Fresh protests, violence against Covid restrictions across Europe

Police officers check the vaccination status of shoppers against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the entrance of a store in Vienna, Austria, November 16, 2021. (REUTERS)
Police officers check the vaccination status of shoppers against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the entrance of a store in Vienna, Austria, November 16, 2021. (REUTERS)
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Updated 22 November 2021

Fresh protests, violence against Covid restrictions across Europe

Police officers check the vaccination status of shoppers against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the entrance of a store in Vienna, Austria, November 16, 2021. (REUTERS)
  • People can leave their homes for a limited number of reasons like going to work or buying essentials

BRUSSELS: A fresh wave of protests broke out in several European cities and in some French overseas territories Sunday, as protesters reacted, sometimes violently, to moves to reintroduce coronavirus restrictions.
Police and protesters clashed in the Belgian capital Brussels, in several Dutch cities and overnight into early Sunday in the French Caribbean territory Guadaloupe.
There were fresh demonstrations in Austria, where the government is imposing a new lockdown and Covid-19 vaccine mandate.
In Brussels, violence broke out at a protest against anti-Covid measures which police said was attended by 35,000 people.
The march, in the city’s European Union and government district, largely focused on a ban on the unvaccinated from venues such as restaurants and bars.
It began peacefully but police later fired water cannon and tear gas in response to protesters throwing projectiles, an AFP photographer witnessed.
Police told Belga news agency that three officers were injured.
Several of the demonstrators caught up in the clash wore hoods and carried Flemish nationalist flags, while others wore Nazi-era yellow stars.
Protesters set fire to wood pallets, and social media images showed them attacking police vans with street signs.

Protests also erupted in several Dutch cities Sunday, the third night of unrest over the government’s coronavirus restrictions.
Demonstrators set off fireworks and vandalized property in the northern cities of Groningen and Leeuwarden, as well as in Enschede to the east and Tilburg to the south, said police.
“Riot police are present in the center to restore order,” a Groningen police spokeswoman told AFP.
Authorities issued an emergency order in Enschede, near the German border, ordering people to stay off the streets, police said on Twitter.
A football match in the nearby city of Leeuwarden was briefly disrupted after supporters, who are barred from games because of the Covid restrictions, threw fireworks into the ground, Dutch media reported.
On Friday night, there was unrest in Rotterdam and last night in The Hague.
So far, more than 100 people have been arrested around the country and at least 12 people have been injured during the demonstrations.
And in Austria, around 6,000 people gathered in the city of Linz in a protest organized by a new political party, a day after 40,000 marched in Vienna over the partial lockdown.
From Monday, 8.9 million Austrians will not be allowed to leave home except to go to work, shop for essentials and exercise. And vaccination against Covid-19 in the Alpine nation will be mandatory from February 1 next year.

Troops headed to Guadeloupe on Sunday after a week of unrest over Covid measures, while Prime Minister Jean Castex was set to convene a meeting in Paris with officials from the French Caribbean island.
Roads remained blocked on Sunday after protesters defying a curfew looted and torched shops and pharmacies overnight, when police made 38 arrests and two members of the security forces were injured.
The dusk-to-dawn curfew is set to last until Tuesday.
The Guadeloupe prefecture said protesters had fired on security forces and firefighters.
The level of vaccination against Covid is lower in some of France’s overseas territories than on the mainland, but the government warned Sunday that even there, there were worrying signs of rising infections.
“The fifth wave is starting at lightning speed,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal told media.
Europe is battling another wave of infections and several countries have tightened curbs despite high levels of vaccination, especially in the west of the continent.


