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Archive for June, 2020

Russian monk denying coronavirus takes control of monastery

June 17, 2020

MOSCOW (AP) — A rebellious Russian monk who has denied the coronavirus’ existence and urged believers to ignore the Kremlin’s lockdown orders has taken control of a monastery in the Ural Mountains. Father Sergiy showed up Tuesday at the Sredneuralsk women’s monastery that he had founded years ago and took charge. Scores of volunteers, including battle-hardened veterans of the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, helped enforce his rules, while the prioress and several nuns have left.

Hundreds of believers from Yekaterinburg and other cities in the Urals have flocked to the convent to hear the priest’s fiery sermons. The Russian Orthodox Church has denounced Father Sergiy’s move, saying he has been banned from conducting church services and urging him to repent. Police visited the monastery Wednesday and found no violations.

Last month, the monk was suspended by the church leadership following his continuous calls to disobey the closure of churches during the lockdown. Orthodox churches across Russia were closed to parishioners on April 13 because of the coronavirus outbreak and were only allowed to reopen earlier this month.

Father Sergiy has declared the coronavirus non-existent and urged believers to ignore the lockdown orders from authorities. He denounced electronic passes introduced in Moscow and some other regions as part of efforts to stem the outbreak as “Satan’s electronic camp.” The monk has described the vaccines being developed against COVID-19 as part of a global plot to control the masses.

Next week, Father Sergiy will face a church panel that will decide on his future. He also has faced charges of spreading false information about the coronavirus, The monk has ignored the church’s ban. In a video from his cell where icons and images of Orthodox Church hierarchs of the past adorn the wall alongside pictures of Russia’s last Czar, Nicholas II, and Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, he warned church officials that they will need to seize the monastery by force to get him out.

Germany: 657 virus cases at slaughterhouse in new outbreak

June 17, 2020

BERLIN (AP) — Regional officials in western Germany said Wednesday that the number of new COVID-19 cases linked to a large meatpacking plant has risen to 657, a significant regional spike for a country that has recorded nationwide infections in the low hundreds lately.

Health officials in Guetersloh said they have received a total of 983 test results from workers at the Toennies slaughterhouse in Rheda-Wiedenbrueck. Of those, 326 tests were negative. Since the start of the outbreak, Germany has recorded 188,474 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 8,844 deaths. The infection rate declined sharply after authorities imposed nationwide social distancing rules in March and the daily case increase had averaged between 300-400 in June.

News of the outbreak in Guetersloh came as Chancellor Angela Merkel was meeting with Germany’s 16 state governors to discuss progress in tackling the pandemic. “We are far away from an exponential increase,” Merkel told reporters after the meeting, insisting that the country would continue to try to relax restrictions while containing any local outbreaks.

“That’s why I very much welcome that, as today in the county of Guetersloh for example, when there is such an accumulation of infections then measures are immediately taken, for example the closure of schools and such-like,” she said.

“We see from these outbreaks that the virus isn’t gone,” she added. Company officials at Toennies said the outbreak at the slaughterhouse may have been linked to workers taking the opportunity to visit their families in eastern European countries as border controls were relaxed.

Officials ordered the closure of the slaughterhouse, as well as isolation and tests for everyone else who had worked at the Toennies site — putting about 7,000 people under quarantine. The infections pushed the county above the threshold of 50 new infections per 100,000 residents over a week at which local authorities in Germany have to consider new restrictions. Officials decided to close schools and child care centers across the county from Thursday until the summer vacation starts near the end of the month, but chose to avoid a wider-ranging lockdown.

There have been several outbreaks at German slaughterhouses in recent weeks, prompting the government to impose stricter safety rules for the industry and ban the practice of using sub-contractors. The outbreak in Rheda-Wiedenbrueck, where Toennies operates one of Germany’s biggest slaughterhouses, could affect the meat supply in Germany. Sven-Georg Adenauer, head of the regional administration, said a fifth of Germany’s meat products could be unavailable while the plant is shut, the dpa news agency reported.

Gereon Schulze Althoff, the Toennies official in charge of the company’s pandemic response, said that the company had been “fighting like lions since February … to keep the virus out of the operation.”

Schulze Althoff said he had no conclusive explanation for why the infections had occurred now. But he noted that many foreign workers had wanted to go and see their families as European borders started to reopen, meaning that “we were exposed to new risks.”

