Purple sofa, yellow wall, and dedicated pink sunglasses cabinet – this Auckland home says no to neutrals

This story is from the team at NZ House & Garden magazine.

“I can see why people like a calm, neutral, beige environment. I am not one of those people,” says Louise Hilsz of the bungalow she shares with her partner Ben Emirali and dog Pickle in Auckland’s Kingsland.

You’ll find almost every other colour of the rainbow from pretty pinks and sunny yellows to bold blues and dramatic purples.

Being a self-described maximalist has also led the fashion and interiors stylist to use innovative materials when renovating the house. For vivid feature walls in both bedrooms, she opted for a textured soundproofing material from New Zealand company Autex Acoustics.

While it has a practical application, it’s the pop of colour – blue in the main bedroom and yellow in the guest bedroom – and felt-like surface that appealed to Louise.

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For the kitchen, Louise turned to friend Simon Ward, a designer and signwriter, to wrap the cabinets in vinyl – the same material used on buses and billboards. Not only did it lend the kitchen a vibrant shade of kitsch aqua, it was fast, cost-effective and the end result is hard-wearing.

“All I had to do was add the handles and it was like a brand-new kitchen,” says Louise.

Louise worked with several artists for the look of her mural but it was her friend, designer Simon Ward, who created the Salvation Mountain theme: "He just got what I wanted straight away. I think I only changed a couple of things from his original design."

Jane Ussher/NZ House & Garden

Louise worked with several artists for the look of her mural but it was her friend, designer Simon Ward, who created the Salvation Mountain theme: “He just got what I wanted straight away. I think I only changed a couple of things from his original design.”

The psychedelic mural to one side of the back garden is also Simon’s work, designed to Louise’s brief inspired by Salvation Mountain near Palm Springs in the US, and is also printed on billboard vinyl attached to the corrugated iron fence.

“I originally wanted to get a mural painted on the fence but the corrugated iron made it a bit trickier to paint. The vinyl just came in a big roll and took an hour to install. It’s been up for two years and still looks amazing,” Louise says.

The riot of colour and celebratory nature of the mural are fitting expressions of Louise’s approach, but also the joy she and Ben feel at having a place to call their own, and to decorate freely, after years of renting.

The couple have been in the house for two years, buying just after the first wave of the Covid pandemic. By then they’d had several years of frustration trying to find a house that met their budget in Auckland’s inner suburbs.

“We’ve lived in this area for a long time. One of my jobs is in the city and I like being able to walk to work. Plus, we’re a couple with no kids, we didn’t need to worry about things like school zones. It’s nice to be able to stay here, but it wasn’t easy.”

The three-bedroom house, which had been relocated to what was once a junkyard over two combined sections in the 1980s, offered the rare inner-city combination of privacy and space in a house that didn’t need a lot of structural work.

Louise immediately decided to repurpose the main bedroom and adjoining lean-to as a walk-in wardrobe and dressing room. The dressing room is a love letter to colour where Louise’s fondness for bold tones finds its purest expression in her clothes.

“I do not own a single piece of black clothing. I try to have at least five different colours in my outfits. I think most people aim for two; that’s not me at all.

When a plan to build their own dining table from metal pipes defeated them, the couple opted for a mid-century style table from Target; unusually for this house it's black, to work with the dark floors and built-in sideboard.

Jane Ussher/NZ House & Garden

When a plan to build their own dining table from metal pipes defeated them, the couple opted for a mid-century style table from Target; unusually for this house it’s black, to work with the dark floors and built-in sideboard.

“I can’t really choose a favourite colour. I do really hate brown although I blame that on my school uniform. It also means I don’t like wood. Growing up, our whole house was brown; leather couches, wooden furniture. It was not inspiring.”

Almost every piece of furniture or decor which has found its way into Louise and Ben’s house has been painted in a different vibrant colour. Louise says Ben sometimes takes a bit of persuading over her colour preferences.

The biggest challenge has been trying to find pieces that fit with Louise’s vision. “It’s quite easy to find colourful clothes in New Zealand but it is really hard to find colourful furniture. Everything is black, white or brown unless you have a lot of money to custom order things.”

Louise has invested in key custom-made elements such as the modular couch in deep purple and bright yellow, and curtains but has otherwise scoured Trade Me – and her parents’ storage locker – for pieces to upcycle in bright colours.

“When my parents moved back to Australia 15 years ago they left a storage unit filled with brown furniture, which I have gradually raided. There are a few pieces they’ve told me not to touch, otherwise they’re okay with it.”

Louise doesn’t have any rules for matching, or mismatching, colours and pieces within a room. She uses trial and error, trusting her eye until she’s happy. She’ll also keep moving things around to create different looks. Always the stylist.

Louise has worked as a fashion and interiors stylist on local magazines and websites for more than a decade and styles television’s Have You Been Paying Attention host Hayley Sproull in a different brightly coloured suit for each episode. But Louise started her working life combining the knowledge gained studying business with her love of the eclectic, by opening the store Winks in Auckland’s Newmarket, selling a mix of local clothing brands and vintage pieces.

“I opened in 2007. Retail had been really booming, but then the GFC hit. I was 23 and doing it on my own, which was really stressful and I was just so broke all the time.” The store closed, followed by jobs as a fashion editor then an interiors editor for local magazines.

Though Louise still helps inspire others’ fashion and interior design decisions as deputy editor and style director for website BeautyEQ, she hasn’t yet been tempted to design someone else’s interior.

For now she’s content with filling her own home with colour. She’s considering a bathroom renovation or even an outdoor bathhouse: “I am obsessed with getting a bath.”

Meanwhile she finds colour inspiration on various interior design social media accounts, like the UK’s Sam Buckley. “He does these incredible rooms with painted ceilings. As soon as I saw them I thought ‘I have to have that’.

“I just love the way social media has opened us all up to the whole world of design ideas and inspiration.”

Q&A with Louise Hilzs

Proudest DIY achievement: Upcycling vintage furniture with colourful paint. It’s amazing how good furniture looks when it’s not brown.

Favourite new find: My Staffordshire dogs from UK website Dogwood Lifestyle. I’ve had my eye on them for a few years and with the pound dropping they became better priced.

Favourite family treasure: Our drinks cabinet which I now use as a sunglasses cabinet. I got this from my parents’ storage unit and painted it pink.

Best seat in the house: Our purple sofa.

A quote I often use: Is from my mum: “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly.”

We love this part of Auckland because: We are in the heart of the city and the neighbourhood has a friendly, relaxed vibe. It’s noisy and vibrant which suits us perfectly.

Best local attraction: Cruising along the Northwestern Cycleway. It’s a great walking, running and cycle track.

One thing you must do: Go bar-hopping along the Kingsland strip. So many interesting places to try.

Favourite local eatery: Kingsland is home to the best brewery, Urbanaut Brewing Co, which serves amazing burgers whether you want meat, vegetarian or vegan and it is dog friendly. Highly recommended.

Favourite local shop: The Little Flower Shop just up the road in Mt Albert. Its flowers are stunning and the staff offer such great service.

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Zelenskyy vows to defend ‘fortress’ Bakhmut | CBC News

Ukrainians will fight “for as long as we can” to hold the eastern city of Bakhmut, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed on Friday, as he hosted European Union (EU) leaders to discuss further sanctions on Russia and Kyiv’s prospects for joining the EU.

Meanwhile, the United States said it would send more than $2.175 billion US worth of military aid to Ukraine, including a new rocket that will double Kyiv’s strike range to reach most Ukrainian territory now held by the Russians.

The head of the EU’s executive commission and the chair of the 27 EU national leaders were in Kyiv to demonstrate support for Ukraine as the first anniversary of Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of its neighbour approaches.

