U.K. set to rediscover freedom after vaccination success

U.K. set to rediscover freedom after vaccination success

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In this Monday, April 12, 2021, file photo, a woman takes a photo on her phone of her drink in Soho, London, as some of England’s coronavirus lockdown restrictions were eased by the government. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali, File) more >

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By Sylvia Hui

Associated Press

Friday, May 14, 2021

LONDON (AP) — When London’s Science Museum reopens next week, it will have some new artifacts: empty vaccine vials, testing kits and other items collected during the pandemic, to be featured in a new COVID-19 exhibition.

Britain isn’t quite ready to consign the coronavirus to a museum — the outbreak is far from over here. But there is a definite feeling that the U.K. has turned a corner, and the mood in the country is jubilant. “The end is in sight,” one newspaper front page claimed recently. “Free at last!” read another.

Thanks to an efficient vaccine rollout program, Britain is finally saying goodbye to months of tough lockdown restrictions.

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Starting Monday, all restaurants and bars in England can fully reopen, as can hotels, theaters and museums. And Britons will be able to hug friends and family again in public, with the easing of social distancing rules that have been in place since the pandemic began.

It’s the biggest step yet to reopen the country following an easing of the crisis blamed for nearly 128,000 deaths, the highest reported COVID-19 toll in Europe.

Deaths in Britain have come down to single digits in recent days. It’s a far cry from January, when up to 1,477 deaths a day were recorded amid a brutal second wave driven by a more infectious variant first found in Kent, in southeastern England.

New cases have plummeted to an average of around 2,000 a day, compared with nearly 70,000 a day during the winter.

Since then, British health officials have raced to get ahead of the virus by vaccinating hundreds of thousands of people a day at hospitals, soccer pitches, churches and a racecourse. As of this week, about 35.7 million people – or approximately 68% of the adult population – have received their first dose. Over 18 million have had both doses.

It’s an impressive feat, and many credit Britain’s universal public health system for much of the success.

Experts say the National Health Service, one of the country’s most revered institutions, is able to target the whole population and easily identify those most at risk because almost everyone is registered with a local, state-employed general practitioner.

That infrastructure, combined with the government’s early start in securing vaccine doses, was key. British authorities began ordering millions of doses from multiple manufacturers late last spring, striking deals months ahead of the European Union and securing more than enough vaccine to inoculate the entire population.

“I don’t think it’s surprising that the two countries in the world with probably the strongest primary care systems, which are us and Israel, are doing the best with vaccine rollout,” said Beccy Baird, a policy researcher at the King’s Fund, a charity for improving health care.

“We have the medical records. We can understand where our patients are. We’re not trying to negotiate with loads of different insurance companies. … It’s the same standard right through the country,” she added. “Whereas in the States, it’s going to be harder to really think about how do you reach underserved communities, how do you get out there and provide the same access to everybody to this vaccine?”

David Salisbury, a former director of the government’s immunization program and a fellow at London’s Chatham House think tank, added that Britain also has the edge because of its track record in successfully rolling out other vaccines, such as the seasonal flu shot.

Many around the world were skeptical about Britain’s decision to delay the second dose by up to 12 weeks to free up vaccine for more people, but that strategy also paid huge dividends. The two shots of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were intended to be given three and four weeks apart.

Anthony Harnden, an Oxford academic and a top government vaccination adviser, said “there were lots of questions asked” and “we were up against many countries” who disagreed with spacing out the two doses, but officials stuck to the plan.

“You have to remember, looking back at that time, there were a thousand or more people dying every day in the U.K. So there was a huge imperative to get our vulnerable people vaccinated,” he said. “It was an innovative strategy, a bold strategy, but it was based on our experience of previous vaccines.”

The vaccine program’s success has been a much-needed boost for Britain.

Many of those who accuse the government of poorly managing the outbreak last year say the U.K. is finally doing something right.

“We didn’t hand (the vaccine rollout) over to an outsourcing company. That would have been a major failure. And we also didn’t delay the way we did in the first wave. We moved quickly,” said Martin McKee, a professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “So it was almost like the mirror image of the mistakes we made in the first wave.”

Still, McKee said he is worried that too many people may throw caution to the wind too soon.

Young people, who run a much lower risk of serious illness but can still spread the virus, are not included in the vaccination program. Official figures also show significant gaps in vaccine uptake among minorities and poor people.

McKee and many others are also concerned about the variants of the virus that are turning up. That risk is especially worrying as the U.K. slowly reopens to foreign tourists this summer.

“We’ve seen very discouraging evidence from Chile and from the Seychelles, both of which have high proportions of people who have been vaccinated and where many restrictions were lifted, and they’ve had upsurges,” McKee said.

Harnden is more optimistic. If the U.K. can roll out a booster vaccine program later this year and if people remain cautious, he said, “we can get ourselves out of this” and get close to normal by the summer of 2022.

“We’re not completely out of this yet,” he said, “but we’re in a much, much better place than in the last few months.”

___

Associated Press producer Mike Fuller in London contributed.

J. Cole – ​l e t . g o . m y . h a n d Lyrics

[Chorus: J. Cole]
Soldier’s song, marching on, on
Hoping to see home
If I die before I
See your smile just one more time

[Verse: J. Cole]
Sometimes I question whether this shit matters
Puttin’ substance into something in a world so used to instant gratification
I found this instrumental on my phone while on vacation
Ib sent it a year ago or so
I probably heard it before, but slept on it, you know?
Shit don’t always connect as soon as you press play
At times you gotta step away, do some livin’
Let time provide a new prescription, givin’ truer vision
I dibble-dabble in a few religions
My homie constantly telling me ’bout Quran, puttin’ me on
I read a few pages and recognize the wisdom in it
But I ain’t got the discipline for stickin’ with it
Now I’m on the way to London, got a show for seven digits
I’m wonderin’ just when did I become my biggest critic?
I wanna be my biggest fan, like how I was when didn’t nobody know my jams
Today my son said, “Dad, let go my hand”
Reminded me one day he’s gonna be his own man
And my job is to make sure he’s equipped
I gotta make sure he not no bitch ’cause niggas bound to try him
If I said I was the toughest growin’ up, I would be lyin’
I had a fear of gettin’ punched while everybody eyein’
Add to that a constant fear of dyin’
By gunshot wound, the other violent type of endings
I kept a tough demeanor on the surface but was mostly just pretendin’
Luckily my bluff was workin’ way more often than not
But sometimes a nigga pulled my card, tryna expose me for a fraud
And with my reputation at stake
I was scufflin’ just to save face
Couple wins, couple losses, some broken up too quick to call it
My last scrap was with Puff Daddy, who would’ve thought it?
I bought that nigga album in seventh grade and played it so much
You would’ve thought my favorite rapper was Puff
Back then I ain’t know shit, now I know too much
Ignorance is bliss and innocence is just ignorance before it’s introduced to currency and clips
Or bad licks that have a nigga servin’ three to six, shit

[Chorus: J. Cole, Bas & 6LACK]
Soldier’s song, marching on, on
Hoping to see home
If I die before I
See your smile just one more time

[Bridge: Bas]
Soldier’s song
I could be one to lean on
Time will right the wrongs
Won’t be long
How can we grow any closer?
How can we grow any closer?
How can we grow any closer?
How can we grow any closer?
Something inside of me’s tryna crawl up to the surface
Something is suddenly smothering, stopping me
Stubbornly getting its way (Way), way (Way)
Drowning out the wave (Drowning out)
I’ve got a reason to believe that I’ll turn out just fine
Soldier’s song

[Outro: Diddy]
Lord, please guide our steps
Watch us, cover us
So that every move we make is in alignment with Your will
Your purpose
Please fill us with Your spirit
Keep us forever in the present
For presence makes the strongest fathers
Teach us how to lead
Show us how to love

Bob Marley 40 Years After Death Personal Doctor Suspects Foul Play

Today (May 11th) marks 40 years since Bob Marley’s death, and to this day, his legacy still lives on in the hearts of his many fans across the globe. His impact was so great that, to date, he still has one of the best-selling albums of all time. His greatest hits compilation, Legend, which was released in 1984, has sold over 11 million copies in the U.S. and has spent nearly 300 weeks on the Billboard 200.

Bob Marley died of acral lentiginous melanoma on May 11, 1981, after being diagnosed in 1977. At the time of his death and for many years after, many fans believed that he was purposefully injected with cancer. It’s a theory that many fervent fans still believe. A recent interview that his personal physician, Dr. Carlton “Pee Wee” Fraser, had with Jamaica Observer may lend some credence to their theory.

He believes that Bob Marley may have been injected with the disease a little while after the assassination attempt at Hope Road. In fact, he added that he believed he is aware of the method of delivery. Most people believe that Marley’s woes started after a football injury but Dr Fraser believes differently. He believes that Marley’s troubles all started with the gift of a pair of sneakers.

“After the attempt to murder him at Hope Road when he was shot, Bob retreated to the hills. A few days later he was given a pair of sneakers. When he tried it on a needle went into his big toe and it was so hard to get it out. He then went on tour and when he was in London the toe got worse and it was said they would have to amputate the leg at the hip,” he said. When this was told to Bob Marley, he insisted that he speak with his own doctor. Dr. Fraser then began researching different techniques that would not require amputation.

“We were in New York because I was not licensed to work in the US and had to work through another doctor. After my presentation, they then suggested that it be amputated below the knee. I did not agree and so the decision was taken to remove the malignant area from the toe,” he explained. After that, the doctor sought out a specialist to verify that the procedure had been a success.

“Her exact words were: ‘Fantastic, you have a clear margin of five millimetres, and in some cases seven millimetres around the tumour, so there is no evidence of spread.’ So we had cured Bob as the cancer in his toe had not spread, and everything was fine,” Fraser recalled.

That’s just one of the reasons that he believes the reggae icon might have been deliberately infected. He shared another instance later in Marley’s life that he thinks led to his final diagnosis. He explained that after the procedure, Bob Marley went back on tour but began to have very strange maladies like nose bleeds and headaches. This was when he was told that cancer from his toe had spread throughout his body. He said he was in disbelief at this point because “we had done all the technical scans and X-rays to make sure there was no evidence of cancer in his toe. According to him, “they definitely know what they did.”

He believes the second instance of Marley being infected came during his tour to promote the Uprising album.

“The guy who handled the lighting for all Bob’s shows said during that tour he was not allowed to work on the lighting. He said for that whole time Bob complained about how hot the lights were and the fact that they burned his skin,” he revealed. Marley pressed on, probably driven by his ideals and his belief that he had a message to spread. That was until September 1980, when just before playing football in Central Park, he collapsed. After Fraser went To New York and various tests were conducted, Marley was told that he had two weeks to live.

That’s when Fraser suggested that the reggae star fly to West Germany to be part of some groundbreaking treatment from Dr. Josef Issels. Fraser discovered Dr. Issels after he saw a newspaper advertisement about his innovative ways of treating cancer. He made contact, and the German physician agreed to take Marley on as a patient, where he stayed for seven months. Things looked good from that point, for a little while. Fraser admitted he was hopeful as Marley seemed on the road to recovery.

“Within weeks of Dr Issels’ treatment Bob was showing signs of recovery. Through the electromagnetic machines the size of the tumours in his brain and lungs were reducing. Bob was improving, his body was responding fantastic to it,” he said.

Fraser explained that before the treatment, the “Three Little Birds” singer could hardly walk but while in Germany, he was doing so well that he wanted to get up and play football. “When we were going up the stairs at first I would go up two steps and then wait for Bob to catch up. Within three weeks he was running up the steps. The nosebleeds and headaches had stopped,” he added.

As time passed, an open laparotomy showed that the tumor was now just a lining in his stomach walls. To Fraser, this meant that the therapy was reversing his cancer. He believed that he was definitely on the road to recovery. This is one of the reasons why he was so surprised to learn that Marley was going home. He wanted him to stay longer until the tumor had completely shrunk. He added, though, that he was not privy to the final meetings with Dr. Issels. It’s a decision that he still grapples with.

“I would not have made him leave Germany until there was no more evidence of cancer, which was definitely disappearing. I would say another month or so of the treatment would have done it as all the complex symptomology associated with the tumours had disappeared. I wanted him to stay there longer so that you would have to use a microscope to find even the scar tissue,” Fraser said.

