Iceland elects Europe’s first female-majority parliament

Iceland elects Europe’s first female-majority parliament
Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir talks to supporters of her Left Green Movement at a party event in Reykjavik on September 25, 2021 after the announcement of partial results in the country's general elections. (AFP)
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Updated 26 September 2021

Iceland elects Europe’s first female-majority parliament

Iceland elects Europe’s first female-majority parliament
  • Among incoming members of parliament is law student Lenya Run Karim, a daughter of Kurdish immigrants
  • After all votes were counted Sunday, female candidates held 33 seats in Iceland’s 63-seat parliament, the Althing

REYKJAVIK, Iceland: Iceland has elected a female-majority parliament, a landmark for gender equality in the North Atlantic island nation, in a vote that saw centrist parties make the biggest gains.
After all votes were counted Sunday, female candidates held 33 seats in Iceland’s 63-seat parliament, the Althing. The three parties in the outgoing coalition government led by Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir won a total of 37 seats in Saturday’s vote, two more than in the last election, and appeared likely to continue in power.
The election makes Iceland the only country in Europe, and one of a handful in the world, with a majority of female lawmakers. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Rwanda leads the world with women making up 61 percent of its Chamber of Deputies, with Cuba, Nicaragua and Mexico narrowly over the 50 percent mark. Worldwide, the organization says just over a quarter of legislators are women.
The milestone for women comes despite a poor outcome for parties on the left, where female candidates are more often frontrunners.
Politics professor Silja Bara Omarsdottir said the gender quotas implemented by left-leaning parties for the past decade had managed to create a new norm across Iceland’s political spectrum.
“It is no longer acceptable to ignore gender equality when selecting candidates,” she said.
Opinion polls had suggested a victory for left-leaning parties in the unpredictable election, which saw 10 parties competing for seats. But the center-right Independence Party took the largest share of votes, winning 16 seats, seven of them held by women. The centrist Progressive Party celebrated the biggest gain, winning 13 seats, five more than last time.
Before the election, the two parties formed Iceland’s three-party coalition government, together with Jakobsdottir’s Left Green Party. Her party lost several seats, but kept eight, outscoring poll predictions.
The three ruling parties haven’t announced whether they will work together for another term, but given the strong support from voters it appears likely. It will take days, if not weeks, for a new government to be formed and announced.
Climate change had ranked high on the election agenda in Iceland, a glacier-studded volcanic island nation of about 350,000 people in the North Atlantic. An exceptionally warm summer by Icelandic standards — with 59 days of temperatures above 20 C (68 F) — and shrinking glaciers have helped drive global warming up the political agenda.
But that didn’t appear to have translated into increased support for any of the four left-leaning parties that campaigned to cut carbon emissions by more than Iceland is committed to under the Paris Climate Agreement.
Among incoming members of parliament are the oldest and youngest lawmakers ever to take a seat in Iceland: 72-year-old burger joint owner Tomas Tomasson and 21-year-old law student Lenya Run Karim, a daughter of Kurdish immigrants who is from the anti-establishment Pirate Party.
“I want to improve Iceland’s treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers,” she told The Associated Press, vowing to speak up for young people at parliament. “Our ideas need to be heard more.”


