Italian ambassador to DR Congo killed in UN convoy attack

Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo has been killed in an attack in the east of the country, its foreign ministry has said.

Luca Attanasio, 43, died in hospital on Monday after the United Nations convoy he was travelling in came under fire near Goma, a statement said.

The convoy reportedly belonged to the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP).

An Italian military police officer travelling with the envoy and a Congolese driver were also killed.

“It is with deep sadness that the foreign ministry confirms the death, today in Goma, of the Italian ambassador,” the ministry’s statement said.

The attack in North Kivu province is believed to have been an attempted kidnapping, according to officials at the nearby Virunga National Park.

What do we know about the attack?

Mr Attanasio was a passenger in one of two vehicles travelling about 15km (nine miles) north of Goma when the attack happened on Monday morning. 

The vehicles were “ambushed by a group of six attackers, who fired warning shots before taking all the passengers into the Virunga National Park”, the governor of North Kivu province, Carly Nzanzu, told the BBC.

Peacekeepers secure the scene where the Italian ambassador to Democratic Republic of Congo, Luca Attanasio, was killed in Ruhimba village
image captionSecurity forces guard the area where the attack took place on Monday morning

“That’s when a patrol of Virunga National Park rangers intervened and managed to free four people,” he said.

“Unfortunately, before they ran away, the assailants shot the ambassador and his bodyguard, and they killed the Congolese driver at the start of the attack,” the governor added.

Congolese general speaks to Monusco officer in Virunga national park - 22 February
image captionVirunga is regarded as one of the most dangerous parks in Africa

The WFP said Mr Attanasio was travelling from Goma to visit a “schools programme” in the village of Rutshuru in eastern DR Congo.

The attack… occurred on a road that had previously been cleared for travel without security escorts,” the Rome-based agency said in a statement.

The two other fatalities were military police officer Vittorio Iacovacci, 30, who had been serving at the embassy since last September, and their Congolese driver, whose name has not yet been officially released.

A number of other passengers were reportedly injured.

Map

It is not clear who was behind the attack, but the interior ministry has accused a Hutu rebel group known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). 

Many armed groups are known to operate in and around the park and militias clash regularly in the east of the country, where a large UN force is struggling to keep the peace.

The DRC army has deployed troops to help search the area.

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Questions over apparent security lapse

Analysis by Emery Makumeno, BBC News, Kinshasa 

Mr Attanasio is the first ambassador to be killed in the country since French ambassador Philippe Bernard was shot dead during riots in the capital, Kinshasa, in 1997.

Normally, aid convoys travelling in eastern DR Congo are heavily guarded by UN troops, and questions are bound to be asked about the level of security that Mr Attanasio’s convoy had.

He was travelling in the east – the most unstable part of DR Congo. Many local armed groups – as well as those from Rwanda, Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Uganda – have established themselves in the region over the last 25 years. 

The attack highlights the fact that stability to the region will return only if a solution is found to political issues in all these countries.

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What has the reaction been?

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi issued a statement offering his “deepest condolences”, while President Sergio Mattarella condemned the “cowardly attack”.

Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio expressed his “great shock and immense sorrow” at the “brutal” killings.

“Today Italy mourns the loss of two of its sons and embraces their families,” he said, adding: “No effort will be spared to shed light on what happened.” 

DR Congo’s Foreign Minister, Marie Tumba Nzeza, said an investigation into the killings was under way. 

Mr Attanasio had represented Italy in the DR Congo since 2017. He joined the diplomatic service in 2003 and spent time in Morocco and Nigeria.

What is the situation in DR Congo?

DR Congo was for many years at the centre of a brutal civil war that drew in several neighbouring countries. 

The conflict led to the loss of some five million lives between 1994 and 2003, with some observers branding it Africa’s Great War.

But the end of the conflict did not mark an end to the violence. Dozens of militias and rebel groups continue to operate in eastern areas.

The UN’s peacekeeping mission has been in DR Congo since 1999. It is one of the biggest peacekeeping operations in the world, with more than 17,000 personnel on the ground.

Virunga – which stretches across 7,800 sq km (3,000 sq miles) – is one of the most dangerous parks on the continent.

