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Europe

Consequences of Covid on global order: multilateralism and democracy at risk

BRUSSELS - European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee urges the EU to take responsibility in defending rules-based world order, stressing the need to change how decisions are made in EU foreign policy.

On Monday, the Foreign Affairs Committee approved, by 49 votes in favour, 6 against and 12 abstentions a report on the consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak on EU foreign policy.

According to Committee members, the COVID-19 pandemic is a “game changer” in international affairs. The EU has to strengthen its internal resilience, develop new partnerships, and foster its multilateralist vision on a global scale.

The rapporteur Hilde Vautmans (Renew) said: “The European Union has yet to establish its place in the new world order, and this is a weakness for both the EU and for multilateralism. A unified and prominent European presence on the world stage could help restore the global rules-based order after the damage done in recent years. However, Europeans absolutely must defend their interests internationally.”


Need for stronger EU policy


A number of governments and political leaders across the globe are using the crisis as an opportunity to furnish themselves with excessive powers, pursue their own political agendas by limiting human rights, and undermine democratic standards, MEPs say.

MEPs are particularly concerned about disinformation campaigns and external attempts to compromise the unity of the EU, notably from Russia, and the politicisation of humanitarian assistance. They also highlight that the current US administration seems to be withdrawing from the multilateral system.

In order to protect the rules-based global order, the EU should move towards a stronger foreign policy, MEPs say. Effective measures include a stronger mandate for the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to speak on behalf of the EU, for example by establishing a European seat in multilateral bodies. Also, the unanimity rule should be replaced by a qualified majority vote in foreign policy decisions.


Defending European values and interests


Referring to China’s attempts to position itself as the dominant global player “with an alternative governance model”, MEPs call on the High Representative to review EU-China relations, making sure that the new strategy defends European values and interests. They also urge the Chinese government to fully cooperate with an independent international investigation into the origins of COVID-19.

Finally, MEPs stress the urgent need for a global sanctions regime in order to combat human rights violations. A US bill, known as the Magnitsky Act, has been cited as the example that the EU should follow.

 

 

Trump’s lawyer spending millions on fighting women’s and LGBT rights in Europe

LONDON - UK political website openDemocracy today published documents highlighting how the US Christian right groups linked to Donald Trump’s administration and peddlers of COVID-19 misinformation have spent $270 million of ‘dark money’ pushing anti-rights agendas.

One of the groups is led by Trump’s personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow.

With Rudy Giuliani, Sekulow will be coordinating any legal challenges brought by Trump against the US election results on 3 November. They also led Trump’s defence against impeachment.
openDemocracy’s scrutiny of thousands of pages of US financial filings reveal how these groups have spent more money in Europe (at least $88 million) than anywhere else outside of the United States, followed by Africa, Asia and Latin America. DARK MONEY INTO EUROPE


The majority of the ‘dark money’ into Europe came from the Christian right ‘legal army’ Alliance Defending Freedom(ADF), which has close links to the Trump administration through its former staffers, and the Christian right legal advocacy group the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), whose chief counsel is Jay Sekeluw. Together these two groups have spent at least $25 million – the ACLJ ($14 million) and the ADF ($15 million). Trump’s solicitor general until earlier this year was one of the thousands of ‘allied attorneys’ ADF says it has globally.

ADF has significantly increased its European spending since 2015 (the year before Trump’s election and when same-sex marriage was legalised nationwide in the US). According to EU records, ADF International has seven lobbyists in Brussels and spends up to €300,000 a year on EU lobbying. In Europe, these US groups have together been involved in at least 50 legal cases including numerous cases challenging sexual and reproductive rights at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Between them, the 28 Christian right organisations investigated by openDemocracy have: ● Filed court briefs backing the Polish government’s controversial abortion restrictions, including those introduced in a landmark ruling last week ● Publicly supported Poland against the European Commission in their ongoing dispute over ‘LGBT ideology-free’ zones ● Backed contraception, divorce, abortion, same-sex adoption and trans rights restrictions across Europe: from Italy to Austria, Norway and France ● Supported campaigns for the death penalty for gay people in Africa; ● Pumped out misinformation – including about coronavirus CALL FOR TRANSPARENCY None of the groups investigated disclose who their donors and few disclose details about how exactly their overseas money is spent. Politicians and policy makers have responded with alarm and have called for urgent action to further investigate these groups’ activities, funding and spending – whether or not Trump wins the next election. Human rights advocates warn the report has revealed ‘historic threats to democracies’ whether or not Donald Trump wins the next US election in November.

 


CASE STUDY

 

Monika* in Warsaw began 2020 pregnant and excited about starting a family. Then she was diagnosed with . “As soon as I received the results, I knew I had to terminate the pregnancy,” she said. If Monika was facing her pregnancy crisis in Poland today, she may no longer have access to a safe, legal termination. Last week, the country’s constitutional court ruled that abortion due to foetal defects is unconstitutional. The move, condemned by the Council of Europe as grave “human rights violation”, paves the way for Poland’s conservative government to impose some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. triploidy, a rare chromosome disorder. Most foetuses with triploidy do not survive to birth; others are stillborn or die shortly. She was devastated Monika says that, had Poland’s new restrictions on abortion been in place earlier, she “would have been in a tragic situation.” “Access to abortion in cases like mine is a matter of women’s mental and physical health,” she says. “Continuing the pregnancy meant placing a huge burden on my body. As I’d like to have more children, I’d like my body to allow me to give life again in the future.” She fears that the “terrible consequences” of the new restrictions will include “the broken hearts of mothers who are forced to continue such pregnancies and watch their children die”.

 


CASE STUDY 2

 

Helina, in Norway, was denied contraception aged 16. Even though it had long been legal, t To me it felt like some kind of indirect slut shaming,” she recalls.
What connects the stories of Monika in Poland and Helina in Norway is not only their denial of rights in Europe, often considered the world’s most progressive continent. Their rights have also come into the crosshairs of powerful US Christian right groups – many with close links to the Trump administration. A CALL FOR TRANSPARENCY “It's time for the world to wake up. Do not stumble into our mistakes [in the United States] and do not think it could not happen where you live. Quinn Mckew, director of the transparency NGO Article 19
“The help that we need in Europe from people within the United States is help in combatting prejudice and upholding rights and freedoms, not encouragement for those seeking to diminish them” – Lord John Mann of Holbeck Moore in the UK House of Lords.

 

Support for populism falling in Europe, study

LONDON - Support for populist beliefs in Europe has fallen, according to a major YouGov survey.

The study of around 26,000 people in 25 countries showed a significant decline in populist tendencies in 2020.

For instance, there was steep drop in several countries among those agreeing with the statement: “The power of a few special interests prevents our country from making progress.”

The movement has swept the globe and dominated politics in recent years

 

Is France's response to Samuel Paty murder deepening divisions?

By Chloé Benoist, Middle East Eye, 23 October 2020.

 

Hostile political rhetoric in aftermath of teacher's murder pits Muslims against the rest of French society, advocates warn

 


A week after the gruesome murder of a schoolteacher in a Parisian suburb, France remains in shock and mourning.

Samuel Paty, a 47-year-old history teacher at a middle school in the town of Conflans Saint-Honorine, was decapitated on 16 October by 18-year old Abdullakh Anzorov, a Russian-born refugee of Chechen descent. Anzorov was later shot dead by French security forces.

The attack took place after Paty became the target of a campaign calling for his dismissal after he showed his students a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad during a class on freedom of expression.

In the wake of the horrendous crime, the French government has been quick to announce the deployment of a host of measures, with President Emmanuel Macron declaring that "fear must change sides".

From the six-month closure of a mosque accused of having shared a video critical of Paty, to the deportation of undocumented foreigners suspected of “radicalisation”, French officials have adopted a martial rhetoric seeking to project toughness in the face of attacks motivated by Islamic State (IS)-inspired ideology - with members of the political scene calling for ever more stringent measures to combat “separatism”.

Some five years after the deadly Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan attacks, France finds itself once again embroiled in a public debate on the fight against terrorism and the definition of the country’s very particular brand of secularism, laicite.

For many in Muslim communities that has raised apprehensions about a further conflation of Islam and Islamist extremism, as some advocates warn that an aggressive, indiscriminate approach may only play into the hands of the very people the government seeks to fight.

“Faced with a terrorist enemy, French people are completely traumatised, and have been traumatised on several occasions,” Dounia Bouzar, an anthropology researcher studying Muslim communities in France, told Middle East Eye, expressing fear that the current climate will lead “one terrorism to feed another”.


Deploying an arsenal


Seven people have been indicted in connection to the attack, including a parent who had launched the campaign against Paty over the caricature.

