Category Archives: World

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Serbian President Retracts COVID-19 Curfew After 60 Hurt in Violence

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has retracted his decision to reimpose a coronavirus curfew and has urged people to stop attending anti-government rallies after a violent clash between protesters and police.The president said Wednesday that new measures could still include shortened hours for nightclubs and penalties for those not wearing masks.On Tuesday, Vucic said at a news conference he would implement a curfew Friday, “probably” to run from 6 p.m. until 5 a.m. on July 13. The president added that gatherings would be restricted to five people starting Wednesday, citing a rising number of coronavirus cases in the country and hospitals running at full capacity.Vucic’s backtracking Wednesday came after a protest by thousands Tuesday night outside the parliament building in Belgrade. Police fired tear gas and beat demonstrators, while protesters retaliated by throwing stones and bottles at officers, some chanting for the resignation of the president.The clash left 17 protesters and 43 police injured and 23 protesters arrested, according to police director Vladmir Rebic. More protests were reported Wednesday.Vucic said foreign secret services were behind the protests by “right-wing and pro-fascist demonstrators.” He did not name specific intelligence agencies and stood by the police’s handling of the protests.”We will never allow the destabilization of Serbia from within and abroad,” he said.The president’s critics have accused him of lifting previous lockdown measures to hold parliamentary elections on June 21, which Vucic’s Progressive Party won by a landslide — accusations the president has denied.Critics also blame Vucic for the swell in infection rates, as the government permitted sports matches, religious festivities, parties and private gatherings to resume after lifting state of emergency restrictions on May 6.As of Wednesday afternoon EDT, Serbia had 17,076 reported cases of the coronavirus infection and 341 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University statistics.

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Brazilian President Bolsonaro ‘Doing Very Well’ Despite Coronavirus Diagnosis

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro says he is “doing very well” one day after testing positive for coronavirus. Bolsonaro tested positive for the disease on Tuesday after spending the weekend in close proximity with government officials, including a mask-free attendance at an Independence Day celebration at the U.S. Embassy. “Be assured that for you the chance of something more serious is close to zero,” Bolsonaro assured citizens during the announcement of his illness on Tuesday. Brazilian President Tests Positive for Coronavirus Jair Bolsonaro previously downplayed risks posed by coronavirus, once telling supporters because of his history of athleticism, he would not worry if he became infectedIn a video posted late Tuesday evening, Bolsonaro drank what he described as his third dose of hydroxochloriquine and seemed to attribute his state of relative health to the drug. Hydroxochloriquine, commonly used to treat malaria, has been touted by both Bolsonaro and U.S. President Donald Trump as a treatment for coronavirus. So far little medical evidence has been produced to support their claims; in June, the U.S. National Institutes of Health halted clinical trials of the drug in COVID-19 patients due to lack of sufficient evidence. The World Health Organization also announced on July 4 that their investigation into the treatment’s efficacy would cease, as data does not suggest increased recovery rates for COVID-19 patients. “To those who root against hydroxychloroquine but don’t present alternatives, I hate to say I’m doing very well using it and, thank God, I will still live much longer,” Bolsonaro wrote in a Twitter post on Wednesday.The populist Brazilian president has been known to flout convention. In March, he dismissed concerns about the virus and claimed that his previous experience as an athlete would protect him and has repeatedly refused to wear a mask despite a court order requiring that he do so. Local government and public health officials have encountered several obstacles to enforcing necessary safety precautions. In several cases, such as indoor mask mandates and social distancing enforcement, Bolsonaro has personally intervened and vetoed the legislation. He has claimed such precautionary measures dampen the embattled Brazilian economy. Two health ministers during the pandemic, both trained doctors, were fired by Bolsonaro in recent months and were replaced with an active-duty army general on an interim basis.With 1.6 million confirmed cases and at least 66,000 deaths, Brazil’s death toll trails only that of the United States. The 65-year-old former Army captain said he planned to work via videoconference and sign as few documents as possible during the course of his illness. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez also contracted the virus, although both of them required hospital stays and extra oxygen.

