French men to face instant fines for cat-calling

PARIS (AFP: A new law banning cat-calling and harassment of women on French streets will see men fined on the spot for aggressive behaviour, France’s women’s minister said Monday. The legislation is being piloted by 34-year-old Marlene Schiappa, a feminist and early supporter of French President Emmanuel Macron who wants to tackle sexist male attitudes in public spaces. “It’s completely necessary because at the moment street harassment is not defined in the law,” she told RTL radio on Monday in a major interview to outline the law, which is to be voted next year. The escalating scandal over Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual assaults on a string of actresses has rekindled debate on sexual harassment and predation in France.

The hashtag MeToo encouraging women to share their experiences is among the top 10 trends on French Twitter.

Asked about the difficulty of drawing a line between harassment and flirtation, Schiappa replied: “We know very well at what point we start feeling intimidated, unsafe or harassed in the street.”

She cited examples such as when a man invades a woman’s personal space - “by talking to you 10, 20 centimetres from your face” - or follows a woman for several blocks, or “asks for your number 17 times.”

A cross-party taskforce composed of five MPs has been asked to work with police and magistrates to come up with a definition of harassment that can be enforced by officers in the street.

“The level of the fine is part of our discussions,” Schiappa said, adding that neighbourhood police would act on complaints brought to their attention by women.

“The symbolic value of laws that outlaw street harassment is very great,” she said.

The legislation will also include provisions such as lengthening the amount of time women have to lodge sexual assault complaints dating from their childhood and toughening laws on sex with minors.



New Zealand faces ‘chipocalypse’


Auckland (BBC): New Zealand is facing a potential crisps shortage this summer, producers say, in a snack crisis being labelled the “chipocalypse”. Persistent wet winter weather on the islands has hit potato production, resulting in higher prices. In some places, up to a third of the crop has been lost. And crisps - which are made with a particular kind of potato from affected regions - have been hit particularly badly. Industry body Potatoes New Zealand says the price for a kilogram of potatoes has already risen sharply in the past year from AUD $1.63 in August 2016 to $2.12 a year later. But the ongoing trouble in potato farming did not capture mainstream attention until a warning appeared on some supermarket crisp aisles. Seasons are inverted in the northern and southern hemispheres - so it is now spring in Australasia, following a particularly bad winter.

“It started raining in March, and it just simply hasn’t stopped,” said Chris Claridge, head of Potatoes New Zealand, blaming the third-wettest year on record.

Speaking to Radio Live NZ, he said farmers had not had the dry periods their crops needed.

“Potatoes are actually alive - they need to breathe. And so effectively they drown, and then they start to rot... because they’re submerged in water,” he said.

Waterlogged fields also make it difficult for farmers to get to their fields and save the crop, he said - because the soil cannot support the weight of a tractor.

New Zealand’s North Island, where crisping varieties are grown, has suffered most, he said - but fresh potato supply from the South Island is largely unaffected.

It would take some months for the shortage to hit shelves - and it is likely to hit processed potato foods more than fresh stocks.

“You will have new potatoes for Christmas, I promise you that,” Mr Claridge said.

Supermarket chain Pak n’ Save, whose warning signs prompted national headlines, later downplayed any potential shortage, claiming it “was actually due to an ordering error” - prompting some social media users to wonder if the “chipocalypse” was just a myth.

But a company spokeswoman did tell that growers were “highlighting a potential future potato shortage”.

The two largest supermarket chains both told the new site they were “working with suppliers” to avoid any problems.





Vietnam woman gives

birth to 7 kg baby

HANOI (AFP): A Vietnamese mother had the shock of her life when her newborn son weighed in at a whopping 7.1 kilograms (15.7 pounds), one of the heaviest births ever reported in the Southeast Asian nation. The very large bundle of joy was born Saturday to his beaming - and stunned - parents in northern Vinh Phuc province. “When the doctor said my child was 7.1 kilograms, we all couldn’t believe it,” father Tran Van Quan told AFP Monday. Doctors had earlier told mother Nguyen Kim Lien that her baby would be around five kilograms, but she hadn’t bargained for the extra two. To be certain, they weighed him again after doctors brought him to mum’s hospital room.

The scales didn’t lie.

“He was 7.2 kilograms with some clothes on, so a bit heavier than when he came out of mummy!” Quan added.

Hospital staff confirmed the baby’s weight to AFP, declining to comment.

The family have named the not-so-little-guy Tran Tien Quoc, and Quan said both mother and son are healthy and happy.

The last big baby to make headlines in Vietnam was in 2008, when a woman gave birth to a daughter weighing nearly seven kilograms in central Gia Lai province.

The heaviest baby ever born to a healthy mother clocked in at 10.2 kilograms in 1955 in Aversa Italy, according to Guinness World Records.

Baby Quoc is expected to go home in a few days with mum, who is recovering from a Caesarean section.

This is the couple’s second son. Their first was born in 2013 and weighed a comparatively modest 4.2 kilograms.





