Malaysian PM resigns as virus cases hit record highs

Malaysian PM resigns as virus cases hit record highs
Embattled Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s resignation will plunge the country into a fresh crisis amid a worsening pandemic. (AP)
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Updated 17 August 2021

Malaysian PM resigns as virus cases hit record highs

Malaysian PM resigns as virus cases hit record highs
  • I have tried my best in this crisis, says Muhyiddin Yassin

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s prime minister resigned on Monday after just 17 months in power amid chronic infighting within his coalition and over his government’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, which has seen a resurgence in cases in recent weeks.

The palace said that Muhyiddin Yassin would remain as caretaker prime minister, with King Abdullah Ahmad Shah saying it was in the “best interest” of Malaysians not to hold general elections.

“The king hopes that the political turmoil that has been in the way of the country’s administration will be resolved to benefit the people and the economy that is under threat by the COVID-19 pandemic,” it said in a statement.

Striking a somber tone in his televised address to the nation, the 74-year-old leader said he had decided to resign after losing his majority in parliament since assuming power as head of the Perikatan Nasional coalition in March last year.

He spoke of “greedy people,” a veiled reference to the president and other members of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) facing graft trials.

UMNO had been part of his ruling coalition, but regular threats of withdrawal from prominent members eventually led to the government’s collapse.

“They do not care about the health of the people,” he added. “I will never align myself with kleptocrats or the sacrifice of the judiciary and constitution. I have tried my best in this crisis we are facing. I hope the new government can be formed soon to carry on the work.”

Political analysts said the onus on selecting the next prime minister lay with the monarch, and that the candidate “must have the numbers in parliament to helm his Cabinet.”

“The king has absolute discretion to pick any of the MPs to try to put together a new government,” Prof. James Chin, director of the Asian Institute at the University of Tasmania, told Arab News. “But the only difference now is that there is a consensus among all the MPs in Malaysia. Both ruling and opposition believe that this instability can only be resolved by a general election.”

Dr. Firdausi Suffian, a public policy lecturer at the Universiti Teknologi Mara in Sabah, said political stability was key for the country to get through its economic crisis and COVID-19 response because people wanted “to see the change” from the appointment.

“This is not just appointing the prime minister, but also to see the proposal that the PM can put forward on the table for a better nation,” Suffian told Arab News. 

Malaysia recorded 20,546 cases on Sunday, its fourth successive day of more than 20,000 cases, with overwhelmed hospitals struggling to cope with the influx of patients.

Pressure continued to mount on the prime minister after some lawmakers from UMNO withdrew their support last month, including UMNO president Zahid Hamidi and former Prime Minister Najib Razak. Both men are facing multiple criminal and civil charges in court.

Yassin said they withdrew support because he declined to drop court charges.

Chin said the king now had the opportunity to select one of the MPs or “give a chance” to one of the MPs to form a new government.

“Whoever forms the next government will have to pass a confidence vote in the floor parliament in September and, sometime next year when the pandemic has come under control, must call for a general election to resolve this.”

Suffian said the next candidate would need to prove themselves as “having the ability to resolve the crisis” the country was in now.

“They can use that as one of their political campaigns. I guess people are really sick and tired of all our political problems and political crises for the past one year.”


Attacker dressed like ninja wounds two French policewomen with sword -police

Attacker dressed like ninja wounds two French policewomen with sword -police
Updated 02 December 2021

Attacker dressed like ninja wounds two French policewomen with sword -police

Attacker dressed like ninja wounds two French policewomen with sword -police
  • A police spokeswoman said there were no immediate signs that the attack was terrorism-related

PARIS: A man dressed like a ninja attacked and wounded two policewomen with a sword in Cherbourg in northwestern France on Thursday before being shot and captured, a police spokeswoman said.
She said there were no immediate signs that the attack was terrorism-related.
She said the attacker had stolen a vehicle and caused an accident, after which he assaulted two policewomen who had been called to the scene, wounding one in the face and the other in the chin.
The assailant — dressed in black in the style of traditional Japanese ninja fighters — was shot three times by the officers and was flown to hospital by helicopter in serious condition.
The attack happened around 3:45 p.m. (1445 GMT) near a gas station of the Leclerc supermarket chain.
The name and nationality of the attacker were not immediately known.