Macron announced on Wednesday that the Cheikh Yassine Collective, a Salafi pro-Palestinian organisation, was meanwhile dissolved for being “directly implicated” in the attack, after its founder, Abdelhakim Sefrioui, was arrested for participating in the campaign launched by the parent.

Sefrioui has denied having any knowledge that an attack was being planned.

Macron’s cabinet has been described by Le Monde newspaper as using “all manner of means” in order to show the French public it is reacting decisively to the attack, even if the effectiveness or relevance of some measures have been questioned.

French interior minister Gerald Darmanin has led the offensive, vowing on Monday that there wouldn’t be “a minute of respite for the enemies of the Republic”.

In addition to the investigation into Friday’s murder, a series of hardline measures have been announced.

As well as the Pantin mosque closure, increased police raids and the planned expulsion of 231 foreign nationals accused of promoting extremism - a move which had been underway prior to Paty’s killing - Darmanin has expressed his determination to shut down a number of organisations, most prominently Muslim charity BarakaCity and the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), which compiles information on alleged acts of anti-Muslim hatred in the country.

Bouzar cautioned against calls to close such organisations, saying proper investigations needed to be done to determine any wrongdoing lest it turn into “a crime of opinion”.

“You can agree or disagree with them… but to dissolve them means exiting the rule of law,” she said. “Or else, we have to ban all communitarian movements, like the Lubavitch, Mormons, the CRIF (Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions)...”

Muslim-affiliated organisations haven’t been the only ones in the authorities' crosshairs in recent days. The general rapporteur of the government’s own Observatory of Laicite, Nicolas Cadene, is reportedly under pressure to be replaced.

According to magazine Le Point, Minister Delegate in charge of Citizenship Marlene Schiappa has long been unhappy with Cadene’s public positions denouncing Islamophobia, with one source saying that the rapporteur “seems more preoccupied by the fight against the stigmatisation of Muslims than by the defence of laicite”.


Punitive one-upmanship


Meanwhile, Darmanin went one step further on Tuesday by expressing the view that the existence of halal food sections in stores encourages Muslims to isolate from the rest of French society.

“It’s always shocked me to enter a supermarket and see an aisle of communitarian cuisine on one side… that’s my opinion, this is how communitarianism starts,” the minister said.

“I think capitalism has a responsibility. When you sell communitarian clothing, maybe you have a part of responsibility in communitarianism.”

“So are you saying you would like to see these things disappear?” the interviewer asked.

“I have my opinion, and fortunately not all my opinions are part of the laws of the republic,” Darmanin answered.

While his comments have raised eyebrows, the interior minister is far from an anomaly in the French political and media landscape.

On CNews channel, which has been described by some as the French Fox News, several political and media figures suggested on Monday a flurry of radical, yet oft-repeated, measures to tackle the perceived war on French secular identity. These included opening a prison colony on the Kerguelen Islands in the Antarctic circle, and cracking down on first names that do not have French origins.

Meanwhile, French MP Meyer Habib, who represents French citizens living in southern Europe, Israel and Turkey, quoted the French national anthem in a tweet with thinly veiled allusions to armed conflict.

“Take up weapons, children of the fatherland!... they are coming into our midst to cut the throats of your sons and consorts’... Anger. We must wake up! It’s almost too late," he wrote on 16 October, before calling the next day for the deportation of undocumented migrants, the implementation of administrative detention, and the revocation of nationality for those convicted of terrorist acts.

For Yasser Louati, president of the Committee for Justice and Freedoms for All (CJL), the aggressive rhetoric used by Darmanin and others is concerning.

“When we talk about ‘enemies within’, this term was first used against Jews, ending in the catastrophe that we know of,” he told MEE.

“Never after an attack has [the government] asked ‘why?’ Never has the state done an audit of the failures of anti-terrorism measures after an attack. We keep things as they are, even if they are failing, and we call for new laws. Never has the executive branch asked that we all stand up against this together.”

 

Laicite, the eternal debate

 

The murder of Samuel Paty has once again brought to the fore France’s tensions over the meaning and application of laicite, a cornerstone value of the state for over a century.

First enshrined into law in 1905, and mentioned in the first sentence of the constitution, laicite is legally defined as the strict separation of state and religion. In the past two decades, however, a new interpretation has gained ground, which sees expressions of faith in public spaces as contrary to France’s secularist values.

While secularism in principle applies to all religions equally, Islam has been singled out by the new conception of laicite, with head coverings such as the hijab or niqab being subjected to legal restrictions due to being deemed ostentatious religious symbols.

The rise of IS, which recruited hundreds of French members who went to Syria and Iraq, along with several prominent attacks carried out in France by followers of a similar ideology, has further strained the terms of the debate.

Since the deadly attack on satirical publication Charlie Hebdo by two members of al-Qaeda in January 2015 following its publication of caricatures of Muhammad, more than half of French people polled have said they believe Islam to be incompatible with French values.

Growing resentment against Islam has left Muslims “to feel like they have to choose between their country, France, and their religion - as if a choice had to be made,” Bouzar says.

Earlier this month, Macron had announced plans to present a draft law aimed at strengthening secularism in France and tackle what he described as "Islamist separatism" in the country, calling for increased government oversight over the financing of mosques and training of imams.

While France forbids census figures based on race or religion, Muslims are believed to represent around six million of the country's 67 million inhabitants, many of whom have origins in former French colonies in Africa.

The topic of Islamophobia has been a longstanding issue in France, with analysts arguing that the intersection of immigration, religion and class have meant many French Muslims suffer from poverty, discrimination, and marginalisation within French society.

Macron himself acknowledged during his 2 October speech on separatism that the French state bore responsibility for the “ghettoisation” of poorer areas and the rise of exclusionary ideologies.

“We have concentrated populations together based on their origins, we haven’t sufficiently recreated diversity, not enough economic and social mobility… on our retreat, our cowardice, they [extremists] have built their projects,” he said.


‘Muslims are scared’


The state’s simultaneous crackdown on violent ideologies exemplified by groups such as IS and al-Qaeda, as well as expressions of Muslim faith such as head coverings or other modest attire, has led to a conflation between the two, some advocates say - even though French Muslims have also found themselves the targets of ideologically motivated violence.

“Muslims are doubly scared,” Bouzar said. “They are afraid of jihadists who want to eliminate them because they are not ‘true’ Muslims, and then they are scared of this anti-Muslim hatred which changes their daily lives.”

For Louati, the dichotomy made between Islam and laicite ends up working in the favour of groups like IS, often referred to by its Arabic acronym Daesh in French.

“When Daesh wrote in 2014 about ‘destroying the grey area’, they said: ‘We want to spill blood and divide Western society to make Muslims an oppressed community,” he said.

“We are all targeted by terrorism. Terrorists make no differentiation between Muslims and non-Muslims - they’ve shown it at the Bataclan, they’ve shown it at Charlie Hebdo, they’ve shown it in Nice.”

In the wake of the Conflans murder, several attacks with suspected anti-Muslim or anti-Arab motives have been reported in the country, most notably a stabbing attack targeting two veiled women near the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Saturday.

“France is experiencing psychological trauma, but to lose complexity in our analysis is dangerous,” Bouzar said. “It means losing our values, mirroring perhaps Daesh. It’s not a matter of self-righteousness, it’s that it could be counter-productive.”

Bouzar worked for the French government in 2017 on a project seeking to deradicalise Islamic State sympathisers or former members.

Under then-Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, she said she was able to take a multidisciplinary approach bringing together psychologists, families, schools, imams and police to go to the root of the issue.

She believes French authorities need to come back to a complex approach, instead of relying exclusively on a “repressive system”.

Some of the young people she sought to rehabilitate, she said, are now “under the impression that they will never have a place in France”.

 

Concerns over legality

 

In addition to fears that the response to the murder of Samuel Paty will further stoke resentment against France’s Muslim community, legal experts have cautioned that the government’s aggressive approach may in effect violate existing French and international law.

Speaking to France Inter radio on Tuesday, legal expert on public freedoms Nicolas Hervieu cautioned that despite the “race” to announce firm measures, many such decisions could end up being contested in court if they did not go through due process.

“We cannot dissolve an association simply because we don’t agree with its opinions,” Hervieu said, adding that investigations had to take place on a case-by-case basis.

“There could be a paradox in how, faced with the vital menace which Islamist terrorism represents to our democracy, we end up undermining ourselves the foundations of democracy by putting an end to the freedoms that are our pride and against which terrorists fight.”

International rights groups have called for human rights to remain at the centre of the response to Paty’s execution.

“One does not fight hatred with hatred. One does not fight intolerance with more intolerance... Human rights protect us. We must protect them,” Amnesty International wrote in a statement honouring the slain teacher.

The perspective of breaching the law has not appeared to faze some political figures, regardless of affiliation.

