UK backs Sudan economic reforms with over $50 million

UK backs Sudan economic reforms with over $50 million

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Sudanese Prime MInister Abdullah Hamdok, right, bumps elbows with British Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab in the Cabinet Building, in Khartoum, Sudan, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. Raab was in the Sudanese capital Thursday to discuss bilateral relations and tensions along the … more >

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By NOHA ELHENNAWY

Associated Press

Thursday, January 21, 2021

CAIRO (AP) – Britain’s foreign secretary announced Thursday that his government would offer more than $50 million to help poor Sudanese families as their government embarks upon major austerity measures to revive its battered economy, Sudan‘s state news agency reported.

On a visit to Khartoum, Dominic Raab and Sudanese Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Heba Mohamed Ali Ahmed signed a memorandum of understanding under which Britain commits to disbursing economic aid worth 40 million British pounds, or about $54.8 million, to the African country, SUNA reported.

Sudan is on a fragile path to democratic rule after a popular uprising led the military to overthrow longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April 2019, after nearly three decades of rule. A military-civilian government is now in power but struggles with a wide range of economic challenges, including crippling debt, widespread shortages of essential goods such as fuel, bread and medicine, and a three-digit inflation rate.

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“This is the first visit by a British foreign secretary to Sudan in more than ten years,” said Rosie Diyas, Britain’s spokesperson for the Mideast and North Africa. “The visit aims at supporting Sudan’s transition to democracy and civilian rule.”

The British aid will finance cash handouts to 1.6 million poor Sudanese, said Diyas. Aid recipients are expected to be those most hit by the economic reforms, slashing of subsidies and the reduction of public spending that the Sudanese government is expected to implement in order to reduce its huge public deficit.

Sudan‘s transitional government has been racing against the clock to garner economic and political support of Western powers in order to end decades of its pariah status and secure reliefs of its crippling debt.

In the weeks before leaving office, former President Donald Trump removed Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, a move that allows Khartoum to get international loans. Sudan’s economy has suffered from decades of U.S. sanctions and mismanagement under al-Bashir, who had ruled the country since a 1989 Islamist-backed military coup. The removal of the terror designation came after Sudan followed in the footsteps of other key Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, by normalizing relations with Israel.

Last year, Western and Arab countries pledged a total of $1.8 billion in aid to back Sudan at a donor meeting in Berlin. At the time, Britain pledged 66 million euros, more than $186 million.

According to Diyas, the U.K. has also offered another $6.87 million in aid to address Sudan‘s urgent needs emanating from the influx of more than 50,000 Ethiopian refugees, who have recently fled their country following the eruption of war in Ethiopia’s Tigray province.

Shortly before boarding his Ethiopia-bound plane, Raab told reporters at Khartoum’s airport that his government hopes Ethiopia and Sudan can resolve the ongoing border dispute in “a sensible way”.

In recent weeks, the Sudanese army has deployed thousands of troops along the Ethiopian border and reclaimed territories controlled by Ethiopian militias. The Sudanese advances came on the heels of cross-border attacks that killed and wounded many Sudanese troops. The border tension raised concerns over a potential military conflict between the neighboring countries.

“We have a longstanding friendship with Sudan and likewise a strong partnership with Ethiopia. Our message is, let’s not at this precarious moment for the region see an escalation of tension,” said Raab, adding that he would reiterate the same message to the Ethiopians during his visit there.

SUNA reported that Raab had met with Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of Sudan’s ruling sovereign council, Sudan‘s prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, and acting Foreign Minister Omar Qamar al-Din.

Raab had also meant to discuss with Sudanese officials the ongoing water dispute between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, SUNA reported earlier. The news agency did not later say if anything came out of those discussions. The dispute is about Ethiopia’s construction of a controversial dam on the Blue Nile River, the main tributary of the Nile, which Egypt says endangers its critical share of the Nile waters.

Twin suicide bombings rock central Baghdad, at least 28 dead

Twin suicide bombings rock central Baghdad, at least 28 dead

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Security forces work at the site of a deadly bomb attack in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. Iraq’s military said twin suicide bombings at the Bab al-Sharqi commercial area in central Baghdad Thursday ripped through the busy market killing … more >

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By Samya Kullab and Qassim Abdul-Zahra

Associated Press

Thursday, January 21, 2021

BAGHDAD (AP) — Twin suicide bombings ripped through a busy market in the Iraqi capital Thursday, killing at least 28 people and wounding 73 others, officials said. 

The rare suicide bombing attack hit the Bab al-Sharqi commercial area in central Baghdad amid heightened political tensions over planned early elections and a severe economic crisis.

Blood smeared the floors of the busy market amid piles of clothes and shoes as survivors took stock of the disarray in the aftermath. 

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No one immediately took responsibility for the attack, but Iraqi military officials said it was the work of the Islamic State group. 

Iraq‘s military said at least 28 people were killed and 73 wounded in the attack and said some of the injured were in serious condition. Several health and police officials said the toll might be higher. They spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. 

The Health Ministry announced all of its hospitals in the capital were mobilized to treat the wounded.

Maj. Gen. Tahsin al-Khafaji, spokesman for the Joint Operations Command, which includes an array of Iraqi forces, said the first suicide bomber cried out loudly that he was ill in the middle of the bustling market, prompting a crowd to gather around him — and that’s when he detonated his explosive belt. The second detonated his belt shortly after, he said. 

“This is a terrorist act perpetrated by a sleeper cell of the Islamic State,” al-Khafaji said. He said IS “wanted to prove its existence” after suffering many blows in military operations to root out the militants. 

The suicide bombings marked the first in three years to target Baghdad’s bustling commercial area. A suicide bomb attack took place in the same area in 2018 shortly after then-Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi declared victory over the Islamic State group. 

No one immediately took responsibility for Thursday’s attack, but Iraq has seen assaults perpetrated by both the Islamic State group and militia groups in recent months. 

Militias have routinely targeted the American presence in Iraq with rocket and mortar attacks, especially the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone. The pace of those attacks, however, has decreased since an informal truce was declared by Iran-backed armed groups in October. 

The style of Thursday’s assault was similar to those IS has conducted in the past. But the group has rarely been able to penetrate the capital since being dislodged by Iraqi forces and the U.S.-led coalition in 2017. 

IS has shown an ability to stage increasingly sophisticated attacks across northern Iraq, where it still maintains a presence three years after Iraq declared victory over the group. 
Iraqi security forces are frequently ambushed and targeted with IEDs in rural areas of Kirkuk and Diyala. An increase in attacks was seen last summer as militants took advantage of the government’s focus on tackling the coronavirus pandemic. 

The twin bombings Thursday came days after Iraq‘s government unanimously agreed to hold early elections in October. Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi had announced in July that early polls would be held to meet the demands of anti-government protesters.

Demonstrators took to the streets in the tens of thousands last year to demand political change, and an end to rampant corruption and poor services. More than 500 people were killed in mass demonstrations as security forces used live rounds and tear gas to disperse crowds.

Iraq is also grappling with a severe economic crisis brought on by low oil prices that has led the government to borrow internally and risk depleting its foreign currency reserves. The Central Bank of Iraq devalued Iraq‘s dinar by nearly 20% last year to meet spending obligations. 

___

Associated Press writer Murtada Faraj contributed. 

EU summit assesses virus restrictions amid worrying reports

EU summit assesses virus restrictions amid worrying reports

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives wearing a protective mask for a press conference on the current situation in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. Topics include the decisions taken by the federal and state governments to combat the Corona pandemic, … more >

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By SAMUEL PETREQUIN and RAF CASERT

Associated Press

Thursday, January 21, 2021

BRUSSELS (AP) – European Union leaders assessed more measures to counter the spread of coronavirus variants during a video summit Thursday as the bloc’s top disease control official said urgent action was needed to stave off a new wave of hospitalizations and deaths.

The 27 leaders were looking at further border restrictions like limits on all non-essential travel, better tracking of mutations and improving coordination of lockdowns, worried that another surge of deaths across the EU was imminent.

The head of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Andrea Ammon, said that “an increasing number of infections will lead to higher hospitalization and death rates across all age groups, particularly for those in older age groups.”

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Some 400,000 EU citizens have died from COVID-19-related causes since the start of the pandemic.

In a study published just before the summit, the ECDC warned of the high dangers of the new variants, like those initiating in Britain, Brazil and South Africa, and Ammon said that “member states are also encouraged to accelerate vaccination of high-risk groups, and prepare the health care system for high demand.”

Some EU countries have already strengthened restrictions by imposing stricter curfews and more stringent mask requirements on public transport and in shops. Among the measures the ECDC recommends is a ban on nonessential travel and a speeding up of vaccinations.

“We must do everything in order to prevent the introduction of further mutations like the Brazilian one,” said Austria’s Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz. “We need clear and uniform standards at the borders and regarding the entire travel sector.”

He also called for the European Medicines Agency to speed up work so the candidate vaccine of AstraZeneca can be quickly approved and distributed. Kurz said many other leaders agreed with him that EMA “needs to work night and day.”

“A quick and unbureaucratic decision is needed,” he said, adding that “there’s nothing standing in the way of an approval.”

The EU‘s executive Commission believes that the health situation is at a critical point and has urged member states to step up the pace of vaccination, to ensure that at least 80% of those over age 80 are vaccinated by March, and that 70% of the adult population across the bloc is protected by the end of the summer.

But since the EU doesn’t expect vaccines to be ready for mass distribution before April, leaders should in the meantime find efficient ways to contain the new variants. The commission believes that better tracking the virus’ mutations with genomic sequencing, coupled with an increased use of rapid antigen tests, will be crucial.

The EU Commission said several EU nations are testing under 1% of samples. It has proposed to “urgently” increase genome sequencing to at least 5% of positive test results and would ideally see that figure reach 10% to detect the variants.

Member states unanimously agreed Thursday on a common framework for the use of rapid antigen tests and the mutual recognition of PCR test results across the bloc of 450 million inhabitants, in a bid to facilitate cross-border movement, tracing of the virus and treatment.

“This is a central tool to help mitigate the spread of the virus and contribute to the smooth functioning of the internal market,” the EU Council said in a statement.

The coordination of lockdown measures seems trickier, with a myriad of initiatives coming from members states. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that new border checks might be needed if they don’t coordinate.

“Extensive border controls would be a last resort for us too and (…) we will do a lot to try to prevent that,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin. “But they also can’t be ruled out completely, if someone has completely different ideas.”

Echoing the ECDC advice, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has proposed a temporary ban on nonessential travel during the February school break and will make a proposal to his counterparts to adopt it across the bloc.

“It is important to be clear that this does not mean that we close the borders,” De Croo said. “Non-essential travel, which we can do without now, such as tourism, clearly we can no longer take that risk.” The issue quickly became a hot debating point at the summit.

Discussions will also focus on the disruption of vaccine deliveries after Pfizer last week announced a temporary reduction that has affected all EU countries. The EU has sealed six vaccine contracts for more than 2 billion doses, but only the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been approved for use so far.

The EU now expects Pfizer to keep the drop in deliveries limited to this week, while resuming full distribution again next week, with the resulting backlog made up during February.

Leaders will also weigh a Greek proposal to issue vaccination certificates to ease travel. But with doubts about whether the people vaccinated could still be contagious, and only a small fraction of the EU population already vaccinated, several member states have expressed reservations.

At this stage, vaccination proof certificates should only be considered for medical purposes and not as travel document, an EU official said.

___

Geir Moulson from Berlin contributed to this report .

___

Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at:

https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Fire hits building at Indian producer of COVID-19 vaccines

Fire hits building at Indian producer of COVID-19 vaccines

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Smoke rises from the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker that is manufacturing the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine for the coronavirus, in Pune, India, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool) more >

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By Rafiq Maqbool

Associated Press

Thursday, January 21, 2021

PUNE, India (AP) — A fire broke out Thursday at a building under construction at Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, possibly affecting its future expansion of COVID-19 vaccine production.

Firefighters were extinguishing the flames, the fire office in Pune city in southern Maharashtra state said. The cause of the fire and extent of damage were not immediately clear.

“We have rescued three people and there are no casualties,” said fire official Prashant Ranpise, who was supervising rescue operations.

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The company said the fire was restricted to a new facility it is constructing to increase production of COVID-19 vaccines and ensure it is better prepared for future pandemics.

It said the fire did not affect existing facilities making COVID-19 vaccines or a stockpile of around 50 million doses.