UN headquarters cordoned off over armed man

UN headquarters cordoned off over armed man
Updated 02 December 2021

UN headquarters cordoned off over armed man

UN headquarters cordoned off over armed man
  • "The UN headquarters is closed, there is police activity," a UN spokesman told AFP

UNITED NATIONS, United States: The United Nations headquarters in New York was cordoned off on Thursday during a police stand-off with a lone man apparently holding a gun outside the venue, officials said.
“The UN headquarters is closed, there is police activity,” a UN spokesman told AFP.
Images showed armed police surrounding the man standing on a sidewalk while holding what appeared to be a gun.
According to an official speaking on condition of anonymity, the man threatened to kill himself in front of one of the building’s entrances.
The avenue along the UN headquarters was closed to traffic, but meetings inside were not immediately affected.
“Due to a police investigation, avoid the area of 42 Street and 1st Avenue. Expect emergency vehicles in the surrounding area,” the New York police department said on Twitter.


’No cause for optimism’ on Iran nuclear deal: US

’No cause for optimism’ on Iran nuclear deal: US
Updated 10 sec ago

’No cause for optimism’ on Iran nuclear deal: US

’No cause for optimism’ on Iran nuclear deal: US
  • “We’re going to know very, very quickly, I think in the next day or two, whether Iran is serious or not,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
  • In a phone call with Blinken on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had called for the “immediate cessation” of talks

STOCKHOLM: The United States appeared Thursday to play down the possibility of reviving a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, even as Tehran tabled draft proposals following the resumption of talks in Vienna.
“We’re going to know very, very quickly, I think in the next day or two, whether Iran is serious or not,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Stockholm on the sidelines of a meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
“In the very near future, the next day or so, we will be in a position to judge whether Iran actually intends now to engage in good faith.”
But he cautioned: “I have to tell you, recent moves, recent rhetoric, don’t give us a lot of cause for optimism.”
In a phone call with Blinken on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had called for the “immediate cessation” of talks, which resumed on Monday.
Blinken declined to comment directly on the request.
“But even though the hour is getting very late, it is not too late for Iran to reverse course,” Blinken said.
“What Iran can’t do is sustain the status quo of building their nuclear program while dragging their feet on talks. That... will not happen.”
“That’s also not our view alone. It’s very clearly the view of our European partners. I have to say I had a good conversation as well” with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
“I think Russia shares our basic perspective on this.”
The 2015 agreement — known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA — offered Iran a lifting of economic sanctions in return for strict curbs on its nuclear activities.
The goal was to make it practically impossible for Iran to build an atomic bomb, while allowing it to pursue a civilian nuclear program.
But the deal started to unravel in 2018 when then US president Donald Trump pulled out and began imposing sanctions on the Islamic republic.
In turn, Iran, which denies it wants to acquire a nuclear arsenal, has gradually abandoned its commitments since 2019.
US President Joe Biden has said he is willing to return to the deal as long as Iran also resumes the original terms.
Iran said on Thursday it had handed European powers two draft proposals to try to revive the JCPOA.
Lead negotiator Ali Bagheri told Iranian state television the proposals — submitted on Wednesday, the third day of the talks in Vienna — concerned two main issues facing the pact: the lifting of sanctions and Iran’s nuclear commitments
“The first document sums up the Islamic republic’s point of view concerning the lifting of sanctions, while the second is about Iran’s nuclear actions,” Bagheri told IRIB TV.
“Now the other side must examine these documents and prepare itself to hold negotiations with Iran based on these documents,” said Bagheri.
Bagheri, echoing Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, said Iran was in Vienna to resume talks but said it was up to the West.
“We have told the other side that we are in Vienna to pursue the talks... If they are ready to pursue the talks, we agree to pursue them,” he told journalists in Vienna.
He said a timetable for the resumption of negotiations would be set up on Thursday.