“We were aware of that, but we … carried out extra testing of people returning from holidays and so on,” he added. “But we didn’t succeed in keeping out these sources or this source (of infection) — we don’t know which exactly.”

He said the company has a lot of workers from eastern European countries, and many went home over recent long weekends. He said cooled rooms may also have facilitated the virus spreading. Germany started loosening its coronavirus restrictions in late April and has largely kept infection rates low, though local outbreaks linked to slaughterhouses, church services and a restaurant among other places have caused some concern.

This week, the German government launched its coronavirus tracing app, designed to help people learn if they’ve been in close proximity to someone who later tests positive. Officials said the app was downloaded more than 6 million times in the first 24 hours.

Merkel declined to say whether she was using the new app, saying only that she was “willing” to do so.

Turkey sees rise in daily coronavirus cases following easing

June 14, 2020

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey is “moving away from the target,” the country’s health minister warned Sunday as the daily number of new coronavirus cases rose above 1,500 following the relaxation of restrictions.

Fahrettin Koca tweeted that 1,562 new cases were recorded over the previous 24 hours, the highest daily figure since June 3. Reporting 1,330 recoveries, he said: “Our number of recovered patients fell below the number of new cases. The need for intensive care and respiratory equipment is rising.”

Koca also reported 15 deaths due to coronavirus, taking the total since the first case on March 11 to 4,807. Turkey has recorded a total of 178,239 coronavirus cases. At the start of June, the government authorized cafes, restaurants, gyms, parks, beaches and museums to reopen and eased stay-at-home orders for the elderly and young.

A weekend curfew that was due to be implemented last week was canceled, ending the series of part-time lockdowns in place since April. Koca called for people to switch to a period of “controlled social life” from Monday to halt the rise in cases.

Russia’s low virus death toll still raises questions in West

June 14, 2020

MOSCOW (AP) — When Leonid Shlykov’s father, Sergei, died in a Moscow hospital last month after 11 days on a ventilator, the death certificate listed the coronavirus as an underlying condition but not the actual cause of death.

“Yes, he was suffering from impaired kidney function and diabetes, but if it hadn’t been for COVID-19, he would’ve been alive,” the son wrote on Facebook. “If we had known the real number of infections and deaths … it would have helped us make the decision to hospitalize (dad) earlier.”

The way Russia counts fatalities during the coronavirus pandemic could be one reason why its official death toll of 6,948 is far below many other countries, even as it has reported nearly 529,000 infections, behind only the United States and Brazil.

The paradox also has led to allegations by critics and Western media that Russian authorities might have falsified the numbers for political purposes to play down the scale of the outbreak. Even a top World Health Organization official said the low number of deaths in Russia “certainly is unusual.”

Russian authorities have bristled at the suggestions. “We have never manipulated the official statistics,” said Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova. Finding the true numbers during the pandemic is difficult, since countries count cases and deaths in different ways and testing for the virus is uneven.

Still, several factors could contribute to Russia’s low virus mortality rate, including the way it counts deaths, a tendency among some officials to embellish statistics, its vast geography and the shorter life expectancy of its population.

An autopsy is mandatory in Russia in every confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19, with a determination on the cause of death made by a commission of specialists, said Dr. Natalia Belitchenko, a pathologist in the medical examiner’s office in the region around St. Petersburg.

She deals with coronavirus deaths almost daily, but said only about 20% of them have been attributed to COVID-19. In other cases, the virus was determined to be an underlying condition. “In the vast majority of cases, the pneumonia itself wouldn’t have led to death, had the underlying conditions not flared up to a point of becoming fatal,” she told The Associated Press.

Unlike Russia, some countries’ official death count includes those who had COVID-19 but died from other causes, said Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program. “It will be important that the Russian authorities review the way in which death certification is done to reassure themselves that they are accurately certifying deaths in the appropriate way,” he said.

Death counts vary around the world because countries underreported the number of COVID-19 deaths early on, said Ali Mokdad, professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. They ascribed virus deaths to other causes due to insufficient testing or initially only counted deaths in hospitals, he added.

