Serbia gives award to 2019 Nobel Literature winner Handke

Serbia gives award to 2019 Nobel Literature winner Handke

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Austrian author Peter Handke, right, receives the Order of the Karadjordje’s Star from Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade, Serbia, Sunday, May 9, 2021. Serbia has decorated Austrian Nobel literature laureate Peter Handke, who is known for his apologist views … more >

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Associated Press

Sunday, May 9, 2021

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) – Serbia on Sunday honored 2019 Nobel Literature Prize winner Peter Handke, who is known for his apologist views over Serbia‘s nationalist policies and Serb war crimes during the 1990s wars in the Balkans.

The Austrian novelist and screenwriter received a state decoration from Serbia President Aleksandar Vucic, a former ultranationalist who now says he wants his country to join the European Union. On Friday, Handke also received honors from Bosnian Serbs.

“Thank you for everything you have done for Serbia,” Vucic said. “Serbia is showing gratitude to its friend with this (decoration).”

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The RTS television said Handke was awarded for “special contribution in representing Serbia and its citizens in the area of public and cultural activities and for personal persistence in uncompromising responsibility toward the truth.”

Handke is adored by Serbs for support during the wars of the 1990s’ and the era of late strongman Slobodan Milosevic when Serbs were widely blamed for fomenting the conflict that killed more than 100,000 people. Handke is considered persona non grata in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, and in Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008.

Handke also has disputed that the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Bosniak men and boys in the town of Srebrenica was genocide. That runs counter to several rulings by international courts, which have proclaimed the carnage in the eastern Bosnian enclave a genocide.

The writer said in Belgrade that he was didn’t expect to receive Serbia‘s state awards, the official RTS television reported.

“I was not prepared,” he said.

EU, India try again to clinch trade deal, sidelining China

EU, India try again to clinch trade deal, sidelining China

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a media conference at an EU summit in Porto, Portugal, Saturday, May 8, 2021. On Saturday, EU leaders held an online summit with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, covering trade, climate … more >

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By BARRY HATTON

Associated Press

Saturday, May 8, 2021

PORTO, Portugal (AP) – The European Union and India agreed Saturday to restart negotiations on a bilateral free trade deal, eight years after their first attempt failed and as both sides seek alternatives to China.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke via videoconference to EU leaders attending a summit in Portugal. The two sides announced what they called “a pivotal moment” in their relations by agreeing to resume talks they gave up on in 2013 and to collaborate on a wide range of other issues.

Speaking at a press conference after the closed-door talks, senior EU officials were thrilled by the prospect of closer ties with India.

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called it “outstanding” and “a landmark moment.” European Council President Charles Michel said Saturday’s agreement marked “a new, important chapter” in bilateral relations.

Modi was scheduled to be at the online press conference after the meeting but didn’t appear.

Plans for a face-to-face EUIndia summit in Porto, in northern Portugal, fell through after Modi canceled his trip due to the devastating pandemic surge in his country. His remote appearance was the first time an Indian leader participated in a meeting with all of the EU’s leaders.

Von der Leyen said 17 EU countries have provided more than 100 million euros ($122 million) worth of pandemic aid to India, including oxygen generators, medicines and ventilators, and were ready to send more.

While trade talks proceed, parallel negotiations will be held on investment protection and geographic indicators – a key interest for the EU, which places importance on protecting its distinctive products – in order to speed up the process, von der Leyen said.

The two sides said in a six-page joint statement that they also agreed to cooperate more in areas such as supercomputing for pandemic and climate change modelling, artificial intelligence and digital and transport connectivity.

Warm relations with India have an added attraction for the EU, which is eager to expand its influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

The EU’s ties with China have soured over Beijing’s treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority, leading to the suspension of the bloc’s ratification of a bilateral investment agreement.

India, meanwhile, fell out with China in a border dispute last year.

Clinching a free trade deal won’t be an easy task for EU and Indian negotiators. Six years of talks produced no agreement the last time they tried, with issues such as vehicle parts and duties on wine and spirits thwarting an agreement.

Philippine troops drive away armed rebels from public market

Philippine troops drive away armed rebels from public market

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Associated Press

Saturday, May 8, 2021

COTABATO, Philippines (AP) – Dozens of Muslim militants occupied a public market overnight in the southern Philippines before fleeing after a tense standoff with government forces, officials said Saturday.

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters did not take any hostage or put up resistance when army troops and police took positions at dawn Saturday near the public market in the farming town of Datu Paglas, said military spokesman Lt. Col. John Paul Baldomar.

“They went into the market and stole food but got stuck inside when they saw that our forces have taken positions to ensure other buildings could not be threatened,” he told reporters.

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There were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths.

The rebel group broke off from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim rebel group in the south, after it entered into peace talks and later signed a Muslim autonomy deal with the government in 2014. The breakaway guerrillas have continued sporadic attacks and bombings, with some aligning themselves with the Islamic State group.

Baldomar said government forces locked down the town center, where the public market is located, and closed a highway at the height of the hourslong rebel occupation of the market. After the gunmen fled in batches following talks with local officials, soldiers found at least four homemade bombs placed by the rebels along the highway. Troops were pursuing the gunmen, he said.

Datu Paglas Vice Mayor Mohammad Paglas, however, gave a different account and told reporters that the mostly young Muslim rebels arrived on board five trucks in the town center Friday to rest and mark the holy fasting month of Ramadan. He added some of the gunmen have relatives in the town in predominantly Muslim Maguindanao province.

“A big number of gunmen arrived and told us they just wanted to take a rest since it’s Ramadan. We allowed them,” Paglas said.

When troops and police, some on board armored personnel carriers, arrived, the rebels were forced to retreat into the public market for cover but allowed people to leave the building, he said.

Paglas said there was an exchange of fire before the rebels fled, as requested by local officials.

Baldomar said some of the gunmen opened fire on civilian motorists, who were trapped along the highway. The motorists later managed to flee with the help of the military, he said.

Government forces have been on alert in the south, homeland of minority Muslims in the largely Roman Catholic nation, after hundreds of mostly local militants with some foreign supporters linked to the Islamic State group laid siege on southern Marawi city in 2017.

They took over buildings, including banks, school campuses and a hospital, before troops quelled the insurrection after five months with the help of surveillance aircraft deployed by the U.S. and Australia. The audacious attack at the time reinforced fears that the IS was gaining a foothold in the Southeast Asia despite battle setbacks in Iraq and Syria.

Ducey signs bill limiting post-election ballot signature fix

Ducey signs bill limiting post-election ballot signature fix

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Associated Press

Friday, May 7, 2021

PHOENIX (AP) – Arizona election officials won’t be able to create a grace period after an election for voters who forget to sign their ballot to fix the problem.

Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday signed a bill requiring any mail ballots to be signed by 7 p.m. on election day to be counted. The measure was approved in the Legislature in party-line votes.

It codifies in state law the rules as implemented for the 2020 election and blocks a five-day curing period after the election, which Secretary of State Katie Hobbs tried unsuccessfully to implement to settle a lawsuit filed by the Navajo Nation. Before 2020, policies for handling missing signatures varied by county.

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Voting rights advocates condemned the legislation and urged Ducey to veto it.

The measure would require county election officials to notify voters who fail to sign their ballots. But critics say those who return them on Election Day or shortly before would not have time to fix the problem. Voters who do sign their ballots but have the signature rejected because it doesn’t closely match the one on file would still get five days after the election to resolve the issue.

Lawsuit challenges Idaho’s new ballot initiative process

Lawsuit challenges Idaho’s new ballot initiative process

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By KEITH RIDLER

Associated Press

Friday, May 7, 2021

BOISE, Idaho (AP) – Two groups on Friday filed a lawsuit with the Idaho Supreme Court challenging the state’s new law making it more difficult to get voter initiatives or referendums on ballots.

A group that has had previous ballot initiative success and another comprised of attorneys committed to defending Idaho’s Constitution filed the lawsuit against Secretary of State Lawerence Denney.

Reclaim Idaho and the Committee to Protect and Preserve the Idaho Constitution said the new law violates the state’s constitution because it makes the ballot initiative process impossible.

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The groups are seeking an injunction to prevent the state from enforcing the law until the lawsuit is decided on its merits. The law went into effect with Republican Gov. Brad Little’s signature on April 17.

“Last month, the Idaho Legislature and Governor Brad Little snatched away one of our most fundamental rights – a right enshrined in our Constitution over 100 years ago,” Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville said in a statement. “We’re filing this lawsuit on behalf of the people of Idaho, and we believe we will prevail.”

Chief Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck said the office doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Voter-driven ballot initiatives, which act as a check on the Legislature, have become a major focus in the state in recent years following a successful referendum canceling lawmaker-approved changes to education in 2013 and a ballot initiative approving Medicaid expansion in 2018 after lawmakers failed to act for years.

The previous rules, put in place after the 2013 referendums, required signatures from 6% of registered voters in each of 18 legislative districts in 18 months.

The new law requires 6% of registered voters in all 35 Idaho districts in 18 months. The overall number of signatures needed to get an initiative on the ballot remains the same, but they will need to be collected from a much wider array of districts.

Backers of the new law said it’s needed because the old process favored urban voters, allowing signature gatherers to focus much of their efforts in cities.

Opponents said the new law makes it impossible to get initiatives on ballots because a single legislative district has veto power over the entire process.

The groups also want the court to declare unconstitutional a requirement making legislation approved through the voter initiative not effective before July 1 of the following year.

The lawsuit also asks the court itself to set Idaho’s referendum and initiative process by eliminating legislative districts from the ballot initiative process entirely and simply require 6% of signatures from voters statewide.

“It’s kind of going back to the way it was several years ago,” said Jim Jones, a former chief justice of the Idaho Supreme Court as well as a former Idaho attorney general. “Quite frankly, we got along for many many years without a geographic distribution requirement.”

Jones helped form the Committee to Protect and Preserve the Idaho Constitution, but he said he’s not taking an active part in the lawsuit.

In all, 14 states allow voter initiatives that go directly to the ballot, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That voter right became part of Idaho’s Constitution in the early 1900s, but voters gave lawmakers the ability to decide how the process would work.

Jones said his interpretation of the Constitution wouldn’t allow lawmakers to make the ballot initiative process impossible.

Voters said “we’ll just leave the details up to you (lawmakers) on how to get it on the ballot, not kill it,” he said.

Little in 2018 vetoed two bills making the initiative process tougher, citing his concerns that a court could dictate the state’s process. In signing the current law, he said the courts appeared more favorable to siding with Idaho.

Currently, one group is collecting signatures to get a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot that, if successful, will appear on the November 2022 ballot. That attempt is operating under the previous rules as it received permission from the secretary of state’s office to collect signatures before the new law took effect.

On another front, Jones is seeking to get the OK to collect signatures for a referendum that would put the new ballot initiative law to voters with an up or down vote on the November 2022 ballot.

That effort will need to collect signatures under the new law, unless the Idaho Supreme Court rules that law unconstitutional.

Colombia expels Cuban; Havana says move ‘groundless’

Colombia expels Cuban; Havana says move ‘groundless’

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By ANDREA RODRÍGUEZ

Associated Press

Friday, May 7, 2021

HAVANA (AP) – Colombia‘s government has expelled the No. 2 Cuban diplomat in the country for “activities incompatible” with his position, and Cuba lashed back Friday by accusing Colombia of trying to divert attention from a wave of protests.

Cuban officials issued an official letter demanding more explanation and calling the removal of Omar Rafael García Lazo “an unfriendly act.”

A public statement by Colombia‘s Foreign Ministry on Friday did not detail reasons for the removal or identify the diplomat, though the ministry assured it put a “priority on the diplomatic relationship and cooperation” with Cuba.

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The Colombian Foreign Ministry’s letter, which was received on Thursday and was seen by The Associated Press in Cuba, said Colombia was cancelling García Lazo’s diplomatic accreditation and visa and giving him 48 hours to leave.

Cuba‘s letter in response said the ouster was “a groundless decision” that would affect the functioning of its embassy.

The conservative government of Colombian President Iván Duque has had a tense but complicated relationship with socialist Cuba, which has long been a refuge for leaders of leftist Colombian guerrilla movements.

Cuba hosted peace talks that led to a 2016 disarmament pact with the largest of those groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – a deal that Duque’s party strongly criticized but which his government has not wholly renounced.

Cuba‘s Foreign Ministry send a tweet accusing Colombia‘s government of using the expulsion to try to divert attention from its own crackdown on a wave of anti-government protests this month in which at least 26 people have died.

Duque has several times demanded that Cuba give up leaders of the still-rebellious National Liberation Army. Cuba has overseen several unsuccessful attempts at peace between Colombia and that rebel faction, The last round of talks was frozen in 2018.

Sinopharm, China’s COVID-19 vaccine, wins WHO approval for emergency use

WHO approves China’s Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine

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In this Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021 file photo, a medical worker poses with a vial of the Sinopharm’s COVID-19 vaccine in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic, file) **FILE** more >

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By Shen Wu Tan

The Washington Times

Friday, May 7, 2021

The World Health Organization on Friday approved China’s Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use globally.