Just before Marley’s death, Fraser left West Germany for London to deal with some issues there. Following his departure just seven days later, the jarring news came to him that Marley had died while en route to Jamaica at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami, Florida.

“I was dismantled. The news hit me hard. I was in London dealing with Twelve Tribes [of Israel] matters and a brother came and told me Bob had died. How is that? He was doing so well in Germany. Even if he was to die, it should not been so quickly. It was crazy. I could not believe,” Fraser shared with the Jamaica Observer.

The two had become close friends after meeting in 1975. Fraser is a past student of Wolmer’s Boys’ School and studied at Howard University in Washington DC. He met Marley after he joined the Twelve Tribes of Israel and became the organization’s doctor.

He would return to Jamaica to attend Marley’s funeral on May 21, 1981, at the National Arena in St Andrew. He would join over 30,000 people as they mourned the son of the soil who spread a message of peace and love while flying the Jamaican and Rastafarian colors high.

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US downplays prospect of post-Brexit trade deal with UK

US downplays prospect of post-Brexit trade deal with UK

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US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, arrives for talks, during the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting, at Lancaster House in London, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. Diplomats from the group of wealthy nations are meeting in London for their first face-to-face gathering … more >

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By PAN PYLAS

Associated Press

Thursday, May 6, 2021

LONDON (AP) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has downplayed any prospect of an imminent trade deal with a post-Brexit Britain.

In an interview with BBC radio broadcast Thursday, Blinken said any deal would take “some time” and that U.S. President Joe Biden wants to ensure any trade agreement would benefit American workers and their families.

“Our trade negotiator just got on the job, so she’s taking the time to go back and review everything that was discussed and that’s going to take some time,” said Blinken, who was in London in the early part of the week for the Group of Seven meeting of foreign ministers.

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“We want to make sure that, whether it’s with the United Kingdom or anyone else, any agreements reached are consistent with the principles that President Biden has established to focus on making sure that these agreements really advance the wellbeing of our workers and their families. That’s our focus.”

Blinken said the U.S.’s new trade negotiator, Katherine Tai, would be taking time to review the discussions that had taken place with the preceding administration of Donald Trump before progressing with the talks.

Trump had been a keen proponent of a trade deal with Britain, which formally left the economic orbit of the European Union at the start of this year. Now outside the EU, the U.K. can negotiate its own trade deals – previously, when within the bloc, the EU had negotiated trade deals on behalf of its members.

One of the main arguments of Brexit supporters in the runup to the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU in 2016 was the prospect of a swift trade deal with the U.S., the world’s largest economy.

The EU and the U.S. do not have an overarching trade agreement but they do have a series of bilateral deals to ease trade, such as on aviation.

Though the U.S. is the world’s largest economy, Britain’s trade with the EU is far higher as a proportion of its annual GDP. That’s why it was a priority for the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to negotiate an agreement that ensured that tariffs were not put up on trade between the U.K. and the EU. Though tariffs have been avoided, there are numerous non-tariff barriers, such as customs checks, that hinder trade and add costs to businesses.

The Brexit deal has caused particular consternation within Northern Ireland, especially among those who want the region to remain part of the U.K.

As part of the agreement to ensure there is no border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, the British government agreed to customs checks on some goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K., which did not exist when the U.K. was part of the EU.

In his interview, Blinken stressed the importance the president, who has Irish roots, placed on ensuring the gains of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland.

“We want to make sure that, whether it’s with the United Kingdom or the EU, whether it’s anything we’re doing, that we make sure that the tremendous gains from the Good Friday Agreement are sustained and that the economic as well the political wellbeing of Northern Ireland is taken fully into account,” he said.

___

Follow all AP stories about Brexit and British politics at https://apnews.com/Brexit

G-7 calls out China over rights at virus-shadowed meeting

G-7 calls out China over rights at virus-shadowed meeting

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, attends a press conference with India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar following a bilateral meeting in London on Monday, May 3, 2021. (Ben Stansall/Pool Photo via AP) more >

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By JILL LAWLESS

Associated Press

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

LONDON (AP) – Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven wealthy industrialized nations on Wednesday accused China of human rights abuses and economic mischief, but offered little concrete action to deal with an increasingly forceful Beijing.

The top G-7 diplomats meeting in London said they were “deeply concerned” by China’s treatment of the Uyghur Muslim population and other minorities, which includes mass internment in “re-education” camps, forced labor and forced sterilization.

But the U.K., the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan committed only to tackling forced labor “through our own available domestic means,” which could range from public awareness campaigns to laws for businesses, rather than through collective action.

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While the Biden administration in the U.S. is keen for a strong stand against China’s rising economic and political assertiveness, some European G-7 members are more cautious, and the G-7 joint statement stressed the need for a working relationship with Beijing.

The G-7 ministers criticized China for “arbitrary, coercive economic policies and practices” and urged it to stick to international trade rules and “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

At their first face-to-face meeting for two years, the top diplomats sought unity to deal with increasing challenges from China and Russia, smoldering conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Ethiopia and the heavy toll the pandemic is taking on the world’s poorest countries.

The G-7 ministers called for “co-ordinated action and global solidarity” to help the world recover from the pandemic, and backed “affordable and equitable global access” to coronavirus vaccines and treatments. But wealthy countries have been reluctant so far to give up precious vaccine stocks until they have inoculated their own populations.

The group also condemned Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s eastern border and in Crimea and its “malign activities aimed at undermining other countries’ democratic systems.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was flying to Kviv after the G-7 meeting to demonstrate strong U.S. backing for the country’s response to Russian aggression.

The U.K. pushed to hold the meeting in person to give the rich countries’ club a jolt of energy after a period marked by the health crisis of the pandemic and rising nationalism around the world. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is also seeking to project a dynamic “Global Britain” image in the wake of the country’s departure from the European Union.

Delegates at Lancaster House, a grand London mansion, observed social distancing, sat behind transparent screens in meetings and were tested daily for the virus. Even so, India’s foreign minister was forced to go into self-isolation after members of his country’s delegation tested positive for COVID-19.

Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar tweeted that he was attending “in the virtual mode” as a ”measure of abundant caution” after being told he might have been exposed to the virus.

Organizers insisted there was little risk to the rest of the delegates.

India is not a G-7 member but was invited along with fellow democracies South Korea, Australia and South Africa as a guest.

India is experiencing a vast outbreak of COVID-19, with 382,315 new confirmed cases and 3,780 reported deaths in the last 24 hours, in what is widely believed to be an undercount.

The guest nations’ delegations didn’t attend the conference on Tuesday, though Jaishankar has held meetings in London with officials including British Home Secretary Priti Patel and the American secretary of state.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said that “we have no reason to believe any of our delegation is at risk.”

The U.K. is due to host the group’s leaders at a summit in Cornwall, southwest England, in June.

Johnson, who attended the gathering briefly on Wednesday defended the decision to hold the foreign ministers’ meeting in person despite the virus.

“I think it’s very important to try to continue as much business as you can as a government,” the prime minister said.

G7 foreign ministers meet face-to-face after pandemic pause

G7 foreign ministers meet face-to-face after pandemic pause

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Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, right, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attend a joint press conference at Downing Street in London, Monday, May 3, 2021, during the G7 foreign ministers meeting. (Ben Stansall/Pool Photo via AP) more >

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By JILL LAWLESS

Associated Press

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

LONDON (AP) – Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven wealthy industrialized nations gathered Tuesday in London for their first face-to-face meeting in more than two years, with the issue of whether to challenge or coax a surging China high on the agenda.

Host nation Britain is keen to show that the rich countries’ club still has clout in a fast-changing world, and has warned that the increasingly aggressive stances of Russia, China and Iran pose a challenge to democratic societies and the international rule of law.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the meeting “demonstrates diplomacy is back.”

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken underscored the United States’ re-embrace of its international allies since President Joe Biden replaced his “America-first” predecessor, Donald Trump.

Blinken said engaging with China “from a position of strength … means actually working with allies and partners, not disparaging them.”

“It means leaning in and engaging in the vast array of multilateral and international organizations because that’s where so many of the rules are made. That’s where the norms are shaped,” he said. “And if we’re not leaning in, we know that Beijing is likely to be trying to do so in our place.”

At the two-day meeting, top diplomats from the U.K., the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan also were to discuss the military coup in Myanmar, the humanitarian crisis in Syria, the Tigray crisis in Ethiopia and the precarious situation in Afghanistan, where U.S. troops and their NATO allies are winding down a two-decade deployment.

The U.K. Foreign Office said the group would also discuss “Russia’s ongoing malign activity,” including Moscow’s earlier troop buildup on the border with Ukraine and the imprisonment of opposition politician Alexei Navalny.

While the G-7 members likely can agree in broad terms to condemn Navalny’s imprisonment or Beijing’s repression of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang, there are differences over how to relate to countries such as China and Russia that will have to be smoothed out in any final communique on Wednesday.

Asked what message the group would send to authoritarian regimes, Raab said the G-7 believed “in keeping trade open. We believe in standing up for open societies, for human rights and democracy. We believe in safeguarding and promoting public good.”

The G-7 ministers will also try to agree on a way to make coronavirus vaccines available around the globe in the long term. But for now, wealthy countries are reluctant to give up precious stocks until they have inoculated their own people.

The ministers wore face masks and greeted one another with arm and elbow bumps as they arrived at Lancaster House, a grand former stately home in central London. Plastic screens between participants and on-site coronavirus tests were among measures intended to make the venue COVID-secure.

The British government, which holds the G-7 presidency this year, invited the foreign ministers of Australia, India, South Korea and South Africa to join parts of the meeting, including Tuesday evening’s formal dinner. The guest list was intended to underline the G-7’s support for democracies, as well as the U.K. government’s attempts to build stronger ties with Asia in the wake of the country’s departure from the European Union.

Britain’s Conservative-led government hopes the resumption of in-person G-7 meetings – after more than a year of disruption by the coronavirus pandemic – will give the group a jolt of energy and bolster attempts to forge a post-Brexit “Global Britain” role for the U.K.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to host the other G-7 leaders at a summit in Cornwall, England, in June.

Opposition politicians and international aid organizations say the goal of Britain playing a bigger role in world affairs is undermined by the government’s decision to slash its foreign aid budget from 0.7% of gross domestic product to 0.5% because of the economic hit from the pandemic.

Raab said the aid cuts were a “difficult decision” but insisted Britain would become “an even greater force for good in the world.”

Rod Stewart – Born Loose Lyrics

Oowe, baby don’t you count on me
To be here when the sun goes down
‘Cause all those mean old friends of mine are calling
Calling way down the line

Somebody send me a one way ticket
Got to get away from here
Put me on a jet back to London city
Gotta get a belly full of beer, oh yeah

Smile for the camera, please mind your manner
You’ve got to keep your image clean
Clench your fist and don’t you take the piss
Makes you wanna slash your wrist

Stand up, shut up, sit down, throw up
All I wanna do is sing
Responsibility and fidelity
Never meant a thing to me

I was born loose
Running wild
Keep your hands off child
Can’t change me now

I was born loose
Running wild
Keep your hands off me baby
‘Cause you’re too late, too late

Big bombs are crashin’
Never stop clashin’
Wanting every woman in town

Some tried to train me
One tried to maim me
But you can’t keep a good man down

Church bells ringin’, all the kids singin’
When we played the last date on the tour
Janis and Jimi, can’t you hear me
Knockin’ on heaven’s door

Born loose
Was born loose, baby
Slow me down
You can’t slow me down

I was born loose
Born loose, born loose
Wrong side of my mama
Wrong side of my daddy
Wrong side of the tracks

I was born loose, baby
Born loose
Can’t change me now
Can’t change me now

‘Cause you’re too late now
Too late now
Too late now, baby
Too late now

C’mon to change me now
Never change me now
Born loose, born loose

US and UK reject reports of imminent prisoner deal with Iran

US and UK reject reports of imminent prisoner deal with Iran

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Japan’s Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19, sits at a table during bilateral talks with United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on the sidelines of a G7 foreign ministers meeting, at … more >

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By PAN PYLAS

Associated Press

Monday, May 3, 2021

LONDON (AP) – The U.S. and the U.K. dismissed reports coming out of Iran that they are thrashing out a prisoner exchange deal with Tehran that could see the imminent release of a British-Iranian woman, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and four Americans, among others.