Some countries also are overcounting by including “presumptive deaths” — those who likely died of COVID-19 but were never tested for it, Mokdad said. What sets Russia apart, however, is a habit of obscuring embarrassing truths, said Judy Twigg, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The way mortality data is recorded in Russia is affected by a Soviet-era tradition of setting future targets for improving public health through efforts to reduce mortality from certain reasons, such as alcoholism or tuberculosis.

Health officials “shift the way they code causes of death in order to try to meet those targets,” Twigg said. Pathologists told AP there is pressure from hospital administrators to produce better-looking reports.

Requests and instructions to obscure certain causes of death in postmortems are “an inevitable part of our job,” said a pathologist in Siberia who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

Data analysts say inconsistencies in Russia’s virus statistics suggest manipulation, such as regions reporting similar numbers of new cases for several days in a row, or the number of deaths in regional reports differing from those in federal reports.

“I don’t trust official statistics, and I believe I have reasons not to,” Boris Ovchinnikov, director of the Moscow-based Data Insight research agency, told the AP. “But we don’t have any good alternative indicators for assessing the real situation.”

Among the anomalies:

— The governor of the Lipetsk region in southwestern Russia was recorded telling subordinates last month that “numbers need to be changed, otherwise our region will be judged poorly.”

— In the Altai region in southern Siberia, a task force posted a daily infection update containing the words “for approval” addressed to the provincial governor. It quickly erased the words after it was reported on social media.

— Unusual spikes in pneumonia deaths indicate possibility more virus deaths than officially reported by mid-May: St. Petersburg reported 694 pneumonia deaths, with 63 from coronavirus; the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan reported 657 pneumonia deaths and 29 from coronavirus.

“Without doubt, there have been manipulations with statistics on the regional level,” said Gleb Pavlovsky, an independent analyst and former Kremlin political consultant, adding that it seems they did it “on their own initiative.”

At the same time, he noted that a decrease in cases was a key factor for holding two big events on the Kremlin agenda that were postponed by the virus: a massive Red Square parade for the 75th anniversary of the victory in World War II and a vote on constitutional amendments that could extend President Vladimir Putin’s rule until 2036.

Citing a slowdown in infections, Putin ordered the parade for June 24 and the vote for July 1. Most regions, including Moscow, also recently lifted tight lockdowns imposed in March even though daily numbers of new infections have remained high, hovering around 9,000.

In a bid to dispel claims of underreporting mortality, the government released updated statistics for April showing patients who died of other causes while testing positive for the virus, as well as those who tested negative but likely died of it.

If those were counted as coronavirus deaths, mortality would have been 60% higher than announced. Authorities insist they shouldn’t be included in the official toll, but even if all extra deaths recently reported by federal and Moscow officials were added, it would still be around 11,000.

Russian officials credit early quarantine measures and quick expansion of hospital capacity that prevented the health care system from being overwhelmed. They also cite more than 14 million tests that helped spot asymptomatic cases that account for more than 40% of all recent infections in the country of 146.7 million.

Officials noted that infections in Russia peaked later than in Europe, and deaths are now climbing more quickly. Experts say Russia’s statistical gaps may result from its outdated system of collecting mortality data: In many regions, a death certificate must be delivered by a relative to a local civil registry office. Many of those offices were closed or had limited hours due to coronavirus lockdowns.

“So what we’re seeing now is insufficient data in many regions,” said Alexei Raksha, an independent demographer. He said data from civil registries he studied showed that some regions reported fewer deaths in April than in previous years. Deaths were five times lower in the southern republic of Ingushetia, while in Krasnodar, they fell by about 1,500 from the monthly average, a record low.

“Some people just bury their relatives without going to the civil registration office,” Raksha said. Researchers expect most of these gaps to be filled in next year, when the Russian State Statistics Service issues its annual report.

Raksha said Russia’s few virus deaths could also be due to less-frequent travel across the vast country, its low population density and lower social mobility. He also said because the country has a much lower life expectancy than the West, it has fewer elderly targets for the virus.

Thousands flee in expectation of Myanmar military operation

June 30, 2020

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Thousands of people in an area of western Myanmar where there have been clashes between the government and ethnic rebels have been fleeing from their villages over the past week after an evacuation order from officials.

The Rakhine state government in an order last Tuesday instructed village administrators in Rathedaung township to tell residents to stay away from their homes due to military plans to conduct a “clearance operation” against the rebels. “Clearance operation” is Myanmar military parlance for counterinsurgency action.