“So far the most important thing is that there have been no lives lost or major injuries due to the fire, despite a few floors being destroyed,” company CEO Adar Poonawalla said.

Images showed huge plumes of smoke billowing from the building as firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze. Dozens of company workers in lab suits left the compound.

Serum Institute of India is the world’s largest maker of vaccines and has been contracted to manufacture a billion doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine.

Poonawalla said in an interview with The Associated Press last month that it hopes to increase production capacity from 1.5 billion doses to 2.5 billion doses per year by the end of 2021. The new facility is key to the expansion.

Of the more than 12 billion coronavirus vaccine doses expected to be produced this year, rich countries have already bought about 9 billion, and many have options to buy even more. As a result, Serum Institute is likely to make most of the vaccines that will be used by developing nations.

India gives 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Nepal

India gives 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Nepal

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A van stands parked waiting to transport AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccines, manufactured under license by Serum Institute of India, at Tribhuwan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. India sent 1 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine to Nepal … more >

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By BINAJ GURUBACHARYA

Associated Press

Thursday, January 21, 2021

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) – India sent 1 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine to Nepal on Thursday, a gift that is likely to help repair strained ties between the two neighbors.

Nepal health minister Hridayesh Tripathi said the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine, manufactured under license by Serum Institute of India, will be given to health workers and other front-line personnel within a week to 10 days.

Tripathi said Nepal would like to purchase 4 million more doses, and asked for the Indian government’s help. There was no immediate response from Indian officials who were the airport when the vaccine arrived.

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Nepal foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali flew to India last week to formally request the vaccine.

India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, began supplying coronavirus vaccine to its neighbors this week as it attempts to strike a balance between maintaining enough doses to inoculate its own people and helping developing countries without the capacity to produce their own vaccine.

India’s foreign ministry said it sent 150,000 doses to Bhutan and 100,000 doses to the Maldives on Wednesday, and would send more to Bangladesh, Myanmar and the Seychelles in coming weeks.

Relations between India and Nepal have been strained by a territorial dispute which led to an exchange of strong-worded statements by the two sides.

India has also accused Nepal‘s Communist government of becoming closer to other giant neighbor, China.

Officials: Suicide bombs rock central Baghdad, 6 dead

Officials: Suicide bombs rock central Baghdad, 6 dead

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People and security forces gather at the site of a deadly bomb attack in Baghdad’s bustling commercial area, Iraq, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. Twin suicide bombings hit Iraq’s capital Thursday killing and wounding civilians, police and state TV said. (AP … more >

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By Murtada Faraj

Associated Press

Thursday, January 21, 2021

BAGHDAD (AP) — Twin suicide bombings hit Iraq’s capital Thursday killing at least six people and wounding at least 25 others, police and state TV said.

Three police officials said two explosions hit a commercial center in central Baghdad. Iraqi state television reported they were suicide bombings. Many of the wounded were in serious condition and there was property damage.

The police officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

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The bombings are the first in years to target Baghdad’s bustling commercial area. They come amid heightened political tensions as Iraq looks to have early elections in October.

The perpetrators were not immediately known. Iraq has seen attacks perpetrated by both the Islamic State group and militia groups in recent months.

Militias have routinely targeted the American presence with rocket and mortar attacks, especially the U.S. Embassy in the heavily fortified Green Zone. The pace of the attacks has decreased since an informal truce was declared by Iran-backed armed groups in October.

The Islamic State group has perpetrated similar attacks in the past but has rarely been able to target the capital since being dislodged by Iraqi forces and the U.S.-led coalition in 2017 battles.

Amid crippling sanctions, Iran traders seek lifeline in Iraq

Amid crippling sanctions, Iran traders seek lifeline in Iraq

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Piles of plush Iranian- made carpets line the floors of a shopping center in northern Iraq, hosting traders from neighbouring Iran, in the city of Dohuk, in the Kurdish-run northern region of Iraq, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. At least 24 … more >

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By RASHID YAHYA and SAMYA KULLAB

Associated Press

Thursday, January 21, 2021

DOHUK, Iraq (AP) – Piles of plush carpets line the floors of a northern Iraq shopping center hosting traders from neighboring Iran who hope the spangle of their ornate handicrafts might offer a lifeline out of poverty.

In their own country, the economy is in tatters amid crippling U.S. sanctions.

“Our money is so devalued, so when we come to this side – apart from the cultural exchange that we share – from a financial perspective it’s more profitable for us,” said Iranian Ramiyar Parwiz, the organizer of the exhibition who is originally from Sanandaj. “The money we receive … whether in dollars or dinars has a higher value on our side and it’s worth a lot.”

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At least 24 businesses from 15 Iranian cities set up shop this week in the city of Dohuk in the Kurdish-run northern region of Iraq. From Sanandaj to Bijar, they brought luxurious carpets. From Isfahan, Yazd and Hamadan, precious gems, copper and pottery.

Iran is among Iraq’s largest trading partners and this cooperation has deepened since 2018 amid the Trump administration’s maximalist policy on Iran that has seen the U.S. pull out of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and levy punishing sanctions on the country.

Tens of thousands of Iranian pilgrims visit holy sites in Najaf and Karbala every year, boosting Iraq’s fledgling tourism sector. Over 100 trucks ferry construction materials, food, medicine and appliances into Iraq every day.

The dependence on Iraqi markets has only deepened as economic conditions worsen in Iran. U.S. sanctions bar American companies and foreign firms from dealing with Iran affecting Iran‘s energy, shipping and financial sectors, causing foreign investment to dry up.

Oil exports have been hardest hit and Iran’s economy contracted with dreary forecasts for the future. Unemployment rose and rural populations were disproportionately affected.

The exhibition of Iranian businesses is typically held every year in the city of Sulimaniyah, which borders Iran. This is the first year the traders have ventured to Dohuk, which shares closer economic ties to neighboring Turkey, in hopes of enticing new customers and creating greater demand for Iranian goods.

Parwiz said the Dohuk venture was the result of desperation.

“There is huge pressure on people (in Iran), and the cost of living is unimaginably high,” he said. “We can’t afford to buy anything, we cannot even afford to buy medicine.”

For Iranian businessmen experiencing difficult times, Iraq has always offered hope for respite.

Haji Tousi, a businessman from Mashhad, sells his fine carpets at a lower price than local Iraqi traders. He knows the dollars he takes back home to Iran will keep him afloat.

“The type of carpet we are selling here is $200, whereas the same carpet in the market here is sold for $300-350,” he said.

But, to the dismay of many Iranian traders, the impact of Iraq’s own economic troubles was in plain sight: The exhibition attracts crowds of visitors but many can’t afford the marked-down items.

“There are many visitors who have warmly welcomed this expo but economic problems have kept them from (purchasing) ,” said Maryam Mradi, a businesswoman from Sanadaj.

Iraq is grappling with an unprecedented liquidity crisis brought on by low oil prices. That has slashed state coffers in half and led the government to borrow from the central bank’s foreign currency reserves to make salary payments.

Some of the Iranian vendors were skeptical their goods would be well received in Dohuk and other areas of Iraq, where Turkish brands dominate shopping isles.

“The people’s demand is mainly for Turkish goods,” said Shireen Mohammed, a local resident.

___

Kullab reported from Baghdad.

World hopes for renewed cooperation with US under Biden

World hopes for renewed cooperation with US under Biden

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Joe Biden’s cousin Joe Blewitt speaks to the media underneath his mural painted on a wall in Ballina, Ireland, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Joe Biden’s great-great grandfather Patrick Blewitt was born in Ballina, County Mayo, in 1832. He left for … more >

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By LORNE COOK and CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN

Associated Press

Thursday, January 21, 2021

MEXICO CITY (AP) – World leaders welcomed into their ranks the new U.S. President Joe Biden, noting their most pressing problems, including the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, require multilateral cooperation, an approach his predecessor Donald Trump ridiculed.

Many expressed hope Biden would right U.S. democracy two weeks after rioters stormed the Capitol, shaking the faith of those fighting for democracy in their own countries.

Governments targeted and sanctioned under Trump embraced the chance for a fresh start with Biden, while some heads of state who lauded Trump’s blend of nationalism and populism were more restrained in their expectations.

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But the chance to repair frayed alliances and work together on global problems carried the day.

China, whose U.S. relations nosedived due to widespread frustration in Washington over its human rights record and accusations of technology theft, expressed cautious hope about the change in the White House.

“China looks forward to working with the new administration to promote sound & steady development of China-U.S. relations and jointly address global challenges in public health, climate change & growth,” China’s ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai, tweeted.

Biden “understands the importance of cooperation among nations,” said former Colombian president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Juan Manuel Santos, who left office in 2018. “As a matter of fact, if we don’t cooperate – all nations – to fight climate change, then we will all perish. It’s as simple as that.”

French President Emmanuel Macron and Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama were among those welcoming U.S. attention to climate change. After Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, Biden reversed the move in the first hours of his presidency Wednesday.

With Biden, “we will be stronger to face the challenges of our time. Stronger to build our future. Stronger to protect our planet,” Macron wrote on Twitter. “Welcome back to the Paris Agreement!”

Other European allies saw a chance to come in out of the cold after strained relationships with the Trump administration.

European Council President Charles Michel said trans-Atlantic relations have “greatly suffered in the last four years” while the world has become less stable and less predictable.

“We have our differences and they will not magically disappear. America seems to have changed, and how it’s perceived in Europe and the rest of the world has also changed,” added Michel, whose open criticism of the Trump era contrasted with the silence that mostly reigned in Europe while the Republican leader was in the White House.

In Ballina, Ireland, where Biden’s great-great-grandfather was born in 1832, a mural of a smiling Biden adorned a wall in the town, where some of the president’s relatives still live.

“As he takes the oath of office, I know that President Biden will feel the weight of history – the presence of his Irish ancestors who left Mayo and Louth in famine times in search of life and hope,” Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who formed close ties with Trump, noted a personal friendship with Biden and said he looked forward to working together to further strengthen the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has accused Trump of unfair bias toward Israel with policies like moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, expressed hope for a more even-handed approach from Biden. He urged “a comprehensive and just peace process that fulfills the aspirations of the Palestinian people for freedom and independence.”

In Latin America, Biden faces immediate challenges on immigration, and the leaders of the two most populous countries – Brazil and Mexico – were chummy with Trump. The Trump administration also expanded painful sanctions against governments in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

In Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro’s government urged dialogue with the Biden administration, while hoping the new president abandons the avalanche of damaging sanctions Trump imposed to attempt a regime change.

Some Venezuelans, however, like retired accountant Jesús Sánchez, 79, said he was disappointed to see Trump leave power. Trump backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó, giving Venezuelans like him hope that Maduro’s days in power were numbered.

Carlos Vecchio, Guaido’s envoy in Washington who the U.S. recognizes as Venezuela’s ambassador, tweeted photos of himself at Biden‘s inauguration. The invitation to attend was touted by Venezuela’s opposition as evidence the Biden administration will continue its strong support and resist entreaties by Maduro for dialogue that the U.S. has strenuously rejected until now.

Cuba’s leaders perhaps have a more realistic hope for improved relations: Biden was in the White House for the historic thaw in relations in 2014, and various officials expressed willingness to reopen a dialogue with Washington if there was respect for Cuba’s sovereignty.

President Miguel Díaz-Canel railed against Trump via Twitter, citing “more than 200 measures that tightened the financial, commercial and economic blockade, the expression of a despicable and inhuman policy.”

In Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who cultivated an unexpectedly friendly relationship with Trump and was one of the last world leaders to recognize Biden’s victory, read from a letter he sent to Biden in 2012, calling for reorienting the bilateral relationship away from security and military aid and toward development.

He urged Biden to implement immigration reform, and added: “We need to maintain a very good relationship with the United States government and I don’t have any doubt that it’s going to be that way.”

U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific region expressed anticipation of strengthening those alliances under a Biden administration. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and others highlighted their shared values as leaders of democracies.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said: “America’s new beginning will make democracy even greater.”

Former Australian diplomat Rory Medcalf said Biden would likely find diplomatic partners across the Indo-Pacific region ready not for American leadership but partnership in “collective action” against Chinese “strategic assertiveness.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Biden was a good friend to New Zealand and highlighted in particular the words given in his inaugural address. “President Biden’s message of unity as he takes office is one that resonates with New Zealanders,” Ardern said.

World leaders also acknowledged the history of Vice President Kamala Harris taking office. She is the first woman, the first Black woman and the first South Asian to hold that office in the U.S.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter congratulated both Biden and Harris, whose maternal grandfather was Indian.