Iran was a key topic of discussions Monday between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his host in London, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. Their meeting took place a day before the first face-to-face meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Seven leading industrial nations in two years, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic. Iran, Ukraine, China, Russia, climate change and COVD-19 are expected to dominate the talks.

Blinken’s visit to London, his first since being appointed by President Joe Biden, comes amid mounting speculation of a prisoner swap deal with Iran. Such exchanges are not uncommon and were a feature of the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and the world’s leading powers. Biden has indicated he is looking to restart nuclear talks with Tehran after his predecessor, Donald Trump, pulled the U.S. out of the agreement in 2018.

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“The reports coming out of Tehran are not accurate,” Blinken said at a press briefing after their meeting, adding that he had “no higher priority” than bringing all detained Americans home.

“More broadly on this, we have to take a stand against the arbitrary detention of citizens for political purposes,” he said.

Raab also dismissed the prospects of an imminent breakthrough amid reports in Iran that Britain would pay a 400 million-pound ($550 million) debt to secure Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release. He insisted that the British government was working “very intensively” on the release of detained British citizens in Iran.

“I would say it’s incumbent on Iran unconditionally to release those who are held arbitrarily and in our view unlawfully,” Raab said.

In Britain, there’s particular interest in the well-being of Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was last week sentenced to an additional year in prison on charges of spreading “propaganda against the system.”

The two diplomats discussed an array of subjects, such as sanctions on Russian citizens, climate change and Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan later this year, a process that began in earnest over the weekend. Russia and its aggressive actions toward Ukraine were also on the agenda, with Blinken set to travel to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Wednesday.

Biden is also set to take a new approach with regard to North Korea following a policy review completed last week. Blinken, who met in London with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts earlier Monday, said the new approach will be “practical and calibrated” and urged the leadership in Pyongyang to “take the opportunity to engage diplomatically.”

On Tuesday, the top diplomats from the full G-7 – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. – will meet along with their foreign minister colleagues from selected other countries, including Australia, India and South Africa.

Ahead of the gathering, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned that “authoritarian states” around the world are “trying to play us against each other” and that breaches of international law have become commonplace.

“It is important that we hold our values of democracy, state of law, human rights and a global order based on rules against them, united and credibly,” he said.

Britain’s Foreign Office said the G-7 ministers will invest $15 billion in development finance over the next two years to help women in developing countries access jobs, build resilient businesses and recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

They are also expected to pledge to get 40 million more girls into school and 20 million more girls reading by the age of 10 in poorer nations by 2026.

___

Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report.

US denies Iran claims of prisoner deal; UK plays it down

US denies Iran claims of prisoner deal; UK plays it down

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FILE – This undated file family photo, shows British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. On Sunday, May 2, 2021, Iranian state TV quoted an anonymous official that deals have been reached to release prisoners with Western ties held in Iran. The official … more >

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By JON GAMBRELL and ISABEL DEBRE AND MATTHEW LEE

Associated Press

Sunday, May 2, 2021

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – The United States on Sunday immediately denied a report by Iranian state-run television that deals had been reached for the Islamic Republic to release U.S. and British prisoners in exchange for Tehran receiving billions of dollars.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the report represented a move by the hard-liners running the Iranian broadcaster to disrupt negotiations with the West amid talks in Vienna on Tehran‘s tattered nuclear deal.

It also wasn’t known if there had been any ongoing negotiations with the West over frozen funds and prisoner exchanges, both of which accompanied the 2015 atomic accord.

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Even after an initial American denial, an anchorwoman on Iranian state TV still repeated the announcement.

“Some sources say four Iranian prisoners are to be released and $7 billion are to be received by Iran in exchange for releasing four American spies,” the anchorwoman said. She described the claimed deal as coming due to congressional pressure on President Joe Biden and “his urgent need to show progress made in the Iran case.”

But Iran‘s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht-e Ravanchi, later denied the report of the prisoner swap, saying that it’s “not confirmed,” according to the Telegram channel of state-run IRNA news agency.

Iran has always emphasized the comprehensive exchange of prisoners between the two countries,” he said, without elaborating.

State TV did not identify the Iranians that Tehran sought to be freed.

State Department spokesman Ned Price immediately denied the Iranian state TV report.

“Reports that a prisoner swap deal has been reached are not true,” Price said. “As we have said, we always raise the cases of Americans detained or missing in Iran. We will not stop until we are able to reunite them with their families.”

Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that “unfortunately, that report is untrue. There is no agreement to release these four Americans.”

“We’re working very hard to get them released,” Klain said. “We raise this with Iran and our interlocutors all the time, but so far there’s no agreement.”

Tehran holds four known Americans now in prison: Baquer and Siamak Namazi, environmentalist Morad Tahbaz and Iranian-American businessman Emad Shargi. Iran long has been accused of holding those with Western ties prisoners to be later used as bargaining chips in negotiations.

Despite the American denials, there have been signs that a deal on prisoners may be in the works based on Iranian officials’ remarks in recent weeks.

Although no formal proposal for a swap has yet been presented to officials in Washington, let alone been signed off on by the White House, the specificity of the reports from Iran suggested that working-level consideration of a deal is at least underway.

State TV also quoted sources as saying a deal had been reached for the United Kingdom to pay 400 million pounds ($552 million) to see the release of British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

British officials played down the report. The Foreign Office said the country continues “to explore options to resolve this 40-year-old case and we will not comment further as legal discussions are ongoing.’’

Aside from Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case, the U.K. and Iran also are negotiating a British debt to Tehran from before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Last week, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to an additional year in prison, her lawyer said, on charges of spreading “propaganda against the system” for participating in a protest in front of the Iranian Embassy in London in 2009.

That came after she completed a five-year prison sentence in the Islamic Republic after being convicted of plotting the overthrow of Iran’s government, a charge that she, her supporters and rights groups deny.

While employed at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency, she was taken into custody at the Tehran airport in April 2016 as she was returning home to Britain after visiting family.

Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Zaghari-Ratcliffe, told The Associated Press he was not aware of any swap in the works.

“We haven’t heard anything,” he said. “Of course, we probably wouldn’t, but my instinct is to be skeptical at present.”

Earlier Sunday, U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC that he believed Zaghari-Ratcliffe was being held “unlawfully” by Iran.

“I think she’s been treated in the most abusive, tortuous way,” Raab said. “I think it amounts to torture the way she’s been treated and there is a very clear, unequivocal obligation on the Iranians to release her and all of those who are being held as leverage immediately and without condition.”

The announcement by state TV comes amid a wider power struggle between hard-liners and the relatively moderate government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. That conflict only has grown sharper as Iran approaches its June 18 presidential election.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who pushed for the 2015 nuclear deal under Rouhani, has seen himself embroiled in a scandal over frank comments he made in a leaked recording. Zarif’s name has been floated as a possible candidate in the election, something that now seems unlikely as even Iran‘s supreme leader has apparently criticized him.

Tehran is now negotiating with world powers over both it and the U.S. returning to the nuclear deal, which saw it limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Iran has not held direct negotiations with the U.S. during the talks, however.

As the negotiations continue, Iranian diplomats there have offered encouraging comments, while state TV quoted anonymous sources striking maximalist positions contradicting them. That even saw Abbas Araghchi, the Iranian deputy foreign minister leading the talks, offer a rebuke on Twitter last week to Iranian state television’s English-language arm, Press TV.

“I don’t know who the ‘informed source’ of Press TV in Vienna is, but s/he is certainly not ‘informed,’” Araghchi wrote.

___

Lee reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, and Danica Kirka in London contributed.

Blinken off to London, Kyiv as Ukraine questions resurface

Blinken off to London, Kyiv as Ukraine questions resurface

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken listens during the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate, from the East Room of the White House, Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By MATTHEW LEE

Associated Press

Friday, April 30, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – Secretary of State Antony Blinken is headed to Europe next week for critical talks on Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Afghanistan and frayed transatlantic ties that the Biden administration hopes to repair, the State Department said Friday.

The department said Blinken will visit London starting on Monday for a meeting of foreign ministers of the Group of 7 industrialized democracies and will then travel on to Kyiv amid a burst of concern over U.S. relations with Ukraine, including an FBI raid on former President Donald Trump‘s lawyer Rudy Giuliani and new questions about Russia’s intentions there.

Blinken’s London trip is mainly designed to prepare President Joe Biden’s participation in a G7 leaders summit that Britain will host in June. But it’s also aimed at presenting a united front to address global challenges posed by China, climate change and the coronavirus pandemic.

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In Kyiv, Blinken plans to reaffirm U.S. support for Ukraine against the ongoing challenge of Russian support for separatists in the country’s east and its recent buildup of troops along the border. But, he’ll also raise persistent U.S. concerns about corruption, a significant irritant in relations for years.

On Wednesday, federal investigators executed a search warrant on Giuliani’s home as part of a probe into his interactions with Ukrainian figures and whether he violated a federal law that governs lobbying on behalf of foreign countries or entities. Giuliani had led a campaign to press Ukraine for an investigation into Biden and his son, Hunter, but has insisted all of his activities were on Trump‘s behalf.

The G7 meeting in London is being held against the backdrop of the Biden administration’s desire to restore close, cooperative ties with U.S. allies, notably on confronting China, Russia and climate change. Yet it also comes at a time of widespread unease about Biden’s decision to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in September.

Blinken “is looking forward to discussing the democratic values that we share with our partners and allies within the G7,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. “The United States will discuss how we can work with other countries to address the key geopolitical issues we face as we build back better from this pandemic.”

Blinken’s discussions in London, which will include separate meetings with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, will also focus on economic growth, human rights, food security, gender equality, and women’s and girls’ empowerment, Price said.

After the G7 meetings on Monday and Tuesday, Blinken will visit Kyiv on Wednesday and Thursday for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other senior officials. He will “reaffirm unwavering U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression,” Price said.

But while Russian aggression will top the agenda, several other issues are likely to be addressed.

The first of those is rampant corruption, notably in Ukraine‘s energy sector, which has been a perennial problem and was at the center of Trump‘s first impeachment and Republican attacks on the Bidens. The issue resurfaced just this week with the State Department expressing “deep concern” over the government’s replacement of the board of Ukraine‘s leading energy company.

“This calculated move using a procedural loophole to oust well-regarded experts from the boards of several key state-owned enterprises reflects a disregard for fair and transparent corporate governance practices and complicates long-standing efforts to reform Ukraine’s energy sector and improve its investment climate,” Price said on Thursday.

Back to duty: UK queen returns to public tasks after funeral

Back to duty: UK queen returns to public tasks after funeral

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Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II appears on a screen by videolink from Windsor Castle, where she is in residence, during a virtual audience to receive Her Excellency Ivita Burmistre, the Ambassador of Latvia, at Buckingham Palace, London, Tuesday April 27, 2021. … more >

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By

Associated Press

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

LONDON (AP) – Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday held her first video meetings since the funeral of her husband, Prince Philip, pressing on with royal duties as she formally accepted the credentials of new ambassadors from the Ivory Coast and Latvia.

The monarch, 95, held the virtual audiences from Windsor Castle, where she has lived during the COVID-19 pandemic, while the ambassadors were 20 miles (32 kilometers) away at Buckingham Palace in central London.

The queen, who ended a two-week period of royal mourning on Friday, wore a floral dress and pearls for the occasion.

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Videos from the events were the first released for public view since Philip’s funeral on April 17 at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor. Strict social distancing rules forced the queen to sit alone during the service, a spectacle that touched many who had also suffered bereavement in the pandemic.

But as expected, she is now back at work, and in the public eye.

The week before the funeral, the queen attended the retirement of her Lord Chamberlain, who organizes all ceremonial events for the palace, and welcomed his replacement. Neither event was photographed.

The queen celebrated her birthday last week, using the occasion to express her gratitude for all the well-wishers who offered tributes to Philip, her husband of 73 years.

The royal family was in a “period of great sadness,” but drew comfort from words of praise for the duke, she said.

