Category Archives: World

politics news

Kremlin Critic Navalny Transferred to Prison Outside Moscow

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has been sent to a prison outside Moscow to serve his sentence, his lawyer said Thursday, a move that came despite a demand by Europe’s top human rights court for his release.Navalny lawyer Vadim Kobzev did not immediately name the prison where Navalny was sent. Russian news reports have previously indicated that Navalny, who has been held in a maximum-security jail in Moscow, would likely be sent to a facility in western Russia.Navalny, 44, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most vociferous foe, was arrested January 17 upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have rejected the accusation and accused Navalny of cooperating with Western intelligence agencies — claims he has ridiculed.Earlier this month, Navalny was sentenced to 2½ years in prison for violating the terms of his probation while convalescing in Germany. The sentence stems from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Navalny has rejected as fabricated — and which the European Сourt of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled to be unlawful.Large protestsNavalny’s arrest has fueled a wave of protests that have drawn tens of thousands to the streets across Russia. Authorities have detained about 11,000 people, many of whom were fined or given jail terms ranging from seven to 15 days.Russian officials have dismissed demands from the United States and the European Union to free Navalny and stop the crackdown on his supporters.Moscow also rejected the ECHR ruling that, citing risks to Navalny’s life in custody, ordered the Russian government to release him. The Russian government has rebuffed the court’s demand as unlawful and “inadmissible” meddling in Russia’s home affairs.Earlier this week, EU foreign ministers agreed to impose new sanctions against Russian officials linked to Navalny’s jailing.Since Navalny’s arrest, Russian officials and state news media have aggressively tried to discredit him, a change from the previous tactic of largely ignoring him.Possible ‘advocacy of hatred’Some of the criticism has emphasized anti-migrant views expressed years ago as he was rising to prominence.Amnesty International this week stripped Navalny of his designation as a “prisoner of conscience” because of those views. “Navalny had, in the past, made comments which may have amounted to advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, violence or hostility,” the organization said in a statement Thursday.The statement denied the move was in response to external pressure, but news reports have suggested Amnesty International was targeted in a coordinated campaign to discredit him.”These were not independently acting activists … these were people who would like to defame Alexey as the most prominent opponent of Mr. Putin,” Vladimir Ashurkov, executive director of Navalny’s anti-corruption organization, said in a conference call Thursday.Amnesty International said rescinding the prisoner-of-conscience designation did not change its demand for Navalny to be freed.”There should be no confusion: Nothing Navalny has said in the past justifies his current detention, which is purely politically motivated. Navalny has been arbitrarily detained for exercising his right to freedom of expression, and for this reason, we continue to campaign for his immediate release,” the organization said. 

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First Asylum-Seekers from Mexico’s Matamoros Border Camp Enter US

The first asylum-seekers from a Mexican border camp that had become a symbol of Trump-era immigration restrictions entered the United States on Thursday under a new policy meant to end the hardships endured by migrants in dangerous border towns. The United Nation’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the initial group comprised 27 people who had been living in the makeshift camp in Matamoros opposite Brownsville, Texas. Some residents have lived there for more than a year under former President Donald Trump’s controversial Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program requiring asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for U.S. court hearings. The first group of 27 migrants leave their camp towards the Gateway International Bridge to be processed and seek asylum in the U.S., in Matamoros, Mexico, Feb. 25, 2021.A new process under President Joe Biden will gradually allow thousands of MPP asylum-seekers to await courts’ decisions within the United States. Some migrants last week were permitted to cross into San Ysidro, California. Francisco Gallardo, who runs a migrant shelter in Matamoros and provides humanitarian aid at the camp, welcomed the news that the process had begun in Matamoros, but said it should have come sooner. “It’s good that they are doing it, but unfortunately coming late,” he said. Freezing temperatures at the U.S.-Mexico border had made the Matamoros camp a priority, the Department of Homeland Security said on Wednesday. Migrants at the camp have struggled to ensure proper hygiene and to protect themselves from organized crime in a state that is one of the most violent in Mexico. “The camp was a space that had multiple risks for the migrants,” said Misael Hernandez, a researcher on migration issues at El Colegio de la Frontera Norte. Mexico’s migration institute did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 
 

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China’s Detention of Irish Businessman Spotlights Global Issue

