Pink diamond sells for

over $32m in Hong Kong


HONG KONG (AFP): An enormous oval diamond named the “Pink Promise” was sold Tuesday for an eye-watering US$32.16 million at auction in Hong Kong. The 14.93-carat pink gemstone went to an unidentified phone bidder as applause filled the room. Auctioneers Christie’s said it was the second highest price per carat paid for a pink diamond, next to the five-carat “Vivid Pink” which sold in Hong Kong for $10.78 million in 2009. However, the diamond failed to sell at the higher end of the auction house’s estimates of up to US$42 million. “It’s a very, very strong price,” François Curiel, Christie’s Europe and Asia chairman, told AFP after the sale.

“It really shows that Hong Kong is a very important centre for jewellery today.”

An ongoing anti-corruption drive in mainland China has done little to dent feverish bidding in Hong Kong’s auction houses.

A 1,000-year-old bowl from China’s Song Dynasty was sold for $37.7 million in the city last month, breaking the record for Chinese ceramics.

Earlier this year a giant diamond named the “Pink Star” broke the world record for a gemstone sold at auction when it fetched $71.2 million at Sotheby’s.




‘Upsurge’ of scarlet

fever in England


PARIS (AFP): Scarlet fever, a common cause of childhood death in the 1800s and early 1900s, has seen an upsurge in England since 2011 after decades of decline, scientists said Tuesday. Identifying the cause for the increased cases was “a public health priority”, they warned. “England is experiencing an unprecedented rise in scarlet fever with the highest incidence for nearly 50 years,” said a study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, a leading medical journal. In 2014, that amounted to a scarlet fever notification “for one in 500 children under the age of 10 years.” There were no deaths.

 “Whilst current rates are nowhere near those seen in the early 1900s, the magnitude of the recent upsurge is greater than any documented in the last century,” said study leader Theresa Lamagni of Public Health England, Britain’s executive health agency.

Scarlet fever is an infection, usually not serious, with symptoms including a sore throat, headache, high temperature and an itchy, sandpaper-like rash for which the disease is named. Caused by the Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria, it is most common in children under 10, and can be treated with antibiotics. It killed thousands of people in the Victorian era, but has become much less feared since the advent of antibiotics. Still, in rare cases it can lead to pneumonia, sepsis, and liver and kidney damage, the research team said.

Looking at scarlet fever notifications in England and Wales from 1911 onwards, they uncovered a sevenfold increase in new cases from 2011 to 2016.

There were 620 outbreaks in 2016 with more than 19,000 cases, mostly in schools and nurseries.

From 2013 to 2014, scarlet fever incidence tripled from 8.2 infections per 100,000 people to 27.2, the team found.

Hospitalisations almost doubled from 703 in 2013 to 1,300 in 2016.

The reason for the “ongoing rise” in cases is not known, the team said. Genetic testing has found there was no new strain of easily transmissible bacteria behind the surge.

The quest for an answer continues.

In the meantime, people with scarlet fever symptoms “should see their GP promptly as they will require antibiotic treatment to reduce the risk of complications,” the team said.

“Antibiotic treatment also reduces the likelihood of the infection being passed on to others.”

Vietnam, China, South Korea and Hong Kong have also reported an escalation in the past five years, the researchers said, but no other European country has reported a sudden rise.



Indonesians hospitalised

after bizarre sorcery ritual


JAKARTA (AFP): Seven Indonesians were hospitalised after rinsing their hands in acid, police said Tuesday as they hunted for the self-styled sorcerer who promised the men it would make them invincible. The bizarre ritual last week left the men, residents of the Rawa Kopi village just outside the capital Jakarta, with serious burns on their hands, authorities said. A mystery man named Didi, who moved into the village several months ago, claimed he was a master of traditional magic - known as Debus - which is supposed to protect a person from physical injury. The self-proclaimed magician offered free lessons and promised to make the unlucky men invincible.

“These men were trying to become invincible with a man who claimed to be a ‘guru’,” local police chief Harry Kurniawan told AFP on Tuesday. To test that promise, Didi suggested that the men rinse their hands in a chemical that police believe was acid.

It was not long before the men were rushed to hospital with severe burns, Kurniawan added. The self-styled guru fled shortly after the group was hospitalised. He could face five years in prison if convicted of negligence leading to injury. Two men have since been discharged while the other five remain under treatment. Sorcerers and faith healers are common in Indonesia, a vast archipelago nation in Southeast Asia, where many people remain deeply superstitious despite black magic being outlawed.




Iraqis throng to

Picasso in Baghdad


BAGHDAD (AFP): Picasso, Dali, Miro, Chagall... names that are instantly recognisable in the international art world. Now works by these masters are being exhibited in Baghdad thanks to an anonymous Iraqi collector. The exhibition at the Hiwar gallery - one of the last to remain open in the city - includes 24 Picasso lithographs. For gallery owner Qassem Sabti, “this exhibition is a historic chance” for Iraqis to feast their eyes on artworks of such a high standard, in a first for the capital. “It is presented by an Iraqi person who prefers not to disclose his identity due to the circumstances in Baghdad,” Sabti said.



There are 42 works in all being shown: in addition to those by Pablo Picasso, there is work by Salvador Dali, Joan Miro and Marc Chagall. They “belong to an Iraqi who lives in the United Arab Emirates who wanted to open a museum dedicated to Picasso in Baghdad or Karbala, where he’s from,” said Sabti. “But he wasn’t able to do so as he couldn’t secure the necessary guarantees to protect the artworks,” added the gallery owner, who also heads the Iraqi Plastic Artists Society. “The works on display are very valuable and have been collected over 30 years... some date from the 1950s and 1960s.” Priced at between $15,000 (12,600 euros) and $25,000 (21,000 euros), there is little chance of them being snapped up by local buyers. Instead, the main aim of the show is to let them be seen by students and those who appreciate the fine arts.

For painter Mohammed Shawqi, “this exhibition reflects a return to stability in the country.

“Who would have dared mount a show of such valuable works just a few years ago?”

After the US-led invasion of 2003 that toppled now executed dictator Saddam Hussein, Iraq descended into a lengthy period of violence that saw waves of sectarian killings and culminated in the Islamic State group offensive of 2014.

The exhibition was a breath of fresh air for 30-year-old engineer Zinah Sulaiman, who heard about it on Facebook.

It was the first time she had been able to see works by Picasso, “and I hope I will see more of this”.

“It’s important that art be supported here, especially since we are a people of culture and history.”