Palestinian girl wins

$150k Arab reading prize

DUBAI (AFP): A Palestinian high school student on Wednesday won $150,000 (125,000 euros) in an Arabic-language reading competition organised by the Dubai government. Seventeen-year-old Afaf Raed Sharif, from Ramallah, beat 16 finalists from across the Arab world to land the top prize in the second annual Arab Reading Challenge. Participants had to read at least 50 books to qualify. “This is a victory over all the challenges that we face. We refuse to be any less than any other people in the world,” Sharif told AFP. “It’s a message to all students: don’t you ever give up. Don’t you ever break.

When you set a goal, you can reach it. It won’t be easy ... but you have to make persistence and patience your allies.”

The all-girl Al-Iman school, in Bahrain, won a $1 million prize for the best reading initiatives for students.

The principal of the winning school takes home $100,000 of the prize money, with the school’s reading supervisor taking another $100,000 and the remaining $800,000 going to school funds.




Twitter steps up fight against sexual harassment


SAN FRANCISCO (AFP): Twitter has announced tough new rules on tweets containing “non-consensual nudity” and sexual harassment, which could be seen as fallout from the Harvey Weinstein abuse scandal. The rules will come into force in the coming weeks, Twitter said in a statement late Tuesday, after company co-founder Jack Dorsey on Friday posted a series of tweets promising policy changes. The San Francisco-based social media giant will “immediately and permanently suspend any account we identify as the original poster/source of non-consensual nudity and/or if a user makes it clear they are intentionally posting said content to harass their target,” the statement read.

Twitter defines “non-consensual nudity” as including “content like upskirt imagery, ‘creep shots,’ and hidden camera content.” Since people appearing in these pictures “often do not know the material exists, we will not require a report from a target in order to remove it,” the statement said.

Twitter said that while it recognizes that there is “an entire genre of pornography dedicated to this type of content, it’s nearly impossible for us to distinguish when this content may/may not have been produced and distributed consensually.

“We would rather error on the side of protecting victims and removing this type of content when we become aware of it,” the statement read.

Twitter also said that sexually charged conversations and the exchange of sexual media will now be “unacceptable,” and promised to take action when such exchanges are reported by participants or by observers.




Massacre fears spark race to save rare Australia parrot

SYDNEY (AFP): Critically endangered Swift Parrots are under threat from squirrel-like sugar gliders in a battle for space in Australia’s ancient forests, scientists said Wednesday as they race to save the rare birds. Swift Parrots are migratory and only breed in the southern island state of Tasmania. But the nomadic nectar-eating birds’ nesting grounds - gum trees - are also popular with sugar gliders, small possums believed to have been introduced to Tasmania in the early 19th century. The marsupials, which launch themselves from tree to tree and rarely descend to the ground, eat the nesting birds as well as their eggs and chicks, the Australian National University scientists said.

This year, both species are battling for real estate on Tasmania’s east coast due to abundant eucalypt flowering in the region, which contains some of the world’s oldest trees.

“In some of these places, we’ve never had a chick survive,” ANU conservation scientist Dejan Stojanovic said in a statement.

“If we don’t intervene immediately, this year could be a huge blow to the conservation of this species.”

Stojanovic and his team have designed nesting boxes with light-sensitive doors that open at sunrise and close at sunset, protecting the parrots from the sugar gliders in the night when the creatures are active.

The doors are powered by solar panels and have back-up batteries, with the team setting up a crowd-funding campaign to pay for them to be fitted onto 100 nest boxes already in the area.

Early tests worked well and the birds “didn’t mind the machinery”, Stojanovic added.

Swift Parrots usually arrive from the Australian mainland in August before flying back north in February and March after the breeding season, according to the Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service.

There are no recent estimates of their population, but a 2011 assessment cited by the Australian government estimated there were only about 2,000 mature birds, with the population declining.




Writer Margaret Atwood

gets 2017 Kafka award


PRAGUE (AFP): Canadian poet, critic and novelist Margaret Atwood received this year’s international Franz Kafka literary prize at a ceremony in Prague on Tuesday, which honoured the lifetime achievements of “The Handmaid’s Tale” author. “I think this one is quite special because the first free-standing literary essay that I wrote that was not for school was about Franz Kafka back in the 1950s,” Atwood told AFP.

“At that time I read not only his biography but all of his work and I remember it very well,” she added before receiving the $10,000 (8,500 euros) prize. “He also of course in retrospect seemed quite prophetic, not only about the Nazi regime, but also about the behaviour of the USSR.”

“He was suppressed in this country by both of those regimes so for people interested in freedom of expression and openness in publication, he was an icon at that time,” Atwood said.

The 77-year-old Atwood’s prolific career, spanning decades, has included the publication of 17 novels, seven children’s books and nearly two dozen books of poetry.

“The Handmaid’s Tale,” Atwood’s best-known work about a totalitarian society, has inspired a film, a ballet, an opera and most recently, a television series starring Elizabeth Moss that swept last month’s Emmy Awards.

Published in 1985, the novel is often mentioned in the same breath as George Orwell’s “1984,” Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and other dystopian works of speculative fiction. It turned Atwood into a feminist icon.

Her other notable novels include “The Edible Woman” (1969), “Cat’s Eye” (1988), “The Robber Bride” (1993) and “Oryx and Crake” (2003).

In 2000, Atwood won the Booker Prize - Britain’s top literary award - for “The Blind Assassin.”

The Kafka Prize, named after the famous Prague-born writer of such 20th century classics as “The Trial”, “Metamorphosis” and “The Castle”, was first awarded by the Prague-based Franz Kafka society in 2001.

Previous winners include Japanese author Haruki Murakami, Israeli writer Amos Oz, US novelist Philip Roth, British playwright Harold Pinter, French poet Yves Bonnefoy and Czech playwright and former president Vaclav Havel.





Louis XIV, Napoleon diamond to be auctioned off

GENEVA (AFP): A large, pink diamond once set in the crowns of numerous French kings and emperors will go under the hammer in Geneva next month, the Christie’s auction house said Wednesday. “Le Grand Mazarin”, a 19.07-carat light pink diamond, was a gift to Louis XIV in 1661 and was set in the crowns of almost all of the monarchs and emperors of France who followed, Christie’s said. The diamond is “a timeless symbol of beauty, a French royal treasure adorning no fewer than seven kings and queens beginning with the Sun King Louis XIV,” Christie’s chairman for Europe and Asia Francois Curiel said in a statement.  “Above all, it is a witness to 350 years of European history. This stone belongs to a class of its own,” he said.

The gem was named after Cardinal Mazarin, an Italian cardinal and diplomat, as well as a great art collector, who served as chief minister under Louis XIII and Louis XIV, and who bequeathed it and other diamonds to the Sun King in his will.

The pink stone, originally dug out of the ancient mines of Golconda in south-central India, sparkled on the crowns of Louis XV and Louis XVI, who was guillotined during the French Revolution.

And it graced the crown of Napoleon I, Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie, among others.

It has since passed through the hands of famous French jeweller Frederic Boucheron and later the Baron von Derwies.

Christie’s said it was currently part of a private collection, but did not reveal the name of the owner.

The auction house said it hoped to rake in $6.0-9.0 million (5.1-7.7 million euros) for the diamond.

When it appears at the Christi’s Magnificent Jewels Auction in Geneva on November 14, it will mark the first time it goes under the hammer in 130 years.

It has been auctioned off once before: It was among the French Crown Jewels sold off in 1887 - 17 years after France’s Second Empire collapsed and Napoleon III and his wife Emperess Eugenie sought exile in England, leaving their jewels behind.