S. Korea’s Cryptocurrency Industry Welcomes Regulator’s Dramatic Change of Heart

South Korea’s cryptocurrency industry is anticipating much better times as the market regulator changes tack from its tough stance on the virtual coin trade, promising instead to help promote blockchain technology.

The regulator said Tuesday that it hopes to see South Korea — which has become a hub for cryptocurrency trade — normalize the virtual coin business in a self-regulatory environment.

“The whole world is now framing the outline [for cryptocurrency] and therefore [the government] should rather work more on normalization than increasing regulation,” Choe Heung-sik, chief of South Korea’s Finance Supervisory Service (FSS), told reporters.

FSS has been leading the government’s regulation of cryptocurrency trading as part of a task force.

Cryptocurrency operators have drawn a new optimism from Choe’s comments, seeing them clearly indicating the government’s cooperation in their plans for self-regulation.

“Though the government and the industry have not yet reached a full agreement, the fact that the regulator himself made clear the government’s stance on cooperation is a positive sign for the markets,” said Kim Haw-joon of the Korea Blockchain Association.

Wednesday’s news is a stark reversal of the justice minister’s warnings in January that the government was considering shutting down local cryptocurrency exchanges, throwing the market into turmoil.

Instead, South Korea banned the use of anonymous bank accounts for virtual coin trading as of January 30 to stop cryptocurrencies being used in money laundering and other crimes.

Bitcoin, the world’s most heavily traded cryptocurrency, is now changing hands at a three-week high of $11,086 on the Luxembourg-based Biststamp exchange after falling as low as $5,920.72 in early February.

South Korean electronics giant Samsung has already started production of cryptocurrency mining technologies, local media reported in January.


S. Korea Signs Free Trade Deals With 5 Central America Countries

South Korea said on Wednesday it is signing free trade agreements with five Central American nations aimed at boosting market access for the Korean auto sector and electronics makers.

Trade minister Kim Hyun-chong will meet representatives from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama in Seoul on Wednesday to sign five separate bilateral pacts which will eliminate duties on about 95 percent of traded goods and services, Korea’s trade ministry said in an e-mailed statement.

The agreements are subject to parliamentary approval in each country, and is likely to take effect at different times depending on the ratification process.

The five trade pacts open South Korea to key Central American countries after its deals with the U.S., the European Union and China helped boost exports.

“The South Korea-Central America free trade deals will enable the countries to build a more comprehensive, strategic partnerships going forward,” Kim said.

The ministry expects the five deals to accelerate South Korea’s economic growth by an overall 0.02 percent in the next 10 years, by boosting exports of cars, steel, cosmetics products, and auto components.


Venezuela: Launch of ‘Petro’ Cryptocurrency Raised $735 Million

President Nicolas Maduro said Tuesday that Venezuela had received $735 million in the first day of a pre-sale of the country’s “petro” cryptocurrency, aimed at pulling the country out of an economic tailspin.

Maduro is hoping the petro will allow the ailing OPEC member to skirt U.S. sanctions as the bolivar currency plunges to record lows and it struggles with hyperinflation and a collapsing socialist economy.

Blockchain experts have warned the petro is unlikely to attract significant investment. Opposition leaders have said the sale constitutes an illegal debt issuance that circumvents Venezuela’s majority-opposition legislature, and the U.S. Treasury Department has warned it may violate sanctions levied last year.

Maduro did not give details about the initial investors and there was no evidence presented for his figure. He added that tourism, some gasoline sales and some oil transactions could be made in petro.

“Today, a cryptocurrency is being born that can take on Superman,” said Maduro, using the comic character to refer to the United States, as he was flanked by mining rigs in a state television address.

The official website for the petro on Tuesday published a guide to setting up a virtual wallet to hold the cryptocurrency.

The cryptocurrency goes public next month.

Venezuelan Cryptocurrency Superintendent Carlos Vargas last week said the government was expecting to draw investors in Turkey, Qatar, the United States and Europe.