The vaccine was found to be 79% effective in all age groups. The global health agency is recommending it in two doses, three to four weeks apart, for adults 18 years and older.

“The addition of this vaccine has the potential to rapidly accelerate COVID-19 vaccine access for countries seeking to protect health workers and populations at risk,” said Dr. Mariângela Simão, WHO assistant-director general for Access to Health Products, in a statement. 

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The Sinopharm shot can be easily stored, and it is the first vaccine that will have a vial monitor, a small sticker on the vaccine container that changes color if the vaccine is exposed to heat and alerts health workers if it is not safe to use.

Some countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia had already approved the vaccine.

The WHO is not recommending an upper age limit for the vaccine, although few adults over 60 years old were enrolled in clinical trials. The agency says there is “no theoretical reason” to believe the vaccine is less safe than for younger populations.

The WHO inspected the Sinopharm vaccine’s production facilities as part of its evaluation. In the U.S., workers at the Emergent Biosolutions plant in Baltimore mixed vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, destroying 15 million doses of the approved J&J vaccine.

Sinopharm is the fifth vaccine WHO has granted emergency use authorization. The world health body also has approved vaccines by Pfizer, two by AstraZeneca and the J&J version, made by its Janssen subsidiary. 

The vaccine is made by Beijing Bio-Institute of Biological Products Company Ltd., a subsidiary of China National Biotec Group. 

WHO is expected to make a decision on another Chinese vaccine developed by Sinovac in the coming days. 

EU calls on US to push exports to counter vaccine shortage

EU calls on US to push exports to counter vaccine shortage

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French President Emmanuel Macron, left, speaks with Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez during the opening ceremony of an EU summit at the Alfandega do Porto Congress Center in Porto, Portugal, Friday, May 7, 2021. European Union leaders are meeting for … more >

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By RAF CASERT and BARRY HATTON

Associated Press

Friday, May 7, 2021

PORTO, Portugal (AP) – The European Union called on the United States Friday to start boosting its vaccine exports to contain the global COVID-19 crisis, and said that the U.S. backing of patent waivers would provide only a long-term solution at best.

“We invite all those who engage in the debate of a waiver for (Intellectual Property) rights also to join us to commit to be willing to export a large share of what is being produced in that region,” said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

In the wake of the U.S. backing calls to waive patents on vaccine technology, French President Emmanuel Macron summarized the view from Europe when he said at an EU summit in Porto, Portugal: “You can give the intellectual property to laboratories that do not know how to produce it. They won’t produce it tomorrow.”

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Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez gave the idea endorsed by U.S. President Joe Biden this week a guarded welcome, but he immediately added, “We believe it is insufficient. It should be more ambitious.”

While the U.S. has kept a tight lid on exports of American-made vaccines so it can inoculate its own population first, the EU has become the world’s leading provider, allowing about as many doses to go outside the 27-nation bloc as are kept for its 446 million inhabitants. Many EU nations, however, have demanded a stop to vaccine nationalism and export bans.

Von der Leyen said that any patent waiver “will not bring a single dose of vaccine in the short and medium term.”

Macron said it was more important for Biden to work on exports. “The Anglo-Saxons block many of these ingredients” needed to make vaccines, the French leader said, referring to Washington and London. “Today, 100% of vaccines produced in the United States of America are for the American market.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said this week that the EU had distributed about 200 million doses within the bloc while about the same amount had been exported abroad.

“Around 50% of what is being produced in Europe is exported to almost 90 countries,” von der Leyen said, and called on Biden and other vaccine producing regions or nations to step up their effort.

“We are the most generous in the world of developed nations. Europe should be proud of itself,” Macron said.

The EU is trying to regain the diplomatic initiative on vaccines after Biden put it on the back foot with his surprising endorsement of lifting patent protections on COVID-19 vaccines, seeking to solve the problem of getting shots into the arms of people in poorer countries.

EU leaders said they were ready to discuss the U.S. backing for proposals first submitted to the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa, but they said many other initiatives would be more effective at this point, ranging from ramping up production capacity to distributing raw materials. So far, they insisted, the issue of waiving patents is not a big problem.

___

Casert reported from Brussels.

Brazil’s Amazon deforestation surged in April after pledges

Brazil’s Amazon deforestation surged in April after pledges

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FILE – In this Nov. 25, 2019 file photo, highway BR-163 stretches between the Tapajos National Forest, left, and a soy field in Belterra, Para state, Brazil. At the U.S.-led climate summit on April 22, 2021, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro … more >

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By DAVID BILLER

Associated Press

Friday, May 7, 2021

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – Preliminary data released Friday signaled deforestation of Brazil’s Amazon in April was the highest for that month in at least five years, a report that comes two weeks after Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said his government would dedicate more energy and resources toward curbing deforestation.

Deforestation rose 43% over the same month in 2020, to 581 square kilometers (224 square miles), according to the government’s Deter monitoring system, which provides daily deforestation alerts based on satellite images.

At the U.S.-led climate summit on April 22, Bolsonaro shifted his tone on Amazon preservation and exhibited willingness to step up commitment, even though many critics remain doubtful of his credibility. He also said Brazil requires outside funds to curb deforestation of the world’s largest tropical rainforest.

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His environment minister this year began talks with officials from the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden, who has directly called on Brazil to take stronger action. Officials and activists are watching closely for signs whether Bolsonaro’s shift in tone amounts to more than empty promises.

Bolsonaro has previously exalted the need to tap the Amazon’s resources, cast aspersions on environmental activists who defend the rainforest and snarled at European leaders who decried its destruction. In the 12 months through mid-2020, deforestation reached its worst level in more than a decade.

Alerts since last July had indicated that Amazon deforestation was retreating from its peak, but April data marks continuation of an upward trend after a five-year high in March. The data series of Brazil‘s national institute for space research starts in 2015-2016.

“This shows that there is no action of control of the government,” The Climate Observatory, a network of environmental non-profits, said in a statement.

It also highlighted that cloud cover in April 2021 was the greatest for that month on record, which could conceal satellite views of even more deforestation.

Days before the climate summit, a group of 15 U.S. senators penned a letter to Biden complaining of Bolsonaro’s environmental track record and urging the U.S. to condition any support for Amazon preservation on significant progress reducing deforestation.

EU leaders attend summit in person for 1st time this year

EU leaders attend summit in person for 1st time this year

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FILE- In this Wednesday, July 15, 2020 file photo, European Council President Charles Michel, top screen, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, screen right, speak with India’s Prime Minister Shri Narenda Modi during an EU-India videoconference summit from … more >

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By BARRY HATTON

Associated Press

Friday, May 7, 2021

PORTO, Portugal (AP) – European Union leaders and their large following of diplomats and advisers met Friday in Portugal for two days of in-person talks, signaling their belief that the threat from COVID-19 on the continent is waning amid a quickening vaccine rollout.