Lawyer: Iranian-British woman gets another year in prison

Lawyer: Iranian-British woman gets another year in prison

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FILE — In this Jan. 16, 2017 file photo, Richard Ratcliffe husband of imprisoned British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, poses during an Amnesty International led vigil outside the Iranian Embassy in London. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian-British woman long held in … more >

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By JON GAMBRELL

Associated Press

Monday, April 26, 2021

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – An Iranian-British woman long held in Tehran has been sentenced to another year in prison, her lawyer said Monday, drawing immediate criticism from Britain in the high profile case that has prompted international condemnation of Iran.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has already served a five-year prison sentence in the Islamic Republic. Her new sentence comes amid ongoing negotiations in Vienna over Iran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers and as Tehran seeks hundreds of millions of dollars from Britain from a decades-old arms deal.

Her lawyer, Hojjat Kermani, told The Associated Press that she received the second sentence on a charge of spreading “propaganda against the system” for participating in a protest in front of the Iranian Embassy in London in 2009.

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State media in Iran did not immediately acknowledge the sentence, apparently issued after yet another closed-door hearing in her case. Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, told the AP that her lawyer planned to file an appeal.

“I’m not sure I have much faith in the Iranian judicial system after five years of this, but if it keeps her out of prison until it is decided, then it is a good thing,” he said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson immediately condemned the new sentence.

“I don’t think it is right at all that Nazanin should be sentenced to any more time in jail,” he said. “I think it is wrong that she is there in the first place and we will be working very hard to secure her release from Iran, her ability to return to her family here in the U.K., just as we work for all our dual national cases in Iran.”

Johnson added: “The government will not stop, we will redouble our efforts, and we are working with our American friends on this issue as well.” Johnson and his office declined to elaborate on that comment.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab bluntly called Iran‘s sentence “a totally inhumane and wholly unjustified decision.”

“We continue to call on Iran to release Nazanin immediately so she can return to her family in the U.K.,” he said in a statement. “We continue to do all we can to support her.”

The latest twist in Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case comes as Britain and Iran negotiate a long-running dispute over a debt of some 400 million pounds ($530 million) owed to Tehran by London. Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the late Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi paid the sum for Chieftain tanks that were never delivered.

While Iran has denied any connection to the tank payment, Zaghari-Ratcliffe‘s family and their supporters have linked the two.

“Nazanin continues to pay a terrible price, reduced to a bargaining chip between two governments,” said Antonio Zappulla, CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “For how much longer must she be denied her liberty, her family and her future?”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted of plotting the overthrow of Iran’s government, a charge that she, her supporters and rights groups deny. While employed at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency, she was taken into custody at the Tehran airport in April 2016 as she was returning home to Britain after visiting family.

Rights groups accuse Iran of holding dual-nationals as bargaining chips for money or influence in negotiations with the West, something Tehran denies. Iran does not recognize dual nationalities, so detainees like Zaghari-Ratcliffe cannot receive consular assistance. A U.N. panel has criticized what it describes as “an emerging pattern involving the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual nationals” in Iran.

Authorities had released Zaghari-Ratcliffe from prison on furlough last March because of the surging coronavirus pandemic, and she had been detained in her parents’ Tehran home since.

___

Associated Press writers Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.

Ariana Grande – Into you live cover Lyrics

[Verse 1]
I’m so into you, I can barely breathe
And all I wanna do is to fall in deep
But close ain’t close enough, ’til we cross the line, baby
So name a game to play, and I’ll roll the dice, yeah

[Pre-Chorus]
Oh baby, look what you started
The temperature’s rising in here
Is this gonna happen?
Been waiting and waiting for you to make a move
Before I…

[Chorus]
So, baby, come light me up, and, baby, I’ll let you on it
A little bit dangerous, but, baby, that’s how I want it
A little less conversation and a little more touch my body
‘Cause I’m so into you, into you, into you
Got everyone watchin’ us, so, baby, let’s keep this secret
A little bit scandalous, but, baby, don’t let them see it
A little less conversation and a… my body
I’m so into you, yeah

[Bridge]
Tell me what you came here for
‘Cause I can’t, I can’t wait no more
I’m on the edge with no control
And I need, I need you to know
You to know, oh yeah

[Chorus]
(So, baby, come light me up [Light me up])
(And, baby, I’ll let you on it)
(A little bit dangerous [A little bit dangerous])
(But, baby, that’s how I want it [How I want it])
(A little less conversation and a little more touch my body)
(‘Cause I’m so into you, into you, into you)
Let me hear y’all one more time, oh babe
So, baby, let’s keep it secret
A little bit scandalous
Yeah, oh baby
London, I wanna see y’all jump, let’s go

[Outro]
(So come light me up)
So come light me up, my baby
(Little dangerous)
A little dangerous, my boy
Oh yeah, yeah
(‘Cause I’m so into you, into you, into you)

U.K. palace ends silence on Harry, Meghan racism allegations

U.K. palace ends silence on Harry, Meghan racism allegations

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In this Tuesday, July 10, 2018, file photo Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, and from left, Meghan the Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry, Prince William and Kate the Duchess of Cambridge watch a flypast of Royal Air Force aircraft pass over … more >

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By Danica Kirka

Associated Press

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

LONDON (AP) — Buckingham Palace issued a statement Tuesday, saying the family was saddened to learn of the challenges Harry and Meghan had faced in the past few years — and that they would address the issues privately.

The palace said the “issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning,’’ and are taken very seriously.

Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members,’’ the statement said.

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The statement is the first comment by the palace following Harry and Meghan’s two-hour interview with Oprah Winfrey in which they alleged that Meghan had experienced racism and callous treatment during her time in the royal family.

Earlier, some observers had said that Buckingham Palace’s silence on the topic has only added to the furor surrounding the TV interview.

The interview, which aired Sunday night in the U.S. and a day later in Britain, has rocked the royal family and divided people around the world. While many say the allegations demonstrate the need for change inside a palace that hasn’t kept pace with the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, others have criticized Harry and Meghan for dropping their bombshell while Harry’s 99-year-old grandfather, Prince Philip, remains hospitalized in London after a heart procedure.

The interview, which aired Sunday night in the U.S. and a day later in Britain, has rocked the royal family and divided people around the world. While many say the allegations demonstrate the need for change inside a palace that hasn’t kept pace with the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, others have criticized Harry and Meghan for dropping their bombshell while Harry’s 99-year-old grandfather, Prince Philip, remains hospitalized in London after a heart procedure.

During the two-hour interview, Meghan described feeling so isolated and miserable inside the royal family that she had suicidal thoughts, yet when she asked for mental health help from the palace’s human resources staff she was told she was not a paid employee. She also said a member of the royal family had expressed “concerns” to Harry about the color of her unborn child’s skin.

Winfrey later said Harry told her off camera that the family member wasn’t Queen Elizabeth II or Prince Philip, sparking a flurry of speculation about who it could be.

Harry also revealed the stresses the couple endured had ruptured relations with his father, Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, and his brother, Prince William, illuminating the depth of the family divisions that led the couple to step away from royal duties and move to California last year.

Prince Charles didn’t comment on the interview Tuesday during a visit to a vaccine clinic in London.

Harry’s father visited a church to see a temporary vaccine clinic in action and met with health care workers, church staff and people due to receive their vaccine jab. The visit was his first public appearance since the interview aired in the U.S. on Sunday night.

Maziya Marzook, a patient at the event, said “private matters didn’t come up at all” during Charles’ visit.

“He didn’t bring up anything,″ Marzook said. “He was more interested in how the vaccine was and how we feel.”

___

Sylvia Hui contributed to this report.

___

Follow all stories on Prince Harry and Meghan’s interview at https://apnews.com/PrinceHarry

U.K. royals absorb shock of revealing Harry, Meghan interview

U.K. royals absorb shock of revealing Harry, Meghan interview

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This image provided by Harpo Productions shows Prince Harry, left, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, speaking about expecting their second child during an interview with Oprah Winfrey. "Oprah with Meghan and Harry: A CBS Primetime Special" airs March 7 as … more >

Print

By Jill Lawless and Danica Kirka

Associated Press

Monday, March 8, 2021

LONDON (AP) — Britain and its royal family absorbed the tremors Monday from a sensational television interview by Prince Harry and Meghan, in which the couple said they encountered racist attitudes and a lack of support that drove the duchess to thoughts of suicide.

In a two-hour soul-baring interview with Oprah Winfrey, the couple painted a deeply unflattering picture of life inside the royal household, depicting a cold, uncaring institution that they had to flee to save their lives.

Meghan told Winfrey that at one point “I just didn’t want to be alive anymore” and that she had uncontrollable suicidal thoughts. She said she sought help through the palace’s human resources department but was told there was nothing they could do.

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Meghan, 39, admitted that she was naive at the start of her relationship with Harry and unprepared for the strictures of royal life.

The former television star, who identifies as biracial, said that when she was pregnant with son, Archie, there were “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.”

Harry confirmed the conversation, saying: “I was a bit shocked.” He said he would not reveal who made the comment.

The pair, known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, announced they were quitting royal duties last year, citing what they said were the unbearable intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media. That split became official earlier this year, and the interview was widely seen as their first opportunity to explain their decision.

The implications for the interview — which was broadcast Sunday night in the United States and will air in Britain on Monday night – are only beginning to be understood. Emily Nash, royal editor at Hello! Magazine, said the revelations had left her and many other viewers “shell-shocked.”

“I don’t see how the palace can ignore these allegations, they’re incredibly serious,” she said. “You have the racism allegations. Then you also have the claim that Megan was not supported, and she sought help even from the HR team within the household and was told that she couldn’t seek help.”

Anti-monarchy group Republic said the interview gave a clearer picture of what the royal family is like — and it’s not pretty.

“Whether for the sake of Britain or for the sake of the younger royals this rotten institution needs to go,’’ Graham Smith of the campaign group said.

Harry, born a royal prince, described how his wife’s experience had helped him realize how he and the rest of the family were stuck in an oppressive institution.

“I was trapped, but I didn’t know I was trapped,” Harry said. “My father and my brother, they are trapped.”

Meghan, he said, “saved me.”

The younger royals — including Harry, Meghan, Harry‘s brother, Prince William, and William’s wife, Catherine — have made campaigning for support and awareness around mental health one of their priorities. But Harry said the royal family was completely unable to offer that support to its own members.

“For the family, they very much have this mentality of ‘This is just how it is, this is how it’s meant to be, you can’t change it, we’ve all been through it,’” Harry said.

The couple had faced severe criticism in the United Kingdom before the interview. Prince Philip, Harry’s 99-year-old grandfather, is in a London hospital after recovering from a heart procedure, and critics saw the decision to go forward as being a burden on the queen — even though CBS, rather that Harry and Meghan, dictated the timing of the broadcast.

In the United States, sympathy for the couple poured in after the interview. Britain could be less forgiving, since some see Meghan and Harry as a couple who put personal happiness ahead of public duty.

Tennis star Serena Williams, a friend who attended Harry and Meghan’s wedding, said on Twitter that the duchess’s words “illustrate the pain and cruelty she’s experienced.”

“The mental health consequences of systemic oppression and victimization are devastating, isolating and all too often lethal,” Williams added.

Meghan — then known as Meghan Markle, who had starred on the American TV legal drama “Suits” — married Harry, a grandson of Queen Elizabeth II, at Windsor Castle in May 2018.

But even that was not what it seemed: The couple revealed in the interview that they exchanged vows in front of Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby three days before their spectacular wedding ceremony at the castle.

“We called the archbishop and we just said, ’Look, this thing, this spectacle is for the world, but we want our union between us,’” Meghan said.

Archie was born the following year and in a rare positive moment in the interview, the couple revealed their second child, due in the summer, would be a girl.

Holding hands, Harry and Meghan sat opposite Winfrey while she questioned them in a lush garden setting. The couple lives in Montecito, California, where they are Winfrey’s neighbors.

Harry said he had lived in fear of a repeat of the fate of his mother, Princess Diana, who was covered constantly by the press and died in a car crash in Paris in 1997 while being pursued by paparazzi.

“What I was seeing was history repeating itself, but definitely far more dangerous – because then you add race in, and you add social media in,” Harry said.

Both Meghan and Harry praised the support they had received from the monarch.

“The queen has always been wonderful to me,” Meghan said.

But Harry revealed he currently has a poor relationship with William and said things got so bad with his father that at one point Prince Charles stopped taking his calls.

“There is a lot to work through there,” Harry said about his relationship with his father. “I feel really let down. He’s been through something similar. He knows what pain feels like. And Archie is his grandson. I will always love him, but there is a lot of hurt that has happened.”

