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Clashes in Peru coca eradication operation leave at least two dead

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LIMA (Reuters) – Two farmers were killed in clashes in Peru that erupted on Friday as authorities launched an operation to uproot coca plants – used to make cocaine – in a region near the border with Bolivia, a local mayor and the police said.

A third person was in critical condition and had been taken to a local hospital, said Roger Larico, the mayor of the district of San Gaban in the region of Puno.

The eradication team – 158 civilian workers and 72 police officers – had arrived to San Gaban before dawn to destroy illegal coca farms in the coming days, but were attacked by people wielding machetes and sticks as they sat up their camp, the Peruvian National Police said in a statement.

But Larico said witnesses told him that the police had fired live bullets recklessly.

“They were shooting right and left. That’s why we have this bloodshed,” Larico told Reuters by phone.

The deaths are under investigation, said Victor Rucoba, the head of the government’s eradication agency.

“It’s very likely that to protect their lives and the lives of unarmed civilians, police had to increase the use of force,” he added in comments broadcast on local TV channel Canal N.

The unrest underscores the risks of forcibly eradicating illegal coca, a crop that tends to fetch a much higher price in Peru than alternatives such as coffee and cacao. It comes a day before U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits the Andean country in a four-country tour of South America.

Peru has been one of the leading producer countries of cocaine for decades, despite efforts by consecutive governments to capture drug traffickers and shift farmers toward alternative crops from coca.

But in recent years, illegal coca farms in Peru have expanded.

The U.S. government said in November that Peru’s potential cocaine production had risen 20 percent to a 25-year high of 491 tonnes.

Police reinforcements were being sent to San Gaban to ensure the eradication team could work in the days ahead, said Rucoba, adding that coca cultivation had expanded “exponentially” in the area.

In a 2017 report, Peru’s anti-narcotics agency Devida said coca growers from the country’s most notorious drug-trafficking region, the VRAEM, had been migrating to Puno to start new farms. The coca produced in San Gaban is part of a supply chain that moves cocaine into Brazil through Bolivia, it added.

Peru plans to eradicate about 25,000 hectares (61,776 acres) of illegal coca crops per year through 2021, according to the country’s anti-narcotics plan.

Coca is also grown legally in Peru, where it is widely used as an infusion as well as in traditional indigenous rituals.

Reporting by Mitra Taj and Marco Aquino, editing by G Crosse

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Apples rot in Kashmir orchards, as lockdown puts economy in tailspin

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SOPORE, India (Reuters) – It’s harvest time, but the market in the northern Kashmiri town of Sopore – usually packed with people, trucks and produce at this time of year – is empty, while in orchards across India’s Jammu and Kashmir state unpicked apples rot on the branch.

FILE PHOTO: Rotten apples are seen on a tree at an apple orchard, in Sopore, north Kashmir, September 13, 2019. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

In one of the world’s largest apple growing regions, a weeks-old lockdown imposed after Prime Minister Narendra Modi dramatically abolished the state’s special constitutional status has cut transport links with buyers in India and abroad, fruit growers and traders say, plunging the industry into turmoil.

Modi sold the move as a way to spur growth by integrating the state with the rest of India. But, for now, the unrest that has come in the wake of his government’s action has upended the economy, further fuelling resentment in the Muslim-majority territory where an armed revolt against India rule has ebbed and flowed over 30 years.

At dawn late last week the market in Sopore, a town known locally as “Little London” for its lush orchards, big houses and relative affluence, was deserted, its gates locked.

“Everyone is scared,” a lone trader, rushing to an adjoining mosque for morning prayers, told Reuters. “No one will come.”

Apples are the lifeblood of Kashmir’s economy, involving 3.5 million people, around half the population of the state.

In a surprise move on Aug. 5, just as the harvest season as getting under way, the government abrogated provisions in India’s constitution that gave the Jammu and Kashmir partial autonomy and stipulated only residents could buy property or hold government jobs. Strict movement restrictions were imposed simultaneously, and mobile, telephone, and internet connections snapped.

The government said the immediate priority was to prevent an eruption of violence in Kashmir, where more than 40,000 people have been killed since 1989, and that curbs are slowly being eased, including the opening up of landline phones.

Further out, the government has promised rapid economic development and plans an investor summit later this year to attract some of India’s top companies to the region, create jobs and lure young people away from militancy.

In the short-term, however, farmers and fruit traders say the clampdown is stopping them from either getting their produce to market or shipping it out to the rest of India. Some say they have also been threatened into stopping work by militant groups.

In orchard after orchard surrounding Sopore, apples hung rotting on trees. “We are stuck from both sides,” said Haji, a trader, sitting inside a sprawling two-story house in Sopore. “We can neither go here, nor there.” 

BUSINESSES REELING

Business people who spoke to Reuters say it is not just the fruit industry that is reeling – two other key sectors of Kashmir’s economy, tourism and handicrafts, have also been hit hard.

Shameem Ahmed, a travel agent who owns a houseboat in the summer capital Srinagar, said this year’s tourist season was completely wiped out.

“August was peak season, and we had bookings up to October,” he said. “It will take a long time to revive, and we don’t know what will happen next.”

The near complete lack of tourists has also hit carpet traders such as Shoukat Ahmed.

