Serbia receives first shipment of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

Serbia receives first shipment of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine
Workers unload boxes containing doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at Belgrade Airport on Feb. 21, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 21 February 2021

Serbia receives first shipment of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

Serbia receives first shipment of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine
  • The vaccines arrived on a Turkish Airlines plane from Istanbul and were produced in India
  • More than 730,000 people, or a little over 10% of the population, have been vaccinated against COVID-19 since December

BELGRADE: A shipment of 150,000 COVID-19 vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University arrived at Belgrade airport on Sunday, making Serbia the first country in the Western Balkan region to receive supplies of the shot.
The vaccines, which arrived on a Turkish Airlines plane from Istanbul, were produced in India, said President Aleksandar Vucic, who came to the airport to meet the shipment.
Vucic said the price of the vaccine was “very good as both AstraZeneca and Oxford gave up their profits.” He added that another shipment of 150,000 vaccines is expected in 12 weeks time.
“This vaccine was developed by a young team at the Oxford University which also included young people from Serbia,” British ambassador Sian MacLeod told reporters at the airport.
More than 730,000 people, or a little over 10% of the population, have been vaccinated against COVID-19 since December with one or two doses of the vaccines available in Serbia.
Under the state vaccination program, Serbians have been able to choose between shots from Pfizer-BioNTech , China’s Sinopharm or Russia’s Sputnik V.
Despite the inoculcations, case numbers in Serbia are rising again, with more than 2,000 daily new infections currently being reported. However, epidemiologists expect the numbers to come down in a month or two.


Helicopter crashes with India military chief on board: air force

Helicopter crashes with India military chief on board: air force
Updated 6 sec ago

Helicopter crashes with India military chief on board: air force

Helicopter crashes with India military chief on board: air force

NEW DELHI: A helicopter carrying India's defence chief General Bipin Rawat crashed in the southern state of Tamil Nadu on Wednesday, the air force said.
"An IAF Mi-17V5 helicopter, with CDS Gen Bipin Rawat on board, met with an accident today near Coonoor, Tamil Nadu," the Indian Air Force said on Twitter.


Myanmar soldiers accused of killing 11 after charred remains found

Myanmar soldiers accused of killing 11 after charred remains found
Updated 4 min 22 sec ago

Myanmar soldiers accused of killing 11 after charred remains found

Myanmar soldiers accused of killing 11 after charred remains found
  • Charred remains were found in a village in Sagaing, an area which has seen fierce fighting
Myanmar soldiers have been accused of rounding up 11 people in a village in a central area of the strife-torn country before shooting them and setting fire to their bodies, according to residents in the area and media reports.
The charred remains were found in a village in Sagaing, an area which has seen fierce fighting between security forces and militia set up by opponents of military rule since a Feb. 1 coup, said residents, who said some of the victims were still alive when burned.
Video footage purporting to show the burned bodies was circulated on social media and images were published by some media including the Myanmar Now news portal.
Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the footage or claims over how the 11 died and a spokesman for the military junta did not answer calls seeking comment.
A volunteer aid worker in the area, who asked not to be identified, said by telephone troops had entered Don Taw village early on Tuesday and the victims were killed at around 11 a.m. that day.
“The troops were just brutally killing anyone they could find,” said the volunteer, adding it was unclear if the victims were militia members or ordinary civilians.
Myanmar has been in chaos since the military overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government in February with widespread protests and the formation of militia, known as People’s Defense Forces (PDF), to take on the well-equipped army.
Kyaw Wunna, a member of a PDF in the region, said by telephone troops had arrived firing weapons and those detained were taken to a field near the village before being killed.
Another volunteer aid worker said about 3,000 people had fled from five villages in the area and had gone into hiding, fearful of more arrests and killings.
A relative of one of the victims said the dead man, Htet Ko, was a 22-year-old university student and not a member of any militia and not armed.
“This is inhumane. I feel deep pain in my heart,” said the relative, who said the man had tried to flee, but had been wounded by gun fire.
Dr. Sasa, a spokesperson for Myanmar’s shadow civilian government set up following the coup, alleged the victims had been “lashed together, tortured, and ultimately burned alive.”
In a post on social media, he listed what he said were the names of the 11, all male and including a boy of 14.
“These horrific attacks show that the military have no regard for the sanctity of human life,” he said.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a monitoring group cited by the United Nations, says more than 10,700 civilians have been detained and 1,300 killed by security forces since the military seized power.
The military says AAPP is biased and uses exaggerated data and that hundreds of soldiers have also been killed.

