France, Italy avoid Oxford vaccine as UK program surges ahead

France, Italy avoid Oxford vaccine as UK program surges ahead
Vials of the AstraZeneca vaccine and loaded syringes wait to be administered to homeless persons at the Welcome Centre in Ilford, east London, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 13 February 2021

France, Italy avoid Oxford vaccine as UK program surges ahead

France, Italy avoid Oxford vaccine as UK program surges ahead
  • Medics in France report adverse side effects after taking AstraZeneca jab
  • Italians raise fears over lower efficacy rate of vaccine compared to Pfizer product

LONDON: Doctors in Italy and France have claimed that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) causes side effects and that other vaccines are more effective.
France has already limited the use of the vaccine on people above the age of 65 over fears it is less effective on them and following comments regarding the issue by French President Emmanuel Macron.
A number of French medics are reportedly now shunning the vaccine altogether. So far, 149 doctors in France, of 10,000 vaccinated, reportedly suffered “high-intensity flu symptoms” after taking one dose of the Oxford vaccine, according to the French national safety agency for medicines, reporting high temperature, aches and headaches.
The government has advised medics to stagger their vaccinations to ensure their facilities’ continued function.
Doctors in Italy have voiced similar concerns, preferring the Pfizer-BionTech vaccine.
One doctor told Italian newspaper La Stampa he had refused the AstraZeneca vaccine, adding: “Why have they vaccinated hospital gardeners with more efficient vaccines while we doctors, who each day risk infection or risk infecting others, are offered something less efficient?” 
Like France, Italy has limited use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to people under 55 over fears about its efficacy when compared to the Pfizer vaccine. It has prioritized vaccinating public workers and the elderly using stockpiles of its Pfizer jab and of a third vaccine produced by Moderna.
“Since Pfizer and Moderna are more efficient, we want to keep them for older, more vulnerable Italians,” an Italian health spokesman said.
Only 1.53 million Italians have so far received a vaccine for COVID-19, compared to 14 million in the UK, where no such qualms about the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been raised.


Giuliani and other pro-Trump lawyers hit with subpoenas over Jan 6 attack

In this Nov. 19, 2020, file photo, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was a lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks during a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington. (AP)
In this Nov. 19, 2020, file photo, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was a lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks during a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington. (AP)
Updated 19 January 2022

Giuliani and other pro-Trump lawyers hit with subpoenas over Jan 6 attack

In this Nov. 19, 2020, file photo, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was a lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks during a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington. (AP)
  • The committee said it is seeking records and deposition testimony from Giuliani, the 76-year-old former New York City mayor once celebrated for his leadership after 9/11, in connection to his promotion of election fraud claims on behalf of Trump