Former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls seconded on Sunday Damarnin’s call to shut down BarakaCity and the CCIF - even if it meant breaking the law.

“If we must, in an exceptional moment, distance ourselves from European law, make our constitution evolve, we must do so,” he told BFMTV. “I’ve said it before in 2015, we are at war. If we are at war, then we must act and strike.”

On Tuesday, the CCIF announced that it had appealed to the United Nations Human Rights Council over the “separatism” bill and efforts to shut down Muslim associations, calling the context an “unprecendented situation in France regarding the treatment of Muslim communities”.

This wouldn’t be the first time that an international rights body has looked at France's relationship with its Muslim communities.

In the past several years, UN human rights rapporteurs have repeatedly denounced France’s state of emergency and surveillance policies as straying from Paris’s “international commitments and obligations in terms of human rights”.

In 2018, the UN Human Rights Committee said France’s niqab ban “disproportionately harmed” freedom of worship, adding that it was “not persuaded by France’s claim that a ban on face covering was necessary and proportionate from a security standpoint or for attaining the goal of ‘living together’ in society”.

Is a nuanced, measured debate on Islam and secularism still possible in France today? Bouzar is pessimistic.

“In this context, it’s very complicated,” she said. “I have spent my life trying to create a connection between Muslims and non-Muslims, and now… it’s a catastrophe.

“The blanket characterisation of the enemy is part of all ideologies that lead to violence. It’s one of the ingredients of totalitarian thinking, for jihadists as well as for fascists.”

 

Asia

seven killed and 70 injured in bombing inside religious school in Peshawar

PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN - At least seven people have been killed and 70 injured in a suspected bombing inside a religious school in Peshawar, Pakistan, hospital officials have told local media.

“Unknown people had planted explosives in a plastic bag” during class at religious school, police say, with two teachers and ‘many’ children among victims

The explosion ripped through the busy madrassa in Peshawar's Dir Colony on Tuesday morning. The victims are believed to include two teachers and many children who were studying inside the school at the time.

Police said they were still investigating the cause of the blast, but an unnamed source told the Reuters news agency that they believed it to be a deliberate act.

"The blast took place in a madrassa where unknown people had planted explosives in a plastic bag," an officer said.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted his condolences to the families of victims, saying: “I want to assure my nation, we will ensure the terrorists responsible for this cowardly barbaric attack are brought to justice asap.”

In 2014, militants from Tehreek-e-Taliban opened fire at a military school in Peshawar and killed over 150 people, including many children.

 

UN Mission voices ‘deep revulsion’ over deadly bomb attack on Kabul college

KABUL - The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has expressed “deep revulsion” at the killing on Saturday night of at least 24 people, according to latest reports, and injuring of dozens of others in a suicide attack outside an education centre.

Many of the dead and wounded were children, said UNAMA, “in a deliberate targeted attack at a Kabul college – a callous and senseless war crime”, the mission added, in messages posted to its Twitter account.

UNAMA offered its condolences to the families of those involved: “Those responsible for the crime must be held to account. Their violence must not be allowed to win. Everyone must re-double efforts to stem recent violence, especially that impacting Afghanistan’s civilians, and refocus on talks to bring about a political settlement.”

The terrorist group ISIL has reportedly said it was behind the attack on the private education facility in a largely Shia neighbourhood of the capital, a suicide attacker detonating an explosive vest, after seeking to gain entry to the college.

The Taliban has denied any involvement in the attack.


Talks stalled in Doha


The attack follows on from other violent incidents in recent weeks, some of which have been carried out by Taliban fighters, despite the start of historic peace talks involving the group and Government negotiators, a few weeks ago, in the Qatari capital Doha.

Talks are reportedly stalled as the two sides attempt to reach agreement over the rules for moving on to substantive negotiations.

The head of UNAMA and UN Special Representative for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, said in a tweet on Sunday that “at time when Afghans should feel hopeful, the horrific rise in violence, particularly in the last few weeks, erodes this spirit. Those responsible for the violence need to know that neither the Afghans nor their regional and international partners will let hope fade.”

Last Monday, Secretary-General António Guterres strongly condemned an indiscriminate attack on provincial police headquarters in the province of Ghor, which claimed the lives of at least 13 and injured dozens of civilians.

There have been other brutal attacks on educational facilities during the years of conflict in Afghanistan, including an attack which the ISIL terrorist group, said it carried out in August 2018, claimed close to 50 lives, most of them Kabul students studying for university entrance exams.

India gives submarine to Myanmar amid growing Chinese footprint in Indian Ocean countries

By Anjana Pasricha

NEW DELHI - India has given a submarine to Myanmar as part of a military outreach to its eastern neighbor that strategic analysts say is driven by New Delhi's bid to counter China's growing influence in Southeast Asia.

"Cooperation in the maritime domain is a part of our diverse and enhanced engagement with Myanmar," Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said while announcing earlier this month that India is giving its neighbor its first submarine — a 3,000-ton diesel-electric, Kilo class Russian-built submarine that has been refitted.

Renamed UMS Minye Theinkhathu, a historical hero in Myanmar, the attack submarine was showcased in a naval exercise conducted by the Myanmar navy in mid-October. It can operate at a depth of up to 300 meters.

The submarine, the first supplied by India to any country, is part of an effort by New Delhi to step up its defense engagement with Myanmar as it tries to contain China's looming presence in a country that is a gateway to the Bay of Bengal, a strategic waterway located in the northeastern part of the Indian Ocean.

India and Myanmar share a 725-kilometer maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal.

India's decision to give an underwater vessel to its eastern neighbor comes four years after Bangladesh, which shares a border with both India and Myanmar, acquired two submarines from China. Beijing is also helping Bangladesh build a submarine base, funding the development of its Chittagong port and developing a deep-sea port in Kyaukpyu in Myanmar on the Bay of Bengal.

Analysts say that for New Delhi these projects represent yet another bid by China to expand its naval presence in countries that ring India, prompting it to strengthen its own partnerships in the region.

"Myanmar wants to reduce its military and economic dependence on Beijing, but ok? in order to do that they have pointed out that they need options," according to Prakash Jha, a professor of defense and security studies at India's O.P. Jindal Global University.

"We have given them defense equipment earlier, such as naval surveillance aircraft and communication equipment which was nonlethal in nature. But recently they have been seeking more advanced equipment. So, giving a submarine is part of India's decision to engage Myanmar much more cohesively, to build goodwill," he said.

Myanmar's acquisition of a submarine comes amid a spree in recent years by small Asian countries, from Bangladesh to Vietnam, to acquire underwater capability as they seek to modernize their navies — viewed as an effort by the export-dependent countries to ensure open sea lanes.

"Tensions in recent years have been rising along maritime borders," Jha said.

"And many of the small countries now believe that submarines represent a technological upgrade for their navies and give them some biting power," he said.

The website of Myanmar's military's commander in chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, says the submarine will enhance the state's defense prowess.

"To be a more modernized navy, we must be facilitated with submarines," the website said.

India's move, according to ministry spokesman Srivastava, was in accordance with its vision "to build capacities and self-reliance in all our neighboring countries." India's army chief, Manoj Mukund Naravane, and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla visited Myanmar this month.

"Seventy to 80% of the world's trade passes through the Indian Ocean and the Chinese have invested in countries like Myanmar, Pakistan, Maldives and Sri Lanka, that are all gateways to the Indian Ocean," defense analyst Rahul Bedi said.

"India's giving a submarine to Myanmar is a small cog in the much, much bigger wheel of acquiring a dominant position in these crucial waters," he said.

China warns 'enemies' of its military might

BEIJING - Chinese President Xi Jinping says his country stands ready to fight anyone "creating trouble," for the mainland, in a clear message to the United States not to misjudge its determination to defend the nation.

Xi said on Friday that any act of unilateralism, monopolism and bullying would not work, and would only lead to a dead end.

"Let the world know that 'the people of China are now organized, and are not to be trifled with," Xi added.

The Chinese powerful president made the remarks in a long speech on the 70th anniversary of China's entry into the Korean War.

The 1950-53 conflict was the only time China has fought US forces.

Xi also called to expedite the modernization of the country's defense and armed forces, during the event.

"Without a strong army, there can be no strong motherland," he said.

Xi called on the Chinese people, earlier this week, to "keep their faith in ultimate victory," saying the spirit forged during the war would inspire them to "prevail over all enemies."

China has in recent years, engaged in a bitter row with the US over several issues, including trade, technology, The South China Sea and the status of Taiwan, which Beijing considers as an inviolable part of the mainland.

Under the administration of US President Donald Trump, their ties have sunk to their lowest in decades.