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Russian Journalists Fear Growing Media Persecution After Treason Arrest 

Russian journalists have launched a petition demanding treason allegations against a former reporter be made public, fearing the case is bogus and that media are being increasingly persecuted.   Ivan Safronov, a former newspaper journalist working at Russia’s space agency since May, was detained by security agents outside his flat on Tuesday and accused of passing military secrets to the Czech Republic. He denies the charges.   At a closed hearing, the court ordered Safronov to be held in custody for two months. One of his lawyers, Ivan Pavlov, said the hearing was unusual as the state investigator had not presented any evidence. Ivan Safronov stands inside a defendants’ cage before a court hearing in Moscow, Russia, July 7, 2020. “Now they’ve taken Ivan Safronov,” read the petition circulated online by journalists at investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta and signed by nearly 7,500 people.   The petition said the case should be declassified and the allegations made public, adding: “Otherwise it’s fake. The evidence is hidden when it is fake.”   The Kremlin noted what it described as some emotional media reactions, but said those outlets had not seen the evidence, which would be reviewed in court. It said it had seen no signs of a campaign of pressure against reporters.   Several journalists were photographed staging one-person pickets in various Russian cities on Wednesday, demanding Safronov be freed. Dozens of people, including journalists, were detained by Moscow police on Tuesday.   On Monday, a court in the city of Pskov found another journalist guilty of justifying terrorism. She denied the charge.   Russian journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva charged with publicly justifying terrorism arrives for a court hearing in Pskov, Russia, July 6, 2020.Mediazona, a private media outlet, wrote that it looked like law enforcement agencies were trying to “force us to stay silent.”   FILE – Pyotr Verzilov gestures during a court hearing in Moscow, July 16, 2018.Police opened a criminal case this week against Mediazona’s publisher, Pyotr Verzilov, for failing to declare dual Canadian citizenship. He is an anti-Kremlin activist.   The U.S. Embassy’s spokeswoman wrote on Twitter it was “starting to look like a concerted campaign against #MediaFreedom.”   “Mind your own business,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry responded. 

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British Prime Minister Takes Responsibility for COVID-19 Response

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday he takes full responsibility for the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, two days after appearing to blame workers in health care facilities for the deaths of residents there.Johnson was responding in parliament to opposition Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer, who quoted the prime minister regarding deaths in British care homes.  Johnson said, “too many care workers did not follow procedures the way they should have.” Starmer said front-line care workers took great offense at the remark and called on Johnson to apologize.The prime minister responded by saying the last thing he wanted to do was blame care workers or for anyone to think he was blaming them and said they have done “an outstanding job.” He said, “When it comes to taking blame, I take full responsibility for what has happened.”Johnson added that no one knew when the pandemic began that COVID-19 would spread asymptomatically the way it does, and procedures changed.Starmer said Johnson’s explanation was not an apology and said by refusing to do so, Johnson “rubs salt in the wound” of the frontline workers he says he admires so much.  Johnson responded by calling for bipartisan measures to invest in and reform Britain’s care home sector.

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Poll: Most Mexicans Want Closer Mexico-US Relations

More Mexicans have warmed to the idea of closer ties with the United States just as President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador lines up his first meeting with U.S. counterpart Donald Trump, a poll showed on Wednesday.
 
A June 30-July 1 survey of 407 people by Mexican polling firm Parametria showed that 52% of respondents said Mexico should “be closer to” the United States, significantly up from 36% two years ago, when the leftist Lopez Obrador was first elected.
 
Lopez Obrador is visiting the White House, days after the start of a new regional trade deal, in his first trip outside Mexico since taking office 19 months ago.
 
His meeting carries risks because Trump has been highly unpopular south of the border since he described Mexican migrants and rapists and drug runners during his 2015-2016 campaign for the U.S. presidency.
 
Pessimism over Trump that set in when he took office still pervades: the Parametria poll showed 87% of respondents held a negative view of Trump, with only 10% of the opposite opinion.
 
Although Lopez Obrador has tried to avoid conflict with Trump, the latter has frequently pressured Mexico over trade and migration. Trump has also repeatedly said he will stick to a campaign promise to make Mexico pay for his planned border wall.
 
Of the people surveyed, significantly more expected the meeting of the presidents to help the United States.
 
