Pope postpones Africa visit over knee problem

Pope postpones Africa visit over knee problem
Pope Francis is helped get up from his seat at the end of the weekly general audience on Wednesday at St. Peter’s Square in The Vatican. (AFP)
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Updated 10 June 2022

Pope postpones Africa visit over knee problem

Pope postpones Africa visit over knee problem
  • The trip, originally planned for July 2 to 7, will be rescheduled though no new date has been set
  • Francis, 85, has been suffering from pain in his right knee in recent weeks

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis will postpone his upcoming trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan due to an ongoing knee problem, the Vatican said Friday.
“At the request of his doctors, and in order not to jeopardize the results of the therapy that he is undergoing for his knee, the Holy Father has been forced to postpone, with regret, his Apostolic Journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo and to South Sudan,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement.
The trip, originally planned for July 2 to 7, will be rescheduled though no new date has been set.
Francis, 85, has been suffering from pain in his right knee in recent weeks and last month relied on a wheelchair for the first time at a public event.
He has canceled numerous engagements — and postponed a scheduled trip to Lebanon in June — and has sometimes been seen struggling to walk.
The Vatican has not said officially what the problem is, although sources have told AFP he has chronic arthritis.
The pope himself has also spoken of an injured ligament in his knee.
He told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera last month he would receive an “intervention with infiltration,” which Vatican sources said involved injecting anti-inflammatories into his joint.
The Vatican, which announced the trip to Africa in March, had already published its schedule.
The pontiff was to visit the DRC’s capital of Kinshasa, as well as Goma, the main town in the restive eastern province of North Kivu.
He was then to head to South Sudan, visiting the capital Juba.
South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, has suffered from chronic instability since independence in 2011, including a brutal five-year civil war.
Meanwhile the DRC, which Pope John Paul II visited in August 1985, is struggling to contain dozens of armed groups in the east of the vast nation.


Putin to allow inspectors to visit Russia-occupied nuclear plant

Putin to allow inspectors to visit Russia-occupied nuclear plant
Updated 11 sec ago

Putin to allow inspectors to visit Russia-occupied nuclear plant

Putin to allow inspectors to visit Russia-occupied nuclear plant

ODESSA: Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed that independent inspectors can travel to the Moscow-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, the French presidency said Friday, as fears grow over fighting near the site.
The apparent resolution of a dispute over whether inspectors travel via Ukraine or Russia came as a US defense official said Ukraine’s forces had brought the Russian advance to a halt.
“You are seeing a complete and total lack of progress by the Russians on the battlefield,” the official said, speaking on grounds of anonymity.
According to French President Emmanuel Macron’s office, Putin had “reconsidered” his demand that the International Atomic Energy Agency travel through Russia to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear site.
The UN nuclear watchdog’s chief, Rafael Grossi “welcomed recent statements indicating that both Ukraine and Russia supported the IAEA’s aim to send a mission to” the plant.
Meanwhile, UN chief Antonio Guterres urged Moscow’s forces occupying Zaporizhzhia not to disconnect the facility from the grid and potentially cut supplies to millions of Ukrainians.
A flare-up in fighting around the Russian-controlled nuclear power station — with both sides blaming each other for attacks — has raised the spectre of a disaster worse than in Chernobyl.
The Kremlin said that Putin and Macron agreed that the IAEA should carry out inspections “as soon as possible” to “assess the real situation on the ground.”
Putin also “stressed that the systematic shelling by the Ukrainian military of the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant creates the danger of a large-scale catastrophe,” the Kremlin added.
The warning came just a day after Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Guterres, meeting in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, sounded the alarm over the fighting, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the United Nations to secure the site.
“This summer may go down in the history of various European countries as one of the most tragic of all time,” Zelensky said in his Friday evening address.
“No instruction at any nuclear power plant in the world provides a procedure in case a terrorist state turns a nuclear power plant into a target.”
During his visit to the southern port of Odessa on Friday, the UN secretary general said that “obviously, the electricity from Zaporizhzhia is Ukrainian electricity. This principle must be fully respected.”
“Naturally, its energy must be used by the Ukrainian people,” he told AFP in separate comments.
On Thursday, Moscow said Kyiv was preparing a “provocation” at the site that would see Russia “accused of creating a man-made disaster at the plant.”
Kyiv, however, insisted that Moscow was planning the provocation, and said Russia’s occupying forces had ordered most staff to stay home Friday.
Guterres visited Odessa as part of an effort to make more Ukrainian grain available to poor countries struggling with soaring food prices, after a landmark deal with Russia last month to allow its export.
The deal, the only significant agreement between Russia and Ukraine since Moscow invaded in February, has so far seen 25 boats carrying some 600,000 tons of agricultural products depart from three designated ports, Kyiv has said.
Guterres is expected to head to Turkey after Odessa to visit the Joint Coordination Center, the body tasked with overseeing the accord.
The grain deal has held, but brought little respite along the sprawling front lines after nearly six months of fighting between US-supplied Ukrainian forces and the Russian military.
The United States on Friday announced a new $775 million arms package, including more precision-guided missiles for Himars systems that enable Ukraine to strike Russian targets far behind the front lines.
The primary tool of Moscow’s forces has been artillery barrages, and recent bombardments over the eastern Donetsk region — which has been partially controlled by Russian proxies since 2014 — left several dead.
The Ukrainian head of the region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said on social media Friday that Russian strikes had killed five people and wounded 10 more in three settlements.
Strikes early Friday in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, left one person dead and damaged a school and a private business, the head of the region said.