The pandemic was a constant presence, however. Meeting face-to-face for the first time this year, the leaders converged on a 19th-century riverside Customs building in the picturesque Atlantic coast city of Porto. Face masks concealed their smiles but they enthusiastically bumped elbows and fists and chatted. They sat apart, without a table, in a large hall and balanced sheaves of paper on their laps, a small plastic water bottle at their feet.

“The (pandemic) recovery is still in an early stage,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen conceded. “We’re still having a difficult time with all the negative impact of the pandemic.”

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Scores of police, staff and journalists at the summit wore masks and had to undergo PCR tests before being allowed to attend.

The summit hopes to repair some of the economic damage the pandemic has wreaked in the bloc. In a late addition, EU leaders will also discuss proposals to share COVID-19 vaccine technology to help speed the end of the pandemic for all the world.

On Saturday, the leaders will take part in an unprecedented meeting, via videoconference, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose country needs more help amid a devastating virus surge – and who can smooth the path toward an elusive bilateral trade deal.

EU leaders appear keen to “try and convey a sense of normalcy, of slowly returning to normal,” said Antonio Barroso, a political analyst at Teneo.

That’s a key consideration for southern EU countries like Portugal, Spain and Greece, where tourism is an economic mainstay.

Despite a slow start to its inoculation drive, the EU has passed the milestone of 150 million vaccinations given out and reckons it can reach what it calls “sufficient community immunity” in two months’ time. The European Commission has proposed relaxing restrictions on travel to the bloc this summer.

Yet who can travel, when and where remains a sensitive question for Europeans. Pandemic improvements have been uneven across the continent and many EU citizens remain subject to coronavirus restrictions. In a political nod to those concerns, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte did not travel to Portugal.

Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela also did not attend in person because he was in quarantine after his wife tested positive.

The summit made a splash in Porto, with a population of 200,000, whose many hotels have been shut down since last spring due to COVID-19 restrictions.

With the pandemic exposing inequalities and bringing greater hardship in the bloc, the talks will look at how to ensure the rights of EU citizens are protected in employment support, gender equality and social services.

“COVID has taken the covers off and shown the gaps” in care, says Laura Rayner, a policy analyst at the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based think tank. “So many people, through no fault of their own, have found themselves requiring some support.”

The EU is looking for the endorsement in Porto of three headline targets: an EU employment rate of at least 78%, at least 60% of adults attending training courses every year, and reducing the number of those at risk of poverty or social exclusion by at least 15 million people, including 5 million children.

The push for social safeguards has caused some tensions. Last month, 11 EU governments welcomed the Porto effort but warned central EU authorities against meddling in national policies.

Plans for a face-to-face EU-India summit in Porto fell through after Modi canceled his trip due to the pandemic. But Saturday’s talks will be the first time an Indian leader joins a meeting with all of the EU’s leaders.

The talks with Modi are important because India and the EU spent six years trying to negotiate a free trade deal before giving up in 2013. Among the thorny issues were vehicle parts and digital privacy.

____

Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report.

General: China’s Africa outreach poses threat from Atlantic

New submarine threat: Top U.S. general says China is pursuing Atlantic naval base in west Africa

'They're looking for a place where they can rearm and repair warships. That becomes militarily useful in conflict.'

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In this Feb. 8, 2017, file photo, then-Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend talks with an Iraqi officer during a tour north of Baghdad, Iraq. Townsen, now a general, says a growing military threat from China may well come from Americas … more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 6, 2021

China is moving behind-the-scenes toward establishing a major naval port on the west coast of Africa that would host Chinese submarines and aircraft carriers capable of projecting Beijing’s military power directly into the Atlantic, a top U.S. military official warned on Thursday.

The top commander for U.S. military operations in Africa said Chinese officials have been approaching countries stretching from Mauritania to south of Namibia in search of where to position the naval facility.

“They’re looking for a place where they can rearm and repair warships. That becomes militarily useful in conflict,” U.S. Gen. Stephen Townsend said in an interview with The Associated Press.

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Gen. Townsend, who heads the Pentagon’s Africa Command, added that China‘s military is already close to establishing such a facility in Djibouti, which is situated more than 2,000 miles away in the Horn of Africa on the Indian Ocean side of the continent.

“Now they’re casting their gaze to the Atlantic coast and wanting to get such a base there,” the general said in the interview.

The news agency noted that the warning comes as the Pentagon shifts its focus from the counterterrorism wars of the last two decades to the Indo-Pacific region and threats from great power adversaries like China and Russia. 

EU open to COVID-19 vaccine waiver after Biden move

EU open to COVID-19 vaccine waiver after Biden move

Ursula von der Leyen: 'Ready to discuss' intellectual property-sharing idea

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen removes her protective face mask prior to meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II at EU headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. (Yves Herman, Pool via AP) ** FILE ** more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 6, 2021

The European Union said Thursday it is ready to consider waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines after President Biden threw his support behind the idea.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the organization is open to ideas that wrangle the pandemic in an “effective and pragmatic manner.”

“That is why we are ready to discuss how the U.S. proposal for a waiver on intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines could help achieve that objective,” she said during a speech in Italy.

SEE ALSO: Biden administration backs IP waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

Europe has been wary of proposals before the World Trade Organization to waive intellectual property (IP) rights on vaccines, though Mr. Biden’s position might soften opposition elsewhere.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the administration will work with the WTO, which is meeting this week, to find a way forward, though cautioned the process will take time.

Advocates of the waiver say poorer nations need trade secrets from drugmakers to make generic versions of effective vaccines that are helping the U.S. and other rich countries.

Opponents of the waiver say it will be counterproductive. Vaccine-sharing programs exist, and it will take time for other places to build the operations needed to put vaccine recipes to use.

Congressional Republicans say the main beneficiaries will be rivals such as Russia and China because they have the ability to leverage knowledge from the West. They also said drugmakers will be reluctant to step forward and offer cures in a future pandemic if their IP is given away.

International Criminal Court sentences Ugandan rebel to 25 years in prison for 61 war crimes and cri

International Criminal Court sentences Ugandan rebel to 25 years in prison for 61 war crimes and cri

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Thursday, May 6, 2021

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – International Criminal Court sentences Ugandan rebel to 25 years in prison for 61 war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Pentagon keeps wary eye on failing Chinese rocket

Pentagon keeps wary eye on failing Chinese rocket

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In this April 29, 2021, file photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, a Long March 5B rocket carrying a module for a Chinese space station lifts off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Wenchang in southern China’s Hainan … more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The Pentagon said Tuesday it is tracking an out-of-control Chinese rocket that is expected to reenter Earth’s atmosphere this weekend.