Germany on new path as Scholz replaces Merkel as chancellor

Germany on new path as Scholz replaces Merkel as chancellor
Updated 58 min 36 sec ago

Germany on new path as Scholz replaces Merkel as chancellor

Germany on new path as Scholz replaces Merkel as chancellor
  • Scholz will need the support of at least 369 lawmakers in the 736-seat lower house of parliament to be elected as chancellor

BERLIN: Olaf Scholz is set to take office Wednesday as Germany’s ninth post-World War II chancellor, succeeding Angela Merkel after her heralded 16-year tenure.
Scholz’s government takes office with high hopes of modernizing the European Union’s most populous nation and combating climate change, but faces the immediate challenge of handling Germany’s toughest phase yet of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 63-year-old, Germany’s vice chancellor and finance minister since 2018, brings a wealth of experience and discipline to an untried coalition of his center-left Social Democrats, the environmentalist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats. The three parties are portraying the combination of former rivals as a progressive alliance that will bring new energy to the country after Merkel’s near-record time in office.
Scholz will need the support of at least 369 lawmakers in the 736-seat lower house of parliament to be elected as chancellor. The coalition partners have 416 seats between them, so he should be assured of a comfortable majority.
“We are venturing a new departure, one that takes up the major challenges of this decade and well beyond that,” Scholz said Tuesday, adding that if they succeed, “that is a mandate to be re-elected together at the next election.”
The new government aims to step up efforts against climate change, expanding the use of renewable energy and bringing Germany’s exit from coal-fired power forward from 2038, “ideally” to 2030. It also wants to do more to modernize the country, including improving its notoriously poor cellphone and Internet networks.
It also plans more liberal social policies, including legalizing the sale of cannabis for recreational purposes and easing the path to German citizenship, while pledging greater efforts to deport immigrants who don’t win asylum. The coalition partners want to cut the voting age in national elections from 18 to 16.
There will be an increase in the minimum wage to 12 euros ($13.50) per hour from the current 9.60 euros, which Scholz has said “means a wage increase for 10 million.” And the coalition also aims to get 400,000 new apartments per year built in an effort to curb rising rental prices.
Scholz has signaled continuity in foreign policy, saying the government will stand up for a strong European Union and nurture the trans-Atlantic alliance.
The alliance brings both opportunities and risks for all the participants, perhaps most of all the Greens. After 16 years in opposition, they will have to prove that they can achieve their overarching aim of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in a three-way alliance with partners who may have other priorities.
Green co-leader Robert Habeck will be Scholz’s vice chancellor, heading a revamped economy and climate ministry. The government’s No. 3 official will be Christian Lindner, the finance minister and leader of the Free Democrats, who insisted that the coalition reject tax hikes and looser curbs on running up debt.
The incoming government is portraying itself as a departure in both style and substance from the “grand coalitions” of Germany’s traditional big parties that Merkel led for all but four years of her tenure, with the Social Democrats as junior partners.
In those tense alliances, the partners sometimes seemed preoccupied mostly with blocking each other’s plans. Merkel’s final term saw frequent infighting, some of it within her own center-right Union bloc, until the pandemic hit. She departs with a legacy defined largely by her acclaimed handling of a series of crises, rather than any grand visions for Germany.
Scholz told his party last weekend that “it was difficult” governing with Merkel’s bloc, which his Social Democrats narrowly beat in Germany’s September election. He criticized the bloc’s “this-far-and-no-further conservatism.”
The agreement to form a coalition government between three parties that had significant differences before the election was reached relatively quickly and in unexpected harmony.
“If the good cooperation that worked while we were forming the government continues to work, it will be a very, very good time for the tasks that lie ahead of us,” Scholz said. He acknowledged that dealing with the pandemic “will demand all our strength and energy.”
German federal and state leaders last week announced tough new restrictions that largely target unvaccinated people. In a longer-term move, parliament will consider a general vaccine mandate. Germany has seen daily COVID-19 infections rise to record levels this fall, though they may now be stabilizing, and hospitals are feeling the strain. The country has seen over 103,000 COVID-19 deaths in the pandemic so far.
Merkel has said she won’t seek another political role after shepherding Germany through a turbulent era. The 67-year-old hasn’t disclosed any future plans, but said earlier this year that she will take time to read and sleep, “and then let’s see where I show up.”