Belgium chocolate factory shut after salmonella infection

Belgium chocolate factory shut after salmonella infection
Updated 6 sec ago

Belgium chocolate factory shut after salmonella infection

Belgium chocolate factory shut after salmonella infection
BRUSSELS: A huge Belgian chocolate factory has halted production after detecting salmonella in a batch of chocolates.
The Barry Callebaut company said Thursday that its plant in Wieze – which it says is the world’s largest chocolate factory – shut down all production lines as a precaution while the contamination is investigated.
Barry Callebaut produces chocolate for multiple brands sold around the world.
The salmonella was detected Monday, and all chocolate products made at the plant were placed on hold pending investigation, the company said. It identified lecithin, an emulsifier routinely used in making chocolates, as the source of the contamination.
The company said it informed Belgian food safety authorities and is contacting customers who might have contaminated products in their possession.
It is unclear whether any consumers have reported being sickened by the chocolates.
Earlier this year, at least 200 reported cases of salmonella were believed linked to chocolate Easter eggs made in another Belgian plant operated by Italian company Ferrero.

Sudan gears up for mass protest against generals

Sudan gears up for mass protest against generals
Updated 30 June 2022

Sudan gears up for mass protest against generals

Sudan gears up for mass protest against generals
  • Sudan has been roiled by near-weekly protests as the country’s economic woes have deepened since army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan seized power last year

KHARTOUM: Activists in Sudan have called for mass rallies Thursday to demand the reversal of an October military coup that prompted foreign governments to slash aid, deepening a chronic economic crisis.
The protests come on the anniversary of a previous coup in 1989, which toppled the country’s last elected civilian government and ushered in three decades of iron-fisted rule by general Omar Al-Bashir.
They also come on the anniversary of 2019 protests demanding that the generals, who had ousted Bashir in a palace coup earlier that year, cede power to civilians.
Those protests led to the formation of the mixed civilian-military transitional government which was toppled in last year’s coup.
Security was tight in the capital Khartoum on Thursday despite the recent lifting of a state of emergency imposed after the coup.
An AFP correspondent said Internet and phone lines had been disrupted since the early hours, a measure the Sudanese authorities often impose to prevent mass gatherings.
Sudan has been roiled by near-weekly protests as the country’s economic woes have deepened since army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan seized power last year.
More than 100 people have been killed in protest-related violence, according to UN figures, as the military cracked down on the anti-coup movement.
“June 30 is our way to bring down the coup and block the path of any fake alternatives,” said the Forces for Freedom and Change, an alliance of civilian groups whose leaders were ousted in the coup.
Activists have called for “million-strong” rallies to mark the “earthquake of June 30.”
Small-scale demonstrations took place in the run-up to call for a huge turnout on Thursday.
UN special representative Volker Perthes called on the security forces to exercise restraint.
“Violence against protesters will not tolerated,” he said in a statement, adding that nobody should “give any opportunity to spoilers who want to escalate tensions in Sudan.”
The foreign ministry criticized the UN envoy’s comments, saying they were built on “assumptions” and “contradict his role as facilitator” in troubled talks on ending the political crisis.
Alongside the African Union and east African bloc IGAD, the United Nations has been attempting to broker talks between the generals and civilians, but they have been boycotted by all the main civilian factions.
The UN has warned that the deepening economic and political crisis threatens to push one third of the country’s population of more than 40 million toward life-threatening food shortages.


Russia pulls forces from Snake Island after ship with 7,000 tons of grain leaves Ukraine port

Russia pulls forces from Snake Island after ship with 7,000 tons of grain leaves Ukraine port
A ship carrying 7,000 tons of grain has sailed from Ukraine’s port of Berdyansk. (File/AFP)
Updated 45 min 59 sec ago

Russia pulls forces from Snake Island after ship with 7,000 tons of grain leaves Ukraine port

Russia pulls forces from Snake Island after ship with 7,000 tons of grain leaves Ukraine port
  • The Russian defense ministry said the withdrawal was a “goodwill gesture” to allow Kyiv to export agricultural products