“That is an historic moment and one that, I think as a father of daughters, you can only celebrate,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

__

Cook reported from Brussels. AP journalists around the world contributed to this report.

___

This version has been corrected by removing the reference to the U.S. as the world’s largest democracy.

Analysis: Biden faces a more confident China after US chaos

Analysis: Biden faces a more confident China after US chaos

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A newsstand vendor looks through his display near a magazine with a cover depicting U.S. President Joe Biden near U.S. and Chinese flags in Beijing on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. As a new U.S. president takes office, he faces a … more >

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By KEN MORITSUGU

Associated Press

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

BEIJING (AP) – As a new U.S. president takes office, he faces a determined Chinese leadership that could be further emboldened by America’s troubles at home.

The disarray in America, from the rampant COVID-19 pandemic to the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, gives China’s ruling Communist Party a boost as it pursues its long-running quest for national “rejuvenation” – a bid to return the country to what it sees as its rightful place as a major nation.

For Joe Biden, sworn in Wednesday as the 46th president, that could make one of his major foreign policy challenges even more difficult as he tries to manage an increasingly contentious relationship between the world’s rising power and its established one.

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The stakes are high for both countries and the rest of the world. A misstep could spark an accidental conflict in the Western Pacific, where China‘s growing naval presence is bumping up against America’s. The trade war under President Donald Trump hurt workers and farmers in both countries, though some in Vietnam and elsewhere benefited as companies moved production outside China. On global issues such as climate, it is difficult to make progress if the world’s two largest economies aren’t talking.

The Chinese government expressed hope Thursday that Biden would return to dialogue and cooperation after the divisiveness under Trump.

“It is normal for China and the United States to have some differences,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said. “Countries with different social systems, cultural backgrounds and ideologies should and can coexist … and work together to achieve peace and stability and development in the world.”

But Kurt Tong, a former U.S. diplomat in Asia, sees a stalemate in the coming few years in which China keeps doing what it has been doing and the U.S. is not happy about it.

“I think it’s going to be a tough patch, it’s just going to be more disagreements than agreements and not a lot of breakthroughs,” said Tong, now a partner with The Asia Group consultancy in Washington, D.C.

A more confident China may push back harder on issues such as technology, territory and human rights. Analysts draw parallels to the 2008 global financial crisis, from which China emerged relatively unscathed. The country’s foreign policy has grown increasingly assertive since then, from staking out territory in disputed waters in the South China Sea to its more recent use of Twitter to hit back at critics. China‘s relative success in controlling the pandemic could fuel that trend.

The U.S. has also shifted, with wide support among both Republicans and Democrats for treating China as a competitor, and embracing the need for a tougher approach to China, if not always agreeing with how Trump carried it out. Biden needs to be wary of opening himself up to attacks that he is soft on China if he rolls back import tariffs and other steps taken by his predecessor.

His pressing need to prioritize domestic challenges could give China breathing room to push forward its agenda, whether it be technological advancement or territorial issues from Taiwan to its border with India.

Biden has pointed to potential areas of cooperation, from climate change to curbing North Korea’s nuclear weapons development, but even in those areas, the two countries don’t always agree.

The pandemic, first viewed as a potential threat to President Xi Jinping’s leadership as it spiraled out of control in the city of Wuhan in early 2020, has been transformed into a story of hardship followed by triumph.

The Communist Party has sought to use the pandemic to justify its continued control of the one-party, authoritarian state it has led for more than 70 years, while rounding up citizen-journalists and others to quash any criticism of its handling of the outbreak.

That effort has been aided by the failure of many other nations to stop the spread of COVID-19. Biden takes over a country where deaths continue to mount and virus-related restrictions keep it in recession. China is battling small outbreaks, but life has largely returned to normal and economic growth is accelerating.

“It would have been more difficult for them to push that narrative around the world if the United States had not done such a poor job,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington, D.C. “That’s a theme that runs through many issues, that China’s just able to point to the United States and democracy in general as not delivering good governance.”

It’s impossible to gauge support for the Communist Party in a country where many would be unwilling to criticize it publicly, for fear of repercussions. But Niu Jun, an international relations professor at Peking University, said that objectively, public trust should rise given China‘s faster recovery from the outbreak.

“To ordinary people, the logic is very simple,” he said, predicting the pandemic would spark public thinking and discussion about which system of governance is more effective.

“The party’s policies are good, our policies are not like the ones in foreign countries, ours are good,” said Liu Shixiu, strolling with her daughter in Wuhan, the city that bore the brunt of the pandemic in China. “We listen to the party.”

It is unclear whether the Communist Party foresees exporting its way of governance as an alternative to the democratic model. For now, Chinese officials note that countries choose different systems and stress the need for others to respect those differences.

“As China becomes more and more confident, maybe they’ll try to shape the internal operations or ways of thinking of other countries,” Tong said. “But to me, it feels more like they don’t want anyone to be able to say that China is bad and get away with it.”

The leadership wants China to be seen and treated as an equal and has shown a willingness to use its growing economic and military might to try to get its way.

___

Associated Press video journalist Emily Wang Fujiyama contributed to this report.

___

Moritsugu, The Associated Press’ news director for Greater China, has reported in Asia for more than 15 years.

Jen Psaki: Justin Trudeau to be Joe Biden first foreign call

White House: Justin Trudeau to be Joe Biden’s first foreign call

Will discuss decision to nix Keystone XL pipeline

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White House press secretary Jen Psaki listens during a press briefing at the White House, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be the first foreign leader to receive a call from President Biden, his spokeswoman said.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the call will likely take place on Friday to establish a rapport and discuss the Biden administration’s plans to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would transport fuel from Canada’s oil sands to Nebraska. 

Mr. Trudeau, like Mr. Biden, supports strong action on climate change but supports the pipeline as a way to bolster the energy industry in his western provinces.

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Ms. Psaki said she did not know when Mr. Biden might place a call to Russian President Vladimir Putin, a U.S. rival who President Trump was reluctant to criticize during his presidency.

“His early calls will be with partners and allies,” Ms. Psaki said of Mr. Biden.

Music stars slam UK’s ‘shameful’ failure on EU touring rules

Music stars slam UK’s ‘shameful’ failure on EU touring rules

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FILE – In this Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020 file photo, Elton John performs "(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again" nominated for the award for best original song from "Rocketman" at the Oscars, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Dozens of … more >

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By JILL LAWLESS

Associated Press

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

LONDON (AP) – Dozens of U.K. music stars including Elton John, Ed Sheeran and conductor Simon Rattle say musicians have been “shamefully failed” by the British government, which has left them facing post-Brexit restrictions on touring in the European Union.

In a letter published Wednesday in the Times of London, more than 100 musicians including Sting, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and Roger Daltrey of The Who, along with the heads of major arts institutions, said the new U.K.-EU trade deal that took effect Jan. 1 has “a gaping hole where the promised free movement for musicians should be.”

Britain’s departure from the EU means that U.K. citizens can no longer live and work freely in the 27-nation bloc. Tourists do not need visas for stays of up to 90 days, and some short business trips are also allowed. But artists and musicians have not been included in the deal.

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Britain and the EU disagree about who is to blame for the omission, each accusing the other of rejecting a deal for touring artists.

The new rules mean U.K. performers have to comply with differing rules in the 27 EU nations, negotiating visas for musicians and permits for their equipment. Many say the costs and red tape will make it impossible for British artists to perform on the continent, endangering the country’s status as a cultural powerhouse.

The musicians’ letter said the new expense and bureaucracy will make “many tours unviable, especially for young emerging musicians who are already struggling to keep their heads above water owing to the COVID ban on live music.”

Scottish National Party lawmaker Pete Wishart, a former member of rock band Runrig, said Tuesday in the House of Commons that musicians and artists were “mere collateral in this government’s obsession in ending freedom of movement” and controlling immigration once it left the EU.

Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage acknowledged the situation was “incredibly disappointing,” but said “the door is open” to talks with the EU on a deal for musicians. She resisted calls from the opposition to publish details of the proposals made by the U.K. during negotiations that the bloc allegedly rejected.

___

Follow all AP stories about Brexit developments at https://apnews.com/Brexit.

China labels Pompeo ‘doomsday clown’ over genocide claims

China labels Pompeo ‘doomsday clown’ over genocide claims

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In this file photo taken Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, a protester from the Uighur community living in Turkey, holds an anti-China placard during a protest in Istanbul against what they allege is oppression by the Chinese government to Muslim Uighurs … more >

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By

Associated Press

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

BEIJING (AP) — China’s Foreign Ministry described outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday as a “doomsday clown” and said his designation of China as a perpetrator of genocide and crimes against humanity was merely “a piece of wastepaper.”

The allegations of abuses against Muslim minority groups in China‘s Xinjiang region are “outright sensational pseudo-propositions and a malicious farce concocted by individual anti-China and anti-Communist forces represented by Pompeo,” spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters at a daily briefing.

“In our view, Pompeo’s so-called designation is a piece of wastepaper. This American politician, who is notorious for lying and deceiving, is turning himself into a doomsday clown and joke of the century with his last madness and lies of the century,” Hua said.

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Pompeo’s announcement Tuesday doesn’t require any immediate actions, although the U.S. must take the designation into account in formulating policy toward China. China says its policies in Xinjiang aim only to promote economic growth and social stability.

The U.S. has previously spoken out and taken action on Xinjiang, implementing a range of sanctions against senior Chinese Communist Party leaders and state-run enterprises that fund repressive policies in the vast, resource-rich region. Last week, the Trump administration announced it would halt imports of cotton and tomatoes from Xinjiang, with Customs and Border Protection officials saying they would block products from there suspected of being produced with forced labor.

Many of the Chinese officials accused of having taken part in repression are already under U.S. sanctions. The “genocide” designation means new measures will be easier to impose.

Tuesday’s move is the latest in a series of steps the outgoing Trump administration has taken to ramp up pressure on China over issues from human rights and the coronavirus pandemic to Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong and the South China Sea. China has responded with its own sanctions and tough rhetoric.

China has imprisoned more than 1 million people, including Uighurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups, in a vast network of prison-like political indoctrination camps, according to U.S. officials and human rights groups. People have been subjected to torture, sterilization and political indoctrination in addition to forced labor as part of an assimilation campaign in a region whose inhabitants are ethnically and culturally distinct from the Han Chinese majority.

The Associated Press reported on widespread forced birth control among the Uighurs last year, including the mass sterilization of Muslim women, even while family planning restrictions are loosened on members of China‘s dominant Han ethnic group.

China has denied all the charges, but Uighur forced labor has been linked by reporting by the AP to various products imported to the U.S., including clothing and electronic goods such as cameras and computer monitors.

James Leibold, a specialist in Chinese ethnic policy at La Trobe in Melbourne, Australia, said international pressure appears to have had some effect on Chinese policies in Xinjiang, particularly in prompting the government to release information about the camps and possibly reducing mass detentions.

“So hopefully we’ll see a continued continuity with regards to the new (Joe Biden) administration on holding China to account,” Leibold said in an interview.

“And hopefully the Biden administration can bring its allies along to continue to put pressure on the Chinese government,” he said.

___

Associated Press journalist Dake Kang contributed to this report.

India starts supplying COVID-19 shots to neighboring nations

India starts supplying COVID-19 shots to neighboring nations

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FILE – In this Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, file photo, an Indian doctor shows a COVID-19 vaccine at a government Hospital in Jammu, India. India started exporting COVID-19 vaccines to its neighboring countries on Wednesday, Jan. 20. To start with, … more >

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By ANIRUDDHA GHOSAL

Associated Press

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

NEW DELHI (AP) – India began supplying coronavirus vaccines to its neighboring countries on Wednesday, as the world’s largest vaccine making nation strikes a balance between maintaining enough doses to inoculate its own people and helping developing countries without the capacity to produce their own shots.

India’s Foreign Ministry said the country would send 150,000 shots of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine, manufactured locally by Serum Institute of India, to Bhutan and 100,000 shots to the Maldives on Wednesday.

Vaccines will also be sent to Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and the Seychelles in coming weeks, the ministry said, without specifying an exact timeline. It added in a statement late Tuesday that regulatory clearances were still awaited from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Mauritius.

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India’s ambassador to Nepal, Vinay Mohan Kwatra, said Wednesday that New Delhi would supply Nepal with 1 million doses free of charge, with the first to arrive as early as Thursday.

Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said the government would ensure that domestic vaccine makers have adequate stocks to meet India’s domestic needs as it supplies partner countries in the coming months.

“India will continue to supply countries all over the world with vaccines. This will be calibrated against domestic requirements and international demand and obligations,” he said.

Indian regulators gave the nod for emergency use to two vaccines earlier this month: the AstraZeneca vaccine and another one by Indian vaccine maker Bharat Biotech. India kicked off its own massive vaccination drive on Jan. 17, with a goal of inoculating 300 million of its nearly 1.4 billion people.

These vaccines being sent to neighboring countries are being sent as grants and India’s Foreign Ministry said the vaccines were not part of COVAX, the U.N.-backed global effort aimed at helping lower income countries obtain the shots.

With nations making their own plans and not waiting for COVAX, some experts fear that India’s gesture of goodwill may inadvertently undermine the struggling initiative, which has yet to deliver any of the promised 2 billion vaccines to poor countries. Although COVAX has announced new deals to secure vaccines in recent weeks, it has only signed legally binding deals for a fraction of the needed shots.

WHO said earlier this week it hopes vaccines bought by another global initiative started by the Gates Foundation, GAVI, might start being delivered to poor countries later this month or next. The U.N. health agency’s Africa chief, however, estimated that the first COVID-19 vaccines from that initiative might only arrive in March and that a larger roll-out would only begin in June.

Of the more than 12 billion coronavirus vaccine doses being produced this year, rich countries have already bought about 9 billion, and many have options to buy even more. This means that Serum Institute, which has been contracted by AstraZeneca to make a billion doses, is likely to make most of the shots that’ll be used by developing nations.

___

Associated Press journalists Ashok Sharma in New Delhi and Maria Cheng in London contributed to this report.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

EXPLAINER: Why US accused China of genocide and what’s next

EXPLAINER: Why US accused China of genocide and what’s next

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FILE – In this Nov. 10, 2020, file photo, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gestures toward a reporter while speaking at the State Department in Washington. Pompeo plans to deliver a speech extolling the Trump administration’s foreign policy this week … more >

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By

Associated Press

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

BEIJING (AP) – The U.S. secretary of state’s accusation of genocide against China touches on a hot-button human rights issue between China and the West.

In one of his final acts in office, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared Tuesday that China’s policies against Muslims in its Xinjiang region constitute “crimes against humanity” and “genocide.”

Earlier the same day, British lawmakers narrowly rejected a proposal aimed at China that would have barred trade deals with any country deemed to be committing genocide.

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Xinjiang, a far western region that borders central Asia, is home to the predominantly Muslim Uighur ethnic group. China denies human rights violations and says its actions in Xinjiang are necessary to counter a separatist and terrorist threat.

___

WHY IS CHINA ACCUSED OF GENOCIDE?

Pompeo cited forced birth control among Uighurs, which an Associated Press investigation documented last year, and forced labor, which has been linked by AP reporting to products imported to the U.S., including clothing, cameras and computer monitors.

“I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state,” Pompeo said in a written statement, using an alternative spelling for Uighurs.

___

WHAT IS CHINA‘S RESPONSE?

China strongly defends its human rights record and policies in Xinjiang, saying its constitution and laws treat all citizens equally. It denies imposing coercive birth control measures or forced labor, saying those behind the allegations are lying in an effort to smear China’s reputation and impede its development.

Xu Guixiang, a deputy spokesperson for the Xinjiang branch of the ruling Communist Party, told reporters last week that birth control decisions were made of the person’s own free will and that “no organization or individual can interfere.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying on Wednesday called Pompeo a “doomsday clown” and said his designation of China as a perpetrator of genocide and crimes against humanity was merely “a piece of wastepaper.”

___

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Pompeo’s genocide designation does not trigger any immediate repercussions, but requires the U.S. to take it into account in formulating policy toward China.

It puts pressure on incoming President Joe Biden to maintain a tough line against China. He and members of his national security team have expressed support for such a designation in the past.

Antony Blinken, Biden’s choice to be secretary of state, said Tuesday that the Trump administration was right to take a tougher stance on China, but that it had approached the matter poorly by alienating U.S. allies and not fully standing up for human rights elsewhere.

___

HOW WILL CHINA RESPOND?

China may wish to avoid an early skirmish with the Biden administration, saving its invective for Pompeo and calibrating its response based on the possibility of a lowering of tensions that have flared under Trump.

As with most sensitive issues, it has heavily restricted foreign media access to Xinjiang and sought to limit any domestic discussion to official pronouncements.

Still, the “parting shot” from the Trump administration will likely further stress the relationship in the near term, said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China. He said the already slim chances of reducing China-U.S. tensions have been further limited in the coming weeks and months.

___

WHAT HAPPENED IN LONDON?

Lawmakers rejected by a 319-308 vote an amendment to a post-Brexit trade bill that would have forced the British government to revoke bilateral trade agreements with a country if the High Court of England found that it had perpetrated genocide.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab last week called the amendment “well-meaning” but ineffective and counter productive.

A significant number of rebel Conservatives backed the proposal, as did Jewish, Muslim and Christian community leaders. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to continue facing vocal calls within his Conservative party for a stronger and more coherent policy on China over its alleged rights abuses and violations of international norms.

EU sighs with relief as Biden readies to enter White House

EU sighs with relief as Biden readies to enter White House

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European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen addresses European lawmakers during a plenary session on the inauguration of the new President of the United States and the current political situation, at the European Parliament in Brussels, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. … more >

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By LORNE COOK

Associated Press

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

BRUSSELS (AP) – The European Union’s top officials breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday that Joe Biden will be taking over as president of the United States, but they warned that the world has changed after four years of Donald Trump and that trans-Atlantic ties will be different in the future.

“This new dawn in America is the moment we’ve been awaiting for so long,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, hailing Biden’s arrival as “resounding proof that, once again after four long years, Europe has a friend in the White House.”

“The United States are back, and Europe stands ready to reconnect with an old and trusted partner to breathe new life into our cherished alliance,” she told EU lawmakers, hours before Biden was to be sworn in at his inauguration ceremony in Washington.

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European Council President Charles Michel, who chairs summits between the EU’s 27 heads of state and government, said that trans-Atlantic relations have “greatly suffered in the last four years. In these years, the world has grown more complex, less stable and less predictable.”

“We have our differences and they will not magically disappear. America seems to have changed, and how it’s perceived in Europe and the rest of the world has also changed,” said Michel, whose open criticism of the Trump era contrasted starkly with the silence that mostly reigned in Europe while the Republican leader was in the White House.

This change, Michel said, means “that we Europeans (must) take our fate firmly into our own hands, to defend our interests and promote our values,” and he underlined that “the EU chooses its course and does not wait for permission to take its own decisions.”

The Europeans have invited Biden to a summit, quite probably in Brussels, in parallel with a top-level NATO meeting as soon as he’s ready. Michel said the EU’s priority is to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, rebuild the global economy and boost security ties with Washington.

In Germany, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier issued a video statement on his website as well as Instagram and Facebook before the inauguration, calling it a “good day for democracy.”

He said that the U.S. had “faced tremendous challenges and endured.”

“Despite the attempts to tear at America’s institutional fabric, election workers and governors, the judiciary and Congress have proven strong,” he said. “I am greatly relieved that, today, Joe Biden is being sworn in as president and will be moving into the White House. I know many people in Germany share this feeling.”

With Biden and incoming Vice President Kamala Harris, Steinmeier said there was new hope that the U.S. would again be a “vital partner” internationally to tackle issues like the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, security issues including arms control and disarmament, and multiple conflicts.

“When our views do differ, such differences of opinion will not divide us, but should rather spur us on to find joint solutions,” he said. “Despite all the joy we feel today, we must not forget that even the most powerful democracy in the world has been seduced by populism.

“We must work resolutely to counter polarization, protect and strengthen the public square in our democracies, and shape our policies on the basis of reason and facts.”

In Poland, where the right-wing government has been on very good terms with the Trump administration, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, said that he expects cooperation with Biden and his team to develop positively.

“We have many points in common, joint projects linked to the Three Seas Initiative (in central and eastern Europe) where we are developing many infrastructure connections,” Morawiecki told an online news conference.

He also mentioned the energy sector, where Poland is importing substantial quantities of U.S. liquefied gas, LNG, and security cooperation around NATO’s borders with Russia, saying that “for these reasons and also due to the security cohesion, this cooperation will be developing well, or even very well.”

___

David Rising in Berlin, and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, contributed to this report.

Doug Jones named as politics fellow at Georgetown

Doug Jones named as politics fellow at Georgetown

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Associated Press

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Former U.S. Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama has been named as a politics fellow this spring at Georgetown University.

Jones will be one of six fellows at the Institute of Politics and Public Service at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy.

The university said in a Tuesday news release that fellows will host virtual discussion groups. The fellows also host virtual office hours where students can ask questions and discuss the latest developments in domestic and foreign policy.

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Jones wrote on Twitter that he’ll be discussing ‘Justice in America: Bridging the Divides.’

“We’ll examine the relation between our divides & injustice, & how bridging those divides can bring about lasting change,” Jones wrote on Twitter.

Asia Today: China records new cases, defends response

Asia Today: China records new cases, defends response

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A woman wearing a face mask to protect against the spread of the coronavirus rides a public bus in Beijing, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. China is now dealing with coronavirus outbreaks across its frigid northeast, prompting additional lockdowns and travel … more >

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Associated Press

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

BEIJING (AP) – China’s capital, Beijing, recorded seven more coronavirus cases on Wednesday amid a lingering outbreak in the country’s north.

Another 46 were recorded in Jilin province, 16 in Heilongjiang on the border with Russia, and 19 in Hebei, the province surrounding Beijing.

China has now recorded a total of 88,557 cases since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, with 4,635 deaths.

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China is hoping to vaccinate 50 million people against the virus by mid-February and is also releasing schools early and telling citizens to stay put during the Lunar New Year travel rush that begins in coming days.

A panel of experts commissioned by the World Health Organization criticized China and other countries this week for not moving to stem the initial outbreak of the coronavirus earlier, prompting Beijing to concede it could have done better but also to defend its response.

“As the first country to sound the global alarm against the epidemic, China made immediate and decisive decisions and insisted on timely detection, reporting, isolation, and treatment despite incomprehensive information at the time. We have gained time to fight the epidemic and reduce infections and deaths,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters on Tuesday.

“We are firmly opposed to politicizing issues related to virus tracing, as this will not help the international community to unite and cooperate in the fight against the pandemic,” Hua said.

A team of experts from WHO are quarantined in Wuhan ahead of beginning field visits aiming to shed light on the origins of the virus that is thought to have jumped to humans from animals, possibly bats.

Other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

– India has began supplying coronavirus vaccines to its neighboring countries, as the world’s largest vaccine making nation strikes a balance between maintaining enough doses to inoculate its own people and helping developing countries without the capacity to produce their own shots. India’s Foreign Ministry said the country will send 150,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine, manufactured locally by Serum Institute of India, to Bhutan and 100,000 to the Maldives on Wednesday. Vaccines will also be sent to Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and the Seychelles in coming weeks, the ministry said. Spokesman Anurag Srivastava said the government will ensure that domestic vaccine makers have adequate stocks to meet domestic needs as they supply other countries in the coming months. Of the more than 12 billion coronavirus vaccine doses expected to be produced this year, rich countries have already bought about 9 billion, and many have options to buy even more. This means that Serum Institute, which has been contracted by AstraZeneca to make a billion doses, is likely to make most of the vaccines that will be used by developing nations.

Biden charts new US direction, promises many Trump reversals

Biden charts new US direction, promises many Trump reversals

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President-elect Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden arrive for a COVID-19 memorial event at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By BILL BARROW

Associated Press

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – Stop. Stabilize. Then move – but in a vastly different direction.

President-elect Joe Biden is pledging a new path for the nation after Donald Trump’s four years in office. That starts with confronting a pandemic that has killed 400,000 Americans and extends to sweeping plans on health care, education, immigration and more.

The 78-year-old Democrat has pledged immediate executive actions that would reverse Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement and rescind the outgoing president’s ban on immigration from certain Muslim nations.

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His first legislative priority is a $1.9 trillion pandemic response package, but there are plans to send an immigration overhaul to Capitol Hill out of the gate, as well.

He’s also pledged an aggressive outreach to American allies around the world who had strained relationships with Trump. And though one key initiative has been overshadowed as the pandemic has worsened, Biden hasn’t backed away from his call to expand the 2010 Affordable Care Act with a public option, a government-insurance plan to compete alongside private insurers.

