France confirms its ambassador to Belarus left the country on Oct 17

France confirms its ambassador to Belarus left the country on Oct 17
In this Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021 file photo, people join a protest in solidarity with migrants who have been pushed back at Poland's border with Belarus, in Warsaw, Poland. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
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Updated 18 October 2021

France confirms its ambassador to Belarus left the country on Oct 17

France confirms its ambassador to Belarus left the country on Oct 17

PARIS: France confirmed its ambassador to Belarus left the country on Oct 17, adding that the official in question - Nicolas de Lacoste - would now assume the role of special envoy in Belarus as of this Monday onwards.
"France will keep on standing by the Belarus people and will look for a solution to the crisis in the country," said the spokeswoman for the French Foreign Affairs ministry.
Relations between EU member states and Belarus have been at a low ebb since President Alexander Lukashenko last year comfortably won re-election in a poll that the opposition said was rigged, and cracked down on the opposition, detaining all its leading figures or driving them into exile.


Germany backs restrictions for unvaccinated as mandate looms

Germany backs restrictions for unvaccinated as mandate looms
Updated 58 min 22 sec ago

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.


Pope Francis arrives in Cyprus with migrants in focus

Pope Francis arrives in Cyprus with migrants in focus
Updated 02 December 2021

Pope Francis arrives in Cyprus with migrants in focus

Pope Francis arrives in Cyprus with migrants in focus
  • On Friday he is scheduled to perform mass at an open-air stadium and later hold an 'ecumenical prayer' with migrants at a Catholic Church
  • Francis has arranged to have 50 migrants relocated to Italy after his trip this week

LARNACA, Cyprus: Pope Francis arrived on Cyprus on Thursday with a focus on inter-faith dialogue and lending his support to a country on one of the frontlines of Europe’s migration crisis.
Francis, who will travel on to Greece on Dec. 4, was to meet with Cyprus’s president on Thursday as well as with the Maronite Church. On Friday he is scheduled to perform mass at an open-air stadium and later hold an ‘ecumenical prayer’ with migrants at a Catholic Church in the divided capital.
“It will be a beautiful trip but we will touch some wounds. I hope that we all will be able to gather up the messages given to us,” Pope Francis told journalists on the aircraft.
Young children waving flags of Cyprus and the Vatican welcomed Francis at Larnaca airport, and three young girls in Cypriot traditional dress gave him bouquets of flowers.
Cyprus says it is struggling to cope with an influx of undocumented migrants, either through a dividing line splitting the island, or by boats from the neighboring Middle East.
Francis, who has made defense of migrants and refugees a cornerstone of his papacy, has arranged to have 50 migrants relocated to Italy after his trip this week.
Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict, visited Cyprus in 2010. Cyprus’s Orthodox Church, the dominant Christian communion, traces its lineage back to some of Christ’s earliest followers.
According to the Book of Acts in Christian scripture, St. Paul visited the island with Barnabas, the founder of Cyprus’s Church, and Mark the Evangelist.
The Pope will be staying at a Franciscan monastery in the capital Nicosia, one of the last divided capitals of the world. The Roman Catholic Holy Cross Church, in the same compound, still bears scars from the crossfire of ethnic strife and from a Turkish invasion triggered by a Greek-inspired coup in 1974.


EU orders ‘non essential’ staff out of Ethiopia

EU orders ‘non essential’ staff out of Ethiopia
Updated 02 December 2021

EU orders ‘non essential’ staff out of Ethiopia

EU orders ‘non essential’ staff out of Ethiopia
  • EU ordered its non-essential staff to leave war-torn Ethiopia

BRUSSELS: The European Union on Thursday announced that it was ordering its non-essential staff to leave war-torn Ethiopia.
EU spokeswoman Nabila Massrali said security would be stepped up for EU and local staff remaining at its missions to Ethiopia and to the African Union.


Baby found dead in migrant boat off Spain’s Canaries

Baby found dead in migrant boat off Spain’s Canaries
Updated 02 December 2021

Baby found dead in migrant boat off Spain’s Canaries

Baby found dead in migrant boat off Spain’s Canaries
  • The group includes 68 women, six children and the body of a baby who did not survive the voyage
  • Spain is one of the main gateways into Europe for migrants seeking a better life in Europe

MADRID: A baby was found dead in one of five migrant boats intercepted off Spain’s Canary Islands in the Atlantic with nearly 300 people on board, officials said Thursday.
Migrant arrivals on the Canaries have surged since late 2019 after increased patrols along Europe’s southern coast dramatically reduced crossings to the continent via the Mediterranean.
In the latest incident, the Spanish coast guard rescued 282 sub-Saharan African migrants from five inflatable dinghies off the coast of Fuerteventura, one of the seven islands that make up the Canary islands, local emergency services said in a tweet.
The group includes 68 women, six children and the body of a baby who did not survive the voyage, an emergency services spokeswoman said.
They are all in good health except for one woman who needed medical attention, she added.
Spain is one of the main gateways into Europe for migrants seeking a better life in Europe.
Between January 1 and November 30 a total of 36,379 migrants arrived in Spain by sea, 511 more than during the same time last year, according to interior ministry figures.
More than half, 54 percent, arrived on Spain’s Canary Islands off the North African coast.
The shortest route to the archipelago is more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the Moroccan coast, but it is notoriously dangerous due to strong currents.
Over 900 migrants have died trying to reach the Canaries so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration.