told Radio New Zealand, saying he did not know the identity of the alleged perpetrator or victims.
He added: "Reading the report carefully, I get the sense that the man is still on the premises."
Mallard described the situation as "intolerable" but said he could not go to police as all submissions to the inquiry were made on the basis that they would be kept strictly confidential.
He said he hoped the women involved would contact police directly, and would receive support from rape counselling services.
There are 120 MPs in the New Zealand parliament, known as The Beehive, but the number of people working in the complex swells to the thousands when advisers, bureaucrats, media and security are taken into account.
The five-month inquiry by workplace consultant Debbie Francis was called after allegations against lawmakers from both sides of politics, including that a minister physically attacked a press secretary who she blamed for missing an appointment.
Francis found parliament was a high-pressure, insular environment where unacceptable conduct was too often tolerated.
In a 120-page report released Tuesday, she said there was a reluctance to hold MPs accountable over bullying behaviour, even though some were regarded by staffers as serial offenders.
"The fundamental problem is the power imbalance. It's a master-servant relationship and they're treated like gods," an anonymous respondent told the inquiry.
Others described "creepy" behaviour towards young women and those who made complaints often said they received little support.
Mallard said he was examining Francis' recommendations and was committed to improving parliament's culture.
SAN BERNARDINO: A surge in migrants at the US-Mexico border has pushed immigration detention facilities in California to capacity, forcing US Border Patrol to release many at bus stations in the state for the first time, the agency said on Monday (May 20).
US Border Patrol in the El Centro area of southern California said it began to drop migrants off at San Bernardino's Greyhound Station on Wednesday after it ran out of room to hold them.
"It was a decision that was made because they couldn’t take any more families and obviously we cannot keep them in custody for much longer because we are at capacity," said Miguel Garcia, acting assistant chief patrol agent.
Apprehensions of migrant families in California's El Centro sector rose 383 per cent in the seven months through April from a year earlier as record numbers of mainly Central Americans crossed the border, Border Patrol data shows.
In San Bernardino, long a transit hub for east-west travel and freight, immigrants were dropped off at the bus terminal by Customs and Border Patrol Agents to wait for family, friends or volunteers to pick them up.
“We asked them where they were going to drop us off and they said at a bus station and there you might find some people who can help you, and that’s it," said Angel Gonzalez, 34, who left Guatemala on April 25 with his 11-year-old son and traveled through Mexico before crossing the US border.
Gonzalez and his son were held by Customs and Border Patrol for six nights before they were released at the bus station on Sunday, seeking a ride to join relatives in Arkansas.
Immigration authorities for years have dropped off migrants at bus stations in the Southwest, after releasing them pending court hearings to decide whether they can stay in the country. From there, they travel to their intended destination in the United States.
Record numbers of families from Central America are traveling to the US-Mexico border and asking for asylum in the United States, fleeing poverty and violence in their home countries. From October 2018 through this April, nearly 293,000 unaccompanied children or people traveling in families were apprehended at the southern U.S. border - nearly four times the number during the same period the prior year.
The influx of families has swamped US Border Patrol stations built to house single adults, and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has run out of space to hold them.
Jacinto Chilel traveled through Mexico by bus with his 15-year-old daughter, Nineth, leaving his wife and five other children back in Guatemala in hopes he could send money home when he reaches Tennessee, where relatives live.
“There was a lot of risk on the route (from Guatemala), especially going through Mexico. But once we got into the United States we felt better about our safety,” said Chilel, 46.
LOS ANGELES: An F-16 fighter jet being flown in routine training exercises crashed into a warehouse just outside March Air Reserve Base in Southern California on Thursday (May 16), but the pilot safely ejected and no injuries were reported, a base spokesman said.
The Los Angeles Times, citing a base fire official, reported that the crash ignited a small fire, and a photo of the accident scene posted on local television station KCAL-TV showed a gaping hole in the roof of a large gray building.
The warplane went down at about 3.30pm and slammed into a warehouse at the end of the base runway, base spokesman Major Perry Covington told Reuters by telephone.
"The pilot did eject and the pilot is OK, and there are no other injuries at this time," he said, adding he did not believe anyone was inside the warehouse when the crash occurred.
