AstraZeneca dispels Indonesian Muslim concerns over COVID-19 vaccine

AstraZeneca dispels Indonesian Muslim concerns over COVID-19 vaccine
Workers unload containers containing AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine upon its arrival at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia. (Indonesian President Palace via AP)
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Updated 21 March 2021

AstraZeneca dispels Indonesian Muslim concerns over COVID-19 vaccine

AstraZeneca dispels Indonesian Muslim concerns over COVID-19 vaccine
  • Indonesian authorities on Friday approved the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine

JAKARTA: AstraZeneca said on Sunday its COVID-19 vaccine contains no pork-derived ingredients, countering an assertion in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, that the drug violates Islamic law.
Indonesia’s highest Muslim clerical council, the Indonesia Ulema Council, said on its website Friday that the vaccine is “haram” because the manufacturing process uses “trypsin from the pork pancreas.”
Still, the council approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for use given the pandemic emergency.
But AstraZeneca Indonesia spokesman Rizman Abudaeri said in a statement: “At all stages of the production process, this virus vector vaccine does not use nor come in contact with pork-derived products or other animal products.”
The council and the country’s food and drug agency did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Indonesian authorities on Friday approved the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine after reviewing reports that it had caused blood clots among some recipients in Europe.
Indonesia is grappling with one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia – with 1,455,788 cases and 39,447 deaths as of Saturday.


Africa CDC says continent not winning against ‘brutal’ COVID-19 pandemic

Africa CDC says continent not winning against ‘brutal’ COVID-19 pandemic
Updated 24 June 2021

Africa CDC says continent not winning against ‘brutal’ COVID-19 pandemic

Africa CDC says continent not winning against ‘brutal’ COVID-19 pandemic
  • About 1.12 percent people have been fully vaccinated on a continent that has recorded 5.2 million infections

HARARE, Zimbabwe: Africa is not winning its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic as a third virus wave sweeps the continent and countries struggle to access enough vaccines for their populations, Africa CDC director John Nkenkasong said on Thursday.
The COVAX program co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO) for fair distribution of vaccines is now planning a shake-up as it has been shunned by rich countries and failing to meet the needs of the poorest, internal documents seen by Reuters show.
Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) director Nkenkasong said he was more worried about getting vaccines in time regardless of where the doses came from.
“The third wave has come with severity that most countries were not prepared for. So the third wave is extremely brutal,” Nenkasong said during a weekly online briefing.
“Let me put it bluntly, we are not winning in Africa this battle against the virus so it does not really matter to me whether the vaccines are from COVAX or anywhere. All we need is rapid access to vaccines.”
Nkenkasong said at least 20 countries were in the middle of the third wave, with Zambia, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo among those whose health facilities were being overwhelmed.
The COVAX program’s initial lofty ambitions to act as a clearing house for the world’s vaccines, collecting from the manufacturers in the most developed countries and quickly distributing to those in the most urgent need, have fallen flat.
About 1.12 percent people have been fully vaccinated on a continent that has recorded 5.2 million infections, Nkenkasong said.
More than half of poorer countries receiving doses via COVAX do not have enough supplies to continue, an official from the WHO said on Monday.


Thai pro-democracy activists march against government

Thai pro-democracy activists march against government
Updated 24 June 2021

Thai pro-democracy activists march against government

Thai pro-democracy activists march against government
  • The protesters defied a ban on large gatherings instituted to fight a coronavirus surge that shows little sign of abating
  • Several hundred marched to Parliament, which is due to vote on several amendments to the constitution

BANGKOK: Pro-democracy protesters took to the streets of Thailand’s capital on Thursday, marking the anniversary of the overthrow of the country’s absolute monarchy by renewing their demands that the government step down, the constitution be amended and the monarchy become more accountable.
The protesters defied a ban on large gatherings instituted to fight a coronavirus surge that shows little sign of abating. It was their first large protest after a hiatus of about three months caused by the pandemic and the jailing of protest leaders, who have since been released on bail.
The government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is facing widespread criticism that it botched pandemic recovery plans by failing to secure adequate vaccine supplies.
On June 24, 1932, a group of progressive army officers and civil servants proclaimed constitutional rule and the transition to parliamentary democracy, ending Thailand’s absolute monarchy. The anniversary in recent years has become an occasion for pro-democracy rallies.
Protesters gathered early Thursday by Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, a traditional demonstration venue, to light candles and read out the 1932 proclamation of the end of the absolute monarchy.
Several hundred then marched to Parliament, which is due to vote on several amendments to the constitution. The proposed changes, however, fall far short of those sought by the protesters, which include restoring more power to political parties and elected office holders.
“We come out today to insist on the principle that the constitution must come from the people,” said Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, a protest leader also known as Pai Dao Din.
The student-led pro-democracy movement sprung up last year, largely in reaction to the continuing influence of the military in government and hyper-royalist sentiment. The army in 2014 overthrew an elected government, and Prayuth, the coup leader, was named prime minister after a 2019 general election put in power a military-backed political party. Critics say the constitution enacted during military rule skewed election rules to favor the army’s proxy party.
The movement was able to attract crowds of as many as 20,000-30,000 people in Bangkok in 2020 and had followings in major cities and universities. However, a coronavirus surge late last year caused it to temporarily suspend activities and lose momentum.
The movement became controversial as its leaders focused on the monarchy in their speeches and activities. They charged that the king holds power and influence beyond that allowed under the constitution.
Since becoming king in 2016, Maha Vajiralongkorn has gained more direct control over the vast fortune of the royal palace — estimated to exceed $30 billion — as well as command of some key military units in the capital.
During the same time, memorials, statues and other symbols associated with the 1932 revolution have been removed.
The monarchy is widely considered to be an untouchable bedrock element of Thai nationalism. Defaming key royals is punishable under a lese majeste law by up to 15 years in prison per count. Many people still revere the monarchy, and the military, a major power in Thai society, considers its defense a key priority.
The government responded to the protesters’ criticism of the monarchy by charging leaders under the lese majeste law.
Parit Chiwarak, among those jailed, said Thursday the protesters are standing by their original demands but perhaps shifting their focus.
“We still demand the monarchy’s reform. But this year Prayuth must be ousted,” said Parit, who is better known by the nickname Penguin.


