US, Cuba in historic patch-up; The truth about smart cities; Down Under not free from terror

1 US, Cuba in historic patch-up (San Francisco Chronicle) After a half-century of Cold War acrimony, the US and Cuba moved on Wednesday to restore diplomatic relations — a historic shift that could revitalize the flow of money and people across the narrow waters that separate the two nations.

President Barack Obama’s dramatic announcement in Washington — seconded by Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana — was accompanied by a quiet exchange of imprisoned spies and the celebratory release of American Alan Gross, a government contract worker who had been held in Cuba for five years.

The shift in US-Cuba policy was the culmination of 18 months of secret talks between the longtime foes that included a series of meetings in Canada and the personal involvement of Pope Francis at the Vatican. It also marked an extraordinary undertaking by Obama without Congress’ authorization as he charts the waning years of his presidency.

Obama’s plans for remaking US-Cuba relations are sweeping: He aims to expand economic ties, open an embassy in Havana, send high-ranking US officials including Secretary of State John Kerry to visit and review Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. The US also is easing restrictions on travel to Cuba, including for family visits, official government business and educational activities. But tourist travel remains banned.

Obama and Castro spoke by telephone Tuesday for nearly an hour, the first presidential-level call between their nations’ leaders since the 1959 Cuban revolution and the approval of a US economic embargo on the communist island that sits just 90 miles off coast of Florida. The response from around the world was far more welcoming, particularly in Latin America, where the US policy toward Cuba has been despised.

2 The truth about smart cities (Steven Poole in The Guardian) The smart city concept arguably dates back at least as far as the invention of automated traffic lights, which were first deployed in 1922 in Houston, Texas. But in the last decade, thanks to the rise of ubiquitous internet connectivity and the miniaturisation of electronics in such now-common devices as RFID tags, the concept seems to have crystallised into an image of the city as a vast, efficient robot.

So what challenges face technologists hoping to weave cutting-edge networks and gadgets into centuries-old streets and deeply ingrained social habits and patterns of movement? This was the central theme of the recent “Re.Work Future Cities Summit” in London’s Docklands.

Many of the speakers took care to denigrate the idea of the smart city itself, as though it was a once-fashionable buzzphrase that had outlived its usefulness. This was done most entertainingly by Usman Haque, of the urban consultancy Umbrellium. The corporate smart-city rhetoric, he pointed out, was all about efficiency, optimisation, predictability, convenience and security. “You’ll be able to get to work on time; there’ll be a seamless shopping experience, safety through cameras, et cetera. Well, all these things make a city bearable, but they don’t make a city valuable.”

“The smart city was the wrong idea pitched in the wrong way to the wrong people,” suggested Dan Hill, of urban innovators the Future Cities Catapult. “It never answered the question: ‘How is it tangibly, materially going to affect the way people live, work, and play?’” In truth, competing visions of the smart city are proxies for competing visions of society, and in particular about who holds power in society. “In the end, the smart city will destroy democracy,” Hollis warns. “Like Google, they’ll have enough data not to have to ask you what you want.”

One sceptical observer of many presentations at the Future Cities Summit, Jonathan Rez of the University of New South Wales, suggests that “a smarter way” to build cities “might be for architects and urban planners to have psychologists and ethnographers on the team.” That would certainly be one way to acquire a better understanding of what technologists call the “end user” – in this case, the citizen. After all, as one of the tribunes asks the crowd in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus: “What is the city but the people?”

3 Down Under not free from terror (Julia Baird in Straits Times/NYT) We Australians liked being cut off from craziness. We are, in the main, undisturbed. There have been some exceptions; in World War II, Japanese planes bombed us in the north, and their midget submarines slunk into Sydney Harbour in the south, sinking a ferry. But generally, we are safe.

Until now. For 16 excruciating hours this week, we all watched anxiously as Iranian refugee Man Haron Monis, 50, held 17 people hostage in a Lindt cafe in Sydney’s central business district, just blocks from the state Parliament. Three people died, including the hostage taker.

As the prime minister said, this was one disturbed man carrying out a “sick fantasy”. Perhaps the most heartening part of the Australian response was the enormous wave of concern that arose expressing fear that the siege would result in aggressive behaviour towards Muslims.

