Duterte healthy despite COVID-19 cases among staff, spokesperson says

Duterte’s former aide-turned-Senator Christopher Go also announced that the president had tested negative in his latest swab test last week. (AFP/File Photo)
Duterte’s former aide-turned-Senator Christopher Go also announced that the president had tested negative in his latest swab test last week. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 08 April 2021

Duterte healthy despite COVID-19 cases among staff, spokesperson says

Duterte’s former aide-turned-Senator Christopher Go also announced that the president had tested negative in his latest swab test last week. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Malacanang rejects rumors about Philippine president’s health after 126 members of security team test positive

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is in good health, a presidential palace spokesperson said on Thursday, as allies and aides of the 76-year-old sought to dispel rumors about his well-being.

“(The president) remains fit and healthy for his age,” Malacanang spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement, after announcing that 126 members of the president’s security team had tested positive for COVID-19. 

“We thank the Filipino people for voicing their concern and wishing the chief executive strength and good health during this time as he continues to discharge his functions as head of the government,” he added.

Duterte’s former aide-turned-Senator Christopher Go also announced that the president had tested negative in his latest swab test last week.

“You have nothing to worry about, but we cannot take chances,” Go said in a message to reporters where he stressed that the president is tested regularly.

“So far, with God’s mercy, he is negative (from COVID-19) based on his last swab test,” Go continued.

On Wednesday, Go posted three photos showing the president seated across from him at a table covered with documents, even as #NasaanAngPangulo (where is the president?) trended anew on social media.

It followed Roque’s announcement on Tuesday that the president had cancelled his weekly address to the public scheduled for that day.

Duterte was last seen in public on March 29 when he welcomed a batch of COVID-19 vaccines procured from China.

Concerns grew after Presidential Security Group (PSG) Commander Brig, Gen. Jesus Durante III confirmed that 126 PSG staff had tested positive for COVID-19.

However, he explained that some had already been cleared, with only 45 active cases.

Durante added that infected PSG personnel were “not directly or closely detailed with the president and are all asymptomatic without experiencing any adverse symptoms.”

“Rest assured that the president is safe and in good health,” he said, adding that the PSG’s protocols would continue to be enforced to ensure Duterte is “kept safe from all forms of threats at all times.”

Meanwhile, Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar warned the public against spreading “fake news” about the president’s health, as he denied rumors that Duterte had suffered a mild stroke.

“We abhor and deplore the fake news that circulated on different social media platforms regarding President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s health after the recent postponement of this week’s Talk to the People,” Andanar said in a statement on Thursday. “As easy as it may be for some people to blame the government for any mishap, even the surge in COVID-19 cases, these attempts to wish … worst death to anyone, especially to the president of our country, are foul and tasteless, even if meant in jest.”

Andanar went on to remind the public to follow health protocols, including wearing face masks, and maintaining social distancing and proper hygiene “to ensure everyone’s safety from COVID-19.”

Despite assurances about Duterte’s health, a few lawmakers belonging to the progressive Makabayan bloc on Thursday demanded a concrete response from the government to the current health crisis and “not just photo ops showing a working president.”

“President Duterte and Sen. Bong Go are doing their gimmick again. How many times has it happened that when there is a major issue that needs the president’s intervention, they resort to gimmicks and photo ops?” ACT-Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro said in a statement.

The country’s capital region Metro Manila and four neighboring provinces were placed under the strictest quarantine measures for a period of two weeks on March 29 due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The World Health Organization (WHO) in the Western Pacific Region on Wednesday voiced concerns over the resurgence of infections in the Philippines, saying that the rising trend “is moving towards the red line.”

As of April 8, the Philippines’ health department reported 9,216 new COVID-19 cases in the country, taking the total case tally to 828,366.

Of that number, the department said 646,968 had recovered, while 167,279 were active cases, 98.8 percent of which were mild and asymptomatic. There were 60 new COVID-19-related deaths reported, bringing the total to 14,119.