While clips of the interview have been shared online, and the British press covered the major points, much of Britain won’t see the full interview until Monday night – and many will want to know how the palace addresses this saga. The palace has not responded to the interview.

The royal family has known scandal before – most recently over Prince Andrew’s friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. That led Andrew, Harry’s uncle, to being sidelined from royal duties.

“I’m very sad for the queen,” said Ernest Lee, 76, when questioned in London. “I think she has a lot of problems at the moment, what with one of her sons (Andrew) and scandals and now her grandson busting up, pulling away from the royal family. … We have enough problems in this world without people making more.”

Aj Tracey – Anxious Lyrics

[Intro]
Let's go, yeah

[Chorus]
If you get my number, then don't hit me on no dumb shit
We on demon time, my little hitters make the pump click
I been anxious lately, let me hit two on my blunt quick
I leave Novikov and all these yatties wanna come with

[Post-Chorus]
I run this London town, got smoke, we double down
And we ain't runnin' into trouble, we bring trouble 'round
I smash the radio, my ragers underground
I keep my shooters cool and hold my mother down

[Verse 1]
Yeah, I just heard Drake spit this flow like yesterday, it's crazy (Drizzy)
Taxman on my back, he see my figures gettin' hazy
When I go Selfridges the gyaldem treat me, I'm Swayze
I walk in, tape my off shore, AP rosé goin' brazy (Bling, bow)
My drink is super strong, I'm blessed, I can't be wrong (I can't)
And now my niggas rap, I'm learning all their songs (That's true)
We got glizzy close, you think I'm lyin' too (I'm not)
When I'm outside, approach, my broski flying too
AJ Tracey's such a dickhead, all he do is boast (Why's that?)
He been getting drunk like everyday, he raise a toast (Facts)
I just wanted selfies, but I couldn't get in close (Why?)
When his niggas pull up, I swear them boys do the most
[Chorus]
If you get my number, then don't hit me on no dumb shit
We on demon time, my little hitters make the pump click
I been anxious lately, let me hit two on my blunt quick
I leave Novikov and all these yatties wanna come with

[Post-Chorus]
I run this London town, got smoke, we double down
And we ain't runnin' into trouble, we bring trouble 'round
I smash the radio, my ragers underground
I keep my shooters cool and hold my mother down

[Verse 2]
The way I flex is different, I got so much confidence
I shot 1942 and f*ck the consequence (Woo)
When I reach levels that I want, they'll build me monuments
And don't ask me what licks I hit, 'cause there's no documents
This Balenciaga all over my cotton knit ('Lenci)
I don't panic, when we hit the club we got the stick (We got it)
Five top tens ago my people asked me "Where's the hit?"
Now every quarter I drop songs that could've won a BRIT
I smell like oud, babe, you know this one's Saudi
I'm in 1OAK gangin', locals know I'm clouty (Yeah)
I'm recession proof, I'll run it up, so please don't doubt me
Rolex said they're getting new gems set in, so they'll shout me
[Chorus]
If you get my number, then don't hit me on no dumb shit
We on demon time, my little hitters make the pump click
I been anxious lately, let me hit two on my blunt quick
I leave Novikov and all these yatties wanna come with

[Post-Chorus]
I run this London town, got smoke, we double down
And we ain't runnin' into trouble, we bring trouble 'round
I smash the radio, my ragers underground
I keep my shooters cool and hold my mother down

British-Iranian woman ends 5-year sentence, but not free yet

British-Iranian woman ends 5-year sentence, but not free yet

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FILE – In this March 31, 2019 file photo, Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of British charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is being held in Iran poses for a photo with a giant Mother’s Day card and flowers left on the … more >

Print

By AMIR VAHDAT and ISABEL DEBRE

Associated Press

Sunday, March 7, 2021

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – A British-Iranian woman held in an Iranian prison for five years on widely refuted spying charges ended her sentence on Sunday, her lawyer said, although she faces a new trial and cannot yet return home to London.

The twists and turns of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s years-long case have sparked international outrage and strained already fraught diplomatic ties between Britain and Iran.

Although Zaghari-Ratcliffe completed her full sentence and was allowed to remove her ankle monitor and leave house arrest, her future remains uncertain amid a long-running debt dispute between Britain and Iran and rising regional tensions.

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“It feels to me like they have made one blockage just as they have removed another, and we very clearly remain in the middle of this government game of chess,” her husband Richard Ratcliffe said.

Iranian state-run media reported that she has been summoned to court on March 14 over murky new charges, including “spreading propaganda,” which were first announced last fall. Her trial was then indefinitely postponed, stirring hopes for her return home when her sentence ended. Authorities released her on furlough last March due to surging coronavirus pandemic, and she has remained in detention at her parent’s home in Tehran since.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 43, was sentenced to five years in jail after being convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran’s government, a charge that she, her supporters and rights groups vigorously deny. She was taken into custody at the airport with her toddler daughter after visiting family on holiday in the capital of Tehran in 2016. At the time, she was working for Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency.

The United Nations has described her arrest as arbitrary, and reported that her treatment, including stints in solitary confinement and deprivation of medical care, could amount to torture.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed the removal of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s ankle tag but called for her to be allowed to return home.

“Her continued confinement remains totally unacceptable,” he said on Twitter. “She must be released permanently so she can return to her family in the UK, and we continue to do all we can to achieve this.”

The latest setback in Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case comes as Britain and Iran negotiate a spat over a debt of some 400 million pounds ($530 million) owed to Iran by London, a payment the late Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi made for Chieftain tanks that were never delivered. The shah abandoned the throne in 1979 and the Islamic Revolution installed the clerically overseen system that endures today.

Ratcliffe, who for years has campaigned vocally for his wife’s release, has said that Iran was holding Zaghari-Ratcliffe as “collateral” in the dispute. Authorities in London and Tehran deny that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case is linked to the repayment deal. But a prisoner exchange that freed four American citizens in 2016 saw the U.S. pay a similar sum to Iran the same day of their release.

Her case has also played out against rising tensions over Iran‘s tattered atomic deal with world powers. Since former U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal in 2018, Iran has been accelerating its breaches of the pact by enriching more uranium than allowed, among other actions. Tehran is seeking to press the other signatories to the deal, including Britain, to help offset the economic devastation wrought by American sanctions.

As for Zaghari-Ratcliffe, exactly what will happen next weekend in court remains uncertain. Her family and supporters fear the worst.

“We don’t know how to interpret being summoned … Is it that they’re just going to finish off all the paperwork and release her and give her passport back? Or Is it that they are going to whack her with that second sentence?” her sister-in-law Rebecca Ratcliffe told U.K’s Sky News.

The uncertainty means “there are a few more sleepless nights ahead of us,” she added.

In what the U.N. has criticized as an “emerging pattern,” Iran frequently has arrested dual citizens in recent years, often using their cases as bargaining chips for money or influence in negotiations with the West, something Tehran denies.

Several other dual nationals, including at least one other British citizen and three Americans, remain in prison. Iran refuses to recognize dual nationality, so detainees like Zaghari-Ratcliffe cannot receive consular assistance.

Meanwhile, with her ankle tag off for the first time, Zaghari-Ratcliffe spent the afternoon visiting her grandmother and the family of one of the other British-Iranians held in prison, her husband said.

“It’s a mixed day for us,” Ratcliffe added. “She is having a nice afternoon, has turned her phone off and is not thinking about the rest of it.”

___

Associated Press writer Kelvin Chan contributed from London. DeBre reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Myanmar cracked down brutally on protests. It may get worse.

Myanmar cracked down brutally on protests. It may get worse.

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In this Feb. 26, 2021, file photo, an injured protester is escorted as police tried to disperse a demonstration against the military coup in Mandalay, Myanmar. Myanmar’s security forces have killed scores of demonstrators protesting a coup. The outside world … more >

Print

By VICTORIA MILKO and FOSTER KLUG

Associated Press

Friday, March 5, 2021

TOKYO (AP) – Myanmar‘s security forces have killed scores of demonstrators protesting a coup. The new junta has jailed journalists – and anyone else capable of exposing the violence. It has done away with even limited legal protections. The outside world has responded so far with tough words, a smattering of sanctions and little else.

The slide from a nascent democracy to yet another coup, as rapid as it has been brutal, opens up a grim possibility: As bad as it looks in Myanmar now, if the country’s long history of violent military rule is any guide, things could get worse.

Protesters have continued to fill the streets despite violence that left 38 people dead one day this week – though they have turned out in smaller numbers than the weeks right after the Feb. 1 coup. They have used smartphones to capture the brutality. Recent videos show security forces shooting a person at point-blank range and chasing down and savagely beating demonstrators.

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The military, however, has the clear upper hand, with sophisticated weapons, a large network of spies, the ability to cut telecoms, and decades of fighting experience from civil conflicts in the country’s borderlands.

“We are at a crisis point,” Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations with long experience working with Myanmar, told The Associated Press, pointing to the arrests of journalists, including AP’s Thein Zaw, and the indiscriminate killing of protesters. “The international community needs to respond much more forcefully, or this situation will degenerate into complete anarchy and violence.”

So, will it?

Governments around the world, including the United States, have condemned the coup, which reversed years of slow progress toward democracy. Before that opening up began, Myanmar had languished under a strict military rule for five decades that led to international isolation and crippling sanctions. As the generals loosened their grip in the past decade, the international community lifted most sanctions and poured in investment.

Despite the flurry of recent global criticism, however, there’s not much hope that pressure from outside will change the course of events inside the country. For one thing, coordinated action at the U.N. – like a global arms embargo that the world body’s independent expert on human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, called for – is unlikely. Russia and China, Myanmar’s most powerful supporter, are still selling arms to the military – and they each have a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and thus could veto any such measure. The Security Council will take up the crisis in Myanmar on Friday.

Myanmar‘s neighbors, the countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, are generally loath to “interfere” in one another’s affairs – a policy that means they are unlikely to do anything more than call for talks between the junta and the ousted government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

That leaves sanctions from the United States and other Western countries. Washington imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s top military leaders after the Feb. 1 coup. More pressure came after a U.N. envoy said security forces killed 38 people on Wednesday. Britain imposed sanctions on three generals and six members of the junta in response to the coup and the crackdown. The European Union is drawing up measures to respond to the coup.

But even tough sanctions from those countries are unlikely to yield anything, though they may weigh heavily on ordinary people. Myanmar has ridden out decades of such measures before, and the military is already talking about plans for “self-reliance.”

U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, told reporters this week that she had warned the military that tough sanctions may be coming – and the response was that the generals knew how to “walk with only a few friends.’”

Myanmar’s history suggests the military will use ever increasing brutality and violence in an attempt to put down the protest movement,” said Ronan Lee, a visiting scholar at the International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary University of London. “In the past, the military has been prepared to murder thousands to quell civil unrest or to meet its goals.”

In the face of such determination, some observers question how long the protest movement can last.

“While it may appear at first glance to be a battle of wills, the military has a substantial resource advantage over the average protester and has demonstrated that it’s willing to engage in extreme acts of violence and brutality to try to force compliance,” said John Lichtefeld, vice president of The Asia Group, a consulting firm.

It may get much worse, he said. The military “is an organization with tremendous institutional pride, and it’s possible that hardliners within the military who have been pushing for a more aggressive response are beginning to gain influence.”

The military has also gotten away with past abuse. In 2017 the army slaughtered thousands of minority Rohingya Muslims in massacres that U.N. officials have said bear the “hallmarks of genocide” with few consequences so far.

In a sign of how limited the options are to influence the junta, when asked what more Britain and other countries could do, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab responded: “We will continue to look at how we hold individual members of the regime to account.”

Myanmar’s military is banking on the world going no further than “harsh words, some economic sanctions and travel bans,” Lee, the scholar at Queen Mary University, said. In order to ensure that, it may exercise some restraint in its crackdown – to try to keep violence below a threshold that would compel action – or at least keep it hidden.

This is why, he said, authorities are targeting journalists. It suggests they “understand the value of international exposure to the protesters and are aggressively working to limit it.”

___

Milko reported from Jakarta, Indonesia. Associated Press writers Jill Lawless in London, Jamey Keaton in Geneva, Frances D’Emilio in Rome and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report.

