Guinea Hit by Fresh Anti-Government Rallies

Guineans took to the streets en masse on Tuesday, in the latest round of mass anti-government protests to hit the fragile West African state.
Around one million people protested against embattled President Alpha Conde in the capital Conakry, opposition MP Fode Oussouba said.
AFP could not independently verify the figure, however.
The poor former French colony country of some 13 million has seen rolling demonstrations since mid-October over suspicions that the 81-year-old president is maneuvering to seek a third term in office.
At least 20 civilians have been killed since protests began, and one gendarme has also been killed.
Scores of people have also been arrested and detained in the unrest.
There were no reports of violence on Tuesday, however, which also saw thousands of people protest in regional cities in the center and north of the country, according to witnesses.
“Today, our thoughts are with the dead, with our friends who are in court,” said Abdourahmane Sanoh, the coordinator of the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC), an alliance of opposition groups.
Sanoh was temporarily freed from prison last month, pending an appeal, after originally being jailed for his role in staging demonstrations.
Conde, whose second term ends next year, launched constitutional consultations in September, saying the former French colony’s basic law “concentrates corporate interests” and needed reform.
But his adversaries say the president will try to push through an amendment allowing him to seek a third term in elections due in 2020. He has neither confirmed nor denied his intentions.
 


Brain Differences May Be Tied to Obesity, Kids’ Study Says

New results from the largest long-term study of brain development and children’s health raise provocative questions about obesity and brain function.
Does excess body weight somehow reduce brain regions that regulate planning and impulse control? Is obesity a result of that brain difference? Or are eating habits, lifestyle, family circumstances and genetics to blame?
Previous studies in children and adults have had conflicting results. The new research doesn’t settle the matter and outside experts cautioned that misinterpreting it could unfairly perpetuate weight stigma.
But an editorial published with the study Monday in JAMA Pediatrics called it an important addition to mounting evidence of a link between weight, brain structure and mental function.
If follow-up research confirms the findings, it could lead to new ways to prevent obesity that target improved brain function.
“We don’t know which direction these relationships go nor do they suggest that people with obesity are not as smart as people at a healthy weight,” said Dr. Eliana Perrin, a Duke University pediatrics professor who co-wrote the editorial.
The federally-funded study involved 3,190 U.S. children aged 9 and 10. They had height and weight measurements, MRI brain scans and computer-based tests of mental function including memory, language, reasoning and impulse control. Nearly 1,000 kids — almost 1 in 3 — were overweight or obese, similar to national statistics.
Researchers found differences in the heaviest children’s brain scans, slightly less volume in the brain region behind the forehead that controls what are known as “executive function” tasks. They include things like ability to plan, control impulses and handle multiple tasks simultaneously.
 The differences compared with normal-weight kids were subtle, said study author Scott Mackey, a neuroscientist at the University of Vermont.
The heaviest kids also had slightly worse scores on computer-based tests of executive function. But Mackey and lead author Jennifer Laurent, a University of Vermont obesity researcher, said it’s unknown whether any of the differences had any meaningful effect on children’s academic functioning or behavior. It’s unclear exactly how they are related to weight and Mackey said it’s likely other factors not measured in the study including physical activity and healthy nutrition play a far greater role.
Research in adults has linked obesity with low-level inflammation throughout the body that can damage blood vessels and may increase risks for heart disease and mental decline. Some studies have also found less brain volume in obese adults and researchers theorize that it could be from inflammation.
The new study raises the possibility that inflammatory changes affecting weight, brain structure and function might begin in childhood.
The latest research confirms previous studies in children and adults, but it leaves many questions unanswered, said Marci Gluck, a research psychologist at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, who was not part of the research.
“Executive function deficits and `intelligence’ are not the same,” Gluck said.
Obesity researcher Natasha Schvey of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences called the study impressive, but noted that eating habits and obesity are influenced by many factors, including metabolic and psychological differences.
“We know from a lot of really good research that obesity is not as much in an individual’s control as we think it is. People talk about willpower — that’s a very small part of the equation,” she said. “There are much bigger contributors to our weight and a lot of it is genetic. That’s not to say it’s immutable.”
 


