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EU Unveils Plan to Combat Racism, Increase Diversity

The European Commission presented a series of measures Friday aimed at tackling structural racism and discrimination, acknowledging a blatant lack of diversity among the European Union’s institutions.  The bloc’s executive arm set out its action plan for the next five years, which includes strengthening the current legal framework, recruiting an anti-racism coordinator and increasing the diversity of EU staff.  The European Commission’s vice president for values and transparency, Věra Jourová, said that recent anti-racism protests in the U.S. and Europe highlighted the need for action.  “We have reached a moment of reckoning. The protests sent a clear message, change must happen now,” Jourová said. “It won’t be easy, but it must be done.  “We won’t shy away from strengthening the legislation, if needed,” she said. “The commission itself will adapt its recruiting policy to better reflect European society.”  The current College of Commissioners, which oversees EU policies, is made up of 27 members, one from each EU country. All the members of the team set up last year by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are white.  Under the plan, data on the diversity of commission staff will for the first time be collected on the basis of a voluntary survey that will help define new recruitment policies.  Meanwhile, the new coordinator for anti-racism will be in charge of collecting the grievances and feelings of minorities to make sure they are reflected in EU policies.  The EU said that more than half of Europeans believe that discrimination is widespread in their country. According to surveys carried out by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, or FRA, 45% of people of North African descent, 41% of Roma and 39% of people of sub-Saharan African descent have faced such discrimination.  The EU’s racial equality directive will also be assessed, with possible new legislation introduced in 2022. In the wake of the Black Live Matters protests triggered by George Floyd’s death in the U.S., the European Commission said it would look carefully into discrimination by law enforcement authorities such as unlawful racial profiling. Meanwhile, the EU agency for fundamental rights will continue to collect data on police attitudes towards minorities.  The European Commission also wants to combat stereotypes and disinformation by setting up a series of seminars and promoting commemorative days linked to the issue of racism. It also encouraged member states to address stereotypes via cultural and education programs, or the media. A summit against racism is planned next year.  “Nobody is born racist. It is not a characteristic which we are born with,” said Helena Dalli, the EU commissioner for equality. “It’s a question of nurture, and not nature. We have to unlearn what we have learned.”  Earlier this year, the European Parliament approved a resolution condemning the Floyd’s death and asking the EU to take a strong stance against racism. 

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Britain Contemplates Second National Lockdown as COVID-19 Surges

British Health Minister Matt Hancock said Friday the government is contemplating a second nationwide lockdown as new COVID-19 cases continue to surge in Britain. Hancock commented in two interviews as a new lockdown went into effect in northeastern Britain. Hancock said there has been an acceleration in the number of cases over the last couple of weeks, and the number of people hospitalized with the disease caused by the coronavirus has been doubling about every eight days. FILE – Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock holds the daily coronavirus disease news conference at 10 Downing Street in London, May 21, 2020. (Credit: Pippa Fowles /10 Downing Street/Handout)The health minister said a nationwide lockdown is “the last line of defense,” and the government would prefer isolated, regional lockdowns. But he said the government will do what it must “to protect lives and livelihoods.” Hancock urged British citizens to follow the “rule of six,” with no public gatherings of more than six people; obey local restrictions in their area; and self-isolate if they have tested positive. The Johns Hopkins University says Britain has the fifth-largest number of deaths from COVID-19 after the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico. COVID-19 cases started to rise again in Britain this month, with between 3,000 and 4,000 positive tests recorded daily in the last week, but that is behind France and its more than 10,000 cases a day, officials say. On September 17, Britain recorded 21 deaths from the disease, and the total stands at 41,794, according to Johns Hopkins. 