 Russia said Thursday it had pulled its forces from Ukraine’s Snake Island, calling it a “goodwill gesture” to allow Kyiv to export agricultural products.
“On June 30, as a gesture of goodwill, the Russian armed forces completed their tasks on Snake Island and withdrew a garrison stationed there,” the defense ministry said in a statement.
The announcement came after Ukraine had launched several raids on Russians forces on the Black Sea island.
The Russian defense ministry said the withdrawal was aimed at demonstrating the world that “Russia is not impeding UN efforts to organize a humanitarian corridor to ship agricultural products from Ukraine.”
Moscow added that the “ball is now in Ukraine’s court,” accusing the pro-Western country of having still not demined its Black Sea coast.
A ship carrying 7,000 tons of grain has sailed from Ukraine’s occupied port of Berdyansk, the region’s Moscow-appointed official had said earlier on Thursday, marking the first grain shipment since the start of hostilities.
“After numerous months of delay, the first merchant ship has left the Berdyansk commercial port, 7,000 tons of grain are heading toward friendly countries,” Evgeny Balitsky, the head of the pro-Russia administration, said on Telegram.
Russia’s Black Sea ships “are ensuring the security” of the journey he said, adding that the Ukrainian port had been de-mined.
Berdyansk is a port city in the region of Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine.
Ukraine has accused Russia and its allies of stealing its grain, contributing to a global food shortage caused by grain exports blocked in Ukrainian ports.
The southern Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia have been largely under Russia’s control since the first weeks of Moscow’s military intervention, and are now being forcefully integrated into Russia’s economy.


Russia steps up attacks in Ukraine after landmark NATO summit

Russia steps up attacks in Ukraine after landmark NATO summit
Updated 37 min 38 sec ago

Russia steps up attacks in Ukraine after landmark NATO summit

Russia steps up attacks in Ukraine after landmark NATO summit
  • Putin: Russia will respond to NATO moves in Finland, Sweden
  • NATO brands Russia most ‘significant and direct threat’

MADRID/KYIV: Russia pressed on with its offensive in eastern Ukraine on Thursday after NATO branded Moscow the biggest “direct threat” to Western security and agreed plans to modernize Kyiv’s beleaguered armed forces.
Ukrainian authorities said they were trying to evacuate residents from the frontline eastern city of Lysychansk, the focus of Russia’s attacks where about 15,000 people remained under relentless shelling.
“Fighting is going on all the time. The Russians are constantly on the offensive. There is no let-up,” regional Governor Serhiy Gaidai told Ukrainian television.
“Absolutely everything is being shelled.”

Ukrainian emergency service personnel help an injured local resident after Russian shelling in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, on June 29, 2022. (AP Photo/George Ivanchenko) 


In the southern Kherson region, Ukrainian forces were fighting back with artillery strikes of their own, Oleskiy Arestovych, adviser to the Ukrainian president, said in a video posted online.
At a summit on Wednesday dominated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the geopolitical upheaval it has caused, NATO invited Sweden and Finland to join and pledged a seven-fold increase from 2023 in combat forces on high alert along its eastern flank.
In reaction, President Vladimir Putin said Russia would respond in kind if NATO set up infrastructure in Finland and Sweden after they join the US-led military alliance.
Putin was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying he could not rule out that tensions would emerge in Moscow’s relations with Helsinki and Stockholm over their joining NATO.
US President Joe Biden announced more land, sea and air force deployments across Europe from Spain in the west to Romania and Poland bordering Ukraine.
These included a permanent army headquarters with accompanying battalion in Poland — the first full-time US deployment on NATO’s eastern fringes.

“President Putin’s war against Ukraine has shattered peace in Europe and has created the biggest security crisis in Europe since the Second World War,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference.
“NATO has responded with strength and unity,” he said.
Britain said it would provide another 1 billion pounds ($1.2 billion) of military support to Ukraine, including air defense systems, uncrewed aerial vehicles and new electronic warfare equipment.

