Clashes erupt at Brussels protest against COVID-19 rules

Police use water canons to disperse demonstrators during a demonstration against Belgian government's measures to curb the spread of the Covid-19 and mandatory vaccination in Brussels on December 5, 2021. (AFP)
Police use water canons to disperse demonstrators during a demonstration against Belgian government's measures to curb the spread of the Covid-19 and mandatory vaccination in Brussels on December 5, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 06 December 2021

Clashes erupt at Brussels protest against COVID-19 rules

Police use water canons to disperse demonstrators during a demonstration against Belgian government's measures to curb the spread of the Covid-19 and mandatory vaccination in Brussels on December 5, 2021. (AFP)
  • The demonstrators oppose compulsory health measures — such as masks, lockdowns and vaccine passes — and some share conspiracy theories

BRUSSELS: Belgian police fired water cannon and used tear gas Sunday to disperse protesters opposed to compulsory health measures against the coronavirus pandemic.
Around 8,000 people marched through Brussels toward the headquarters of the European Union, chanting “Freedom!” and letting off fireworks.
The crowd was smaller than the 35,000 vaccine and lockdown skeptics who marched last month, and police were better prepared.
Protesters were blocked from reaching the roundabout outside the EU headquarters by a barbed wire barricade and a line of riot officers.
As two drones and a helicopter circled overhead, they threw fireworks and beer cans. Police responded with water cannon and tear gas.
As the crowd dispersed into smaller groups around the European quarter, there were more clashes and some set fire to barricades of rubbish.
Police said two of their officers and four protesters had been hospitalized, and 20 people had been arrested.
Several European countries have seen demonstrations in recent weeks as governments respond to a surge in covid cases with tighter restrictions.
In Brussels, the organizers hoped to match the November 21 demo, in which police seemed caught off guard and there were violent clashes.
The demonstrators oppose compulsory health measures — such as masks, lockdowns and vaccine passes — and some share conspiracy theories.
Banners on Sunday compared the stigmatization of the non-vaccinated to the treatment of Jews forced to wear yellow stars in Nazi Germany.
“Covid = Organized Genocide,” said one sign. “The QR code is a Swastika,” declared another, referring to the EU Covid safe digital certificate.
Parents — some of whom brought small children to the protest — chanted their belief that the vaccine would make their toddlers sick.
Off duty firefighters in uniform, marched at the head of the protest as it wound its way through the city, to demand the right to refuse vaccination.
The measures imposed to fight COVID-19 in Belgium were decided by the country’ own national and regional governments, but the European Union has also attracted the skeptics’ anger.
On Wednesday, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said that in her view it was time to “think about mandatory vaccination,” a suggestion that was denounced by speakers at the protest.
On Friday, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo announced a series of measures to tighten sanitary rules, bringing school Christmas holidays forward and asking children aged six and over to wear masks.
Belgium, with a population of 11 million, has recorded an average of more than 17,800 daily infections with COVID-19 over the past seven days, as well as 44 deaths.
Around 800 people with severe forms of the disease are in intensive care in hospitals across the country, leading to overcrowding and the postponement of treatment for many other conditions.


Doctor goes on trial in Germany accused of torture in Syria

Doctor goes on trial in Germany accused of torture in Syria
Updated 4 sec ago

Doctor goes on trial in Germany accused of torture in Syria

Doctor goes on trial in Germany accused of torture in Syria
BERLIN: A court in Germany will begin hearing a case Wednesday against a Syrian doctor accused of crimes against humanity for torturing and killing inmates at a government-run prison in his home country.
Federal prosecutors say the doctor, identified as Alaa M. in keeping with German privacy rules, worked at a military intelligence prison in the Syrian city of Homs from April 2011 until late 2012.
They accuse the doctor of killing one person, torture in 18 cases, causing serious physical and psychological harm to another person, and other crimes including one that led to another death.
The defendant entered Germany in 2015, and German authorities permitted him to practice medicine after recertifying his Syrian medical credentials. He worked at a clinic near Kassel in central Germany, where multiple Syrians recognized the doctor from his time in Syria and reported him to German police.
In one case, he is accused of beating an anti-government demonstrator after prison officials called the doctor to the hospital to treat a man experiencing an epileptic attack following torture. That man later died.
In another case, German authorities accused the doctor of intentionally killing a prisoner via injection to demonstrate “his power and at the same time to suppress the uprising of a part of the Syrian population,” the Frankfurt regional court said.
The defendant has denied the allegations.
This latest case follows last week’s landmark conviction of a former senior member of the Syrian secret police for crimes against humanity, including the torture of at least 30 anti-government demonstrators at a detention center in Douma, Syria.
Alaa M. has been in pretrial detention since his arrest in June 2020.