The Chinese Long March 5B rocket was used last week to launch a section of Beijing’s planned space station. Most smaller space debris burns up as it enters Earth’s atmosphere, but this rocket — weighing in at about 21 tons — has prompted concerns that parts could cause damage if they fall over inhabited areas. Foreign trackers say there is not enough information coming out of China to be able to determine when and where the rocket will fall.

“Its exact entry point into the Earth’s atmosphere cannot be pinpointed until within hours of its reentry, which is expected around May 8,” said Pentagon spokesman Mike Howard. “All debris can be potential threats to spaceflight safety and the space domain.”

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The 18th Space Control Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California tracks more than 27,000 man-made objects in space, most of which are in low-Earth orbit, Pentagon officials said.

Information publicly released about space debris can be found at www.space-track.org, according to the Department of Defense.

Voting rights advocates fight to dismiss their own lawsuit

Voting rights advocates fight to dismiss their own lawsuit

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By KEVIN McGILL

Associated Press

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Having gotten what they wanted last fall – expanded early voting and mail balloting in the last presidential election – voting rights advocates in Louisiana are trying to dismiss the lawsuit they filed seeking safe voting opportunities during the coronavirus pandemic.

But, with their eyes on future elections, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, and Attorney General Jeff Landry, both Republicans, are pressing on with an appeal. They want a ruling that U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick‘s expansion of voting opportunities last fall was an overreach in which the judge took actions reserved for lawmakers.

The plaintiffs, including the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP and the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, say the issue is moot. Their lawsuit dealt only with the November and December Louisiana elections, and they have a right to have it dismissed, they argued Tuesday in a court filing.

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The two Republican leaders say the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals should rule anyway. Otherwise, they say in court briefs, “this case-if not addressed by this Court-could become a roadmap for similarly timed future actions.”

The voting rights advocates filed a dismissal motion in Dick‘s court Tuesday. They also have one pending at the 5th Circuit. The 5th Circuit hasn’t ruled on the motion. It has issued an order scheduling arguments on the appeal for June 7.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, is not opposing the dismissal effort.

Debates on how and whether to expand early voting and mail voting in Louisiana divided state officials for much of 2020 as the state contended with surges in the virus that causes COVID-19. Some expansions were eventually approved for summer elections.

Dick‘s Sept. 16 ruling said the state’s failure to approve similar expansions for the fall elections was “likely unconstitutional because it imposes an undue burden on Plaintiffs’ right to vote.”

She said the state had to allow mail-in voting for people with conditions that make people more vulnerable to COVID-19, their caretakers, and three other groups. She also ordered expansion of early voting from seven days to 10 for the Nov. 3 presidential election but not for a Dec. 5 election.

Indian minister pivots to virtual G-7 meeting after COVID-19 exposure

Indian minister pivots to virtual G-7 meeting after COVID-19 exposure

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In this image made from UNTV video, India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar speaks during a U.N. Security Council high-level meeting on COVID-19 recovery focusing on vaccinations, chaired by British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, at UN headquarters, … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

India’s external affairs minister attended Group of 7 meetings in London virtually Wednesday after learning he might have been exposed to the coronavirus by other members of his delegation.

“Was made aware yesterday evening of exposure to possible Covid positive cases. As a measure of abundant caution and also out of consideration for others, I decided to conduct my engagements in the virtual mode. That will be the case with the G7 Meeting today as well,” S. Jaishankar tweeted Wednesday.

Mr. Jaishankar self-isolated in the United Kingdom along with the rest of the Indian delegation after two members tested positive. They hadn’t shown up at the main venue yet, so in-person meetings among other countries went ahead.

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India isn’t part of the G-7 but was invited to participate in the Foreign and Development Minister’s Meeting.

Mr. Jaishanker posted a screenshot of his virtual meeting with the message: “So far, yet so near.”

The COVID-19 scare raised questions about the U.K.’s decision to hold the event in person.

It also highlighted the crisis in India, which is recording record numbers of cases and struggling to help patients. The U.S. and other nations have scrambled to provide oxygen and other supplies.

South Korea health agency: One dose of Pfizer, AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine highly effective

South Korea health agency: One dose of Pfizer, AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine highly effective

Officials say two doses still needed to maximize protection

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South Korean Olympic judo team player An Ba-ul receives the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at the National Medical Center Thursday, April 29, 2021, in Seoul, South Korea. South Korea has begun administering fast-track COVID-19 vaccines to … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

A single dose of COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca was highly effective in staving off infection among people aged 60 and older, South Korea said Wednesday, adding to the bank of data that show the shots are working in the real world.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said people who received the Pfizer vaccine were 89.7% protected two weeks after the first dose, while the first dose of AstraZeneca was 86.0% effective.

The analysis covered 3.5 million residents 60 and older, including 521,133 people who received one dose of either vaccine. Only 29 out of 1,237 COVID-19 cases were from the vaccinated group, according to Reuters.

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“Around 95 percent of people who died from the coronavirus in our country were senior citizens aged 60 or older, and the vaccines will sharply lower risks for those people,” Health Ministry official Yoon Tae-ho said, according to the wire service.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week said seniors fully vaccinated by COVID-19 shots from Pfizer or Moderna were 94% less likely to land in the hospital from the virus than people over age 65 who were not immunized. 

The agency said people who were “partially vaccinated” were 64% less likely to be hospitalized.

Recent U.S. data show 8% of people aren’t showing up for their second shot in the U.S.

Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health says it is important for people to return for the second appointment to ensure maximum protection against the disease and thwart aggressive variants that are circulating.

Likewise, South Korean officials on Wednesday urged people to complete the two-dose course of the vaccines despite the robust protection offered by the first dose.

Rights critics condemn French sale to Egypt of 30 more jets

Rights critics condemn French sale to Egypt of 30 more jets

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FILE- In this Tuesday, June 18, 2019, file photo, a Dassault Rafale fighter jet performs its demonstration flight at Paris Air Show, in Le Bourget, north east of Paris, France. Egypt is buying another 30 Rafale fighter jets from France, … more >

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Associated Press

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

PARIS (AP) – France is selling another 30 Rafale fighter jets to Egypt in a deal condemned Tuesday by rights advocates, including the French wife of a jailed activist.

The deal, confirmed separately by both countries, will build up Egypt‘s fleet of the advanced warplane to 54, second only to the French air force. The sale makes good on France‘s policy of not conditioning its economic and defense cooperation with Egypt on progress on human rights.

The wife of jailed Palestinian-Egyptian activist Ramy Shaath said France should be using the sale as leverage to pressure for human rights improvements and prisoner releases.