The exodus from more than 40 villages is continuing almost a week later, even though the order was revoked last Friday Rakhine state’s security and border affairs minister. “Since the day the order was issued, more than 10,000 people from the operation area fled their villages,” Khin Maung Latt, an upper house member of parliament for Rathedaung township, said Monday.

The government has been embroiled for more than a year in an intermittent conflict with the Arakan Army, a well-trained and well-armed guerrilla force representing members of the area’s Rakhine ethnic group.

The guerrilla force is posing the strongest military challenge to the central government of the many ethnic minority groups who for decades have sought greater autonomy. Human rights advocates have accused Myanmar’s army of using undue force and targeting civilians in their operations fighting the guerrillas.

In Rakhine in 2017, the military carried out counterinsurgency operations against insurgents from the Muslim Rohingya minority, but critics charge they employed a campaign of terror to drive the Rohingya out of the country. An estimated 740,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh, where they remain in refugee camps.

The Rakhine are Buddhist, the religion of almost 90% of Myanmar’s people. During the past week’s exodus, some people fled to villages out of the designated area, and others to Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine.

“We have to flee the village as we don’t want to face the soldiers from the military. They were shooting into the village, arresting the villagers to use as human shields,” said Aye Mg, a 58-year-old resident of Rathedaung township’s Kyauktan village, where the government previously detained dozens of suspected Rakhine militants.

Civil society organizations and Buddhist monks are helping the newly displaced villagers find shelter. “People can’t live in their places any longer due to the fighting. We are hosting over 300 displaced people at our monastery; around 100 of them have arrived recently,” Okkahta, a monk, said from the Tahtipati Sipintharyar Monastery in Rathedaung town.

“It’s like doomsday for them,” lawmaker Khin Maung Lat said, explaining why villagers fled. “They are in fear. This is the impact of the evacuation order to stay away from the village during the military operation.”

“Even most of the village administrators are fleeing from the villages,” he said. “Even they are scared to go back to their villages.”

In Belgian town, monuments expose a troubled colonial legacy

June 27, 2020

HALLE, Belgium (AP) — For a long time, few people in the small Belgian town of Halle paid much attention to the monuments. They were just fixtures in a local park, tributes to great men of the past. But these are very different times, and yesterday’s heroes can be today’s racist villains.

And so it was that three weeks ago, a bust of Leopold II, the Belgian king who has been held responsible for the deaths of millions of Congolese, was spattered in red paint, labeled “Murderer,” and later knocked off its pedestal.

Nearby, a pale sandstone statue formally known as the “Monument to the Colonial Pioneers” has stood for 93 years. It depicts a naked Congolese boy offering a bowl of fruit in gratitude to Lt. Gen. Baron Alphonse Jacques de Dixmude, a Belgian soldier accused of atrocities in Africa.

These monuments, and others across Europe, are coming under scrutiny as never before, no longer a collective blind spot on the moral conscience of the public. Protests sweeping the world that followed the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed last month by Minneapolis police, are focusing attention on Europe’s colonial past and racism of the present.

Eric Baranyanka, a 60-year-old musician who came to Halle as a refugee from Belgium’s African colony of Burundi when was 3, said he has always found the statue of Jacques “humiliating.” “I had this pride being who I was. It was in complete contradiction with that statue,” he said.

But Halle Mayor Marc Snoeck appears to be more representative of his citizenry. He said he “never really noticed” the monuments until an anti-colonial group raised awareness of them a dozen years ago in the town of 40,000 people about 15 kilometers (10 miles) south of Brussels.

“I’m part of an older generation and I heard precious little during my studies about colonialism, the Congo Free State and the Belgian Congo,” said the 66-year-old Snoeck, noting he was taught about how Europeans brought civilization, not exploitation and death, to the heart of Africa.

Statues of Leopold, who reigned from 1865 to 1909, have been defaced in a half-dozen cities, including Antwerp, where one was burned and had to be removed for repairs. It’s unclear if it will ever come back.

But Leopold is hardly the only focus. Snoeck found it remarkable that protesters have not targeted the statue of Jacques, which he called “possibly even worse.” The mayor said the statue is known locally as “The White Negro,” because of the hue of the sandstone depicting the Congolese youth offering the fruit to the colonial-era Belgian who condoned or was responsible for murders, rapes and maiming workers in the Congo Free State.