Some 78% thought it would benefit the United States, with only 49% taking that view for Mexico. Some 35% said it would harm Mexico, while just 14% said that for the United States.

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Canadian Justice Grinds Slowly for Detained Huawei Executive

The extradition case of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese tech firm Huawei, is winding its way through the Canadian legal system. For Meng, it means confinement to her Vancouver mansions and conferences with high-priced lawyers. For two Canadians, it means more uncertainty and more time in a Chinese jail. Throw in a U.S. presidential election and a rift in Canada-Chinese trade relations and it creates the makings of an international soap opera.If all goes according to schedule, the actual extradition hearing for Meng will start on April 23. Before that, she faces multiple court dates in front of the Supreme Court of the province of British Columbia and the Federal Court of Canada.The U.S. Justice Department is seeking her extradition from Vancouver on allegations of helping a Huawei subsidiary break U.S. sanctions against doing business in Iran. The daughter of Chinese technology giant Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, Meng was arrested at Vancouver International Airport while in transit to a connecting flight to Mexico on December 1, 2018.That means the actual extradition hearing may take place more than 28 months after her arrest.Intensely watching the proceedings is Vancouver immigration lawyer and policy analyst Richard Kurland, who does not represent any party in the case.He said for a person like Meng, the case is actually not taking a long time.“It’s not slow,” Kurland said. “This is the typical, average, garden-variety vanilla extradition case processing times. I’m aware of at least three other extradition cases that required eight to 10 years to finish. So the Canadian extradition process does take about eight to 10 years when someone has the resources to dig their heels in and take advantage of every procedural possibility in the extradition case.”Kurland added that for those who lack Meng’s financial means – she has the resources of a giant company like Huawei and her father is said to be worth over $1 billion – the extradition process can be rather abrupt.“If you don’t have financial resources, the road is short,” he said. “Typically, in the overwhelming majority of cases, extradition from beginning to end is a matter of days, if not a short number of months.”’The two Mikes’Not long after Meng’s arrest, two Canadian citizens, now commonly referred to as “the two Mikes” – Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig — were detained in China. Spavor, who specialized in travel from the People’s Republic of China and North Korea, and Kovrig, a former diplomat who works with a nonprofit research organization, live most the time in China. They were initially accused of “endangering Chinese security” but were not formally charged until June of this year. Spavor is facing charges of spying and transmitting secrets outside of China. Kovrig is facing charges of spying on Chinese state secrets for other countries.In the past, both men have been denied legal counsel or the ability to see family members and have only been granted infrequent visits by Canadian diplomatic staff in China.One former Canadian diplomat who used to visit Canadians in Chinese prisons is Colin Robertson, currently vice president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. One of his many diplomatic postings was in Hong Kong, from where he often traveled to China.He said conditions in such facilities are usually deplorable. While Meng is out on bail and lives in her choice of her two Vancouver mansions, the two Michaels are not so lucky. And Kovrig’s former diplomatic career is also an issue.“But certainly in the case of Kovrig, the Chinese were questioning him about his activities as a Canadian diplomat, day after day, hour after hour, which is in total violation of his privileges, and privileges of diplomats which Chinese diplomats also enjoy,” Robertson said. “Under the Vienna conventions, which take back to 1815.”Canada-China trade issuesRobertson said the relationship between Canada and China is at its lowest point since modern diplomatic relations were established under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the father of current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, over 50 years ago. He said that has led to a number of trade complaints.“And the Chinese continue to find things, more recently seafood and now looking at lumber, that are just basically trade harassment,” Robertson said. “And my own view is, I think we needed to be, we needed a more muscular response earlier on when they started going, because we just basically, Prime Minister [Trudeau] seemed to kind of turn the other cheek and just take this barrage of words which is straight out of the Chinese playbook. All this language that they use about irrefutable proof terms of the so-called crimes of the two Michaels, and the accusations of racism, white supremacy, and double standard — we’re not the first country they’ve applied this to.”A public opinion survey at the end of June by the Angus Reid Institute found that over 72 percent of Canadians backed Trudeau’s refusal to stop the extradition hearing and send Meng back to China in exchange for the two Michaels. Trudeau said doing so would set a dangerous precedent and that he would let the Canadian justice system, instead of politics, take care of the matter.Before that actual extradition hearing next April, Meng and her lawyers will spend the summer months tied up in legal maneuvers.The next scheduled federal court date is July 16. Defense lawyers are trying to get more information from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the country’s spy agency, that they claim can help Meng. Canada’s attorney general says that information needs to remain secret for reasons of national security.Defense claims rights violationsMeng’s lawyers are also alleging that U.S. and Canadian authorities improperly conspired to open a criminal investigation when Meng initially arrived at Vancouver’s airport. She was held for several hours, had her computers and cellphones seized, and was questioned at length. Meng’s lawyers say that instead, Canadian authorities should have simply taken her into custody on the existing arrest warrants. Not doing so, the defense says, violated her basic legal rights.Her lawyers are also claiming that the United States deliberately misled the court to get the legal proceedings underway. Hearings to secure documents and evidence for these arguments will be held in the British Columbia Supreme Court on August 17.As the summer turns into fall, a week in September has been set aside for Meng’s legal team to present evidence regarding the accuracy of the information in the U.S. charges filed in New York that instigated the extradition process.On February 16 of next year, there will be a hearing, scheduled to last three weeks, regarding Meng’s arrest and alleged interference by U.S. President Donald Trump. Shortly after the arrest, Trump remarked that the charges against Meng could be used as a bargaining chip in the ongoing U.S.-China trade negotiations.Assuming that none of the decisions arising from all these hearings is appealed, the court will move to the actual extradition hearing in April.Ironically, if the court does find Meng should be extradited and she loses all appeals, the Canadian legal extradition process does become political. Canada’s attorney general, who is also justice minister, would then have to decide whether or not to sign the extradition papers. 

