EU should make COVID-19 booster shot a condition for free travel, Greek PM says

EU should make COVID-19 booster shot a condition for free travel, Greek PM says
A Malteser employee vaccinates a citizen at the reopened vaccination centre in Luetzen, Germany, on Monday. (AP)
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Updated 25 November 2021

EU should make COVID-19 booster shot a condition for free travel, Greek PM says

EU should make COVID-19 booster shot a condition for free travel, Greek PM says
  • EU public health agency has recommended vaccine boosters for all adults, with priority for those aged over 40
  • Mitsotakis proposed a 3rd dose of COVID-19 vaccine be considered as a condition of safe travel within EU

ATHENS: Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis proposed on Wednesday that the EU’s executive arm make having a booster shot against COVID-19 a condition for some Europeans to travel freely across the bloc, amid a resurgence in infections.
Data from a large study released by Pfizer Inc. and German partner BioNTech SE has shown that a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by them was 95.6 percent effective against the coronavirus when compared with a vaccinated group that did not get the third shot.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the EU public health agency, has also recommended vaccine boosters for all adults, with priority for those aged over 40, in a major shift of policy.
In a letter addressed to European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen, Mitsotakis proposed that the third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine be considered as a condition of safe travel within the European Union for European citizens over 60 years old.
He said this should be reflected in a European digital certificate, a proof of vaccination used by EU citizens to travel freely within the bloc.
“Such a policy initiative will help our health systems to ... sustain control over the virus and pandemic without moving to new horizontal restrictions that would put in jeopardy the recovery of our economies,” Mitsotakis wrote in the letter.
Greece has been relying on tourism for a fifth of its output and its economy has been recovering strongly this year after a dismal 2020 thanks to higher tourist inflows this summer following the lifting of most COVID restrictions.


Japan widens COVID-19 curbs, including in Tokyo, as cases surge

Japan widens COVID-19 curbs, including in Tokyo, as cases surge
Updated 8 sec ago

Japan widens COVID-19 curbs, including in Tokyo, as cases surge

Japan widens COVID-19 curbs, including in Tokyo, as cases surge
  • Experts’ panel approves a plan to put the 13 areas under a three-week restraint through Feb. 13
  • Japan has so far resisted the use of lockdowns to fight the pandemic
TOKYO: The Japanese government will place Tokyo and a dozen other areas under new restrictions for COVID-19 effective Friday, allowing local leaders to shorten hours for eateries, as a surge in omicron cases threatens to paralyze society.
A government-commissioned experts’ panel on Wednesday approved a plan to put the 13 areas under a three-week restraint through Feb. 13, said Economy Revitalization Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa, who is also in charge of virus measures.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to officially announce the new measures at a government taskforce meeting later Wednesday.
Japan has so far resisted the use of lockdowns to fight the pandemic and instead has focused on requiring restaurants and bars to close early and not serve alcohol, and asking the public to wear masks and practice social distancing, as the government seeks to minimize damage to the economy.
Japan had been gradually expanding social and business activity since an earlier wave of infections subsided in September, which experts say was largely due to the country’s rapid progress in rolling out the initial two doses of vaccines.
But experts say breakthrough infections by the omicron variant are more common. The fast-spreading variant has caused a number of medical workers and others to self-isolate after testing positive or coming into close contact with someone who has. Sharply rising infections have already begun to paralyze hospitals, schools and other sectors in some areas.
The national government is taking action following requests by local governors, including Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, who raised alarms about the possibility of essential public services, such as public transportation and garbage collection, grinding to a halt.
Tokyo reported 5,185 new infections Tuesday. Nationwide, Japan has logged more than 32,000 cases, bringing its total to 1.93 million cases, with 184,00 deaths.
More than 134,000 patients are now quarantining or hospitalized for COVID-19, according to the Health Ministry.
Shigeru Omi, the government’s top medical adviser, said vaccines no longer offer reliable protection against the omicron variant, making testing and social curbs among the only effective and realistic measures to prevent more infections.
Restrictions will be in place in 16 areas around the country, including three other prefectures — Okinawa, Hiroshima and Yamaguchi — which were placed under similar measures earlier this month.
Other areas, including badly hit Osaka, where 5,396 new cases were reported Tuesday, may be added later.
While about 80 percent percent of Japanese have received their first two vaccine doses, the booster rollout nationwide has been slow and reached only 1.3 percent of the population.
The government recently decided to cut intervals between the second and third shots to six months from eight for elderly people, but younger people are unlikely to get their turn until March or later.
While Kishida stresses the need for safety as justification for the restrictions, the measures are also seen as political moves to gain public support ahead of this summer’s parliamentary elections.
Critics also say the measures, which almost exclusively target bars and restaurants, make little sense and are unfair.