Baranyanka was lovingly raised by a white foster family in Halle and said he never experienced prejudice until after he had been in Belgium for about a decade. His 98-year-old foster mother Emma Monsaert recalls others in town asking her if she was really going to take in a Black youth in the 1960s: “I said, ‘Why not, it is a child after all.’”

But at school, Baranyanka found out how others felt about race. One teacher poured salt on his head, he recalled, saying it would make it whiter. When he wanted a part in a school play of the 17th century fairy tale “Puss in Boots,” he was denied a role, with a teacher telling him: “Mr. Baranyanka, in those days there were no Blacks in Europe.”

He counts himself lucky to have had a close circle of friends that survives to this day. As a teenager, he often talked to them about the monuments, his African roots and Leopold’s legacy. “They understood, and they were grateful I explained it,” he said.

On Tuesday, Congo celebrates 60 years of independence from Belgium. The city of Ghent will remove a statue of Leopold to mark the anniversary and perhaps take a healing step forward. Eunice Yahuma, a local leader of a group called Belgian Youth Against Racism and the youth division of the Christian Democrats, knows about Belgium’s troubled history.

“Many people don’t know the story, because it is not being told. Somehow they know, ‘Let’s not discuss this, because it is grim history,’” said Yahuma, who has Congolese roots. “It is only now that we have this debate that people start looking into this.”

The spirit of the times is different, she said. “Black people used to be less vocal. They felt the pain, but they didn’t discuss it. Now, youth is very outspoken and we give our opinion,” Yahuma added.

History teachers like 24-year-old Andries Devogel are trying to infuse their lessons with the context of colonialism. “Within the next decade, they will be expecting us to stress the impact of colonialism on current-day society, that colonialism and racism are inextricably linked,” Devogel said. “Is contemporary racism not the consequence of a colonial vision? How can you exploit a people if you are not convinced of their second-class status?”

The colonial era brought riches to Belgium, and the city of Halle benefited, building a rail yard that brought jobs. Native son Franz Colruyt started a business that grew into the supermarket giant Colruyt Group with 30,000 employees — one of them Baranyanka’s foster father.

Halle has escaped the violence seen in other cities from the protests, and officials would rather focus attention on its Gothic church, the Basilica of St. Martin, as well as its famous fields of bluebells and Geuze beer.

Baranyanka, who will soon stage a musical show of his life called “De Zwette,“ — ”The Black One,” returned recently to the park and the monuments. Despite the hostility and humiliation he felt as a youngster, he didn’t consider their destruction as the way to go.

“Vandalism produces nothing, perhaps only the opposite effect. And you see that suddenly such racism surges again,” he said. “It breeds polarization again. This thing of ‘us against them.’” Devogel, the teacher, says it is the task of education “to let kids get in touch with history.”

“Otherwise, it will remain a copper bust without meaning,” he said of the Leopold II monument. “And you will never realize why, for all these people, it is so deeply insulting.”

Mixed-race women sue Belgium for crimes against humanity

June 26, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) — Five mixed-race women born in Congo when the country was under Belgian rule who were taken away from their Black mothers have filed a lawsuit for crimes against humanity targeting the Belgian state.

With their claim, they hope Belgium will finally recognize its responsibility in the suffering endured by the thousands of mixed-race children, known as “métis,″ who were snatched away from families and placed in religious institutions and homes.

“This systematic policy of racially motivated abduction is a crime against humanity,” Michele Hirsch, a lawyer for the women, told The Associated Press on Friday. “It is not enough to say: ‘We apologize.’ Reality has to be taken into account. Their lives have been shattered.”

Last year, Belgium’s then-prime minister, Charles Michel, apologised to the métis children who were kidnapped toward the end of the colonization period in the 1940s and 1950s. The five women, all born between 1945 and 1950, filed their lawsuit as the Democratic Republic of Congo prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the country’s independence amid growing demands that Belgium reassess its colonial past. In the wake of the protests against racial inequality in the United States, several statues of King Leopold II, who is blamed for the deaths of millions of Africans during Belgium’s colonial rule, have been sprayed with paint, while a petition called for the country to remove all statues of the former king.