Australians can no longer rest on our remoteness, and our laid-back identity has been punctured. But if tolerance can seep through the holes, it will be a triumph for all who oppose the pall of terror, and the pull of the sick violence that can capture the imagination of a madman.

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Rouble collapse shakes Russia; Oil, rouble to roil world markets; For India, ‘rape still biggest shame’

1 Rouble collapse shakes Russia (San Francisco Chronicle) Russian President Vladimir Putin faces a major new challenge after a catastrophic fall in the value of the ruble, which hit a new low Tuesday despite the Central Bank’s desperate efforts to halt the selling. On the streets of Moscow, panicky consumers rushed out to buy home appliances before they became even more expensive.

Putin’s popularity has been based on oil-driven economic growth that has helped increase incomes during his 15-year rule. The ruble’s collapse, driven by a combination of slumping oil prices and Western sanctions, is denting that pillar of his power.

The ruble hit a record low of 80 to the dollar — down a catastrophic 24 percent — before making a modest improvement to trade at 72 to the dollar by late Tuesday afternoon. The market plunge defied a whopping pre-dawn interest rate hike of 6.5 percentage points by Russia’s Central Bank aimed at defending the currency.
Along with Western sanctions, the ruble’s depreciation has been driven by a slump in the price of oil to below $56 a barrel from a summer high of $107. The bulk of the government’s revenues come from oil.

Tuesday’s Central Bank rate hike was intended to encourage currency traders to hold onto their rubles. But analysts said the measure was already insufficient because banks and companies could earn much bigger yields by buying hard currency. Meanwhile, higher rates could hurt the economy. Analysts said that if the panic ruble-selling continues, the Russian authorities could be forced to impose capital controls. That would be bad news for any foreign investors who still haven’t pulled their money out of Russia.

2 Oil, rouble to roil world markets (Straits Times) World markets braced for more volatility as tumbling oil prices and a brewing financial crisis in Russia sent investors stampeding for safe havens such as the yen and US Treasuries.

The jump in the yen is likely to pressure Japan’s Nikkei, while fears of capital flight will haunt emerging markets across Asia. MSCI’s index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan is already at nine-month lows.

In currency markets, the Russian rouble crashed back to earth after an emergency hike in interest rates provided only fleeting support. It was quoted around 68.00 to the US dollar having been as far as 80.00 at one stage. Three retail trading platforms halted trading in the currency as speculation mounted that Moscow will impose capital controls within the next few days.

3 For India, ‘rape still biggest shame’ (BBC) Two years after the horrific gang rape and murder of a student in Delhi, sexual assaults against women continue to be India’s biggest shame, papers say. The gang rape of the 23-year-old medical student on a moving bus on 16 December 2012 had triggered intense protests across the country which led to the formation of stringent anti-rape laws.

The father of the victim, however, laments that “nothing” has changed since the brutal attack on his daughter two years ago, The Times of India reports. “Nothing in India has changed… All promises and statements made by our leaders and ministers have turned out to be shallow,” the paper quotes him as saying, in reference to a recent rape case in the capital.

A driver of international taxi service Uber allegedly raped a 26-year-old woman in Delhi on 5 December. More cases of rape have been reported throughout the year from different parts of the country. Lawyer and rights activist Vrinda Grover says that the fast-track courts set up to expedite trials in cases of sexual assault have also been ineffective.

Papers also say that the mind-set of the “patriarchal” political class in the country remains incompatible with women’s rights. The DNA newspaper points out that the report of the Verma Commission, set up after 16 December 2012 to revisit laws on crimes against women, put the blame squarely on “the government, the police and even the public, for its indifference to issues related to gender”.

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Russia raises interest rate tot 17%; Greece economy faces ‘irreparable damage'; India tourism hurt by superbugs

1 Russia raises interest rate to 17% (Larry Elliott in The Guardian) Russia’s central bank has taken drastic action to halt the rouble’s freefall on the foreign exchanges by raising interest rates by 6.5 percentage points to 17%.

After a day of turmoil dominated by fears that a crashing global oil price would devastate Russia’s energy-dominated economy, an after-hours meeting of the central bank in Moscow decided emergency action was needed to prevent the rouble’s collapse.