The value of the entire petro issuance of 100 million tokens would be just over $6 billion, according to details given by Maduro in recent months, though no new price information was provided Tuesday.

The tokens will each be valued at and backed by a barrel of Venezuelan crude oil, Maduro has said.

Advisers working for the government have in the past recommended that 38.4 percent of the petros should be sold in a private auction at a discount of 60 percent.

Maduro says his government is the victim of an “economic war” led by opposition politicians with the help of the government of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Sanctions levied last year by Washington block U.S. banks and investors from acquiring newly issued Venezuelan debt, effectively preventing the nation from borrowing abroad to bring in new hard currency or refinance existing debt.

The petro will not be a token on the Ethereum network, as was previously disclosed in a whitepaper provided by the government.


With Medicine Running Out, Venezuelans With Transplants Live in Fear

Yasmira Castano felt she had a fresh chance at life when she received a kidney transplant almost two decades ago. The young Venezuelan was able to finish high school and went on to work as a manicurist.

But late last year, Castano, now 40, was unable to find the drugs needed to keep her body from rejecting the organ, as Venezuela’s health care system slid deeper into crisis following years of economic turmoil.

On Christmas Eve, weak and frail, Castano was rushed to a crumbling state hospital in Venezuela’s teeming capital, Caracas. Her immune system had attacked the foreign organ and she lost her kidney shortly afterward.

Now, Castano needs dialysis three times a week to filter her blood. But the hospital attached to Venezuela’s Central University, once one of South America’s top institutions, frequently suffers water outages and lacks materials for dialysis.

“I spend nights not sleeping, just worrying,” said Castano, who weighs around 77 pounds (35 kg), as she lay on an old bed in a bleak hospital room, its bare walls unadorned by a television or pictures.

Her roommate Lismar Castellanos, who just turned 21, put it more bluntly.

“Unfortunately, I could die,” said Castellanos, who lost her transplanted kidney last year and is struggling to get the dialysis she needs to keep her body functioning.

The women are among Venezuela’s roughly 3,500 transplant recipients. After years leading normal lives, they now live in fear as Venezuela’s economic collapse under President Nicolas Maduro has left the once-prosperous OPEC nation unable to purchase sufficient foreign medicine or produce enough of its own.

Some 31 Venezuelans have seen their bodies start to reject their transplanted organs in the last month due to lack of medicine, according to umbrella health group Codevida, a nongovernmental organization.

At least seven have died due to complications stemming from organ failure in the last three months.

A further 16,000 Venezuelans, many hoping for an elusive transplant, are dependent on dialysis to clean their blood — but here, too, resources and materials are sorely lacking.

Nearly half of the country’s dialysis units are out of service, according to opposition lawmaker and oncologist Jose Manuel Olivares, a leading voice on the health crisis who has toured dialysis centers to assess the scale of the problem.

‘Straight to the cemetery’

In the last three weeks alone, seven people have died due to lack of dialysis, according to Codevida, which staged a protest to decry the critical drug shortages.

Once-controlled diseases like diphtheria and measles have returned, due partly to insufficient vaccines and antibiotics, while Venezuelans suffering chronic illnesses like cancer or diabetes often have to forgo treatment.

Hundreds of thousands of desperate Venezuelans, meanwhile, have fled the country over the past year, including many medical professionals.

Amid a lack of basics like catheters and crumbling hospital infrastructure, doctors who remain struggle to cope with ever scarcer resources.

“It’s incredibly stressful. We request supplies; they don’t arrive. We call again and they still don’t arrive. Then we realize it’s because there aren’t any,” said a kidney specialist at a public hospital, asking to remain anonymous because health workers are not allowed to speak publicly about the situation.

Venezuela’s Social Security Institute, tasked with providing patients with drugs for chronic conditions, did not respond to a request for comment.

Terrified transplant patients are indebting themselves to buy pricey medicine on the black market, begging relatives abroad to funnel drugs into the country or dangerously reducing their daily intake of pills to stretch out stock.