Now with tensions running high between the world's two biggest economies, China is making much of the 70th anniversary of its forces entering the Korean War, as a warning to Washington.

A political commentator said that commemorating the anniversary "China is declaring to the US that it was not afraid of the US in the past, and is still not afraid of the US now."

"It's to prepare for a possible limited military conflict with the US", said Shi Yinhong, professor of international politics at Renmin University.

In 1950, North Korea went to war with the South, which was backed by United Nations forces comprising mainly US troops.

Later in that year, China deployed over 2 million troops to support the North in the war.

"The victory in the war to resist US aggression and aid Korea was a victory of justice, a victory of peace and a victory of the people," Xi said on Monday.

The Korean War ended in an armistice in 1953, rather than a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula in a technical state of war.

"After arduous battles, Chinese and Korean troops, armed to their teeth, defeated their opponents, shattering the myth of the invincibility of the US military, and forcing the invaders to sign the armistice agreement on July 27, 1953," Xi said.

Over the past two years, China and North Korea have worked to improve relations that had deteriorated as Beijing backed a series of UN sanctions against Pyongyang.

The country has in recent years been subject to multiple UN Security Council sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs. The US has spearheaded those sanctions and has unilaterally imposed several of its own.

Xi and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have met five times since March 2018, even as nuclear negotiations between the US and the North have hit a standstill due to Washington's refusal to relieve any of the harsh sanctions in exchange for the goodwill measures by Pyongyang.

China will not tolerate damage to sovereignty: Xi

During the event on Friday, the Chinese president also warned the US over its activities in Taiwan.

The Pentagon announced on Wednesday that it had agreed to sell over one billion dollars' worth of missiles to the self-ruled island.

On Thursday, China censured the move as interference in its domestic affairs and warned of a "legitimate response."

Without directly mentioning the escalating friction with Washington, Xi said Beijing "will never sit back and watch any damage to our national sovereignty."

He stressed that China "will never allow any force to invade or divide the sacred territory of the motherland."

The arms packages, including long-range air-to-ground missiles, is one of the largest weapons sales to Taiwan in recent years.

Under the internationally-recognized "One China" policy, almost all world countries — including the US — recognize Chinese sovereignty over the self-ruled island.

The US, which, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic relations with Taipei, has been pressing Taiwan to further build up its military so it can face what it calls threats from China.

Washington is the island's largest weapons supplier and an avid backer of Taiwan's secessionist president Tsai Ing-wen.

Beijing, however, describes the weapons sales as a violation of China's sovereignty.

The latest arms sale to Taiwan came as Trump and his reelection campaign are trying to portrait the president as tough on China in the run-up to the November 3 election.

The move, according to analysts, is part of an effort to divert the American's attention from the Trump administration's failures on the coronavirus pandemic and the economy as well.

China warns Britain to 'correct mistakes' on Hong Kong visas

In another development, China called on Britain to "immediately correct its mistakes" regarding visa policy for those with British National (Overseas) status in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong office of China's foreign ministry issued the statement on Friday after Britain confirmed details of its citizenship route for almost three million people in Hong Kong, on Thursday.

Under the move, Britain would provide a clear pathway to citizenship for Hong Kong residents.

The visa will be open for applications from January 31 next year.

There would be no quota on numbers, with five-year visas to cost 250 pounds ($330) each, Britain said.

The UK made the offer to those with British National (Overseas) status in July, in response to a new national security law for Hong Kong, which the West say harms the city's semi-autonomous status.

The new law punishes crimes of secession, subversion, and collusion with foreign forces with sentences of up to life in prison in Hong Kong.

Under the law, mainland security agencies are also officially based in Hong Kong for the first time since 1997, when the city's rule returned from Britain to China.

Hong Kong has been governed under the "one-country, two-system" model since then, meaning that Chinese sovereignty is applied to the city while it has its own government.

Britain along with Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States suspended their extradition treaties with Hong Kong over the enactment of the new law in the city.

China said the security law had been an "an excuse" for those countries to unilaterally suspend their extradition treaties with the Chinese region.

 

 

 

Africa

Report reveals heat rising north and south, Sahel getting wetter

GENEVA - Africa needs to prepare better for climate change by responding to a wide range of potential risks, a multi-agency report led by the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Monday, the first in a series of continent-by-continent assessments.

“In recent months we have seen devastating floods, an invasion of desert locusts and now face the looming spectre of drought because of a La Niña event. The human and economic toll has been aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement.


Filling the gap


The report aims to fill a gap in reliable and timely climate information for Africa, which translates into a lack of climate-related development planning, said Vera Songwe, Under-Secretary-General, and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

Africa has been warming progressively since the start of the last century, and in the next five years, northern and southern Africa are set to get drier and hotter, while the Sahel region of Western Africa will get wetter, WMO’s Regional Strategic Office Director, Filipe Lucio, told a press conference.

“Overall, Africa needs to take action. Action is needed today in terms of adaptation, but also is needed tomorrow in terms of mitigation”, Lucio said.

The agricultural sector is key to building climate resistance, since it is the dominant employer and it relies on the use of water and energy – both heavily implicated in climate change, he said.

Northern and southern areas under threat of aridity and desertification would benefit from reforestation, which helps to prevent water runoff and creates vegetation which supports the hydrological cycle.


Policy recommendations


Policy changes are also recommended in transport, energy, infrastructure and industry. Financing has improved with the establishment of a UN-backed Green Climate Fund but there are still limitations in terms of the continent’s ability to tap into such funds, he added.

Climate change has contributed to a jump in food insecurity, mosquito-borne disease and mass displacement in the past decade, and the rise in sea levels has led to unusual weather patterns such as Tropical Cyclone Idai, which hit Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe in 2019.

It showed the need for communities to learn about the risks and for impact-based warnings about the appropriate actions to take.


Cautionary tale


A day after the cyclone made landfall, it appeared to have dissipated and people thought the worst was over. But then disaster struck when flooding followed, overwhelming Mozambique’s major port city of Beira, Lucio said.

“People were asked to find refuge in appropriate places but the city of Beira was never built to withstand a category-5 tropical cyclone. So that means the building codes need to be changed, but the building codes cannot be changed using what tropical cyclones used to be like in the past.

“They need to have forward looking analysis to anticipate the trends into the future and start designing infrastructure and other systems taking into account the changing nature of these tropical cyclones.”

 

 

UN shocked and outraged over horrific attack on school in Cameroon

NEW YORK - The United Nations has strongly condemned Saturday’s attack on a school in southwestern Cameroon, which claimed the lives of eight children, and wounded another twelve.

On 24 October, a group of armed men attacked Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy in Kumba, in Cameroon’s restive South-West region. According to local reports, the victims were aged between 12 and 14.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on Cameroonian authorities to conduct a thorough investigation to ensure that those responsible are held accountable, his spokesperson said in a statement.

“The attack is another disturbing reminder of the exacting heavy toll on civilians, including children, many of whom have been deprived of their right to education,” said the statement.

“Attacks on education facilities are a grave violation of children’s rights,” it added.

Mr. Guterres also called on all armed actors to refrain from attacks against civilians and to respect international humanitarian and international human rights law.

He also urged the parties to answer his call for a global ceasefire, reiterating the availability of the United Nations to support an inclusive dialogue process leading to a resolution of the crisis in the North-West and South-West regions of Cameroon


‘Schools must be places of safety, not death traps’


In a separate statement, Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also condemned the attack “in the strongest possible terms.”

“This has been a deadly weekend for schoolchildren in Afghanistan and Cameroon,” she said, also referring to the attack on an education centre in Kabul.

“I am shocked and outraged at these abominable attacks and condemn them in the strongest possible terms. Attacks on education are a grave violation of children’s rights,” Ms. Fore added, reiterating that schools must be places of safety and learning, “not death traps.”


‘Worst atrocity’ since schools resumed


According to the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Cameroon, Matthias Z. Naab, the attack is the worst atrocity since the resumption of the school year on 5 October, in which more students enrolled in the North-West and South-West regions than in recent years. Unrest in parts of Cameroon had affected school enrolment and access to education.

“Children have a right to education. Violence against schools and innocent school children is not acceptable under any circumstances and can constitute a crime against humanity if proven in a court of law,” said Mr. Naab.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) has provided medical supplies to the local hospital and the NGO, Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) is assisting with medical supplies and personnel.  

The UN will continue to support Government and NGO efforts to provide necessary medical assistance to the wounded, added Mr. Naab.

 

Guinea: Satellite imagery confirm security forces fired live bullet at protesters

LONDON - Witness testimonies, satellite imagery and videos analysed and authenticated by Amnesty International confirm that defense and security forces in Guinea have used live ammunition against protesters after the 18 October disputed presidential election.