The sprawling installation, located in Riverside County, California, about 105km east of Los Angeles, is home to the Air Force Reserve 452nd Air Mobility Wing. There are normally between 2,000 and 6,000 Air Force reservists and other personnel on base at any given time, Covington said.
A section of Interstate 215, a major north-south route running through the base, was closed in both directions after the crash, according to the California Highway Patrol. The CHP urged motorists to avoid the area
GENEVA: The Swiss will vote Sunday (May 19) on whether to bring the country's gun laws in line with EU legislation, with the government warning a "no" could threaten relations with the bloc.
A demand from the neighbouring European Union that Switzerland toughen its gun laws has prompted a rare national debate over firearm ownership in the wealthy Alpine nation, which has a deeply-rooted gun culture.
While the government has cautioned that the new legislation is crucial to maintaining an array of treaties with the EU, the proposal sparked a fierce pushback from the gun lobby and shooting enthusiasts, who gathered enough signatures to trigger a vote under Switzerland's famous direct democratic system.
Brussels changed its own weapons laws two years ago following a wave of deadly terrorist attacks across Europe, slapping bans on certain types of semi-automatic firearms.
Switzerland is not an EU member, but it is bound to the bloc through an array of intricately connected bilateral agreements.
Bern has cautioned that a "no" vote would entail Switzerland's exclusion from the visa-free Schengen travel region and the Dublin accords regulating Europe's asylum-seeking process.
This would have far-reaching consequences for security, asylum and even tourism, and would cost the country "several billion Swiss francs each year", it said.
Most of the arguments for changing the law are economic, in a country that has rarely seen the kind of mass shootings that have happened in other countries.
Philippe Miauton, of the chamber of commerce and industry in Vaud Canton, told the RTS broadcaster that turning down the law change could bring "many consequences that would be harmful".
"Switzerland is not an island ... We need the bilateral agreements, and that means making concessions," he said.
Voters appear to have heeded the warnings. According to the most recent gfs.bern poll, a full 65 per cent of respondents supported the law change, compared to 34 per cent who opposed it.
The shooting enthusiasts behind Sunday's referendum say the government warnings are "exaggerated".
Brussels has "no interest" in excluding Switzerland from Schengen's information-sharing system regarding criminality and terrorism, Olivia de Weck, a Swiss army capitan and the vice president of the ProTell gun lobby, said.
Changing the law would "erase the right to own weapons" in Switzerland and be "completely useless in confronting terrorism", said the campaign, which has the backing of the country's biggest political party, the populist rightwing Swiss People's Party (SVP).
It is difficult to know exactly how many firearms are in circulation, since guns are registered regionally and there is no national registry.
But according to a 2017 report by the Small Arms Survey, the country boasts the world's 16th highest rate of gun ownership, with some 2.3 million firearms in civilian hands - nearly three for every 10 inhabitants.
Under the new gun law, which has already been approved by legislators, semi-automatic weapons with high-capacity magazines would be listed as "banned".
Such weapons would still be available for purchase by collectors and sports shooters, as long as they obtain an "exceptional authorisation".
Collectors and museums would also need to provide a full list of the "banned" weapons they own, and indicate their plan for safe storage.
Sports shooters would also need to prove at regular intervals that they are still actively practising the sport to justify their need to own such weapons.
Those opposed to the law change claim it amounts to an "EU dictate" and is reining in Swiss sovereignty.
But Lisa Mazzone, vice president of the Green Party, said that to the contrary, the new law indicated that Switzerland was intent on gaining more control over the situation.
It will allow "improvements in the tracing and the marking of firearms. In terms of security, it is obviously a good thing to have a better overview of what weapons are in circulation", she said.
The strong gun culture in Switzerland is partially tied to the country's tradition of national defence service.
Most Swiss men undergo obligatory military service, consisting of three weeks of service each year between the ages of 18 and 30. They are allowed to keep their assigned weapon when they are done.
Shooting clubs and competitions are also an integral part of life for many, and the country subsidises "young shooters" classes for any interested citizen between the ages of 15 and 20.
Gregory Barthassat, an 18-year-old taking part in one of the classes in Geneva, says he comes from a family of gun-owners who like taking trips to the shooting range.