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“It’s never too late. The planes have not been delivered yet,” Celine Lebrun-Shaath told The Associated Press. “The strategic partnership between France and Egypt is important but should be based on shared values and the respect of international law.”

“The implications of France‘s failed diplomacy is my husband’s continued unjust imprisonment for 670 days,” she added.

Shaath, the son of a former Palestinian foreign minister, was detained in 2019 but has not been charged, and his wife, a French citizen, was deported.

The Egyptian military said the Rafale purchase would be financed with a 10-year French loan. The value of the deal wasn’t given.

The Geneva-based MENA Rights Group, which campaigns for rights and freedoms in the Mideast and North Africa, said the deal “clearly shows that the fate of the many human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience currently in jail does not carry much weight.”

Egypt‘s first purchase of 24 Rafales in 2015, valued then at 5.2 billion euros ($5.93 billion), made it the first overseas buyer of France’s delta-winged, multi-role but hard-to-sell warplane.

Before Egypt‘s purchase, Dassault Aviation’s fighter had been on the market for years, and in service for the French air force since 2006. Other multi-billion euro (dollar) sales have followed, i ncluding to India and Greece.

Dassault said the new order is proof of an “unfailing bond” between Egypt and the manufacturer.

The French Defense Ministry said the deal would create the equivalent of 7,000 jobs in France for three years and ”further strengthens the strategic and military partnership between France and Egypt.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said in December, when Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi visited Paris, that “disagreements” over human rights will not stand in the way of economic and defense deals.

El-Sissi has overseen the toughest crackdown on critics in Egypt in living memory, jailing thousands of Islamists along with pro-democracy activists, reversing freedoms won in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, silencing critics and placing draconian rules on rights groups.

Israel’s Netanyahu faces midnight deadline to form a coalition

Israel’s Netanyahu faces midnight deadline to form a coalition

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In this Wednesday, April 14, 2021, file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Memorial Day ceremony at the military cemetery at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem. Netanyahu faces a midnight deadline on Tuesday, May 4, to put together a … more >

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By Josef Federman

Associated Press

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced a midnight deadline on Tuesday to put together a new coalition government — or look at the possibility of leading his Likud party into the opposition for the first time in 12 years.

Netanyahu has struggled to secure a parliamentary majority since March 23 — when elections ended in deadlock for the fourth consecutive time in the past two years. Despite repeated meetings with many of his rivals and unprecedented outreach to the leader of a small Islamist Arab party, Netanyahu has not been able to close a deal during a four-week window.

That window was to expire at midnight, at which point the matter returns to President Reuven Rivlin in the absence of an agreement. 

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A failure to reach a deal would not immediately push Netanyahu out of office.

Rivlin could give him an additional two weeks to form a coalition. He could give one of Netanyahu‘s opponents an opportunity to form a government, or in a final move of desperation, send the matter straight to parliament. 

That would give lawmakers a chance to choose one of their own as a prime minister. If all options fail, the country would face another election this fall, meaning months of continued political paralysis.

In the March 23 election, Netanyahu‘s Likud emerged as the largest single party, with 30 seats in the 120-member parliament. But to form a government, he needs to have the support of a 61-seat majority.

That task has been complicated in large part by members of his own religious and nationalist base.

The New Hope party, led by a former Netanyahu aide, refuses to serve under the prime minister because of deep personal differences. Religious Zionism, a far-right party that espouses an openly racist platform, supports Netanyahu but has ruled out serving in a government with the Arab partners he has courted. Yamina, another right-wing party led by a former Netanyahu aide, has refused to commit to either him or his opponents.

On Monday, Netanyahu said he had offered the head of Yamina, Naftali Bennett, the chance to share the job of prime minister in a rotation, with Bennett holding the post for the first year.
Bennett responded: “I never asked Netanyahu to be prime minister. I asked to form a government. Unfortunately, he does not have that.”

Looming over Netanyahu has been his ongoing corruption trial. Netanyahu has been charged with fraud, breach of trust and bribery in a series of scandals. The trial has moved into the witness phase, with embarrassing testimony accusing him of trading favors with a powerful media mogul. Netanyahu denies the charges.

In recent days, he has appeared increasingly frustrated, coddling potential partners one day and then lashing out at them with vitriol the next. Last week’s deadly stampede at a religious festival, in which 45 ultra-Orthodox Jews were killed, has only complicated his task by creating an unwelcome diversion and calls for an official investigation into possible negligence on his watch.

Netanyahu‘s opponents, meanwhile, have been holding meetings of their own in an effort to cobble together a possible alternative government.

Netanyahu has also suffered a series of embarrassing — and uncharacteristic — defeats in parliament. 

Earlier this month his opponents gained control of the powerful Arrangements Committee, which controls the legislative agenda until a new government is formed. Last week, he was forced to abandon his appointment of a crony as the interim justice minister, just before the Supreme Court appeared set to strike down the move.

Despite all of Netanyahu‘s vulnerabilities, it remains unclear whether his opponents can form an alternative government. The opposition includes a vast spectrum of parties that have little in common except for their animosity toward Netanyahu.

If Netanyahu fails to put together a coalition by midnight, he will do his utmost to prevent his opponents from reaching an agreement in the coming weeks. 

That would keep him in office until the next election, allowing him to battle his corruption charges from the perch of the prime minister’s office and giving him yet another chance to win a new term, along with possible immunity from prosecution.

China’s UN envoy: Myanmar violence could lead to civil war

China’s UN envoy: Myanmar violence could lead to civil war

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Anti-coup protesters burn tires and chant slogans with banner read ”The Kamayut strike will be fight for to the end when we get victory" during the demonstration against the military coup in Kamayut township Yangon, Monday, May 3, 2021. (AP … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Monday, May 3, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – China’s U.N. ambassador on Monday urged stronger diplomatic efforts to resolve the confrontation in Myanmar since the Feb. 1 military coup, warning that further violence could lead to a chaotic situation “and even a civil war.”

Zhang Jun also warned that “any wrong handling” might lead to further tension in Myanmar.

The U.N. Security Council on Friday strongly backed calls by Southeast Asian nations for an immediate cessation of violence and talks as a first step toward a solution following the military coup in Myanmar that ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party and reversed years of slow progress toward democracy.

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The council again demanded the restoration of democracy and the release of all detainees including Suu Kyi and condemned the use of violence against peaceful protesters and the deaths of hundreds of civilians.

Zhang, who described Myanmar as “a friendly neighbor,” strongly backed diplomatic efforts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations known as ASEAN and by U.N. special envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener, and expressed hope they would produce results. He said “China is not in favor of imposing sanctions.”

