Monthly Archives: January 2019

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UN evacuates foreign staff from Afghanistan

KABUL – The United Nations said on Thursday it would evacuate hundreds of its international staff from Afghanistan for several weeks due to deteriorating security, a sharp blow for Western efforts to stabilize the country.

Spokesman Aleem Siddique said the United Nations would relocate about 600 of its roughly 1,100 international staff, with some being moved to safer sites within Afghanistan and the rest withdrawn from the country temporarily.

The move, a week after five UN foreign staff were killed by militants in Kabul, complicates U.S. President Barack Obama’s counter-insurgency war strategy, which foresees an influx of civilian assistance alongside extra troops.

Obama is due to decide within weeks whether to approve a request from his commander in Afghanistan for tens of thousands of additional troops. U.S. forces in Afghanistan have already doubled in the nine months since Obama took office.

The United Nations said the evacuations would not disrupt its operations in the country.

"We’re doing everything we can to minimize disruption of our work during this period," UN special envoy to Afghanistan Kai Eide told reporters at a news conference in Kabul.

"We are simply doing what we have to do following the tragic events of last week to look after our workers in a difficult moment while ensuring that our operations in Afghanistan can continue."

Eide said some staff would relocate to Dubai where the United Nations has a facility and where it is "inside the mission area."

Siddique said the UN staff would return in three to four weeks after its security measures are changed.

"It will be a consolidation of staff. At the moment we have 93 guest-houses across Kabul and there will be a consolidation of those guest houses so that we can provide better security in fewer places," he said.

"CRITICAL JUNCTURE"

The United Nations mission played a critical role in organizing elections in the country this year, and its agencies such as UNICEF run health, education and other programs.

In last week’s attack, Taliban suicide bombers hiding explosive vests under police uniforms entered a guest-house used by UN staff, killing five foreigners and prompting a security review by many of the international agencies in the country.

A second round of the presidential election, which was to be held on November 7, was cancelled after President Hamid Karzai’s only opponent withdrew, citing insufficient safeguards against fraud.

Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah’s decision not to stand meant Karzai was declared the winner, even though more than a quarter of his votes from the August 20 first round were thrown out after a fraud investigation.

The tainted election has hurt Karzai’s standing among Western nations with troops fighting in Afghanistan, making Obama’s decision about whether to send more troops even more difficult.

Western nations have pressured Karzai to revamp his cabinet, removing cronies and distancing himself from warlords to gain some credibility.

"We can’t afford any longer, a situation where warlords and power-brokers play their own games. We have to have a political landscape that draws the country in the same direction which is the direction of significant reform," Eide said.

"I believe we are now at a critical juncture in the relationship between Afghanistan and the international community. The debate over the last few weeks has demonstrated that there are more question marks and more doubt with regard to the strength of the international commitment to Afghanistan."

The chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said on Wednesday Karzai’s legitimacy among Afghans was "at best in question right now and, at worst, doesn’t exist."

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McGill, Simon Fraser grab top spots in Maclean’s university rankings

For the fifth-year running, McGill University has nabbed the top spot in this year’s Maclean’s magazine university rankings.

The Montreal school took the No. 1 spot in the medical doctoral category of the rankings, released Thursday, and the University of Toronto ranked second, its same rank as last year.

Queen’s University, however, fell from second place in 2008, when it tied with Toronto, to third place.

Institutions in the medical doctoral category have medical schools and a variety of PhD programs, and generally receive higher research grants than other schools.

The University of British Columbia and the University of Alberta maintained their 2008 rankings of fourth and fifth.

Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., was ranked first in the comprehensive category for the second year in a row. The University of Victoria was ranked second.

Schools placed in the comprehensive category by Maclean’s offer professional degrees and a wide range of undergraduate and graduate programs, and conduct a significant amount of research.

Waterloo retained its same rank at third, as did Guelph, at fourth.

The fifth spot went to Memorial University.

In the primarily undergraduate category, East Coasts schools dominated the rankings, with Mount Allison University in New Brunswick placing first and Acadia in Nova Scotia placing second. The University of Northern British Columbia placed third.

St. Francis Xavier and Wilfrid Laurier tied for fourth. Bishop’s University ranked 11th and made a major jump up from its 17th place finish last year.

A full list of the annual rankings are listed in a special issue of the magazine available Thursday.

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Google tightens privacy controls

Google Inc. launched on Thursday a new privacy settings page so users can delete all the personal information the Internet giant is storing about them.

Millions of people who have signed up for any of Google’s consumer services, such as Gmail, alerts, YouTube and Picasa, are now able to use a new service called Google Dashboard, where they can log into a console and see all the personal data Google stores about them.

Consumers can simply peruse the information, or they can edit or delete it.