It’s an unapologetically liberal program reflecting Biden‘s argument that the federal government exists to help solve big problems. Persuading enough voters and members of Congress to go along will test another core Biden belief: that he can unify the country into a governing consensus.

What a Biden presidency could look like:

ECONOMY, TAXES AND THE DEBT

Biden argues the economy cannot fully recover until the coronavirus is contained.

He argues that his $1.9 trillion response plan is necessary to avoid extended recession. Among other provisions, it would send Americans $1,400 relief checks, extend more generous unemployment benefits and moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures, and boost businesses. Biden also wants expanded child tax credits, child care assistance and a $15-an-hour minimum wage – a provision sure to draw fierce Republican opposition.

Biden acknowledges his call for deficit spending but says higher deficits in the near term will prevent damage that would not only harm individuals but also weaken the economy in ways that would be even worse for the national balance sheet.

He also calls his plan a down payment on his pledge to address wealth inequality that disproportionately affects nonwhite Americans. He plans a second major economic package later in 2021; that’s when he’d likely ask Congress to consider his promised tax overhauls to roll back parts of the 2017 GOP tax rewrite benefiting corporations and the wealthy.

Biden wants a corporate income tax rate of 28% – lower than before but higher than now – and broad income and payroll tax increases for individuals with more than $400,000 of annual taxable income. That would generate an estimated $4 trillion or more over 10 years, money Biden would want steered toward his infrastructure, health care and energy programs.

Before Biden proposed his pandemic relief bill, an analysis from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated that Biden’s campaign proposals would increase the national debt by about $5.6 trillion over 10 years, though that would be a significantly slower rate of increase than what occurred under Trump.

The national debt now stands at more than $25 trillion.

___

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Biden promises a more robust national coronavirus vaccination system. Ditching Trump’s strategy of putting most of the pandemic response on governors’ desks, Biden says he’ll marshal the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Guard to distribute vaccines while using the nation’s network of private pharmacies.

As he said as a candidate, Biden plans to invoke the Defense Production Act, aimed at the private sector, to increase vaccine supplies and related materials. The wartime law allows a president to direct the manufacture of critical goods.

Much of Biden’s plans depend on Congress approving financing, such as $130 billion to help schools reopen safely.

Beyond legislation, Biden will require masks on all federal property, urge governors and mayors to use their authority to impose mask mandates and ask Americans for 100 days of mask-wearing in an effort to curb the virus.

Biden also promises to deviate from Trump by putting science and medical advisers front and center to project a consistent message. Meanwhile, Biden will immediately have the U.S. rejoin the World Health Organization.

The incoming White House has tried to manage expectations. Biden said several times in recent weeks that the pandemic would likely get worse before any changes in policy and public health practices show up in COVID-19 statistics.

___

HEALTH CARE

Biden wants to build on President Barack Obama’s signature health care law through a “Medicare-like public option” to compete alongside private insurance markets for working-age Americans. He’d also increase premium subsidies many people already use.

Biden‘s approach could get a kick-start in the pandemic response bill by expanding subsidies for consumers using existing ACA exchanges. The big prize, a “public option,” remains a heavy lift in a closely divided Congress. Biden has not detailed when he’d ask Congress to consider the matter.

Biden estimates his public option would cost about $750 billion over 10 years. It still stops short of progressives’ call for a government-run system to replace private insurance altogether.

The administration also must await a Supreme Court decision on the latest case challenging the 2010 health care law known as “Obamacare.”

On prescription drugs, Biden supports allowing Medicare to negotiate prices for government programs and private payers. He’d prohibit drug companies from raising prices faster than inflation for people covered by Medicare and other federal programs; and he’d cap initial prices for “specialty drugs” to treat serious illnesses.

Biden would limit annual out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare enrollees, a change Trump sought unsuccessfully in Congress. And Biden also wants to allow importation of prescription drugs, subject to safety checks.

___

IMMIGRATION

Biden plans to immediately reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which allowed people brought to the U.S. illegally as children to remain as legal residents. He’s also planning an Inauguration Day executive order rolling back Trump’s ban on certain Muslim immigrants and has pledged to rescind Trump’s limits on asylum slots.

Additionally, Biden will send Congress, out of the gate, a complex immigration bill offering an eight-year path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. without legal status.

As a candidate, Biden called Trump’s hard-line policies on immigration an “unrelenting assault” on American values and promised to “undo the damage” while maintaining border enforcement. Notably, the outline of Biden‘s immigration bill doesn’t deal much, if at all, with border enforcement. But his opening maneuver sets a flank with plenty of room to negotiate with Republicans.

Biden also pledged to end the Trump’s “public charge rule,” which would deny visas or permanent residency to people who use public-aid programs. Biden has called for a 100-day freeze on deportations while considering long-term policies. Still, Biden would eventually restore an Obama-era policy of prioritizing removal of immigrants who have come to the U.S. illegally and have been convicted of crimes or pose a national security threat. Biden has said he would halt all funding for construction of new walls along the U.S.-Mexico border.

___

FOREIGN POLICY AND NATIONAL SECURITY

Biden‘s establishment credentials are most starkly different from Trump in the area of foreign policy. Biden mocked Trump’s “America First” brand as “America alone” and promises to restore a more traditional post-World War II order.

He supports a strategy of fighting extremist militants abroad with U.S. special forces and airstrikes instead of planeloads of U.S. troops. That’s a break from his support earlier in his political career for more sweeping U.S. military interventions, most notably the 2003 Iraq invasion. Biden has since called his Iraq vote in the Senate a mistake.

He was careful as a candidate never to rule out the use of force, but now leans directly into diplomacy to try to achieve solutions through alliances and global institutions.

Biden calls for increasing the Navy’s presence in the Asia-Pacific and strengthening alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia and Indonesia. He joins Trump in wanting to end the wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan, but thinks the U.S. should keep a small force in place to counter militant violence.

Secretary of State-designate Tony Blinken is Biden‘s longest-serving foreign policy adviser and holds essentially the same worldview.

Both are strong supporters of NATO. Biden and Blinken warn that Moscow is chipping away at the foundation of Western democracy by trying to weaken NATO, divide the European Union and undermine the U.S. electoral system.

Biden believes Trump’s abandonment of bilateral and international treaties such as the Iran nuclear deal have led other nations to doubt Washington’s word. Biden wants to invite all democratic nations to a summit during his first year to discuss how to fight corruption, thwart authoritarianism and support human rights.

He claims “ironclad” support for Israel but wants to curb annexation and has backed a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. He says he’d keep the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem after Trump moved it from Tel Aviv.

On North Korea, Biden criticized Trump for engaging directly with Kim Jong Un, saying it gave legitimacy to the authoritarian leader without curbing his nuclear program.

Biden also wants to see the U.S. close its detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; Obama pushed the same and never got it done.

___

ENVIRONMENT

Beyond immediately rejoining the Paris climate agreement, Biden has proposed a $2 trillion push to slow global warming by throttling back the burning of fossil fuels, aiming to make the nation’s power plants, vehicles, mass transport systems and buildings more fuel efficient and less dependent on oil, gas and coal.

Parts of his program could be included in the second sweeping legislative package Biden plans after the initial emergency pandemic legislation.

Biden says his administration would ban new permits for oil and gas production on federal lands, though he says he does not support a fracking ban.

Biden’s public health and environmental platform also calls for reversing the Trump administration’s slowdown of enforcement against polluters, which in several categories has fallen to the lowest point in decades. That would include establishing a climate and environmental justice division within the Justice Department. Biden says he would support climate lawsuits targeting fossil fuel-related industries.

___

EDUCATION

Biden has proposed tripling the federal Title I program for low-income public schools, with a requirement that schools provide competitive pay and benefits to teachers. He wants to ban federal money for for-profit charter schools and provide new dollars to public charters only if they serve needy students. He opposes voucher programs, in which public money is used to pay for private-school education. He also wants to restore federal rules, rolled back under Trump, that denied federal money to for-profit colleges that left students with heavy debts and unable to find jobs.

Biden supports making two years of community college free, with public four-year colleges free for families with incomes below $125,000. His proposed student loan overhaul would not require repayment for people who make less than $25,000 a year and would limit payments to 5% of discretionary income for others.

Among the measures in his COVID-19 response plan, Biden calls for extending current freezes on student loan payments and debt accrual.

Long term, Biden proposes a $70 billion increase in funding for historically Black colleges and universities, and other schools that serve underrepresented students.

___

ABORTION

Biden supports abortion rights and has said he would nominate federal judges who back the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. He’s also said he’d support a federal statute legalizing abortion if the Supreme Court’s conservative majority strikes down Roe.

Biden committed to rescinding Trump’s family planning rule, which prompted many clinics to leave the federal Title X program providing birth control and medical care for low-income women.

In a personal reversal, Biden now supports repeal of the Hyde Amendment, opening the way for federal programs, including his prospective public option, to pay for abortions.

___

SOCIAL SECURITY

Biden‘s proposals would expand benefits, raise taxes for upper-income people and add some years of solvency.

He would revamp Social Security’s annual cost-of-living adjustment by linking it to an inflation index tied more directly to older Americans’ expenses. He would increase minimum benefits for lower-income retirees, addressing financial hardship among the elderly.

Biden wants to raise Social Security taxes by applying the payroll tax to earnings above $400,000. The 12.4% tax, split between an employee and employer, now applies only to the first $137,700 of a worker’s wages. The tax increase would pay for Biden’s proposed benefit expansions and extend the life of program’s trust fund by five years, to 2040, according to the nonpartisan Urban Institute.

___

GUNS

Biden led efforts as a senator to establish the background check system now in use when people buy guns from a federal licensed dealer. He also helped pass a 10-year ban on a group of semi-automatic guns, or “assault weapons,” during the Clinton presidency.

Biden has promised to seek another ban on the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Owners would have to register existing assault weapons with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He would also support a program to buy back assault weapons.

Biden supports legislation restricting the number of firearms an individual may purchase per month to one and would require background checks for all gun sales with limited exceptions, such as gifts between family members. Biden would also support prohibiting all online sales of firearms, ammunition, kits and gun parts.

As with his public option plan for health insurance, it’s not clear how Biden will prioritize gun legislation, and the prospects of getting major changes through the Senate are slim, at best.

___

VETERANS

Biden says he’d work with Congress to improve health services for women, the military’s fastest-growing subgroup, such as by placing at least one full-time women’s primary care physician at each Department of Veterans Affairs’ medical center.

He promises to provide $300 million to better understand the impact of traumatic brain injury and toxic exposures, hire more VA staff to cut down on office wait times for veterans at risk of suicide and continue the efforts of the Obama-Biden administration to stem homelessness.

___

TRADE

Biden has joined a growing bipartisan embrace of “fair trade” abroad – a twist on decades of “free trade” talk as Republican and Democratic administrations alike expanded international trade. That, and some of his policy pitches, can make Biden seem almost protectionist, but he’s well shy of Trump’s approach.

Biden, like Trump, accuses China of violating international trade rules by subsidizing its companies and stealing U.S. intellectual property. Still, Biden doesn’t think Trump’s tariffs worked. He wants to join with allies to form a bulwark against Beijing.

Biden wants to juice U.S. manufacturing with $400 billion of federal government purchases (including pandemic supplies) from domestic companies over a four-year period. He wants $300 billion for U.S. technology firms’ research and development. Biden says the new domestic spending must come before any new international trade deals.

He pledges tough negotiations with China, the world’s other economic superpower, on trade and intellectual property matters. China, like the U.S., is not yet a member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the multilateral trade agreement that Biden advocated for when he was vice president.

___

TRUMP

Biden won’t escape Trump’s shadow completely, given the many investigations and potential legal exposures facing the outgoing president. Biden said as a candidate that he wouldn’t pardon Trump or his associates and that he’d leave federal investigations up to “an independent Justice Department.” Notably, some of Trump’s legal exposure comes from state cases in New York. Biden will have no authority over any of those matters.

___

Associated Press writers Will Weissert, Kevin Freking, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Ben Fox, Deb Riechmann, Collin Binkley and Hope Yen contributed to this report.

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Premier Giuseppe Conte waits for the outcome of the confidence vote at the lower chamber of Parliament, in Rome, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. Conte fights for his political life with an address aimed at shoring up support for his government, … more >

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By Eric J. Lyman – Special to The Washington Times

Monday, January 18, 2021

ROMEItaly’s pro-U.S. government is hanging on by a thread, battered by criticism about its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it plans to spend billions of dollars to help the European Union recover.