After two years of discreet silence about his detention without charges in China, Irish businessman Richard O’Halloran finally spoke up this month. His youngest child was only 5 years old when he traveled to Shanghai in February 2019 on what he expected to be a short business trip, O’Halloran said in an interview with FILE – People hold signs calling for China to release Canadian detainees Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, March 6, 2019.While the case of the “two Michaels” has been widely publicized, O’Halloran’s ordeal was little known until he went public this past week. In the interview, the 45-year-old father of four said his anguish had reached the point that he asked the Chinese judge in charge of his case: “Do you expect that I tell my wife to get on with her life, and for my kids to try and forget about me? Is that what you’re trying to do?” O’Halloran, an executive with the Irish subsidiary of an aviation leasing company, traveled to China to help settle a commercial dispute that resulted in the arrest of his employer on charges of defrauding Chinese investors of some $70 million. While not charged with any crime, O’Halloran has been told he cannot leave China until the money is returned to the investors. The Chinese embassy in Dublin told RTE: “In any country, company representatives have the legal obligation to return the proceeds of crime flowing into the company and related yields to the victims.” The embassy added, “We fully understand Mr. O’Halloran’s family’s anxiety and hope they will advise Mr. O’Halloran to cooperate in a meaningful way with judicial authorities in Shanghai to ensure an early solution to the case.” But O’Halloran argued in his interview that the Chinese legal system is “fundamentally flawed.” “To expect somebody to sign documents in Chinese, to conduct an entire interview in Chinese, without legal representation, is just not correct in my view,” he said. FILE – Winston Lord, then-U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia, addresses a press conference in Honolulu, Jan. 25, 1996.The case has attracted the attention of some major China policy experts, including Winston Lord, a former U.S. ambassador to China and assistant secretary of state for East Asia. “I’ve been following the case closely for many months, it’s a very sad, frustrating and cruel case,” Lord said in a phone interview from his home in Manhattan. “This man is a businessman from Ireland, he went to the mainland to try to help the Chinese resolve a case against another Chinese, and he’s been kept in detention — not house arrest, but he can’t leave the country — for two years.”  Lord said China may be hurting its own economic interests by holding O’Halloran. “I already know people who don’t want to be stationed in China, whether it’s pollution, repression, or extreme measures like this,” he said. The detention has also been denounced on the floor of the Irish parliament, where Senator Michael McDowell insisted that “no Chinese citizen would be treated in this way in this country.”Watch: In the #Seanad today I highlighted the ongoing wrongful detention of Richard O’Halloran in China https://t.co/xs8h15ztJ5 via @YouTube— Michael McDowell (@SenatorMcDowell) February 15, 2021″Comparative size of our two countries doesn’t justify wolf diplomacy being deployed against Ireland to try and blackmail this man into doing something unlawful,” he said. McDowell cautioned the Irish government against falling into what he called the three stages of inaction — “the stage which was premature to do anything, the stage which was too sensitive, and the stage which was too late.” 
 

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Haiti Gang Violence Puts Burn Victims at Risk, Doctors Say

Burn patients in Haiti who need specialized care had to be transferred, after gang violence erupted near the burn care hospital in Drouillard, a Port-au-Prince neighborhood.Doctors Without Borders / Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) says the violence is putting its patients at risk. 
 
“Severe burns require highly specialized care, and our Drouillard hospital is Haiti’s only specialized burn care center,” Dr. Alain Ngamba, MSF medical coordinator in Haiti, told VOA via email. “We are concerned about the consequences for patients who would otherwise have been admitted there.”  
 
MSF says the eruption of gunfire on February 23 sent staff members running for cover on hospital grounds. That’s when it was decided to relocate 21 patients to an MSF hospital in the Tabarre neighborhood of Haiti’s capital, once the shooting stopped. No staff or patients were injured during the violence, MSF told VOA.  
 Doctors Without Borders / Medecins Sans Frontieres burns hospital in Drouillard, Haiti. (Photo: Lunos Saint Brave/MSF)Outpatient services for burn patients had been transferred out of Drouillard since February 13, after a first wave of gang violence. For now, only the emergency department of the hospital is open, but it is functioning at a reduced capacity and limited to accepting only life-threatening cases, MSF says. 
 
“The situation around our hospital in Drouillard has deteriorated, for patients and for staff,” Aline Serin, MSF head of mission in Haiti, said in a statement. “Faced with the recurrence of this violence, we have decided to move patients from our burn center and outpatient services to our trauma hospital in Tabarre, in order to ensure the protection of staff, the safety of our patients and continuity of their care.”  
 
MSF’s Drouillard location employs about 250 staff — a mix of Haitian and international MSF employees. Originally set up as a trauma center in 2011 to treat victims of violence, road accidents or burns, the hospital shifted its focus to specialized burn care in 2014.  
 
After the COVID-19 pandemic hit Haiti in March 2020, the Drouillard hospital temporarily shifted to treating COVID-19 patients between May and August. After August, the hospital reshifted its focus to burn care.  
 
“We are still working to set up an operating theater in our Tabarre hospital for our existing burns patients,” Ngamba told VOA. “We already treat trauma patients at our Tabarre hospital, so this does not leave many more places for burns patients. Currently we do not have the capacity to admit new patients with severe burns.”  
 MSF staff transfer burn patients out of Drouillard hospital to Tabarre trauma center in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Photo: Avra Fialas/MSF)Gang violence has been a concern not only for Haitian authorities but also the international community, which raised the issue at a February 22 United Nations Security Council meeting.   
 