Greece: 71 migrants aboard boat reaching southern island

Greece: 71 migrants aboard boat reaching southern island
Updated 20 August 2022

Greece: 71 migrants aboard boat reaching southern island

Greece: 71 migrants aboard boat reaching southern island
  • Some 170 people, the vast majority from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, had arrived at Kythera on another two sailing boats on Wednesday

ATHENS: Greek authorities on Friday raised to 71 the number of migrants aboard a sailboat that reached the southern island of Kythera a day earlier, the third crammed vessel to do so in two days.
The boat, a sailing catamaran, was located in the early hours of Thursday off Kythera’s western coastline.
The coast guard said seven women and 12 minors were among the 71 people aboard.
Nine were from Iran and the rest from Iraq.
On Thursday, the coast guard had said initial indications were that the boat had been carrying 67 people.

Humanitarianism is very important, but the people who wish to come to the EU due to the inequalities that exist in the world are hundreds of millions.

Notis Mitarachi, Migration minister

Some 170 people, the vast majority from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, had arrived at Kythera on another two sailing boats on Wednesday.
The coast guard said five people were arrested on suspicion of migrant smuggling — three Turkish nationals who had been on board the first vessel, and two Russian nationals on the second.
Located off the southern tip of the Peloponnese, Kythera isn’t a target destination for the thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
Most attempting to make it into the EU cross from the Turkish coast to nearby Greece’s eastern Aegean islands.
But with Greek authorities increasing patrols in the area and facing persistent reports of push-backs — summary and illegal deportations of new arrivals back to Turkey without allowing them to apply for asylum — more people are attempting a much longer and more dangerous route directly to Italy.
Greek authorities deny they carry out pushbacks.
On Friday, Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said on Greece’s Skai radio that migration flows into Greece were at their lowest in a decade last year, with 8,500 people arriving in the country in 2021.
Skai radio quoted him as saying that 2022 was expected to see the second-lowest number of arrivals in the past 10 years, with around 7,000 people having arrived so far.
Greece has been widely criticized by aid groups, asylum seekers and some European politicians for using heavy-handed tactics, particularly pushbacks, to keep arrival numbers down.
“Humanitarianism is very important, but the people who wish to come to the EU due to the inequalities that exist in the world are hundreds of millions,” Skai quoted Mitarachi as saying.
“We’re not speaking of a closed Europe, but nor of a Europe in which traffickers decide who gets in.”
Mitarachi repeated that a 38-km fence along Greece’s northeastern land border with Turkey would be extended by another 80 km.
Greek authorities came under withering criticism last week over a group of mainly Syrians who had been trapped for days on an islet in the Evros River that runs along the Greek-Turkish border in Greece’s northeast.
Greek officials insist the islet is on the Turkish side of the border.
Police on Monday said they found 38 people on the Greek side of the border, away from the river.
The group told authorities a five-year-old girl had died of a scorpion sting on the islet during the ordeal.
Mitarachi said earlier this week that Greece would work with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent for the recovery of the child’s body.


France’s Macron assails Putin’s ‘brutal attack’ on Ukraine

France’s Macron assails Putin’s ‘brutal attack’ on Ukraine
Updated 19 August 2022

France’s Macron assails Putin’s ‘brutal attack’ on Ukraine

France’s Macron assails Putin’s ‘brutal attack’ on Ukraine
  • Putin is seeking to impose his “imperialist will” on Europe: French president

PARIS: Hours after talking with Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday accused the Russian leader of launching a “brutal attack” on Ukraine in an imperialist, revanchist violation of international law.

Macron, who tried tirelessly but unsuccessfully to prevent the invasion and long vaunted the importance of dialogue with Putin, has grown increasingly critical of the Russian president as the war bears on.

He warned French citizens that the resulting energy and economic crisis confronting Europe isn’t over, calling it “the price of our freedom and our values.”

“Since Vladimir Putin launched his brutal attack on Ukraine, war has returned to European soil, a few hours away from us,” Macron said in a speech commemorating the 78th anniversary of the Allied landing in Nazi-occupied southern France during World War II.

Macron said Putin is seeking to impose his “imperialist will” on Europe, conjuring “phantoms of the spirit of revenge” in a “flagrant violation of the integrity of states.”