Hospitalized Prince Philip has successful heart procedure

Hospitalized Prince Philip has successful heart procedure

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A Sunday June 3, 2012, photo from files showing Prince Philip watching the proceedings from the royal barge during the Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the River Thames in London. Buckingham Palace said Thursday March 4, 2021, that Prince Philip has … more >

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By Jill Lawless and Danica Kirka

Associated Press

Thursday, March 4, 2021

LONDON (AP) — Prince Philip has had a successful heart procedure at a London hospital and is expected to remain for several days of “rest and recuperation,” Buckingham Palace said Thursday.

The palace said the 99-year-old husband of Queen Elizabeth II “underwent a successful procedure for a pre-existing heart condition at St Bartholomew’s Hospital.”

“His royal highness will remain in hospital for treatment, rest and recuperation for a number of days,” the palace said in a statement.

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Philip, 99, has been hospitalized since being admitted to King Edward VII’s Hospital in London on Feb. 16, where he was treated for an infection. On Monday he was transferred to a specialized cardiac care hospital, St. Bartholomew’s.

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, said Wednesday that Philip’s condition was “slightly improving.”

“We’ll keep our fingers crossed,” said Camilla, who is married to Prince Charles, eldest son of Philip and the queen.

Philip’s illness is not believed to be related to the coronavirus. Both Philip and the monarch received COVID-19 vaccinations in January and chose to publicize the matter to encourage others to also take the vaccine. 

Philip, also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, retired in 2017 and rarely appears in public. Before his hospitalization, Philip had been isolating at Windsor Castle, west of London, with the queen.

Although he enjoyed good health well into old age, Philip has had heart issues in the past. In 2011, he was rushed to a hospital by helicopter after suffering chest pains and was treated for a blocked coronary artery. 

The longest-serving royal consort in British history, Philip married the then-Princess Elizabeth in 1947. He and the queen have four children, eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

His illness comes as the royal family braces for the broadcast of an interview conducted by Oprah Winfrey with Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.

Meghan and husband Prince Harry quit royal duties last year and moved to California, citing what they said were the unbearable intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media.

Relations between the couple and the palace appear to have become increasingly strained. On Wednesday,  the palace said it was launching a human resources investigation after a newspaper reported that a former aide had accused Meghan of bullying staff in 2018.

In a clip from the pre-recorded Winfrey interview, released by CBS, Winfrey asks Meghan how she feels about the palace “hearing you speak your truth today?”

“I don’t know how they could expect that after all of this time we would still just be silent if there was an active role that the firm is playing in perpetuating falsehoods about us,” the duchess says. 

“The Firm” is a nickname for the royal family, sometimes used with affection and sometimes with a note of criticism.

ISIS bride loses bid to return to U.K. to fight for citizenship

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This undated photo shows Shamima Begum, one of three east London schoolgirls who traveled to Syria in 2015 to join the Islamic State group. (PA via AP) ** FILE ** more >

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By Danica Kirka

Associated Press

Friday, February 26, 2021

LONDON (AP) — A woman who ran away from London as a teenager to join the Islamic State group lost her bid Friday to return to the U.K. to fight for the restoration of her citizenship, which was revoked on national security grounds.

Shamima Begum was one of three east London schoolgirls who traveled to Syria in 2015. She resurfaced at a refugee camp in Syria and told reporters she wanted to come home, but was denied the chance after former Home Secretary Sajid Javid revoked her citizenship.

Begum‘s lawyers appealed, saying her right to a fair hearing was harmed by the obstacles of pursuing her case from the camp. The U.K. Supreme Court disagreed, ruling Friday that the right to a fair hearing does not trump all other considerations, such as public safety.

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“The appropriate response to the problem in the present case is for the deprivation hearing to be stayed — or postponed — until Ms. Begum is in a position to play an effective part in it without the safety of the public being compromised,” said Justice Robert Reed, the president of the Supreme Court. “That is not a perfect solution, as it is not known how long it may be before that is possible. But there is no perfect solution to a dilemma of the present kind.” 

Javid argued that Begum was Bangladeshi by descent and could go there.

She challenged the decision, arguing she is not a citizen of another country and that Javid’s decision left her stateless.

The human rights group Liberty said the court’s ruling sets “an extremely dangerous precedent.”

“The right to a fair trial is not something democratic governments should take away on a whim, and nor is someone’s British citizenship,” said Rosie Brighouse, a lawyer with Liberty. “If a government is allowed to wield extreme powers like banishment without the basic safeguards of a fair trial, it sets an extremely dangerous precedent.”

EU tightens vaccine export rules, creates post-Brexit outcry

EU tightens vaccine export rules, creates post-Brexit outcry

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The AstraZeneca office building in Brussels, Friday, Jan. 29, 2021. Amid a dispute over expected shortfalls, the European Union is looking at legal ways to guarantee the delivery of all the COVID-19 vaccine doses it bought from AstraZeneca and other … more >

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By SAMUEL PETREQUIN and RAF CASERT and LORNE COOK

Associated Press

Friday, January 29, 2021

BRUSSELS (AP) – The European Union introduced tighter rules Friday on exports of COVID-19 vaccines that could hit shipments to nations like the United Kingdom, deepening a dispute with London over scarce supplies of potentially lifesaving shots.

But amid an outcry in Northern Ireland and the UK, the European Commission made clear the new measure will not trigger controls on vaccines shipments produced in the 27-nation bloc to the small territory that is part of United Kingdom bordering EU member Ireland.

Under the post-Brexit deal, EU products should still be able to travel unhindered from the bloc to Northern Ireland.

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“In the process of finalization of this measure, the Commission will ensure that the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol is unaffected,” the EU‘s executive arm said in a statement late Friday.

Amid a dispute with Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and British leader Boris Johnson had an unexpected phone call, during which the UK prime minister “expressed his grave concerns about the potential impact which the steps the EU has taken today on vaccine exports could have,” a statement from the British government read.

The EU unveiled its plans to tighten rules on exports of coronavirus vaccines produced inside the bloc amid fears some of the doses it secured from AstraZeneca could be diverted elsewhere. The measure could be used to block shipments to many non-EU countries and ensure that any exporting company based in the EU will first have to submit their plans to national authorities.

The UK and Northern Ireland governments immediately lashed out at the move, saying the bloc invoked an emergency clause in its divorce deal with Britain to introducing controls on exports to Northern Ireland. Goods are supposed to flow freely between the EU and Northern Ireland under special arrangements for the U.K. region designed to protect the peace process on the island of Ireland.

But the EU later said it was not invoking Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol allowing either side to override parts of their deal.

“The Commission is not triggering the safeguard clause,” it said in its statement, adding that the restricting regulations have yet to be finalized and won’t be adopted before Saturday.

The phone call between von der Leyen and Johnson somewhat eased what was quickly becoming a diplomatic flashpoint.

“We agreed on the principle that there should not be restrictions on the export of vaccines by companies where they are fulfilling contractual responsibilities,” von der Leyen said in a statement.

The EU hit out at AstraZeneca this week after the company said it would only supply 31 million doses of vaccine in initial shipments, instead of the 80 million doses it had hoped to deliver. Brussels claimed AstraZeneca would supply even less than that, just one-quarter of the doses due between January and March – and member countries began to complain.

The European Commission is concerned that doses meant for Europe might have been diverted from an AstraZeneca plant on the continent to the U.K., where two other company sites are located. The EU also wants doses at two sites in Britain to be made available to European citizens.

“The UK has legally-binding agreements with vaccine suppliers and it would not expect the EU, as a friend and ally, to do anything to disrupt the fulfilment of these contracts,” the UK said.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot told Germany’s Die Welt newspaper this week that the U.K. government helped create the vaccine developed with Oxford University and signed its contract three months before the EU did. Soriot said that under the British contract, vaccines produced at U.K. sites must go to the U.K. first.

To head off similar disputes and allay fears that vaccines might be diverted, the Commission introduced the measures to tighten rules on the exports of shots produced in EU countries. The “vaccine export transparency mechanism″ will be used at least until the end of March to control shipments to non-EU countries.

The EU insisted that’s not an export ban, although it could be used to block shipments to the UK or many other non-EU countries. Many poorer nations and close neighbors are exempt.

Officials said it is intended to ensure EU member nations get the shots they bought from producers. The World Health Organization criticized the new EU export rules as “not helpful.”

Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and other WHO officials warned of supply-chain disruptions that could ripple through the world and potentially stall the fight against COVID-19.

The “advanced purchasing agreement” with the EU was signed in August, before the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine had been properly tested. The European Medicines Agency approved the vaccine on Friday, making it the third authorized for use by EU nations.

Earlier, the 27-nation bloc and AstraZeneca made public a heavily redacted version of their vaccine deal that’s at the heart of a dispute over the delivery schedule.

The contract, agreed to last year by the European Commission and the drugmaker, allows the EU’s member countries to buy 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, with an option for a further 100 million doses. It’s one of several contracts the EU’s executive branch has with vaccine makers to secure a total of more than 2 billion shots.

As part of an “advanced purchase agreement” with companies, the EU said it has invested 2.7 billion euros ($3.8 billion), including 336 million ($408 million) to finance the production of AstraZeneca’s serum at four factories.

Much of the 41-page document made public was blacked out, making it very difficult to establish which side is in the right. Details about the price of the vaccine were notably redacted. The U.K. is thought to be paying far more for the vaccine than EU countries.

___

Associated Press writers Danica Kirka in London, Nicole Winfield in Rome, Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Thomas Adamson in Paris contributed to this report.

Boris Johnson: U.K. variant of coronavirus likely more deadly

Boris Johnson: U.K. variant of coronavirus likely more deadly

Scientists say data on alarming finding is limited; vaccines still appear to work against the mutation

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Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a coronavirus press conference at 10 Downing Street in London, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. Johnson announced that the new variant of COVID-19, which was first discovered in the south of England, may be … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Friday, January 22, 2021

The fast-spreading “U.K. variant” of the coronavirus might also be more deadly, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday, an alarming development that will burden the British health system and reverberate around the world.

British scientists believe the variant is 30% to 70% more transmissible than the original version.

“In additional to spreading more quickly, it also now appears there is some evidence that the new variant — the variant that was first identified in London and the southeast — may be associated with a higher degree of mortality,” Mr. Johnson said in a Downing Street press conference.

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However, “all evidence” suggests that available vaccines remain effective against the variant.

Reported cases of the coronavirus have decreased over the past two weeks, but U.S. scientists are worried about the fast-moving U.K. strain and another one detected in South Africa.

Until now, scientists felt confident the strain didn’t pose a more serious disease. 

Mr. Johnson’s team said their conclusions are preliminary and based on limited evidence.
England’s chief scientific adviser, Dr. Patrick Vallance, offered an example: He said out of every 1,000 men over age 60 who test positive, roughly 10 would be expected to die under the original strain. They believe 13 to 14 would die under the new strain.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty around these numbers and we need more work to get a precise handle on it,” Dr. Vallance said. “But it obviously is a concern that this has an increase in mortality as well as an increase in transmissibility, as it appears of today.”

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.

UK regulators approve use of 3rd vaccine against coronavirus

U.K. regulators approve use of 3rd vaccine against coronavirus

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A woman wearing a face mask, walks across Westminster Bridge past the Houses of Parliament in London, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered a new national lockdown for England which means people will only be … more >

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By Danica Kirka and Jill Lawless

Associated Press

Friday, January 8, 2021

LONDON (AP) — Britain has authorized a coronavirus vaccine developed by Moderna, the third to be licensed for use in the country as it ramps up a vaccination program critical to lifting the country out of the pandemic.

The Department of Health said Friday that the vaccine meets the regulator’s “strict standards of safety, efficacy and quality.” Britain has ordered an additional 10 million doses of the vaccine, bringing the total to 17 million doses. They are not expected to be delivered to the U.K. until spring.

“Vaccines are the key to releasing us all from the grip of this pandemic, and today’s news is yet another important step towards ending lockdown and returning to normal life,” Business Secretary Alok Sharma said.

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So far, Britain has inoculated 1.5 million people with the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccines. It plans to vaccinate some 15 million people by mid-February.

With hospitals overwhelmed with patients and medical personnel under unprecedented strain, the quick uptake of vaccines is ever more critical.

NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens said Thursday that the pressures facing hospitals in London and the southeast of England are so acute that the Nightingale hospital at the ExCel London will be opened next week.