As they and Zelenskyy’s government discussed a range of issues, air raid sirens sounded in Kyiv and across the country — a regular occurrence during months of Russian missile attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure far from the battlefields in the east and south.

People gather in a subway station being used as a bomb shelter during an air siren in Kyiv on Friday. (Daniel Cole/The Associated Press)

Civilians killed in strikes

The high-level meeting came as a 60-year-old man was killed and six others were wounded Friday after Russian missiles hit central Toretsk, a town in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, the local prosecutor’s office said in a statement on Facebook. Ukrainian authorities reported Friday that at least six civilians were killed and 20 others were wounded over the previous 24 hours.

Among the dead were two brothers, ages 49 and 42, killed when Russian shelling destroyed an apartment building in the northeastern Kharkiv region, Ukraine’s presidential office said.

Their 70-year-old father was hospitalized with unspecified injuries. Also, six people were wounded and 18 apartment buildings, two hospitals and a school were damaged in a Russian attack in the eastern city of Kramatorsk on Thursday, Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko told Ukrainian TV.

Russian forces closing in

Zelenskyy, flanked by the EU leaders at a news conference, said European sanctions should aim to ensure Russia cannot rebuild its military capability. And he had a defiant message on Bakhmut, the focal point of Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s invasion and of Moscow’s drive to regain battlefield momentum.

“Nobody will give away Bakhmut. We will fight for as long as we can. We consider Bakhmut our fortress,” he said.

Moscow says Russian forces are encircling the city that had a pre-war population of around 75,000 from several directions and battling to take control of a road which is also an important supply route for Ukrainian forces.

“If weapon (supplies) are accelerated, specifically long-range weapons, not only will we not abandon Bakhmut but we will also begin to remove the occupiers from the Donbas (region of eastern Ukraine), occupied since 2014,” Zelenskyy said.

The U.S. military aid announced on Friday included rockets known as Ground Launched Small Diameter Bombs (GLSDB). Their 94-kilometre range would put all of Russia’s supply lines in eastern Ukraine within reach, as well as part of the Crimea peninsula, also seized by Moscow in 2014.

EU sanctions target ‘Russia’s war machine’

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said a 10th sanctions package would hit “trade and technology that supports Russia’s war machine.”

“With our partners, we must deny Russia the means to kill Ukrainian civilians and destroy homes and offices,” von der 
Leyen said in a tweet.

The package, which the EU is preparing for the anniversary of the invasion, is set to fall short of some of Ukraine’s demands, and Kyiv’s ambition to join the EU may take longer than it would like.

Three people stand at a podium.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, centre, speaks with European Council president Charles Michel, left, and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen during the EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv on Friday. (Efrem Lukatsky/The Associated Press)

Ukraine applied to join the EU days after Russia invaded last year. The EU has embraced the application, but rebuffed Ukraine’s calls for a fast track to membership while the country is at war.

EU officials have listed multiple membership requirements, from political and economic stability to adopting various EU laws. The process is likely to take years.

Canadian sanctions aimed at disinformation, propaganda

Also on Friday, Canada imposed sanctions on 38 individuals and 16 entities it said were “complicit in peddling Russian disinformation and propaganda,” prompting a quick promise of retaliation from Moscow.

The targeted individuals and entities include Russian state-owned media group MIA Rossiya Segodnya and singer Nikolai Baskov, who performed in a pro-war concert in Moscow, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine is based on lies and deception. Russian disinformation operations have enlisted celebrities and so-called news organizations to echo the Kremlin’s talking points and attempt to justify the atrocities happening across Ukraine,” it said.

A blond-haired man, in a navy tuxedo jacket, white shirt and black bowtie, stands with a microphone in front of lines of men in green and gold military uniforms.
Singer Nikolai Baskov performs during a concert to celebrate the incorporation of regions of Ukraine to join Russia, at the Red Square in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022. The signing of the treaties making the four regions part of Russia follows the completion of the Kremlin-orchestrated “referendums.” (Maksim Blinov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via The Associated Press)

Canada, one of the most vocal international supporters of Ukraine, has imposed sanctions on almost 4,000 people and entities from and in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus since 2014.

Oleg Stepanov, Russia’s ambassador to Canada, said Moscow would react to the sanctions in a reciprocal fashion.

“We will respond to every unfriendly action from the current Canadian authorities, which we look upon with regret,” he told Russia’s RIA news agency.

Fuel price caps

EU countries agreed on Friday on a commission proposal to set price caps on Russian oil products from Sunday to limit Moscow’s ability to fund the war. They include a $100 US cap on premium oil products such as diesel and a $45 limit per barrel on discounted products such as fuel oil, diplomats said.

A similar price cap on crude oil took effect in December.

The Kremlin said the plan would unbalance global energy markets but Moscow was acting to mitigate its impact on oil and gas revenue. Russia will almost triple its daily sales of foreign currency to 8.9 billion roubles ($174 million Cdn) a day over the next month to compensate for lower oil and gas revenue.

Tanks and an air defence system

The German government said it had approved the delivery of Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine from its stocks. The tanks could be delivered sooner than advanced Leopard 2s that Germany and other countries pledged last week.

Ukraine’s defence minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said the new tanks being supplied by NATO nations would serve as an “iron fist” in a counteroffensive to smash through Russian lines.

Meanwhile, France and Italy have finalized technical talks for the joint delivery of a SAMP/T-MAMBA air defence system to Ukraine in spring 2023, the French Defence Ministry said.

“This will allow Ukraine to defend itself against Russian drones, missiles and plane attacks, through the coverage of a significant part of the Ukrainian territory,” a ministry statement said.

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ChatGPT: Use of AI chatbot in Congress and court rooms raises ethical questions

User-friendly AI tool ChatGPT has attracted hundreds of millions of users since its launch in November and is set to disrupt industries around the world. In recent days, AI content generated by the bot has been used in US Congress, Columbian courts and a speech by Israel’s president. Is widespread uptake inevitable – and is it ethical?

In a recorded greeting for a cybersecurity convention in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Israeli President Isaac Herzog began a speech that was set to make history: “I am truly proud to be the president of a country that is home to such a vibrant and innovative hi-tech industry. Over the past few decades, Israel has consistently been at the forefront of technological advancement, and our achievements in the fields of cybersecurity, artificial intelligence (AI), and big data are truly impressive.”

To the surprise of the entrepreneurs attending Cybertech Global, the president then revealed that his comments had been written by the AI bot ChatGPT, making him the first world leader publicly known to use artificial intelligence to write a speech.

But not the first politician to do so. A week earlier, US Congressman Jake Auchincloss read a speech also generated by ChatGPT on the floor of the House of Representatives. Another first, intended to draw attention to the wildly successful new AI tool in Congress “so that we have a debate now about purposeful policy for AI”, Auchincloss told CNN.

Since its launch in November 2022, ChatGPT (created by California-based company OpenAI) is estimated to have reached 100 million monthly active users, making it the fastest-growing consumer application in history.

The user-friendly AI tool utilises online data to generate instantaneous, human-like responses to user queries. It’s ability to scan the internet for information and provide rapid answers makes it a potential rival to Google’s search engine, but it is also able to produce written content on any topic, in any format – from essays, speeches and poems to computer code – in seconds.

The tool is currently free and boasted around 13 million unique visitors per day in January, a report from Swiss banking giant UBS found.

Part of its mass appeal is “extremely good engineering ­– it scales up very well with millions of people using it”, says Mirco Musolesi, professor of computer science at University College London. “But it also has very good training in terms of quality of the data used but also the way the creators managed to deal with problematic aspects.”

In the past, similar technologies have resulted in bots fed on a diet of social media posts taking on an aggressive, offensive tone. Not so for ChatGPT, and many of its millions of users engage with the tool out of curiosity or for entertainment.

“Humans have this idea of being very special, but then you see this machine that is able to produce something very similar to us,” Musolesi says. “We knew that this this was probably possible but actually seeing it is very interesting.”