Former world number one Victoria Azarenka wants no-jab, no-play rule in women’s tennis

Former world number one Victoria Azarenka wants no-jab, no-play rule in women’s tennis
Updated 7 min 51 sec ago

Former world number one Victoria Azarenka wants no-jab, no-play rule in women’s tennis

Former world number one Victoria Azarenka wants no-jab, no-play rule in women’s tennis
  • Veteran Azarenka is a long-time member of the powerful WTA Players’ Council

MELBOURNE: Two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka threw her support Wednesday behind a vaccine mandate on the women’s tour, as tennis wrestles with the fall-out of the saga surrounding unvaccinated Novak Djokovic.
The veteran Azarenka is a long-time member of the powerful WTA Players’ Council, which is working through the challenges posed by coronavirus.
Those were laid bare by the chaos and confusion that engulfed vaccine-skeptic Djokovic, who was deported on the eve of the Australian Open.
Speaking in Melbourne, Azarenka admitted it could be legally challenging to enforce but she believes it would be “helpful for everybody” if the WTA Tour considered a no-jab, no-play policy.
“Well, from my standpoint it’s been very clear. I believe in science. I believe in getting vaccinated, that’s what I did for myself,” the 32-year-old Belarusian said.
“If you ask me just for my opinion if that should be the case, I think it would just be helpful for everybody in the world, especially when we are traveling internationally.”
But the former world number one acknowledged that forcing people to be jabbed could prove problematic.
“Some countries will not allow mandates. I think to impose something legally on the WTA Tour can be a challenge, I think that’s something that we are facing,” she said.
To play at the Australian Open players must be vaccinated, unless they have a medical exemption.
Djokovic believed he was exempt based on recently contracting COVID-19, but it was challenged by Australian authorities and after a high-stakes legal battle he flew out of Melbourne on Sunday.
Azarenka said the drawn-out controversy became “a circus” and there “should be a really hard look on this situation moving forward.”
“I think as soon as there is a grey area in the rules, that gives a bit too much questions, and situations like this happen,” said the Belarusian, who revealed she caught COVID-19 in November.
“On certain things I think black-and-white approach is necessary. In my opinion, this should be the case.”


UK PM Johnson faces plot to trigger leadership challenge

UK PM Johnson faces plot to trigger leadership challenge
Updated 48 min 27 sec ago

UK PM Johnson faces plot to trigger leadership challenge

UK PM Johnson faces plot to trigger leadership challenge
  • An analysis by The Times newspaper showed that 58 Conservative lawmakers had criticized the prime minister

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was on Wednesday fighting to shore up his premiership after a revolt by his own lawmakers who are angry over a series of lockdown parties in Downing Street.
Propelled into the top job to “get Brexit done,” Johnson in 2019 won his party’s biggest majority in more than 30 years but now faces calls to resign after a series of revelations about gatherings in Downing Street during COVID lockdowns.
Johnson has repeatedly apologized for the gatherings, and said that he didn’t know about many of the events, though he attended what he said he thought was a work event on May 20, 2020.
To trigger a leadership challenge, 54 of the 360 Conservative MPs in parliament must write letters of no confidence to the chairman of the party’s 1922 Committee.
As many as 20 Conservative lawmakers who won their seats at the last general election in 2019 plan to submit letters of no confidence in Johnson, the Telegraph reported.
“Group of 2019 MPs to submit letters to try to hit threshold of 54 to trigger a contest,” BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg said. “They might hit 54.”
An analysis by The Times newspaper showed that 58 Conservative lawmakers had criticized the prime minister.
The letters are confidential, so the chairman is the only person who knows how many lawmakers have actually written them.
Johnson will address parliament on Wednesday after his Cabinet is expected to approve plans to end the recent restrictions imposed to tackle the spread of COVID-19 in England.
The “Plan B” measures were introduced by the government last month as the omicron strain spread rapidly across Britain. They included guidance to work from home where possible, masks for indoor settings and vaccine passports for mass events.