“We should really be creating a more favorable environment for bringing the country back to normal and finding a political solution through dialogues among the relevant political parties within the constitutional and legal framework,” he said.

Myanmar for five decades had languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions. As the generals loosened their grip, culminating in Suu Kyi’s rise to leadership in 2015 elections, the international community responded by lifting most sanctions and pouring investment into the country. The coup took place following November elections, which Suu Kyi’s party won overwhelmingly and the military contends was marred by fraud.

“It’s mainly an issue relating to the difference on the election,” Zhang said. “The political parties should be able to find a solution on that. So that’s why China prefers … more diplomatic efforts.”

“That’s why China is working very closely with the relevant parties urging them really to refrain from going extreme, avoiding violence, avoiding casualties, and try to find a solution with dialogue. That’s why the council is also now giving full support to the diplomatic efforts of ASEAN,” he said.

Zhang was asked whether China was concerned that Myanmar could descend into civil war, given that its military is fighting the Kachin and Karen ethnic minorities, which maintain their own armed forces, while also confronting pro-democracy protesters – amid reports that civilians, mainly students, are now receiving training in the use of weapons in ethnic areas.

“We do have similar concerns,” Zhang said. “We do believe that with diplomatic efforts we can avoid the further escalation of the tension.”

“With further escalation of the tension, there will be more confrontation, and with more confrontation there will be more violence, and with more violence there will be more casualties, and then we may go further down the wrong direction,” he warned. “It may also mean a chaotic situation in Myanmar and even a civil war.”

Zhang said China is also very concerned about the humanitarian impact of the crisis, citing U.N. envoy Schraner Burgener who pointed to more poor people losing jobs, civil servants refusing to work to protest the junta, and a brewing crisis of families in and around the main city Yangon “pushed to the edge” for food, going into debt and trying to survive.

In her briefing to the council Friday, obtained by The Associated Press, she also cited a World Food Program report that the combination of existing poverty, the COVID-19 pandemic and the political crisis have led to a sharp rise in “hunger and desperation,” and that within six months up to 3.4 million more people will suffer from hunger, particularly those in urban areas.

In again urging a diplomatic solution, Zhang warned that with further deterioration “definitely a humanitarian disaster or crisis will be inevitable so we do need to try our best to avoid that.”

Libya’s top diplomat urges withdrawal of foreign fighters

Libya’s top diplomat urges withdrawal of foreign fighters

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By SAMY MAGDY

Associated Press

Monday, May 3, 2021

CAIRO (AP) – Libya’s top diplomat Monday called for the departure of foreign forces and mercenaries from the North African country as it heads toward elections later this year.

Najla al-Manqoush, foreign minister of Libya’s interim government, urged Turkey to implement U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding the repatriation of more than 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya.

Her remarks came at a joint news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. He visited the capital of Tripoli with Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and other top military and intelligence officials.

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“We call on (Turkey) to take steps to implement all the provisions of … the Security Council resolutions and to cooperate together to expel all foreign forces and mercenaries from the Libyan territories,” she said.

The remarks were seen as a rebuke to Turkey, which has deployed troops and Syrian mercenaries to fight along with Tripoli militias since forces of military commander Khalifa Hifter launched their attack on the capital in 2019.

Cavusoglu responded by saying that Turkish forces were in Libya as part of a training agreement reached with a previous Libya administration. “There are those who equate our legal presence … with the foreign mercenary groups that fight in this country for money,” he said.

The Libyan foreign minister could face criticism from pro-Turkey Libyans for ideological reasons and also others in Tripoli who still fear a new attack from eastern-based forces, said Jalel Harchaoui, senior Libya researcher at the Geneva-based Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

The departure of hundreds of Turkish troops “is by all means a hard thing to implement,” he said. “Very difficult for Tripoli – because a very large (mercenary) mission is still in central Libya and could help (Hifter) march west again. And very difficult for Turkey – because it has spent untold amounts on making sure its presence in western Libya remains entrenched for a long while.”

Turkey has been closely involved in Libya. It backed the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord based in Tripoli against Hifter’s forces. Turkey sent military supplies and fighters to Libya helping to tilt the balance of power in favor of the GNA.

Turkey also signed an agreement with the Tripoli-based government delineating the maritime boundaries between the two countries in the Mediterranean. That triggered protests from Greece and Cyprus. Both countries denounced the agreement saying it was a serious breach of international law that disregarded the rights of other eastern Mediterranean countries.

Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The oil-rich country was in recent years split between rival east- and west-based administrations, each backed by different armed groups and foreign governments.

Libya’s interim government, which took power in March, is tasked with bringing together a country that has been torn apart by civil war for nearly a decade. It also aims to steer Libya through a general election on Dec. 24.

Security Council diplomats say there are more than 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya, including 13,000 Syrians and 11,000 Sudanese, along with Russians and Chadians.

The Security Council’s 15 member nations agreed in an informal meeting last week that getting the foreign fighters and mercenaries to go home was the only way forward, according to the officials.

___

Associated Press writer Suzan Frazer contributed from Ankara, Turkey.

Message to Russia: U.S. Army kicks off major artillery drills across Europe

Message to Russia: U.S. Army kicks off major artillery drills across Europe

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U.S. Army vehicles disembark from a vessel at Albania’s main port of Durres, Saturday, May 1, 2021. Florida National Guard’s 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team were being discharged from the USNS Bob Hope ahead of a two-week training of up … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Monday, May 3, 2021

The U.S. Army this week will kick off a series of major artillery drills across Europe and northern Africa, sending a clear message to Moscow amid a buildup of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border.

Pentagon leaders said the exercises, dubbed “Fires Shock,” will continue over the next six weeks with drills in Estonia, Germany, Poland, Bulgaria and Morocco. Military officials said the initiative will demonstrate that the U.S. and its allies are capable of projecting power throughout Europe.

“From towed artillery to long-range rocket systems, U.S. Army Europe and Africa has the organic ability to rapidly deliver precision fires to support our joint force and NATO allies anywhere in Europe and Africa,” said Brig. Gen. Christopher Norrie, commanding general of 7th Army Training Command. “These exercises demonstrate our ability to command and control long-range fires across continents, using a variety of networked and multi-domain communications platforms.”

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Long-range fires are a key component of the Army’s 21st-century battle plan. Victory in any potential conflicts with Russia or China will almost surely rely on America’s ability to strike enemy targets from great distances.

The Fires Shock exercises come amid renewed Russian aggression toward Ukraine. While Russian forces reportedly have begun to pull back from the Ukrainian border, there are still thousands of troops in the area — the most since 2014, when Moscow forcibly annexed Crimea.