The move to tighten privacy controls comes amid concerns over the prevalence of behavioral marketing, which allows companies to target ads by tracking their online activities.

"Have you ever wondered what data is stored in your Google account? The Google Dashboard offers a simply view into the data associated with your account – easily and concisely in one location," according to a posting Thursday on Google’s official blog.

"Transparency, choice and control have become a key part of Google’s philosophy, and today, we’re happy to announce that we’re doing even more."

The kinds of data stored vary based on Google’s various products.

For example, in Gmail, sent and received emails and email drafts, attachments and chat messages can all be saved.

Google’s web history feature saves online search history if the user has it turned on, and helps provide more personalized search results.

"The Dashboard brings together this data in one, easy to manage format, giving you an unprecedented level of visibility and control over that data," according to the company.

Google Dashboard was developed by engineering teams in Munich and Zurich and is available in 17 languages.

Users can access it at google杭州龙凤/dashboard or in the settings page of their Google account.

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Millions of Canadians live in inadequate housing: Report

OTTAWA – Lone parent families in Canada were twice as likely as other households in 2006 to be living in places that don’t meet basic needs, says a new report.

The report also says seniors, younger Canadians, new Canadians, aboriginals and the jobless were among those most likely to have inadequate shelter.

The report, released Thursday, was prepared for the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada and based on analysis of the most recent data (2006) provided by Canada Housing and Mortgage Corp.

It says almost four million Canadians, among them 750,000 children under the age of 15, fell into the category of living in "core housing need." This means their accommodation is in the state of disrepair, is unsuitable for the number of people living there or eats up more than 30 per cent of the household’s pre-tax income.

Almost 13 per cent of Canadian households met one or more of the three measures, a percentage that represented almost no change since 2001.

The report suggests core housing need could fall between 2006 and 2008 because the country was enjoying relatively good economic times and low unemployment.

But, it says, the onset of the severe economic recession in the latter half of 2008 has put more Canadians out of work, and will likely push more households into inadequate accommodation.

Among the provinces, the incidence of people in deficient housing was greatest in British Columbia, Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Among the finding:

-Twenty-six per cent of single-parent families were in inadequate housing, compared with 13 per cent of all households in core housing need.

-Immigrants were more likely to live in inadequate housing than non-immigrants. The margin was 18 per cent to 11 per cent.

-Households whose primary wage earner was unemployed were three times more likely to be in deficient housing than households where the chief breadwinner was employed.

-Aboriginal households were substantially more likely to be in inadequate housing than non-aboriginals. The margin was 20. 4 per cent to 12. 4 per cent.

The report was prepared by Will Dunning, who specializes in housing research.

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2010 Olympic parking restriction signs pop up

VANCOUVER — Even if you live 10 blocks away from an Olympic venue, prepare to see parking restrictions popping up in your neighbourhood during the 2010 Games.

That’s already happened along a stretch of East 20th Avenue near Main Street, where the City of Vancouver has installed “no parking except for vehicles registered to this block” signs.

The signs have surprised some residents who wonder why they are being put up 10 blocks from the curling venue at Hillcrest. “Who would have expected it in this neighbourhood?” said resident Stanley Coren. “Where’s the Olympic venue near here?”

City officials said while East 20th wasn’t initially cited for parking restrictions, it’s not unusual for notices to be placed in areas that historically have high traffic volumes.

The signs, which read: “no parking except vehicles registered to this block Feb. 12 to Feb. 28 and March 12 to March 21,” are aimed at ensuring street parking is reserved for residents when traffic increases during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Carli Edwards, the city’s parking manager engineer, said the city will follow the strategy employed for the PNE, where signs are often posted blocks away to preserve resident parking.

Restrictions for each neighbourhood will be dealt with on an individual basis and will be based on studies showing how far people are willing to park and walk to a venue.

Letters will then be sent out to those neighbourhoods, Edwards added, even if they are 10 blocks away.

“Protecting residents’ parking is a priority for us,” she said. “During the PNE people are trying to avoid pay parking; during the Olympics they’re just trying to find parking because there won’t be any.”

The signs mean residents will be allowed to park on their particular streets as well as nearby side streets as long as their vehicles are insured and their addresses are up to date with ICBC, showing they live in the neighbourhood.

Vehicles that aren’t registered for the neighbourhood will be ticketed or towed. The city will enforce the restrictions by checking vehicle registrations.

Coren’s wife Joan questioned what would happen to visitors to the neighbourhood. “That would be the problem,” she said.

Edwards said anyone who wants to bring a visitor into their neighbourhood during the Games will have to consider parking.

All visitors will have to find off-street parking, meaning a back lane, alley or driveway, she said.

The city decided to enforce the parking through “registered vehicles” because it wasn’t appropriate to require residents to obtain permits for such a short time, she added.

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