Several deaths and injuries have been recorded during protests and riots, which also led to destruction of houses and properties. Internet and phone calls were disrupted or cut on 23 and 24 October, and an online news website is still under suspension. Amnesty International has raised concerns about the silence of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) given the scale of human rights violations inflicted on people in Guinea.

“Authorities must stop the use of firearms. The death of protesters, bystanders and local officials of the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution must also be independently, impartially and effectively investigated. If criminal culpability is found, those suspected must be brought to justice in fair trials before civilian courts,” said Fabien Offner, Amnesty International West and Central Africa researcher.

‘’President Alpha Condé has repeatedly said he preferred to leave the country in 1993, rather than go into confrontation and ‘govern cemeteries’, as is the case today. We urge the international community to urgently come together and call for the protection of the population and for investigations to be opened.”

In a statement read on national television on 23 October, the Minister of Territorial Administration announced the requisition of the army to "maintain order wherever needed throughout the national territory." Prior to this announcement, the army had been deployed to several towns. This is contrary to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) rules, which state that "as a general rule, military personnel should not be deployed for the maintenance of order during meetings and should only be used in exceptional circumstances, and only in cases of absolute necessity.”

On 22 October, the same minister in another television pronouncement claimed that "12-calibre rifles were used by demonstrators to fire at citizens and members of the defense and security forces.’’ While Amnesty International could not independently confirm the use of weapons by the protesters, the organization, based on analysis of satellite imagery and authenticated videos, concludes that members of the defense and security forces used weapons of war in several towns, including Conakry and Labé.

A video taken in Kobayah (Conakry) on 21 October and authenticated by Amnesty International shows a member of the defense and security forces wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest firing three times and at a very close range in the direction of people supposed to be civilians, without any apparent threat to his life or that of another person, in violation of international rules on the use of firearms by armed forces.

Amnesty International was able to identify and analyze pictures of bullets and bullet shells taken in Labé (Labé region), where soldiers were deployed, according to several testimonies and videos. The analysis shows that these are ammunitions, 7.62x39mm in size which correspond to AK/PMAK weapons. Videos taken in recent days and months also show that these weapons are frequently carried by members of the Guinean defense and security forces, a fact that authorities have always denied.

As of 23 October, nine deaths according to authorities, 27 according to opposition


On 21 October, the Ministry of Security announced the death of nine people, including two police officers. The opposition party Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) announced on 23 October that 27 people had been shot dead since 19 October, including 18 in Conakry, three in Manéah, three in Labé, one in Mamou, one in Télimélé and one in Pita. More than one hundred people were injured by gunshots while the house of UFDG leader and presidential candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo has been surrounded by security forces since 20 October.

Diallo had proclaimed himself the winner without waiting for the official announcement of the results by the Independent National Electoral Commission which the opposition considers is under control of the government.

The FNDC has also accused the defense and security forces of having shot and killed Boubacar Baldé and Daouda Kanté, its local representatives in the areas of Sonfonia Gare 2 (Conakry) and Pita (Mamou region) respectively.

Amnesty International is still analyzing the information on its possession but is not yet able to establish a complete assessment, given the scale of the alleged deaths and injuries, and the disruption of the internet and telephone lines. However, the organization has documented, through various sources, the death of at least nine people, mostly shot dead, since 19 October. Information gathered so far on other alleged victims, based on data from some health facilities, as well as figures reported by the media in Guinea suggest that dozens of people might have been killed.

In two health facilities in the capital Conakry, Amnesty International has documented, between 19 and 21 October, at least 29 protesters injured, including several by firearms, or stabbed. The figure is an estimate.

El Hadj Yacouba Diallo, 67, was killed by a crowd on 23 October and his house in Enta-marché area (Conakry) was burnt, according to testimonies collected by Amnesty International.
A witness told the organization:

‘’El Hadj Yacouba Diallo lived here for a very long time. Young people from the ruling political majority came in the middle of the day, armed with sticks, stones and other weapons. When they arrived, Diallo first fired shots, then took refuge in his house. They took him out, stoned him and beat him to death. The compounds close to his have also been vandalized.”

"I left Abdoulaye on the ground and I had to run away"

Abdoulaye "Diomba" Diallo, 18, was shot dead on 19 October in Hamdallaye (Conakry), near the Concasseur crossroads, according to testimonies from a member of his family and a friend. These were also corroborated by a video authenticated by Amnesty International.

According to these testimonies, five gendarmerie vehicles and one from other security forces were present while Diallo was shot. A 20-seconds video shows groups of young men walking on the pavement where tires have been placed. Clouds formed by tear gas can be seen in the background, where the defense and security forces are supposed to be. The end of the video shows some young people running away in the opposite direction, and Abdoulaye "Diomba" Diallo falling on his back as a gunshot rang out. The victim's clothes, visible in the video are the same as those visible in the pictures of his body, viewed by Amnesty International.

A friend of Abdoulaye carried him on his back until members of mixed security forces threw tear gas, making it impossible to carry his friend to safety. “I left Abdoulaye on the ground and I had to run away,” he said.

FNDC coordinator Boubacar Baldé, was killed on 21 October after being shot in the thigh. According to a family member, his friends took him to a health facility before attempting to transport him to a hospital, but roads were blocked preventing his evacuation.

Salimatou Bah, a nurse trainee in a health facility in the Cimenterie district (Conakry), died on 20 October 20 after being hit by a tear gas canister in the area of Bailobayo while on her way home. "She was buried on 21 October 21," a relative told Amnesty International.

 

Frontal attack on freedom of expression


Internet connection and telephone calls to and from Guinea were severely disrupted or cut on Friday 23 and Saturday 24 October with no prior warning from the authorities. The 22 March constitutional referendum had already been marked by cut of the internet in violation of the right to freedom of expression and access to information.

On 18 October, the High Authority for Communication (HAC) suspended the news website Guinéematin.com for a month, following "the live broadcast via Facebook of the vote counting" from several polling stations, and after the manager refused to stop the live broadcasting. The suspension decision is not only vague but contains legal loopholes with no possibility for appeal.

‘’This new standstill of various means of communications constitutes an attack on freedom of expression and an attempt to silence protesters, human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers," said Fabien Offner.

"The authorities must immediately lift the suspension of Guinéematin.com news website and the restrictions on access to internet and social media so that everyone can freely express himself and journalists can do their job."

Ethiopia summons US ambassador over Trump comments in dam dispute

ADDIS ABABA - Ethiopia on Saturday summoned the US ambassador over what it called an "incitement of war" between Ethiopia and Egypt from President Donald Trump over their dispute about the filling and operation of a massive hydropower dam.

Trump called on Friday for an agreement between the countries, but added it was a dangerous situation and that Cairo could end up "blowing up that dam".

Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Minister Gedu Andargachew summoned US Ambassador to Addis Ababa Mike Raynor to seek clarifications on the comments.

"The incitement of war between Ethiopia and Egypt from a sitting US president neither reflects the longstanding partnership and strategic alliance between Ethiopia and the United States nor is acceptable in international law governing interstate relations," Gedu's ministry said in a statement.

Trump made the comments during a call with Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok following Sudan and Israel's announcement to normalise ties.

Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt have been locked in a bitter dispute over the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which remains unresolved although the reservoir behind the dam began filling in July.

Trump said on Friday he had brokered an agreement to resolve the issue but that Ethiopia had broken the pact, forcing him to cut funds, adding: "They will never see that money unless they adhere to the agreement ... You can't blame Egypt for being a little upset."

He said he had also urged Egypt to resolve the dispute.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's office said earlier on Saturday: "Occasional statements of belligerent threats to have Ethiopia succumb to unfair terms still abound."

The first phase of filling the dam was completed in August, it said.

Egypt says it is dependent on the Nile for more than 90% of its scarce fresh water supplies, and fears the dam could have a devastating effect on its economy.

Abiy's office said there had been significant progress made in resolving the dispute since the African Union took over the negotiations.

"Now is the time for action and not for increasing tensions," European Union's European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said before the Ethiopian ministry issued its statement.

 

Burundi: Sixty-five organizations call for immediate release of Iwacu journalists

LONDON - On the first anniversary of their arrest, 65 organizations call for the immediate and unconditional release of the Iwacu journalists Agnès Ndirubusa, Christine Kamikazi, Egide Harerimana and Térence Mpozenzi who were convicted on charges against state security for simply doing their job. Their continued detention on baseless charges is a stark reminder that, despite a recent change in leadership, the Burundian government has little tolerance for independent journalism and free speech, the organizations said.

On 22 October 2019, the four journalists were arrested along with their driver Adolphe Masabarakiza as they went to report on clashes between the security forces and an armed group in Bubanza province. Although they had informed the provincial authorities of their plan to travel to the area, they were arrested on arrival and later accused of threatening internal state security. However, during the trial, the prosecution presented no evidence of the journalists having any contact with the armed group.

