Brazil’s President Bolsonaro tests positive for COVID-19

Screen grab of TV Brasil showing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro speaking in Brasilia on July 7, 2020. Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro announced on Tuesday he had tested positive for the coronavirus but said he was feeling “perfectly well” and had only mild symptoms. (AFP/TV Brasil)
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Updated 07 July 2020

Brazil’s President Bolsonaro tests positive for COVID-19

  • The president has often appeared in public to shake hands with supporters and mingle with crowds, at times without a mask

RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro says he has tested positive for COVID-19 after months of downplaying the virus’ severity.
Bolsonaro confirmed the test results while wearing a mask and speaking to reporters in capital Brasilia.
“I’m well, normal. I even want to take a walk around here, but I can’t due to medical recommendationS,” Bolsonaro said.
The president has often appeared in public to shake hands with supporters and mingle with crowds, at times without a mask. He has said that his history as an athlete would protect him from the virus, and that it would be nothing more than a “little flu” were he to contract it.
He has also repeatedly said that there is no way to prevent 70% of the population falling ill with COVID-19, and that local authorities’ measures to shut down economic activity would ultimately cause more hardship than allowing the virus to run its course.
Cities and states last month began lifting restrictions that had been imposed to control the spread of the virus, as their statistical curves of deaths began to decline along with the occupation rate of its intensive-care units. Brazil, the world’s sixth most populous nation, with more than 210 million people, is one of the global hot spots of the pandemic.
On Monday, Bolsonaro told supporters in Brasilia that he underwent an X-ray of his lungs that showed they were clean, and that he would be tested for COVID-19. On Tuesday, he told CNN Brasil that his fever had subsided.
Over the weekend, the Brazilian leader celebrated the US Independence Day with the nation’s ambassador to Brazil, then shared pictures on social media showing him with his arm around the ambassador alongside several ministers and aides. None wore masks, despite being in close quarters.
The US Embassy said on Twitter on Monday that Ambassador Todd Chapman is not showing any COVID-19 symptoms but would be tested.
Bolsonaro tested negative three times in March after meeting with the US President Donald Trump in Florida. Multiple members of his delegation to the US were later reported to be infected with the virus.
More than 65,000 Brazilians have so far died from COVID-19 and more than 1,500,000 have been infected. Both numbers are the world’s second-highest totals, and are considered to be undercounts to the lack of widespread testing.


Taliban rule out cease-fire until it is agreed in talks

Updated 12 August 2020

Taliban rule out cease-fire until it is agreed in talks

  • President Ghani’s order to release 400 hardcore Taliban prisoners opens way for negotiations

KABUL: The Taliban have rejected calls for a truce before the long-awaited talks with the government get underway. They said that the possibility of a cease-fire could be debated only during the talks.

“When our prisoners are released, we will be ready for the talks,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told Arab News on Tuesday.

“A cease-fire or reduction of violence can be among the items in the agenda of the talks,” he said.

This follows President Ashraf Ghani signing a decree for the release of 400 hardcore Taliban prisoners on Monday — who Kabul said were responsible for some of the worst attacks in the country in recent years — thereby removing the last obstacle to the start of the negotiations set by the Taliban.

However, Kabul has yet to announce the date of their release.

Feraidoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for the government-appointed peace council, said that Doha, Qatar, would be the likely venue.

“Deliberations are continuing, and no decision has been made on a firm date yet,” he said.

Ghani pledged to release the prisoners after the Loya Jirga, or traditional assembly, voiced support for their freedom.

After three days of deliberations the Jirga, which comprises 3,400 delegates, said that its decision was for the sake of “the cessation of bloodshed” and to remove “the obstacle to peace talks.”

After the Jirga’s announcement, Ghani said that “the ball was now in the Taliban’s court” and that they needed to enforce a nationwide cease-fire and begin talks to bring an end to more than 40 years of war, particularly the latest chapter in a conflict that started with the Taliban’s ousting from power in the US-led invasion in late 2001.

The exchange of prisoners between the government and the Taliban was part of a deal signed between the insurgent group and the US in Doha in February
this year.

The prisoner swap program — involving the release of 5,000 Taliban inmates in return for 1,000 security forces held by the group — was to be completed within 10 days in early March, followed by the crucial intra-Afghan talks.

February’s deal between the Taliban emissaries and US delegates, led by the US envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, came after 18 months of intensive and secret talks, amid growing public frustration in the US about the Afghan war — America’s longest in history.

Ghani, whose government was sidelined from the February accord, initially voiced his opposition to freeing the Taliban inmates.

However, faced with increasing pressure from the US, Kabul began releasing 4,600 prisoners in a phased manner.

The intra-Afghan talks are also crucial for US President Donald Trump, who is standing for reelection in November and is keen to use the pull-out of forces and the start of negotiations as examples of his successful foreign policy. However, experts say the next stage will not be easy.

Analyst and former journalist Taj Mohammad told Arab News: “The talks will be a long, complicated process, with lots of ups and downs. It took 18 months for the Taliban and US to agree on two points; the withdrawal of all US troops and the Taliban pledging to cut ties with militant groups such as Al-Qaeda. Now, imagine, how long it will take for the completion of a very complicated process of talks between Afghans who will debate women’s rights, minorities rights, election, Islamic values, … the form of government and so on.”

For some ordinary Afghans on the streets, however, the planned talks have revived hopes for peace and security and “are more needed in Afghanistan than in any other country.”

“I am more optimistic now than in the past. All sides have realized they cannot win by force and may have decided to rise to the occasion and come together,” Fateh Shah, a 45-year-old civil servant from Kabul, said.

Others spoke of their dreams to “go back home.”

“I have been away from my village for 19 years, and as soon as peace comes, we will pack up and go there,” said Rasool Dad, a 50-year-old porter who lives as a war-displaced person in Kabul, talking of his desire to return to his birthplace in southern Helmand province.

However, 30-year-old banker Sharif Amiri wasn’t very optimistic about the future.

“Even if the talks turn out to be successful, that will not mean an end to the war or the restoration of security. There are spoilers in the region, at home and at an international level who will try to sabotage peace here,” he said, hinting at rivalries among countries in the region, including major powers such as Russia, China and the US, who have used Afghanistan as a direct and indirect battleground for years.