A ‘misinformation super spreader’?

Yet the potential impact of making such sophisticated AI available to a mass audience for the first time is unclear, and different sectors from education, to law, to science and business are braced for disruption.

Schools and colleges around the world have been quick to ban students from using ChatGPT to prevent cheating or plagiarism.

>> Top French university bans students from using ChatGPT 

Science journals have also banned the bot from being listed as a co-author on papers amid fears that errors made by the tool could find their way into scientific debate.

OpenAI has cautioned that the bot can make mistakes. However, a report from media watchdog NewsGuard said on topics including Covid-19, Ukraine and school shootings, ChatGPT delivered “eloquent, false and misleading” claims 80 percent of the time.

“For anyone unfamiliar with the issues or topics covered by this content, the results could easily come across as legitimate, and even authoritative,” NewsGuard said. It called the tool “the next great misinformation super spreader”.

Even so, in Columbia a judge announced on Tuesday that he used the AI chatbot to help make a ruling in a children’s medical rights case.

Judge Juan Manuel Padilla told Blu Radio he asked ChatGPT whether an autistic minor should be exonerated from paying fees for therapies, among other questions.

The bot answered: “Yes, this is correct. According to the regulations in Colombia, minors diagnosed with autism are exempt from paying fees for their therapies.”

Padilla ruled in favour of the child – as the bot advised. “By asking questions to the application we do not stop being judges [and] thinking beings,” he told the radio station. “I suspect that many of my colleagues are going to join in and begin to construct their rulings ethically with the help of artificial intelligence.”

Although he cautioned that the bot should be used as a time-saving facilitator, rather than “with the aim of replacing judges”, critics said it was neither responsible or ethical to use a bot capable of providing misinformation as a legal tool.

An expert in artificial intelligence regulation and governance, Professor Juan David Gutierrez of Rosario University said he put the same questions to ChatGPT and got different responses. In a tweet, he called for urgent “digital literacy” training for judges.

A market leader 

Despite the potential risks, the spread of ChatGPT seems inevitable. Musolesi expects it will be used “extensively” for both positive and negative purposes – with the risk of misinformation and misuse comes the promise of information and technology becoming more accessible to a greater number of people.

OpenAI received a multi-million-dollar investment from Microsoft in January that will see ChatGPT integrated into a premium version of the Teams messaging app, offering services such as generating automatic meeting notes.

Microsoft has said it plans to add ChatGPT’s technology into all its products, setting the stage for the company to become a leader in the field, ahead of Google’s parent company, Alphabet.

>> Alphabet, Amazon and Apple results: Tech earnings hit by gloom 

Making the tool free has been key to its current and future success. “It was a huge marketing campaign,” Musolesi says, “and when people use it, they improve the dataset to use for the next version because they are providing this feedback.”

Even so, the company launched a paid version of the bot this week offering access to new features for $20 per month.

Another eagerly awaited new development is an AI classifier, a software tool to help people identify when a text has been generated by artificial intelligence.

OpenAI said in a blog post that, while the tool was launched this week, it is not yet “fully reliable”. Currently it is only able to correctly identify AI-written texts 26 percent of the time.

But the company expects it will improve with training, reducing the potential for “automated misinformation campaigns, using AI tools for academic dishonesty, and positioning an AI chatbot as a human”.

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Adani Enterprises’ Failed Share Offering Exposes More Investment Funds With Questionable Ties To The Adani Group

Three investment funds that purchased shares in Adani Enterprises’ scuttled $2.5 billion offering have ties to the Adani Group and suspected Adani proxies, according to a Forbes analysis

Three investment funds with ties to the Adani Group committed to buying up shares as investors in Adani Enterprises follow-on stock offering, which was abruptly canceled Wednesday following a drop in Adani Enterprises’ share price in the wake of U.S. short seller Hindenburg Research’s 100-page report.

Two Mauritius-based funds, Ayushmat Ltd and Elm Park Fund, and India-based Aviator Global Investment Fund, together agreed to buy 9.24% of all shares available to anchor investors, the institutional investors who are allotted shares a day before the public offering. That percentage represented an investment of just $66 million, but is likely more evidence of Adani getting help from affiliated parties.

The three funds’ ties to Adani have not previously been reported, and follow Forbes’ report Wednesday that two of Adani Enterprises’ book-runners, Elara Capital and Monarch Networth Capital, were alleged to be Adani affiliates by Hindenburg.

The Adani Group’s seven publicly listed companies have lost over $100 billion of market value in the ten days since Hindenburg accused it of a decades-long scheme of fraudulent self enrichment. The group issued a lengthy denial and reply to Hindenburg’s report and has threatened legal action against the investment firm. The Adani Group did not respond to Forbes’ request for comment for this article.

Demand for Adani Enterprises’ $2.5 billion stock offering slumped after the short seller’s report. Despite Abu Dhabi’s last-minute injection of $400 million, the Adani Group called off the sale and said it will return funds to investors, with Gautam Adani himself citing in a video the “volatility of the market” and adding that it would not have been “morally correct” to go ahead under the circumstances. (He did not address the Hindenburg allegations.) Adani Enterprises stock has fallen more than 50% since January 24, the day before the Hindenburg report was published.

One of Adani Enterprises’ would-be anchor investors was Ayushmat Ltd, a Mauritius-based fund that had pledged to buy 2.32% of the shares offered early to the institutional investors. Ayushmat is administered by Rogers Capital, a financial services firm in Mauritius. One of Rogers’ directors and key shareholders is Jayechund Jingree, who was formerly a director of the Mauritius-headquartered Adani Global Ltd., a subsidiary of Adani Enterprises.

Jingree also has ties to Vinod Adani, Gautam’s brother and a key player in the Adani Group’s web of offshore companies. As described by Hindenburg, Jingree’s longtime U.K. brokerage, Orbit Investment Securities, was formerly named Jermyn Capital and controlled by Dharmesh Doshi, a former Indian fugitive in connection to a stock rigging scam in 2001, for which his partner, Ketan Parekh, was convicted. Doshi and Jermyn Capital were alleged to have participated in another stock rigging scam involving Indian drugmaker Sun Pharmaceuticals between 2007 and 2009 (Sun’s founder, Dilip Shanghvi, is one of India’s richest, worth $16 billion). That scheme also allegedly involved Jineshwar Holdings, a Mauritius company later revealed by offshore data leaks to be controlled by Vinod Adani.

Vikram Rege, a director at Ayushmat Ltd., said in an emailed statement to Forbes, “Ayushmat Ltd. does not manage any funds on behalf of any Adani Group principals.” Jingree did not respond to a request for comment.

Rege is also a director at Elm Park Fund, which had planned to be the second largest investor (5.67%) in Adani Enterprises’ anchor offering. Elm Park Fund, a Mauritius-based fund, was also alleged to have engaged in the Sun Pharma stock rigging scheme, according to a whistleblower complaint obtained by Moneylife India in 2018. Elm Park Fund was one of a “host of foreign entities involved in questionable transactions in the Indian equity market” as part of the scheme, according to Moneylife India. Forbes could not locate the full complaint; the Securities and Exchange Board of India previously declined to share it.

Rege did not address Forbes’ questions about Elm Park Fund, and the fund did not respond to Forbes’ requests for comment as of press time.

Lastly, Aviator Global Investment Fund subscribed to 1.25% of Adani Enterprises’ anchor shares. The Aviator Global Investment Fund’s senior management official, per 2021 Indian parliamentary records, is Antonino Sardegno. According to Sardegno’s LinkedIn profile (which disappeared within hours after Forbes reached out to him for comment), he led “investment solutions” from 2008 to 2013 for Monterosa Group. In its report, Hindenburg alleged that Monterosa Group and five of its investment funds, holding $4.5 billion of Adani company stock (as of January 24), was Adani’s largest “stock parking entity,” meaning, a third-party fund designed to conceal ownership.