French Pension Strikes Expand, Police Gird for New Protests

French airport workers, teachers and others joined nationwide strikes Tuesday as unions cranked up pressure on the government to scrap changes to the national retirement system.
Police ordered shops and restaurants closed across a swath of Paris, fearing violence on the fringes of what government opponents hope is another mass march in the afternoon. At least 800,000 people turned out for demonstrations around France when the strike movement kicked off last Thursday.
Protests are also planned Tuesday in other cities, as the strike pushes on into a sixth straight day. Unions fear President Emmanuel Macron’s retirement reform will force people to work longer for smaller pensions, even though the government says it won’t raise the official retirement age of 62.
Only about a fifth of French trains ran normally Tuesday, frustrating tourists who found train stations empty and trains canceled, and most Paris subways were at a halt. The Paris region registered double the number of traffic jams at morning rush hour than on a normal day.
Overall the number of striking workers is lower than last week but travelers’ patience is wearing thin, as commuters struggle to squeeze on scarce regional trains to get to work.
Air France, the national carrier, said more than 25% of its domestic traffic would be grounded Tuesday by the strike, along with more than 10% of its medium-range flights.


Hong Kong Police Defuse 2 Homemade Bombs on College Campus

Hong Kong police say they defused two large homemade bombs packed with nails on a college campus.
Police say bomb disposal officers rushed to Wah Yan College in  Wanchai district Tuesday after a janitor noticed the devices.
Monday evening’s discovery is the latest cache of weaponry found during six months of anti-government protests that have rocked the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.  
Alick McWhirter, senior bomb disposal officer told a news conference, “In addition to the large quantities of explosives, there was also fragmentation, shrapnel, in the form of nails, which had been added to both of the devices. Both of these devices have only one function, to kill and to maim people.”
The bombs were radio-controlled, to be triggered with mobile phones.  Authorities did not speculate publicly who put the bombs together and why.  
In July, police announced the seizure of about two kilograms (4.4 pounds) of TATP, or tri-acetone tri-peroxide, which has been used in militant attacks worldwide.


Australians Flee as Soaring Temperature, Winds Threaten to Fan Fires

Residents in parts of eastern Australia evacuated their homes on Tuesday as soaring temperatures and strong winds threatened to fan bushfires in a giant blaze north of Sydney, the country’s biggest city.
Air quality in parts of Sydney plunged as the city awoke to another thick blanket of smoke, disrupting transport services and prompting health warnings from authorities.
More than 100 fires are ablaze in New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria states in eastern Australia, many of which have been burning since November. The fires have killed at least four people, destroyed more than 680 homes and burned more than 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) of bushland.
After a brief respite over the weekend, conditions are set to worsen on Tuesday as temperatures top 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) and winds pick up, stoking fears that fires could spread to more populated areas.
Such forecasts have heightened worries about a so-called megablaze burning north of Sydney.
Stretching for more than 60 km (37.2 miles), the firefront in the Hawkesbury region, about 50 km north west of Sydney, could grow if the forecasted winds arrive, authorities have warned.
While there is no official evacuation order, many locals have decided to leave their homes, Hawkesbury Mayor Barry Calvert told Reuters.
“It is eerie, many people have decided to leave, and I’m going to do the same,” said Calvert.
“I’ve been through this before about 20 years ago when I stood outside my house looking at flames 50 feet high, I decided then that I would leave early if it happened again.”