Taliban urges US to release frozen funds in Doha talks

Taliban urges US to release frozen funds in Doha talks
Updated 5 sec ago

Taliban urges US to release frozen funds in Doha talks

Taliban urges US to release frozen funds in Doha talks
DOHA: The Taliban renewed its call for the United States to release billions of dollars in frozen funds after two days of talks in Doha as aid-dependent Afghanistan grapples with an economic crisis.
The Afghans also called for an end to blacklists and sanctions in meetings led by Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi and Tom West, the US special representative for Afghanistan.
It was the second round of talks between the two sides in Qatar since the US ended its 20-year occupation of Afghanistan and the hard-line Islamists rapidly returned to power.
“The two delegations discussed political, economic, human, health, education and security issues as well as providing necessary banking and cash facilities,” tweeted Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi.
“The Afghan delegation assured the US side of security and urged that Afghanistan’s frozen money should be released unconditionally, blacklists and sanctions must end and human issues be separated from political ones.”
Washington seized nearly $9.5 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank also suspended activities in Afghanistan, withholding aid as well as $340 million in new reserves issued by the IMF in August.
The Afghan economy has effectively collapsed, with civil servants unpaid for months and the treasury unable to pay for imports. The United Nations has warned that around 22 million people, more than half the population, will face an “acute” food shortage in the winter months.
Taliban government leader Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund is among those targeted by the US sanctions. The US side stood firm on the measures and said it was taking steps to get support to ordinary Afghans.
“The United States remains committed to ensuring that US sanctions do not limit the ability of Afghan civilians to receive humanitarian support from the US government and international community while denying assets to sanctioned entities and individuals,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
“The Department of the Treasury has issued general licenses to support the continued flow of humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan and other activities that support basic human needs.”
The US also urged the Taliban to provide access to education for women and girls across the country and “expressed deep concern regarding allegations of human rights abuses.”
It reminded the Taliban of its commitment not to allow terrorist organizations to operate on its soil and to guarantee safe passage for US citizens from Afghanistan.
The Americans also called for the release of US citizen Mark Frerichs, who was kidnapped in Afghanistan in February last year.
The Taliban called the talks “positive” and said Muttaqi also met with the Japanese and German ambassadors to Afghanistan in Doha.
bur/th/kir

Japan reports second case of the omicron variant

 A man walks past an arrivals board showing cancelled flights at Tokyo's Haneda international airport on November 30, 2021. (AFP)
A man walks past an arrivals board showing cancelled flights at Tokyo's Haneda international airport on November 30, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 1 min 23 sec ago

Japan reports second case of the omicron variant

 A man walks past an arrivals board showing cancelled flights at Tokyo's Haneda international airport on November 30, 2021. (AFP)
  • Brazil finds the variant in two travelers returning from South Africa — the first known omicron cases in Latin America

BRASILIA/TOKYO: Japan has found a second person who has tested positive with the COVID-19 omicron variant, broadcaster FNN reported on Wednesday.
The first case of the variant was discovered on Tuesday.
Brazil and Nigeria also joined the rapidly widening circle of countries to report cases of the omicron variant Tuesday, while new findings indicate the mutant coronavirus was already in Europe close to a week before South Africa sounded the alarm.
The Netherlands’ RIVM health institute disclosed that patient samples dating from Nov. 19 and 23 were found to contain the variant. It was on Nov. 24 that South African authorities reported the existence of the highly mutated virus to the World Health Organization.
That indicates omicron had a bigger head start in the Netherlands than previously believed.
Together with the cases in Japan and Brazil, the finding illustrates the difficulty in containing the virus in an age of jet travel and economic globalization. And it left the world once again whipsawed between hopes of returning to normal and fears that the worst is yet to come.
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 the vaccine.
The pandemic has shown repeatedly that the virus “travels quickly because of our globalized, interconnected world,” said Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious disease specialist at the Yale School of Public Health. Until the vaccination drive reaches every country, “we’re going to be in this situation again and again.”
Brazil, which has recorded a staggering total of more than 600,000 COVID-19 deaths, reported finding the variant in two travelers returning from South Africa — the first known omicron cases in Latin America. The travelers were tested on Nov. 25, authorities said.
France likewise recorded its first case, in the far-flung island territory of Reunion in the Indian Ocean. Authorities said the patient was a man who had returned to Reunion from South Africa and Mozambique on Nov. 20.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease expert, said much more will be known about omicron in the next several weeks, and “we’ll have a much better picture of what the challenge is ahead of us.”
In the meantime, a WHO official warned that given the growing number of omicron cases in South Africa and neighboring Botswana, parts of southern Africa could soon see infections skyrocket.
“There is a possibility that really we’re going to be seeing a serious doubling or tripling of the cases as we move along or as the week unfolds,” said Dr. Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi, a WHO regional virologist.
Cases began to increase rapidly in mid-November in South Africa, which is now seeing nearly 3,000 confirmed new infections per day.
Before news of the Brazil cases broke, Fauci said 226 omicron cases had been confirmed in 20 countries, adding: “I think you’re going to expect to see those numbers change rapidly.”
Those countries include Britain, 11 European Union nations, Australia, Canada and Israel. American disease trackers said omicron could already be in the US, too, and probably will be detected soon.
“I am expecting it any day now,” said Scott Becker of the Association of Public Health Laboratories. “We expect it is here.”
While the variant was first identified by South African researchers, it is unclear where and when it originated, information that could help shed light on how fast it spreads.
The announcement from the Dutch on Tuesday could shape that timeline.
Previously, the Netherlands said it found the variant among passengers who came from South Africa on Friday, the same day the Dutch and other EU members began imposing flight bans and other restrictions on southern Africa. But the newly identified cases predate that.
NOS, the Netherlands’ public broadcaster, said that one of the two omicron samples came from a person who had been in southern Africa.
Belgium reported a case involving a traveler who returned to the country from Egypt on Nov. 11 but did not become sick with mild symptoms until Nov. 22.
Many health officials tried to calm fears, insisting that vaccines remain the best defense and that the world must redouble its efforts to get the shots to every part of the globe.
Emer Cooke, chief of the European Medicines Agency, said that the 27-nation EU is well prepared for the variant and that the vaccine could be adapted for use against omicron within three or four months if necessary.
England reacted to the emerging threat by making face coverings mandatory again on public transportation and in stores, banks and hair salons. And one month ahead of Christmas, the head of Britain’s Health Security Agency urged people not to socialize if they don’t need to.
After COVID-19 led to a one-year postponement of the Summer Games, Olympic organizers began to worry about the February Winter Games in Beijing. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said omicron would “certainly bring some challenges in terms of prevention and control.”
World markets seesawed on every piece of medical news, whether worrisome or reassuring. Stocks fell on Wall Street over virus fears as well as concerns about the Federal Reserve’s continued efforts to shore up the markets.
Some analysts think a serious economic downturn will probably be averted because many people have been vaccinated. But they also think a return to pre-pandemic levels of economic activity, especially in tourism, has been dramatically delayed.