Video: California deputy shoots Black man within a minute

Video: California deputy shoots Black man within a minute
Updated 28 min 10 sec ago

Video: California deputy shoots Black man within a minute

Video: California deputy shoots Black man within a minute
  • Town sheriff says the videos show the victim was threatening Deputy Andrew Hall and was possibly throwing rocks at drivers
  • Video released on day Hall was charged with manslaughter in the fatal shooting of an unarmed Filipino man in 2018
SAN FRANCISCO: A white sheriff’s deputy in the San Francisco Bay Area shot and killed a Black man in the middle of a busy intersection about a minute after trying to stop him on suspicion of throwing rocks at cars last month, newly released video showed.
Graphic body camera footage showing Deputy Andrew Hall shooting Tyrell Wilson, 33, within seconds of asking him to drop a knife was released Wednesday, the same day prosecutors charged Hall with manslaughter and assault in the fatal shooting of an unarmed Filipino man more than two years ago.
The charges came a day after former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of killing George Floyd, a Black man whose death last May helped spark a national reckoning over racial injustice and police brutality.
The new video in California shows Hall calling out to Wilson and walking toward him March 11 as Wilson walked away. Wilson eventually turns to face the deputy, holding a knife, and says, “Touch me and see what’s up.”
As they stand in the intersection, Hall asks him three times to drop the knife as Wilson motions toward his face, saying, “Kill me.” Hall shoots once, and Wilson drops to the ground as drivers watch and record video.
The entire confrontation lasted about a minute.
An attorney for Wilson’s family released another video Thursday taken by someone stopped at the intersection.
“It doesn’t seem like he was doing anything,” someone says. After Hall shoots Wilson, which can be clearly seen in the video, another person says, “Oh, my God. ... This dude just got shot and killed, bro.”
Attorney John Burris said Hall was unnecessarily aggressive toward Wilson, who was not causing any problems and was backing away from the deputy before he was shot without warning.
“This is a homeless man, he’s walking away, minding his own business. He’s basically saying go away, leave me alone,” Burris said. “You felt compelled to kill him.”
Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston said the videos show Wilson was threatening Hall and was possibly throwing rocks at drivers.
“He did threaten Officer Hall,” Livingston said. “And he did start advancing toward Officer Hall in the middle of a major intersection. Officers are forced to make split-second decisions to protect themselves and the public, and that’s what happened here.”
Prosecutors have faced intensifying outcry after Wilson’s death, with critics saying they took too long to make a decision in the 2018 killing that Hall carried out. The deputy shot 33-year-old Laudemar Arboleda nine times during a slow-moving car chase.
Burris, who also is representing Arboleda’s family, said that if prosecutors had acted more quickly in the Arboleda case, Wilson might still be alive. Burris said both men were mentally ill.
The Contra Costa County district attorney’s office said it charged Hall with felony voluntary manslaughter and felony assault with a semi-automatic firearm in Arboleda’s death.
“Officer Hall used unreasonable and unnecessary force when he responded to the in-progress traffic pursuit involving Laudemer Arboleda, endangering not only Mr. Arboleda’s life but the lives of his fellow officers and citizens in the immediate area,” District Attorney Diana Becton said in a news release.
Hall’s attorney, Harry Stern, said prosecutors previously deemed the deputy’s use of force in the 2018 case justified, “given the fact that he was defending himself from a lethal threat. The timing of their sudden reversal in deciding to file charges seems suspect and overtly political.”
Deputies slowly pursued Arboleda through the city of Danville after someone reported a suspicious person in November 2018. Sheriff’s department video shows Hall stopping his patrol car, getting out and running toward the sedan driven by Arboleda. Hall opened fire and kept shooting as Arboleda’s car passed by, striking him nine times.
Hall testified at an inquest that he was afraid Arboleda would run him over.
The district attorney’s office says Wilson’s shooting is being investigated.

Russia orders troops back to base after buildup near Ukraine

Russia orders troops back to base after buildup near Ukraine
Updated 23 April 2021

Russia orders troops back to base after buildup near Ukraine

Russia orders troops back to base after buildup near Ukraine
  • The buildup has heightened tensions with NATO members, who have earlier pressed Russia to release hunger-striking opposition figure Alexei Navalny,
  • Russia reportedly has more than 40,000 troops deployed on Ukraine’s eastern border and over 40,000 in Crimea