The hospital was one of several built in the spring to help during the pandemic, but wasn’t used. They were named after Florence Nightingale, widely considered to be the founder of modern nursing.

“The entirety of the health service in London is mobilizing to do everything it possibly can, but the infections, the rate of growth in admissions, that is what collectively the country has got to get under control,” he said.

The U.K. is recording virus-related deaths on a par with some of the worst days early in the pandemic. On Thursday, government figures showed that another 1,162 people were reported to have died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus.

The U.K.’s total virus-related death toll is now 78,508. According to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University, the U.K. has the most COVID-related deaths in Europe and the fifth most in the world.

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Julian Assange case: U.K. judge refuses extradition of WikiLeaks founder

U.K. judge refuses extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

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In this May 19, 2017, file photo, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange greets supporters outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been in self-imposed exile since 2012. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File) more >

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By Jill Lawless

Associated Press

Monday, January 4, 2021

LONDON (AP) — A British judge on Monday rejected the United States’ request to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to face espionage charges, saying he was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions.

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected allegations that Assange is being prosecuted for political reasons or would not receive a fair trial in the United States. But she said his precarious mental health would likely deteriorate further under the conditions of “near total isolation” he would face in U.S. prison.

“I find that the mental condition of Mr. Assange is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America,” the judge said.

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She said Assange was “a depressed and sometimes despairing man” who had the “intellect and determination” to circumvent any suicide prevention measures taken by American prison authorities.

The U.S. government said it would appeal the decision. Assange’s lawyers plan to ask for his release from a London prison where he has been held for more than a year-and-a-half.

Assange, who sat in the dock at London’s Central Criminal Court for the ruling, wiped his brow as the decision was announced. His partner Stella Moris, with whom he has two young sons, wept.

Assange’s American lawyer, Barry Pollack, said the legal team was “enormously gratified by the U.K. court’s decision denying extradition.”

“The effort by the United States to prosecute Julian Assange and seek his extradition was ill-advised from the start,” he said. “We hope that after consideration of the U.K. court’s ruling, the United States will decide not to pursue the case further.”

The ruling marks a dramatic moment in Assange’s years-long legal battles in Britain — though likely not its final chapter.

U.S. prosecutors have indicted Assange on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked military and diplomatic documents a decade ago. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.

Lawyers for the 49-year-old Australian argue that he was acting as a journalist and is entitled to First Amendment protections of freedom of speech for publishing leaked documents that exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The judge, however, said Assange’s actions, if proven, would “amount to offenses in this jurisdiction that would not be protected by his right to freedom of speech.”

The defense also argued during a three-week hearing in the fall that extradition threatens Assange’s human rights because he risks “a grossly disproportionate sentence” and detention in “draconian and inhumane conditions” that would exacerbate his severe depression and other mental health problems.

The judge agreed with that argument, She said Assange suffered from moderate to severe clinical depression and was a “sometimes despairing man” genuinely fearful about his future.

Lawyers for the U.S. government deny that Assange is being prosecuted merely for publishing the leaked documents, saying the case “is in large part based upon his unlawful involvement” in the theft of the diplomatic cables and military files by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.

The prosecution of Assange has been condemned by journalists and human rights groups, who say it undermines free speech around the world.
They welcomed the judge’s decision, even though it was not made on free-speech grounds.

“This is a huge relief to anyone who cares about the rights of journalists,” The Freedom of the Press Foundation tweeted:

“The extradition request was not decided on press freedom grounds; rather, the judge essentially ruled the U.S. prison system was too repressive to extradite. However, the result will protect journalists everywhere.”

Assange’s legal troubles began in 2010, when he was arrested in London at the request of Sweden, which wanted to question him about allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two women. In 2012, to avoid being sent to Sweden, Assange sought refuge inside the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he was beyond the reach of U.K. and Swedish authorities — but also effectively a prisoner, unable to leave the tiny diplomatic mission in London’s tony Knightsbridge area.

The relationship between Assange and his hosts eventually soured, and he was evicted from the embassy in April 2019. British police immediately arrested him for jumping bail in 2012.

Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in November 2019 because so much time had elapsed, but Assange remains in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison, brought to court in a prison van throughout his extradition hearing.

UK ramps up inoculations with Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine

U.K. first in world to start using Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine

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Doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca are logged by a technical officer, as they arrive at the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, England, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. The U,K, has 530,000 doses … more >

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By Danica Kirka

Associated Press

Monday, January 4, 2021

LONDON (AP) — The U.K. on Monday became the first nation in the world to start using the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University and drugmaker AstraZeneca, ramping up a nationwide inoculation program as rising infection rates are putting an unprecedented strain on British hospitals.

Brian Pinker, an 82-year-old dialysis patient, received the first shot at 7:30 a.m. at Oxford University Hospital.

“The nurses, doctors and staff today have all been brilliant, and I can now really look forward to celebrating my 48th wedding anniversary with my wife, Shirley, later this year,” Pinker said in a statement released by the National Health Service.

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The rollout of the new vaccine comes at a crucial moment for U.K. authorities, who are battling a surge in infections blamed on a new virus variant that authorities have said is much more contagious. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who announced a wave of tight restrictions the weekend before Christmas, says even tougher regulations will be announced soon.

The U.K. is in the midst of an acute outbreak, recording more than 50,000 new coronavirus infections a day over the past six days. On Sunday, it notched up another 54,990 cases and 454 more virus-related deaths to take its confirmed pandemic death toll total to over 75,000, one of the worst in Europe. Some areas northeast of London have infection rates of over 1,000 cases per 100,000 people.

“If you look at the numbers, there’s no question we will have to take tougher measures and we will be announcing those in due course,” Johnson said Monday.

U.K. regulators last week authorized emergency use of the OxfordAstraZeneca shot, giving public health officials a second vaccine in their medical arsenal. Britain’s mass vaccination program began Dec. 8 with the shot developed by New York-based Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.

Britain has secured the rights to 100 million doses of the OxfordAstraZeneca vaccine, which is cheaper and easier to use than some of its rivals. In particular, it doesn’t require the super-cold storage needed for the Pfizer vaccine.

The new vaccine will be administered at a small number of hospitals for the first few days so authorities can watch out for any adverse reactions. But the NHS said hundreds of new vaccination sites — including local doctors’ offices — will open later this week, joining the more than 700 vaccination sites already in operation.

A “massive ramp up operation” is now underway in the vaccination program, Johnson said Monday at Chase Farm Hospital in north London, where he met with some of the first people to receive the OxfordAstraZeneca shot.

But aspects of Britain’s vaccination plans have spurred controversy.

Both vaccines require two shots, and Pfizer had recommended that the second dose be given within 21 days of the first. But The U.K.’s Joint Committee on

Vaccination and Immunization said authorities should give the first vaccine dose to as many people as possible, rather than setting aside shots to ensure others receive two doses. It has stretched out the time between the doses from 21 days to within 12 weeks.

While two doses are required to fully protect against COVID-19, both provide high levels of protection after the first dose, the committee said. Making the first dose the priority will “maximize benefits from the vaccination program in the short term,” it said.

Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said policymakers are being forced to balance the potential risks of this change against the benefits in the middle of a deadly pandemic.

“We have a crisis situation in the UK with a new variant spreading rapidly, and as has become clear to everyone during 2020, delays cost lives,” Evans said.

“When resources of doses and people to vaccinate are limited, then vaccinating more people with potentially less efficacy is demonstrably better than a fuller efficacy in only half.”

In England alone, 23,557 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Saturday. While figures for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales haven’t been updated in recent days, that’s higher than the U.K.-wide peak during the first wave of the pandemic.

The government closed non-essential shops across London and parts of southeast England before Christmas to try to contain the new variant, but health officials say tougher measures are now needed.

Johnson said there were “tough, tough” weeks to come in the fight against COVID-19. More school closures, curfews and the total banning of household mixing could be on the agenda.

While schools in London are already closed due to high infection rates in the capital, students in many parts of the country were returning to in-person classes Monday after the Christmas holidays. Unions representing teachers, however, have called for schools throughout England to remain closed for at least two weeks, with classes shifted to remote learning.

Professor Andrew Pollard, one of the scientists who led development of the OxfordAstraZeneca vaccine, received his shot on Monday.

“It was an incredibly proud moment for me, to have received the actual vaccine that the University of Oxford and the AstraZeneca teams have worked so hard to make available to the U.K. and the world,” he said.

Julian Assange case: British judge to rule soon on U.S. extradition request

British judge to rule on Julian Assange extradition Monday

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In this Wednesday May 1, 2019 file photo buildings are reflected in the window as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is taken from court, where he appeared on charges of jumping British bail seven years ago, in London. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, … more >

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By Andrew Blake

The Washington Times

Thursday, December 31, 2020

WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange is set to soon learn whether a British court believes he should be sent to the U.S. to face charges related to the infamous secret-spilling website he started.

A judge in London is scheduled to announce her decision Monday in the extradition case surrounding Mr. Assange, 49, an Australian citizen wanted in the U.S. for multiple felonies involving WikiLeaks.

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser is expected to deliver the verdict from London’s Central Criminal Court, where lawyers on both sides of the extradition battle made their cases earlier this year.

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A decision favoring the U.S. would open the door for Mr. Assange to be sent there to face charges related to soliciting, receiving and sharing classified military and diplomatic materials.

Her ruling may be appealed either way, however, making a final decision on the fate of Mr. Assange, who risks spending the rest of his life in prison if extradited to the U.S., still a way off.

Defenders of Mr. Assange have recently sought to spare him the possibility of being extradited or imprisoned by pushing for President Trump to grant him a pardon before leaving office soon.

The White House press office referred to the National Security Council when asked about the push for Mr. Trump to pardon Mr. Assange before President-elect Joseph R. Biden succeeds him on Jan. 20.

A spokesperson for the National Security Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Assange helped launch WikiLeaks in 2006, and he was at the helm of the site during the years that followed as it released material damaging to various governments around the globe.

Eric Holder, former President Barack Obama’s first attorney general, announced the U.S. was investigating WikiLeaks shortly after it published classified State Department diplomatic cables in 2010.

A military court later convicted Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. Army analyst, in connection with supplying WikiLeaks with those cables and a multitude of Department of Defense material as well.

Ms. Manning was subsequently ordered to spend 35 years in prison, but she had most of that sentence commuted by Mr. Obama during the final days of his presidency and was released early in May 2017.

In the interim, in 2012, Mr. Assange sought refuge inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He stayed for seven years before he was ejected and arrested in April 2019 and has been jailed ever since.

Although the Obama presidency ended without federal prosecutors charging Mr. Assange, the Trump administration made it clear right away it hoped to put him in prison.

Jeff Sessions, Mr. Trump’s first attorney general, said in April 2017 that arresting Mr. Assange was a “priority.” That goal was ultimately achieved roughly two years later.

Mr. Assange faces 17 counts of violating the U.S. Espionage Act and one count of conspiring to commit computer hacking. He argues he acted as a journalist while the Justice Department disagrees.

Among material Ms. Manning gave WikiLeaks to be released were detailed reports about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as evidence of U.S. airstrike that killed two journalists for Reuters.

EU officials sign Brexit trade deal as UK lawmakers debate

EU officials sign Brexit trade deal as U.K. lawmakers debate

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In this Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, file photo, a colleague wears a Christmas hat as European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier, center, carries a binder of the Brexit trade deal during a special meeting of Coreper, at the European Council … more >

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By Jill Lawless and Samuel Petrequin

Associated Press

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

LONDON (AP) — On the eve of the U.K.’s seismic economic split from the European Union, British lawmakers were being asked to turn a 1,200-page trade agreement with the bloc into law in a single day on Wednesday.

Just after the EU’s top officials formally signed the hard-won agreement in Brussels, Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged legislators in the House of Commons to back a deal that he said heralded “a new relationship between Britain and the EU as sovereign equals.”

The U.K. left the EU almost a year ago, but remained within the bloc’s economic embrace during a transition period that ends at midnight Brussels time — 11 p.m. in London — on Thursday.

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The deal will then enter into force, if Britain’s Parliament has approved it. The European Parliament also must sign off on the agreement, but is not expected to do so for several weeks.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel signed the agreement during a brief ceremony in Brussels on Wednesday morning. The documents were then being flown by Royal Air Force plane to London for Johnson to add his signature.

