Eiffel Tower to reopen Sunday as strike ends

A sign reading “Due to a strike, the Eiffel Tower is closed. We apoligize” hangs in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Feb. 19, 2024. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 24 February 2024
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Eiffel Tower to reopen Sunday as strike ends

  • The stoppage since Monday at one of the world’s best-known tourist sites was the second within two months
  • The tower’s operator SETE said it had reached agreement with the unions on Saturday

PARIS: France’s Eiffel Tower that had been closed for five days by a strike will reopen Sunday after the monument’s management announced a deal had been struck with unions.
The stoppage since Monday at one of the world’s best-known tourist sites was the second within two months in protest at what unions say was insufficient investment.
The tower’s operator SETE said it had reached agreement with the unions on Saturday “under which the parties will regularly monitor the company’s business model, investment in works and revenue through a body that will meet every six months.”
With an aim to balance its books by 2025, both sides also agreed to see an investment of some 380 million euros up to 2031 toward works and maintenance of the tower, the statement said.
SETE extended apologies to visitors caught in the strike action, which resulted in the loss of some 100,000 admissions.
The Eiffel Tower booked a shortfall of around 120 million euros ($130 million) during the Covid pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
SETE has since received a recapitalization of 60 million euros, which unions say is insufficient given that major maintenance work is needed, including a fresh paint job.
Visitor numbers dropped sharply during Covid due to closures and travel restrictions, but recovered to 5.9 million in 2022 and 6.3 million last year.
The masterpiece by architect Gustave Eiffel has been repainted 19 times since it was built for the 1889 World Fair.


Netanyahu will soon address joint session of US Congress, House Speaker Johnson says

Updated 22 min 1 sec ago
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Netanyahu will soon address joint session of US Congress, House Speaker Johnson says

  • Johnson made the announcement in a keynote speech at the Israeli embassy’s annual Independence Day reception
  • The diplomatic gathering came amid strains between Biden and Netanyahu over a US push for Israel to do more to protect Palestinian civilians in the war against Hamas militants in Gaza

WASHINGTON: Republican US House Speaker Mike Johnson said on Thursday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would soon address a joint meeting of Congress amid heightened tensions with President Joe Biden over the Israeli leader’s handling of the war in Gaza.

Delivering a keynote speech at the Israeli embassy’s annual Independence Day reception, Johnson, the top congressional Republican and a critic of the Democratic president’s Israel policy, said it would be “a strong show of support for the Israeli government in their time of greatest need.”
Such a speech is sure to further anger some progressive Democrats critical of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and Biden’s support for it. Netanyahu has closely aligned himself with Republicans.
The diplomatic gathering in Washington comes amid strains between Biden and Netanyahu over a US push for Israel to do more to protect Palestinian civilians in the war against Hamas militants in Gaza.
The embassy gave equal billing to Democratic US Representative Pete Aguilar, who shared the high-profile platform with Johnson at a more subdued event under the shadow of the Gaza war. “As Americans, we reaffirm our commitment to Israel’s sovereignty,” he said.
Speaking first, Johnson said to applause: “Tonight I’m happy to announce ... we will soon be hosting Prime Minister Netanyahu at the Capitol for a joint session of Congress.”
Successive US administration have usually sent a high-level official to the Independence Day receptions, reflecting Israel’s status as Washington’s top Middle East ally.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who in recent months has called the situation in Gaza a “humanitarian catastrophe” and has urged a ceasefire, delivered last year’s keynote, mostly extolling US backing for Israel.
An Israeli official said this year the embassy wanted to honor lawmakers in a bipartisan way with speaking roles in appreciation for congressional approval of billions of dollars in new US military aid to Israel.
The reception took place on the same night as a White House state dinner for Kenyan President William Ruto, which the Israeli official said created a scheduling conflict for administration cabinet members.
Several less senior Biden aides were in attendance, including Derek Chollet, Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s counselor.