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Massive Machines Search for Smallest Pieces of Universe

Antimatter.It’s not just the stuff of science fiction.  The physicists working at CERN – officially the European Organization for Nuclear Research – create it almost every day as part of their efforts to find out what the universe is made of and how it works. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, CERN is a consortium of 23 countries and includes scientists and workers from many more.Their research lab is a ring-shaped underground tunnel, 27 kilometers around, that crisscrosses the border between Switzerland and France. In the tunnel lies the Large Hadron Collider, where protons – one of the building blocks of atoms – are made to crash into one another with incredible force, creating, among other elements, antimatter. But just because physicists can make antimatter doesn’t mean they understand everything about it yet. Antimatter is as old as the universe, part of its original creation, in an event often referred to as the “Big Bang.” Ludivine Ceard, physicist with the CMS Collaboration, gestures at the Compace Muon Solinoid – one of the experiments at CERN, in Geneva, looking for the tiniest particles of matter. (Courtesy Robert Gumm.)Ludivine Ceard, a physicist with CERN, discussed one of the theories behind the research.“We have this theory that says that right after the Big Bang, there was creation in equal amount between matter and antimatter,” she said.“In principle, if the difference between the two is only the charge, they should have just recombined and left nothing but radiation; however, we are here. I’m talking with you right now. So it means that at some point, matter took over the antimatter, and this must be because there are some differences between matter and antimatter that we don’t know about,” Ceard said.Searching for those differences is one of the tasks for the people at the Compact Muon Solenoid, or CMS, one of four main experiment sites around the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.  A muon is one of the so-called elementary particles, one with no smaller components. It is similar to an electron, but heavier. And while it is very, very tiny, the machine built to study it is large. A CMS staff member walking near the structure when VOA visited was dwarfed by the apparatus designed to study the muon.A cutaway illustration of the tube carrying the proton beams around the Large Hadron collider. The tube has been removed for maintenance. (Courtesy Robert Gumm)To create muons and antimatter, packets of protons race around a circular track in the LHC in two beams, one traveling clockwise and one counterclockwise near the speed of light. When the physicists are ready, the beams are focused and made to collide at just the right spot. Rende Steerenberg heads the group in charge of seeing those collisions happen. “On either end of the experiments we will switch on focusing magnets so that the beam squeezes into a small dimension and therefore the probability of collision increases,” he said.Even so, with 100 billion protons in a packet moving in one direction, and another 100 billion protons moving the other way, only 50 protons are likely to collide.Right now, the probability of a collision is zero – because the collider and the experiments around it are in the midst of a two-year shutdown for maintenance and upgrades – which happens every three years. You might think that would leave the scientists feeling frustrated, but you would be wrong. Patricia McBride, physicist with Fermilab, and deputy spokesperson of the CMS Collaboration in Geneva. (Courtesy Robert Gumm)The deputy spokesperson of the CMS Collaboration, Patricia McBride from Fermilab in the U.S., says what we might think of as down time is anything but.“I would say that for us it’s an opportunity. It’s also one of the busiest times for us because not only are we looking at the data that we’ve collected from the LHC from the last two rounds, but we’re looking at ways of making the detector better, repairing things, putting in new detectors, and preparing for the future runs which the experiment will be running until we hope till 2035,” she said.The collider was built in 10 years. Shortly after going into operation, it immediately made its predecessor, the Tevatron, a circular collider at the United States’ Fermilab in Illinois, obsolete. The Tevatron shut down in September 2011, not long after the LHC created its first particle collisions. But the researchers at Fermilab weren’t devastated by their eclipse. In fact, they helped build the new collider, and when it opened, they presented the new team with a baton – like those used in relay races – to symbolize the continuation of their research efforts. The CMS collaboration includes some 4,000 Scientists from more than 50 countries from across Europe, India, China, South Korea, Egypt, other parts of the Middle East and Russia.The discoveries and developments made at CERN are already helping to transform fields as diverse as nuclear waste disposal, medical testing, detection of art forgeries and efforts to disrupt financial markets. Technologies developed for CERN are also finding uses in optimizing farm irrigation, in creating sensors that detect water pollution, and in speeding up machine learning, to create better software for self-driving vehicles. And while the scientists love when the experiments confirm their predictions, they also love it when things don’t turn out as expected – because that might be saying something very fundamental about antimatter – and how the universe is put together. 