“The agreement that we signed today is the result of months of intense negotiations in which the European Union has displayed an unprecedented level of unity,” Michel said. “It is a fair and balanced agreement that fully protects the fundamental interests of the European Union and creates stability and predictability for citizens and companies.”

It has been four-and-a-half years since Britain voted by 52% to 48% to leave the bloc that it had joined in 1973. The real repercussions of that decision have yet to be felt, since the U.K.’s economic relationship with the EU remained unchanged during the 11-month post-Brexit transition period.

That will change on New Year’s Day. The agreement, hammered out after more than nine months of tense negotiations and sealed on Christmas Eve, will ensure Britain and the 27-nation EU can continue to trade in goods without tariffs or quotas. That should help protect the 660 billion pounds ($894 billion) in annual trade between the two sides, and the hundreds of thousands of jobs that rely on it.

But the end to Britain’s membership in the EU’s vast single market and customs union will still bring inconvenience and new expense for both individuals and businesses – from the need for tourists to have travel insurance to the millions of new customs declarations that firms will have to fill out.

Brexit supporters, including Johnson, say any short-term pain will be worth it.

Johnson said the Brexit deal would turn Britain from “a half-hearted, sometimes obstructive member of the EU” into “a friendly neighbor — the best friend and ally the EU could have.”

He said Britain would now “trade and cooperate with our European neighbors on the closest terms of friendship and goodwill, whilst retaining sovereign control of our laws and our national destiny.”

Some lawmakers griped about being given only five hours in Parliament to scrutinize a deal that will mean profound changes for Britain’s economy and society. But it is highly likely to get backing from the House of Commons, where Johnson’s Conservative Party has a large majority.

The party’s powerful euroskeptic wing, which fought for years for the seemingly longshot goal of taking Britain out of the EU, has backed the deal.

The strongly pro-EU Scottish National Party and Liberal Democrats plan to vote against the bill. But the main opposition Labour Party, which had sought a closer relationship with the bloc, said it would vote for the agreement because even a thin deal was better than a chaotic no-deal rupture.

“We have only one day before the end of the transition period, and it’s the only deal that we have,” said Labour leader Keir Starmer. “It’s a basis to build on in the years to come.”

Former Prime Minister Theresa May, who resigned in 2019 after three years of Brexit acrimony in Parliament, said she would vote for Johnson’s agreement. But she said it was worse than the one she had negotiated with the bloc, which lawmakers repeatedly rejected.

She noted that the deal protected trade in goods but did not cover services, which account for 80% of Britain’s economy.

“We have a deal in trade, which benefits the EU, but not a deal in services, which would have benefitted the U.K.,” May said.

___

Petrequin reported from Brussels.

Gibraltar’s border with Spain still in doubt after Brexit

Gibraltar’s border with Spain still in doubt after Brexit

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FILE – In this Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019 file photo, an eerial view of Gibraltar rock seen from the neighbouring Spanish city of La Linea, during a general election in Gibraltar. (AP Photo/Javier Fergo, File) more >

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By JOSEPH WILSON and BARRY HATTON

Associated Press

Monday, December 28, 2020

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – While corks may have popped in London and Brussels over the end to a four-year saga known as Brexit, there is one rocky speck of British soil still left in limbo.

Gibraltar, a British colony jutting off the southern tip of Spain’s mainland, wasn’t included in the Brexit trade deal announced on Christmas Eve between the European Union and the United Kingdom to reorganize the commercial and trade relations between the now 27-member bloc and the first nation to exit the group.

The deadline for Gibraltar remains Jan. 1, when a transitionary period regulating the short frontier between Gibraltar and Spain expires. If no deal is reached, there are serious concerns that a hard border would cause disruption for the workers, tourists and major business connections across the two sides.

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Spain succeeded in convincing the EU to separate the issue of Gibraltar from the greater Brexit negotiations, meaning that Madrid is handling all talks directly with its counterparts in Gibraltar and London.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya said Thursday that if an agreement isn’t reached, she fears that the long lines of stranded truck drivers seen at the English Channel crossing this past week could be repeated.

“We do not have much time, and the scenes of chaos from the U.K. must remind us that we need to keep working to reach a deal on Gibraltar,” González Laya told Spanish state broadcaster RTVE. “Spaniards want one, the people of Gibraltar want one, now the U.K. needs to desire one as well. Political will is needed.”

Throughout the Brexit talks, Spain has insisted it wants a say on the future of Gibraltar.

The Rock was ceded to Britain in 1713, but Spain has never dropped its claim to sovereignty over it. For three centuries, the strategic outcrop of high terrain has given British navies command of the narrow seaway from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.

“Neither side is going to renounce its pretensions of sovereignty, but we must set that aside to reach a deal that makes lives easier for those living on both sides of the border,” González Laya said.

More than 15,000 people live in Spain and work in Gibraltar, making up about 50% of Gibraltar’s labor force. Gibraltar’s population of about 34,000 was overwhelmingly against Britain leaving the European Union. In the U.K.’s 2016 Brexit referendum, 96% of voters in Gibraltar supported remaining in the continental bloc that they feel gives them more leverage to deal with the government in Madrid.

The territory still remembers how, in 1969, Spanish dictator Gen. Francisco Franco slammed shut the border in an attempt to wreck Gibraltar’s economy.

Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said the post-Brexit trade deal “is a huge relief given the potential difficulties that a no-deal Brexit might have created for the United Kingdom and the European Union.”

But he added that his territory is still at risk.

“This deal does not cover Gibraltar. For us, and for the people of the Campo de Gibraltar around us, the clock is still ticking,” Picardo said in a statement.

“We continue to work, hand in glove with the United Kingdom, to finalize negotiation with Spain of agreement for a proposed treaty between the EU and the U.K. in relation to Gibraltar,” he said.

Picardo recently told Spain’s Cadena SER radio that “an agreement in the fashion of Schengen would be the most positive” outcome to facilitate the 30 million annual border crossings between Gibraltar and Spain.

The Europe’s Schengen area consists of about two dozen nations who have agreed to eliminate general travel checks within the group, although some local checks have been reintroduced due to the pandemic. Britain is not in the Schengen group.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government also said it’s committed to finding a solution that includes “ensuring border fluidity, which is clearly in the best interests of the communities that live on both sides.”

___

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

Britain and European Union reach post-Brexit trade agreement

‘Fair & balanced agreement’: Britain and EU reach post-Brexit trade agreement

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Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020. Britain and the European Union have struck a provisional free-trade agreement that should avert New Year’s chaos for cross-border commerce and bring … more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Britain and the European Union reached a last-minute trade agreement Thursday, paving the way for an end to more than four years of turmoil that has surrounded the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU — a departure slated to be finalized at year’s end.

After 11 rocky months of negotiations, the Christmas Eve deal set the terms for how the two will interact economically as separate entities by establishing dispute resolution mechanisms and fair competition rules, and resolving what had become heated disputes on fishing rights and other issues.

Although both sides made compromises, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared victory and framed the deal as icing on a cake of independence that the U.K. baked when it voted in 2016 to free itself of economic and bureaucratic strain that most Britons had come to associate with EU membership.

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“We have taken back control of our laws and our destiny,” Mr. Johnson declared, circulating photos of himself beaming and flashing thumbs-up signs on social media.

Mr. Johnson told a Downing Street press conference that Britain had finally resolved a matter “that has bedeviled our politics for decades, and it is up to us all together as a newly and truly independent nation to realize the immensity of this moment and to make the most of it.”

He also appeared eager to temper the notion that Britain no longer considers itself European. “Although we have left the EU, this country will remain culturally, emotionally, historically, strategically, geologically attached to Europe,” he said.

“I think this deal means a new stability and a new certainty in what has sometimes been a fractious and difficult relationship,” Mr. Johnson said, reminding observers in the EU that “we will be your friend, your ally, your supporter and — indeed, never let it be forgotten — your No. 1 market.”

His comments coincided with similar celebratory exclamations from EU leaders, who sought to portray the trade agreement as a win-win for both sides.

“We now have a fair & balanced agreement,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a message on Twitter.

The deal requires ratification by the European and British parliaments but is expected to rapidly ease growing chaos that has surrounded cross-border commerce in recent days.

“It will protect our EU interests, ensure fair competition & provide predictability for our fishing communities,” Mrs. Von der Layen tweeted. “Europe is now moving on.”

The U.K. has remained part of the EU’s single market and customs union during the 11-month post-Brexit transition period. The Associated Press noted Thursday that, as a result, many people have noticed little impact thus far from Brexit.

On Jan. 1, however, the breakup will start feeling real. Even with a trade deal, goods and people will no longer be able to move freely between the U.K. and its continental neighbors without border restrictions.

EU citizens will no longer be able to live and work in Britain without visas— though that does not apply to the 4 million already doing so — and Britons can no longer automatically work or retire in EU nations. Exporters and importers face customs declarations, goods checks and other obstacles.

The U.K.-EU border is already reeling from restrictions placed on travelers from Britain into France and other European countries because of the new variant of the coronavirus sweeping through London and southern England.

With that as a backdrop, the deal was reached just more than a week before a deadline set for Britain to complete its split from the EU and set into motion a race to approve and ratify the agreement.

Both sides are expected to move quickly.

Although the British political landscape has been one of struggle since the country shocked the world with its 2016 vote to leave the EU, all indications are that the deal will quickly be ratified in London. The British Parliament is set to vote on Dec. 30.

Nigel Farage, the ultraconservative leader of the country’s Brexit Party, appears to have given the deal his blessing. The “deal is not perfect but it is a big moment,” he tweeted.

“This victory is a tribute to the ordinary men and women who stood up against the Westminster establishment — and won,” Mr. Farage said. “There is no going back.”

The deal was reached 4½ years after Britons voted 52% to 48% to leave the EU and, in the words of the Brexiteers’ campaign slogan, “take back control” of the country’s borders and laws.

It took more than three years of wrangling before Britain left the bloc’s political structures in January. Disentangling the two sides’ economies and reconciling Britain’s desire for independence with the EU’s aim of preserving its unity has taken longer, playing out over the past year.

Once ratified by both sides, the agreement will ensure Britain and the 27-nation bloc can continue to trade in goods without tariffs or quotas.

The devil will be in the details of the 2,000-page agreement, but both sides said the deal protects their cherished goals. Britain said it gives the U.K. control over its money, borders, laws and fishing waters and ensures the country is “no longer in the lunar pull of the EU.”

Tense and often testy negotiations gradually whittled differences between EU and British negotiators on the three key issues of fair competition rules, mechanisms for resolving future disputes and fishing rights.

The rights of EU boats to trawl in British waters — an economically minor but symbolically huge issue — was the last obstacle. Maritime EU nations were seeking to retain access to U.K. waters, where they have long fished, but Britain insisted it must exercise control as an “independent coastal state.”

Under the deal, the EU is giving up a quarter of the quota it catches in U.K. waters, far less than the 80% Britain initially demanded. The system will be in place for 5½ years, after which the quotas will be reassessed.

Mrs. Von der Leyen said the deal more broadly protects the EU’s single market and contains safeguards to ensure Britain does not unfairly undercut the bloc’s standards.

Mr. Johnson’s government, meanwhile, has acknowledged that a chaotic no-deal exit — or a “crash-out,” as the British call it — could have resulted in turmoil costing hundreds of thousands of jobs. Analysts say it would probably have triggered gridlock at the country’s ports, temporary shortages of some goods and price increases for staple foods.

To avoid that, negotiating sessions alternating between London and Brussels — and sometimes disrupted by the pandemic — gradually whittled down differences between the two sides.

Brexit has been championed and celebrated by the Trump administration, as well as by pro-sovereignty and nationalist political movements around the world. In many regions, the period was marked by public disillusionment with so-called establishment institutions, globalization and some multinational organizations.

Despite the jubilation in London, some observers argue that the political upheaval triggered by Brexit has been so damaging over the past four years that it has become hard for EU supporters not to view the entire ordeal as a victory for the Continent’s multinationalist cause.

Financial Times U.K. chief political commentator and U.K. editor at large Robert Shrimsley wrote Thursday that “whatever the U.K. may become in the future, no one can say the years since the 2016 referendum have projected a confident, independent nation.”

“The turmoil has done much to quell similar movements in other EU nations,” he wrote. “From the EU’s point of view, Brexit could not have gone much better.”

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