The bank said the increase in borrowing costs – which will deepen Russia’s recession if sustained for a prolonged period – was needed to end currency depreciation and to combat inflation. Higher interest rates tend to make currencies more attractive to foreign investors and the rouble rose against the dollar in the wake of the surprise announcement.

The huge jump in interest rates was seen by analysts as an attempt by the central bank to show that it was determined to protect the rouble. Earlier, Russia bought roubles for dollars on the foreign exchanges but failed to prevent the biggest one-day decline in the currency since Russia’s debt default in 1998.

Although the near-halving of the cost of crude oil since the summer should eventually boost global growth by increasing consumer spending power and reducing business costs, investors are concerned that lower oil prices reflect softer demand from a weakening global economy.

Neil Shearing, chief emerging market economist at Capital Economics, said there was now speculation that Russia would resort to capital controls to defend the rouble. Oil and gas account for 70% of Russia’s exports and Moscow needs an oil price in the region of $100 a barrel to balance its budget. Even before the dramatic announcement of the interest rate rise, the central bank said the economy would contract by 4.5% in 2015 if the oil price remained at its current level for the next 12 months.

2 Greek economy faces ‘irreparable damage’ (BBC) Greece’s economy faces “irreparable” damage from the ongoing political crisis, the boss of its central bank has warned. “The crisis in recent days is now taking serious dimensions…and the risk of irreparable damage for the Greek economy is now great,” said Yannis Stournaras.

Greek politicians will start voting on Wednesday for a new Greek president. There will be a snap general election if the government nominee loses. The political uncertainty has rattled Greek markets over the past week. Greece’s economy emerged from a six-year long recession in the first quarter of the year.

However, the size of Greece’s economy is still about a quarter below the peak it reached before the severe recession and debt crisis triggered by the global financial crash. And conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s decision to call an early vote in parliament to elect a new president has caused fresh concerns. Greece’s government has warned of a catastrophe if snap elections are called and left-wing anti-bailout party Syriza wins, but Syriza has accused the government of fear mongering.

3 India tourist hurt by superbugs (Nayan Chanda in Straits Times) India has recently launched an online visa programme in the hope of doubling the inflow of tourist dollars, which has been well below the country’s potential.

Quick delivery of visas is, however, only the first and easiest step. It is much harder to provide the facilities for a safe and enjoyable visit for millions wishing to taste what the country’s tourist promotion has billed as “Incredible India”.

It is high time the country redoubled its efforts to tackle the emergent threat of superbugs that has increasingly come to be associated with India. In recent years, the so-called superbugs – the catch-all for pathogens resistant to known antibiotics – have caused thousands of deaths around the world.

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Eurozone crisis set for repeat act; Gulf shares in sharp decline; Why tech cos splurge on holiday parties

1 Eurozone crisis set for repeat act (Larry Elliott in The Guardian) The eurozone is perhaps one crisis and one deep recession away from splintering. The more TV pictures of rioting on the streets of Athens or general strikes in Italy between now and the election, the better support for Nigel Farage’s UK Independence party will hold up.

Stronger support for Ukip will encourage the Conservatives to adopt a more Eurosceptic approach, hardening their stance on the concessions required for them to continue supporting Britain’s membership of the EU. Meanwhile, a permanently weak eurozone economy will push Britain’s trade balance into the red. The economic debate in the current parliament has been about sorting out the budget deficit; the debate in the next parliament will also be about sorting out the current account deficit.

Monetary union is a textbook case of the dangers of allowing politics to trump economics. Germany is a completely different economy to Greece. Portugal’s economy is not a bit like that of the Netherlands. Italy was able to remain competitive in the pre-euro days only by regular devaluations of the lira. To yoke all these countries together in a one-size-fits-all single currency was an act of supreme folly.

A fresh Greek crisis will have spillover effects. It will lead to a fresh recession and deepen deflation. Weak growth and falling prices are a toxic combination for highly indebted countries, because they raise the real value of debts while cutting national output.

The politics of this are simple. Voters no longer see Europe as the solution to Britain’s economic problems. They are glad Britain didn’t join the euro. Many are unconvinced that Britain should be in the EU at all. The longer the euro crisis goes on, the bigger Nigel Farage’s grin will get.