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Officials: Trump to Block US Downloads of TikTok, WeChat on Sunday

The U.S. Commerce Department said it will issue an order Friday that will bar people in the United States from downloading Chinese-owned messaging app WeChat and video-sharing app TikTok starting on September 20.Commerce officials said the ban on new U.S. downloads of TikTok could be still rescinded by President Donald Trump before it takes effect late Sunday as TikTok owner ByteDance races to clinch an agreement over the fate of its U.S. operations.ByteDance has been talks with Oracle Corp and others to create a new company, TikTok Global, that aims to address U.S. concerns about the security of its users’ data. ByteDance still needs Trump’s approval to stave off a U.S. ban.Commerce officials said they will not bar additional technical transactions for TikTok until Nov. 12, which gives the company additional time to see if ByteDance can reach a deal for its U.S. operations. “The basic TikTok will stay intact until Nov. 12,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Fox Business Network.The department said the actions will “protect users in the U.S. by eliminating access to these applications and significantly reducing their functionality.”Oracle shares fell 1.6% after the news in pre-market tradingThe Commerce Department order will “deplatform” the two apps in the United States and bar Apple Inc’s app store, Alphabet Inc’s Google Play and others from offering the apps on any platform “that can be reached from within the United States,” a senior Commerce official told Reuters.The order will not ban U.S. companies from doing businesses on WeChat outside the United States, which will be welcome news to U.S. firms like Walmart and Starbucks that use WeChat’s embedded ‘mini-app’ programs to facilitate transactions and engage consumers in China, officials said.The order will not bar transactions with WeChat-owner Tencent Holdings’ other businesses, including its online gaming operations, and will not prohibit Apple, Google or others from offering TikTok or WeChat apps anywhere outside the United States.The bans are in response to a pair of executive orders issued by Trump on August 6 that gave the Commerce Department 45 days to determine what transactions to block from the apps he deemed pose a national security threat. That deadline expires on Sunday.Commerce Department officials said they were taking the extraordinary step because of the risks the apps’ data collection poses. China and the companies have denied U.S. user data is collected for spying.Ross said in a written statement “we have taken significant action to combat China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data, while promoting our national values, democratic rules-based norms, and aggressive enforcement of U.S. laws and regulations.”The order is set to be published at 8:45 a.m. EDT (1245 GMT) on Friday, Commerce said.Popular appsThe Trump administration has ramped up efforts to purge “untrusted” Chinese apps from U.S. digital networks and has called TikTok and WeChat “significant threats.”TikTok has 100 million users in the United States and is especially popular among younger Americans.WeChat has had an average of 19 million daily active users in the United States, analytics firms Apptopia said in early August. It is popular among Chinese students, ex-pats and some Americans who have personal or business relationships in China.WeChat is an all-in-one mobile app that combines services similar to Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Venmo. The app is an essential part of daily life for many in China and boasts more than 1 billion users.The Commerce Department will not seek to compel people in the United States to remove the apps or stop using them but will not allow updates or new downloads. “We are aiming at a top corporate level. We’re not going to go out after the individual users,” one Commerce official said.Over time, officials said, the lack of updates will degrade the apps usability.”The expectation is that people will find alternative ways to do these actions,” a senior official said. “We expect the market to act and there will be more secure apps that will fill in these gaps that Americans can trust and that the United States government won’t have to take similar actions against.”Commerce is also barring additional technical transactions with WeChat starting Sunday that will significantly reduce the usability and functionality of the app in the United States.The order bars data hosting within the United States for WeChat, content delivery services and networks that can increase functionality and internet transit or peering services.”What immediately is going to happen is users are going to experience a lag or lack of functionality,” a senior Commerce official said of WeChat users. “It may still be usable but it is not going to be as functional as it was.” There may be sporadic outages as well, the official said.Commerce will bar the same set of technical transactions for TikTok, but that will not take effect until Nov. 12 to give the company additional time to see if ByteDance can reach a deal for its U.S. operations. The official said TikTok U.S. users would not see “a major difference” in the app’s performance until Nov. 12.Commerce will not penalize people who use TikTok or WeChat in the United States.The order does not bar data storage within the United States for WeChat or TikTok.Some Americans may find workarounds. There is nothing that would bar an American from traveling to a foreign country and downloading either app, or potentially using a virtual private network and a desktop client, officials conceded.

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Nicaraguan Government Threatens to Close Independent TV Station

Canal 12 is one of the few independent TV stations in Nicaragua. But it could be forced to shut down if the Nicaraguan Justice Department seizes what it says is some $350,000 the station owes in taxes. If that happens, observers say it will continue a trend by the government of President Daniel Ortega of censoring the media and harassing journalists who are critical of the government. VOA’s Donaldo Hernandez in Managua filed this report, narrated by Cristina Caicedo Smit. 

