Coronavirus Stops-Starts Stretching Europeans’ Patience

The 17-second YouTube video mimicking Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ever shifting guidance on the coronavirus pandemic has attracted tens of thousands of views.”So we are saying don’t go to work, go to work, don’t take public transport, go to work, don’t go to work, stay indoors if you can, go to work, don’t go to work, go outside, don’t go outside,” deadpans Matt Lucas, one of the country’s best known comics and famous for the BBC comedy series Little Britain.pic.twitter.com/k6Sr4Iac15
— MATT LUCAS (@RealMattLucas) Tourists wearing face masks walk by a COVID-19 information sign in downtown Nice as France reinforces mask-wearing as a part of efforts to curb the resurgence of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) across the country, in Nice, France August 11, 2020.DisagreementsPart of the problem lies with differences of opinion between scientists and politicians. They share a common foe — namely, the virus — but government leaders have other pressing factors to take into consideration, like keeping economies going and reducing as much as they can the damage to jobs, businesses and livelihoods. “The populace has been, as ministers constantly acknowledge, extraordinarily forbearing through this on-again, off-again suspension of life as we know it. But — you can feel it in the air — the good will is running out,” according to Janet Daley, a columnist for the Daily Telegraph, a newspaper that is often a booster of the Johnson government.”There should be consistency and an appearance of agreement between all members of the government [and its official policy advisers] at all times,” she says. That has been lacking, especially when ministers have over-promised in a bid to lift flagging spirits. Several times the government has been upbeat with medical claims about transformative tests or treatments only to have had to back down subsequently, say analysts.Britain’s health minister, Matt Hancock, has prompted the dismay of even his own cabinet colleagues with boosterish claims. In April, he announced a contact-tracing app would be ready in England by mid-May, but it is still not functioning properly. He also announced that antibody tests would be a game-changer, but that has not been the case.Johnson, too, has repeatedly thrown hostages to fortune, say his critics. Among other things he promised to set up a “world-class” testing and contact tracing system, but it has not shaped up to be as efficient as Germany’s, and several frustrated local authorities in England have started their own contact-tracing frameworks, despairing that the central government’s will ever work smoothly. Customers eat at restaurant in central London, Aug. 3, 2020, next to signs indicating a discount off food. Restaurant discount meals “Eat out to help out” is a government run program.Politics and scienceLast month, the British leader announced an easing of restrictions, including to the delight of the country’s tabloid press the reopening of pubs. He promised “We’ll be back to normal by Christmas.” That earned a collective reproof from current and former scientific advisers to the government. They have struck far more pessimistic notes with the current chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, telling a parliamentary committee that another strict lockdown might be necessary when the winter months start drawing in. This month the British government has had to reimpose lockdowns on cities, including Manchester, and towns in north-west England, impacting more than four million people. Martin McKee, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has warned there has been too much “wishful thinking” by politicians and civil servants. But Johnson is not alone among European leaders in trying to strike a balance between being too gloomy, which risks public despondency, or being too optimistic, which leads to greater frustration when raised expectations are later dashed. Too much optimism and populations start sliding away from observing the rules. Too gloomy, and it is hard to persuade people to go back to work or shop. Actors and actresses of State Theatre of North Greece wearing masks perform Aristophanes’ Comedy ‘The Birds’ at the ancient theater of Epidaurus, Aug. 7, 2020.Greece’s government has announced additional restrictions because of a flare-up of coronavirus cases and a jump in the number of critically ill people in the country. Government ministers say much of the problem can be traced to foreign tourists. On Sunday, Greece announced 203 new confirmed coronavirus cases, bringing its total to 5,623, with an overall death toll of 212. All events with standing customers or spectators have been ordered canceled across the country. Bars, restaurants and cafes will have to shut from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. in several locations, including popular tourist destinations, including Mykonos and Santorini. Tourists are not the only source of new cases. Impatient young Greeks eager to socialize and to party are another cause of anxiety for Greek ministers. This week health minister Vassilis Kikilias appealed to the young to wear masks and maintain social distance. “Once more I appeal to young people and to citizens who are not adhering to personal protective measures to consider their responsibility toward vulnerable groups, our other citizens and toward the country,” he said.Youthful impetuosity is a problem across Europe, most of the rise in cases is being seen in the younger age groups, especially among people in their twenties and thirties. Many of the newly infected are suspected of contracting the virus at beach gatherings and illegal raves. 