More recently, Sardegno was CEO of Andetta Private Services from 2013 until August 2022. Andetta, which Hindenburg identified as a subsidiary of offshore firm Amicorp, is the controlling shareholder of New Leaina Investments, a Cyprus fund that previously owned over 1% of Adani Green Energy, Adani’s renewable energy company, and smaller stakes in other Adani companies, according to Hindenburg’s research and the Adani Group’s financial disclosures of foreign investors. Hindenburg alleges that Amicorp “formed at least 7 Adani promoter entities, at least 17 offshore shells and entities associated with Vinod Adani, and at least 3 Mauritius-based offshore shareholders of Adani stock.” Sardegno, Andetta Private Services and Amicorp have not responded to Forbes’ requests for comment as of press time.

If Adani Group principals are the ultimate beneficial owners of these various funds, that would mean the Adani Group is also a large stakeholder in one of the Adani Group’s rivals: the Hinduja Group, the $70 billion (annual sales) Indian conglomerate controlled by the four Hinduja brothers. The Aviator Global Investment Fund, New Leaina Investments and three other funds with ties to Adani Group – Elara India Opportunities Fund, Connecor Investment Enterprise Ltd and LGOF Global Opportunities Limited – all hold sizeable stakes in Hinduja Global Solutions, Hinduja Leyland Finance and Hinduja’s Gulf Oil Corp Limited. The Hinduja Group had not responded to a request for comment as of press time.

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‘Life or death’ for disabled people caught in Auckland floods, improvements needed

Abbie Twiss felt “helpless and defeated” as the Auckland floodwaters gushed into her Mt Eden backyard last week.

“I was watching the water rise rapidly, inching up to the deck, and suddenly swarms of bark started to come down,” she said.

Twiss, who is Deaf, said her last resort for help or information was to text 111. She is registered as Deaf and told the phone operator she was Deaf and had a disability.

The dispatcher sent police, despite her request for emergency civil defence support, and sandbags to prevent the flooding.

* Tāmaki Makaurau flood response put disabled at risk, advocate says
* Unequal destruction: The crisis continues for Auckland’s most vulnerable whānau
* Concerns for Māori and disabled as state of emergency declared in Northland
* Govt to relook at proposed emergency management law after Auckland mayor’s flood handling

But when the police arrived there was no New Zealand Sign Language interpreter, so her partner helped interpret and Twiss tried to communicate with pen on paper. It wasn’t enough, Twiss said, and she couldn’t share her concerns.

“They came in with wet boots, walked around my place and off they went,” she said.

“It was only under five minutes.”

Twiss is a self-employed artist; the floodwater inside her art studio was 20cm deep and damaged some of her artwork.

In hindsight, she thinks because she told the operator she was disabled, they sent police to help evacuate her, not to support her efforts to stop the water coming in or give her the information she needed. It was the communication barriers that caused her distress.

Abbie Twiss dries out her artwork after flooding in Auckland.

Abbie Twiss/Supplied

Abbie Twiss dries out her artwork after flooding in Auckland.

Since then, she’s been glued to the updates on social media and watching the news on TV.

She said while there were NZSL interpreters for the central government press conferences, the communication of emergency and civil defence information was inconsistent.

“I would like to see it improved for accessibility communication for the Deaf in civil defence emergencies,” she said.

Disabled people are more at risk if there is a lack of appropriate, accessible and timely up-to-date information in an emergency, said Dr Esther Woodbury, lead adviser on disability at the Human Rights Commission.

“If you don’t know where to go, if you don’t know a safe way to leave your house, if you don’t know where to get support from, or you can’t contact people, it is absolutely a matter of life or death,” she said.

Woodbury acknowledged natural disasters are challenging because the situation can change quickly, but said disabled people can’t be an “add-on” in emergencies.

She referred to article 11 of the United Nations on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, that New Zealand ratified in 2008, which states the Government needs to take all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of disabled people in risk and humanitarian emergencies.

“Obviously there were lots of challenges and delays, but I can see [Whaikaha – Ministry of Disabled People] has worked closely with the community,” she said.

While the cost of living for people in Aotearoa is an important issue at the moment, disabled people are two times as likely to be in poverty compared to non-disabled people, she said.

“It is catastrophic when you lose all of your food, when you lose your accommodation for disabled people,” Woodbury said. “Disabled people very frequently don’t have any cushion to get through times of crisis.”

Flooding in the Auckland suburb of Sandringham.

David White/Stuff

Flooding in the Auckland suburb of Sandringham.

During the Auckland floods, an IDEA Services disability residence in Mt Roskill, housing people with very high and complex needs, had to evacuate when the house was flooded with waters reaching a metre high.

The residents were moved to an IDEA Services day base which had bathroom facilities and a kitchen, with temporary beds and equipment brought in for one night until they moved to another home.

Joan Cowan, IDEA Services chief operating officer, said the organisation were incredibly thankful to their staff, neighbours, police and especially Civil Defence who very quickly helped evacuate the residents.

“However, we cannot rely on luck in these situations, and it highlights there is no central way for local authorities to know about where vulnerable people are so that they’re a priority in an emergency,” she said.

She said the organisation ensures its emergency kits are stocked and up to date, and with the recent Cyclone Hale warnings a few weeks prior, it was extra prepared for such a large-scale weather event.

“In events like this, we typically move more quickly than waiting to hear from local government on a state of emergency announcement, because evacuating people can take more time and the people we support are more vulnerable,” she said.

Bettina Syme, CCS Disability Action’s general manager for the northern region, said, as the weather unfolded on Friday, staff met to roll out its emergency plan and began contacting their most vulnerable clients who require essential supports.

“Our emergency response plans have been well tested because of Covid,” she said.

“A lot of the skills that we gained during Covid, a lot of the resourcing that we gained during Covid has been really useful in managing this weather event.”

She said only one person out of around 500 people that CCS Disability Action supports in the region was flooded in and needed to evacuate. However, that person was able to move in with their landlord and was safe and well-supported.

She said Whaikaha – Ministry of Disabled People had been “really visible” during the state of emergency and were holding daily meetings with providers to understand what was happening on the ground and if disabled people’s rights and needs were being recognised within the bigger management plan for the city.

She said one issue that was emerging was the need for emergency generators for people reliant on power to meet their disability needs, such as power for fridges to store medication or those who require power for oxygen to run nebulisers, BiPAPs and ventilators.

One thing she has discovered was a list, held by Te Whatu Ora, of disabled people who rely on power for medical and disability needs. Since the Auckland flooding, better communication was planned to get all disabled people who would need a generator in an emergency, on that list.

She’d heard of some “incredible communities” who banded together to source a generator for a family who needed power after posting about it on a local community Facebook group.

“It’s fantastic that the community responds in times like these,” she said.

However, she said there needed to be learnings to ensure disabled people were on the right lists to urgently replace essential supports that require power.

There could more flexibility with disability support or individualised funding to purchase items like generators, Syme said.

“How to make it easier for [disabled people] to get the support they need is very much a partnership across providers and the ministry and the people we support.”

Lawrence Smith/Stuff

Flooding along Universal Drive in Auckland

Whaikaha’s deputy chief executive – operational design and delivery Amanda Bleckmann said the wellbeing of disabled people in Auckland and affected areas was the ministry’s “top priority”.

“Whaikaha has a team working to ensure disabled people and whānau have access to support during this time,” she said.

“We are also working closely with disabled community leaders and other agencies to provide support and co-ordination for individuals as we are made aware of them, including Auckland Council, the National Emergency Management Agency, ACC and Te Whatu Ora.”

She said the Civil Defence Centres in Auckland were wheelchair-accessible and people could bring assistance dogs.