Governmental crises in Rome are nothing new, but the pandemic has forced Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to confront the struggle to contain the ravages of the disease and the hurdles in obtaining and distributing potentially lifesaving vaccines.

President Trump’s handling of the crisis played a major role in his unsuccessful campaign for reelection. Candidates facing voters this year in Iran, Israel, Germany and elsewhere also could find the pandemic to be a make-or-break issue.

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Mr. Trump once described Mr. Conte as “a good friend,” but support for the prime minister has withered in recent weeks as attacks against him mounted.

Matteo Renzi, a former Italian prime minister whose small political party, Italia Viva, had been a key member of Mr. Conte’s coalition, withdrew its support last week. The move took away the coalition’s slender majority in the Senate, leaving Mr. Conte scrambling to find replacements.

Mr. Conte cleared a key first hurdle Monday when he narrowly won a confidence vote in Parliament’s lower house on a 321-259 vote. In a speech before the vote, he acknowledged that the government’s COVID-19 response had not been perfect but turned the tables on his detractors by accusing them of playing political games when “the pandemic is still in full course.”

“If I can speak in the name of the whole government, with head high, it is not out of the arrogance of someone who believes not to have made errors,” Mr. Conte told lawmakers. “It is out of awareness of how the whole government put all of its physical and mental energy into best protecting the nation.”

He faces another test Tuesday in the Senate, and political analysts say it will be much tougher for the government to win the vote.

Conte has managed to survive for 2½ years despite small majorities and fragile institutions,” said Giovanni Orsina, director of the School of Government at Rome’s Luiss-Guido Carli University. “This could be the situation that brings it down.”

Italy was the first country hit hard by the coronavirus when it spread beyond China’s borders, and it remains among those that have suffered the most. As of Sunday, COVID-19 had claimed more than 82,000 lives in Italy, second in Europe only to the United Kingdom.

With nearly 1,400 deaths per 1 million people, Italy’s per capita morbidity rate is the highest in the world among countries with more than 12 million residents. The U.S., despite criticisms heaped on the Trump administration, has about 1,225 deaths per 1 million residents.

Conte takes the blame

Much of the blame for those trends has fallen at the feet of Mr. Conte, who in March became the first European leader to issue a national lockdown in peacetime in an effort to curb the spread of the virus. The strategy had mixed results, but it became a blueprint for most other industrialized countries facing the COVID-19 threat.

Italy was the biggest recipient of European Union recovery funds last year, including more than $100 billion in grants and another $150 billion in low-interest loans. That cash could be a much-needed boost for an economy that, as of the end of the year, had shrunk to its size in 1998. Confindustria, Italy’s main industrial association, has estimated that more than a third of the businesses shuttered during the pandemic will not reopen.

Mr. Conte has pledged to direct the money to ecological initiatives alongside programs for better digitalization, innovation, mass transit, gender issues and economic development in the poorer southern parts of the country. But Mr. Renzi and other critics in populist parties now allied with the opposition say the money will be squandered.

Aides to Mr. Renzi, a former center-left president who struck up a bond with President Obama, said they are open to rejoining the coalition if Mr. Conte will make certain guarantees on how recovery funds are spent. But Mr. Conte’s allies say they are wary of relying on an unpredictable ally.

If the government Mr. Conte leads fails to win Tuesday’s vote, then the result could be snap elections, something that would be a challenge during a pandemic. Right-wing populist parties that have long been circling the Conte coalition could finally take power.

President Sergio Mattarella could also ask Mr. Conte or another figure — former European Central Bank Governor Mario Draghi’s name keeps popping up, though Mr. Draghi, 73, said he is not interested — to try cobble together a majority among members of the existing parliament. Mr. Mattarella could also seek to form a nonpolitical technocrat government until elections can be held.

Although the Trump administration was broadly unpopular in Europe, Mr. Conte’s government was a reliable ally of the U.S. president.

Riccardo Puglisi, an economist in the Department of Political Science at the University of Pavia, said Italy’s next prime minister will have the challenge of convincing the incoming Biden administration that Rome in recent years has been a friend of the U.S. in general and not specifically an ally of Mr. Biden’s polarizing predecessor.

“Under Conte, Italy was the one country European Union member state Trump could count on,” Mr. Puglisi said. “President-elect Biden is respected in Italy, and whoever is in charge after this crisis, especially if Conte manages to remain in power, will have to show they are just as willing to work with the Biden White House as they were with Trump.”

Mr. Orsina said that if a hobbled Mr. Conte emerges from the crisis in charge or if a surprise figure is put in charge, Italy could be at a disadvantage with the U.S. as Mr. Biden looks to build consensus for its foreign policy initiatives in Europe.

“When it comes to U.S. relations, this is not a good time for Italy to be having a government crisis,” Mr. Orsina said. “You could imagine a situation where U.S. officials in their outreach wonder who they should speak to in Italy.”

Mr. Conte expressed optimism Monday in his address to the Chamber of Deputies that the new administration in Washington would be an ally.

“I already have had a long and warm phone conversation with him,” Mr. Conte said. He added that the Biden agenda is “our agenda,” The Associated Press reported.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Trump lifts coronavirus-related travel bans for Europe, Brazil

Biden vows to block Trump’s order lifting coronavirus-related travel bans for Europe, Brazil

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Terezinha da Conceicao, 80, is the first women to receive the COVID-19 vaccine produced by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd, during the start of the vaccination program in front of the statue of Cristo Redentor, in the city of Rio de … more >

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By Dave Boyer

The Washington Times

Monday, January 18, 2021

President Trump on Monday night lifted coronavirus-related travel restrictions that cover much of Europe and Brazil but still bars China and Iran, beginning Jan. 26, nearly a week after he leaves office.

But President-elect Joseph R. Biden, who takes the oath of office on Wednesday, said through a spokeswoman that he will reverse the order and keep the travel restrictions in place.

“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” said incoming Biden White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Twitter. “On the advice of our medical team, the [Biden] Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26. In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

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It’s not clear whether Mr. Biden, who will take the oath of office on Wednesday, would reverse Mr. Trump‘s order.

In Mr. Trump‘s executive order, he said his administration has “high confidence” that Europe and Brazil will cooperate with the United States in implementing safeguards against spreading the virus. 

But he said China and Iran “repeatedly have failed to cooperate with the United States public health authorities and to share timely, accurate information about the spread of the virus.”

“Those jurisdictions’ responses to the pandemic, their lack of transparency, and their lack of cooperation with the United States thus far in combatting the pandemic, cast doubt on their cooperation,” Mr. Trump said.  

     

Arab League head hopes Biden changes Trump Mideast policies

Arab League head hopes Biden changes Trump Mideast policies

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Monday, January 18, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The head of the Arab League expressed hope Monday that the Biden administration will change President Donald Trump’s policies and launch a political process supported by regional and international parties to achieve independence for the Palestinians.

Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the 22-member organization, told the U.N. Security Council that a two-state solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict “has been marginalized by the main mediator in the peace process,” a reference to the United States.

“This encouraged the Israeli government to intensify its settlement activities and to threaten to take dangerous and destructive steps such as annexing occupied land,” he said.

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The Arab League chief addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a wide-ranging briefing on the crises and conflicts in the Middle East.

He also referred without name to Iran, saying that “some regional powers are interfering in the affairs of the Arab region” by adversely affecting “the security of international maritime navigation routes which are a lifeline for international trade,” a reference to freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf.

“It has also become apparent that this interference perpetuates existing conflicts and further complicates them,” he said, without directly citing Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, for Yemen’s Houthi Shiite rebels and for Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

Aboul Gheit said the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing conflicts and crises have created “a dangerous mix that has taken a heavy toll on the peoples of the region,” pointing to 10 years of civil war in Syria, Yemen’s war entering its seventh year and “entrenched divisions in Libya.”

He spoke a day after Israeli authorities advanced plans to build nearly 800 homes in West Bank settlements, in a last-minute surge of approvals before U.S. President Donald Trump leaves office Wednesday and Joe Biden is inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States. Palestinian leaders denounced the Israeli action.

The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as part of a future independent state. They say the growing settler population, approaching some 500,000 people, makes it increasingly difficult to achieve their dream of independence.

Aboul Gheit said that “significant efforts” need to be made by all parties in coming months to reaffirm the two-state solution.

“We look forward to the new American administration rectifying policies and processes that are not useful and engage in a fruitful political process with the support of influential regional and international parties,” he said. “This would give the Palestinian people renewed hope that the international community would stand by its side in its noble aspiration to achieve freedom and independence.”

On Syria, Aboul Gheit said five countries are interfering militarily and the “security situation remains tumultuous and precarious, especially in the northwest, northeast and south.” This not only undermines prospects of a political settlement but also has equally serious humanitarian repercussions, with 90% of Syrians living in poverty, he said.

“I am convinced that a genuine solution would start with a minimal level of international consensus, which is still lacking,” and would require some regional parties to reduce their involvement in Syria, Aboul Gheit said. “Those regional parties continue to view Syria land as spoils of war or use it to settle scores,.

In Yemen, the Arab League chief said the situation “is as dangerous, especially the humanitarian situation,” with some Yemenis on the bring of starvation.

He strongly backed efforts by U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths to get agreement between the Houthis and the internationally recognized government on a joint declaration calling for a cease-fire and confidence-building measures. He said the Saudi-negotiated agreement on a new Cabinet “is a positive sign that the fragmentation and division are coming to an end,” which “paves the way for negotiations on a comprehensive solution.”

As for Libya, Aboul Gheit said recent events “could bring us closer to ending the division in this important Arab country.”

After the 2011 overthrow and killing of dictator Moammar Gadhafi, oil-rich Libya was split between rival administrations in its east and west, each backed by an array of militias and foreign powers. The warring sides agreed to a U.N.-brokered cease-fire in October, a deal that included the departure of foreign forces and mercenaries within three months and holding presidential and parliamentary elections on Dec. 24, 2021.

Aboul Gheit urged implementation of the cease-fire agreement as well as ending recruitment of foreign fighters and stopping shipments of weapons and military equipment to Libya.

Canada urges Biden not to cancel oil pipeline on first day

Canada urges Biden not to cancel oil pipeline on first day

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By ROB GILLIES

Associated Press

Monday, January 18, 2021

TORONTO (AP) – Top officials in Canada want a chance to make the case for a long disputed oil pipeline to be built amid reports President-elect Joe Biden will cancel Keystone XL.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Monday he will seek legal damages if reports are true that Biden plans to scrap the pipeline on his first day upon taking office. Biden’s plan is outlined in transition documents seen by Canadian media outlets.

“We hope President-elect Biden will show respect for Canada and will sit down and at the very least talk to us,” Kenney said.

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Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said Monday the transition team had no comment on the pipeline. A person familiar with the pipeline matter said Monday that the document cited by Canadian news media was a draft slide that was a few weeks old. Despite the timing suggested in the draft slide, everything on it “may not happen on day one,” the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record on the matter.

The 1,700-mile (2,735-kilometer) pipeline would carry roughly 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast, passing through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.

First proposed in 2008, the pipeline has become emblematic of the tensions between economic development and curbing the fossil fuel emissions that are causing climate change. The Obama administration rejected it, but President Donald Trump revived it and has been a strong supporter. Construction already started.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised Keystone XL as a top priority when he spoke with President-elect Biden in a phone call in November. The project is meant to expand critical oil exports for Canada, which has the third-largest oil reserves in the world.

Trudeau and Biden are close and largely politically aligned, but the pipeline is expected to be an early irritant as Biden has said he would cancel it.

“Surely the relationship between Canada and the United States is worth at least having that discussion,” said Kenney, whose province has a financial stake in the pipeline.

After reports surfaced that it would be canceled on the first day of Biden’s term, Calgary, Alberta-based TC Energy Corp. announced late Sunday it would spent US$1.7 billion on a solar, wind and battery-powered operating system for the pipeline to ensure it is zero-emission by 2030, and to rely exclusively on union labor.

Federal Natural Resource Minister Seamus O’Regan said in a statement his government continues to make the case for the pipeline to American colleagues.

“Canadian oil is produced under strong environmental and climate policy frameworks, and this project will not only strengthen the vital Canada-U.S energy relationship, but create thousands of good jobs for workers on both sides of the border,” he said.

Roland Paris, a former foreign policy adviser to Trudeau, noted it has been Biden’s position to cancel it for a long time.