“When there are no tourists, there are no sales,” he said. “We are also unable to sell across India because communication is down.”

At a major chamber of commerce in Srinagar, some members said the continuing lack of internet and mobile connections had paralyzed their work, including the ability to file taxes and make bank transactions.

Some businessmen have also been among the hundreds of politicians and civil society leaders detained by the authorities since early August to dampen any backlash.

While many of those arrested across the region have since been released, Haseeb Drabu, a former state finance minister from a local party once allied with Modi’s ruling BJP, said outsiders were now balking at doing business with Kashmiris.

“With a few businessmen raided and more under detention, why would anyone from the rest of the country engage with them and subject himself to a possible enquiry of his transaction and opening of his books?” Drabu said.

“IT’S HOPELESS”

India and Pakistan have twice gone to war over Kashmir, which is divided between them but both claim in full, and it remains at the heart of decades of hostility.

In February, the nuclear-armed neighbors engaged in an aerial duel after a deadly militant attack on an Indian paramilitary convoy in Kashmir, raising the fear of a broader conflict.

The latest bout of instability has been devastating to the likes of Manzoor Kolu, who runs a five-roomed houseboat on Srinagar’s mirror-calm Dal lake, framed by snow-clad mountains.

Days before Aug. 5, Kolu said police had come asking him to move tourists out of the property, fearing unrest.

“They told me that if anything happens, I would be responsible,” he said. His four guests, all Indian tourists, left shortly after. No guest has come since.

“Now we have to wait until next April. It’s hopeless,” he said, sitting inside the living room of the 35-year-old boat, packed with intricately carved wooden furniture and traditional Kashmiri carpets. “So many times, I’ve thought of selling, but this is my father’s whole life’s achievement.”

Kashmir’s tourism industry has lost momentum in recent years, starting with devastating floods in 2014 and followed by a sustained period of unrest in 2016.

Tourist numbers had begun improving between April and July this year, government data showed, only to drop off a cliff in August. Only 10,130 tourists came last month, compared with nearly 150,000 in July and more than 160,000 in June this year.

Slideshow (4 Images)

In a one-story house in Srinagar’s working-class Zoonimar neighborhood, Abdul Hamid Shah sits beneath a window quietly embroidering a Kashmiri shawl. Each shawl is at least three months’ work, and some take a whole year to complete.

Shah is typically paid 35,000 Indian rupees ($490) per shawl, which he often gets in monthly instalments of around 10,000 rupees. Since August, his payments from a shawl trader he has worked with for a decade have shrunk.

“He’s telling me he doesn’t have money because there is no business,” Shah said.

Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Alex Richardson

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C-Section Babies Have More Potentially Infectious Gut Bacteria

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Scientists from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, UCL, the University of Birmingham and their collaborators discovered that whereas vaginally born babies got most of their gut bacteria from their mother, babies born via caesarean did not, and instead had more bacteria associated with hospital environments in their guts. Science Daily reports: The exact role of the baby’s gut bacteria is unclear and it isn’t known if these differences at birth will have any effect on later health. The researchers found the differences in gut bacteria between vaginally born and caesarean delivered babies largely evened out by 1 year old, but large follow-up studies are needed to determine if the early differences influence health outcomes. Experts from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists say that these findings should not deter women from having a caesarean birth.

Published in Nature today, this largest ever study of neonatal microbiomes also revealed that the microbiome of vaginally delivered newborns did not come from the mother’s vaginal bacteria, but from the mother’s gut. This calls into question the controversial practice of swabbing babies born via caesarean with mother’s vaginal bacteria. Understanding how the birth process impacts on the baby’s microbiome will enable future research into bacterial therapies.

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New Eco-Friendly Game Packaging Could Save Tons of Plastic Each Year

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An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Sega and Sports Interactive have announced that Football Manager 2020 will be sold in new eco-friendly package that uses much less plastic, and they’re pushing for the rest of the entertainment industry to follow suit. The new packaging replaces the now-standard plastic DVD case used for most game discs with a folded, reinforced cardboard sleeve made of 100% recycled fiber. The shrinkwrap surrounding that package has also been replaced with a low-density LDPE polyethylene that’s highly recyclable. Even the ink on the cardboard has been changed out for a vegetable-and-water-based version (so it’s technically vegan if you’re desperate for a snack).

The new packaging does cost a bit more to produce — about 20 (British) cents per unit (or 30 percent), according to an open letter from Sports Interactive Studio Director Miles Jacobson. But those costs are somewhat offset by reduced shipping and destruction costs for excess units, he added. And as Spanish footballer Hector Bellerin says in a video accompanying the letter, “if there’s no Earth, there’s no money to spend.” All told, Jacobson says the new packaging will save 55 grams of plastic per unit, or 20 tonnes across a print run of over 350,000. That’s an extremely tiny dent in the estimated 335 million tons of plastic that is produced annually worldwide. But Jacobson hopes it could add up to a sizable dent if the entire industry follows suit for the tens of millions of discs it produces each year. “We’re not the biggest game in the world,” Jacobson said. “Imagine what happens if every other game, every film company, every music company switches to this packaging… So I’m throwing down the gauntlet here to ALL entertainment companies who use plastic for their Blu Ray, DVD and CD packaging.”

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