WASHINGTON: The House committee investigating the Capitol insurrection issued subpoenas Tuesday to Rudy Giuliani and other members of Donald Trump’s post-election legal team who filed multiple lawsuits claiming election fraud that were roundly rejected by the courts but gave rise to the lie that Trump did not really lose the 2020 presidential contest.
The committee is continuing to widen its scope into Trump’s orbit, this time demanding information and testimony from Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, Sidney Powell and Boris Epshteyn. All four publicly defended the president and his baseless voter fraud claims in the months after the election.
“The four individuals we’ve subpoenaed today advanced unsupported theories about election fraud, pushed efforts to overturn the election results, or were in direct contact with the former President about attempts to stop the counting of electoral votes,” Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, Democratic chairman of the panel, said in a statement.
The committee said it is seeking records and deposition testimony from Giuliani, the 76-year-old former New York City mayor once celebrated for his leadership after 9/11, in connection to his promotion of election fraud claims on behalf of Trump. The panel is also seeking information about Giuliani’s reported efforts to persuade state legislators to take steps to overturn the election results.
A lawyer for Giuliani did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.
Giuliani took on a leading role in disputing the election results on Trump’s behalf after the 2020 presidential election, even visiting states like Michigan and Pennsylvania, where he claimed ballots “looked suspicious” and Biden’s electoral win was a fraud.
To this day, not a single court has found merit in the core legal claims made by Trump, Giuliani and the other three subpoenaed Tuesday.
The nine-member panel is also demanding information from Trump legal adviser Ellis, who the lawmakers say reportedly prepared and circulated two memos that analyzed the constitutional authority for then-Vice President Mike Pence to reject or delay counting the electoral votes from states that had submitted alternate slates of electors.
Besides Giuliani, Sidney Powell was the most public face of Trump’s attempts to contest the election, routinely making appearances on behalf of the president.
In numerous interviews and appearances post-election, Powell continued to make misleading statements about the voting process, unfurled unsupported and complex conspiracy theories involving communist regimes and vowed to “blow up” Georgia with a “biblical” court filing.
Ellis and Powell appeared with Giuliani at press conferences, pushing false claims of election fraud. Powell was eventually removed from the team after she said in an interview she was going to release “the kraken” of lawsuits that would prove the election had been stolen.
Powell did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
The last person subpoenaed Tuesday by the committee is Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump campaign strategic adviser, who reportedly attended meetings at the Willard Hotel in the days leading up to the insurrection. The committee said Epshteyn had a call with Trump on the morning of Jan. 6, 2021, to discuss options to delay the certification of election results in the event of Pence’s unwillingness to deny or delay the process.
 


UK police asked to probe Indian officials’ role in Kashmir

UK police asked to probe Indian officials’ role in Kashmir
Updated 19 January 2022

UK police asked to probe Indian officials’ role in Kashmir

UK police asked to probe Indian officials’ role in Kashmir
  • The law firm’s report was based on over 2,000 testimonies taken between 2020 and 2021

LONDON: A London-based law firm filed an application with British police Tuesday seeking the arrest of India’s army chief and a senior Indian government official over their alleged roles in war crimes in disputed Kashmir.
Law firm Stoke White said it submitted extensive evidence to the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit documenting how Indian forces headed by Gen. Manoj Mukund Naravane and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah were responsible for the torture, kidnapping and killing of activists, journalists and civilians.
The law firm’s report was based on over 2,000 testimonies taken between 2020 and 2021. It also accused eight unnamed senior Indian military officials of direct involvement in war crimes and torture in Kashmir.
“There is strong reason to believe that Indian authorities are conducting war crimes and other violence against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir,” the report states, referring to territory that is part of the Himalayan region.
The request to London police was made under the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” which gives countries authority to prosecute individuals accused of crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.
The international law firm in London said it believes its application is the first time that legal action has been taken abroad against Indian authorities over alleged war crimes in Kashmir.
Hakan Camuz, director of international law at Stoke White, said he hoped the report would convince British police to open an investigation and ultimately arrest the officials when they set foot in the UK Some of the Indian officials have financial assets and other links to Britain.
“We are asking the UK government to do their duty and investigate and arrest them for what they did based on the evidence we supplied to them. We want them to be held accountable,” Camuz said.
The police application was made on behalf of the family of Zia Mustafa, a jailed militant whom Camuz said was the victim of an extrajudicial killing by Indian authorities in 2021, and the behalf of human rights campaigner Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, who was allegedly tortured before his arrest last week.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, which both claim the region in its entirety. Muslim Kashmiris support rebels who want to unite the region, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country. In Indian-controlled Kashmir, tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the past two decades.
Kashmiris and international rights groups have long accused Indian troops of carrying out systematic abuse and arrests of those who oppose rule from New Delhi.
In 2018, the UN human rights chief called for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations in Kashmir, alleging “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces.”
India’s government has denied the alleged right violations and maintains such claims are separatist propaganda meant to demonize Indian troops in the region.
The law firm’s investigation suggested that the abuse has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic.
Its report also included details about the arrest of Khurram Parvez, the region’s most prominent rights activist, by India’s counterterrorism authorities last year.
Parvez, 42, worked for the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, which has written extensive reports about Indian troops’ use of violence and torture.
Other accounts in the report discuss journalist Sajad Gul, who was arrested earlier this month after he posted a video of family members and relatives protesting the killing of a rebel commander.
Human rights lawyers have increasingly used the universal jurisdiction principle to seek justice for people who were unable to file criminal complaints in their home countries or with the International Criminal Court, located in The Hague.
Last week, a German court convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of thousands of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago.
Camuz said he hoped the request to British police seeking the arrest of Indian officials will be followed by other legal actions also focusing on Kashmir.
“We are sure this is not going to be the last one, there will probably be many more applications,” he said.