Larry Zambrano, a 45-year-old father of two with a kidney transplant, resorted to taking immunosuppressants designed for animals last year.

Guillermo Habanero and his brother Emerson both underwent kidney transplants after suffering polycystic kidney disease.

Emerson, a healthy 53-year-old former police officer, died in November after a month without immunosuppressants.

“If you lose your kidney, you go to dialysis but there are no materials. So you go straight to the cemetery,” said Habanero, 56, who runs a small computer repair shop in the poor hillside neighborhood of Catia.

Blaming Maduro, who blames sanctions

A Reuters reporter went to the Health Ministry to request an interview, but was asked at the entrance to give her contact details instead. No one called or emailed.

Reuters was also unable to contact the Health Ministry unit in charge of transplants, Fundavene, for comment. Its website was unavailable. Multiple calls to different phone numbers went unanswered. An email bounced back and no one answered a message on the unit’s Facebook page.

Maduro’s government has said the real culprit is an alleged U.S.-led business elite seeking to sabotage its socialist agenda by hoarding medicine and imposing sanctions.

“I see the cynicism of the right-wing, worried about people who cannot get dialysis treatment, but it’s their fault: They’ve asked for sanctions and a blockade against Venezuela,” Socialist Party heavyweight Diosdado Cabello said in recent comments on his weekly television program.

Health activists blame what they see as Maduro’s inefficient and corrupt government for the medical crisis and contend that government announcements of more imports for dialysis are totally insufficient.

Despite his unpopularity, Maduro is expected to win a new six-year term in an April 22 presidential election. The opposition is likely to boycott the vote, which it has already denounced as rigged in favor of the government.

Maduro has refused to accept food and medicine donations, despite the deepening health care crisis. Health activists and doctors smuggle in medicines, often donated by the growing Venezuelan diaspora, in their suitcases, but it is far from enough.

In the decaying hospital and dialysis center visited by Reuters, patients clamored for humanitarian aid.

Dolled up for her birthday and surrounded by cakes, the 21-year-old Castellanos took selfies with her friends and spoke excitedly about one day returning to dance, one of her passions.

But fears for her future permeated the room. A hospital worker stopped by to wish Castellanos many more birthday celebrations, but her worried face betrayed doubts.

“Other countries need to help us,” Castellanos said.


Study: Seas to Rise About a Meter Even If Climate Goals Met

Sea levels will rise between 0.7 and 1.2 meters (27-47 inches) in the next two centuries even if governments end the fossil fuel era as promised under the Paris climate agreement, scientists said Tuesday.

Early action to cut greenhouse gas emissions would limit the long-term rise, driven by a thaw of ice from Greenland to Antarctica that will re-draw global coastlines, a German-led team wrote in the journal Nature Communications.

Sea-level rise is a threat to cities from Shanghai to London, to low-lying swaths of Florida or Bangladesh, and to entire nations such as the Maldives in the Indian Ocean or Kiribati in the Pacific.

By 2300, the report projected that sea levels would gain by 0.7-1.2 meters, even if almost 200 nations fully meet goals under the 2015 Paris Agreement, which include cutting greenhouse gas emissions to net zero in the second half of this century.

Ocean levels will rise inexorably because heat-trapping industrial gases already emitted will linger in the atmosphere, melting more ice, it said. In addition, water naturally expands as it warms above four degrees Celsius (39.2°F).

The report also found that every five years of delay beyond 2020 in peaking global emissions would mean an extra 20 centimeters (8 inches) of sea-level rise by 2300.

“Sea level is often communicated as a really slow process that you can’t do much about … but the next 30 years really matter,” lead author Matthias Mengel, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told Reuters.

Governments are not on track to meet the Paris pledges.

Global emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas emitted by burning fossil fuels, rose last year after a three-year plateau.

And U.S. President Donald Trump, who doubts that human activities are the prime cause of warming, plans to quit the Paris deal and instead promote U.S. coal, oil and natural gas.