Germany backs restrictions for unvaccinated as mandate looms

Germany backs restrictions for unvaccinated as mandate looms
Updated 02 December 2021

Germany backs restrictions for unvaccinated as mandate looms

Germany backs restrictions for unvaccinated as mandate looms
  • Measures were necessary in light of concerns that hospitals in Germany could become overloaded
  • “The situation in our country is serious,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, calling the measure an “act of national solidarity”

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that people who aren’t vaccinated will be excluded from nonessential stores, cultural and recreational venues.
And parliament will consider a general vaccine mandate as part of efforts to curb coronavirus infections that again topped 70,000 newly confirmed cases in a 24-hour period.
Speaking after a meeting with federal and state leaders, Merkel said the measures were necessary in light of concerns that hospitals in Germany could become overloaded with people suffering COVID-19 infections, which are more likely to be serious in those who haven’t been vaccinated.
“The situation in our country is serious,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, calling the measure an “act of national solidarity.”
She said officials also agreed to require masks in schools, impose new limits on private meetings and aim for 30 million vaccinations by the end of the year — an effort that will be boosted by allowing dentists and pharmacists to administer the shots.
Merkel herself backed the most contentious proposal of imposing a general vaccine mandate. She said parliament would debate the proposal with input from the country’s national ethics committee.
If passed, it could take effect as early as February, Merkel said, adding that she would have voted in favor of the measure if she were still a member of parliament.
About 68.7 percent of the population in Germany is fully vaccinated, far below the minimum of 75 percent the government is aiming for.
There have been large protests against pandemic measures in the past in Germany and the vaccine mandate is likely to be opposed by a minority, though opinion polls show most Germans are in favor.
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who is expected to be elected chancellor by a center-left coalition next week, has also backed a general vaccine mandate, but favors letting lawmakers vote on the issue according to their personal conscience rather than party lines.
“If we had a higher vaccination rate, we wouldn’t be discussing this now,”he said.
The rise in COVID-19 cases over the past several weeks and the arrival of the new omicron variant have prompted warnings from scientists and doctors that medical services in the country could become overstretched in the coming weeks unless drastic action is taken. Some hospitals in the south and east of the country have already transferred patients to other parts of Germany because of a shortage of intensive care beds.
Agreeing what measures to take has been complicated by Germany’s political structure — with the 16 states responsible for many of the regulations — and the ongoing transition at the federal level.
Germany’s disease control agency reported 73,209 newly confirmed cases Thursday. The Robert Koch Institute also reported 388 new deaths from COVID-19, taking the total since the start of the pandemic to 102,178.
To reduce the pressure on hospitals over the festive period, the sale of fireworks traditionally set off during New Year’s in Germany will be banned. Each year, hospitals treat hundreds of people with serious injuries because of mishandled fireworks.
The new measures will take effect once Germany’s 16 states incorporate them into existing rules, likely in the coming days.


Norway reports large outbreak of omicron variant infections

Norway reports large outbreak of omicron variant infections
Updated 02 December 2021

Norway reports large outbreak of omicron variant infections

Norway reports large outbreak of omicron variant infections
  • “More cases are expected. Effective tracing is being done to limit transmission routes and prevent major outbreaks,” said Oslo Municipality
  • The government agency said that there was “a high vaccination coverage” in the group

COPENHAGEN: At least 50 people in and around Norway’s capital have been infected with the omicron coronavirus variant and the cases are connected to a Norwegian company’s Christmas party in an Oslo restaurant, officials said Thursday.
“More cases are expected. Effective tracing is being done to limit transmission routes and prevent major outbreaks,” the Oslo Municipality said in a statement.
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health said that those affected live in Oslo and surrounding municipalities, and “the infection detection team in Oslo has contacted the municipalities concerned to start infection detection.”
The government agency said that there was “a high vaccination coverage” in the group, adding that overall “more than 50 cases” have been recorded in Norway. The country’s first two cases were announced Monday.
On Wednesday the city of Oslo urged people who visited two restaurants in the capital to be tested. One reportedly was where the Christmas party was held.
Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart vaccines.
It is customary in Scandinavia for companies, associations and individuals to hold Christmas parties in the weeks leading up to Christmas eve.