’Fighting everywhere’
As the 30 national NATO leaders were meeting in Madrid, Russian forces intensified attacks in Ukraine, including missile strikes and shelling on the southern Mykolaiv region close to front lines and the Black Sea.
The mayor of Mykolaiv city said a Russian missile had killed at least five people in a residential building there, while Moscow said its forces had hit what it called a training base for foreign mercenaries in the region.
There was relentless fighting around the hilltop city of Lysychansk, which Russian forces are trying to encircle as they try to capture the industrialized eastern Donbas region on behalf of separatist proxies. Donbas comprises Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.
A video clip aired on Russia’s RIA state news agency showed former US soldier Alexander Drueke, who was captured while fighting for Ukrainian forces.
“My combat experience here was that one mission on that one day,” said Drueke, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, referring to the day he was captured outside Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. “I didn’t fire a shot. I would hope that would play a factor in whatever sentence I do or don’t receive.”


President Volodymyr Zelensky once again told NATO that Ukrainian forces needed more weapons and money, and faster, to erode Russia’s huge edge in artillery and missile firepower, and said Moscow’s ambitions did not stop at Ukraine.
The Russian invasion that began on Feb. 24 has destroyed cities, killed thousands and sent millions fleeing. Russia says it is pursuing a “special military operation” to rid Ukraine of dangerous nationalists. Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of an unprovoked, imperial-style land grab.

The top US intelligence official Avril Haines said on Wednesday the most likely near term scenario is a grinding conflict in which Moscow makes only incremental gains, but no breakthrough on its goal of taking most of Ukraine.

Full solidarity
In a nod to the precipitous deterioration in relations with Russia since the invasion, a NATO communique called Russia the “most significant and direct threat to the allies’ security,” having previously classified it as a “strategic partner.”
NATO issued a new Strategic Concept document, its first since 2010, that said a “strong independent Ukraine is vital for the stability of the Euro-Atlantic area.”
To that end, NATO agreed a long-term financial and military aid package to modernize Ukraine’s largely Soviet-era military.
“We stand in full solidarity with the government and the people of Ukraine in the heroic defense of their country,” the communique said.
Stoltenberg said NATO had agreed to put 300,000 troops on high readiness from 2023, up from 40,000 now, under a new force model to protect an area stretching from the Baltic to the Black seas.
NATO’s invitation to Sweden and Finland to join the alliance marks one of the most momentous shifts in European security in decades as Helsinki and Stockholm drop a tradition of neutrality in response to Russia’s invasion.


R&B superstar R. Kelly sentenced to 30 years in sex trafficking case

R&B superstar R. Kelly sentenced to 30 years in sex trafficking case
Updated 30 June 2022

R&B superstar R. Kelly sentenced to 30 years in sex trafficking case

R&B superstar R. Kelly sentenced to 30 years in sex trafficking case
  • Several accusers testified that Kelly subjected them to perverse and sadistic whims when they were underage
  • Kelly was “devastated” by the sentence and saddened by what he had heard, says his lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean
  • District Judge Ann Donnelly: “The horrors your victims endured. No price was too high to pay for your happiness.”