“Still, he should recognize that peremptorily revoking the permit without first giving Canada a chance to make its case wouldn’t exactly send a signal of renewed friendship that he has promised towards America’s closest allies,” Paris tweeted.

Robin Rorick, a vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas industry trade group, said Keystone XL has been through 10 years of extensive environmental reviews.

“Thousands of union workers are already a part of this responsible and sustainable project,” the trade group official said in a statement. “We urge President Biden to stand up for the thousands of good-paying union jobs tied to Keystone XL and ensure local communities across the country have access to the affordable, reliable energy that’s needed to power the nation’s economic recovery.”

Associated Press writer Ellen Knickmeyer contributed to this report.

UN chief says 9 African nations, Iran in arrears on UN dues

UN chief says 9 African nations, Iran in arrears on UN dues

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Monday, January 18, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The U.N. chief says nine African nations and Iran are in arrears on paying their dues to the United Nations’ operating budget and should lose their voting rights as required under the U.N. Charter.

In a letter to General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir circulated Monday, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres listed the minimum amount that the 10 countries need to pay to have their voting rights restored.

Iran topped the list and needs to pay $16,251,298 followed by Somalia, which must pay $1,443,640, Comoros $871,632, Sao Tome and Principe $829,888, Libya $705,391, Congo $90,844, Zimbabwe $81,770, Central African Republic $29,395, South Sudan $22,804, and Niger $6,733.

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The U.N. Charter gives the 193-member General Assembly the authority to decide “that the failure to pay is due to conditions beyond the control of the member,” and in that case a country can continue to vote.

UK seafood trucks protest at Parliament over Brexit red tape

UK seafood trucks protest at Parliament over Brexit red tape

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Police speak to a shellfish export truck driver as he is stopped for an unnecessary journey in London, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, during a demonstration by British Shellfish exporters to protest Brexit-related red tape they claim is suffocating their business. … more >

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By JILL LAWLESS

Associated Press

Monday, January 18, 2021

LONDON (AP) – Trucks owned by U.K. shellfish firms descended on Britain’s Parliament Monday to protest the Brexit-related red tape they claim is suffocating their businesses.

More than a dozen large lorries – one bearing the words “Brexit carnage!” – drove past the Houses of Parliament in central London and parked outside Downing St., home to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Police spoke to the drivers, who could face fines for breaching coronavirus restrictions by making non-essential journeys.

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British fishing communities were among the strongest supporters of leaving the European Union, because it promised the chance for the U.K. to leave the bloc’s complex system of fishing quotas and regain control over who is allowed to fish in British waters.

But now some in Britain’s fishing industry say they are facing ruin because of new barriers to shipping their catch abroad. Last week, one Scottish fishing boss threatened to dump his rotting catch on politicians’ doorstep if the situation did not improve.

Fishing rights became a major sticking point in the trade negotiations that followed the U.K.’s political departure from the bloc in January 2020, as European nations sought to retain access to waters where they have fished for decades or even centuries.

Under a new post-Brexit U.K.-EU trade deal signed last month, the EU’s share of the catch in British seas will be cut by 25% over a 5½-year transition period. After that, new quotas will have to be negotiated.

At the same time, Britain’s exit from the EU means new costs and red tape for exporters – a major problem, since Britain exports most of the fish its boats catch.

Some fishing companies say the new restrictions have made it impossible to ship their catch to Europe. Some British fishermen have begun landing their catch in EU member Denmark to keep it in the bloc.

“If this debacle does not improve very soon we are looking at many established businesses coming to the end of the line,” said Alasdair Hughson, chairman of the Scottish Creel Fisherman’s Federation.

“From seabed to plate, this is not an easy business. People put their heart and soul into making it work, with ridiculously long hours,” he added.

Johnson has called the issues “teething problems” and promised to compensate firms for losses that are due to “bureaucratic delays.”

But he also claimed fish firms’ problems were due in part to restaurants being closed during the coronavirus pandemic. And he said “there are great opportunities for fishermen across the whole of the U.K. to take advantage of the spectacular marine wealth of the United Kingdom.”

Fishing is not the only part of the British economy to experience a bumpy start to 2021 because of Brexit.

The trade deal that took effect Jan. 1 allows Britain and the EU to trade in goods without quotas or tariffs. But that is a far cry from the seamless, hassle-free trade the U.K. enjoyed while it was part of the EU’s single market. Companies face customs declarations, border checks and other barriers when they ship goods to and from the bloc. The change has led to shortages of some goods on supermarket shelves as firms reduce the number and amount of shipments they make.

___

Follow all AP stories on Brexit developments at https://apnews.com/Brexit.

Judge orders Alexei Navalny remanded for 30 days, spokeswoman says

Judge orders Alexei Navalny remanded for 30 days, spokeswoman says

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In this image taken from video released by Navalny Life YouTube channel, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks as he waits for a court hearing in a police station in Khimki, outside in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. A … more >

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By Daria Litvinova

Associated Press

Monday, January 18, 2021

MOSCOW (AP) — A judge on Monday ordered Alexei Navalny to be remanded in custody for 30 days, the Russian opposition leader’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said on Twitter. 

The ruling concluded an hours-long court hearing set up at a police precinct where the politician was held since his arrest at a Moscow airport Sunday. 

Navalny flew to Russia from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. He was detained at passport control at Sheremetyevo airport after flying in Sunday evening from Berlin, where he was treated following the poisoning in August. 

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Navalny‘s arrest prompted a wave of criticism from U.S. and European officials, adding to existing tension between Russia and West.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noted that Navalny had returned of his own volition and said “it is completely incomprehensible that he was detained by Russian authorities immediately after his arrival.”

Russia is bound by its own constitution and by international commitments to the principle of the rule of law and the protection of civil rights,” Maas added. “These principles must of course also be applied to Alexei Navalny. He should be released immediately.”

The politician’s allies said Monday he was being held at a police precinct outside Moscow and has been refused access to his lawyer. The court hearing into whether Navalny should remain in custody was hastily set up at the precinct itself, and the politician’s lawyers said they were notified minutes before.

“It is impossible what is happening over here,” Navalny said in video from the improvised court room, posted on his page in the messaging app Telegram. “It is lawlessness of the highest degree.”

Calls for Navalny‘s immediate release have come from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and top officials of other EU nations. 

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for national security adviser called on Russian authorities to free Navalny. “Mr. Navalny should be immediately released, and the perpetrators of the outrageous attack on his life must be held accountable,” Jake Sullivan tweeted.

The outgoing U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said the U.S. “strongly condemns” the decision to arrest Navalny.

Nevertheless, the judge ordered that Navalny be remanded in custody until Feb. 15, Yarmysh said on Twitter. Navalny‘s lawyer Vadim Kobzev told the Interfax news agency that the defense plans to appeal the ruling.

Navalny‘s detention was widely expected because Russia‘s prisons service said he had violated probation terms from a suspended sentence on a 2014 money-laundering conviction. 

The service said it would seek to have Navalny serve his 3½-year sentence behind bars.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday the stream of Western reactions to Navalny‘s arrest reflects an attempt “to divert attention from the crisis of the Western model of development.”

“Navalny’s case has received a foreign policy dimension artificially and without any foundation,” Lavrov said, arguing that his detention was a prerogative of Russian law enforcement agencies that explained their action. “It’s a matter of observing the law,” he added. 

Navalny, 44, President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent and determined foe, brushed off concerns about arrest as he boarded his flight in Berlin on Sunday. 

“It’s impossible. I’m an innocent man,” he said.

Navalny fell into a coma while aboard a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow on Aug. 20. He was transferred from a hospital in Siberia to a Berlin hospital two days later. 

Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established that he was exposed to a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent.

Russian authorities insisted that the doctors who treated Navalny in Siberia before he was airlifted to Germany found no traces of poison. Russia refused to open a full-fledged criminal inquiry, citing a lack of evidence that Navalny was poisoned, and officials have challenged Germany to provide proof of the poisoning 

Last month, Navalny released the recording of a phone call he said he made to a man he alleged was a member of a group of officers of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, who purportedly poisoned him in August and then tried to cover it up. The FSB dismissed the recording as fake.

Navalny has been a thorn in the Kremlin’s side for a decade, unusually durable in an opposition movement often demoralized by repression. Russian authorities have launched multiple criminal investigations against him, and he has been tried and convicted in two separate criminal cases widely seen as politically motivated. 

In December 2014, Navalny was convicted on charges of fraud and money-laundering and received a 3½-year suspended sentence, which he denounced as politically motivated and the European Court of Human Rights found “arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable” three years later. 

The sentence carried a probation period that was due to expire in December 2020. Authorities said the politician was subject to regular in-person checks with law enforcement officers as one of the conditions of his probation. 

Russia‘s prison service first accused Navalny of not appearing for these checks on Dec. 28 — two days before the probation period was supposed to end. 

Navalny and his team rejected the accusations and said the move was an attempt by the Kremlin to keep the politician from coming back to Russia.

Three days before his return to Moscow, the prison service alleged in a statement that Navalny repeatedly failed to appear for the checks, including when he was convalescing in Germany, and said it was “obligated to undertake actions to detain” the politician. 

Navalny had repeatedly said he would come back to Russia despite threats of arrest, saying he didn’t leave the country by choice, but rather “ended up in Germany in an intensive care box,” and said he was still dedicated to his cause. 

“I will go back to Russia, I will continue my work. No other possibility has ever been considered or is being considered,” Navalny said in October. 

___

Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report. 

Russia expels 2 Dutch diplomats in quid pro quo move

Russia expels 2 Dutch diplomats in quid pro quo move

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Associated Press

Monday, January 18, 2021

MOSCOW (AP) – Russia‘s Foreign Ministry on Monday announced the expulsion of two Dutch diplomats in a quid pro quo move.

In December, the Netherlands ordered two Russian diplomats out after the country’s intelligence agency accused them of gathering intelligence information on semiconductors, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it summoned a Dutch envoy Monday to protest the “unfriendly and provocative” Dutch action, adding that the accusations against the Russian diplomats were “slanderous and unfounded.” It said that two Dutch diplomats were ordered to leave Moscow in two weeks “on the principle of reciprocity.”

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Russia-Dutch relations have been strained over the investigation into the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over conflict-ravaged eastern Ukraine, which killed all 298 people on board. Dutch prosecutors have said the airliner was shot down with a missile provided by Russia, the allegations Moscow has denied.

In 2018, the Dutch government also accused Russia’s military intelligence unit of attempted cybercrimes targeting the international chemical weapons watchdog and the investigation into the downing of the Malaysia Airlines plane.

Russia ready for quick extension of last arms pact with US

Russia ready for quick extension of last arms pact with US

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By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV

Associated Press

Monday, January 18, 2021

MOSCOW (AP) – Moscow is ready for a quick deal with the incoming administration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to extend the last remaining arms control pact, which expires in just over two weeks, Russia‘s top diplomat said Monday.

Months of talks between Russia and President Donald Trump’s administration on the possible extension of the New START treaty have failed to narrow their differences. The pact is set to expire on Feb. 5.

Biden has spoken in favor of the preservation of the New START treaty, which was negotiated during his tenure as U.S. vice president, and Russia has said it’s open for its quick and unconditional extension

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a news conference Monday that Moscow is ready to move quickly to keep the pact alive.

“The most important priority is the absolutely abnormal situation in the sphere of arms control,” Lavrov said. “We have heard about the Biden administration’s intention to resume a dialogue on this issue and try to agree on the New START treaty’s extension before it expires on Feb. 5. We are waiting for specific proposals, our stance is well-known and it remains valid.”

New START envisages the possibility of its extension for another five years, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Moscow is ready to do so without any conditions. The Kremlin also has voiced readiness to prolong the pact for a shorter term as Trump’s administration had pondered.

The talks on the treaty’s extension have been clouded by tensions between Russia and the United States that have been fueled by the Ukrainian crisis, Moscow‘s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and other irritants. Sunday’s arrest of Putin’s leading critic Alexei Navalny in Moscow after his return from Germany where he was recovering from a nerve agent poisoning he blamed on the Kremlin would further cloud Russia-U.S. ties.

Joe Biden’s pick for national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, called on Russian authorities to free Navalny. “Mr. Navalny should be immediately released, and the perpetrators of the outrageous attack on his life must be held accountable,” Sullivan said in a tweet.

New START was signed in 2010 by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. It limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers, and envisages sweeping on-site inspections to verify compliance.