WHO says pandemic ‘nowhere near over’ as France, Germany post record cases

WHO says pandemic ‘nowhere near over’ as France, Germany post record cases
Updated 19 January 2022

WHO says pandemic ‘nowhere near over’ as France, Germany post record cases

WHO says pandemic ‘nowhere near over’ as France, Germany post record cases
  • The UN health chief warned against dismissing omicron as mild

GENEVA: The World Health Organization has warned that the Covid-19 pandemic is far from over, as France, Germany and Brazil posted new records of infections in the past 24 hours.
The highly transmissible omicron strain has spread unabated around the world, pushing some governments to impose fresh measures while speeding up the rollout of vaccine booster shots.
“This pandemic is nowhere near over,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters Tuesday from the agency’s headquarters in Geneva.
Europe is at the epicenter of alarming new outbreaks, with Germany’s cases soaring past 100,000 and France reporting nearly half a million cases on Tuesday.
The UN health chief warned against dismissing omicron as mild, as the dominant Covid strain continues to flare new outbreaks from Latin America to East Asia after it was first detected in southern Africa in November.
“omicron may be less severe, on average, but the narrative that it is a mild disease is misleading,” he said.
Five millions cases were reported in Europe last week and the WHO has predicted omicron could infect half of all Europeans by March, filling hospitals across the continent.
Germany on Tuesday recorded 112,323 coronavirus cases and 239 deaths, officials said, with omicron found in more than 70 percent of the infections.
The surge has pushed German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to seek compulsory vaccinations to ramp up the immunity of the population in Europe’s biggest economy.
Other European countries are also battling soaring omicron rates, with neighboring France recently averaging around 300,000 cases daily.
The latest data issued by Public Health France showed that there were 464,769 new cases in the last 24-hour period, a record number.
The record cases come days after the two-year anniversary of the announcement of the first person dying of a virus in China only later identified as Covid.
Since January 11, 2020, known fatalities in the pandemic have soared to more than 5.5 million.
Hopes for Europe’s tourism recovery remain bleak with the World Tourism Organization saying Tuesday that foreign arrivals will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024 at the earliest, despite a rise of 19 percent last year compared to 2020.
Elsewhere in the world, Brazil registered a new record number of daily cases of more than 137,000 on Tuesday.
The country suffered a devastating second wave last year with deaths topping 4,000 a day, pushing its death toll to the second highest in the world behind the United States.
President Jair Bolsonaro, an avowed vaccine skeptic who has downplayed omicron, is increasingly under fire for his handling of the pandemic, and he is on course to lose the country’s October presidential election, according to polls.
In Asia, Japan was set to tighten restrictions across the country, including Tokyo, as it battles record infections fueled by omicron while China partially relaxed transport restrictions in the megacity of Xi’an where millions have been confined to their homes for weeks.
Japanese experts on Wednesday backed placing 13 regions “under quasi-emergency measures from January 21 to February 13” Daishiro Yamagiwa, minister in charge of coronavirus affairs, told reporters.
China’s resumption of some inter-city train routes in Xi’an from Tuesday comes just before the Lunar New Year holiday later this month, traditionally a period of mass travel.
It also comes as Beijing battles multiple clusters that are testing its enforcement of a strict “zero-Covid” approach ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics.
Focus is increasingly turning to animals and how the virus interacts with them, after at least two countries reported Covid-19 cases in creatures big and small potentially passed between them and humans.
A study published Tuesday in South Africa said big cats caged in zoos are at risk from catching Covid from their keepers.
Researchers found clues pointing to the infection of three lions and two pumas by their handlers at a zoo in Johannesburg, some of whom were asymptomatic.
In Hong Kong, hamsters were bearing the brunt of the semi-autonomous Chinese city’s similarly strict approach to Covid, with officials appearing to blame them for two human cases.
The financial hub’s government faced growing outrage Wednesday over its decision to cull 2,000 small animals in pet shops after several hamsters in a store allegedly tested positive for Covid-19.
“Internationally, there is no evidence yet to show pets can transmit the coronavirus to humans,” Health Secretary Sophia Chan told a press conference.
“But... we will take precautionary measures against any vector of transmission.”


Afghan acting PM Akhund calls for official recognition of Taliban administration

Afghan acting PM Akhund calls for official recognition of Taliban administration
Updated 19 January 2022

Afghan acting PM Akhund calls for official recognition of Taliban administration

Afghan acting PM Akhund calls for official recognition of Taliban administration
  • The Taliban administration took over Afghanistan in August

KABUL- Afghanistan’s acting prime minister, Mullah Hasan Akhund, on Wednesday called for international governments to officially recognize the country’s Taliban administration, saying at a news conference in Kabul that all conditions had been met.
“I ask all governments, especially Islamic countries, that they should start recognition,” Akhund said, in his first major public broadcast appearance since he assumed the role in September.
Foreign powers have been reluctant to recognize the Taliban administration which took over Afghanistan in August while Western nations led by the United States have frozen billions of dollars worth of Afghan banking assets and cut off development funding that once formed the backbone of Afghanistan’s economy.