2 Gulf shares in sharp decline (Issac John in Khaleej Times) Dubai’s benchmark DFM Index retreated 7.6 per cent to 3,321.3 points on Sunday as across the GCC share markets recorded sharp declines after oil prices continued to tumble to five-year lows. The Dubai bourse, one of the world’s best performers by climbing 60 per cent this year, ended on Sunday at its lowest level so far in 2014 with the index closing 1.5 per cent lower than 2013’s finish.

It came under pressure with energy stocks declining 9.3 per cent and the real estate and banking sectors also falling. Over the past one week, close to Dh65 billion has been wiped off the market value of in the UAE with fund managers getting more cautious of further volatility ahead if oil prices continue to decline.

With the exception of Qatar and Bahrain, all markets in the Gulf are now below their 2013 close. Since September, the combined capitalisation of the seven markets dropped around $190 billion to stay at around $980 billion, according to the Arab Monetary Fund.

3 Why tech cos splurge on holiday parties (Wendy Lee in San Francisco Chronicle) Leave it to the tech industry to disrupt the holiday party. For Bay Area companies, events that in other industries might warrant a potluck or an open bar are treated as lavish celebrations that cost small fortunes. Analysts say holiday parties are key for retaining talented employees who are often courted by rival firms. Many tech staffers are already accustomed to perks — from free meals to dry cleaning — leaving companies feeling pressured to make the year-end bash particularly memorable.

Some spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on the festive events, splurging $100 to $150 per person on food and drink, according to people familiar with the matter. The holiday party “is like a cherry on a sundae,” said John Challenger, CEO of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “Companies are hoping that people will say to themselves … ‘This is a great place to work. There’s no place like this.’”

The parties can be quite elaborate. Last year, Twitter paid the city of San Francisco $73,100 to rent City Hall for a holiday party. If food and drink cost $100 per person, which people familiar with such events estimate, the bill for the food and drink alone would have added up to $290,000. That doesn’t include entertainment, transportation, photography, decor or lighting (a vendor spent 3½ hours putting filters on the structure’s 212 lights to turn City Hall Twitter’s blue hue).

Nearly 90 percent of companies nationwide are hosting holiday or year-end parties this year, with roughly 1 in 5 businesses planning to spend more on their events, according to a survey across several industries by Challenger, Gray & Christmas. In 2011, only 68 percent of companies surveyed threw those parties, the firm said.

Wall Street used to compete with Silicon Valley when it comes to elaborate parties. Both wanted to project a fun image to talented, younger workers, Challenger said. But that changed after the nation’s financial crisis, he said. “Banks have become much more conservative about their holiday parties, reflecting again a much more somber, cautious culture,” Challenger said.

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US defence budget hiked to $560bn; Greek crisis 2.0? Not quite yet; Social media as weapon of mass destruction

1 US defence budget at $560bn (BBC) The US Senate has approved a new annual defence bill expanding the military campaign against Islamic State (IS). The bill approves a general Pentagon budget of $496bn plus $64bn for US wars abroad.

The US-led coalition has launched more than 600 air strikes against IS militant targets in Iraq since the campaign began on 8 August. The US, with Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has also carried out almost 500 attacks on IS in neighbouring Syria since 23 September.

Until now, US operations against IS had been funded from the existing Pentagon budget. The new bill, which was passed by 89 votes to 11, approves $3.4bn for the direct deployment of US forces against IS, and a further $1.6bn for training Iraqi Kurdish forces for two years.

2 Greek crisis 2.0? Not quite yet (San Francisco Chronicle) Greek stocks and bonds have been hammered this week, a reminder of the bad old days of Europe’s debt crisis when the very future of the euro currency was called into question. Analysts say a repeat is unlikely though there’s an outside chance that political turmoil will disrupt Greece’s bailout lifeline and keep Greek markets, at the very least, on edge for weeks.

So far Greece’s turmoil hasn’t spread to other countries in the 18-country currency union, the way it did back in the crisis’ most acute phase between 2010 and 2012. A key sign: Prices for government bonds of other heavily indebted eurozone countries — such as Spain and Italy — are not suffering in sync with Greek bonds, as they did before.