Arms control advocates have strongly called for its preservation, warning that its expiration would remove any checks on U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, striking a blow to global stability.

Uganda police surround Bobi Wine’s opposition party offices

Uganda police surround Bobi Wine’s opposition party offices

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Soldiers patrol outside opposition challenger Bobi Wine’s home in Magere, Kampala, Uganda, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, after President Yoweri Museveni was declared the winner of the presidential election. Uganda’s electoral commission says longtime President Yoweri Museveni has won a sixth … more >

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By RODNEY MUHUMUZA

Associated Press

Monday, January 18, 2021

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) – The opposition party of Ugandan presidential challenger Bobi Wine said on Monday that police have prevented top officials from going to their headquarters in the capital, Kampala, as they prepare to launch a legal challenge to free Wine from house arrest.

Police swooped in at dawn at the offices of Wine’s National Unity Platform, diverted traffic, and stopped people from entering, party spokesman Joel Ssenyonyi told The Associated Press.

Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, was the main challenger in presidential elections last week that electoral authorities say long-time leader Yoweri Museveni won with 58% of the vote.

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Wine, who took 34% of the vote, has rejected the official outcome as fraudulent and insists he will use all legal means to protest the allegedly “cooked-up” results. Wine can petition the East African nation’s Supreme Court, but justices have been reluctant to rule against Museveni in previous election suits.

Wine’s party has said it has video evidence of the military stuffing ballot boxes, casting ballots for people and chasing voters away from polling stations.

Opposition lawmaker Medard Sseggona, an attorney for Wine, said he feared police would seize any vital information related to the polls that was kept at the party’s headquarters.

Questions continue to swirl over the validity of the official election results, especially after the electoral commission on Monday acknowledged an account in the local press that results from over 1,000 polling stations had not been counted.

The commission, trying to meet a constitutional deadline, concluded that the vote difference between Museveni and his closest challenger Wine “would not be overturned by votes from the remaining 1,223 polling stations,” it said on Twitter.

The Daily Monitor newspaper reported that the vote-rich central district of Wakiso, widely seen as Wine’s stronghold, was the most affected.

Museveni has dismissed the claims of vote-rigging.

“I think this may turn out to be the most cheating-free election since 1962,” when Uganda won independence from Britain, said Museveni in a national address on Saturday.

But the election was marred by violence ahead of polling day as well as an internet shutdown that remained in force until Monday morning, when access was restored for most Ugandans. Social media sites remain restricted.

Wine has been effectively under house arrest since he cast his vote and now is allegedly unable even to receive visitors. Police thwarted opposition officials who were trying to meet with Wine at his home outside Kampala in order to discuss the way forward, Ssenyonyi said.

Lawmaker Francis Zaake has been hospitalized since Saturday after allegedly being assaulted by police who denied him access to Wine’s house, and Wine tweeted late on Monday that the U.S. ambassador wanted to see him “but was turned away from my gate by the soldiers who have held me and my wife captive for the past five days.”

The opposition party will seek a court order to end Wine’s apparent house arrest, Ssenyonyi said. “His home is not a detention facility,” he said.

Wine told reporters late Sunday that some of his followers “have been abducted and are missing. The military is conducting a massive campaign to arrest our agents. Many are on the run.”

Ugandan police are holding at least 223 suspects over election-related offenses, police said in a statement Monday.

Police spokesman Fred Enanga said security forces are “maintaining a security presence” around Wine’s home as a pre-emptive measure against possible rioting in the aftermath of the disputed polls. Wine is allowed to leave his home under “escort” in order to prevent his followers from “instigating riots and violent demonstrations,” he said.

Police similarly surrounded the home of opposition candidate Kizza Besigye after presidential elections in 2016, preventing him from going out after the official results of his loss to Museveni had been declared.

Wine has said his campaign against Museveni is nonviolent and that his followers are unarmed.

In a generational clash watched across the African continent that has a booming young population and a host of aging leaders, the 38-year-old singer-turned-lawmaker posed arguably the greatest challenge to Museveni, 76, since he came to power in 1986.

Calling himself the “ghetto president,” Wine had strong support in Uganda’s cities, where frustration with unemployment and corruption is high. Museveni‘s support is concentrated in rural areas, where many still praise him for bringing stability. A long-time U.S. security ally once praised as part of a new generation of African leaders, Museveni at the start of his presidency criticized African leaders who refused to step aside but has since overseen the removal of constitutional limits on the presidency.

Uganda’s elections are often marked by allegations of fraud and abuses by security forces.

The U.S. State Department urged “independent, credible, impartial, and thorough investigations” into reports of irregularities.

“We reiterate our intention to pursue action against those responsible for the undermining of democracy and human rights in Uganda,” it said.

Moon urges Biden to learn from Trump’s N. Korea diplomacy

Moon urges Biden to learn from Trump’s N. Korea diplomacy

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks during an on-line New Year press conference with local and foreign journalists at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. (Jeon Heon-kyun/Pool Photo via AP) more >

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By KIM TONG-HYUNG

Associated Press

Monday, January 18, 2021

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – South Korea’s president on Monday urged the incoming Biden administration to build upon the achievements and learn from the failures of President Donald Trump’s diplomatic engagement with North Korea.

A dovish liberal and the son of northern war refugees, Moon Jae-in had lobbied hard to help set up Trump’s three summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but their diplomacy stalemated over disagreements over easing crippling U.S.-led sanctions for the North’s disarmament.

Biden has accused Trump of chasing the spectacle of summits rather than meaningful curbs on the North’s nuclear capabilities. North Korea has a history of staging weapons tests and other provocations to test new U.S. presidents, and Kim vowed to strengthen his nuclear weapons program in recent political speeches that were seen as aimed at pressuring the incoming Biden administration.

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The South Korean leader has been desperate to keep alive a positive atmosphere for dialogue in the face of Kim’s vows to further expand a nuclear and missile program that threatens Asian U.S. allies and the American homeland.

And while Moon acknowledged that Biden is likely to try a different approach than Trump, he stressed that Biden could still learn from Trump’s successes and failures in dealing with North Korea.

During a mostly virtual news conference in Seoul, Moon claimed that Kim still had a “clear willingness” to denuclearize if Washington and Pyongyang could find mutually agreeable steps to decrease the nuclear threat and ensure the North’s security. Most experts see Kim’s recent comments as further evidence he will maintain his weapons program to ensure his regime’s survival.

When asked about the North’s efforts to increase its ballistic capacity to strike targets throughout South Korea, including U.S. bases there, Moon said the South could sufficiently cope with such threats with its missile defense systems and other military assets.

“The start of the Biden administration provides a new opportunity to start over talks between North Korea and the United States and also between South and North Korea,” which have stalled amid the stalemate in nuclear negotiations, Moon said.

“The North Korean efforts to expand its nuclear program and acquire more weapons systems are all because we have not succeeded yet in reaching an agreement over denuclearization and establishing peace. These are problems that could all be solved by success in dialogue,” he said.

During an eight-day congress of North Korea’s Workers’ Party that ended last week, Kim described the United States as his country’s “foremost principal enemy.” He didn’t entirely rule out talks, but he said the fate of bilateral relations would depend on whether Washington abandons its hostile policy toward Pyongyang.

The erosion in inter-Korean relations have been a major setback to Moon, who met Kim three times in 2018 while expressing ambitions to reboot inter-Korean economic engagement when possible, voicing optimism that international sanctions could end and allow such projects.

Moon said the South would continue to seek ways to improve relations with the North within the boundary of sanctions, such as pursuing humanitarian assistance and joint anti-virus efforts against COVID-19.

But Kim during the ruling party congress already described such offers as “inessential” while slamming South Korea for its own efforts to strengthen defense capabilities and continuing annual military exercises with the United States, which were downsized under Trump to create space for diplomacy.

Experts say Pyongyang is pressuring Seoul to break away from Washington by halting their joint drills and to defy sanctions and restart inter-Korean economic cooperation.

During Trump’s first summit with Kim in June 2018, they pledged to improve bilateral relations and issued vague aspirational vows for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula without describing when and how it would occur.

But the negotiations faltered after their second meeting in February 2019 when the Americans rejected the North Korean demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for the dismantling of an aging nuclear reactor, which would have amounted to a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

Moon said that Trump and Kim’s agreement in their first meeting was still relevant and the Biden administration should take lessons from the failures of their second meeting,

“The declaration in Singapore under the Trump administration was a very important declaration for denuclearization and building peace in the Korean Peninsula,” Moon said.

“Of course, it’s very lamentable that the (content of the) declaration remains theoretical because of the failures to back it up with concrete agreements,” he said. “But if we start over from the Singapore declaration and revive talks over concrete steps, it’s possible that diplomacy between North Korea and the United States and between South and North Korea would gain pace again.”

Moon said he hopes to meet Biden as soon as possible and that South Korean officials were actively communicating with their American counterparts to ensure that the North Korea issue remains a priority for the new U.S. government, which inherits a horrendous coronavirus outbreak and domestic political turmoil.

SKorean court gives Samsung scion prison term over bribery

South Korean court gives Samsung scion prison term over bribery

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Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong arrives at the Seoul High Court in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. South Korean court sentences Lee to 2 and a half years in prison over corruption case. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man) more >

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By Kim Tong-hyung

Associated Press

Monday, January 18, 2021

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Billionaire Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong was sent back to prison on Monday after a South Korean court handed him a two and a half-year sentence for his involvement in a 2016 corruption scandal that spurred massive protests and ousted South Korea’s then-president.

In a much-anticipated retrial, the Seoul High Court found Lee guilty of bribing then-President Park Geun-hye and her close confidante to win government support for a 2015 merger between two Samsung affiliates. The deal helped strengthen his control over the country’s largest business group.

Lee’s lawyers had portrayed him as a victim of presidential power abuse and described the 2015 deal as part of “normal business activity.”

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Wearing a mask and black suit and tie, Lee was taken into custody following the ruling. He didn’t answer questions by reporters upon his arrival at the court.

Injae Lee, an attorney who leads Lee Jae-yong’s defense team, expressed regret over the court’s decision, saying that the “essence of the case is that a former president abused power to infringe upon the freedom and property rights of a private company.”

He didn’t specifically say whether there would be an appeal. Samsung didn’t issue a statement over the ruling.

Lee Jae-yong helms the Samsung group in his capacity as vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, one of the world’s largest makers of computer chips and smartphones.

In September last year, prosecutors separately indicted Lee on charges of stock price manipulation, breach of trust and auditing violations related to the 2015 merger.

It isn’t immediately clear what his prison term would mean for Samsung. Samsung didn’t show much signs of trouble during the previous time Lee spent in jail in 2017 and 2018, and prison terms have never really stopped South Korean corporate leaders from relaying their management decisions from behind bars.

Samsung is coming off a robust business year, with its dual strength in parts and finished products enabling it to benefit from the coronavirus pandemic and the prolonged trade war between United States and China.

Samsung’s semiconductor business rebounded sharply after a sluggish 2019, driven by robust demand for PCs and servers as virus outbreaks forced millions of people to stay and work at home.

The Trump administration’s sanctions against China’s Huawei Technologies have meanwhile hindered one of Samsung’s biggest rivals in smartphones, smartphone chips and telecommunications equipment.

Samsung Electronics said earlier this month that its operating profit for the last quarter likely rose by 26% from the same period a year earlier to 9 trillion won ($8.1 billion). The company will release its finalized earnings later this month.

Lee, 52, was originally sentenced in 2017 to five years in prison for offering 8.6 billion won ($7 million) in bribes to Park and her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil. But he was freed after 11 months in February 2018 after the Seoul High Court reduced his term to 2½ years and suspended his sentence, overturning key convictions and reducing the amount of his bribes.

The Supreme Court last week confirmed a 20-year prison sentence for Park, who was convicted of colluding with Choi to take millions of dollars in bribes and extortion money from some of the country’s largest business groups, including Samsung, while she was in office from 2013 to 2016.

The ruling meant that Park, who also has a separate conviction for illegally meddling in her party’s candidate nominations ahead of 2016 parliamentary elections, could potentially serve 22 years behind bars until 2039, when she would be 87.

Choi is serving an 18-year prison sentence.

In a news conference Monday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he has no immediate plans to grant presidential pardons to Park and another imprisoned former president, Lee Myung-bak, who’s serving a 17-year term for corruption.

Conservative politicians and some members of Moon’s liberal party have endorsed the idea of pardoning the former presidents for the sake of “national unity” as the country’s deeply split electorate approaches presidential elections in March 2022.