Category Archive : World

Israel Says It Uncovers Deep Militant Tunnel Dug From Gaza

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said Tuesday that militants in the Gaza Strip dug a tunnel dozens of meters (yards) deep that crossed the security fence around the territory before it was detected by underground sensors.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said the tunnel crossed into Israeli territory but posed no threat to nearby Israeli communities and that there was not yet an exit on the other side. He said troops will neutralize the tunnel in the coming days.

Israel has uncovered around 20 such tunnels since the 2014 war with the Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza. Palestinian militants launched deadly attacks through such tunnels during the war.

Israel has pointed to the tunnels, as well as Hamas’ increasingly sophisticated rocket capabilities, to justify the blockade it has imposed on Gaza since the militant group seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. The blockade, supported by neighboring Egypt, has taken a heavy toll on the territory’s 2 million Palestinian residents.

Conricus said the tunnel was detected by an underground barrier being built along the 55-kilometer (35-mile) frontier. The barrier, equipped with sensors, is expected to be completed by March. It’s the first such tunnel to be uncovered in more than a year.

Conricus said it was not yet clear whether the tunnel was built by Hamas or another militant group, but that it would have required a significant financial investment. Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from Gaza.

Israel and Hamas have clashed on a number of occasions since the 2014 war. An informal cease-fire brokered by Egypt has brought calm in exchange for the easing of the blockade and the entry of financial aid from the oil-rich Gulf state of Qatar, but fighting still erupts from time to time.

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Pakistan’s fate at FATF hangs in the balance

ISLAMABAD: As the global watch dog for money laundering and terror financing, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), gears up to conduct its virtual plenary meeting from October 21 to 23 in Paris, Pakistan is keeping its fingers crossed with hopes of being taken off the grey list.
Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri, spokesperson for the Pakistan Foreign Ministry, has stated that the FATF Action Plan is being implemented since 2018 and “significant progress has been made in this regard”.
“The process of FATF is ongoing. Pakistan is implementing the FATF Action Plan since 2018 and we have made significant progress in this regard. Our entire AML/CFT regime has been revamped in compliance with the Action Plan to bring it to the international standards set by the FATF,” he said.
“The substantial progress made by Pakistan under a huge national effort includes steps in legislative, regulatory and operational domains,” he added.
However, the country’s progress still does not comply with the 27-point Action Plan provided by the FATF, making Pakistan’s hopes of removal from the grey list gloomier.
In the recent Follow-Up Report (FUR), released by the FATF’s Asian Pacific Group (APG), revealed that Pakistan has been non-compliant (NC) on at least four recommendations, largely compliant (LC) on eight and partially compliant (PC) on at least 28 out of 40 recommendations.
The FUR is part of the Mutual Evaluations Report (MER) of APG, annual report of which was released last October.
Islamabad has been on the FATF grey list since June 2018 for allegedly facilitating or not curbing the spread and flow of terror financing and money laundering. Pakistan was given a breather in February, when the 36-nation watchdog decided to give Pakistan until June, when it planned to review the country’s progress or compliance of the action plan.
However, the outbreak of novel coronavirus forced the FATF meeting to be postponed.
In the meantime, the Pakistan government under Prime Minister Imran Khan has amended at least 14 laws related to its legal system with an aim to fulfil the FATF standards.
Pakistan has been able to escape from being pushed into the FATF blacklist at least twice since 2018 through active diplomatic support from countries including Turkey, China and Malaysia.
It is expected that Pakistan will be eyeing the same countries to come out in its support, as it would try to gain more time and guarantee complete compliance with the FATF action plan.
FATF has also acknowledged Pakistan’s political commitment and the progress made by us in a number of areas in the Action Plan,” said Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Chaudri.
“We are committed to and moving towards completion of the Action Plan. We remain engaged with the process,” he added.

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Man Charged In Whitmer Kidnapping Plot Released On Bail

LANSING, Mich.: A Wisconsin man charged in a plot to kidnap Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has been released from jail after posting a $10,000 cash bail.

Columbia County District Attorney Brenda Yaskal requested a $1 million bail for Brian Higgins, but Judge Todd Hepler set the lower amount, according to WISC-TV. Higgins was released Monday night.