Taliban fighters now manning checkpoints in Afghan cities

Taliban fighters now manning checkpoints in Afghan cities
Updated 08 December 2021

Taliban fighters now manning checkpoints in Afghan cities

Taliban fighters now manning checkpoints in Afghan cities
  • Taliban fighters have changed roles, from insurgents fighting in the mountains and fields to an armed force running the country

HERAT, Afghanistan: Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan more than three and a half months ago amid a chaotic withdrawal of US and NATO troops, their fighters have changed roles, from insurgents fighting in the mountains and fields to an armed force running the country.
Many Taliban foot soldiers now have new jobs: manning checkpoints on the streets and carrying out security patrols in and around Afghan cities and towns. Last month, several Taliban fighters posed for portrait photographs on nighttime patrols and at checkpoints in the western city of Herat.
One of them, 21-year-old Ahmad Wali, was on patrol in the village of Kamar Kalagh, north of Herat. A student in an Islamic religious school known as a madrassa, he said he joined the Taliban because he believed in the teachings of the Qur’an and was against the American presence in his country and against the previous Afghan government, which was widely criticized for corruption.
Now, he said, he is very busy with his new responsibilities providing security in the area he was assigned to. He hopes both he and his country will have a bright future, and said he was “99 percent sure” better days will come for all people in Afghanistan.
After the Taliban takeover in mid-August, Afghanistan’s already dilapidated and aid-dependent economy careened into full-blown crisis. The international community has withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in financing that the country of 38 million people relied on. Billions of dollars in Afghan assets abroad have been frozen.
Afghanistan’s banking system has been largely cut off from the world, and the new Taliban rulers have been largely unable to pay salaries, while jobs across the economy have disappeared.
Women have been mostly barred from the job market, except in certain professions, and from a high school education, while tens of thousands of people, including highly educated professionals, have fled or are trying to flee Afghanistan, leading to a massive brain drain.


20 sentenced to death for Bangladesh student killing: prosecutor

20 sentenced to death for Bangladesh student killing: prosecutor
Updated 08 December 2021

20 sentenced to death for Bangladesh student killing: prosecutor

20 sentenced to death for Bangladesh student killing: prosecutor
  • All those handed death sentences were between 20 and 22 years old and attended the elite Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology

DHAKA: Bangladesh sentenced 20 university students to death on Wednesday for the brutal 2019 murder of a young man who criticized the government on social media.
The battered body of Abrar Fahad, 21, was found in his university dormitory hours after he wrote a Facebook post slamming Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for signing a water-sharing deal with India.
He was beaten with a cricket bat and other blunt objects for six hours by 25 fellow students who were members of the ruling Awami League’s student wing, the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL).
“I am happy with the verdict,” Fahad’s father Barkat Ullah told reporters outside court after the verdict. “I hope the punishments will be served soon.”
Prosecutor Abdullah Abu told AFP that the remaining five perpetrators were sentenced to life imprisonment.
All those handed death sentences were between 20 and 22 years old and attended the elite Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology alongside Fahad.
Three of the defendants are still at large while the rest were in the courtroom.
A lawyer for the defendants said the sentence would be appealed.