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Interim President Jeanine Áñez Quits Bolivia Presidential Race

Bolivian Interim President Jeanine Áñez says she has dropped out of the nation’s presidential race in an effort to block ex-leader Evo Morales from returning to power.Áñez said she did not want to split the votes in the October 18 election, enabling the Movement for Socialism party of Morales return to power.Prior to her announcement, Áñez was trailing in fourth place in recent opinion polls.Áñez has yet endorse another candidate but she said she wants to link up with a party that has support in opposing Morales’ party.She said if voters do not unite, Morales will return, and democracy will lose.Áñez was named interim president when Morales fled Bolivia last year during protests over allegations of election fraud. 

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Peruvian Congress to Hold Impeachment Hearing Friday Against President

Peruvian lawmakers will hold an impeachment hearing Friday, a day after the country’s top court rejected a request by President Martin Vizcarra to stop the proceedings.Congress voted last week to begin impeachment hearings against Vizcarra on grounds of moral incompetence, following allegations he tried to interfere in a probe into government contracts given to a singer.The move by Congress was fueled by opposition legislators airing secretly recorded audio that appears to show Vizcarra orchestrating a strategy with his aides to answer questions about his meetings with singer Richard Cisneros.Media reports say Cisneros claims the $50,000 worth of contracts were legal.On Thursday, the president did not comment on the allegations while touring a banana plantation in the region of Piura, but a day earlier Vizcarra seemed to lash out at his detractors for attempting to create a political crisis in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. 

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Russia Leading ‘Drumbeat’ of Disinformation Ahead of US Presidential Election

FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers Thursday that Russia is not letting up in its efforts to sway the outcome of the November presidential election, backing earlier assessments from U.S. counterintelligence officials that Moscow’s main goal is to damage the campaign of Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden. Wray, testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee, described the Kremlin’s influence operations as “very, very active” on social media, on its own state-run media and through various proxies. Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray testifies before a House Committee on Homeland Security hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 17, 2020.The aim of these influence operations is “primarily to denigrate Vice President Biden and what the Russians see as kind of an anti-Russian establishment,” he said. The FBI director’s comments are in line with a rare public assessment in early August about threats to the U.S. election provided by the nation’s top counterintelligence official, William Evanina. FILE – Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center William Evanina speaks during the Reuters Cybersecurity Summit in Washington, Oct. 31, 2017.”What concerns me the most is the steady drumbeat of misinformation and amplification of smaller cyber intrusions,” Wray said. “I worry they will contribute over time to a lack of confidence [among] American voters.”That would be a perception, not reality. I think Americans can and should have confidence in our election system and certainly in our democracy,” he added. No Signs of Cyberattacks Targeting US Election SystemsTop US officials seek to reassure voters with less than 50 days until the November presidential electionDuring lawmakers’ questioning, Wray also rejected concerns about the expected increase in the use of mail-in ballots for the November election, despite repeated warnings from Trump that voting by mail will lead to massive fraud. “We have not seen, to date, a coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election,” he said, echoing assurances given by senior U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity just last month. US Officials Reject Claims of Rigged Presidential ElectionSenior intelligence and law enforcement officials say there is ‘no information’ to support claims that someone could use mail-in ballots to manipulate outcome of upcoming electionWray’s assurances, though, appear to leave him at odds with Trump, who later Thursday sent out a series of tweets warning that the use of mail-in ballots will result in a “RIGGED ELECTION” and “lead to massive chaos and confusion!” Just out: Some people in the Great State of North Carolina have been sent TWO BALLOTS. RIGGED ELECTION in waiting!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 17, 2020Unsolicited Ballots are uncontrollable, totally open to ELECTION INTERFERENCE by foreign countries, and will lead to massive chaos and confusion!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 17, 2020Antifa and US protests The FBI director also appeared to clash with Trump, and Republican lawmakers, over antifa, a left-wing protest movement that has been increasingly visible in demonstrations that have spread across the country. Trump has tweeted repeatedly about classifying antifa as a terrorist organization. Major consideration is being given to naming ANTIFA an “ORGANIZATION OF TERROR.” Portland is being watched very closely. Hopefully the Mayor will be able to properly do his job!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2019Consideration is being given to declaring ANTIFA, the gutless Radical Left Wack Jobs who go around hitting (only non-fighters) people over the heads with baseball bats, a major Organization of Terror (along with MS-13 & others). Would make it easier for police to do their job!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 27, 2019But Wray repeatedly shied away from that sort of description Thursday. “We look at antifa as more of an ideology or a movement than an organization,” he told lawmakers, adding there is no evidence that antifa is behind any sort of coordinated campaign to incite violence at protests that have gripped parts of the country. “Much of the violence that we’re seeing does not appear to be organized or attributed to any one particular group or movement,” the FBI director said. Instead, he described attempts by antifa and other movements, like the right-wing Boogaloo Boys, to instigate violence as ad hoc. Boogaloo Boys Aim to Provoke 2nd US Civil War Group goal is to co-opt practically any anti-government event – from anti-lockdown demonstrations to Black Lives Matter protests – to violently confront government”We are seeing, in certain pockets, more kind of regionally organized folks coalescing, often coordinating on the ground in the middle of protests,” Wray said, adding that such attempts can even cross ideological lines, such as in one incident earlier this month in which two self-described Boogaloo Boys attempted to join with the Palestinian terror group Hamas. ICYMI: Self-described “Boogaloo Bois” charged w/attempting to provide #Hamas firearms/parts Per @FBI 30yo Michael Solomon of Minnesota & 22yo Benjamin Teeter of #NorthCarolina are part of a sub-group called the “Boojahideen” & felt their anti-US gvt views aligned w/Hamas— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) September 4, 2020Wray’s explanations about antifa, however, did not sit well with Republican Representative Dan Crenshaw, from Texas, who has been supportive of the president. “It seems strange to me that we can’t call it a group,” Crenshaw told Wray.  “This is an ideology that organizes locally. It coordinates regionally and nationally. It wears a standardized uniform. It collects funds to buy high-powered lasers to blind federal officers,” Crenshaw said. “It just seems to be more than an ideology.” But Wray said the FBI’s focus is on violence and criminology, and not ideology, which is protected under freedom of speech. “I, by no means, mean to minimize the seriousness of the violence and criminality that is going on,” he said. “To be clear, we do have quite a number of properly predicated investigations into violent anarchist extremists, any number of who self-identify with the antifa movement.” US-based extremists Wray also told lawmakers the FBI sees U.S.-based violent extremists, whether influenced by jihadist ideology or ideology emanating domestically, as the biggest threat to the country. “Racially motivated violent extremism is, I think, the biggest bucket within that larger group,” he said, noting there have been a total of 120 arrests for domestic terrorism this year. 