Earlier Friday, Macron spoke more than an hour with Putin to urge Russia to accept Ukraine’s conditions to allow UN nuclear inspectors to visit Europe’s largest nuclear plant. There are growing international concerns about security at the Zaporizhzhia plant, which is occupied by Russian forces and at the heart of the war.

The leaders also discussed efforts to get grain and other food commodities out of Russia. EU sanctions aimed at ending the war make exceptions for food.

It was their 20th conversation this year but their first in three months.


FDA asks Pfizer to test second Paxlovid course in patients with COVID rebound

FDA asks Pfizer to test second Paxlovid course in patients with COVID rebound
Updated 19 August 2022

FDA asks Pfizer to test second Paxlovid course in patients with COVID rebound

FDA asks Pfizer to test second Paxlovid course in patients with COVID rebound
  • The regulator said a formal plan for the clinical trial is expected to be finalized this month

DUBAI: The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ordered Pfizer Inc. to test the effects of an additional course of its antiviral Paxlovid among people who experience a rebound in COVID-19 after treatment, the regulator said on Friday.
The drugmaker must produce initial results of a randomized controlled trial of a second course of the antiviral by Sept. 30 next year, the FDA told Pfizer in a letter dated Aug. 5.
The regulator said a formal plan for the clinical trial is expected to be finalized this month.
Pfizer is “working with the FDA to finalize a protocol to study patients who may be in need of retreatment,” and will provide details when available, a company spokesperson said.


Al-Shabab gunmen attack hotel in Somali capital, casualties reported

Al-Shabab gunmen attack hotel in Somali capital, casualties reported
Updated 19 August 2022

Al-Shabab gunmen attack hotel in Somali capital, casualties reported

Al-Shabab gunmen attack hotel in Somali capital, casualties reported

MOGADISHU: Al-Shabab fighters attacked a hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu in a hail of gunfire and explosions on Friday, with casualties reported, security sources and witnesses said.

The assault on the Hayat Hotel triggered a fierce gunfight between security forces and gunmen from the jihadist group who are still holed up inside the building, security official Abdukadir Hassan told AFP.

The Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group, which has been waging a deadly insurgency against Somalia’s fragile central government for about 15 years, claimed responsibility.

Ambulance officials gave an injury toll of three, while witnesses at the scene at an intersection known as KM4 reported another two had been wounded.

“A huge blast went off a few minutes before the gunmen forced their way into the hotel,” Hassan said.

“We don’t have the details so far but there are casualties, and the security forces are now engaging with the enemy who are holed up inside the building,” he added.

Somali police spokesman Abdifatah Adan Hassan later told reporters that the initial blast was caused by a suicide bomber who attacked the hotel with several other gunmen.

The assailants “are now being engaged by the police forces, they will be neutralized very soon,” he said.

It was not immediately clear if security forces had taken back control of the hotel and if the attack was over.

Witnesses said a second blast occurred outside the hotel just a few minutes after the first, inflicting casualties on rescuers and members of the security forces and civilians who rushed to the scene after the first explosion.

“The area is cordoned off now and there is exchange of gunfire between the security forces and the gunmen,” said one witness, Mohamed Salad.

The militants claimed the attack in a brief statement on a pro-Shabab website.

“A group of Al-Shabab attackers forcibly entered Hotel Hayat in Mogadishu, the fighters are carrying out random shooting inside the hotel,” the group said in a brief statement on a pro-Shabab website.

The Hayat is a popular spot in Mogadishu in an area where several other hotels are located, and it is frequented by government officials and civilians.

Earlier this week, the United States announced that its forces had killed 13 Al-Shabab fighters in an air strike in the central-southern part of the country as the Islamist militants were attacking Somali forces.

The US has carried out several air raids on the militants in strikes in recent weeks.

In May, President Joe Biden ordered the reestablishment of a US troop presence in Somalia to help local authorities combat Al-Shabab, reversing a decision by his predecessor Donald Trump to withdraw most US forces.

In recent weeks, Al-Shabab fighters have also waged attacks on the Somalia-Ethiopia border, raising concerns about a possible new strategy by the Islamist militants.

Somalia’s new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said last month that ending Al-Shabab’s insurgency required more than a military approach, but that his government would negotiate with the group only when the time is right.

Al-Shabab fighters were driven out of the capital in 2011 by an African Union force, but the group still controls swathes of countryside.

It continues to wage deadly strikes on civilian and military targets, with hotels a quite frequent target.

Earlier this month, Somalia’s new Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre announced the appointment of the group’s former deputy leader and spokesman, Muktar Robow, as religion minister.

Robow, 53, publicly defected from Al-Shabab in August 2017, with the US government at one point offering a $5-million bounty for his capture.

The Horn of Africa nation has been mired in chaos since the fall of the military regime of President Siad Barre in 1991.

His ouster was followed by a civil war and the ascendancy of Al-Shabab.

The deadliest attack in Somalia occurred in October 2017 when a truck packed with explosives blew up in a bustling commercial district of Mogadishu, killing 512 people.