Hirsch said the five women — four who now live in Belgium and one in France — were aged between 2 and 4 when they were taken away at the request of the Belgian colonial administration, in cooperation with the local Catholic church authorities.

“Their fathers were white and did not legally recognize their child,” Hirsch said. According to the legal documents, in all five cases the fathers did not exercise parental authority and the Belgian administration threatened the children’s Congolese families with reprisals if they refused to let them go.

The children were placed at a religious mission in Katende, in the province of Kasai, with the Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul. There, they lived with some 20 other mixed-race girls and Indigenous orphans in very hard conditions.

“They arrived without clothes or shoes, having lost all their affective bonds,” Hirsch said. “Some children were allowed to go to school, but they also needed to work.” According to the lawyer, the Belgian state’s strategy aimed at preventing interracial unions and isolating métis children, known as the “children of shame,” to make sure they would not claim a link with Belgium later in their lives.

After independence, the legal documents claim that the children were left abandoned by both the State and the Church, and that some of them were sexually molested by militia fighters. The women have requested compensation of 50,000 euros each.

“This is not for the money,” Hirsch said. “We want a law that can apply to all so that the Belgian State recognizes the crimes committed and the suffering endured by métis children.”

On hottest day of year, thousands cram onto English beaches

June 25, 2020

LONDON (AP) — Police around the southern English coastal town of Bournemouth urged people to stay away Thursday as thousands defied coronavirus social distancing rules and flocked to local beaches on what was the U.K.’s hottest day of the year so far.

Amid widespread rule-breaking, a “major incident” was declared for the area, much of which is rural and only navigated by cars on narrow lanes. This gives additional powers to local authorities and emergency services to tackle the issue.

Images of the crammed beaches appeared to prompt the British government’s chief medical officer into issuing a rare warning on social media. Professor Chris Whitty tweeted that COVID-19 remains in “general circulation” and that cases will rise again if people don’t follow the guidelines.

“Naturally people will want to enjoy the sun but we need to do so in a way that is safe for all,” he said. Whitty’s intervention came after Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council said services were “completely overstretched” as people headed to the seaside on a day meteorologists confirmed as the hottest of 2020. The mercury hit 33.3 C (around 92 F) at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Extra police patrols have been brought in and security is in place to protect waste collectors who the council said faced “widespread abuse and intimidation” as they emptied overflowing bins. Roads, which were gridlocked into the early hours, now have signs telling people the area is full, according to the council.

Council leader Vikki Slade said she was “absolutely appalled” at the scenes witnessed on the beaches — particularly at Bournemouth and Sandbanks over the past day or two. “The irresponsible behavior and actions of so many people is just shocking and our services are stretched to the absolute hilt trying to keep everyone safe,” she said. “We have had no choice now but to declare a major incident and initiate an emergency response.”

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave notice that a number of the lockdown restrictions will be eased from July 4, including allowing pubs and restaurants to open their doors. He also effectively announced that the two-meter (6.5-foot) social distancing rule will be reduced to a meter (around three feet) from that date, a move that is largely aimed at bolstering businesses.

The relaxation has met with a lot of criticism, not least because the U.K. is still recording relatively high new coronavirus infections and deaths. On Thursday, the government said another 149 people who tested positive for the virus had died, taking the total to 43,230, by far the highest in Europe.

“Clearly we are still in a public health crisis and such a significant volume of people heading to one area places a further strain on emergency services resources,” said Dorset Police’s Sam de Reya.

Belgium votes on recognizing State of Palestine, imposing sanctions on Israel

June 25, 2020

The Belgian Chamber of Representatives will today be voting on whether to “formally recognize the State of Palestine.”

The resolution, said Socialist MP Malik Ban Achour, urges the federal government “to formally recognize the State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel and to consider this recognition as a contribution by Belgium to the solution based on the coexistence of two democratic and independent states having the right to live in peace and security with mutually recognized, accepted and respected borders. ”

The 150-member House of Representatives will also debate a second resolution calling for the government to prepare a list of ‘’counter-measures’’ to be implemented if the Israeli annexation plan goes ahead on 1 July.

MPs from left-wing parties, including the Socialist Party and members of the French and Green parties, proposed the resolutions.

Earlier this week, more than 1,000 members of parliament from across Europe signed a letter warning Israel against annexing parts of the occupied West Bank.