Whaikaha does not have any additional powers or resources when a state of emergency is declared, Bleckmann said.

“Our role is to work with our communities, disability service providers, Auckland Council, the National Emergency Management Agency, and other agencies. We have processes in place to provide additional disability supports where this is needed.”

The Human Rights Commission’s Woodbury said the Government needed to think about the fallout of the flooding in terms of disabled people and their recovery.

“What would be really good to see is government policy and other government agencies stepping up, because, in times of emergencies, the fault lines really start showing for disabled people,” she said.

This is a Public Interest Journalism funded role through NZ On Air

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EU has neglected Latin America as a trade partner. That has to change

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

When Russia embarked on its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February, the European Union realised that Moscow’s act of aggression meant Brussels had to look for economic partners elsewhere.

South America should have been the first on Brussels’ speed dial.

Yet, in reality, the two continents tend to treat each other with a combination of indifference and contempt.

Latin American diplomats would say that Europe tends to take the region for granted — especially its former colonies. At the same time, the EU appears not to have worked out clearly what it wants of its relationship with Latin America.

The detachment between the two blocs is summed up by the fact that the last EU-Latin America summit took place seven years ago, while a trade agreement between the EU and the Mercosur union — comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay — has been stalled for more than two decades.

In Brussels’ absence, Beijing became Latin America’s best friend

However, if the EU wants to wean itself off Russian energy and lead the clean-energy transition, officials in Brussels will need to renew ties with their Latin American counterparts by forging new trade deals, as the region is home to several metals that are critical to building a green economy.

The demand for rare earth metals in the EU — already at its highest — is expected to surge fivefold by 2030, yet Europe produces a negligible share of the minerals it needs in its race for renewables.

By contrast, Chile owns 42% of the world’s lithium reserves, a key component of electric car batteries, and a quarter of its copper deposits, used in everything from grids to turbines. Peru, too, holds nearly a quarter of the world’s silver, which is essential in producing solar panels and electric cars.

Putting new life into that old relationship would also help the EU diversify trade to avoid strategic dependencies with China, as concerns are mounting in Brussels about the bloc’s over-reliance on Beijing as a market for goods and raw materials for its green transition.

In turn, deepening ties would also alleviate the economic semi-stagnation of Latin America, hard-hit by globalisation, enabling European companies to shift production from China to the Americas.

Another reason the EU should increase ties with Latin America is to counter Beijing’s rising influence in the region. To avoid the same mistake as in Africa — where Chinese firms have monopolised cobalt mining, essential for electric vehicle batteries, accounting for an estimated one-eighth of the continent’s industrial output — the EU needs to step up its game.

Over the past decade, China has been systematically building its supply chain in these critical minerals. It increased its investments in Latin America 26-fold between 2000 and 2020 and is now the primary stakeholder in two of the ten biggest lithium mines in Chile, as well as Mercosur’s largest single trade partner (and the second-biggest for Latin America as a whole).

In Brazil, China Three Gorges, the world’s largest hydropower provider, controls almost half of its hydro plants. At the same time, China’s State Grid Corp is the country’s largest power generation and distribution company.

Moreover, 19 governments across Latin America and the Caribbean have joined Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative, a nearly €1-trillion transcontinental trade and infrastructure network.

‘Pink wave’ of left-leaning leaders a chance for relations reset

However, after years of EU disengagement, it seems that the political stars have aligned to enable a qualitative leap in relations between the bloc and Latin America.

Putin’s war in Ukraine and China’s rising authoritarianism have woken Brussels to the enormous challenges the bloc has to face, and politicians are now scrambling to forge new deals to secure raw materials.

Last December, the EU concluded a trade deal with Chile that will give it easier access to lithium, copper and other minerals vital to its renewable energy industry. Currently, 67% of Chile’s copper exports go to China, while just 5% go to the EU.

Yet another disadvantage for Brussels can be gleaned from the fact that Chile’s raw materials are processed in China and resold at a markup, with the difference often coming out of the pockets of Europeans.

Some things have changed as of late, however.

Chile’s leftist President Gabriel Boric is seeking to boost manufacturing jobs by reducing the country’s reliance on raw exports to China and instead having more of the production process based locally.

Moreover, socialist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s victory in Brazil’s presidential election on 30 October has revived EU trade hopes for Latin America.

It was Lula’s return that also brought back talks about the EU-Mercosur trade deal, now poised to be ratified by the end of the year — a pact blocked by European countries in 2019 after his predecessor, far-right firebrand Jair Bolsonaro, allowed Amazon’s deforestation to spike by 59.5%.

Boric and Lula both belong to the so-called “pink wave” of left-leaning Latin American heads of state at the helm of six out of seven of the region’s biggest economies.

Strike while the iron is hot

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s recent trip to the region was, in many ways, a chance for Europe to use this new era to its advantage.

In late January, he met with Boric to secure additional supplies of the lithium needed for its electric car industry, promising in return to help Chile develop its processing sectors. This week with Lula, he talked Mercosur.

Others in the EU, too, are looking to boost relations: a mix of trade-friendly countries — Sweden and Spain — are set to hold the bloc’s Council presidency this year, and the need to decouple from Russian gas and reduce Chinese dependencies are at the top of the agenda, which is bound to incentivise officials to forge new deals.

Yet, none of this will happen if Europe doesn’t strike while the iron is hot.

In the face of mounting geopolitical challenges and the urgent need to speed up the energy transition, Brussels needs a major reset of policy towards Latin America. It’s time to open political dialogue and diversify friendships.

Carla Subirana is an economist who has worked as a policy analyst for the Bank of England and Europe analyst for Economist Intelligence.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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China to look into report of spy balloon over U.S.

China said Friday it is looking into reports that a Chinese spy balloon has been flying in U.S. airspace and urged calm, adding that it has “no intention of violating the territory and airspace of any sovereign country.”

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning also said she had no information about whether a trip to China by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken planned for next week will proceed as scheduled.

At a daily briefing, Ms. Mao said that politicians and the public should withhold judgment “before we have a clear understanding of the facts” about the spy balloon reports.

Mr. Blinken would be the highest-ranking member of President Joe Biden’s administration to visit China, arriving amid efforts to mitigate a sharp downturn in relations between Beijing and Washington over trade, Taiwan, human rights and China’s claims in the South China Sea.

“China is a responsible country and has always strictly abided by international laws, and China has no intention of violating the territory and airspace of any sovereign country. As for the balloon, as I’ve mentioned just now, we are looking into and verifying the situation and hope that both sides can handle this together calmly and carefully,” Ms. Mao said.

“As for Blinken’s visit to China, I have no information,” she said.

A senior defence official told Pentagon reporters that the U.S. has “very high confidence” that the object was a Chinese high-altitude balloon and was flying over sensitive sites to collect information.

One of the places the balloon was spotted was over the state of Montana, which is home to one of America’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.

A high-altitude balloon floats over Billings, Mont., on February 1, 2023
| Photo Credit:

Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said the balloon is “currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.”

Mr. Ryder said similar balloon activity has been seen in the past several years and the government has taken steps to ensure no sensitive information was stolen.

President Biden was briefed and asked the military to present options, according to a senior administration official, who was also not authorised to publicly discuss sensitive information.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, advised against taking “kinetic action” because of risks to the safety of people on the ground. Mr. Biden accepted that recommendation.

The defence official said the U.S. has “engaged” Chinese officials through multiple channels and communicated the seriousness of the matter.

Mr. Blinken’s visit was expected to start this Sunday in an effort to try to find common ground on issues from trade policy to climate change. Although the trip has not been formally announced, both Beijing and Washington have been talking about his imminent arrival.