Biden administration officials say the situation remains worrisome and that it’s unclear what Russian President Vladimir Putin may do in the coming weeks.

“I can’t tell you that we know Mr. Putin’s intentions,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview with “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday evening. “There are any number of things that he could do or choose not to do.  What we have seen in the last few days is apparently a decision to pull back some of those forces, and we’ve some of them, in fact, start to pull back.”

“We’re watching that very, very closely,” Mr. Blinken said. 

EU: Time to open up to COVID-19 vaccinated tourists

EU: Time to open up to COVID-19 vaccinated tourists

Oktoberfest canceled again, despite move to open up

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In this March 30, 2021, file photo, German federal police officers check passengers arriving from Palma de Mallorca for a negative coronavirus test as they arrive at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. The European Commission proposed Thursday, April 29, 2021, … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Monday, May 3, 2021

The European Commission proposed Monday to open member countries to vaccinated tourists from the U.S. and other places by early summer while including an “emergency brake” in case the COVID-19 picture suddenly worsens from aggressive variants.

Many European nations rely on tourists from the U.S. and other places to support their economies, and the 27-nation coalition had been working on ways to improve movement within the bloc. Monday’s announcement was a way to demonstrate the EU’s splendor will be open to countries elsewhere as vaccines reach arms.

“This reflects the latest scientific advice showing that vaccination considerably helps to break the transmission chain,” the commission said.

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A person would be considered fully vaccinated 14 days after receiving the last recommended dose of a vaccine that’s received market-authorization in the EU. Children of vaccinated persons would be admitted with a negative test.

The plan, which will be debated this week, also envisions making it easier for unvaccinated persons to visit by raising the threshold for what’s considered unacceptable transmission in their home countries. For instance, Chinese tourists might not be immunized with an EU-approved vaccine, but they could still enter if their country keeps a lid on transmission.

Individual EU members can still require a negative test from travelers, though Monday’s proposals were designed to reinstitute nonessential trips instead of banning tourists and other travelers outright.

“Time to revive Flag of European Union tourism industry & for cross-border friendships to rekindle — safely,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted. “We propose to welcome again vaccinated visitors & those from countries with a good health situation.”

Like other places, the EU issued lockdowns, canceled big events and limited travel throughout the yearlong pandemic.

Even as the commission looked at ways to open up on Monday, the state of Bavaria said it had to cancel Oktobertfest, known locally as “Wiesn,” for a second year instead of welcoming revelers from Sept. 18 to Oct. 3 as planned.

“The risk is simply too great that people could be infected with the coronavirus here,” Munich’s Lord Mayor Dieter Reiter said. “I know how hard this is not only for the visitors, but also how much it affects all those who work at the Wiesn and now have to do without income once again — from the waiters and waitresses to the stall operators, showmen and innkeepers. But the Wiesn can only exist completely or not at all.”

The festival involves crowds of beer drinkers gathered around tables in a party atmosphere. Yet more broadly, the EU signaled Monday it wants to get tourists back onto its street and picturesque beaches.

Parts of Southern Europe are particularly dependent on travelers to keep their struggling economies afloat.

Europe is working on a vaccine passport, or Digital Green Certificate, to facilitate the proposal.

“Until the Digital Green Certificate is operational, Member States should be able to accept certificates from non-EU countries based on national law, taking into account the ability to verify the authenticity, validity and integrity of the certificate and whether it contains all relevant data,” the commission said.

The commission said it is worried about dangerous mutation in the virus, so they proposed a fallback plan to tighten things again as necessary.

“The emergence of coronavirus variants of concern calls for continued vigilance,” it said. “Therefore as counter-balance, the commission proposes a new ‘emergency brake’ mechanism, to be coordinated at EU level and which would limit the risk of such variants entering the EU.”

The threat of variants from elsewhere is the main threat to countries seeing progress due to vaccination. That’s why the U.S. and other places banned travel from India as it sees an unprecedented surge that may be fueled by variants.

Australia recently took things to an extreme, saying as of Monday even its citizens could not enter from India. The decision outraged Indian-Australians and others who said it was without precedent.

Impact of devastating Indian virus surge spreads to politics

Impact of devastating Indian virus surge spreads to politics

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A counting agent stands in protective suit during the counting of votes of Assam state assembly election in Gauhati, India, Sunday, May 2, 2021. With Indian hospitals struggling to secure a steady supply of oxygen, and more COVID-19 patients dying … more >

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By

Associated Press

Monday, May 3, 2021

NEW DELHI (AP) — India recorded 368,147 new coronavirus cases on Monday and 3,417 deaths as a catastrophic surge sweeps through the country.

The latest numbers came after leaders of 13 opposition parties urged the government to launch a free vaccination drive and ensure uninterrupted flow of oxygen to all hospitals. Several hospital authorities over the weekend sought court intervention over oxygen supplies in New Delhi, where a lockdown has been extended by a week in an attempt to contain the wave of infections.

“Water has gone above the head. Enough is enough,” said the New Delhi High Court, adding it would start punishing government officials if supplies of oxygen allocated to hospitals are not delivered.

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On Monday, 24 COVID-19 patients died at a government-run hospital in the southern state of Karnataka amid reports of an oxygen shortage. It was unclear how many died due to a lack of oxygen, but the chief minister ordered a probe into the incident.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been severely criticized over its handling of the surge, which has pushed India’s already fragile and underfunded health system to the brink. Massive election rallies organized by his Bharatiya Janata Party and other parties as well as a giant Hindu festival on the banks of the Ganges may have exacerbated the spread, experts said, adding that new variants could also be increasing cases.

Modi’s party on Sunday suffered a resounding election defeat in a key state, West Bengal, failing to dislodge its firebrand chief minister, Mamata Banerjee. It retained power in northeastern Assam state but lost in two southern states.

While the four states were already stiff election challenges for Modi’s party apart from the pandemic, analysts said the results weaken Modi’s position as surging infections cripple the already fragile health system.

Meanwhile, the world’s biggest cricket tournament, the Indian Premier League, said Monday’s match between the Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kolkata Knight Riders would be rescheduled after two players tested positive for the coronavirus. The two players have self-isolated and medical personnel were tracing their contacts.

Despite rising cases, the league has held matches every evening behind closed doors since it kicked off in April.

India has confirmed 19.9 million COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, behind only the U.S., which has counted more than 32.4 million. More than 218,000 people in India have died, according to the health ministry. Both figures are thought to be vast undercounts.

India opened its vaccination campaign to people ages 18-44 on Saturday, a mammoth task undermined by limited supplies. India is the world’s biggest producer of vaccines, but even the ongoing effort to inoculate people above 45 is stuttering. Since January, 10% of Indians have received one dose but only around 1.5% have received both required doses.