Johnson's veiled swipe at Biden
Johnson and Aguilar both condemned the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s decision this week to seek arrest warrants for Netanyahu and his defense chief, Yoav Gallant. The prosecutor also asked for warrants to capture Hamas leaders responsible for the deadly Oct. 7 cross-border attack on Israel, which triggered the Gaza war.
Johnson took a veiled swipe at Biden, saying “some leaders” have sought to withhold “vital weapons” from Israel. Biden has paused one shipment of bombs and warned he could delay others if Netanyahu carries out an all-out ground offensive in the refugee-packed city of Rafah in southern Gaza. But the flow of weapons has mostly continued.
Security was tight around the National Building Museum in downtown Washington. One small group of pro-Palestinian protesters could be heard playing a loud recording accusing Israel of killing innocent civilians.
On Tuesday, Johnson said he was close to inviting Netanyahu, a right-wing leader who had warm relations with former President Donald Trump.
Johnson, a Trump ally, had issued Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer an ultimatum to sign a letter inviting Netanyahu to address a joint meeting or else he would have him only speak to the House of Representatives.
Schumer had signaled he was open to Congress hosting Netanyahu, despite declaring in March that the Israeli leader had “lost his way” and calling for new elections in Israel.
Johnson did not offer a date for Netanyahu’s speech. Addresses to Congress are a rare honor generally reserved for the closest US allies.
Netanyahu has already given such speeches three times, most recently in 2015. That year, Republican leaders invited him without consulting Democratic then-President Barack Obama, as Netanyahu joined them in an unsuccessful bid to derail Obama’s international nuclear deal with Iran.
Johnson, struggling to keep his fractious Republican House majority intact, has been a prominent voice in the US political divide over Israeli policy. Politicization of the issue has intensified ahead of the November election in which Biden is running against Trump.
In contrast to past years’ gala celebrations, this year’s reception, marking the 76th anniversary of Israel’s founding, was billed as a “solidarity event.”
Israel is fighting to wipe out Hamas militants who attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
Palestinian authorities say more than 35,000 people have been killed during Israel’s campaign in Gaza, many of them women and children.


HPV vaccines prevent cancer in men as well as women, new research suggests

Updated 24 May 2024
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HPV vaccines prevent cancer in men as well as women, new research suggests

  • For the study, researchers compared 3.4 million people of similar ages — half vaccinated versus half unvaccinated — in a large health care dataset
  • Research suggests vaccinated men have fewer cancers of the mouth and throat — twice as common in men than in women — compared to those who didn’t get the shots

New research suggests the HPV vaccine is preventing cancer in men, as well as in women, but fewer boys than girls are getting the shots in the United States.

The HPV vaccine was developed to prevent cervical cancer in women and experts give it credit, along with screening, for lowering cervical cancer rates. Evidence that the shots are preventing HPV-related cancers in men has been slower to emerge, but the new research suggests vaccinated men have fewer cancers of the mouth and throat compared to those who didn’t get the shots. These cancers are more than twice as common in men than in women.
For the study, researchers compared 3.4 million people of similar ages — half vaccinated versus half unvaccinated — in a large health care dataset.As expected, vaccinated women had a lower risk of developing cervical cancer within at least five years of getting the shots. For men, there were benefits too. Vaccinated men had a lower risk of developing any HPV-related cancer, such as cancers of the anus, penis and mouth and throat.
These cancers take years to develop so the numbers were low: There were 57 HPV-related cancers among the unvaccinated men — mostly head and neck cancers — compared to 26 among the men who had the HPV vaccine.
“We think the maximum benefit from the vaccine will actually happen in the next two or three decades,” said study co-author Dr. Joseph Curry, a head and neck surgeon at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center in Philadelphia. “What we’re showing here is an early wave of effect.”
Results of the study and a second were released Thursday by the American Society of Clinical Oncology and will be discussed next month at its annual meeting in Chicago. The second study shows vaccination rates rising but males lag behind females in getting the HPV shots.
HPV, or human papillomavirus, is very common and is spread through sex. Most HPV infections cause no symptoms and clear up without treatment. Others develop into cancer, about 37,000 cases a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the US, the HPV vaccine has been recommended since 2006 for girls at age 11 or 12, and since 2011 for boys the same age. Catch-up shots are recommended for anyone through age 26 who hasn’t been vaccinated.
In the second study, researchers looked at self- and parent-reported HPV vaccination rates in preteens and young adults in a large government survey. From 2011 to 2020, vaccination rates rose from 38 percent to 49 percent among females, and among males from 8 percent to 36 percent.
“HPV vaccine uptake among young males increased by more than fourfold over the last decade, though vaccination rates among young males still fall behind females,” said study co-author Dr. Danh Nguyen at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
Parents of boys, as well as girls, should know that HPV vaccines lower cancer risk, said Jasmin Tiro of the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center who was not involved in the research. And young men who haven’t been vaccinated can still get the shots.
“It’s really important that teenagers get exposed to the vaccine before they’re exposed to the virus,” she said.