Authorities allege Higgins, 51, of Wisconsin Dells, was part of a crew conducting surveillance for the kidnapping plot. He was arrested Thursday and charged on suspicion of material support in an act of terrorism.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel charged Higgins in what authorities have described as a foiled scheme to storm Michigans state Capitol building and kidnap officials, including Whitmer.

Higgins was the eighth person charged.

Seven men purportedly linked to an extremist paramilitary group called the Wolverine Watchmen also have been charged in Michigan state court with providing material support for terrorist acts and possession of a firearm while committing a felony.

Federal charges were filed against six others in the alleged conspiracy to kidnap Whitmer.

Higgins, of Wisconsin Dells, appeared via video Monday in Columbia County court.

Higgins stands alone and apart from the others who were arrested in the plot, according to a statement from the office of attorney Christopher Van Wagner.

Even the states notably sparse factual assertions against Higgins show that he was not part of any militia or anti-government movement, and was in Michigan but once, unlike the other accused men, whose activities were tracked for months by the FBI, the statement read.

Higgins is due back in Columbia County court on Nov. 18. He has been ordered to surrender his passport and not to leave Wisconsin. He also cant have any contact with others charged in the case.

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Most People Would Get COVID-19 Vaccine If Offered By Government Or Employer: Poll

LONDON: Most people would get a COVID-19 vaccine if their government or employer recommended it, results of a global poll showed on Tuesday, amid growing concerns about public distrust of the shots being developed at speed to end the pandemic.

Some 71.5% of participants said they would be very or somewhat likely to take a COVID-19 vaccine and 61.4% reported they would accept their employer’s recommendation to do so, according to the survey in June of more than 13,000 people in 19 countries.

The poll was overseen by the Vaccine Confidence Project (VCP), a global surveillance programme on vaccine trust funded by the European Commission and pharmaceutical companies among others, as well as Business Partners to CONVINCE, a U.S./British initiative that is partly government funded.

All respondents, regardless of nationality, said they would be less likely to accept a COVID-19 vaccine if it were mandated by employers.

There were regional differences in responses though, highlighting the polarisation in attitudes on the topic.

Almost 90% of participants in China said they accepted a vaccine, but the rate in Russia was less than 55%. In France, the positive response rate 58.89%, compared with 75.4% in the United States and 71.48% in Britain.

At least 60-70% of the population would need to have immunity to break the chain of transmission, according to the World Health Organization.

Respondents were aged 18 years or older from 19 countries from among the top 35 countries affected by the pandemic in terms of cases per million population.

The results will likely stir the debate about how to overcome public safety concerns, particularly in Western countries, about the frenetic speed of work to develop vaccines, potentially hampering efforts to control the pandemic and revive the global recovery.

There are about 200 COVID-19 vaccine candidates in development globally, including more than 40 in human clinical trials to test for safety and effectiveness. Many are being squeezed into a matter of months for a process that would typically take 10 years or longer.

“VACCINE HESITANCY”

Scott Ratzan, co-leader of Business Partners to CONVINCE and lecturer at CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, said the data demonstrated diminished public trust.

“It will be tragic if we develop safe and effective vaccines and people refuse to take them,” he said in an email.

“We need to develop a robust and sustained effort to address vaccine hesitancy and rebuild public confidence in the personal, family, and community benefits of immunisations.”

Reporting a willingness to get vaccinated might not be necessarily a good predictor of acceptance, as vaccine decisions can change over time.

Also the poll took place before Russia started the mass inoculation of its population with its Sputnik V shot before full studies had been completed and AstraZeneca had to pause its late-stage study in September due to a participant’s illness.

Last month, nine leading U.S. and European vaccine developers issued a pledge to uphold scientific standards and testing rigour.

Last week, Facebook Inc said it would start banning ads that explicitly discouraged people from getting vaccinated.

Even before the pandemic, it was a growing challenge for public health bodies. In January 2019 the World Health Organization named vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 global health threats for that year.

Countries where acceptance exceeded 80% tended to be Asian nations, including China, South Korea and Singapore, where there is strong trust in central governments, the study found.

