Colombian nun kidnapped by Mali miiltants in 2017 freed

Edgar Narváez, brother of Colombian nun Gloria Cecilia Narvaez, talks after receiving the news of his sister’s release in Pasto, Colombia on Oct. 9, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 10 October 2021

Colombian nun kidnapped by Mali miiltants in 2017 freed

  • Sister Gloria Cecilia Narvaez was taken hostage near the border with Burkina Faso where she had been working as a missionary

BAMAKO: A Franciscan nun from Colombia kidnapped by militants in Mali more than four years ago has been freed, Mali’s presidency said.
Sister Gloria Cecilia Narvaez was taken hostage on February 7, 2017 in southern Mali near the border with Burkina Faso where she had been working as a missionary.
A statement on the presidential Twitter account paid tribute to her “courage and bravery” along with photos of the nun taken after her release Saturday.
“I thank the Malian authorities, the president, all the Malian authorities, for all the efforts you’ve made to liberate me, may God bless you, may God bless Mali,” Sister Gloria said in images broadcast on state television showing her with Mali’s interim president Col. Assimi Goita and the archbishop of Bamako Jean Zerbo.
“I am very happy, I stayed healthy for five years, thank God,” the nun said, smiling and wearing a yellow robe.
Her liberation had been the fruit of “four years and eight months of the combined effort of several intelligence services,” the presidency said.
In the official statement, Goita assured that “efforts are under way” to secure the release of all those still being held in Mali.
Archbishop Zerbo said Sister Gloria was “doing well.”
“We prayed a lot for her release. I thank the Malian authorities and other good people who made this release possible,” the archbishop said.
Sister Gloria, 59, was kidnapped near Koutiala, 400 kilometers east of Bamako. She had worked as a missionary for six years in the parish of Karangasso with three other nuns.
According to one of her colleagues, Sister Carmen Isabel Valencia, she offered herself in place of two younger nuns the kidnappers were preparing to take.
“She is a woman of a very particular human quality, down to earth ... moved by the love of the poor,” Sister Carmen said.
In Colombia, her brother Edgar Narvaez said he was very emotional after receiving news of her release.
“She is in good health, thank God. They sent me pictures and she looks well,” he said.
In a letter sent last July by the Red Cross to her brother, Sister Gloria said she was held by “a group of GSIM,” the Al-Qaeda-linked Group to Support Islam and Muslims, the largest militant alliance in the Sahel.
A source close to the negotiations to release her said she had not been ill-treated during her captivity and during that time she had learned the Qur’an.
“The negotiations lasted months, years,” said the source, without giving further details.
An official at Bamako airport, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the nun had arrived in the Malian capital on Saturday evening from where she was due to fly to Rome. Her departure from Bamako was confirmed by the city’s archdiocese.
In Colombia, Vice President Marta Lucia Ramirez — who is also foreign minister — said she was “very happy” at Sister Gloria’s release, which she attributed to the work of the government and also stressed the “humanitarian efforts of the French government to contribute to this success.”
National police director Jorge Luis Vargas also welcomed her release.
“Today is very good news for Colombia, but also for the national police for all the efforts made over the years to secure the safe release of our compatriot,” he said.
Vargas said meetings had been held with several European and African ambassadors to try to secure the nun’s release.
“With Interpol, and with other international organizations, we have always sought to bring those responsible to justice.”
There were irregular reports about the nun over the years, including at the beginning of 2021, when two Europeans who managed to escape captivity reported that she was well.
Then in March, her brother received proof that she was still alive, passed on from the Red Cross.
It was a letter written in capital letters “because she always used capital letters,” containing the names of their parents and ending with her signature, he said earlier this year.
Mali has been struggling to contain a militant insurgency that first emerged in the north of the country in 2012, and which has since spread to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Kidnappings, once rare, have become more common in recent years as a security crisis has deepened in Mali, particularly in the center of the former French colony.
French journalist Olivier Dubois was abducted on April 8 in northern Mali by militants affiliated with Al-Qaeda.
Dubois, who worked with several French news outlets, said in a hostage video that GSIM had abducted him.


Nine confirmed COVID-19 cases of omicron variant currently on mainland France

Updated 42 min 16 sec ago

Nine confirmed COVID-19 cases of omicron variant currently on mainland France

PARIS: The French Health Ministry said there were currently nine confirmed cases of the new omicron coronavirus variant on mainland France, which, according to the government’s top scientific adviser, could become dominant strain of the virus in the country by the end of January.


Malaysia detects first omicron case in quarantined traveler from South Africa

Updated 03 December 2021

Malaysia detects first omicron case in quarantined traveler from South Africa

  • The 19-year-old woman was asymptomatic and had been vaccinated
  • Five other people who shared a vehicle with her prior to her quarantine all tested negative

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has detected its first case of the omicron coronavirus variant in a foreign student who was quarantined after arrival from South Africa two weeks ago, its health minister said on Friday.
Authorities had re-tested earlier positive samples after the World Health Organization (WHO) announced omicron as a variant of concern on Nov. 24, minister Khairy Jamaluddin said.
The 19-year-old woman, who was asymptomatic and had been vaccinated, had tested positive for COVID-19 on arrival in Malaysia, via Singapore, and was quarantined for 10 days before being released on Nov. 29, Khairy said.
Five other people who shared a vehicle with her prior to her quarantine all tested negative.
Authorities, however, have asked the student along with eight close contacts to undergo further testing after her earlier test samples were confirmed to be the new variant, Khairy added.
An increasing number of countries are reporting cases of the omicron variant, which the WHO has said carries a very high risk of causing surges of infection.
Neighbouring Singapore confirmed two imported cases on Thursday.
This week, Malaysia temporarily banned the entry of travelers from eight southern African countries that have reported the presence of the variant or are considered high-risk.
On Friday, Khairy said Malaysia would immediately imposed further restrictions, including additional tests for vaccinated travelers from Singapore, who are allowed to enter Malaysia without quarantine.


