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Saudi investment fund to buy 10% stake in Heathrow airport

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Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) has agreed to buy a 10% stake in Heathrow airport from Spanish infrastructure giant Ferrovial.

Another 15% in its parent company, FGP Topco, will be sold to French-based private equity fund Ardian.

Ferrovial, which has owned a stake since 2006, announced that the deal was worth £2.37bn ($3bn). The transaction is still subject to regulatory conditions, according to the firm.

If approved, the deal would end Ferrovial’s investment in the UK airports’ operator which started at 56% but was reduced to 25% by 2013.

Other stakeholders in FGP Topco include Qatar Investment Authority, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, Singapore’s GIC, Australian Retirement Trust, China Investment Corporation and Universities Superannuation Scheme.

The airport has been losing money this year because of its significant debt which is affected by aggressive hikes in the cost of borrowing.

The Civil Aviation Authority has also decided to lower passenger charges which go towards costs for terminals runways, baggage systems and security.

The average charge per passenger at Heathrow for 2023 is £31.57 but the regulator said this would fall to £25.43 in 2024 and “remain broadly flat” until the end of 2026.

It is understood bosses at Heathrow wanted charges to actually increase to more than £40, while airlines proposed they should be no more than around £18.50.

Saudi’s PIF is one of the world’s most active sovereign wealth funds with more than $700bn in assets thanks to its oil wealth, which has recently been investing in sport such as football and golf.

But the fund is controlled by Saudi Arabia’s prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud whose government has been accused of numerous human rights violations.

US intelligence has said it believes Prince Mohammed ordered the 2018 killing of a US-based journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, though the prince has been given immunity in the US and he has also been invited to visit the UK according to the Saudi Arabian embassy.

(BBC)



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Intruder spills 60,000 litres of wine worth €2.5m at Spanish winery

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The intruder was reportedly familiar with the winery grounds (BBC)

A Spanish winery has suffered losses of more than €2.5 million (£2.1 million) after an unidentified intruder emptied 60,000 litres of wine.

A representative of the Cepa 21 winery told the BBC the wine spilled came from two of the winery’s most expensive varieties, Horcajo and Malabrigo.

He said the incident took place at about 03:30 local time (02:30 GMT) on Sunday and that the intruder was likely familiar with the winery grounds.

Police are investigating the case. In CCTV, a hooded person can be seen moving between tanks and rapidly opening them, causing their contents to spill on to the floor.

The Cepa 21 representative told the BBC that it was “very hard to open the tanks”, which include a security mechanism, without prior knowledge. Therefore, he said, it could be assumed that the intruder “is used to opening these tanks and is familiar with this kind of machinery”. He added: “This person was moving very smoothly across the winery grounds, even though it was dark and there was no light. “This must be a person who knows the grounds well.”

But he said it was too early to speculate on their identity and said there were no grounds to suspect current or former employees at this stage.The intruder opened five tanks, although only three were filled with wine.

Cepa 21 is located in Castrillo de Duero, a small village in north-western Spain. Horcajo wine retails for around £80 a bottle in the UK, while Malabrigo sells for £35.

(BBC)

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Nebraska zoo extracts 70 coins from white alligator’s stomach

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Thibodaux. a 36-year-old white alligator, had 70 coins removed from his stomach (BBC)

An alligator at a US zoo had to undergo surgery after veterinarians discovered 70 coins in the animal’s stomach.

The coins were found in a rare, 36-year-old leucistic alligator, which has translucent white skin and blue eyes.

Veterinarians identified “metal foreign objects in the stomach of an iconic resident” – Thibodaux.  The Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha, Nebraska said patrons threw coins into the enclosure, which were eaten by the animal between cleanings.

He has recovered from the procedure and is back in his habitat.

The zoo urged visitors to avoid throwing “coins into any bodies of water at the zoo”, after the sizeable amount of change was pulled from the animal’s stomach.

All 10 alligators – including Thibodaux – participated in a routine examination which involved blood collection, radiographs and more. When zoo workers discovered the coins, they acted fast and performed surgery on Thursday, removing the coins from Thibodaux “before they caused any problems”.

“With the help of his training, Thibodaux was anesthetized and intubated to allow us to safely manage him during the procedure,” associate veterinarian Christina Ploog, who led the procedure, said in a statement.  “A plastic pipe was placed to protect his mouth and safely pass the tools used to access the coins, such as a camera that helped us guide the retrieval of these objects.”