In 2018, a ranger was killed and three people – including two British tourists – were kidnapped when their vehicle was ambushed in the Virunga National Park. Those kidnapped were later released

Former Google executive to run Italy’s TIM new cloud unit

Former Google executive Carlo d’Asaro Biondo has been appointed as Chief executive officer of Telecom Italia’s (TIM) newly-created cloud unit Noovle, Italy’s biggest phone group said on Monday.

The creation of the new company is part of the former phone monopoly’s strategy to boost and diversify its revenues, providing services to businesses and state-controlled offices looking to improve their digital reach.

D’Asaro Biondo, who has been Google’s president for EMEA partnerships, joined the former phone monopoly last year after TIM struck a deal with the tech giant to expand its cloud business in the country.

Noovle, which is targeting 1 billion euros in revenues by 2024, will operate a network of 17 data centres across the country and will be in charge of building six new top tier data center facilities, TIM said.

Source: Digicountz

Italy consumer association sues Apple for planned iPhone obsolescence

Italian consumer association Altroconsumo said on Monday it had told Apple it has launched a class action against the U.S. tech giant for the practice of planned obsolescence.

In a statement Altroconsumo said it was asking for damages of 60 million euros ($73 million) on behalf of Italian consumers tricked by the practice which had also been recognised by Italian authorities.

Altroconsumo said the lawsuit covers owners of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, 6S and 6S Plus, sales of which in Italy totalled some 1 million phones between 2014 and 2020.

Apple said in an email that it had never done anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades.

Two similar lawsuits against Apple have been filed in Belgium and Spain for the planned obsolescence of iPhones.

European consumer association Euroconsumers, which is coordinating the three lawsuits, said it was also planning to launch a class action in Portugal in the coming weeks.

By: Kwamed2k

Italy PM Conte wins crucial Senate vote to stay in power

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has won a crucial vote to stay in power – days after former PM Matteo Renzi pulled his party out of the coalition.

The vote in the Senate – 156-140, with 16 abstentions – means, however, that Mr Conte does not have an absolute majority in the upper chamber.

Opposition parties say they plan to ask President Sergio Mattarella to intervene to force him to resign.

Mr Conte, a law professor, has led a centrist coalition since 2018.

The main parties in his coalition are the anti-establishment Five Star (M5S) and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD).

The prime minister told the Senate it was vital to maintain political cohesion faced with the “historic challenge” of the pandemic.

Speaking in the Senate debate, Mr Renzi told Mr Conte to make bolder reforms, saying “Italy is wasting its biggest opportunity since the Marshall Plan” – a reference to the US aid for war-shattered Europe in 1948. He accused Mr Conte of being preoccupied with distributing government posts.

Matteo Renzi, file picture 1 Feb 2020
image captionMatteo Renzi has had various policy battles in Mr Conte’s coalition

Even if Mr Conte had lost the vote, a snap election was not a certainty as President Mattarella still has the option of inviting him to assemble a new coalition.

On Monday he won a confidence vote in the Chamber of Deputies – the lower house – by 321 to 259, securing an absolute majority there.

Mr Renzi objects to Mr Conte’s plans for spending €209bn (£186bn; $254bn) of EU recovery funds – part of a €750bn EU rescue for the Covid crisis.

The former prime minister wants investment in the digital economy and green energy, and rejects Mr Conte’s plan to let technocrats, rather than MPs, decide spending priorities.https://emp.bbc.com/emp/SMPj/2.36.7/iframe.htmlmedia caption”We risked everything to survive” – Naples resident Filomena

Italy has had plenty of minority governments before, but that outcome would leave Mr Conte weaker at a time of national emergency, with Italians struggling under partial lockdown.

Addressing senators, Mr Conte said: “It’s very hard to govern in these conditions, with people who continuously place mines in our path and try to undermine the political balance patiently reached by the coalition”.

Italy has recorded 82,554 deaths linked to coronavirus – the second-highest official toll in Europe after the UK. It has more than 25,000 patients in hospital with Covid-19.

Italy was the epicentre of the pandemic in Europe last March, and its tranche of the new EU recovery package is the largest.

Mr Renzi’s Italia Viva, formed in 2019, polls less than 3% currently, and surveys suggest that right-wing parties would come top in a snap election, were one to be called two years ahead of schedule.