He is practising with an FASS 90 - an assault rifle issued by the Swiss army and a favourite among sports shooters. This one has the automatic function deactivated, as is required when the gun passes into civilian ownership.
If the new law passes, people will still be permitted to hold onto their army-issued FASS 90 at the end of their military service without additional permit requirements.
But if they want to pass on the weapon to a family member or sell it, it will be listed in the "banned" category.
Barthassat said he worries that "if this law passes, it will be much more difficult to buy weapons and to do sports shooting".
MELBOURNE: Politicians courting Australia's 1.2 million ethnic-Chinese citizens ahead of Saturday's election are struggling to navigate a strikingly diverse community and fraught geopolitics.
The click-clack of mahjong tiles barely registers amid the din of chatter at the Box Hill senior citizens club in suburban Melbourne.
This band of elderly Australians gathered around the game tables are prime targets for politicians, who need to win every vote they can at the nailbiter May 18 election.
Chinese-Australians now make up almost 6 per cent of the population, almost as many as Italian- and Greek-Australians combined.
In the tightly contested Melbourne electorate of Chisholm, one in five households speak either Mandarin or Cantonese.
Responding to these changing demographics, the ruling Liberal party and their Labor challengers have run Chinese-Australian candidates. They have also turned to Chinese platforms like WeChat to get their message across.
At the next parliament, Chisholm is all but certain to be represented by either Hong Kong-born Liberal Gladys Liu or the Taiwan-born Labor candidate Jennifer Yang.
"Their policies consider Chinese immigrants as one group and do not distinguish between those from Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, et cetera," 78-year-old William Lam said.
He approves of the equal treatment, but any sense of a single community can also mask vastly different life experiences and political preferences among the ethnic Chinese diaspora.
Some in the community arrived as students from China in the 1980s and feel an allegiance to the opposition Labor party, whose then prime minister promised they could remain in the country after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Other ethnic Chinese arrived as refugees from the war in Vietnam, or from Cambodia's genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, and want fairer treatment of asylum-seekers languishing on Manus Island and Nauru.
Many more affluent migrants who came in the past decade fear opposition plans to curb tax cuts for property investors could hurt the inheritance they leave their children.
Some of the younger "ABCs", or Australian-born Chinese, see no contradiction between progressive environmental politics and conservative economic management.
"Chinese-Australian voters are like every other Australian voter - interested in politics, interested to have their say - but with a slight Chinese cultural lens on some of these matters," Chinese-Australian commentator Jieh-Yung Lo said.
But there is one common thread in the community: foreign relations matter.
Turbulence in the relationship between Beijing and Canberra can be felt in households across Australia.
A recent series of scandals over growing Chinese political interference has had a chilling effect in the Chinese-Australian community.
The decision to limit telecoms giant Huawei's role in developing Australia's 5G network has brought furious condemnations and coincided with some Australian coal exports to China being blocked at ports of entry.
Amid simmering tensions, a Chinese billionaire who showered millions to both major parties was banned from the country by Canberra on suspicions he was part of a Communist Party influence campaign.
Many Chinese-Australians feel like "collateral damage" amid the escalating rhetoric, Lo said.
"They are concerned about how they are being portrayed, in terms of their reputation and their branding, but also the trust and confidence that their fellow Australians have in them," he added.
The first Chinese migrants arrived in Australia in the early 1800s amid a gold rush, and the community has since faced a long history of discrimination.
The race-based "White Australia" policy, which favoured European arrivals, was not fully dismantled until the 1970s.
Many Chinese-Australians recall the 1996 maiden speech of right-wing firebrand Pauline Hanson, who said Australia was in trouble of being "swamped by Asians".
Labor candidate for Chisholm Jennifer Yang said elected leaders need to be "careful" with their language.
"Once the community is divided it is very, very hard to heal," she said. "I don't want to see Australia going down that path again."
Perhaps inevitably, both parties have found negative campaigning an easier way of connecting with Chinese-Australian voters.
Mandarin-speaking former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd has taken to WeChat to remind voters of the government's ties to Hanson's One Nation and her fellow populist Clive Palmer, who has railed against Chinese influence.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has fired back with WeChat posts recalling comments from a former state Labor leader who said "Asians with PhDs" were taking the jobs of young Australians.