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US Top Diplomat Heads to Central Europe as US Looks to Confront Russian, Chinese Influence 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is launching a weeklong trip to central Europe with a stop Tuesday in the Czech Republic where he is scheduled to give a speech and have a dinner meeting with Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek. Pompeo is also set to visit a museum commemorating the U.S. role in liberating the region during World War 2. The top U.S. diplomat’s trip comes as the Trump administration looks to confront Russian and Chinese economic and geopolitical competition in Europe.    Pompeo is traveling to Prague and Pilsen in the Czech Republic; Ljubljana, Slovenia; Vienna, Austria; and Warsaw, Poland, from Aug. 11 to Aug. 15.    He will become the first secretary of state since 2011 to visit Slovenia, where he will sign a Joint Declaration on 5G technology as Washington is countering risks posed by communist China’s “infiltration into high-tech networks” in the region.  The trip comes as the Pentagon prepares to move forward with a plan to pull almost 12,000 troops from Germany and redeploy part of the U.S. forces to Poland and other NATO nations, raising concerns at home and in Europe even as senior officials defend it as a strategic necessity.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline.Download File360p | 9 MB480p | 13 MB540p | 16 MB720p | 34 MB1080p | 67 MBOriginal | 81 MB Embed” />Copy Download AudioThumbnailThu, 07/30/2020 – 00:32Mary MooneyMedia Duration00:02:50SummaryThe United States is pulling almost 12,000 troops from Germany, following through on President Donald Trump’s call to reduce the U.S. military footprint overseas. While defense department officials say the move will boost American security, critics see the move as punishment for a country Trump has criticized as “delinquent” in NATO defense spending. VOA’s diplomatic correspondent Cindy Saine reports from Washington.
Produced by: Bronwyn BenitoRights RestrictedOffUS Pulling Almost 12,000 Troops From Germany US military leaders describe the move as ‘strategic,’ but President Trump says he wants the troops out of Germany because ‘we don’t want to be the suckers anymore’ Ambassador Philip Reeker, the State Department’s acting assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, said Pompeo will discuss with his counterparts the just-completed U.S.-Poland Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that “provides a framework” to further strengthen “the broad transatlantic security.”      The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, top left, arrives with his wife Susan Pompeo, top right, at the airport in Prague, Czech Republic, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020.”We have been very dedicated to helping those countries find alternate sources so that they can diversify from Russia,” said Reeker.  Russia has previously defended the project as economically feasible.   The U.S. has been warning about the security risks of Russian energy export pipelines, in particular Nord Stream 2. U.S. officials said if completed, these projects would undermine European security and strengthen Russia’s ability to use its energy resources to coerce the U.S.’s European partners and allies.Czech Republic      In Prague, Pompeo will meet with Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis to discuss nuclear energy cooperation and the Three Seas Initiative, a political platform to promote connectivity among nations in central and eastern Europe by supporting infrastructure, energy and digital interconnectivity projects.      The initiative gets its name from the three seas that border the region: the Baltic, Black and Adriatic Seas.  On Wednesday, Pompeo is set to deliver a speech at the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic on bilateral ties and foreign policy.Americký ministr zahraničních věcí @SecPompeo ve středu 12. 8. v českém Senátu přednese veřejný projev a bude s předsedou @Vystrcil_Milos jednat o společných zájmech v zahraničně-politických otázkách. pic.twitter.com/ySOKmD9ftd— Senát Parlamentu ČR (@SenatCZ) August 7, 2020SloveniaIn Ljubljana, Pompeo will sign a Joint Declaration on 5G technology with Slovenian Foreign Minister Anže Logar.  Over the past year, European countries, including Poland, Estonia and the Czech Republic, have signed agreements with the U.S., pledging that 5G suppliers would not be subject to control by a foreign government without independent judicial review, which effectively excludes Chinese firms.    Slovenia will join those countries in the so-called “5G Clean Networks” to use only trusted vendors to secure critical telecommunications, cloud, data analytics, and mobile apps.      Reeker told VOA it is “a reflection of the shared dedication to protecting privacy” and cybersecurity.    AustriaIn Vienna, the U.S.-Austria Strategic Partnership and growing trade relationship will be high on the agenda in Pompeo’s meetings with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg.    Austria hosts the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear watchdog of the United Nations in charge of monitoring Iran’s adherence to the 2015 nuclear deal from which the U.S. has withdrawn.    Pompeo will also hold talks with IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, as Washington is calling on other members of the U.N. Security Council to indefinitely extend an arms embargo on Iran that is set to expire on Oct. 18. Poland In Warsaw, the chief U.S. diplomat will have talks with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz on deepening defense ties, recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, securing 5G networks, and improving regional energy and infrastructure through the Three Seas Initiative. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.      Pompeo will also meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda, who visited the White House in late June.    Poland sees Nord Stream 2, which would double Russia’s gas export capacity via the Baltic Sea, as a threat to Europe’s energy security.  “In our view, it is paying with European money for Mr. (Vladimir) Putin’s weapons, and we don’t like it,” Morawiecki said during a recent webinar hosted by the Atlantic Council.    Morawiecki said Poland, as “the most pro-European and most pro-American country” in Europe, is strengthening the transatlantic alliance.    Last month, the State Department said people making investments or engaging in activities related to Nord Stream 2, including pipe-laying vessels and engineering service in the deployment of the pipelines, could face U.S. sanctions.     “It’s a clear warning to companies: aiding and abetting Russia’s malign influence projects will not be tolerated,” said Pompeo during a July 15 press conference.    “Let me be clear. These aren’t commercial projects. They are the Kremlin’s key tools to exploit and expand European dependence on Russian energy supplies,” Pompeo said. 