‘Brink of inundation’

Maldives Environment Minister Thoriq Ibrahim, who chairs the 44-member Alliance of Small Island States, said Tuesday’s findings showed a need for faster action to cut emissions, especially by rich nations.

“Unfortunately, the study confirms what small island nations have been saying for years: Decades of procrastination on climate change have brought many of us to the brink of inundation,” he told Reuters.

Professor John Church, of the Climate Change Research Center at the University of New South Wales, who was not involved in the study, said 100 million people now live within one meter of the high tide mark.

“More people are moving to live within the coastal zone, increasing the vulnerable population and infrastructure,” he said in a statement. “Adaptation to sea-level rise will be essential.”


Українців за рік стало менше на майже 200 тисяч – Держстат

Упродовж 2017 року чисельність населення України зменшилася на понад 198 тисяч людей, повідомила оновлені дані Державна служба статистики.

«Залишається суттєвим перевищення кількості померлих над кількістю живонароджених: на 100 померлих – 63 живонароджені», – йдеться у звіті.

Так, минулоріч народилося майже 364 тисячі українців, померли – понад 574.

Відповідно до статистичних даних, станом на 1 січня 2018 року кількість громадян складає 42 мільйони 386 тисяч.

Оцінку чисельності населення за 2017 рік проводили з охопленням усіх регіонів України, крім тимчасово окупованої території Криму.




Ebola’s Impact Reached Beyond Death Toll to Basic Health Care

More than 100,000 malaria cases went untreated when Liberia’s health care system buckled under the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak, according to a new study.

The research, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, shows how the toll of the Ebola outbreak goes beyond the 11,000 killed in West Africa by the virus itself. Basic health care took a major hit as well.

Ebola kills about half of the people it infects. It causes flu-like symptoms, followed by vomiting and diarrhea, and can lead to internal and external hemorrhaging. The disease spreads through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids. 

The countries of West Africa were ill-equipped to deal with the 2014-15 outbreak. Many clinics lacked the most basic tools for dealing with the disease, including latex gloves and face masks. 

“Rightfully so, people were afraid to go to the clinic because they might get Ebola when they’re at the clinic,” said study lead author Brad Wagenaar at the University of Washington.

Wagenaar and colleagues found that by four months into the epidemic, clinics were delivering one-third to two-thirds fewer basic services, which he described as a “huge, dramatic decrease.” 

‘Huge, dramatic decrease’

The researchers studied monthly data on health visits from 379 clinics outside the capital, Monrovia, from 2010 through 2016. 

They found measles vaccinations dropped by 67 percent. Anti-malarial treatment fell by 61 percent. Thirty-five percent fewer pregnant women came in for their first pre-natal visits.

It took more than a year-and-a-half for all services to return to pre-outbreak levels. 

Lost opportunities

In that time, more than three-quarters of a million clinic visits were lost, the researchers estimate, based on extrapolations from pre-outbreak trends. 

That includes more than 5,000 births at health care facilities, in a country with one of the world’s highest rates of maternal death, along with a loss of 100, 000 malaria treatments. These figures, Wagenaar adds, suggest a loss of other services that may have a long-term impact, such as distributing bed nets and spraying houses with insecticides.

“Some of these other things didn’t happen during the Ebola outbreak because the health system and other partners were busy with other issues,” he said. “And now, the cases have been increasing.”

Malaria cases were 50 percent higher in December of 2017 than they were before the Ebola epidemic.

Wagenaar says the research highlights how more attention must be devoted to maintaining basic services during a health emergency. The data his group analyzed could be used in other outbreaks to prioritize services that have been overlooked. 

Funding for public health systems

And after the emergency, funding should focus on strengthening public health systems. 

“We know that this epidemic happened in Liberia due to multiple factors, but one being the public sector ministry of health system has been underfunded,” he said, adding that remains the case.

Donors earmarked funds for strengthening the health system, he said. But, “that money never really materialized,” he added.