Why do people seem to think the doomsday scenario isn’t likely? Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras has moderated some of his statements recently. He has said any nonpayment of debts would first be discussed with creditors, and that private-sector creditors would be spared. That has people breathing easier that he’ll eventually strike some sort of deal with international lenders.

3 Social media as weapon of mass destruction (Najla Al Rostamani in Khaleej Times) Social media has turned into the perfect battleground for anyone and everyone to take out their vengeance and biases, and show off their discriminatory attitudes and opinions. It has grown to become the platform that allows the ugliest of all to go on the attack against all who stood in disagreement with them.

What is more worrying though is how social media is being utilised as a tool to spread rumours, wrong information, and misguided assumptions. The magnitude of such destructive behaviour is immeasurable. And it reflects how ill equipped many can be when they are allowed a window to express their opinion or stance on matters. In the so called age of information, has social media turned into the strongest, most powerful and ultimate platform of misinformation?

Like demagogues, they move in herds going on the attack and causing harm and havoc — knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally, but always damagingly. And at times, it seems that social media is being used as a tool that instills ignorance, prejudice, bigotry, and most important of all a means to dilute issues and underestimate problems. The entire process is driven by a ping pong match mentality — one that is based on abusive language, ill-founded accusations, and the tarnishing of reputations. All have to be repeated, and better still outmatched.

It is unfortunate that social media is being employed as a serious weapon of mass destruction of reputations and facts. Its nature of mass outreach has made it an excellent channel of disseminating wrongful acts and thoughts. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of all is its capacity to lead some masses into blindly becoming misinformation disseminators rather than challengers who opt to use their common sense to question the authenticity of what they are being fed.

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Into a world with cheaper energy; Russian rouble falls with oil; US plea to save climate deal

1 Into a world with cheaper energy (Linda Yueh on BBC) OPEC’s latest forecast shows that the supply of oil will exceed the demand for oil next year. Whenever supply exceeds demand, prices fall. And they certainly have. Brent, the international benchmark, has plunged to below $65 per barrel, down 43% since this summer, to the lowest level in five years, the 2009 global financial crisis.

OPEC accounts for less than half of global oil production so their market power has also receded with the rise of both shale and non-OPEC oil producers. Of course, lower energy prices are not all bad news. It’s not just airlines who benefit, we could too.

For instance, the US Energy Department estimates that on current trends, petrol prices could drop 23% to $2.60 per gallon next year. There are already reports of sub $2 per gallon in America. Lower prices will eventually benefit Brits and Europeans too, as well as other energy importing countries.

Cheaper energy prices would be welcome after a decade which saw oil prices jump from $25 per barrel to nearly $150 even during a global financial crisis. The uncertain road of getting to a new market equilibrium of cheaper prices is what’s causing market gyrations. And, of course, as Middle East geo-politics could throw a wobbler into any price forecast, how OPEC members cope with this transition will be closely watched.

2 Russian rouble falls with oil (Phillip Inman in The Guardian) Russia’s central bank failed to stem a further dramatic fall in the rouble on Thursday despite raising the headline interest rate to 10.5%. The currency slid more than 1.5% against the dollar in a day of fevered trading that reversed a short-lived rise in the currency’s value earlier in the week.

The central bank, which has used billions of dollars worth of foreign reserves in a desperate attempt to prop up the rouble, appeared impotent as it sought to lift the gloom over an economy hit by western sanctions and falling oil prices. Russians have suffered two big rate rises in two months – the latest a full percentage point – aimed at wooing investors tempted to sell their Russian assets and take cash out of the country.

But the plan has proved weak and unable to reverse a trend that started in the summer when oil prices began to tumble. Oil revenues account for about 45% of government revenues and, with gas, account for 70% of exports. In all the rouble has sunk by more than 40% this year as Russia has been buffeted by sanctions over its role in the Ukraine crisis and a near-50% fall in the oil price.

Russia’s dependence on oil let it build huge reserves of foreign currency before 2008 and in the price boom of 2011-12. But companies used their improved credit rating to borrow funds in dollars, forcing them to the pay higher interest bills as the value of the US currency climbed.