Although they were charged with complicity in threatening the internal security of the state, Ndirubusa, Kamikazi, Harerimana and Mpozenzi were ultimately convicted of attempting to commit the crime, a lesser criminal offense. Their lawyers say that they were not informed of the change to the charge prior to the verdict or allowed to defend themselves against it in court, violating fair trial standards. All four were sentenced to two and a half years in prison and fined one million Burundian francs (approximately 525 USD). Masabarakiza, who had been provisionally released in November 2019, was acquitted. Ndirubusa, Kamikazi, Harerimana and Mpozenzi appealed their conviction, but in its 4 June decision the Ntahangwa Court of Appeal upheld the verdict.

The message sent by the courts is an attempt to intimidate and threaten other journalists from doing their work and reporting on what is happening inside the country, the organizations said. The conviction and continued detention of the four journalists also runs counter to Burundi’s constitutional guarantees on freedom of expression, as well as regional and international obligations in accordance with Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is particularly inconsistent with the African Commission’s 2019 Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, which specifically provides that states shall take measures to prevent “arbitrary arrest and detention” of journalists.

Iwacu is one of the few remaining independent media houses operational in Burundi. Hundreds of journalists and human rights defenders have fled the country since the start of the political crisis in 2015 and those still working in the country often face threats and harassment. Releasing Ndirubusa, Kamikazi, Harerimana and Mpozenzi would be an important first step towards reopening civic space and recognizing the contribution of reliable media reporting in ensuring access to information for all Burundians.

Signatories:

ACAT-Burundi (Action des chrétiens pour l'abolition de la torture)
Amnesty International
ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa
Association Burundaise pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH)
Association des journalistes indépendants du Bénin
Bloggers Association of Kenya
Burundi Human Rights Initiative
Cellule Norbert Zongo pour le journalisme d’investigation en Afrique de l’Ouest
Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy
CNCD-11.11.11
Coalition Burundaise des Défenseurs des Droits de l'Homme
Coalition Burundaise pour la Cour Pénale Internationale (CB-CPI)
Coalition de la Société Civile pour le Monitoring Electoral (COSOME)
Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
Collectif des Avocats pour la défense des victimes de crimes de droit international commis au Burundi (CAVIB)
Committee to Protect Journalists
Community Empowerment for Progress Organization-CEPO, South Sudan
Congress of African Journalists
Consortium of Ethiopian Human Rights Organizations (CEHRO)
Defend Defenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
Eastern Africa Journalists Network (EAJN)
European Network for Central Africa (EurAc)
Fédération internationale des ACAT (FIACAT)
Federation of African Journalists (FAJ)
Federation of Somali Journalists (FESOJ)
FIDH, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Forum pour la Conscience et le Développement (FOCODE)
Forum pour le Renforcement de la Société Civile (FORSC)
The Ghanaian PEN Centre
Human Rights Network for Journalists- Uganda
Human Rights Watch
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Kenya Correspondents Association
Kenya Editors' Guild
Kenya Union of Journalists
Laws and Rights Awareness Initiative (LRAI)
Ligue Burundaise des droits de l’homme Iteka
Ligue des journalistes Tchadiens (LJT)
La Maison de la presse du Niger
Media Council of Tanzania
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Mouvement des Femmes et Filles pour la Paix et la Sécurité au Burundi (MFFPS)
Mouvement Inamahoro Femmes & Filles pour la Paix & la Securite
National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders - Uganda
Observatoire de la lutte contre la corruption et les malversations économiques (OLUCOME)
Ökumenisches Netz Zentralafrika (ÖNZ)
One Day Seyoum
OpenNet Africa
Organisation Patronale des Médias du Gabon (OPAM)
Paradigm Initiative
PEN International
PEN Nigeria
PEN South Africa
PEN Zimbabwe
Reporters sans Frontières (RSF)
Réseau des Citoyens Probes (RCP)
SOS-Torture/Burundi
Syndicat National des Journalistes Indépendants du Togo (SYNJIT)
Syndicat Professionnels Information Communication Sénégal (Synpics)
Tournons la Page - Burundi
Tournons la Page International
TRIAL International
Ugandan PEN
Union Burundaise des Journalistes
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

 

Americas

US sees highest number of new Covid-19 cases in past two days

NEW YORK - The United States has seen its highest ever number of new Covid-19 cases in the past two days, keeping the pandemic a top election issue as Vice President Mike Pence travels the country to campaign despite close aides testing positive.

The United States reported 79,852 new infections on Saturday, close to the previous day's record of 84,244 new cases. Hospitalisations are also rising and have hit a two-month high and deaths are trending upwards, according to a Reuters tally.

So far in October, 29 states have set records for increases in new cases, including five considered key in the Nov. 3 presidential election: Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Cases in the Midwest set a new record on Saturday and the number of hospitalised Covid-19 patients in that region hit an all-time high for the ninth day in a row.

Hospitals are strained in several states including North Dakota, which is the hardest hit based on recent new cases per capita, according to a Reuters analysis.

The city of El Paso in Texas is asking residents to stay home for the next two weeks and the wider El Paso County closed its parks and recreational facilities for 14 days.

In addition, an El Paso County judge ordered late Sunday a 10pm to 5am curfew due to the Covid crisis. The curfew order went into effect immediately, but it does not apply to essential workers or people traveling.

 

Nasa announces that Moon definitely has water in major breakthrough

CAP CANAVERAL, FLORIDA, USA - Water has been definitively found on the Moon, Nasa has said, and there are a set of “water traps” that could hold it stably.

The research suggests that water could be distributed right across the lunar surface, not just trapped in the cold, shadowed parts of the Moon.

The discovery is a major breakthrough in the mission to explore the rest of the solar system, as well as giving a better understanding of the lunar surface.

It also raises new questions about how exactly the water got there, and how it is able to survive the harsh conditions on the Moon.

It could, for instance, be trapped in “glass beads” on the surface that form when micrometeorites crash into the Moon and melt a part of the lunar surface, either forming water or capturing it in the beads as it does.

Scientists had previously thought that any water on the sunlit side of the Moon would immediately be lost. But it appears that it is in fact present, and not just on the parts that are shaded from the sun.

Nasa was keen to stress that the amount of water is very limited, with the new discovery representing only around one per cent of the amount of water found in the Sahara desert. But even that very small amount of water was not previously confirmed to exist, and it remains unclear how it could be created or stay on the surface.

Researchers had previously found evidence of hydration on the lunar surface. But it was unclear whether that hydrogen was in the form of hydroxyl – the chemical that makes up drain cleaners – or in the form of H2O, or water.

Now scientists have found unambiguously that there is a water on the surface.

Nasa hopes to head to the Moon in 2024, taking the first person in more than 50 years and the first woman ever to step foot on the lunar surface. By the end of the decade, it wants to have established a “sustainable human presence” on the Moon.

Water is critical for exploring space: not just as a fuel or drinking, but it can also be turned into oxygen to breathe. But it is heavy, and therefore very expensive to be carried into space on a rocket, and so finding it on the Moon could make space travel significantly cheaper and easier.

 

Kushner attacked over African-American remarks

WASHINGTON - White House adviser Jared Kushner is under fire for remarks about African Americans.

US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law said the president “can help people break out of the problems that they’re complaining about but he can’t want them to be successful more than they want to be successful”.

The comment was “one of the more damning ones” made about black Americans by the administration, CNN says.

 

Joe Biden enjoys three-point lead in Texas

WASHINGTON - The US presidential candidate Joe Biden is on course to defeat President Donald Trump in the Republican stronghold of Texas, according to the latest opinion polls.

The state has minimal postal voting, so its resutl is expected to be declared on election night.

If Biden became the first Democrat to win the state since Jimmy Carter in 1976, Donald Trump's chances of retaining the Oval Office would be very low.


Fauci says coronavirus vaccine could be available this year

New York - The US medical chief Dr Anthony Fauci says a Covid-19 vaccine could be available in the US before the end of the year.

Speaking to the BBC, he said that the limited first doses would go to people according to a set prioritisation and that it would be “several months into 2021” before it was more widely available.

Australia & Pacific

Pandemic biggest hurdle for New Zealand's Ardern after landslide victory

By Praveen Menon

WELLINGTON - Jacinda Ardern’s landslide election win gives her a mandate for the transformational change she has been promising New Zealand for three years, but the COVID-19 pandemic may limit what she can actually do.

The prime minister’s signature achievement in all but eliminating the new coronavirus from the Pacific island nation through strict lockdowns propelled her to victory on Saturday. But this approach may also hinder the recovery New Zealanders are hoping for and the progressive policies Ardern champions.