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Mexican President Visits US With Focus on Trade

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is in Washington for meetings Wednesday with U.S. President Donald Trump days after a new trade deal among the two countries and Canada went into effect.Speaking to reporters in Mexico City before his departure Tuesday, López Obrador repeatedly said in response to questions about raising other issues such as immigration policy that his focus in the talks would be on the trade deal.“It is always important that there be cooperation for development, but now in a circumstance of global economic crisis this treaty is going to help us a lot, it is very timely,” López Obrador said.He noted the economic challenges facing Mexico, like many other countries, during the coronavirus pandemic and stressed the need for Mexico to have good relations with its neighbor.The Mexican leaders noted the agenda for bilateral talks does include other topics, and on those his delegation, which includes Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard Casaubon and Economic Secretary Graciela Márquez Colín, will not take a confrontational approach, but rather try to have a dialogue of understanding with their U.S. counterparts.Trump, in brief comments ahead of the López Obrador’s visit, said the two will have “quite a meeting.”“He’s a good man. He’s a friend of mine. And we have a great relationship with Mexico,” Trump said.The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement updated the 1990s North American Trade Agreement and was a major policy push of Trump, who cast the former trade deal as harmful to U.S. businesses and workers.The pact includes new laws related to intellectual property protection, the internet, currencies, investment and state-owned enterprises. The new legislation includes more stringent rules on auto manufacturing, e-commerce and labor provisions, but leaves largely unchanged the trade flows among the North American countries valued at $1.2 trillion a year.In addition to private talks between Trump and López Obrador and wider meetings with their advisers, the two leaders will also take part in a dinner Wednesday night with business leaders from both countries.The Mexican foreign ministry said before going to the White House, López Obrador will make visits to the Lincoln Memorial and a statue of former Mexican President Benito Juárez in Washington. 

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Britain Sanctions Russian, Saudi Officials; Is China Next Target?

There are growing calls for Britain to also enact sanctions against human rights abusers in China, after the first such measures were imposed against dozens of individuals from Russia and Saudi Arabia. The first so-called ‘Magnitsky’ sanctions were announced Monday following years of campaigning by friends and family of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer killed in 2009. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the British capital is a center for global finance and travel – so campaigners hope the sanctions will have a substantial impact.Camera: Henry Ridgwell   
 

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