Ethiopian military says only combatants hit in Tigray air strike

Ethiopian military says only combatants hit in Tigray air strike
Updated 24 June 2021

Ethiopian military says only combatants hit in Tigray air strike

Ethiopian military says only combatants hit in Tigray air strike
  • An air strike killed at least 43 people in the town on Tuesday, a medical official told Reuters

ADDIS ABABA: Only combatants, not civilians, were struck in an air strike this week in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the country’s military spokesman said on Thursday.
Col. Getnet Adane told Reuters in an interview in Addis Ababa that the combatants in the town of Togoga were dressed in civilian clothes.
An air strike killed at least 43 people in the town on Tuesday, a medical official told Reuters. The strike took place after residents said new fighting had flared in recent days north of the regional capital Mekelle.
A resident of the town told Reuters on Wednesday that the air strike a day earlier had hit a market in the town west of Mekelle at around 1 p.m. That resident also said that her 2-year-old daughter had been injured in the attack.
The military spokesman said the combatants were not inside the market, but had gathered in the town to commemorate the anniversary of the bombing of another town in Tigray, Hawzen, in 1988. That attack, by Ethiopia’s then-ruling Communist leaders, killed hundreds of people and is widely commemorated in Tigray.
The spokesman said he did not have the death toll from the strike but that it would come soon.
The military has been battling forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the region’s former ruling party, since November. Fighting has displaced 2 million people, and the United Nations has warned of a possible famine.
Asked about children injured in Tuesday’s attack, the spokesman said the TPLF uses propaganda and is known for faking injuries. He also said that doctors quoted by the media are not “real doctors.”
The remarks were the first acknowledgement by the military of the air strike, which came after residents said new fighting had flared in recent days north of Tigray’s regional capital Mekelle.
Previously, Getnet, the military spokesman, had declined to confirm or deny the incident, saying air strikes were a common military tactic and that government forces do not target civilians.
The air strike took place as Ethiopian officials counted ballots from national and regional parliamentary elections held this week in seven of the nation’s 10 regions.
No voting was held in Tigray, and security concerns and problems with ballot papers also delayed voting in two other regions.


EU must seek ‘direct contact’ with Putin: Merkel

EU must seek ‘direct contact’ with Putin: Merkel
Updated 24 June 2021

EU must seek ‘direct contact’ with Putin: Merkel

EU must seek ‘direct contact’ with Putin: Merkel
  • A series of espionage scandals that have resulted in diplomatic expulsions have led to tensions

BERLIN: The European Union should seek direct talks with President Vladimir Putin even as it stands together against “provocations” from Russia, said Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday.
“In my opinion, we as the European Union must also seek direct contact with Russia and the Russian president,” she told parliament.
“It is not enough for the American president to talk to the Russian president,” she said, stressing that the European Union too “must also create different formats for talks.”
Putin and US President Joe Biden held face-to-face talks last week, in a meeting that both said could lead to a more predictable, albeit still tense, relationship.
Merkel said recent events had shown that it was not enough “if we react to the multitude of Russian provocations in an uncoordinated manner.”
Rather, the 27-member bloc should put up “a united front against the provocations.”
Moscow is at loggerheads with a number of Western capitals after a Russian troop build-up on Ukraine’s borders and a series of espionage scandals that have resulted in diplomatic expulsions.
In a latest case adding to tensions, Germany arrested a Russian scientist working at a German university, accusing him of spying for Moscow.
The ongoing detention of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who received treatment in Berlin after a near-fatal poisoning, has also sparked outrage in the EU.


Canada: Decision to down Ukraine flight PS752 was made by senior Iranian official

Canada: Decision to down Ukraine flight PS752 was made by senior Iranian official
Updated 24 June 2021

Canada: Decision to down Ukraine flight PS752 was made by senior Iranian official

Canada: Decision to down Ukraine flight PS752 was made by senior Iranian official
  • The Canadian forensic report stated that Iran ignored some risks, which led to the accident
  • The report also added that the Islamic Republic failed to provide sufficient explanations

DUBAI: Canada’s final report on the downing of the Ukrainian plane said the decision was made by a senior Iranian official, Al-Arabiya TV reported.
The Canadian forensic report stated that Iran ignored some risks, which led to the fatal accident on Jan. 8, 2020.
The report also added that the Islamic Republic failed to provide sufficient explanations for the downing of the plane, which killed all 176 people on board.
Earlier in June, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said they refused Iran’s proposal to pay $150,000 as compensation for each victim of the PS752 plane victims.
Oleg Nikolenko said compensation to families was an important step to justice, but first the full truth behind the circumstances of the plane crash were needed.
“Only then can we talk about the compensation. The specific amount should be set with the agreement of all the governments of the states whose citizens died in the plane crash, and [should] not [be] a unilateral decision,” one of the country’s biggest TV news channels TSN quoted him.