“We urge Haitian authorities to redouble their efforts to investigate and prosecute violent crime,” said Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the Acting Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.  
 
France’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, Nathalie Broadhurst, also criticized Haiti’s government for lack of progress on curbing gang violence. 
 
“I ask this question straightforwardly: How is it possible today that Jimmy Cherizier [notorious Haitian gang leader] is still walking free?” Broadhurst said. “The fight against impunity must be the priority of the authorities.” 
 
Responding to the criticism, Haitian President Jovenel Moise cited progress in dismantling gangs and reducing violence in his speech to the U.N. Security Council. 
 
“Of 102 existing gangs, the government has dismantled 64 and is working to quickly to reestablish security,” he said. 
 
But as chronic insecurity continues in Port-au-Prince, MSF is calling for the respect of health facilities so that patients and staff can access them.  

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European Governments Resist Public Clamor for Easing of Pandemic Lockdown

Months of lockdowns and pandemic restrictions are taking their toll on Europeans, with many chafing at the prolonged limitations on public life. With vaccine distribution now starting to pick up after a sluggish start in most countries, calls are mounting for an easing of restrictions.Britain is first up, with pressure building for easing after a blisteringly fast rollout of its inoculation program that’s already seen one in three adults in the country receive at least one vaccine dose.In a race against a faster-spreading variant of the virus, more than 18 million people in Britain have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, fueling demands for a speedy end to the country’s lockdown, the third since the pandemic emerged.The ruling Conservatives hope the success of the largest mass vaccination program in the country’s history will erase public memories of the missteps and reversals of last year, which saw ill-disguised clashes between the government, lawmakers and medical advisers. There were more than two dozen abrupt U-turns in policy.But a Conservative popularity bounce risks being lost amid squabbling about when and how quickly pandemic restrictions are lifted, according to lawmakers and analysts. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Monday that his government would take a “cautious” approach to easing a national lockdown, with restrictions lifted every few weeks so the impact can be judged.FILE – Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a vial of Astra Zeneca coronavirus vaccine during a visit to a coronavirus vaccination center in Orpington, England, Feb. 15, 2021.The prime minister told lawmakers this week that England is going to start “reclaiming our freedoms” with the goal of removing all legal limits on people’s social contact set to end by June 21. His road map for relaxing the country’s lockdown will see schools reopen on March 8 and some outdoor restrictions lifted three weeks later.Hugs could be allowed in May, he said.For some, the planned relaxation is too fast; for others, too slow. And Johnson’s party is becoming restive. Influential Conservative lawmaker Steve Baker lamented the slow pace of relaxation, saying it “will be a hammer blow for aviation, for pubs, for restaurants, hotels, gyms and pools, the arts and the establishment.”Nearly 70,000 finesAnd many Britons are straining at the leash with breaches of pandemic restrictions rising steeply since last month. Police have handed out in the past year nearly 70,000 fines to people for breaking lockdown rules, according to government data, but of those, more than a third were issued since January 17 of this year.Elsewhere in Europe, relaxation seems a distant dream, but public impatience is mounting with the slow vaccination campaigns, which are likely to have electoral consequences.In the Czech Republic, where infections are surging, Prime Minister Andrej Babis has been criticized for sending inconsistent signals about when coronavirus measures will be lifted.FILE – A man wearing a face mask to guard against coronavirus transmission walks across the medieval Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic, Feb. 25, 2021.The country’s parliament has moved to restrict Babis’ powers to tighten restrictions, and the opposition coalition now has overtaken the ruling party in the opinion polls, suggesting voters are losing faith in the government.Despite the fact that the country’s two-week infection rate is three times the EU average and its death rate of 174 people per million is among the worst in Europe, Babis’ government started to loosen a few pandemic restrictions, only to backtrack as health experts denounced the move.Rastislav Maďar, head of the University of Ostrava’s Institute of Epidemiology, told Politico EU, “Many people are fed up and tired of the political games, and now refuse to respect obligatory lockdown rules.”Some relaxationPartly as a result of public pressure, governments in Italy, the Netherlands and Denmark have all tweaked their restrictions to allow some letup on lockdowns.Starting March 1, high school children in Holland will have at least one day in the classroom. Hairdressers and other so-called contact professions can reopen on March 3. Teenagers and adults up to age 27 can play team sports outside. But a nighttime curfew, which triggered several days of riots when introduced, will remain.Denmark, which has been under a lockdown since December, is lifting some restrictions that will see the retail sector reopen. Older school students are expected to be allowed to return to classrooms in regions with low infection rates.FILE – Carabinieri officers patrol an access road to Bollate, in the outskirts of Milan, Italy, Feb. 18, 2021. Italy’s Lombardy region asked the national government Feb. 25 to send more vaccines north to help stem a surge of new COVID cases.And in Italy, high school students are now returning to class, the first time since October, and bars and restaurants in some regions are being allowed again to serve customers at tables and counters until dusk. But a nationwide nighttime curfew remains and travel among Italy’s 20 regions is restricted.In other European countries, lockdowns and severe restrictions are remaining. Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Germany and France aren’t ready for any serious easing. In Germany, the government is coming under increasing pressure to present the public with a road map out of the coronavirus crisis amid growing anger over the snail-paced vaccination campaign.’We envy you’Only 6% of Germans have received at least one shot so far, compared with about 33% of Britons. That huge disparity prompted Bild Zeitung, a major tabloid newspaper, to splash across its front page Wednesday: “Dear Britons, We envy you!” The paper went on to ask, “When will we be as far as the British are?”The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has been rebuffing calls for a major relaxation of lockdown rules, saying there has to be a significant reduction in the incidence rate to under 35 per 100,000 first. It currently stands at about 60 per 100,000.At a Tuesday meeting with lawmakers from her ruling Christian Democratic party, Merkel said she understood “the valid desire for an opening up,” but that could be done safely only in “four stages of opening, without a yo-yo effect.”  