A relatively high tendency toward acceptance in middle-income countries, such as Brazil, India and South Africa, was also observed.

Age also affected attitudes. Older people were more likely to report that they would take a vaccine, whereas younger respondents were more likely to accept an employer’s vaccine recommendation.

This finding might reflect who was actually employed or employable at the time of the survey which was an issue they did not investigate, it said.

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Hong Kong Coronavirus News: Hong Kong eases social-distancing measures after number of infections decline | World News

HONG KONG: Hong Kong on Tuesday relaxed social distancing measures after recording five new Covid-19 cases. Starting Friday, citizens will be able to join local tours of up to 30 people, and a gathering of no more than 50 guests will be allowed in wedding ceremonies, officials said.
Travel agencies taking advantage of the new rules must implement a series of infection-control measures while operating tours, or risk losing out on subsidies or their right to run groups locally, South China Morning Post reported.
Earlier, tour groups were only allowed to have four members at a time, whereas wedding ceremonies could have only 20 guests.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Health Minister Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee said, “When adjusting social-distancing measures, we hope to avoid an all-or-nothing approach, and enhance cooperation with the sectors to enhance infection-control measures in related premises.”
Chan added that the government was adopting targeted measures to reduce coronavirus transmission in the country.
Starting Friday, tourists will be required to wear masks throughout their trip and the transport they use can only be 50 percent full.
Other rules include increasing the number of people in business meetings from 20 to 50, while sports teams involving more than four people will be once again allowed in swimming pools.
However, the new wedding rules will not be applied to banquets and no food and drinks will be allowed at the ceremony.
All other social distancing measures will continue to be in effect for another week at least.
South China Morning Post reported that commerce minister Edward Yau Tang-wah at the same press conference said all local tours must be registered with the Travel Industry Council. The travel agency would also need to sign an agreement with the council ensuring members of the tour group complied with a set of rules.
Yau said, “Public health must be ensured in areas of itinerary, transport, dining, attraction visits and staff arrangements.” “They must purchase health insurance for the tourists, record contact information of them … conduct temperature checks and ensure they wear masks throughout the trip,” he added.
Yau informed that involved travel agencies will be able to apply for subsidy schemes offered by the government and the Tourist Board.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s announcement came as the city’s new caseload was expected to include a highly infectious case discovered at the Yau Tsim Mong temporary testing centre, according to a medical source, the facility’s first.
Before meeting the executive council, Lam said, “The recent epidemic situation seems to be stabilised again, there were no untraceable infections over the past three days.”
According to the city’s leader, her de facto cabinet would discuss relaxing the rules. However, the discussion would not involve major rules, as the city hoped to form travel bubbles with other countries.
The non-permanent centres, at locations chosen based on risk assessments for potential Covid-19 cases including in Kwai Tsing, Kowloon City and Wan Chai, have tested at least 16,000 samples.
As of Monday, the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Hong Kong stood at 5,265, with 105 deaths due to the disease

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Russia offers US one-year freeze on nuclear warhead numbers

MOSCOW: Russia on Tuesday said it was ready to offer the United States a mutual one-year freeze on the number of nuclear warheads held by both countries in order to extend a landmark arms reduction deal due to expire next year.
“Russia offers extending the New START by one year and is ready to take on a political commitment with the United States to freeze the number of nuclear warheads both sides have for this period,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last week proposed extending by one year the New START treaty, which is due to expire in February 2021. The White House described the proposal as a “non-starter” unless accompanied by a freeze on the number of nuclear warheads.

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Guinea Opposition Reports 3 Deaths Amid Election Standoff

CONAKRY, Guinea: Guinea’s opposition party said at least three people had been killed overnight after presidential challenger Cellou Dalein Diallo declared victory before the country’s electoral commission announced official results.

Diallo’s claim set up a tense showdown with incumbent President Alpha Conde, who has been in power a decade and angered the opposition when he sought constitutional changes earlier this year so that he could seek yet another term.

Even before ballots were cast, international observers had raised concerns that an election dispute could reignite ethnic violence in the West African country. The opposition Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea said early Tuesday that three youths, aged 13, 14, and 18, were killed Monday night when security forces suppressed the party’s celebrations.