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Cuba Re-imposes Partial Lockdown as COVID-19 Cases Surge in Havana 

A surge of coronavirus cases across Cuba prompted authorities to re-impose some restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus, including closing beaches, restaurants, bars and restricting travel across the island and prohibiting international flights.  Cuba confirmed the majority of the 93 new cases are in the capital, Havana.The jump in COVID-19 cases represents the highest daily total since the pandemic was first detected on the island in March. Cuba’s newest restrictions come after the government had begun relaxing restrictions because the cases of the coronavirus had leveled off. Authorities say the latest restrictions will not impact grocery stores or government services. Cuba has confirmed more than 3,000 cases of COVID-19, and at least 88 deaths. 

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Trinidad and Tobago PM Says His Ruling Party Won Monday’s General Election  

Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley announced Monday night his ruling People’s National Movement party won the general elections. Speaking to a gathering of supporters in Port of Spain, Trinidad, Rowley said, the PNM won 22 of the 41 seats at stake in the elections. Rowley said the other major party, the United National Congress (UNC), won the remaining 19 seats. The Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) is expected to announce the official results Tuesday.  A victory in the election will extend Rowley’s five-year tenure as prime minister. Voters from the twin-republic said corruption and the coronavirus pandemic were major issues of concern. Politics in Trinidad and Tobago is largely divided along ethnic lines, with supporters of African descent aligned with the PNM. The UNC is a favorite among people of Indian descent. 