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Sweden Breaks February Record High Temperature

Sweden’s national weather service, the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI) Thursday reported a new national high temperature for February — 16.8 degrees Celsius.The SMHI confirmed the record on its Twitter account, attributing the high temperatures to the föhnvind, a warm, dry wind that traditionally comes out of the mountains.Record temperatures were also reported Thursday in Poland where Makow Podhalanski hit 21.7 degrees Celsius, and in Slovakia, where the southwestern city of Hurbanovo reported a high of 20.8 Celsius.Winter Weather Hits Parts of Europe, From Poland to Turkey Temperatures dropped to minus 28 degrees Celsius (minus 18 Fahrenheit) in some Polish areas overnight, the coldest night in 11 yearsThursday’s records come as western and central Europe is seeing something of a winter heat wave, with records falling earlier in the week in the Czech Republic, Austria, and in Germany, where on Monday, Hamburg hit 21.1 degrees Celsius — the warmest temperature recorded there in any winter month. Some of the records that fell this week had stood for more than a century.The heat wave comes two weeks after western and central Europe saw a frigid blast of winter, with heavy snowfalls in Britain, Germany and the Netherlands. Washington Post meteorologist Matthew Cappucci says the region has seen the wild swing in temperatures thanks to a seesaw effect in the jet stream that earlier in the month brought freezing air down from the pole, and this week brought warm air from the south, including dust from the Sahara Desert in Africa.

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COVID Takes Extra Big Toll on Britain’s Migrants

Workers from Latin America are already among the lowest paid in Britain. Now, advocates say the pandemic has left nearly half of them without a job, creating what some are warning is a new migrant crisis in Europe.  For VOA, Joana Ramiro reports from London.

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WHO Urges Authorities to Prioritize ‘Long COVID’ Sufferers

The World Health Organization said Thursday that one in 10 COVID-19 patients experience persistent ill health 12 weeks after having had the virus and urged health authorities to take their situation seriously.
At a virtual news conference Thursday, WHO’s Europe division released a policy brief that documents how different countries in the region have responded to patients who suffer long-term COVID-19 symptoms.
WHO European director Hans Kluge said so-called “long COVID” can bring symptoms that include severe fatigue, chest pain, heart inflammation, headache, forgetfulness, depression, loss of smell, recurrent fever, diarrhea and ringing in the ears. 
 
The policy brief says available data shows about one in four people with COVID-19 show symptoms about a month after testing positive, while one in 10 experience symptoms after 12 weeks.
Kluge said, “The sufferers of post-COVID conditions need to be heard if we are to understand the long-term consequences and recovery from COVID-19.” He said it is important for policymakers to consider such long-term patients as part of the response to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.  
Kluge added long-term sufferers are a priority for the WHO and should be for every health authority.
Kluge also said there were fewer than one million new COVID-19 cases in Europe for the second consecutive week as transmission continues to slow. He said new cases have declined by almost half since the beginning of the year, which he credited to countries that have implemented new measures to slow transmission.
But Kluge warned that COVID-19 continues to spread at very high rates across Europe, with two variants of concern continuing to displace other variants.

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Venezuelans Barter for Food

Venezuela’s currency, the bolivar, is worth almost nothing these days. That’s forced the country’s citizens to figure out new ways to put food on their tables. Adriana Nunez Rabascall reports this story narrated by Cristina Smit.

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