German police clear pro-Palestinian protesters from Berlin university

Updated 24 May 2024
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German police clear pro-Palestinian protesters from Berlin university

  • Activists had occupied several rooms of the Humboldt University’s Institute for Social Sciences in downtown Berlin on Wednesday

BERLIN: German police cleared about 150 pro-Palestinian demonstrators from a Berlin university faculty on Thursday, ending one of a wave of student-led protests across Europe over Israel’s conduct in its war against Hamas.
Activists had occupied several rooms of the Humboldt University’s Institute for Social Sciences in downtown Berlin on Wednesday.
Student Coalition Berlin, the group which organized the protest, called in a statement posted on social media for the university to “take an active role in ending the genocide against the people of Palestine and their decades-long suffering.”
University administrators agreed after talks with protest leaders to let them stay until Thursday evening. But they called in the police when some of them refused to leave, German news agency dpa reported.
Police spokeswoman Beate Ostertag said that, while some of the demonstrators left voluntarily, police officers had to lead others from the building. Police said about 130 people were briefly detained during the operation, in which officers broke through several barricaded doors.
Student protests over the war in Gaza that began in the United States have spread to university campuses in many European countries. In Germany, protests have taken place this week at universities in cities including Munich and Leipzig.
Berlin authorities have taken a tough line against anti-Israeli demonstrations, urging police to step in if demonstrators use slogans that could incite hatred against Jews – taboo in a country marked by the memory of the Holocaust.
“There is no place for hate and anti-Semitism in Berlin and at our universities,” said Burkard Dregger, a lawmaker for the Christian Democratic Union, which leads the Berlin state government.


Promising pipelines and fracking, Trump rakes in millions at Texas fundraisers

Updated 24 May 2024
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Promising pipelines and fracking, Trump rakes in millions at Texas fundraisers

  • While the oil and gas industry has boomed under Biden despite increased regulation, they are pushing back against Biden’s ban on fracking on federal land a recent halt in approving new gas export facilities

HOUSTON: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump raised tens of millions of dollars during a fundraising swing through Texas this week, promising he would support the oil and gas industry by backing new pipelines and restoring fracking on federal land.