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Spain Overtakes Britain for Most COVID-19 Cases in Europe

More than 20 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed worldwide as of Monday night, and Spain has overtaken Britain for the highest number of cases in Western Europe. Partly to blame, some Spanish health experts say, is that the government doesn’t have enough qualified contract tracers.  “Some regions have not understood that this was the key in the months after the lockdown and in the long term,” said Ildefonso Hernandez Aguado, a public health professor at Alicante’s Miguel Hernandez University.  He also blamed Spanish society for its eagerness to celebrate holidays and other events with large gatherings, saying, “This is a country that doesn’t understand holding a celebration or taking a holiday if you’re not going to share them.” The government defended its response.  “Appropriate measures are being taken to control the pandemic in coordination” with the regions, the government said in a statement, after experts questioned its policies. “The data shows that we are being very active in tracking and detecting the virus.” According to Johns Hopkins University, Spain has nearly 323,000 COVID-19 cases while Britain has recorded 313,000. More than 28,000 people have died from the disease in Spain and more than 46,000 have died in Britain.  Spain, one of the world’s hot spots early in the pandemic before imposing strict lockdowns and other measures, has seen a surge in the number of cases since lifting most measures instituted to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which causes COIVD-19. From an average daily infections tally of 132 cases in June, Spain has counted some 1,500 per day in the first 10 days of August.People wearing face masks wait their turn to be called for a PCR test for the COVID-19 at Vilafranca del Penedes in the Barcelona province, Spain, August 10, 2020.Both Spain and the Britain trail the United States in the number of COVID-19 cases — more than 5 million – and deaths – 163,000. Florida, one of the U.S.’s hardest hit states, broke its own record last week for the number of coronavirus hospitalizations, The Orlando Sentinel newspaper reports. Hospitals throughout Florida admitted 3,355 COVID-19 patients between August 2 and August 9. Florida has counted 536,961 cases and 8,408 deaths cases since the beginning of the pandemic, trailing only California, which has 568,000 confirmed cases and 10,378 deaths.  Medical officials in Florida blamed Gov. Ron DeSantis, saying he was more interested in gaining favor with President Donald Trump than taking measures such a statewide requirement for wearing face masks. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association have reported a large increase in the number of children sickened by the coronavirus last month. Nearly 100,000 youngsters became ill in the last two weeks of July. A woman with her children, wearing face masks amid the spread of the new coronavirus, wait at a health center in the Juan Diaz neighborhood, an area with high contagion levels of COVID-19, in Panama City, July 16, 2020.The coronavirus is relatively mild in children, but they can still pass the virus to older people, including the elderly who are much more susceptible, according to doctors. New Jersey police broke up a house party over the weekend where nearly 300 people were celebrating. The state has limited the number of people allowed to gather indoors to 25. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy lashed out at the crowds packing bars in the state’s beach towns. The governor has criticized what he calls “knucklehead behavior” by those who won’t wear masks or practice social distancing for a rise in COVID-19 cases in the state. Nearly 50 public health officials across the U.S. have either been fired or quit since April under pressure from politicians and others resisting their calls for coronavirus restrictions, according to the Associated Press news service. Some of those officials said had been threatened with violence for advocating for lockdowns and masks.  Others were simply burned out. The former head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Tom Frieden, calls the number of experts quitting their jobs “stunning.”  “The overall tone toward public health in the U.S. is so hostile that it has kind of emboldened people to make these attacks,” Frieden said. The latest to give up their positions are senior government health experts in California and New York City.  President Trump threw his support behind playing the college football season despite COVID-19. “The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled,” he tweeted Monday. Some large schools have canceled their seasons while others have not yet decided what they will do. Nebraska’s Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, who is a former president of Midland University, says the season should go on.  “This is a moment for leadership. These young men need a season. Please don’t cancel college football,” the senator said. Spanish actor Antonio Banderas spent his 60th birthday Monday in quarantine after announcing he has the coronavirus.  “I would like to add that I am relatively well, just a little more tired than usual and hoping to recover as soon as possible following medical instructions that I hope will allow me to overcome the infection that I and so many people in the world are suffering from,” he wrote on Instagram.  He says he plans to spend his time in recovery reading and writing. 