Олімпіада: 21 лютого українці боротимуться у лижних гонках та фігурному катанні

21 лютого збірна України змагатиметься за нагороди у лижних гонках та боротиметься за вихід у фінал у фігурному катанні на Олімпіаді у південнокорейському Пхьончхані.

О 3:00 Анна Хниченкова розпочне свій виступ у короткій програмі. Для того, щоб потрапити до наступного етапу, українці потрібно показати результат не нижче 20-го місця.

З 10:25 українські вболівальники дивитимуться лижні гонки. Спочатку Марина Анцибор та Тетяна Антипенко змагатимуться у командному спринті вільним стилем. А вже за годину у цій же дисципліні свої сили перевірять Олексій Красовський та Андрій Орлик.

Збірна України на XXІІІ зимових Олімпійських іграх представлена 33 атлетами у 9-ти видах. У кошику «синьо-жовтих» одна золота нагорода – у фристайлі Олександра Абраменка. Зараз у командному заліку збірна України знаходиться на 18-му місці.


На пробне ЗНО зареєструвалися понад 170 тисяч осіб

Для участі в пробному зовнішньому незалежному оцінюванні (ЗНО) 2018 року зареєструвалися понад 170 тисяч осіб, повідомляє Український центр оцінювання якості освіти (УЦОЯО).

«Найбільше зареєстрованих у місті Київ – 22 971 особа. Серед лідерів за областями: Львівська – 21 679 осіб, Дніпропетровська – 20 949 осіб, Харківська – 18 053 особи та Одеська – 16 781 особа», – йдеться в повідомленні.

Минулого року для участі в пробному ЗНО зареєструвалися понад 132 тисячі людей.

До 1 березня в особистих кабінетах усіх зареєстрованих учасників пробного ЗНО будуть розміщені запрошення-перепустки з адресами пунктів тестування, додають у центрі.

Пробне тестування відбудеться: 24 березня – з української мови і літератури; 31 березня – з англійської, німецької, іспанської, французької мов, біології, географії, історії України, математики, фізики, хімії.

В Україні 6 лютого почалася реєстрація для участі в зовнішньому незалежному оцінюванні. Реєстрація триватиме до 19 березня.

Основна сесія зовнішнього тестування пройде з 22 травня до 13 червня. За результатами тестування випускники можуть отримати можливість вступу до вищих навчальних закладів.


Experts: Underwater Archaeology Site Imperiled in Mexico

Pollution is threatening the recently mapped Sac Actun cave system in the Yucatan Peninsula, a vast underground network that experts in Mexico say could be the most important underwater archaeological site in the world.


Subaquatic archaeologist Guillermo de Anda said the cave system’s historical span is likely unrivaled. Some of the oldest human remains on the continent have been found there, dating back more than 12,000 years, and now-extinct animal remains push the horizon back to 15,000 years.


He said researchers found a human skull that was already covered in rainwater limestone deposits long before the cave system flooded around 9,000 years ago.


De Anda said over 120 sites with Maya-era pottery and bones in the caves suggest water levels may have briefly dropped in the 216-mile (347-kilometer) -long system during a drought about 1,000 A.D. And some artifacts have been found dating to the 1847-1901 Maya uprising known as the War of the Castes.


Humans there probably didn’t live in the caves, de Anda said, but rather went down to them “during periods of great climate stress, to look for water.”


Sac Actun is “probably the most important underwater archaeological site in the world,” he said.


But de Anda said pollution and development may threaten the caves’ crystalline water.

Some of the sinkhole lakes that today serve as entrances to the cave system are used by tourists to snorkel and swim. And the main highway in the Caribbean coast state of Quintana Roo runs right over some parts of cave network. That roadway has been known to collapse into sinkholes.


Also, the cave with the stone-encased skull has high acidity levels, suggesting acidic runoff from a nearby open-air dump could damage skeletal remains.


The world’s other great underwater site, the sunken Egyptian city of Alexandria, is also threatened by pollution.