New Zealand navy ships taking water, other supplies to tsunami-hit Tonga

New Zealand navy ships taking water, other supplies to tsunami-hit Tonga
Updated 14 min 40 sec ago

New Zealand navy ships taking water, other supplies to tsunami-hit Tonga

New Zealand navy ships taking water, other supplies to tsunami-hit Tonga
  • Hundreds of homes in Tonga’s smaller outer islands have been destroyed
  • Tonga is one of the few countries that is COVID-19 free and an outbreak there would disastrous

Two New Zealand navy vessels will arrive in Tonga on Friday, carrying much-needed water and other supplies for the Pacific island nation reeling from a volcanic eruption and tsunami, and largely cut off from the outside world.
Hundreds of homes in Tonga’s smaller outer islands have been destroyed, and at least three people were killed after Saturday’s huge eruption triggered tsunami waves, which rolled over the islands causing what the government has called an unprecedented disaster.
With its airport smothered under a layer of volcanic ash and communications badly hampered by the severing of an undersea cable, information on the scale of the devastation has mostly come from reconnaissance aircraft.
“For the people of Tonga, we’re heading their way now with a whole lot of water,” Simon Griffiths, captain of the HMNZS Aotearoa, said in a release.
Griffiths said his ship was carrying 250,000 liters of water, and had the capacity to produce another 70,000 liters a day, along with other supplies.
New Zealand’s foreign ministry said the Tongan government has approved the arrival of Aotearoa and the HMNZS Wellington in the COVID-free nation, where concerns about a potential coronavirus outbreak are likely to complicate relief efforts.
Tonga has said its water supplies have been contaminated by ash from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, which erupted with a blast heard 2,300 kilometers away in New Zealand. It also sent tsunami waves across the Pacific Ocean.
James Garvin, chief scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said the force of the eruption was estimated to be equivalent to five to 10 megatons of TNT, an explosive force more than 500 times the nuclear bomb dropped by the United States on Hiroshima, Japan, at the end of World War Two.
The Red Cross said its teams in Tonga were distributing drinking water across the islands where salt water from the tsunami and volcanic ash were “polluting the clean drinking water sources of tens of thousands of people.”
Other countries and agencies including the United Nations are drawing up plans to send aid.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said it would send help, including water and food, when the archipelago’s main Fua’amotu International Airport reopens. It was not damaged but was covered in ash, which is being cleared manually,
“We thought that it would be operational yesterday, but it hasn’t been fully cleared yet because more ash has been falling,” Fiji-based UN co-ordinator Jonathan Veitch said on Wednesday.
Pacific neighbor Fiji will send defense engineers on Australia’s HMAS Adelaide, which is due to set sail from Brisbane for Tonga on Friday, a Fiji military spokesman told a briefing in Suva.
A second New Zealand Defense P3 Orion surveillance flight will fly over Tonga on Wednesday to assess damage, the foreign ministry said.
Waves reaching up to 15 meters hit the outer Ha’apia island group, destroying all of the houses on the island of Mango, as well as the west coast of Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, the prime minister’s office said.
On the west coast of Tongatapu, residents were being moved to evacuation centers as 56 houses were destroyed or seriously damaged on that coast.
New Zealand said power has now been restored, and clean-up and damage assessments were going on and Tongan authorities were distributing relief supplies.
Australia and New Zealand have promised immediate financial assistance. The US Agency for International Development approved $100,000 in immediate assistance to support people affected by volcanic eruptions and tsunami waves.
Tongan Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni has met the heads of diplomatic missions to discuss aid, the office said.
Tonga is still largely offline after the volcano severed the sole undersea fiber-optics communication cable.
International mobile phone network provider Digicel has set up an interim system on Tongatapu using the University of South Pacific’s satellite dish, the New Zealand foreign ministry said.
That would allow a 2G connection to be established but the connection is patchy and amounts to about 10 percent of usual capacity,
US cable company SubCom has advised it will take at least four weeks for Tonga’s cable be repaired, it added.
Tongan communities abroad have posted images from families on Facebook, giving a glimpse of the devastation, with homes reduced to rubble, fallen trees, cracked roads and sidewalks and everything coated with grey ash.
Aid agencies, including the United Nations, are preparing to get relief supplies to Tonga at a distance to avoid introducing the coronavirus, Veitch said.
Tonga is one of the few countries that is COVID-19 free and an outbreak there would disastrous, he said.
“We believe that we will be able to send flights with supplies. We’re not sure that we can send flights with personnel and the reason for this is that Tonga has a very strict COVID-free policy,” Veitch told a briefing.
“They’ve been very cautious about opening their borders like many Pacific islands, and that’s because of the history of disease outbreaks in the Pacific which has wiped out societies here.”