Rural Fire Service (RFS) volunteers and NSW Fire and Rescue officers fight a bushfire encroaching on properties near Termeil, Australia, Dec. 3, 2019.While conditions are not expected to reach the higher “catastrophic fire danger” hit last month, authorities said the recent hot, dry weather has increased the expanse of potential fireground.
“There are some that are much closer and with greater potential to impact on more densely populated or highly populated areas,” said NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.
Keen to reassure locals, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said there were 111 aircraft ready to join firefighting efforts if needed.
Bushfires are common in Australia’s hot, dry summers, but the ferocity and early arrival of the fires in the southern spring is unprecedented. Experts have said climate change has left bushland tinder-dry.
The wildfires have blanketed Sydney – home to more than 5 million people – in smoke and ash for more than two weeks, turning the daytime sky orange, obscuring visibility and prompting commuters to wear breathing masks.
Sydney’s air quality index readings in some parts of the city on Tuesday were 11 times the recommended safe levels, government data showed.
The thick haze forced widespread transport disruptions, with ferries suspended and trains experiencing lengthy delays.
“Remain inside with the windows and doors closed, preferably in an air-conditioned building,” the NSW state government’s health department said.
 


Argentine Bond Prices Rise on Relief over Upcoming Debt Revamp

Argentine bond prices rose on Monday in the first session since President-elect Alberto Fernandez named debt restructuring expert Martin Guzman as economy minister, the central figure in a cabinet that will start serving after Tuesday’s inauguration.
Over the counter bond prices popped an average 2.1% higher and country risk spreads tightened, showing the market took Fernandez’s cabinet picks in stride.
Guzman, 37, will be responsible for sparking growth, taming inflation and steering restructuring talks with creditors and the International Monetary Fund over about $100 billion in debt.
Creditors had feared that Peronist Fernandez might take a tough stance in upcoming restructuring talks. But Guzman, who sees the problem as one of liquidity rather than solvency, has advocated for a debt revamp based on a suspension of payments that would preserve eventual repayment of principal.
Such an approach would avoid a “haircut,” or outright cut in the return of creditors’ principal investment.
“There had been uncertainty about the debt restructuring proposal. Guzman does not want to implement a haircut on the principal. So this clears some of the fear that had been priced into bonds,” said Gabriel Zelpo, director of economic consultancy Seido.
Sovereign risk spreads tightened 123 basis points to 2,194 over safe-haven U.S. Treasuries on JP Morgan’s Emerging Markets Bond Index Plus, having blown out from the 480 basis points where the index stood when outgoing President Mauricio Macri, a proponent of free markets, took office in late 2015.

FILE – An entrance to the Central Bank of the Argentine Republic is pictured in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Oct. 28, 2019.Inflation has risen under Macri, and the peso has lost 83.75% of its value while Latin America’s No. 3 economy has stalled. Consumer prices are up more than 50% so far this year after a 47.6% rise in 2018. The peso was stable on Monday at just under 60 to the dollar.
Guzman, an academic and protégé of Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, is an expert in bond restructurings.
He opposed Macri’s austerity drive, which included public utility subsidy cuts that jacked up power and heating bills paid by Argentine families and businesses.
Those utility bill increases fueled the inflation that dogged Macri’s four years in power, killed his once-high popularity and undermined his re-election campaign.
Markets had been on edge since Fernandez thumped Macri in the August primary election. The lopsided victory signaled a shift away from Macri’s strict pro-business policy stance. The inauguration will take place around midday on Tuesday.
 


Russia, Ukraine leaders Agree on Ceasefire Following Four-Way Talks in Paris

Russian and Ukrainian leaders agreed to implement a ceasefire and a prisoners’ swap by years end, following four-way talks in Paris on Monday that also included France and Germany. 
The four heads of state said they had made progress and that just talking was a key step forward. They are to meet again in four months.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was confident of the ceasefire would take place this month. He outlined both steps forward and progress still to be made during a late night press conference, echoing similar remarks made by other leaders there.
“It’s not a frozen situation,” Zelensky said. “And to answer your question, yes I do feel we will meet again in another four months, and be in a position to go forward and address other questions on the basis of our achievements.”
This is the first meeting between Zelensky and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin since the Ukrainian actor took office earlier this year. It’s the first such four-way summit since 2016 that also includes France and Germany.
Putin said describing a possible thaw between Russia and Ukraine was correct.
“We’ve have had progress on most issues,” Putin said. “All of this does suggest that things are going the right way.”
The talks aim to pave a solution to the ongoing conflict between the two countries that has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014. Both sides have since accused the other of failing to honor a 2015 peace agreement.
President Zelensky, a political newcomer, has made ending the conflict a priority.
But many Ukrainians are worried he may concede too much. Ahead of the Paris meeting, thousands demonstrated in the capital Kyiv against any so-called “capitulation” to Moscow.
The talks are also seen as a diplomatic test for host Emmanuel Macron. The French President wants to re-engage with Russia after several years of European Union sanctions over the Ukraine crisis. But that has gotten pushback from EU members like Poland. 