Iran’s Facebook

shuts down


TEHRAN (AFP): Iran’s oldest social media network announced Monday it is shutting down after years of battling censors, saying they had allowed foreign sites such as Instagram to take over. Cloob website was launched 12 years ago as the Iranian answer to Facebook and Google’s now-dead Orkut, and at its peak had some two million users in the country. But the challenge of monitoring the deluge of photos from women not to show hair and removing politically sensitive comments led to frequent clashes with the authorities. “ was entirely blocked three times and the last time it took 28 days to unblock it,” said company director Mohammad Javad Shakouri Moghadam in a blog post. “Like a farmer, a webmaster knows how hard it is to rejuvenate a land that has dried up for 28 days,” he wrote, adding that his team no longer had the “energy or enthusiasm” to keep fighting. Iran banned Facebook primarily due to lack of oversight, especially women sharing photos of themselves without a headscarf, which is illegal under the country’s Islamic laws.

But sites such as Instagram are not banned and have boomed in Iran, while messaging service Telegram has some 25 million users in the country.

Officials say they cannot ban popular online services as long as there is no local alternative.

“Cloob was one of the top three services in Iran but its flourishing tree has withered,” said Shakouri.

He said he also faced frequent legal battles over his other companies, such as video sharing site Aparat and streaming service Filmio.

“These days, some have started to... sue the new wave of content creators such as Aparat and other services - a source of domestic content creation which would definitely be of benefit to our country and culture,” he said.

President Hassan Rouhani was re-elected in May promising to soften social restrictions.

He appointed the Islamic republic’s youngest-ever minister, 36-year-old Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi, to head the communications portfolio.

Jahromi said in August that negotiations were underway to lift a ban on Twitter, though no progress has since been announced.






Drive for giant new marine sanctuary in Antarctica

SYDNEY (AFP): Australia and France kick off a fresh push Monday to create a vast marine sanctuary in pristine East Antarctica, hoping to build on the success of landmark deal secured last year at a key annual conservation summit. The fate of the plan to shield critical areas of ocean around the frozen continent rests with the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which meets in Hobart until October 27. In a major breakthrough, agreement was reached in 2016 to establish the world’s largest reserve after Russia dropped its long-held opposition over fishing rights. That earlier deal saw a massive US and New Zealand-backed marine protected area (MPA) around the Ross Sea, covering more than 1.55 million square kilometres (600,000 square miles) - roughly the size of Britain, Germany and France combined.


A large part of it will be a no-fishing zone with the protection taking effect from December 1, the result of years of pressure by conservationists.

But time ran out to seal agreement on a second proposed protected area - the Australia and France-led East Antarctica sanctuary covering another one million square kilometre zone.

“Designating an MPA in East Antarctica this year would significantly move the needle toward a full MPA network by 2020,” said Andrea Kavanagh, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Antarctic and Southern Ocean work.

Plans were set out in 2009 to establish a series of MPAs in the Southern Ocean allowing marine life to migrate between areas for breeding and foraging.

But it has been slow going, with the main stumbling blocks around fishing rights and Russia and China stymying progress in the past.

A third German-backed plan is also in the works to protect the Weddell Sea, which extends from the southeast of South America over some 2.8 million square kilometres.

But it has been sent back for amendments and will not be a main agenda item this year.

However, a proposal for a fourth zone of 94,000 square kilometres around the Western Antarctic Peninsula is set to be presented by Argentina and Chile, conservationists told AFP.

CCAMLR is a treaty tasked with overseeing conservation and sustainable exploitation of the Antarctic Ocean, also known as the Southern Ocean. Consensus is needed from all 24 member countries and the European Union.

Antarctica is home to penguins, seals, Antarctic toothfish, whales and huge numbers of krill, a staple food for many species.

They are considered critical for scientists to study how marine ecosystems function and to understand the impacts of climate change on the ocean.

The East Antarctica plan originally comprised seven large marine areas but has been reduced to three as a compromise - MacRobertson, Drygalski, and the D’Urville Sea-Mertz region.

D’Urville would be a no-catch zone, which WWF said would aid a stricken Adelie penguin colony near the French Antarctic research station there.

Mass starvation wiped out thousands of chicks in the colony this year, with unusually thick sea ice linked to the break up of the Mertz glacier forcing their parents to forage further for food. Only two survived.

“The death of so many Adelie penguin chicks shows just how tough life can be in Antarctica,” said WWF Antarctic program manager Chris Johnson. “The last thing these penguins need is more pressure.”

“That’s why it’s crucial CCAMLR locks in an MPA in East Antarctica to help secure a future for Adelie penguins and all the other amazing wildlife and marine biodiversity.”

He added that “expectations are running high for another significant achievement this year”.

Also on the agenda will be discussion on a research and monitoring plan to oversee the implementation of the Ross Sea MPA so scientists can better understand how it affects the ecosystem’s health.