The general election was “tectonic,” and with this mandate, Ardern “needs to deliver”, said Richard Shaw, professor of politics at Massey University.

Up early on Sunday, hours after delivering the biggest win in half a century for her centre-left Labour Party, Ardern was dealing with the pandemic again as a new infection sprang up, ending a two-week coronavirus-free run.

New Zealand had been free of community cases for more than 100 days until new infections emerged in Auckland in August.

The new case is unlikely to spread further, health officials said, but it highlighted the risk the nation of 5 million faces as it pours its efforts into keeping the raging pandemic off its shores.


ECONOMIC CONSTRAINTS


Ardern has assigned NZ$62 billion ($41 billion) to COVID-19 recovery this year, most of it on wage subsidies to avoid massive job losses. She deployed business loans and rent freezes, and eased some tax requirements.

But with no plans for major tax reform and revenue shrinking from tourism and immigration, two of New Zealand’s top money generators, there are questions over how the government can achieve its social and economic goals.

“There is not a huge pot of money available outside of the COVID response,” said Brad Olsen, senior economist at Wellington-based economic consultancy firm Infometrics.

“So you do wonder what issues have to take priority and how they can achieve transformational change while also ramping up the COVID-19 response,” he said.

With net core crown debt forecast at NZ$201 billion ($133 billion), or 55% of gross domestic product by 2024 - up from less than 20% before the pandemic - Ardern’s borrowing options are shrinking.

New Zealand governments of all stripes have traditionally sought to keep debt below 20% of GDP.

Ardern, 40, trailing in opinion polls as late as February, saw Labour’s support shoot up as New Zealanders rallied behind her “go hard, go early” approach to COVID-19.

But her lockdowns crippled the tourism-centred economy and hobbled her efforts to tackle child poverty, homelessness, inequality and climate change. Unemployment is expected to double to about 8% in the next two years.


PROMISE AND CONCERN


Voters do not want the government to cut spending, Olsen said.

Ardern wants to build affordable housing, raise minimum wages and spur thousands of jobs in environment-friendly projects.

On issues like child poverty and homelessness, where New Zealand is one of the worst performers among developed nations, Ardern has launched schemes like free school lunches and support for buying first homes.

She argued it was impossible to meet these targets in her first three-year term, asking voters for a full mandate to bring meaningful change.

“After this result we have the mandate to accelerate our response and our recovery, and tomorrow we start,” she promised voters on Saturday night.

Ardern’s critics have questioned her ability to tackle the economic crisis.

“I feel very concerned for my country,” opposition National Party leader Judith Collins said on Sunday, vowing to keep pressing Ardern on economic issues.

Collins had argued the centre-right National was better placed to take New Zealand through this financial crisis.

Ardern’s biggest success has been to draw New Zealanders closer with her brand of compassionate leadership at a time of deep uncertainty, in contrast to political leaders around the world who were seen polarising and dividing.

She struck a similar tone with supporters after the vote, saying that in an increasingly polarised world, New Zealand was showing it was united.

“Elections aren’t always great at bringing people together, but they also don’t need to tear one another apart,” she said.

 

Virus can survive on phone screens and banknotes for four weeks

SYDNEY - The virus responsible for Covid-19 can survive for up to four weeks on surfaces including banknotes and mobile phone screens, researchers have claimed.

Australia's national science agency CSIRO found the virus was "extremely robust" at 20C (68F), or room temperature, and survived for less time at hotter temperatures.

The research involved drying virus in an artificial mucus on different surfaces, at concentrations similar to those reported in samples from infected patients and then re-isolating the virus over a month.

The study was also carried out in the dark, as research has demonstrated direct sunlight can rapidly inactivate the virus.

Dr Debbie Eagles, deputy director of the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness, said: "Our results show that SARS-CoV-2 can remain infectious on surfaces for long periods of time, reinforcing the need for good practices such as regular handwashing and cleaning surfaces.

"At 20 degrees Celsius, which is about room temperature, we found that the virus was extremely robust, surviving for 28 days on smooth surfaces such as glass found on mobile phone screens and plastic banknotes.

"For context, similar experiments for Influenza A have found that it survived on surfaces for 17 days, which highlights just how resilient SARS-CoV-2 is."

The findings, published in Virology Journal, suggest the virus survives longer on smooth surfaces such as glass, stainless steel and vinyl, compared to porous surfaces such as cotton.

Wisdom teeth disappear as human evolution accelerates

SYDNEY - A study has found that babies are no longer being born with wisdom teeth as the human race continues to evolve faster than at any time in the past 250 years.

Australian scientists say shorter faces, extra bones in feet and legs and an artery in the forearm are among a series of differences noted in modern humans.

The findings were published in the Journal of Anatomy.

 

Australia virus cases 'lowest in months'

CANBERRA - Australia looks set to record its lowest daily coronavirus increase for three months, with just 18 new cases reported so far.
The state of Victoria - the epicentre of the country's Covid-19 outbreak - recorded 14 new infections to Sunday morning, down from 21 the day before.
New South Wales and Queensland reported two cases each. The remaining states are yet to report their figures, but rarely record any new cases.
Figures were last this low on 23 June.
Victoria's Premier Daniel Andrews said the numbers were "cause for great optimism". His state, which has accounted for 75% of Australia's 26,900 cases and 90% of its 849 deaths, has been under lockdown since early July.
Melbourne, the capital, has been under tighter restrictions than other areas, including a curfew and stay-at-home orders. Anti-lockdown protests in the city have become a regular sight.
On Sunday, demonstrators gathered in the central business district, according to local media. Saturday's protest, in a park, saw protesters being dispersed by police on horseback.
However, Mr Andrews has defended the state's strict lockdown, pointing to rising cases in Europe.
"It's heartbreaking to see all of those communities have given - all the sacrifice they've made - and now they've got cases running perhaps more wildly than their first wave," he told reporters.
"Some of these nations as well, I see a bit of commentary around the place about how... death rates in second waves are lower. That's not what the data's saying. That's not what the data in Europe is saying. You've got to see it off."
Melbourne has started to ease its restrictions, saying it will lift the curfew and exercise limits on 26 October if there are fewer than five new cases per day.(FA)

 

MENA

Former UK PM says world is 'at crossroads' amid growing nationalism

Riyadh - Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has urged the business community to unite in a common voice to help drive the agenda for change across the globe.

Speaking ahead of a discussion on the future of multilateralism at this year’s Business 20 (B20) event in Saudi Arabia, Brown said the world “is at a crossroads” as a result of higher tariffs, building up walls, anti-immigration policies and protectionism, in general.

This is alongside an “aggressive form of nationalism”, typified by US President Donald Trump, who famously launched his ‘America First’ campaign during his inauguration speech four years ago, but one also employed by countries such as China, Russia and India.

Held as the business voice and a prelude to the G20 in Riyadh next month, Brown told the B20 gathering: “The G20 was built around the idea that growth to be sustained has to be shared and that the real enemy of each of us is not another country, but poverty, squalor, pollution, disease, chaos, war and hopelessness.

“It is in our power to change this and give people what they need most of all, hope. And more aware than anyone of the damage that division can do, the business community should now, can now and must now make your voice heard, your values count and your vision of cooperation come alive across the world.”

Brown, who quoted former British premier Winston Churchill, as well as leading economist Maynard Keynes and the great poet Shelley, during a five-minute recorded speech, outlined a four-point plan for the G20 to take forward, including being active in coordinating fiscal and monetary policy as the world enters a recovery phase form the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Now we move from stabilisation to recovery, fiscal comes first. In 2009 China provided the largest fiscal stimulus, today it is America, Japan and Europe. But I want to stress that the cumulative benefits then from coordinating fiscal policies were twice what would have happened if countries simply acted on their own. That’s the case for cooperation,” he said.

Another agenda item he suggested would be to bridge the fiscal gap in poorer countries by extending until the end of 2021 and honouring the promises made for multi-lateral, bi-lateral and private sector debt relief of around $80 billion.

Brown, who was at the helm in the UK during the global financial crisis back in 2009, added: “The G20 is the forum to agree as we did in 2009, the issuing of new international money, the special drawing rights. $1.2 trillion, which can be delivered in two tranches and under which the advanced economies can also transfer their STIs to the poorest countries in greatest need.”

He also called on measures to make organisations such as the G20, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) “fit for purpose” to allow for the cooperation.

 

Coronavirus ‘feeds off instability’, disrupting Israel-Palestine peace efforts

NEW YORK - The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process reminded the Security Council on Monday of the Secretary-General’s renewed appeal for a global ceasefire to respond to COVID-19, highlighting that the “the virus feeds off instability”.