Attacker dressed like ninja wounds two French policewomen with sword – police

Updated 03 December 2021

Attacker dressed like ninja wounds two French policewomen with sword – police

  • A police spokeswoman said there were no immediate signs that the attack was terrorism-related

PARIS: A man dressed like a ninja attacked and wounded two policewomen with a sword in Cherbourg in northwestern France on Thursday before being shot and captured, a police spokeswoman said.
She said there were no immediate signs that the attack was terrorism-related.
She said the attacker had stolen a vehicle and caused an accident, after which he assaulted two policewomen who had been called to the scene, wounding one in the face and the other in the chin.
The assailant — dressed in black in the style of traditional Japanese ninja fighters — was shot three times by the officers and was flown to hospital by helicopter in serious condition.
The attack happened around 3:45 p.m. (1445 GMT) near a gas station of the Leclerc supermarket chain.
The name and nationality of the attacker were not immediately known.


Germany backs restrictions for unvaccinated as mandate looms

Updated 02 December 2021

Germany backs restrictions for unvaccinated as mandate looms

  • Measures were necessary in light of concerns that hospitals in Germany could become overloaded
  • “The situation in our country is serious,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, calling the measure an “act of national solidarity”

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that people who aren’t vaccinated will be excluded from nonessential stores, cultural and recreational venues.
And parliament will consider a general vaccine mandate as part of efforts to curb coronavirus infections that again topped 70,000 newly confirmed cases in a 24-hour period.
Speaking after a meeting with federal and state leaders, Merkel said the measures were necessary in light of concerns that hospitals in Germany could become overloaded with people suffering COVID-19 infections, which are more likely to be serious in those who haven’t been vaccinated.
“The situation in our country is serious,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, calling the measure an “act of national solidarity.”
She said officials also agreed to require masks in schools, impose new limits on private meetings and aim for 30 million vaccinations by the end of the year — an effort that will be boosted by allowing dentists and pharmacists to administer the shots.
Merkel herself backed the most contentious proposal of imposing a general vaccine mandate. She said parliament would debate the proposal with input from the country’s national ethics committee.
If passed, it could take effect as early as February, Merkel said, adding that she would have voted in favor of the measure if she were still a member of parliament.
About 68.7 percent of the population in Germany is fully vaccinated, far below the minimum of 75 percent the government is aiming for.
There have been large protests against pandemic measures in the past in Germany and the vaccine mandate is likely to be opposed by a minority, though opinion polls show most Germans are in favor.
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who is expected to be elected chancellor by a center-left coalition next week, has also backed a general vaccine mandate, but favors letting lawmakers vote on the issue according to their personal conscience rather than party lines.
“If we had a higher vaccination rate, we wouldn’t be discussing this now,”he said.
The rise in COVID-19 cases over the past several weeks and the arrival of the new omicron variant have prompted warnings from scientists and doctors that medical services in the country could become overstretched in the coming weeks unless drastic action is taken. Some hospitals in the south and east of the country have already transferred patients to other parts of Germany because of a shortage of intensive care beds.
Agreeing what measures to take has been complicated by Germany’s political structure — with the 16 states responsible for many of the regulations — and the ongoing transition at the federal level.
Germany’s disease control agency reported 73,209 newly confirmed cases Thursday. The Robert Koch Institute also reported 388 new deaths from COVID-19, taking the total since the start of the pandemic to 102,178.
To reduce the pressure on hospitals over the festive period, the sale of fireworks traditionally set off during New Year’s in Germany will be banned. Each year, hospitals treat hundreds of people with serious injuries because of mishandled fireworks.
The new measures will take effect once Germany’s 16 states incorporate them into existing rules, likely in the coming days.


Norway reports large outbreak of omicron variant infections

Updated 02 December 2021

Norway reports large outbreak of omicron variant infections

  • “More cases are expected. Effective tracing is being done to limit transmission routes and prevent major outbreaks,” said Oslo Municipality
  • The government agency said that there was “a high vaccination coverage” in the group

COPENHAGEN: At least 50 people in and around Norway’s capital have been infected with the omicron coronavirus variant and the cases are connected to a Norwegian company’s Christmas party in an Oslo restaurant, officials said Thursday.
“More cases are expected. Effective tracing is being done to limit transmission routes and prevent major outbreaks,” the Oslo Municipality said in a statement.
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health said that those affected live in Oslo and surrounding municipalities, and “the infection detection team in Oslo has contacted the municipalities concerned to start infection detection.”
The government agency said that there was “a high vaccination coverage” in the group, adding that overall “more than 50 cases” have been recorded in Norway. The country’s first two cases were announced Monday.
On Wednesday the city of Oslo urged people who visited two restaurants in the capital to be tested. One reportedly was where the Christmas party was held.
Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart vaccines.
It is customary in Scandinavia for companies, associations and individuals to hold Christmas parties in the weeks leading up to Christmas eve.