MOSCOW / KYIV: Russia announced on Thursday it was ordering troops back to base from the area near the border with Ukraine, apparently calling an end to a buildup of tens of thousands of soldiers that had alarmed the West.
The currencies of both Russia and Ukraine rose sharply after the announcement, signalling relief among investors just hours after Russia also ended war games in Crimea, the peninsula it occupied and annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
A confirmed pullout of the troops brought in on top of the permanent contingent will likely be welcomed by Western countries that had been expressing alarm at the prospect of further Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine. Russian-backed separatists have been fighting the Ukrainian government in the region since 2014.
The Ukrainian president’s spokeswoman said this month that Russia had more than 40,000 troops deployed on Ukraine’s eastern border and over 40,000 in Crimea. Around 50,000 of them were new deployments, she said. Moscow has not provided any troop numbers.
In a tweet, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine “welcomes any steps to decrease the military presence & deescalate the situation in Donbas (eastern Ukraine),” adding “Grateful to international partners for their support.”
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba had told Reuters Kyiv did not know whether Moscow intended to launch an attack or not, and said the West must make clear it would stand with Ukraine if Russia did so.
“So it can go in either direction now,” Kuleba said. “And this is why the reaction of the West, the consolidated reaction of the West, is so important now, to prevent Putin ... from making that decision.”
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington was aware of Russia’s announcement and was watching the situation on the border closely. “We’ve heard words. I think what we’ll be looking for is action,” Price said.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said he had ordered troops involved in exercises to return to their bases by May 1, as they had completed what he called an “inspection” in the border area.
“I believe the objectives of the snap inspection have been fully achieved. The troops have demonstrated their ability to provide a credible defense for the country,” Shoigu said.

Equipment left
Military hardware was to be left at a training ground near the city of Voronezh, about six hours’ drive from Ukraine, so that it could be used again later this year in another big scheduled exercise.
Hours earlier, Shoigu had attended maneuvers in Crimea, which Moscow said involved 10,000 troops and more than 40 warships. Russia also announced it had arrested a Ukrainian man in Crimea as a spy.
The troop buildup near Ukraine was one of several issues that have raised tensions between Russia and the West.
Last week, the United States tightened sanctions on Russia over accusations that it had hacked computers and meddled in US elections, and the Czech Republic accused Moscow of a role in deadly explosions at an arms dump in 2014.
Both countries expelled Russian diplomats, prompting angry denials and tit-for-tat expulsions by Moscow.
Western countries have also urged Russia to free jailed hunger-striking opposition figure Alexei Navalny, with Washington warning of “consequences” should he die in prison. Russia says the West should not interfere.
In a major speech on Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin sounded a defiant note, warning Western countries not to cross unspecified “red lines.” But Putin is also participating this week in a climate summit organized by US President Joe Biden.
In Moscow, the Kremlin said Putin was aware of an invitation from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to meet to discuss the crisis.
“If the president considers it necessary, he will reply himself. I have nothing to say on that now,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. 

India hospital fire kills 13 COVID-19 patients

India hospital fire kills 13 COVID-19 patients
Updated 15 min 39 sec ago

India hospital fire kills 13 COVID-19 patients

India hospital fire kills 13 COVID-19 patients
  • Second coronavirus wave blamed on a new virus variant and lax government rules
  • India’s health care system has long suffered from underfunding

MUMBAI: Thirteen COVID-19 patients died in a hospital fire on Friday in the latest tragedy to hit India’s health care system as it buckles under a devastating wave of infections.

The outbreak has been blamed on a new virus variant and lax government rules allowing huge religious and political gatherings to take place in recent months.

The latest fire broke out in the hospital in the outskirts of Mumbai at around 3:00 am (2130 GMT), a local official said. It has since been put out and the cause was being investigated.

“There were 17 patients inside when a fire broke out in the ICU of Vijay Vallabh Hospital, out of which 13 died and four have been shifted to other facilities,” fire department official Morrison Khavari said.

India’s health care system has long suffered from underfunding and the new COVID outbreak has seen critical shortages in oxygen, drugs and hospital beds, sparking desperate pleas for help.

Earlier this week, 22 COVID-19 patients died at another hospital in the same state when the oxygen supply to their ventilators was disrupted by a leak.

And four patients died when a blaze broke out in a private hospital in Maharashtra earlier this month. In March a fire at a Mumbai clinic killed 11.

India has recorded around four million new infections this month alone, dashing hopes at the start of the year that the country may have weathered the worst of the pandemic.

The surge in infections has been partially blamed on large-scale outdoor events including the vast Kumbh Mela gathering in Haridwar, which between January and this week attracted an estimated 25 million Hindu pilgrims, mostly without masks or social distancing.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was set on Friday to hold at least three crisis meetings on oxygen supplies and the availability of critical medicines.

The capital New Delhi continues to be among the worst hit, with hundreds of thousands of new infections and many new hospitalizations in the last few days.

Hospitals in the city have been posting daily desperate appeals over depleting oxygen supplies to the state and national government.