The battle has intensified online, with the opposition writing to WeChat owner Tencent after suggesting the government was linked to "fake news" spread on the Chinese social media site.
But for the senior citizens in Box Hill, a visit by solicitous politicians is an opportunity to tackle the really pressing issues - like the price of parking.
"They charge hourly now, and if you come here for several hours to play mahjong, it is a fortune to pay," 66-year-old Kitty Ng said.
WASHINGTON: U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday (May 13) objected to a judge's plan to fast-track his lawsuit seeking to block a congressional subpoena for information about eight years of his personal and business finances.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington proposed holding a trial on Tuesday, May 14, but Trump's lawyers said that plan would deny the president a "full and fair" hearing.
Trump's lawyers said the hearing should only deal with his request for a preliminary ruling.
Mehta will decide whether Mazars LLP, Trump's long-time accounting firm, must comply with a subpoena issued by the House Oversight Committee seeking financial records for Trump and his company.
The committee says it needs Trump's records to examine whether he has conflicts of interest or broke the law by not disentangling himself from his business holdings as previous presidents did.
Lawyers for Trump and the Trump Organization, his company, last month filed a lawsuit to block the House Oversight subpoena, saying it exceeded the constitutional limits of Congress's investigative power.
Trump argued that, rather than fulfilling its constitutional lawmaking duties, Congress was on a quest to "turn up something that Democrats can use as a political tool against the president now and in the 2020 election."
In Monday's court filing, Trump's lawyers said they need more time to collect evidence and develop their cases, and that his right to due process would be undermined by the judge's accelerated timetable.
Democrats have confronted the Republican president and his administration for refusing to cooperate with at least six separate congressional investigations of Trump, his turbulent presidency, his family and his business interests.
Lisa Kern Griffin, a professor of constitutional law at Duke University, said Trump's strategy has been to stall the probes, so Mehta's eagerness to move quickly would likely be welcomed by Democratic lawmakers.
"The executive branch strategy mostly seems to be a blanket rejection of all attempts at oversight, regardless of the issue, up until the election," Griffin said. "So any time the calendar is accelerated that probably favors Congress."
DUBAI: Saudi Arabia's Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Monday that two Saudi oil tankers were targeted on Sunday in "a sabotage attack" off the coast of Fujairah, part of the United Arab Emirates, threatening the security of global oil supplies.
One of the two vessels was on its way to be loaded with Saudi crude oil from the port of Ras Tanura, to be delivered to state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco’s customers in the United States, Falih said in a statement carried by state news agency SPA.
The attack did not lead to any casualties or an oil spill but caused significant damage to the structures of the two vessels, he added.
On Sunday, the UAE foreign ministry said four commercial vessels were targeted by "sabotage operations" near the territorial waters of the United Arab Emirates without causing casualties. It gave no details of the nature of the sabotage.
OTTAWA: A Canadian neurosurgeon was jailed for life Thursday (May 9) for murdering his wife, stuffing her body in a suitcase and throwing it in a river after she tried to leave him.
Mohammed Shamji, 43, had admitted beating and strangling 40-year-old Elana Fric-Shamji - a family doctor, with whom he had three children - at their Toronto home in 2016.
He was arrested at a coffee shop the next day when her body was discovered on the banks of Toronto's Humber River.
"I want to talk about domestic violence that (Elana) endured for 12 years before she died," her mother Ana Fric said outside court, "in the hope that other women in similar circumstances will realise that unless they have the courage to leave their partners at an early stage they could suffer the same fate as Elana".
The family's lawyer Jean DeMarco said Shamji's sentencing drew a line under more than two years of "absolute torture - stressful, anxious filled years".
"They can now finally get on with the healing process," she said.
Police had said that on Nov 28, 2016, Fric-Shamji filed for divorce from her husband of 12 years. Two days later, he beat her brutally, breaking her neck and several ribs, before choking her to death.
Their 11-year-old daughter heard the assault and came into her parents' room, only to be ordered back to her own bed by her father, according to court documents.
Shamji put his wife's body in a suitcase which he threw into the Humber, some 30km north of Toronto.