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Former FARC hostage Betancourt announces fresh presidential bid

Ingrid Betacourt smiles during a press conference in Bogota, Colombia, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. (AP)
Ingrid Betacourt smiles during a press conference in Bogota, Colombia, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. (AP)
Updated 19 January 2022

Former FARC hostage Betancourt announces fresh presidential bid

Ingrid Betacourt smiles during a press conference in Bogota, Colombia, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. (AP)
  • The Revolutionary Armed Forced of Colombia (FARC) has been disarmed and disbanded under a 2016 peace pact that ended Colombia’s decades-long internal war, and has since converted itself into a minority political party

BOGOTA: Ingrid Betancourt — who was abducted 20 years ago while campaigning for Colombia’s presidency, and held captive by FARC rebels in the jungle for more than six years — on Tuesday announced a new bid for the country’s top job.
The Franco-Colombian leader of the Oxygen Green Party told reporters in Bogota she would vie to become the nominee to represent centrist parties in the race.
If she wins the nomination, she will contest the first round presidential election on May 29.
“I will work tirelessly from this moment... to be your president,” she said.
Betancourt, 60, was captured by the FARC guerilla group in 2002 while campaigning for the presidency, and was rescued in a military operation six-and-a-half years later, in 2008.
She was chained for much of her captivity after she tried to escape.
The Revolutionary Armed Forced of Colombia (FARC) has been disarmed and disbanded under a 2016 peace pact that ended Colombia’s decades-long internal war, and has since converted itself into a minority political party.
“I am here today to finish what I started with many of you in 2002,” said Betancourt, who has mostly lived abroad since her liberation.
She added she was convinced “Colombia is ready to change course.”
Betancourt presented herself as a centrist alternative to the right in power and the left led by former M-19 guerrilla and former Bogota mayor Gustavo Petro, a favorite in the polls.
“For decades, we have had only bad options: extreme right, extreme left,” she said.
“The moment has come to have a centrist option.”
She listed as objectives environmental protection and combating insecurity in a country with high rates of violence, and said she believed “in a world with a woman’s vision.”
Betancourt returned to public life in support of the peace process, confronting her captors last June for the first time since her ordeal in a meeting between victims and perpetrators arranged by Colombia’s Truth Commission.
Colombia established the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a tribunal to try the worst atrocities committed during the conflict.
Since 2017, it has charged former FARC commanders with the kidnapping of at least 21,000 people and the recruitment of 18,000 minors.
The JEP hopes to deliver its first verdicts this year. It has the authority to offer alternatives to jail time to people who confess their crimes and make reparations.


Environmental activist, 14, shot dead in Colombia

Handout picture released by indigenous group ACIN on January 18, 2022, showing Colombian 14-year-old environmental activist Breiner David Cucuname. (AFP)
Handout picture released by indigenous group ACIN on January 18, 2022, showing Colombian 14-year-old environmental activist Breiner David Cucuname. (AFP)
Updated 19 January 2022

Environmental activist, 14, shot dead in Colombia

Handout picture released by indigenous group ACIN on January 18, 2022, showing Colombian 14-year-old environmental activist Breiner David Cucuname. (AFP)
  • Despite the peace pact, Colombia has seen a flare-up of violence in recent months due to fighting over territory and resources by dissident FARC guerrillas, the ELN rebel group, paramilitary forces and drug cartels