NEW YORK: Disgraced R&B superstar R. Kelly was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in prison for using his fame to sexually abuse young fans, including some who were just children, in a systematic scheme that went on for decades.
Through tears and anger, several of Kelly’s accusers told a court in New York City, and the singer himself, that he had misled and preyed upon them.
“You made me do things that broke my spirit. I literally wished I would die because of how low you made me feel,” said one unnamed survivor, directly addressing Kelly, who kept his hands folded and his eyes downcast.
“Do you remember that?” she asked.
Kelly, 55, didn’t give a statement and showed no reaction on hearing his penalty, which also included a $100,000 fine. He has denied wrongdoing, and he plans to appeal his conviction.
The Grammy-winning, multiplatinum-selling songwriter was found guilty last year of racketeering and sex trafficking at a trial that gave voice to accusers who had previously wondered if their stories were being ignored because they were Black women.
Victims “are no longer the preyed-on individuals we once were,” another one of his accusers said at the sentencing.
“There wasn’t a day in my life, up until this moment, that I actually believed that the judicial system would come through for Black and brown girls,” she added outside court.
A third woman, sobbing and sniffling as she addressed the court, also said Kelly’s conviction renewed her faith in the legal system.
The woman said Kelly victimized her after she went to a concert when she was 17.
“I was afraid, naive and didn’t know how to handle the situation,” she said, so she didn’t speak up at the time.
“Silence,” she said, “is a very lonely place.”
Kelly’s lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, said he was “devastated” by the sentence and saddened by what he had heard.
“He’s a human being. He feels what other people are feeling. But that doesn’t mean that he can accept responsibility in the way that the government would like him to and other people would like him to. Because he disagrees with the characterizations that have been made about him,” she said.
The sentence caps a slow-motion fall for Kelly, who is known for work including the 1996 hit “I Believe I Can Fly” and the cult classic “Trapped in the Closet,” a multipart tale of sexual betrayal and intrigue.
He was adored by legions of fans and sold millions of albums even after allegations about his abuse of young girls began circulating publicly in the 1990s. He beat child pornography charges in Chicago in 2008, when a jury acquitted him.
Widespread outrage over Kelly’s sexual misconduct didn’t emerge until the #MeToo reckoning, reaching a crescendo after the release of the documentary “Surviving R. Kelly.”
“I hope this sentencing serves as its own testimony that it doesn’t matter how powerful, rich or famous your abuser may be or how small they make you feel — justice only hears the truth,” Brooklyn US Attorney Breon Peace said Wednesday.
A Brooklyn federal court jury convicted the singer, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, after hearing that he used his entourage of managers and aides to meet girls and keep them obedient, an operation that prosecutors said amounted to a criminal enterprise.
Several accusers testified that Kelly subjected them to perverse and sadistic whims when they were underage.
The accusers alleged they were ordered to sign nondisclosure forms and were subjected to threats and punishments such as violent spankings if they broke what one referred to as “Rob’s rules.”
Some said they believed the videotapes he shot of them having sex would be used against them if they exposed what was happening.
According to testimony, Kelly gave several accusers herpes without disclosing he had an STD, coerced a teenage boy to join him for sex with a naked girl who emerged from underneath a boxing ring in his garage, and shot a shaming video that showed one victim smearing feces on her face as punishment for breaking his rules.
“The horrors your victims endured,” US District Judge Ann Donnelly said as she sentenced him. “No price was too high to pay for your happiness.”
Lizzette Martinez was a 17-year-old aspiring singer when she met Kelly at a Florida mall. She was promised mentorship but quickly ended up “a sex slave,” she said Wednesday outside court.
Asked whether Kelly’s 30-year sentence was sufficient punishment, she paused before answering.
“I, personally, don’t think it’s enough,” she said, “but I’m pleased with it.”
At the trial, evidence also was presented about a fraudulent marriage scheme hatched to protect Kelly after he feared he had impregnated R&B phenom Aaliyah in 1994 when she was just 15. Witnesses said they were married in matching jogging suits using a license falsely listing her age as 18; he was 27 at the time.
Aaliyah worked with Kelly, who wrote and produced her 1994 debut album, “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number.” She died in a plane crash in 2001 at age 22.
Kelly didn’t testify at his trial, but his then-lawyers portrayed his accusers as girlfriends and groupies who weren’t forced to do anything against their will and stayed with him because they enjoyed the perks of his lifestyle.
His current lawyers had argued he should get no more than 10 years in prison because he had a traumatic childhood “involving severe, prolonged childhood sexual abuse, poverty, and violence.”
As an adult with “literacy deficiencies,” the star was “repeatedly defrauded and financially abused, often by the people he paid to protect him,” his lawyers said.
The Associated Press does not name people who say they have been sexually assaulted or abused, unless they come forward publicly, as Martinez has. Several women who spoke at Kelly’s sentencing were identified only by first names or pseudonyms.
Kelly has been jailed without bail since in 2019. He still faces child pornography and obstruction-of-justice charges in Chicago, where a trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 15.