Giuliani and other pro-Trump lawyers hit with subpoenas over Jan 6 attack

In this Nov. 19, 2020, file photo, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was a lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks during a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington. (AP)
In this Nov. 19, 2020, file photo, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was a lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks during a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington. (AP)
Updated 19 January 2022

Giuliani and other pro-Trump lawyers hit with subpoenas over Jan 6 attack

In this Nov. 19, 2020, file photo, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was a lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks during a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington. (AP)
  • The committee said it is seeking records and deposition testimony from Giuliani, the 76-year-old former New York City mayor once celebrated for his leadership after 9/11, in connection to his promotion of election fraud claims on behalf of Trump

WASHINGTON: The House committee investigating the Capitol insurrection issued subpoenas Tuesday to Rudy Giuliani and other members of Donald Trump’s post-election legal team who filed multiple lawsuits claiming election fraud that were roundly rejected by the courts but gave rise to the lie that Trump did not really lose the 2020 presidential contest.
The committee is continuing to widen its scope into Trump’s orbit, this time demanding information and testimony from Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, Sidney Powell and Boris Epshteyn. All four publicly defended the president and his baseless voter fraud claims in the months after the election.
“The four individuals we’ve subpoenaed today advanced unsupported theories about election fraud, pushed efforts to overturn the election results, or were in direct contact with the former President about attempts to stop the counting of electoral votes,” Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, Democratic chairman of the panel, said in a statement.
The committee said it is seeking records and deposition testimony from Giuliani, the 76-year-old former New York City mayor once celebrated for his leadership after 9/11, in connection to his promotion of election fraud claims on behalf of Trump. The panel is also seeking information about Giuliani’s reported efforts to persuade state legislators to take steps to overturn the election results.
A lawyer for Giuliani did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.
Giuliani took on a leading role in disputing the election results on Trump’s behalf after the 2020 presidential election, even visiting states like Michigan and Pennsylvania, where he claimed ballots “looked suspicious” and Biden’s electoral win was a fraud.
To this day, not a single court has found merit in the core legal claims made by Trump, Giuliani and the other three subpoenaed Tuesday.
The nine-member panel is also demanding information from Trump legal adviser Ellis, who the lawmakers say reportedly prepared and circulated two memos that analyzed the constitutional authority for then-Vice President Mike Pence to reject or delay counting the electoral votes from states that had submitted alternate slates of electors.
Besides Giuliani, Sidney Powell was the most public face of Trump’s attempts to contest the election, routinely making appearances on behalf of the president.
In numerous interviews and appearances post-election, Powell continued to make misleading statements about the voting process, unfurled unsupported and complex conspiracy theories involving communist regimes and vowed to “blow up” Georgia with a “biblical” court filing.
Ellis and Powell appeared with Giuliani at press conferences, pushing false claims of election fraud. Powell was eventually removed from the team after she said in an interview she was going to release “the kraken” of lawsuits that would prove the election had been stolen.
Powell did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
The last person subpoenaed Tuesday by the committee is Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump campaign strategic adviser, who reportedly attended meetings at the Willard Hotel in the days leading up to the insurrection. The committee said Epshteyn had a call with Trump on the morning of Jan. 6, 2021, to discuss options to delay the certification of election results in the event of Pence’s unwillingness to deny or delay the process.
 


UK police asked to probe Indian officials’ role in Kashmir

UK police asked to probe Indian officials’ role in Kashmir
Updated 19 January 2022

UK police asked to probe Indian officials’ role in Kashmir

UK police asked to probe Indian officials’ role in Kashmir
  • The law firm’s report was based on over 2,000 testimonies taken between 2020 and 2021

