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Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela, a Giant Among Men, Dead at 95

Nelson Mandela, first charged with treason at 38, sentenced to life in prison at 46, refused pardon at 67, released at 71 and elected president of post-apartheid South Africa at 76, died in his home in the outskirts of Johannesburg on Thursday evening. Descent of Xhosa royalty, a lawyer by training and anti-apartheid leader by conviction, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1943 and entered the armed struggle against the apartheid state in the late 1950s. He was charged with sabotage first in 1956 and again in 1964, after which he was sentenced to life in prison. His time at the Robben Island prison caused damage to his eyes from quarrying lime, and he also contracted tuberculosis during captivity. He was freed from prison in 1990 and negotiated the end of apartheid with then-South African president F.W. De Klerk. With the ANC re-enabled politically, Mandela was elected the first black president of a post-apartheid South Africa in 1994. He stepped down after one term, setting the example for a democratic Africa amidst dozens of neighbouring dictatorships. He is survived by his third wife, Graça Michel, his former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and three daughters Pumla Makaziwe, Zenani and Zindziswa Mandela.

European Tidal Surge Washes Homes Into the Sea

Hurricane-force storm Xaver swept across Northern Europe on Thursday night, tossing homes into the sea in England, cancelling flights in Germany, shutting rail services in Scotland and killing eight people across the continent. Three people were killed in Poland when a tree was blown on to a car in Poraj, a man was crushed by a tree in England, a lorry driver was killed in Scotland when his lorry was blown over, a woman died in similar circumstances in Denmark and two sailors were swept overboard from their ship 22km from the Swedish coast. While many residents were evacuated from the hardest hit areas in England, many homes were washed out to in Norfolk, in what forecasters said was the biggest storm surge to hit the area in over 50 years.

China Orders Pupils Indoors Because of Pollution

The municipal government of Shanghai took measures to try to address the worst bout of air pollution in the city since it began to record levels in December. Shanghai’s levels of particle pollution, or PM, hit 602.5 microgrammes per cubic metre on Friday afternoon, significantly above the World Health Organisation’s guideline of 25 microgrammes. Schoolchildren were kept indoors, construction was halted throughout the city, 30 percent of all government vehicles were banned from running and fireworks were prohibited. All public sporting events were also cancelled. “I feel like I’m living in clouds of smog. I have a headache, I’m coughing, and it’s hard to breathe on my way to my office”, said Zheng Qiaoyun, a local resident interviewed by the Guardian.

UK to Support France in the CAR

The UK has decided to support the French intervention in the Central African Republic (CAR) by aiding flying equipment into the country, according to Foreign Secretary William Hague. A C-17 from the RAF will make three flights transporting French military equipment. “The UN Security Council made an important decision yesterday to authorise African Union and French troops to respond to the security and humanitarian crisis in the Central African Republic. We are determined to play our part in helping to address the violence”, he told Parliament. He also said the country would continue to provide aid to the CAR. The UK contributed £10 million in November, bringing the total to £15 million in the year. “We will continue to work alongside the International Red Cross and UN agencies to help thousands of people gain access to food, water, shelter, sanitation and healthcare to alleviate the desperate humanitarian suffering”, said Hague. The sectarian fighting in the CAR has already left nearly 100 people dead.

Weekend Read: Why Life Does Not Really Exist

“Why is defining life so frustratingly difficult? Why have scientists and philosophers failed for centuries to find a specific physical property or set of properties that clearly separates the living from the inanimate? Because such a property does not exist. Life is a concept that we invented. On the most fundamental level, all matter that exists is an arrangement of atoms and their constituent particles.” In Scientific American.

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