“SOS — Less than an hour’s oxygen supplies at Max Smart Hospital & Max Hospital Saket. Awaiting promised fresh supplies from INOX since 1 am... Over 700 patients admitted, need immediate assistance,” Max Healthcare, one of the biggest private hospital chains, said on Twitter early Friday morning.

Other private hospital chains in the region have posted similar video messages and social media posts in recent days.

At least six hospitals ran out of oxygen supplies in the Indian capital late Thursday night, with several others left with just a few hours’ worth.

“25 sickest patients have died in last 24 hrs Oxygen will last another 2 hrs... Major crisis likely. Lives of another 60 sickest patients at risk, need urgent intervention,” the medical director of the Sir Gangaram Hospital in New Delhi said in a statement.

Czechs order Russia to pull out most embassy staff in biggest post-Communist era dispute

Expelled Russian diplomats with families wait in line to check in at the Vaclav Havel airport on April 19, 2021, ahead of their flight to Moscow. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, File)
Expelled Russian diplomats with families wait in line to check in at the Vaclav Havel airport on April 19, 2021, ahead of their flight to Moscow. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, File)
Updated 23 April 2021

Czechs order Russia to pull out most embassy staff in biggest post-Communist era dispute

Expelled Russian diplomats with families wait in line to check in at the Vaclav Havel airport on April 19, 2021, ahead of their flight to Moscow. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, File)
  • Row over 2014 deadly blast at Czech ammunitions depot
  • Russian suspects also accused of 2018 poisoning

MOSCOW/PRAGUE: The Czech Republic on Thursday ordered Russia to remove most of its remaining diplomatic staff from Prague in an escalation of the worst dispute between the two countries in decades.
The spy row flared on Saturday when Prague expelled 18 Russian staff, whom it identified as intelligence officers.
It said two Russian spies accused of a nerve agent poisoning in Britain in 2018 were also behind an explosion at a Czech ammunition depot in 2014 that killed two people.
Russia has denied the Czech accusations and on Sunday ordered out 20 Czech staff in retaliation.
Thursday’s decision, announced by Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek, requires Russia to have the same number of envoys as the Czech Republic has in Moscow. That means Russia will have to withdraw 63 diplomats and other staff from Prague, although Prague gave it until the end of May to do so.
Together with the initial step, this will greatly reduce what has been by far the biggest foreign mission to Prague and much larger than the Czech representation in Moscow.
“We will put a ceiling on the number of diplomats at the Russian embassy in Prague at the current level of our embassy in Moscow,” Kulhanek said.
“I do not want to needlessly escalate...but the Czech Republic is a self-confident country and will act as such. This is not aimed against Russians or the Russian nation, but a reaction to activities of Russian secret services on our territory.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry in reaction demanded a reduction in the embassy’s staffing level, alluding to disparity in numbers of local employees.
“The (Czech) ambassador was told that we reserve the right to take other steps in the event the hysterical anti-Russian campaign spirals further,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement.
At a time of acute tension in Russia’s relations with the West, the dispute has prompted NATO and the European Union to throw their support behind the Czech Republic, which is a member of both blocs.
“Allies express deep concern over the destabilising actions Russia continues to carry out across the Euro-Atlantic area, including on alliance territory, and stand in full solidarity with the Czech Republic,” NATO’s 30 allies said in a statement.
Slovakia expelled three Russian envoys on Thursday in solidarity with the Czech Republic. The Russian response to that step was not immediately clear.
In the last week, Moscow has also kicked out diplomats from Bulgaria, Poland and the United States in retaliation for expulsions of its own staff.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow took a negative view of Prague’s “hysteria.”
President Vladimir Putin warned foreign powers in his state of the nation speech on Wednesday not to cross Russia’s “red lines,” saying Moscow would make them regret it.

Embassy paralyzed
The Czechs say the loss of the 20 staff has effectively paralyzed the functioning of their Moscow embassy.
The Russian embassy’s size in Prague is an overhang from the pre-1989 communist era, and had been about double the US Embassy until this week.
Kulhanek said on Czech Television that Russia told the Czech envoy on Thursday there now would be “strict parity.”
He said that meant each country would have 7 diplomats and 25 others at respective embassies, which is the current level of Czech staff in Moscow.
He said the Czech side was considering how to proceed further after the Russian demand to cut the number of local employees.
The ministry said on Wednesday Russia had 27 diplomats and 67 other staff in Prague after the previous expulsions.
The Czech counterintelligence service has repeatedly said that the mission served as a base for intelligence work and its size made it difficult to reduce these activities.
The two suspects named by Prague in connection with the 2014 ammunition depot explosion, known under the aliases Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov, are reportedly part of the elite Unit 29155 of Russia’s GRU military intelligence service.
Britain charged them in absentia with attempted murder after the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with the nerve agent Novichok in the English city of Salisbury in 2018.
The Skripals survived, but a member of the public died. The Kremlin denied involvement in the incident.