Prepare sanctions on Russia and ramp up military cooperation, Ukraine tells NATO

Prepare sanctions on Russia and ramp up military cooperation, Ukraine tells NATO
Updated 11 min 15 sec ago

Prepare sanctions on Russia and ramp up military cooperation, Ukraine tells NATO

Prepare sanctions on Russia and ramp up military cooperation, Ukraine tells NATO
  • NATO should prepare economic sanctions to be imposed on Russia if it “decides to chose the worst-case scenario” and boost the military and defense cooperation with Ukraine

RIGA: Ukraine urged NATO on Wednesday to boost military cooperation with Kyiv and prepare a package of measures, including sanctions, to deter Russia from attacking the country.
“We will call on the allies to join Ukraine in putting together a deterrence package,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters on arrival for talks with his NATO counterparts in Riga.
As part of this package, NATO should prepare economic sanctions to be imposed on Russia if it “decides to chose the worst-case scenario” and boost the military and defense cooperation with Ukraine, he said.


Nigeria confirms first cases of omicron among travelers from South Africa

Nigeria confirms first cases of omicron among travelers from South Africa
Updated 35 min 34 sec ago

Nigeria confirms first cases of omicron among travelers from South Africa

Nigeria confirms first cases of omicron among travelers from South Africa
  • Retrospective sequencing of previously confirmed cases among travelers to Nigeria

ABUJA: Nigeria confirmed its first cases of the omicron COVID-19 variant among two travelers who arrived from South Africa last week, the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) said on Wednesday.
The NCDC said retrospective sequencing of previously confirmed cases among travelers to Nigeria had also identified the variant among a sample collected in October.


Malaysia bans travelers from countries deemed at risk from omicron

Malaysia bans travelers from countries deemed at risk from omicron
Updated 53 min 4 sec ago

Malaysia bans travelers from countries deemed at risk from omicron

Malaysia bans travelers from countries deemed at risk from omicron

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will temporarily ban the entry of travelers from countries that have reported the omicron coronavirus variant or are considered high-risk, its health ministry said on Wednesday.
It will also delay plans to set up so-called Vaccinated Travel Lanes with those countries, minister Khairy Jamaluddin told reporters.