Messi’s Hometown Offers Emotional Trip to His Childhood

Soccer wasn’t always Lionel Messi’s favorite activity.
When he was a child in the modest neighborhood of La Bajada in his Argentine hometown of Rosario, he spent his time bicycling with friends, building forts out of branches and stones, playing hide and seek – and occasionally stealing lemons from a neighbor to make juice.
Those stories and others are the focus of a new tour being offered by Rosario to celebrate their 32-year-old hometown hero, an international sports superstar who just won an unprecedented sixth Golden Ball as world soccer’s player of the year.
The tour put together by Rosario’s city hall is free of charge and available in an app translated into several languages, guiding fans through 0 stops.
Few houses are higher than two stories in La Bajada, a middle-class neighborhood in the city that is 186 miles (300 kilometers) northwest of Buenos Aires.
Halfway down Israel street stands a gray house, closed off by shut curtains and protected by railings. There is no sign outside indicating it was Messi’s home, and no one lives there now, though it still belongs to his family.
The neighbors aren’t so shy about the Messi connection, however. Colorful paintings dedicated to the soccer star stand in front of houses and there are sidewalks colored in the blue and white of Argentina’s national team with Messi’s jersey number, 10, painted in black.
Messi’s neighbors and friends are often willing to share stories with visitors.
“Leo was normal and ordinary like other people here,” Diego Vallejos, one of Messi’s childhood friends, told The Associated Press on a sandy soccer field of the El Campito club as three youngsters played soccer.
“We fell, we scratched ourselves riding bikes. We went to the street with water bombs and threw them at buses,” said Vallejos, who is one year older than Messi.
Also are on the tour are the school Messi attended and the Abanderado Grandoli club, where he learned his first soccer moves.
The city long had a somewhat distant relationship with Messi, and officials say the tour seeks to change that. Rosario’s city hall said Messi’s family did not take part in the creation of the tour.
“What we want to emphasize is that Leo is a product of his city, and that there is a life and many stories behind the superstar,” said Santiago Valenti with Rosario’s tourism agency.
Messi was born June 24, 1987, in the Hospital Italiano Garibaldi in Rosario. He lived in the city until 2000, when he moved to Barcelona.
A recently opened sports museum, a few blocks from Messi’s old house, offers an interactive tour of the lives of local stars in racing, boxing, basketball and soccer.
Messi’s section of the museum is introduced by a painting that mixes monuments from Rosario and Barcelona, and the sentence: “All that I did, I did for soccer.” Two giant screens display goals and testimonials from his teammates.
“The idea is not to pay a tribute to his sporting success,” said museum coordinator Juan Echeverria. “It is to value the path he walked, everything that an athlete has to go through to get to the tip of the iceberg that we see when he is on the podium.”
The museum has contacted Messi’s family and the player’s father said he would donate more memorabilia.
One of items on display is a small red coat with a white collar. Below it is Messi’s official register as a Newell’s Old Boys academy player and a picture of him smiling.
Downtown is the Malvinas compound where Newell’s has its soccer academy. It was there the young Messi was filmed out-dribbling much bigger opponents.
“This is where it all started,” said Lisandro Conte, an employee at the academy.
Messi did not play for Newell’s. “At that time there were players who looked more promising, and the bet was placed on them,” Conte said
Still, Messi has said he wants to finish his career at Newell’s, playing for his hometown club in his own country after a professional career in Barcelona’s storied Spanish league team.
Fans visiting Rosario might even be able to catch a match between academy teams like the recent clash between Newell’s and arch-rival Rosario Central. Among the 14 youngsters chasing the ball might be Rosario’s next star.