Victory, but no resolution

Analysis box by Mark Lowen, Rome correspondent

Giuseppe Conte has survived – for now. But this is not the strong sign of parliamentary backing that he wanted.

If he continues as prime minister, it would mean each legislative move would need horse-trading and negotiations in the Senate. And that at the very worst time, in the grip of a pandemic that has killed more than 83,000 Italians and unleashed the deepest economic crisis since World War Two.

Other Italian prime ministers have commanded minority governments. And Giuseppe Conte could now decide to stay in office and seek a few extra backers in the coming weeks – possibly tempting them with a ministry or a change of policy.

But he may decide it’s time to pass the buck up to the president, who would hold discussions with party leaders to determine who could become prime minister or whether fresh elections would beckon.

So it’s another political crisis in a country that’s seen 66 governments since 1945. Exactly what it didn’t need as it battles through coronavirus.

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Chart showing cases in Europe

Covid: Italy, Belgium and Netherlands ban flights from UK over variant

A number of European countries have or are considering banning travel from the UK to prevent the spread of a more infectious variant of coronavirus. 

Both the Netherlands and Belgium have suspended flights. Trains to Belgium have also been banned.

Italy’s foreign minister has said his government plans to ban flights. France, Germany and Ireland are among others considering similar action.

The new variant has spread quickly in London and south-east England.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday introduced a new tier four level of restrictions, scrapping a planned relaxation of rules over the Christmas period for millions of people.

Top health officials said that there was no evidence the new variant was more deadly, or would react differently to vaccines, but it was proving to be up to 70% more transmissible.

Which countries have acted and how?

Within hours of the UK announcement on Saturday, the Netherlands said it would ban all passenger flights from the UK from 06:00 (05:00 GMT) on Sunday until 1 January.

Pending “greater clarity” on the situation in the UK, the Dutch government said that further “risk of the new virus strain being introduced to the Netherlands should be minimised as much as possible”.

The country on Sunday reported a daily increase of more than 13,000 cases – a new record, despite tough lockdown measures being applied on 14 December.

Belgium is suspending flights and train arrivals from the UK from midnight (23:00 GMT) on Sunday. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told Belgian television channel VRT the ban would be in place for at least 24 hours as a “precautionary measure”, adding “we will see later if we need additional measures”.

Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on his Facebook page that the government was about to sign a measure to suspend flights from the UK.

In Ireland, urgent government talks were held and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said he expected a decision later on Sunday on a new advisory for travel from Britain. Flights and ferries will reportedly be restricted from midnight on Sunday, although details are still being finalised.

In Germany, a health ministry official told AFP news agency that the government was also considering banning flights from the UK, and South Africa, where a variant has also been detected.

The official said the German government was monitoring developments in the UK and working at “high pressure” to evaluate the new information and data regarding the new variant there.

In France, news channel BFMTV reported that the government was “seriously” considering suspending flights and trains from the UK, and the government was “looking for European co-ordination”.

“A decision will be announced during the day,” the channel said.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González said Spain also wanted a co-ordinated EU decision on the matter.

Austria is also planning a ban on flights from the UK, with details currently being worked out, Austrian media reported.

What is the new variant?

In the UK, it was first identified in the middle of October from a sample taken in September.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the same mutation has also been detected in the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia.

Dr Catherine Smallwood, of WHO Europe, said that as of 20 December, the numbers in those countries were small, nine in Denmark and one each in the other two nations. But she said other countries had notified WHO of other variants “that also carry some of the genetic changes seen in the UK variant”.

Coronavirus
image captionThe initial coronavirus has a lower “viral load”, which makes it slower to be passed on

The new UK variant has been shown to spread faster than the original virus – up to 70% more transmissible based on modelling figures – but scientific details on the genetic changes, and how they could affect the behaviour of Covid-19, remain unclear. 

Although there is no indication the variant will be more resistant to already-developed vaccines, the mutation does involve the spike protein of the virus.

This is the part that helps it infect cells – and also the part the vaccines have been designed to target. So although scientific experts have warned against an alarmist response, they also say it is essential to track the variant and try to stay ahead of the virus.