BOGOTA: A 14-year-old environmental activist has been shot dead in Colombia, indigenous groups and officials said, in the latest such attack in the world’s deadliest country for environmentalists.
Breiner David Cucuname was one of two people killed while taking part in a rural security patrol Friday by an indigenous guard in the southwestern Cauca department plagued by violence between illicit armed groups.
The group of the Nasa indigenous community, armed only with batons, came across armed men on their patrol route, according to the Cauca regional indigenous council (CRIC).
The men opened fire, killing a member of the guard and young Cucuname, who it described as “a defender of our Mother Earth.”
Two others were injured, the CRIC added.
Another indigenous grouping, ACIN, blamed the shooting on dissidents of the FARC guerilla group who rejected a 2016 peace deal that ended near six decades of conflict in Colombia. It said two of the gunmen were arrested.
President Ivan Duque said on Twitter the death of the boy, a “flag-bearer of environmental protection in his community of Cauca, fills us with sadness.”
On Monday, Colombia’s human rights ombudsman said 145 community leaders and rights defenders were killed in 2021.
They included 32 representatives of indigenous groups, 16 advocates for rural or agricultural communities, and seven trade unionists.
Despite the peace pact, Colombia has seen a flare-up of violence in recent months due to fighting over territory and resources by dissident FARC guerrillas, the ELN rebel group, paramilitary forces and drug cartels.
It is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for activists, according to observer groups such as Global Witness, which has identified the country as the deadliest for environmentalists, with 65 killed in 2020.
The regions with the highest number of killings last year were the same in which fighting is fierce over thousands of hectares of drug crops or illegal mines.
Duque’s government accuses drug traffickers of being behind the killings in the country, which is the world’s largest cocaine producer.
According to the Indepaz thinktank, Cucuname was the second environmental defender killed this year, for a total of 1,288 since the 2016 peace agreement.


Bribes in lunchboxes: TV series on China’s corrupt officials hooks millions

Bribes in lunchboxes: TV series on China’s corrupt officials hooks millions
Updated 19 January 2022

Bribes in lunchboxes: TV series on China’s corrupt officials hooks millions

Bribes in lunchboxes: TV series on China’s corrupt officials hooks millions
  • A staggering number of Communist cadres have been caught up in President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive in recent years

BEIJING: A huge designer property in Beijing and millions of dollars hidden in seafood boxes — a state television series on China’s anti-graft campaign is captivating viewers and lifting the lid on officials brought down on graft charges.

A staggering number of Communist cadres have been caught up in President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive in recent years, which critics say has also served as a way to remove political enemies since he came to power in 2013.

The ongoing five-part series aired by state broadcaster CCTV shows televised confessions by officials accused of corruption, including former vice public security minister Sun Lijun.

Sun — who oversaw security in Hong Kong during months of unrest — is facing allegations that include taking bribes, manipulating the stock market, illegally possessing firearms and paying for sex.

The TV series claimed Sun received regular bribes worth $14 million disguised as “small seafood boxes” from a man he later appointed as police chief in eastern Jiangsu province.

“I helped him all this way,” said Sun on the program.

It is common practice for CCTV to air “confessions” by criminal suspects, including former officials, before they have even appeared in court — something widely condemned by rights groups.

Another episode featured imprisoned Chen Gang of the China Association for Science and Technology —  who was said to have built a 72,000-square-meter (775,000-square-foot) private compound complete with a Chinese-style residence, swimming pool and artificial beach with illicit funds.

Others featured were accused of taking millions in bribes.

Those convicted of corruption can be stripped of their wealth, party membership, and face a lifetime behind bars or even death.

More than a million officials have been punished under the anti-corruption campaign so far, which has been a cornerstone of Xi’s tenure.

Wang Fuyu, who featured in the second episode of the series, was given a death sentence with a two-year reprieve on Monday — a day after his confession was aired.

Hundreds of millions took to social media in China to dissect the series, most angered by the luxuries the officials had enjoyed.