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Opposition Rejects Belarus Results as Protests Erupt

Belarus says longtime leader Alexander Lukashenko has been overwhelmingly reelected in a race that was supposed to have been the leader’s most serious electoral challenge since coming to power in the mid-1990’s.  But with the opposition rejecting the results amid charges of vote rigging, protests and clashes with state security forces have erupted.   From Moscow, Charles Maynes reports.Camera:  Ricardo Marquina   Produced by: Rob Raffael

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Pompeo Heads to Central Europe as US Looks to Confront Russian, Chinese Influence

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo embarks on a weeklong trip to central Europe on Monday, as the United States looks to confront Russian and Chinese economic and geopolitical competition in Europe. The top U.S. diplomat is traveling to Prague and Pilsen in the Czech Republic; Ljubljana, Slovenia; Vienna, Austria; and Warsaw, Poland, from August 11 to 15. Pompeo will become the first secretary of state since 2011 to visit Slovenia, where he will sign a Joint Declaration on 5G technology as Washington is countering risks posed by communist China’s “infiltration into high-tech networks” in the region. The trip comes as the Pentagon prepares to move forward with a plan to pull almost 12,000 troops from Germany and redeploy part of the U.S. forces to Poland and other NATO nations, raising concerns at home and in Europe even as senior officials defend it as a strategic necessity.Ambassador Philip Reeker, the State Department’s acting assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, said Pompeo will discuss with his counterparts the just-completed U.S.-Poland Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that “provides a framework” to further strengthen “the broad transatlantic security.”   The FILE – A worker puts a cap to a pipe at the construction site of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, near the town of Kingisepp, Leningrad region, Russia, June 5, 2019.Russia has previously defended the project as economically feasible.  The U.S. has been warning about the security risks of Russian energy export pipelines, in particular Nord Stream 2. U.S. officials said if completed, these projects would undermine European security and strengthen Russia’s ability to use its energy resources to coerce the U.S.’s European partners and allies.Czech RepublicIn Prague, Pompeo will meet with Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis to discuss nuclear energy cooperation and the Three Seas Initiative, a political platform to promote connectivity among nations in central and eastern Europe by supporting infrastructure, energy and digital interconnectivity projects.   The initiative gets its name from the three seas that border the region: the Baltic, Black and Adriatic. On Wednesday, Pompeo is set to deliver a speech at the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic on bilateral ties and foreign policy.   Americký ministr zahraničních věcí FILE – Poland’s President Andrzej Duda listens to U.S. President Donald Trump during a joint news conference in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, June 24, 2020.Poland sees Nord Stream 2, which would double Russia’s gas export capacity via the Baltic Sea, as a threat to Europe’s energy security. “In our view, it is paying with European money for Mr. (Vladimir) Putin’s weapons, and we don’t like it,” Morawiecki said during a recent webinar hosted by the Atlantic Council.  Morawiecki said Poland, as “the most pro-European and most pro-American country” in Europe, is strengthening the transatlantic alliance. Last month, the State Department said people making investments or engaging in activities related to Nord Stream 2, including pipe-laying vessels and engineering service in the deployment of the pipelines, could face U.S. sanctions. “It’s a clear warning to companies: aiding and abetting Russia’s malign influence projects will not be tolerated,” said Pompeo during a July 15 press conference.   “Let me be clear. These aren’t commercial projects. They are the Kremlin’s key tools to exploit and expand European dependence on Russian energy supplies,” Pompeo said. 
 