While supporters of President Cellou Dalein Diallo were peacefully celebrating the victory of their candidate, defense and security forces violently suppressed this moment of jubilation, the party said in a statement.

Conde’s party, meanwhile, swiftly condemned Diallos declaration of victory as irresponsible and dangerous.

The ruling party called on the competent institutions to take all necessary measures to prevent disorder and to prevent any attempt to destabilize the country and its legitimate institutions.”

Official results will be released by the end of the week, Bakary Manse, vice president of the electoral commission, said.

It is neither up to a candidate nor to a person to proclaim himself or herself a winner, he said.

Mondays development marked a dramatic escalation in an already tense electoral race. Condes decision to seek another term by having the constitution modified already had led to protests that left more than 50 people dead this year.

Diallo, when asserting that he won on Monday, said his declaration was based on information gathered at polling stations by his party. He did not give any figures to back up his claim.

Despite all the anomalies of this election … and in view of the results that came out of the polls, I emerge victorious from this presidential election, he told scores of cheering supporters who thronged his partys headquarters in the capital, Conakry.

Even before Diallos announcement, Condes government already was criticizing his opponents intention to declare victory.

This strategy of forced, premature and unjustified celebration was meticulously planned well before the election by Mr. Cellou Dalein Diallo, the governments communications unit said in a press release Monday.

Observers fear the standoff between Conde and Diallo could rekindle long-standing ethnic tensions between Guineas two largest ethnic groups. Conde draws his support from his Malinke community, while Diallo is heavily backed by the Peuhl ethnic group. This election is the third time the two men have vied for the presidency, and previous electoral match-ups have seen bursts of violence.

Tensions were inflamed during the election campaign so much that the United Nations chief urged Guineans to refrain from ethnic violence.

In a statement issued on the eve of the poll, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all political leaders and their supporters to refrain from acts of incitement, inflammatory language, ethnic profiling and violence.

Conde came to power in 2010 in the countrys first democratic elections since independence from France in 1958. Many saw his presidency as a fresh start for the mineral-rich country mired by decades of corrupt, authoritarian rule.

Opponents, though, say he has failed to improve the lives of Guineans, most of whom live in poverty despite the countrys vast mineral riches. In his final campaign speech, Diallo condemned the countrys high unemployment and human rights abuses of the past decade.

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Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Freetown, Sierra Leone, contributed to this report.

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Brazil’s Bolsonaro ‘indirectly’ censors media: RSF

BRASILIA: Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro‘s government threatens press freedom in Brazil by using “indirect censorship,” including virulent attacks against journalists, Reporters Without Borders said Tuesday.
The watchdog group said in its quarterly report that Bolsonaro and his inner circle, including his three politician sons, had verbally attacked journalists and the media more than 100 times from July to September.
“This stance of open hostility toward the press has become the government’s trademark,” it said.
The Bolsonaro administration has also used “disinformation” and restrictions on official statistics to “control public debate and politicize official communications structures,” RSF said.
Other examples include lawsuits against journalists by Bolsonaro allies, which the group deemed “judicial harassment;” cases of government officials blocking journalists from following their social media accounts; “opaque” management of official data on the coronavirus pandemic; and 13 new laws that restrict the public’s access to information, it said.
Sometimes called the “Tropical Trump” for the hardline policies, vitriolic rhetoric and reliance on social networks he shares with the US leader, Bolsonaro won election in 2018 with a campaign heavy on attacks against the traditional news media.
He has regularly bashed the press ever since, at times flashing obscene gestures at journalists or walking out on press conferences altogether.
The most extreme case last quarter, according to Reporters Without Borders, was when he threatened a journalist who asked him about corruption allegations implicating the president’s wife in August.
“I so want to pound your mouth with punches,” he told the reporter from leading newspaper O Globo.
Brazil ranks 107th out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders’ annual world press freedom index.

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Polish Court Ruling To Determine Fate Of Human Rights Office

WARSAW, Poland: Polands constitutional court is issuing a ruling Tuesday that is expected to determine the fate of one of the last state bodies that has kept its independence from the populist right-wing government.