In his virtual briefing, Nickolay Mladenov told the 15-member body that “a coherent, coordinated approach” was needed to contain the pandemic, saying that the UN would continue to advocate for increasing cooperation, including urging the parties to “work together to mitigate risks, save lives and avoid unilateral actions that undermine these efforts”.


COVID complications


With a significant tightening of restrictions in Israel and Gaza, a state of emergency extension throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt), the resurgence of COVID-19 has “seriously compounded the humanitarian and economic challenges on the ground”, Mr. Mladenov informed the Council.

And while UN-brokered arrangements continue to allow medical patients to be transferred from Gaza to hospitals beyond, and humanitarian supplies into the enclave, the Palestine Authority’s (PA) decision to halt coordination with Israel remains.

“The UN cannot replace the roles and responsibilities of the Palestinian Authority or the Government of Israel”, he upheld. “Any increased responsibilities for the UN in this regard should be limited and timebound”.


Advancing peace


While the international community’s commitment “remains unwavering” in its support to both sides in finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the UN envoy asserted that the process requires “leadership from both Israelis and Palestinians to work together and advance the cause of peace”.

This means focusing on preventive diplomacy, alleviating health and socio-economic consequences, modernizing economic relations between Israel and Palestinians and re-establishing credible bilateral negotiations for a two-State solution.

 

Fiscal crisis


The UN envoy noted that the viability of the PA is being “severely undermined” by an economic and fiscal crisis that has been exacerbated by it decision to end civilian and security coordination with Israel.

“The fiscal crisis derives primarily from a collapse in domestic tax revenues during the COVID-19 emergency and from the Government’s refusal to receive its clearance revenues”, he elaborated.

The UN “stands ready to mediate solutions to the fiscal crisis and to get the Palestinian economy on better footing”, said Mr. Mladenov, reiterating the UN chief’s call for both sides to “re-examine the nature of their economic relationship and improve it for the benefit of both peoples”.

He appealed to the Palestinian leadership to resume its coordination with Israel and accept its clearance revenues, calling it “money that belongs to the Palestinian people and cannot be replaced by donor funding”.


Heightened urgency


“No one wants war and conflict”, the UN envoy said, adding that the pandemic has “heightened the urgency” to explore “all avenues” toward ending the conflict and the occupation, to achieve the “vision of two States”.

If leaders do not deliver on the hope for peace, they “will only feed radicals and extremists”, he warned.

The Council has often spoken of “the urgent need to act, to prevent the collapse of the two-State paradigm and to give hope to the Palestinian people – particularly the youth…[that] young Israelis want too”, reminded the UN official.

To this end, the UN envoy informed that Palestinian President Abbas has called for an international conference to “restart the peace process” for “an independent, democratic, contiguous, viable and sovereign Palestinian State” within secure and recognized borders, based on the 1967 lines, with Jerusalem as the shared capital.


New avenues of cooperation


Pointing to recent normalization agreements between Israel and Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Sudan, along with statements from international partners and the League of Arab States, the Special Coordinator observed that “the commitment to the two-State solution, in line with UN resolutions and international law, continues to be affirmed by broad regional and international consensus”.

Against this backdrop, he shared his hope that “new avenues of cooperation to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace will emerge”.

 

 

Iran successfully tests Bavar-373 air defense system on 2nd day of drills

TEHRAN - Iran's domestically-developed Bavar-373 air defense missile system has been put to test for the first time on the second day of the country's large-scale aerial drills, successfully destroying the designated targets.

Thursday marked the second day of the large-scale drills, codenamed Modafe'an-e Aseman-e Velayat 99 (Guardians of Velayat Sky 99), underway in an area covering more than half of the country.

Air defense divisions of Iran's Army and Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) are participating in the joint aerial maneuvers.

During its first-ever presence in a military maneuver, the Bavar-373 air defense system fired surface-to-air missiles at standoff targets, successfully eliminating them.

Bavar-373 — which was unveiled in August 2019 — is a mobile missile defense system designed to intercept and destroy incoming hostile targets. The system employs missiles that have a maximum range of 300 kilometers.

The system is capable of simultaneously detecting up to 300 targets, tracking 60 targets at once and engaging six targets at a time.

Bavar 373 has two search and intercept radars, which can resist electronic warfare and electromagnetic bombs. In addition, the radars are capable of detecting anti-radiation missiles (ARM) that are used to confront air defenses.

Second Brigadier General Abbas Farajpour, the spokesman for the maneuvers, praised the country's breakthroughs in developing state-of-the-art missile defense systems, warning enemies against any aggression.

"Today, our enemies know that in the event of any aggression, even a small one, against our country's airspace, they will face a huge barrage of fire from the defense systems of the Army and the IRGC," he said.

On the first day of the drills, the participating troops practiced a wide range of electronic warfare tactics.

The maneuvers feature different types of homegrown missiles, radar systems, reconnaissance, electronic warfare and communication systems as well as an optical surveillance network.

 

UN salutes new Libya ceasefire agreement that points to ‘peaceful future’

GENEVA - Warring parties in Libya on Friday agreed an historic ceasefire, which was hailed by the head of the UN Support Mission in the country (UNSMIL), who led the mediation, as a courageous act that can help secure a “a better, safer, and more peaceful future for all the Libyan people”.
“I would like to salute you, because what you have accomplished here takes a great deal of courage”, said UNSMIL chief, and Acting Special Representative, Stephanie Williams, at a press conference in Geneva. “You have gathered for the sake of Libya, for the sake of your people, to take concrete steps to end their suffering.”

The country has been roiled by division and conflict, since the overthrow of former dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, in 2011. Supporters of the UN-recognized Government in Tripoli have been under siege for months, following an offensive by forces of the rival administration of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Commander Khalifa Haftar.

UN-led mediation by the 5+5 Joint Military Commission, representing the two sides, yielded Friday’s agreement, that Ms. Williams said could help secure “a better, safer, and more peaceful future for all the Libyan people.

“I salute your sense of responsibility and your commitment to preserving Libya's unity and reasserting its sovereignty”, she said of the accord.


Hopes of ‘lasting ceasefire’


She said the two sides had come together first and foremost, as Libyans, together: “The road was long and difficult at times, but your patriotism has been your guide all the time, and you have succeeded in concluding an agreement for a successful and lasting ceasefire.”

I hope that this agreement will contribute to ending the suffering of the Libyan people and enabling the displaced, both outside and inside the country, to return to their homes and live in peace and security.”

The UNSMIL head said the agreement “represents an important distinguishing mark for Libya and the Libyan people. I very much hope that future generations of Libyans will celebrate today's agreement, as it represents that decisive and courageous first step towards a comprehensive settlement of the Libyan crisis that followed.”


Work lies ahead


Ms. Williams said there was “much work ahead in the coming days and weeks to implement the commitments contained in this agreement” adding that it was important to continue focused negotiations, “as quickly as possible in order to alleviate the many hardships that this conflict has caused to the Libyan people.”

She said she knew that the Libyan people “can count on you” and added that “the United Nations is with you and the people of Libya. We will do our utmost to ensure that the international community lends its full and unwavering support to you.”


Secretary-General hails ‘fundamental step toward peace and stability’


The UN Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the ceasefire, telling journalists in New York on Friday that represented “a fundamental step toward peace and stability in Libya.”

“I congratulate the parties for putting the interest of their nation ahead of their differences…Too many people have suffered for too long. Too many men, women and children have died as a result of the conflict”, said the UN chief.

The agreement was negotiated within the framework of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission with talks facilitated by the UN on the basis of Security Council resolution 2510 and 2542.

It is the result of four rounds of negotiations held since February of this year, Mr. Guterres reminded.

“I call on the international community to support Libyans in implementing the ceasefire and in bringing an end to the conflict. This includes ensuring the full and unconditional respect for the Security Council arms embargo.

“And I urge the Libyan parties to maintain the current momentum and show the same determination in reaching a political solution to the conflict, resolving economic issues and addressing the humanitarian situation.”

The UN chief said UNSMIL was making preparations to resume the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum - which stalled when fighting escalated last year – adding that it will be preceded by a series of meetings and consultations that would facilitate “the resumption of inclusive, intra-Libyan political talks – Libyan-led and Libyan owned.”

“There is no military solution for the conflict in Libya. This ceasefire agreement is a critical step. There is much hard work ahead”, he warned.


Momentum for global ceasefire builds


The UN chief also stressed that Friday’s breakthrough comes in the context of his repeated calls for a global ceasefire, so that all energies an be focused on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With the inspiration of the Libyan agreement, now is the time to mobilize all efforts to support the mediations taking place to end the conflicts in Yemen, Afghanistan and in Armenia and Azerbaijan – where active hostilities are causing immense suffering for civilians”, he said.

“There is no military solution for any of these conflicts. The solution must be political.”