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Tensions Escalate Over Turkish Drilling Plans in East Mediterranean

Greece’s entire armed forces are on emergency alert Monday following Turkey’s decision to send a vessel to explore potential drilling sites off the coast of two Greek islands in the southeast Aegean Sea. The escalation comes after Greece and Egypt signed a maritime deal blocking Turkish access to the Eastern Mediterranean — a move that has enraged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leading him to flex his country’s muscle in a long-running territorial tussle.Defense ministry officials denied that reservists had been called up overnight as a result of the brewing crisis.Still, the same sources tell VOA that Greece’s entire military apparatus is on red alert, monitoring Turkey’s movements after the neighboring state launched naval drills east and south of the islands of Rhodes and Kastellorizo in the southeast Aegean Sea over the weekend.The drills include live fire, and most worrying for Greece, Ankara on Monday also sent out the vessel Oruc Reis to survey the continental shelf in an area in the Eastern Mediterranean, which both Greece and Turkey consider their own.While both NATO allies, the two neighboring countries have been challenging each other’s air and sea rights in the region for decades.FILE – German Chancellor Angela Merkel wears a protective face mask as she arrives for the continuation of an EU summit meeting in Brussels, Belgium, July 20, 2020.The two countries came to the brink of war more than 20 years ago. Just last month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel weighed in on a fresh territorial tussle between the two, convincing Erdogan to back off from sending the Oruc Reis on a similar expedition in the same region.Both sides agreed to a moratorium, promising to refrain from any hostile action until sitting down at a negotiating table later this month to try and sort out differences.But in the past week, Greece has angered Turkey with what Ankara has billed a breach of the moratorium — a maritime agreement that Athens secretly clinched with Egypt, limiting Ankara’s influence and energy designs in the region.As a result, Erdogan ordered out the Oruc Reis, sending it on its initial expedition escorted by Turkish battleships, which Ankara has said it will use if Greece makes any attempt to block the vessel from its course.On Monday, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis chaired an urgent meeting of his national security council. A terse announcement issued after the hourlong meeting said officials had assessed the situation and reviewed Greece’s response to any Turkish provocation, as they put it.Since then, Mitsotakis has also briefed leading European officials, and he is due to speak to the Secretary-General of NATO, insisting, as his advisers tell VOA, that the U.S.-led military alliance weigh in against Turkey. FILE – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks to the media in Istanbul, Turkey, Aug 7, 2020.Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, meantime, says Greece remains ready to sit down and talk with Turkey.”We understand that Turkey has called off the talks. But I am surprised it has done so,” Dendias said. “Maybe it is the result of some inexplicable rage. We can only hope it comes back to its senses.”The stakes are high, and Greece has warned it will use force to block any Turkish encroachment of its sea and land rights.Experts like Costantinos Filis expect the crisis to escalate before it eases to any show of rapprochement.”I expect the tension to grow in the coming days. But ultimately, the fate of the feeble Turkish economy will weigh in on any final decision Erdogan will take,” Filis said. If Erdogan feels Europeans are serious about their threats to retaliate, then he will probably think twice about making any risky moves. Then again, Filis says, Erdogan is extremely unpredictable, and if he feels he is cornered, he may ultimately go for a daring move to cater to his domestic audience alone.EU leaders already have threatened Turkey with economic sanctions. 
 

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Antonio Banderas Says He’s Tested Positive for Coronavirus

Antonio Banderas says he’s tested positive for COVID-19 and is celebrating his 60th birthday in quarantine.  The Spanish actor announced his positive test Monday in a post on Instagram. Banderas said he would spend his time in isolation reading, writing and “making plans to begin to give meaning to my 60th year to which I arrive full of enthusiasm.” “I would like to add that I am relatively well, just a little more tired than usual and hoping to recover as soon as possible following medical instructions that I hope will allow me to overcome the infection that I and so many people in the world are suffering from,” Banderas wrote. A spokesperson for Banderas didn’t immediately respond to messages Monday. Earlier this year, Banderas was nominated for the Academy Award for best actor for his performance in Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain & Glory.  

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