Trump has courted support from the energy industry with a pro-fossil fuel and anti-regulation agenda and regularly criticizes President Joe Biden’s policies to accelerate the energy transition toward a low-carbon economy.
The oil and gas industry has boomed under Biden despite increased regulation and the more climate-focused administration, making record profits and pumping more oil and gas than ever before. The industry has pushed back against Biden’s ban on fracking on federal land a recent halt in approving new gas export facilities.
A Houston fundraiser on Wednesday was hosted by oil billionaires Jeff Hildebrand, founder of Hilcorp Energy, the largest closely held US oil firm; George Bishop, founder of GeoSouthern Energy; Harold Hamm, founder of Continental Resources; and Kelcy Warren, head of pipeline firm Energy Transfer Partners.
Trump drew standing ovations when he promised to get more natural gas pipelines built if elected and to restore fracking to areas barred under Biden, said Mark Carr, a Houston entrepreneur who was in attendance. Many oil and gas pipelines were delayed or abandoned under both Trump and Biden’s administrations due to community opposition, legal challenges and lengthy permitting processes.
“He’s going to get energy going again in the United States,” said Carr, who founded the Houston-area Christian Brothers Automotive chain.
Trump said America needs to quit taking Venezuelan “tar” oil and instead use American oil, said another attendee, who declined to be named. The United States has resumed limited imports of Venezuelan crude under Biden for processing at US refineries.
Trump has emphasized tax cuts for the industry, “streamlining” the permitting process, and removing certain regulations, said donor and oil executive Dan Eberhart, who was in Houston for the event. “We can drill our way to energy security and low gas prices,” said Eberhart.
The Houston fundraiser was held by the Trump 47 Committee, a fundraising tie-up between the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee, a fundraising group that has spent tens of millions of dollars on Trump’s legal fees, and a raft of Republican state parties. The Houston luncheon and a smaller, more intimate roundtable with a group of about 45 executives was followed by a fundraising event in Dallas on Wednesday night.
A Trump campaign official said the Texas swing brought in at least $15 million. Two sources told Reuters the various Texas events took in a total of around $40 million. Reuters was not immediately able to confirm that number.
After a raft of high-dollar donor events across the country, Trump overtook Biden in fundraising last month for the first time.
Meanwhile, the US Senate finance and budget committees on Thursday launched an investigation into Trump’s reported offer to roll back a slew of environmental regulations in exchange for $1 billion in campaign contributions.
The investigation came a week after the top Democratic lawmaker on a US House oversight panel sought information from nine oil companies about reports about “quid pro quo propositions” made by the former president at a campaign event this spring at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
The Texas events were pricy affairs: Host committee members were asked to pay $250,000 per couple and agree to raise another $500,000, according to the invitations. The chair was asked to donate about $845,000 per couple and raise another $1.69 million.
An after-luncheon roundtable drew Occidental Petroleum CEO Vicki Hollub and Houston entertainment and sports magnate Tillman Fertitta, who owns the hotel where the event was held. They were offered a question-and-answer period with the candidate.
Also in attendance in Houston was North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, a former Trump rival for the Republican nomination and now a possible running mate, according to another attendee.
Teofilo Lingi, chief operating officer of EK-Petrol, said the former president was “good for the oil industry” and relations with Angola, where his trading and oil exploration company was founded.
Stricter environmental regulations since Trump’s term in office have “made it more difficult for us to import from Angola,” Lingi said, citing customs duties.


Georgian PM says EU official made ‘horrific threat’

Updated 24 May 2024
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Georgian PM says EU official made ‘horrific threat’

  • Oliver Varhelyi, EU commissioner for neighborhood policy and enlargement, says he regrets making the warning
  • The EU official says his remarks on the Slovak assassination attempt was 'taken out of context

TBILISI/BRUSSELS: Georgia’s prime minister on Thursday said an EU commissioner had hinted he could face an assassination bid over a controversial law but the official said the conversation had been distorted.
Georgian premier Irakli Kobakhidze said the unnamed commissioner told him to be “very careful,” citing this month’s assassination attempt on Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico, while discussing the legislation likened by critics to Russian-style laws.
The bill requires NGOs and media outlets that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad to register as bodies “pursuing the interests of a foreign power.”

President Salome Zourabichvili has vetoed the bill, but the ruling Georgian Dream party has the numbers in parliament to override her veto in a vote next week, despite mass protests and sweeping global condemnation.
Critics say the measure mirrors Russian legislation used to stifle dissent, while Brussels warns it is “incompatible” with Tbilisi’s longstanding bid for European Union membership.
Kobakhidze said that “amid open blackmail” by high-ranking foreign politicians, an EU commissioner had called him to outline “measures, which Western politicians could take if the presidential veto is overridden.”
In what Kobakhidze called a “horrific threat,” he quoted the commissioner as saying: “You’ve seen what happened to (Robert) Fico and you must be very careful.”

Fico, a Euroskeptic populist, was shot four times at point-blank range on May 15. Slovak police arrested a 71-year-old suspect who said he had wanted to hurt Fico because he disagreed with government policies.

“As a precautionary measure, I decided to inform Georgian society of that threat,” Kobakhidze added in a statement.
EU Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi said later: “I would like to express my very sincere regret that a certain part of my phone conversation was taken out of context.”
Georgia’s ruling party has faced widespread accusations of derailing the country from its EU membership path and leading the ex-Soviet republic back toward the Russian orbit.
But the party insists it is committed to EU and NATO membership — which are enshrined in the country’s constitution and supported by more than 80 percent of the population.
It has repeatedly accused Western countries of attempts to drag Tbilisi into Russia’s war on Ukraine.