The legislators said they “share serious concerns about President Trump’s plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the imminent prospect of Israeli annexation of West Bank territory.”

According to private daily Al-Bawaba, the resolution supporting EU punitive measures against Israel passed in a committee earlier this month with an easy majority and is likely to pass in the plenary.

However, the measure to recognize a Palestinian state passed by one vote in the Foreign Affairs Committee and is considered less likely to be approved by the plenary.

Sweden became the first EU member to officially recognize Palestine in 2014, though other parliaments have since called on their governments to do so.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


China, Korea, Egypt report rise in virus cases as curbs ease

June 14, 2020

BEIJING (AP) — China reported its highest daily total of new coronavirus cases in two months on Sunday and infections in South Korea also rose, showing how the disease can come back as curbs on business and travel are lifted.

Meanwhile, Egypt reported its biggest daily increase on Saturday. Infections were rising in some U.S. states as President Donald Trump pushed for businesses to reopen despite warnings by public health experts.

China had 57 new confirmed cases in the 24 hours through midnight Saturday, the National Health Commission reported. That was the highest since mid-April and included 36 in the capital, Beijing, a city of 20 million people.

Beijing’s cases all were linked to its biggest wholesale food market, which was shut down Saturday, the official China News Service reported, citing the city’s disease control agency. It said 27 worked there and nine had direct or indirect exposure to it.

The Xinfadi market was closed after 50 people tested positive for the virus in the Chinese capital’s first confirmed cases in 50 days. The world is seeing more than 100,000 newly confirmed cases every day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

China, where the pandemic began in December, and other countries that suffered early on including South Korea, Italy and Spain have seen numbers of new infections decline. Brazil, India, the United States and other countries are seeing large increases.

China responded to the outbreak with the world’s most intensive anti-disease controls, isolating cities with some 60 million people and shutting down much of its economy in steps that later were imitated by some other governments.

The ruling Communist party eased most limits on business and travel after declaring victory over the disease in March. Some curbs still are in place including a ban on most foreign travelers arriving in the country.

On Saturday, authorities in Beijing locked down 11 residential communities near the Xinfadi market. White fencing sealed off a road leading to apartment buildings and drivers were required to show identification to enter the area.

South Korea’s government reported 34 more coronavirus cases, adding to an upward trend in infections. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 30 of the new cases were in the greater Seoul area, where half of the country’s 51 million people live. New cases have been linked to nightlife establishments, church services, a large-scale e-commerce warehouse and door-to-door sellers.

The Egyptian Health Ministry announced 1,677 new confirmed cases. Egypt is the Arab world’s most populous country and has its highest coronavirus death toll. The country has reported 1,484 deaths and 42,980 confirmed cases.

In the United States, the number of new cases in the southwestern state of Arizona has risen to more than 1,000 per day from fewer than 400 when the state’s shutdown was lifted in mid-May, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

Gov. Doug Ducey is not requiring Arizona residents to wear masks in public despite warnings by public health experts outside the government. Elsewhere, bar owners in New Orleans were preparing to reopen. San Francisco restaurants resumed outdoor seating Friday and the California government allowed hotels, zoos, museums and aquariums to reopen.

The states of Utah and Oregon suspended further reopening of their economies due to a spike in cases. The latest Chinese cases raised the mainland’s total to 83.132, with 4,634 deaths, according to the Health Commission. South Korea has reported 12,085 cases and 277 deaths.

Also Sunday, China’s air regulator announced China Southern Airlines was required to suspend flights between Dhaka, Bangladesh, and the southern city of Guangzhou for four weeks after 17 passengers on Thursday’s flight tested positive for the virus.

Beijing allows each airline to make one flight per week on each route. Under rules announced June 4, a route will be suspended for one week if five passengers on a flight test positive and four weeks if the number rises to 10.

In Europe, France’s highest administrative court ruled Saturday that virus concerns no longer justify banning public protests. The Council of State’s decision allows for demonstrations and marches as long as health protections are respected. Events must be declared in advance to local authorities and not deemed a risk to public order.

The ruling came as an unauthorized protest against police violence and racial injustice wound down in Paris. Police had stopped at least 15,000 protesters from a planned march through the city Saturday, citing virus-related restrictions on any gathering of more than 10 people.

Associated Press writer Hyung-Jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, and AP journalists worldwide contributed to this report.

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