The senior defence official said the U.S. prepared fighter jets, including F-22s, to shoot down the balloon if ordered. The Pentagon ultimately recommended against it, noting that even as the balloon was over a sparsely populated area of Montana, its size would create a debris field large enough that it could have put people at risk.

It was not clear what will happen with the balloon if it isn’t brought down.

The defence official said the spy balloon was trying to fly over the Montana missile fields, but the U.S. has assessed that it has “limited” value in terms of providing intelligence it couldn’t obtain by other technologies, such as spy satellites.

The official would not specify the size of the balloon but said commercial pilots could spot it from their cockpits. All air traffic was halted at Montana’s Billings Logan International Airport from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, as the military provided options to the White House.

A photograph of a large white balloon lingering over the area was captured by The Billings Gazette. The balloon could be seen drifting in and out of clouds and had what appeared to be a solar array hanging from the bottom, said Gazette photographer Larry Mayer.

The balloon’s appearance adds to national security concerns among lawmakers over China’s influence in the U.S., ranging from the prevalence of the hugely popular smartphone app TikTok to purchases of American farmland.

“China’s brazen disregard for U.S. sovereignty is a destabilizing action that must be addressed,” Republican Party House Speaker Kevin McCarthy tweeted.

Tensions with China are particularly high on numerous issues, ranging from Taiwan and the South China Sea to human rights in China’s western Xinjiang region and the clampdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong. Not least on that list of irritants are China’s tacit support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, its refusal to rein in North Korea’s expanding ballistic missile program and ongoing disputes over trade and technology.

On Tuesday, Taiwan scrambled fighter jets, put its navy on alert and activated missile systems in response to nearby operations by 34 Chinese military aircraft and nine warships that are part Beijing’s strategy to unsettle and intimidate the self-governing island democracy.

Twenty of those aircraft crossed the central line in the Taiwan Strait that has long been an unofficial buffer zone between the two sides, which separated during a civil war in 1949.

Beijing has also increased preparations for a potential blockade or military action against Taiwan, which has stirred increasing concern among military leaders, diplomats and elected officials in the U.S., Taiwan’s key ally.

The surveillance balloon was first reported by NBC News.

From an office window in Billings, Montana, Chase Doak said he saw a “big white circle in the sky” that he said was too small to be the moon.

“I thought maybe it was a legitimate UFO,” Mr. Doak said. “So I wanted to make sure I documented it and took as many photos as I could.”

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US pressures allies to expel Russia’s Wagner mercenaries from Libya, Sudan

The United States has stepped up pressure on Middle East allies to expel the Wagner Group, a military contractor with close ties to Russia’s president, from chaos-stricken Libya and Sudan where it expanded in recent years, regional officials told The Associated Press.

The U.S. effort described by officials comes as the Biden administration is making a broad push against the mercenaries. The U.S. has slapped new sanctions on the Wagner Group in recent months over its expanding role in Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The group is owned by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Pentagon has described it as a surrogate for the Russian Defense Ministry. The Kremlin denies any connection.

The Biden administration has been working for months with regional powers Egypt and the United Arab Emirates to pressure military leaders in Sudan and Libya to end their ties with the group, according to more than a dozen Libyan, Sudanese and Egyptian officials. They asked for anonymity to speak freely and because they were not authorized to discuss the issue with the media.

“Wagner obsesses them (American officials),” said an Egyptian senior government official with direct knowledge of the talks. “It is at the top of every meeting.”

The group doesn’t announce its operations, but its presence is known from reports on the ground and other evidence. In Sudan, it was originally associated with former strongman Omar al-Bashir and now works with the military leaders who replaced him. In Libya, it’s associated with east Libya-based military commander Khalifa Hifter.

Wagner has deployed thousands of operatives in African and Middle Eastern countries including Mali, Libya, Sudan, the Central African Republic, and Syria. Its aim in Africa, analysts say, is to support Russia’s interests amid rising global interest in the resource-rich continent. Rights experts working with the U.S. on Jan. 31 accused the group of committing possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Mali, where it is fighting alongside government forces.

“Wagner tends to target countries with natural resources that can be used for Moscow’s objectives – gold mines in Sudan, for example, where the resulting gold can be sold in ways that circumvent Western sanctions,” said Catrina Doxsee, an expert on Wagner at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Prigozhin did not respond to a request for comment sent to the press department of the Concord Group, of which he is an owner.

The group’s role in Libya and Sudan was central to recent talks between CIA director William Burns and officials in Egypt and Libya in January. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also discussed the group with President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in a late-January trip to Cairo, Egyptian officials said. Weeks after the visits, Burns acknowledged in a Thursday speech at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., that after recent travel to Africa he was concerned about the Wagner’s growing influence in the continent.

“That is a deeply unhealthy development and we’re working very hard to counter it,” Burns said.

Burns and Blinken called on el-Sissi’s government to help convince Sudan’s ruling generals and Libya’s Hifter to end their dealings with the Wagner, an Egyptian official briefed on the talks said.

The group and its founder have been under U.S. sanctions since 2017, and the Biden administration in December announced new export restrictions to restrict its access to technology and supplies, designating it as a “significant transnational criminal organization.”


Leaders in Sudan have received repeated U.S. messages about Wagner’s growing influence in recent months, via Egypt and Gulf states, said a senior Sudanese official.

Abbas Kamel, the director of Egypt’s Intelligence Directorate Agency, conveyed Western concerns in talks in Khartoum last month with the head of Sudan’s ruling sovereign council, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the official said. Kamel urged Burhan to find a way to address Wagner’s “use of Sudan as a base” for operations in neighboring countries such as the Central African Republic, the official said.

Wagner started operating in Sudan in 2017, providing military training to intelligence and special forces, and to the paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces, according to Sudanese officials and documents shared with The Associated Press.

The RSF, which grew out of the feared Janjaweed militias, is led by powerful general Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who has close ties with the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Dagalo has been sending troops to fight alongside the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s long-running civil war.

Wagner mercenaries are not operating in a combat role in Sudan, officials said. The group, which has dozens of operatives in the country, provides military and intelligence training, as well as surveillance and protection of sites and top officials.

Sudanese military leaders appear to have given Wagner control of gold mines in return. The documents show that the group has received mining rights through front companies with ties to Sudan’s powerful military and the RSF. Its activities are centered in gold-rich areas controlled by the RSF in Darfur, Blue Nile and other provinces, according to officials.

Two companies have been sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Treasury for acting as fronts for Wagner’s mining activities — Meroe Gold, a Sudanese gold mining firm, and its owner, the Russian-based M Invest firm. Prigozhin owns or controls both, according to the Treasury. Despite sanctions, Meroe Gold is still operating across Sudan.

The Russian mercenaries helped the paramilitary force consolidate its influence not only in the country’s far-flung regions, but also in the capital of Khartoum, where it helps run pro-RSF social media pages.

The main camp of Wagner mercenaries is in the contested village of Am Dafok on the borders between the Central African Republic and Sudan, according to the Darfur Bar Association, a legal group that focuses on human rights.

“Nobody can approach their areas,” said Gibreel Hassabu, a lawyer and member of the association.


In Libya, Burns held talks in Tripoli with Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, head of one of Libya’s two rival governments.

The CIA director also met with Hifter in eastern Libya, according to officials with Hifter’s forces. One official briefed on the meeting in al-Rajma military complex, the seat of Hifter’s command just outside Benghazi, said Wagner was the main issue discussed.

U.N. experts said Wagner mercenaries were deployed Libya since 2018, helping Hifter’s forces in their fight against Islamist militants in eastern Libya. The group was also involved in his failed offensive on Tripoli in April 2019.

The U.S. Africa Command, AFRICOM, estimated that some 2,000 Wagner mercenaries were in Libya between July-September 2020, before a cease-fire. The mercenaries were equipped with armored vehicles, air defense systems, fighter aircraft, and other equipment, which were supplied by Russia, according to the AFRICOM assessment. The report also said the Wagner group appeared to be receiving money from the UAE, a main foreign backer of Hifter.