Since the populist party, Law and Justice, won power in 2015, it has taken control of almost all state institutions, putting its patriotic, conservative stamp on museums and cultural institutes, turning state media into a propaganda arm of government and most controversially putting its loyalists at the helm of top courts and judicial bodies.

The European Union has repeatedly warned that Poland’s erosion of judicial independence represents a serious setback to the rule of law in the country.

To date, however, the Human Rights Commissioner, or Ombudsman, a top civil servant whose role is to defend individuals facing threats to their civil rights, has acted with independence.

Adam Bodnar, a human rights lawyer, was nominated shortly before Law and Justice took office in 2015. He has used his role to defend a wide range of groups, including farmers and tenants who have seen their rights violated and people with disabilities deprived of benefits.

He has also challenged some of the ruling partys changes to the judiciary as well as anti-LGBT language that he considers a violation of constitutional protections against discrimination.

In an interview Monday with The Associated Press, Bodnar said he has sought to do his job impartially, and noted that many times he has defended Law and Justice policies that have sought to reduce income inequalities and help families.

I am proud that in these five years I have managed to show that rights belong to everybody in this country,” he said. “And that the role of this institution is to be close to the people and to protect them in all different circumstances.”

Yet the fact that he has criticized government policies that he views as violations of constitutional rights has made him anathema to the government.

Bodnars five-year term formally ended on Sept. 9, but he remains in his job because political divisions have blocked the appointment of a successor.

The ombudsman must be chosen by both the lower house of parliament, where the Law and Justice-led right-wing coalition has a majority, and the Senate, where the opposition has a razor-thin majority.

The lower house has so far refused to consider the only proposed candidate, Zuzanna Rudzinska-Bluszcz, a lawyer who has worked in Bodnars office who is supported by about 1,000 civil rights and other non-governmental organizations.

Meanwhile, ruling party lawmakers have asked the Constitutional Tribunal to overthrow the law that allows Bodnar to remain until a successor is chosen. The court filled with ruling party appointees is considered likely to issue a ruling Tuesday forcing Bodnar out.

If it does, that would open the way for a new procedure allowing Law and Justice to take control of the office, bypassing the need for the Senate’s approval, perhaps by appointing an acting ombudsman who could remain in place for years.

Bodnar said he believes the government’s intention is to turn the human rights commissioner’s office into a facade institution without any influence and daily impact on the protection of rights of people.

He said his biggest fear is that the institution could redefine rights in a way that would offer less protection to vulnerable groups.

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Hand signals only: How Thais are marshalling mass protests

BANGKOK: Hands point above head = need umbrella; Hands held over head = need helmet; Hands crossed over chest = enough supplies here.
Thai protesters are learning a whole new language, developed within days to coordinate among crowds of thousands of people at demonstrations that have swollen in defiance of a government ban and despite the arrest of many protest leaders.
“Everyone has been helping each other out,” said 19-year-old Riam, who like most protesters would only give one name. “At first, we had to work out what people were saying, but with the gestures, it’s pretty easy to guess.”
Some of the words in the Thai hand signal vocabulary are the same as those used by protesters in Hong Kong. Some they made up themselves and have now gained common usage.
Three months of protests in Thailand have sought to bring down Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former junta leader, and to curb the powers of the monarchy of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
They gained added momentum last week with a government crackdown that brought the arrest of several of the highest profile protest leaders and saw police using water cannon for the first time on Friday.
That has also meant a need to be able to quickly move protective equipment and other supplies from point to point so that everyone can be prepared.
Police spokesman Kissana Phathanacharoen noted that the protest situation was “very dynamic” and that people should understand their presence there was illegal.
Since Friday, police have not tried to break up protests, but protesters are taking no chances.
Their new language only took shape at the weekend – when groups started to teach and practice the moves together. Some messages are still passed down human chains by shouting them in a form of Chinese whispers that are anything but whispered.
“Everyone is well educated and learns how to survive without the leaders,” said 20-year-old Tangmae as she demonstrated some of the signs. “We should communicate so the protest can happen in an orderly way.”

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