3 US plea to save climate deal (Straits Times) The US has urged developing countries to ease objections to a world deal on climate change as deadlines loomed at a 12-day UN meeting in Lima. The talks, meant to pave the way to a landmark pact in Paris next year, are scheduled to conclude on Friday, but delegates reported deadlock and a souring mood as the final day neared.

In a speech touching on one of the thorniest issues, US Secretary of State John Kerry called on developing nations to understand they too had to curb carbon emissions even if they felt it was unfair.

“I know the discussions can be tense and decisions are difficult and I know how angry some people are about the predicament they’ve been put in by big nations that have benefited from industrialisation for a long period of time,” Kerry said.

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Supply glut pulls oil lower; Protecting India’s women; Time names Ebola fighters ‘person’ of the year

1 Supply glut pulls oil lower (BBC) The price of oil has fallen to fresh five-year lows in the wake of two separate reports indicating a global supply glut. Opec oil producers released a forecast indicating less global oil demand next year. A separate US report, which showed a surprise increase in the country’s crude oil supplies, also pushed prices lower.

The price of Brent crude has fallen 43% since mid-June. It fell another 3.61% to close at $64.41 on Wednesday. The influential oil commentator Jorge Montepeque at price assessor Platts said the price could fall further. “There are a certain amount of people that think the mid-to-long term [price] is the mid-60’s,” he said.

In its report, Opec said that it expected demand for its crude oil to fall to 28.9m barrels per day next year, which is near ten-year lows. Opec’s official production target is 30m barrels per day, meaning significantly more oil would be on the market than was demanded.

The decline in oil prices has hurt the share price of several large firms, from Exxon Mobil to BP, but helped businesses such as airlines where cheap oil prices can help buoy profits.

2 Protecting India’s women (KumKum Dasgupta in The Guardian) The rape of a young woman by a taxi driver in Delhi has again left the city and the country traumatised, and searching for answers on how to end this tide of violence against women. Despite rising levels of education, gender awareness and stringent pro-women laws, there is still a perception that women are second-class citizens.

Violence against women is increasing. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, an average of 92 women are raped in India every day. The total number of reported rapes rose to 33,707 in 2013 from 24,923 in 2012.

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is endemic. A study by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), a US-based research institute, and the UN population fund, UNFPA, said 52% of women surveyed had experienced violence during their lifetime, and 60% of the male respondents said they had acted violently against their wife or partner. The study found that the average Indian man is “convinced that masculinity is about acting tough, freely exercising his privilege to lay down the rules in personal relationships and, above all, controlling women”.

“Physical violence is not the only form of violence women in India face. In rural parts, women, especially those who belong to the Dalit community, are often denied land rights, and their children, especially girls, bear the brunt of this discrimination. They are denied proper schooling and health facilities,” says Anita Katyar, a civil society activist in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

Despite rising awareness, change on the ground has been slow because authorities have not been able to get their act together: most initiatives that were announced after the December 2012 gang-rape in Delhi have not been implemented. The result was evident in last week’s attack. But whether this will lead to any positive change for women is far from clear.

3 Time names Ebola fighters ‘person’ of the year (Straits Times) Time magazine has named as its “Person of the Year 2014” the medics treating the Ebola epidemic that has killed more than 6,300 people, paying tribute to their courage and mercy. The haemorrhagic fever mushroomed from an outbreak into an epidemic in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, and there have been scattered cases in Nigeria, Mali, Spain, Germany and the United States.

“The rest of the world can sleep at night because a group of men and women are willing to stand and fight,” wrote Time editor Nancy Gibbs, announcing the prestigious annual title. “For tireless acts of courage and mercy, for buying the world time to boost its defences, for risking, for persisting, for sacrificing and saving, the Ebola fighters are Time’s 2014 Person of the Year.”

The worst ever Ebola outbreak has left more than 6,300 people dead worldwide, nearly all in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. Health workers have been among the worst hit, with 340 deaths out of 592 cases.
“Ebola is a war, and a warning. The global health system is nowhere close to strong enough to keep us safe from infectious disease,” wrote Gibbs. “And ‘us’ means everyone, not just those in faraway places where this is one threat among many that claim lives every day.”

The runners-up chosen by Time were protesters who took to the streets in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson to condemn the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer. Also short-listed were Russian President Vladimir Putin, Massoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, and China’s richest man Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba.

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