Since the 2020 cease-fire, Wagner’s activities have centered around oil facilities in central Libya, and they have continued providing military training to Hifter forces, Libyan officials said. It is not clear how many Wagner mercenaries are still in Libya.

American officials have demanded that mercenaries be pulled out of oil facilities, another Libyan official said.

Hifter did not offer any commitments, but asked for assurances that Turkey and the Libyan militias it backed in western Libya will not initiate an attack on his forces in the coastal city of Sirte and other areas in central Libya.

Egypt, which has close ties with Hifter, has demanded that Wagner not be stationed close to its borders.

There is no evidence yet that the Biden administration’s pressure has yielded results in either Sudan or Libya, observers said.

Doxsee, the expert, said the U.S. and allies should resist promoting narratives that “Russia is bad and what we have to offer is good” and instead focus on offering better alternatives to Wagner.

“Ultimately, at the end of the day, Wagner is a business. If you can cut out the profit and you can reduce the business case for using Wagner, that’s what is going to make it a less appealing case,” she said.


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Why do people love Ireland so much?

What is it about Ireland that makes it so appealing and popular with holidaymakers and those who call it home? We asked around and tried to find out!

Now that the summer is over most of us are secretly thinking about our 2023 vacation. And while there is a whole world out there to explore, there is still so much to see and do in Ireland.

So we spoke to some residents, both those born here and those who have chosen to make Ireland their home, to find out what is so great about the Emerald Isle – and with so much global unrest, our little island is becoming a more appealing prospect by the day.

The Irish countryside

The scenery – A view from Sneem, in County Galway.

Firstly of course is the scenery – there are stunning locations all over the world but we also have plenty of our own; including the Wild Atlantic Way, the craggy rocks of the Burren, Glenveagh National Park, the remote beauty of Connemara, the majesty of Kerry, the Cliffs of Moher and Glendalough to name just a few.

Most of us haven’t experienced even half of the beauty on our doorstep, so after the parade pick somewhere you haven’t visited before and go exploring.

Irish rainbows

According to a South African native who has become an Irish citizen, we truly have the best rainbows. And while we have yet to find a legendary pot of gold at the end, thanks to an abundance of rain and clear, fresh skies, when the sun shines on a rainy day, our colorful bows are a joy to behold.

Irish weather

This leads on to the climate – yes, we have quite a few damp days throughout the year, but we are blessedly free from weather extremes. And whatever about being caught in a downpour, we aren’t too likely to experience anything more dramatic in the near future. In fact, one Italian man, who has recently moved here, said he loved the weather because it’s always summertime – in other words, it never changes.

Irish rain = green

Irish weather - The lush greens of Europe's largest city park, Phoenix Park, Dublin.

Irish weather – The lush greens of Europe’s largest city park, Phoenix Park, Dublin.

And on the subject of rain, its abundance makes for a stunning natural environment; gardens, parks, even hedgerows are always lush and vibrant, often wild and most definitely green.

Irish history

Irish history - Irish famine memorial in Dublin. Our history has made us who we are today.

Irish history – Irish famine memorial in Dublin. Our history has made us who we are today.

We have a long, often sad and undoubtedly colorful history and while at times it was far from pretty, it still lingers in all of our minds and has helped to promote a keen sense of patriotism and pride.

The smell of Ireland

Smell - what is more evocative than the smell of an Irish turf fire.

Smell – what is more evocative than the smell of an Irish turf fire.

Smell is our most powerful sense with a particular scent having the ability to transport us to another place and time – so the aromas of Ireland are another thing to be thankful for – the smell of a turf fire is unbeatable, as is the scent on the air after a rain shower. And when the wind blows a certain way over St James’ Gate, the smell of toasted barley and hops never fails to remind you that you are home.

Read more: Smell of an open fire in Ireland is intoxicating but what is Irish turf?

Education in Ireland

Education in Ireland - Trinity College Dublin.

Education in Ireland – Trinity College Dublin.

With their long, paid holidays and short working days, teachers are the focus of many a rant, but according to people who have moved here from abroad, our education system is pretty impressive.

Many people from Europe, US and beyond were keen to pass on their feelings about the Irish education system and as one French man said ‘Education in Ireland, particularly in primary schools, really focuses on getting the best from students, the child is always put before the curriculum’.

Irish music

Irish music - U2! Making waves around the world for decades.

Irish music – U2! Making waves around the world for decades.

Irish music is very special – from U2 to Westlife and Sinead O’Connor to the Pogues, many of our artists have been making waves across the world for decades. But it is our traditional sound which sets us apart from the rest – hip young things might scoff at it, but you can bet your bottom dollar, they would be the first to claim it as their heritage if they happened to hear Trad music abroad – its vibrancy, skill, and downright toe-tapping catchiness is second to none.

Irish dance

We’re not too bad on our feet either and Riverdance did much to bring our unique dance to the world and give a bit of glamour to the ‘one, two, threes’.

Read more: Riverdance stars in Dublin are living their dream

Irish surf

The water might be pretty cold (read bloody freezing), but apparently the quality of our surf is up there with the best on the planet. So while surfing might not be your thing, it’s still something to be proud of.

Island life

The sea - the restorative powers of seaviews in Ireland.

The sea – the restorative powers of seaviews in Ireland.

When I was growing up on the west coast, there was a story doing the rounds of a local farmer whose cows escaped from a field. Enjoying a pint of Guinness, he seemed unperturbed by the bovine fugitives and when pressed, replied ‘Sure, what harm, don’t we live on an island’. Wise words indeed – and apart from the fact that our livestock can’t hatch plans to migrate overseas, living on an island also ensures that nowhere is far from the ocean with its ever-changing views and restorative powers.

Irish air

Irish air - Breathe it in!

Irish air – Breathe it in!

Like love, air is all around us, and living on a blustery island in the Atlantic, we have some of the freshest air going. If we could bottle it, we could make a fortune, but as we can’t we should be thankful for the fact that city center aside, it’s so clean and pure.

Irish kindness

Some people like to keep themselves to themselves and that’s fair enough, but there’s no getting away from the fact that when the chips are down, we Irish are pretty good at taking care of people. The vast majority are good and kind and dozens shared stories of how complete strangers helped; by carrying bags up the stairs, offering up seats on a train, putting a shout-out on social media about lost property, intervening when someone was being verbally abused and generally being good citizens.

Irish sense of community

The sense of community is another point that newly-minted Irish citizens were keen to point out – having moved here from abroad, most felt very included by their new neighbors and colleagues and said their children were happily settled in school and had a good group of friends.

No dangerous animals

No dangerous animals - We got nothing! Cows anybody?

No dangerous animals – We got nothing! Cows anybody?

A somewhat bizarre but equally relevant positive is the lack of dangerous animals in Ireland. A number of residents discussed their relief at living in a place devoid of creatures that sting, poison or attack.

The Irish wake

Perilous creatures aside, strange as it may seem, the way we deal with death in this country is very positive – from the funeral wake to the hugely supportive way in which the entire community turns up to show respects and offer support to the bereaved, we really know how to address the inevitable and take the whole process into our stride. It’s not quite the keening days of old, but by tackling the sad and sorry business head-on, we, together with our communities, acknowledge that death is a part of life.

“Do you know…”

“Do you know…” – Ireland is so small and we’re so friendly that networking is easy.

Networking is made easier in Ireland thanks to the size of the country and our easy familiarity with each other. One German IT consultant said she is astounded at how everyone seems to know the right person for any job and no matter what needs doing, there is always an instant recommendation – and having a personal introduction makes future business much easier.

Friendly folk

Friendly folk - The Irish live up to that stereotype.

Friendly folk – The Irish live up to that stereotype.