The zoo said in a statement that X-ray imaging confirmed that the objects were successfully removed, adding that “Thibodaux recovered well from the procedure”. Taylor Yaw, director of animal health at the zoo, said the procedure is not “common”.

Ms Ploog told a local news outlet that people do not realise how coins can harm animals. She said not only could animals ingest the coins, but they could also contain dangerous chemicals.

The zoo answered one concerned person online who asked if the coins get swept up by the zoo. “We do routine cleanings in the habitats of this area and throughout the zoo,” the zoo wrote on Facebook. “In between cleanings is when our alligators still manage to get them before they are removed.”

(BBC)

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South Korean doctors strike in protest of plans to add more physicians

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Doctors staged rallies in Seoul last week protesting against the government's plan to bump up numbers (BBC)

South Korea’s government has ordered more than 1,000 junior doctors to return to work after many staged walk-outs in protest of plans to increase the number of doctors in the system.

More than 6,000 interns and residents had resigned on Monday, said officials.

South Korea has one of the lowest doctor-per-patient ratios among OECD countries so the government wants to add more medical school placements. But doctors oppose the prospect of greater competition, observers say.

South Korea has a highly privatised healthcare system where most procedures are tied to insurance payments, and more than 90% of hospitals are private.

Its doctors are among the best-paid in the world, with 2022 OECD data showing the average specialist at a public hospital receives nearly $200,000 (£159,000) a year; a salary far exceeding the national average pay.

But there are currently only 2.5 doctors per 1,000 people – the second lowest rate in the OECD group of nations after Mexico. “More doctors mean more competition and reduced income for them, that is why they are against the proposal to increase physician supply,” said Prof Soonman Kwon, a public health expert at Seoul National University.

Patients and health officials expressed concerns on Tuesday as reports emerged of doctors declining to come into hospitals across the country.

Junior doctors form a core contingent of staff in emergency wards, and local media reported that up to 37% of doctors could be affected at the biggest hospitals in Seoul.

The health ministry said 1,630 doctors had not shown up to work on Monday, amid a wider group of 6,415 who had submitted resignation letters. Organisers had pledged an all-out strike from Tuesday.

“We are deeply disappointed in the situation where trainee doctors are refusing to work,” Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo had told reporters earlier this week. He also warned that the government may resort to legal means to get doctors back to work.

Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo speaks during a press briefing
Minister Park has condemned the strike action by doctors (BBC)

 

Under the country’s Medical Services Act, authorities have the power to revoke a doctor’s practicing licence over an extended labour action which threatens the health care system. The country has attempted prosecutions before in relation to other doctor protests- which were later dropped.

“We earnestly ask the doctors to withdraw their decision to resign en masse,” Mr Park said.

The government has consistently condemned the doctors’ opposition. Prime Minister Han Duck-soo has said: “This is something that takes the lives and health of the people hostage”.

The extent of the strike’s impact so far is yet unclear, although officials had warned there could be delays to surgeries and gaps in care. Some hospitals have announced switching to contingency plans. The government has also fully expanded telehealth services.

The protests are similar to events in 2020, when up to 80% of junior doctors joined strikes against the government’s recruitment plans.

South Korean policy makers have tried for years to increase the number of trained doctors, as the country is dealing with a rapidly-ageing population which will put extra burden on the medical system. There’s a projected shortfall of 15,000 doctors by 2035.

The country also has critical gaps in care in remote areas, and in specialities such as paediatrics and obstetrics – which are seen as less lucrative fields compared to dermatology.

To combat this, President Yoon Suk-yeol has proposed adding 2,000 spots per year to medical schools – which currently take a cohort of just over 3,000 students every year – a rate that has not changed since 2006. It’s a policy very popular with the public – with local polls showing 70-80% of voters support it.

However the plan has been strongly opposed by the medical profession, with groups like the Korean Medical Association arguing an increase would be a strain on the money available under the national health insurance scheme.

The union has also argued that more doctors wouldn’t necessarily address the shortages in specific fields. It announced the strike action on Sunday after an emergency meeting with hospital representatives. While junior doctors are the first to strike there are fears that more across the profession will join too.

Doctors successfully staved off the government’s previous attempt to introduce more graduates in 2020. The government conceded at the time, partly due to the pressure of the Covid pandemic, commentators say.

“It is not easy to predict who will win this time,” said Prof Kwon. He noted that President Yoon “seems very determined” because the policy has provided a ratings-bump for an unpopular leader otherwise tarnished by some political scandals. “But a private sector dominated health system is quite vulnerable to physician strikes, i.e. it can be really shut down if doctors join full-scale strikes.”

(BBC)

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