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Poland’s Governing Alliance Thrown into Crisis Over Animal Rights

Poland’s governing alliance appeared to be in disarray early Friday, as a dispute over animal rights measures highlighted divisions in the ruling camp, raising the possibility of early elections if differences cannot be resolved. Tensions within the alliance led by the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party came into the open after some members did not support the measures, which passed in parliament with opposition support. The dispute over changes to animal rights laws, which are seen as an appeal to younger voters, halted talks on overhauling ministries and threatened deeper problems for the coalition. The measures, which would ban fur farming and curb the slaughter of animals, were opposed by all lawmakers from the ultra-conservative United Poland party. Other lawmakers abstained. Polish farmers take part in a demonstration against a proposed ban on fur farms and kosher meat exports in Warsaw, Poland, Sept. 16, 2020.PiS lawmaker and Agriculture Minister Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski, who had openly criticized the bill, voted against it. Opponents of the bill within the ruling alliance said it would alienate voters in PiS’s rural heartlands and hurt farmers. Poland produces millions of furs a year, and the sector employs about 50,000 people. The country is also one of Europe’s biggest exporters of halal and kosher meat, with 2017 shipments of more than 70,000 tons. Talks had been under way between PiS, United Poland and the more liberal Accord over plans to reduce the number of ministries, potentially concentrating power in the hands of PiS. “Negotiations … have been suspended due to the situation we have in the Sejm,” or parliament, PiS lawmaker and Deputy Parliament Speaker Ryszard Terlecki said before the vote. Asked about ruling as a minority government, Terlecki said this would not be possible. “If that happens, we’ll go to elections. Alone, of course.” In 2007, PiS decided to go for early elections and lost power, making the party well aware of the risks of such a move. 
 

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