We have always prided ourselves on being the ‘land of a thousand welcomes’. And while that may seem a bit twee and ‘Oirish’, the fact remains that we are still viewed as being an altogether friendly bunch who will strike up a conversation with anyone at any time.

Irish Mammy’s cooking

Irish Mammy's cooking - Can any Irish person resist bacon, cabbage and mash?

Irish Mammy’s cooking – Can any Irish person resist bacon, cabbage and mash?

Everyone loves their mothers’ home cooking and Irish people who have moved abroad cite this as being the thing they most look forward to when visiting home (after their Mammy’s of course) – whether it’s an Irish stew, some freshly baked soda bread, or even the traditional Sunday roast or bacon and cabbage, nothing beats it.

High-quality Irish produce

High-quality Irish produce - It doesn't get any better than Irish.

High-quality Irish produce – It doesn’t get any better than Irish.

And on the subject of food, many visitors commented on the quality of our produce – our butter and dairy produce is second to none, our locally produced meats are praised worldwide and our fresh fish and seafood is top-notch (or top nosh).

Irish rugby

Irish ruby - Ireland fly half Jack Carty sets up the attack for the games first try during the International match between Wales and Ireland.

Irish ruby – Ireland fly half Jack Carty sets up the attack for the games first try during the International match between Wales and Ireland.

We can’t compile a list of Irish positives without mentioning our rugby teams, who continue to impress year upon year – and once again, for a country as small as Ireland, we have managed to produce some amazing players over the years.

Gaelic games

Gaelic games - There's something pretty special about Ireland's ancient sports.

Gaelic games – There’s something pretty special about Ireland’s ancient sports.

On the topic of sport – love it or hate it, the GAA is pretty special. Our unique games not only set us apart from other nations and bring us together in Irish clubs abroad but also are the beating heart of many small communities up and down the country.

Any parent out there will know what it’s like to be constantly on taxi duty as we take our children to one activity after another – but several European parents have praised this as a very positive aspect to Irish life, as they believe their children have more opportunity to try different sports and other extra-curricular activities than they would have had in their native countries.

Modern Ireland

Modern Ireland - It's not your grandparent's Ireland anymore.

Modern Ireland – It’s not your grandparent’s Ireland anymore.

In our grandparent’s day, we were quite a conservative bunch by all accounts, living by the (holy) book and not wanting to step out of line, but recent referendums have shown that we are no longer afraid to voice our opinions and accept change and this is a very positive aspect to modern Ireland.

Multi-cultural Ireland

Multi-cultural Ireland - The face of Ireland is changing and it's for the better.

Multi-cultural Ireland – The face of Ireland is changing and it’s for the better.

And last but most certainly not least is the fact that modern Ireland is a melting pot of different nationalities, which when all mixed together, make the nation richer in so many ways.

Love Ireland? What did we miss out? Tell us why you love Ireland so much in the comments section below.

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China can help cool soaring global inflation

An Indian customer shops at a toy store on Thursday at Yiwu International Trade City in Yiwu, Zhejiang province. The complex, the world’s biggest small-commodities market, reopened after closing for the Spring Festival holiday in late January. (HUANG ZONGZHI/XINHUA)

Stable prices provide room for more policy easing to shore up economy

China, with its benign inflation rate, is capable of playing a pivotal role in helping cool soaring global inflation and will continue to ensure strong economic recovery and mild price fluctuations this year, analysts and executives said.

In marked contrast to major advanced economies, which have been plagued by surging inflation amid rising energy and food prices, China has seen its inflation levels remain low and stable, which, analysts said, provides space for further policy easing to shore up the world’s second-largest economy.

“Over the past year, many advanced economies witnessed the biggest surge in inflation in 40 years,” said Liu Zhicheng, director of commodity market division at the Academy of Macroeconomic Research’s market and price research institute. The academy is affiliated with the National Development and Reform Commission, or NDRC, China’s top economic regulatory body.

Last year, a number of developed economies, including the United Kingdom and the United States, experienced inflationary whiplash. During the first 11 months of 2022, the inflation rate, as measured by the consumer price index, was 8 percent in the United States, 8.4 percent in the eurozone and 8.9 percent in the UK, sparking public complaints and protests. Some developing countries have also suffered from high inflation.

Both the Bank of England, Britain’s central bank, and the European Central Bank were expected to raise interest rates on Thursday to tame high inflation, ease the cost-of-living crisis and avoid falling into recession. The US Federal Reserve increased its key interest rate by a quarter point on Wednesday.

China has had a good record of keeping its overall price levels low and stable. Last year, the country’s consumer price index rose by 2 percent year-on-year, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, which was well below the country’s inflation control target of around 3 percent.

Notably, China’s food inflation rate was 2.8 percent and the cost of water, electricity and fuel rose a modest 3 percent in 2022, both significantly lower than in major Western economies, Liu said.

He attributed soaring inflation across the globe to runaway energy and food prices amid geopolitical tensions and the massive fiscal and monetary easing measures in many Western countries.

China has managed to deal with imported inflationary pressures with effective measures focused on stabilizing prices of products essential for people’s livelihood as well as bulk commodities.

“China’s stable price levels are creating an environment that keeps economic performance stable, which also helps tame global inflation,” Liu said.

While warning of headwinds from imported inflationary pressures and potential fluctuations in commodity prices, Wan Jinsong, director of the NDRC’s Department of Price, said China has solid foundations as well as the confidence and capabilities to maintain overall price stability in 2023.

Wan said at a recent news conference that the country has sufficient supplies of goods essential for people’s livelihood, a stable energy supply and an improved system for ensuring price and supply stability.

“Compared with the dramatic inflation surges much of the world has experienced, China has continued to have low inflation due to weak domestic demand and government measures to stabilize prices and supplies,” said Zhou Maohua, an analyst at China Everbright Bank.

NBS data showed China’s CPI grew by 1.8 percent year-on-year in December, while the inflation rate in the US was 6.5 percent in the same month.

Zhou estimated that China’s CPI will remain at a moderate level this year given the gradual pickup in demand and the country’s sufficient supply of daily necessities.

“Unlike many other economies, China has not adopted massive policy stimulus over the past few years,” he said. “Given its stable inflation levels, the country has ample room and plenty of policy tools in reserves to support the economy.”

Lu Ting, chief China economist at Nomura, said that his team thinks inflation is not a major concern for China in 2023, and they expect the policy stance to remain accommodative.

A top government think tank forecast that China’s consumer inflation will stay mild in 2023, while cautioning that the risk of price increases beyond expectations still remains.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Center for Forecasting Science estimates that China’s CPI will rise about 1.8 percent in 2023, while the producer price index will decline by about 0.4 percent.

Gao Ruidong, chief macroeconomist at Everbright Securities, warned that the robust recovery in consumption of services may add to “structural inflation pressures”.

China is taking a more pro-growth stance, giving priority to expanding domestic demand and spurring consumption. The local governments have mapped out detailed plans in an attempt to put growth back onto the fast track.

On Tuesday, the Beijing Municipal Government released a document on key tasks for 2023, urging more efforts to boost consumption, including spurring consumption in housing, new energy vehicles and elder care.

There have been initial signs of recovery in consumption thanks to such policies in other provincial-level regions.

In Guangdong province, Guangzhou’s Beijing Road shopping area achieved a business turnover of 345 million yuan ($51.3 million) in the weeklong Spring Festival holiday, up 19.4 percent year-on-year, official data showed.

Gao said in an article published in China Finance magazine that the country will also likely see a notable rebound in consumption of services, such as transportation, catering, accommodation and entertainment, and prices for services will go up in the post-COVID period.

He said the government should take more steps to keep prices stable, with a key focus on ensuring the supply of food and energy, assisting companies to stabilize employment and promoting the rebound of services industry.

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