General: Afghan military will collapse without some US help

General: Afghan military will collapse without some US help
Updated 22 April 2021

General: Afghan military will collapse without some US help

General: Afghan military will collapse without some US help
  • Head of U.S. Central Command said as U.S. pulls out all forces “my concern is the Afghans' ability to hold ground”
  • U.S. officials have made it clear that military commanders didn’t recommend the full, unconditional withdrawal that Biden has ordered

WASHINGTON: Afghanistan’s military “will certainly collapse” without some continued American support once all US troops are withdrawn, the top US general for the Middle East told Congress Thursday.
Gen. Frank McKenzie also said he was very concerned about the Afghan government’s ability to protect the US Embassy in Kabul.
McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said that as the US pulls out all forces, “my concern is the Afghans’ ability to hold ground” and whether they will able to continue to maintain and fly their aircraft without US aid and financial support.
He said it will be paramount to protect the US Embassy and “it is a matter of great concern to me whether or not the future government of Afghanistan will be able to do that once we leave.”
McKenzie has spent the week detailing to lawmakers the steep challenges facing the US military as it moves to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, as ordered by President Joe Biden last week. Walking a careful line, the general has painted a dire picture of the road ahead, while also avoiding any pushback on Biden’s decision.
US officials have made it clear that military commanders did not recommend the full, unconditional withdrawal that Biden has ordered.
Military leaders have consistently argued for a drawdown based on security conditions in the country, saying that pulling troops out by a certain date eliminates pressure on the Taliban and weakens US leverage in the peace talks with the group.
Still, McKenzie said the Biden administration’s “deliberate and methodical” withdrawal discussion “was heartening,” implicitly drawing a contrast with former President Donald Trump’s penchant for making abrupt troop withdrawal decisions and announcing them by tweet.
In public and private sessions with lawmakers, McKenzie has been pressed about how the US will maintain pressure on the Taliban and prevent terrorist groups from taking hold in Afghanistan again once the United States and its coalition partners leave.
The US has more than 2,500 troops in the country; the NATO coalition has said it will follow the same timetable for withdrawing the more than 7,000 allied forces.
He told the Senate Armed Service Committee on Thursday that once troops leave the country, it will take “considerably longer” than four hours to move armed drones or other aircraft in and out of Afghanistan to provide overhead surveillance or counterterrorism strikes. He said it will require far more aircraft than he is using now.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, speaking at NATO earlier this month, said the US will continue to support the Afghans after the withdrawal. He said “we will look to continue funding key capabilities such as the Afghan Air Force and Special Mission Wing, and we will seek to continue paying salaries for Afghan Security Forces.”
Austin and others have said the US will maintain the ability to counter terrorists in Afghanistan, but there are few details, and officials say they have not yet gotten any diplomatic agreements for basing with any of the surrounding nations.
McKenzie has declined to provide details during the public sessions.
He said there are no decisions yet on what size of diplomatic contingent will be left at the US Embassy in the Afghan capital, and whether it will include a security cooperation office. Those decisions, he said, could reflect how the US ensures the defense of the embassy. Marines often provide security at other embassies around the world.
Senators voiced divided views on the withdrawal, with comments crossing party lines. Several lawmakers questioned whether the US will be able to prevent the Taliban from allowing a resurgence of terrorist groups in Afghanistan who are seeking to attack America. Others asked if the US will be able to adequately account for how the Afghan government spends any American money.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. said there are concerns that a US withdrawal will create a vacuum in the country that China, Russian or Iran will fill. But Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., argued that the US presence in Afghanistan over the past 10 years has not led to much improvement. She said the government is still corrupt and the Taliban control a larger portion of the country than it did before.
The Pentagon has said it’s not clear yet whether any US contractors will remain in the country. The Defense Department says the number of contractors in Afghanistan started to decline over the past year or so. According to the latest numbers, there are close to 17,000 Defense Department-funded contractors in Afghanistan and less than one-third of those were Americans.
The total included more than 2,800 armed and unarmed private security contractors, of which more than 1,500 are armed. Of those 1,500, about 600 are Americans.