LONDON: A London-based law firm filed an application with British police Tuesday seeking the arrest of India’s army chief and a senior Indian government official over their alleged roles in war crimes in disputed Kashmir.
Law firm Stoke White said it submitted extensive evidence to the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit documenting how Indian forces headed by Gen. Manoj Mukund Naravane and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah were responsible for the torture, kidnapping and killing of activists, journalists and civilians.
The law firm’s report was based on over 2,000 testimonies taken between 2020 and 2021. It also accused eight unnamed senior Indian military officials of direct involvement in war crimes and torture in Kashmir.
“There is strong reason to believe that Indian authorities are conducting war crimes and other violence against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir,” the report states, referring to territory that is part of the Himalayan region.
The request to London police was made under the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” which gives countries authority to prosecute individuals accused of crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.
The international law firm in London said it believes its application is the first time that legal action has been taken abroad against Indian authorities over alleged war crimes in Kashmir.
Hakan Camuz, director of international law at Stoke White, said he hoped the report would convince British police to open an investigation and ultimately arrest the officials when they set foot in the UK Some of the Indian officials have financial assets and other links to Britain.
“We are asking the UK government to do their duty and investigate and arrest them for what they did based on the evidence we supplied to them. We want them to be held accountable,” Camuz said.
The police application was made on behalf of the family of Zia Mustafa, a jailed militant whom Camuz said was the victim of an extrajudicial killing by Indian authorities in 2021, and the behalf of human rights campaigner Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, who was allegedly tortured before his arrest last week.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, which both claim the region in its entirety. Muslim Kashmiris support rebels who want to unite the region, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country. In Indian-controlled Kashmir, tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the past two decades.
Kashmiris and international rights groups have long accused Indian troops of carrying out systematic abuse and arrests of those who oppose rule from New Delhi.
In 2018, the UN human rights chief called for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations in Kashmir, alleging “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces.”
India’s government has denied the alleged right violations and maintains such claims are separatist propaganda meant to demonize Indian troops in the region.
The law firm’s investigation suggested that the abuse has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic.
Its report also included details about the arrest of Khurram Parvez, the region’s most prominent rights activist, by India’s counterterrorism authorities last year.
Parvez, 42, worked for the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, which has written extensive reports about Indian troops’ use of violence and torture.
Other accounts in the report discuss journalist Sajad Gul, who was arrested earlier this month after he posted a video of family members and relatives protesting the killing of a rebel commander.
Human rights lawyers have increasingly used the universal jurisdiction principle to seek justice for people who were unable to file criminal complaints in their home countries or with the International Criminal Court, located in The Hague.
Last week, a German court convicted a former Syrian secret police officer of crimes against humanity for overseeing the abuse of thousands of detainees at a jail near Damascus a decade ago.
Camuz said he hoped the request to British police seeking the arrest of Indian officials will be followed by other legal actions also focusing on Kashmir.
“We are sure this is not going to be the last one, there will probably be many more applications,” he said.

Related


Former FARC hostage Betancourt announces fresh presidential bid

Ingrid Betacourt smiles during a press conference in Bogota, Colombia, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. (AP)
Ingrid Betacourt smiles during a press conference in Bogota, Colombia, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. (AP)
Updated 19 January 2022

Former FARC hostage Betancourt announces fresh presidential bid

Ingrid Betacourt smiles during a press conference in Bogota, Colombia, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. (AP)
  • The Revolutionary Armed Forced of Colombia (FARC) has been disarmed and disbanded under a 2016 peace pact that ended Colombia’s decades-long internal war, and has since converted itself into a minority political party

BOGOTA: Ingrid Betancourt — who was abducted 20 years ago while campaigning for Colombia’s presidency, and held captive by FARC rebels in the jungle for more than six years — on Tuesday announced a new bid for the country’s top job.
The Franco-Colombian leader of the Oxygen Green Party told reporters in Bogota she would vie to become the nominee to represent centrist parties in the race.
If she wins the nomination, she will contest the first round presidential election on May 29.
“I will work tirelessly from this moment... to be your president,” she said.
Betancourt, 60, was captured by the FARC guerilla group in 2002 while campaigning for the presidency, and was rescued in a military operation six-and-a-half years later, in 2008.
She was chained for much of her captivity after she tried to escape.
The Revolutionary Armed Forced of Colombia (FARC) has been disarmed and disbanded under a 2016 peace pact that ended Colombia’s decades-long internal war, and has since converted itself into a minority political party.
“I am here today to finish what I started with many of you in 2002,” said Betancourt, who has mostly lived abroad since her liberation.
She added she was convinced “Colombia is ready to change course.”
Betancourt presented herself as a centrist alternative to the right in power and the left led by former M-19 guerrilla and former Bogota mayor Gustavo Petro, a favorite in the polls.
“For decades, we have had only bad options: extreme right, extreme left,” she said.
“The moment has come to have a centrist option.”
She listed as objectives environmental protection and combating insecurity in a country with high rates of violence, and said she believed “in a world with a woman’s vision.”
Betancourt returned to public life in support of the peace process, confronting her captors last June for the first time since her ordeal in a meeting between victims and perpetrators arranged by Colombia’s Truth Commission.
Colombia established the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a tribunal to try the worst atrocities committed during the conflict.
Since 2017, it has charged former FARC commanders with the kidnapping of at least 21,000 people and the recruitment of 18,000 minors.
The JEP hopes to deliver its first verdicts this year. It has the authority to offer alternatives to jail time to people who confess their crimes and make reparations.