Putin says he opposes mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends an annual televised phone-in with the country's citizens "Direct Line with Vladimir Putin" at the Moscow's World Trade Center studio in Moscow. (File/AFP)
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Updated 30 June 2021

Putin says he opposes mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations

  • The country is grappling with a spike of infections spurred by the highly infectious Delta variant
  • Officials have been accused of underreporting fatalities

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday he opposed introducing mandatory vaccinations in Russia despite a surge in coronavirus infections in the country and sluggish inoculation rates.

“I do not support mandatory vaccinations,” Putin told Russians during his annual phone-in broadcast on television.

Asked if he supported a new nationwide lockdown, he said regional authorities were instead promoting localized mandatory vaccinations and other measures to avoid introducing new quarantines.

Russia earlier Wednesday reported 669 coronavirus deaths over the past 24 hours, a record number of fatalities for the second day in a row, according to a government tally.

The country is grappling with a spike of infections spurred by the highly infectious Delta variant, with authorities struggling to convince Russians to get vaccinated.

One of the pandemic hotspots is the city of Saint Petersburg, which is due to host a Euro 2020 quarter-final on Friday in front of thousands of fans, many of them flying in from abroad for the match.

Putin said Wednesday that some 23 million Russians had received the jab and said the country’s homegrown vaccines were better than foreign alternatives, naming AstraZeneca and Pfizer.

“We are doing fine,” he said.

The 68-year-old leader also addressed widespread vaccine skepticism in the country and urged Russians to listen to “specialists.”

“It is necessary to listen, not to people who understand little about this and spread rumors, but to specialists,” he told Russians, the majority of whom polls show oppose receiving coronavirus jabs.

Putin has in recent months urged Russians to get vaccinated and announced earlier this year he had got the jab, without specifying which one of the country’s four vaccines he had received.

On Wednesday he announced he was inoculated with Sputnik V, the first vaccine registered in Russia.

Officials have been accused of underreporting fatalities, counting only cases when coronavirus was found to be the primary cause of death after autopsy.

Authorities on Tuesday reported 652 coronavirus fatalities, topping a record that was set in December last year.


British Daesh ‘Beatle’ Aine Davis deported from Turkey; arrested at Luton airport

Updated 6 sec ago

British Daesh ‘Beatle’ Aine Davis deported from Turkey; arrested at Luton airport

  • British police arrested Davis after he was deported by Turkish authorities and landed at Luton airport near London late Wednesday
  • CPS prosecutor Kashif Malik: ‘It is plain from images that Davis sent to El-Wahabi, Davis’ wife, that he has been with fighters in Syria and was not in Syria for lawful purposes’

LONDON: A British man accused of being part of a Daesh kidnap-and-murder cell known as the “Beatles” was remanded in custody Thursday on terrorism charges after Turkey deported him to the UK.

Aine Davis, 38, was an alleged member of the Daesh cell that held dozens of foreign hostages in Syria between 2012 and 2015 and was known to their captives as the “Beatles” because of their British accents.

Two of the four have already been brought to justice in the United States for the gruesome beheadings and killings of several American captives, while another of the quartet died in Syria.

British police arrested Davis after he was deported by Turkish authorities and landed at Luton airport near London late Wednesday.

He faces three counts under UK terrorism laws, two related to terrorism fundraising in 2014 and one related to possessing a firearm.

Appearing at a London magistrates’ court flanked by two suited police officers Thursday morning, Davis — sporting a short beard and grey T-shirt — spoke only to confirm his name and that he was of no fixed abode.

His lawyer confirmed he would not be entering a plea or seeking bail at this stage.

Chief magistrate Paul Goldspring said bail would in any case be refused partly due to Davis’ “propensity to travel on forged documents” and ordered him held in prison.

He referred the case to the crown court, which deals with serious criminal offenses, with a pre-trial hearing set for September 2 at the central criminal court, known as the Old Bailey.

Goldspring noted that if convicted, Davis will face “years, not months” in jail.

The four members of the “Beatles” are accused of abducting at least 27 journalists and relief workers from the United States, Britain, Europe, New Zealand, Russia and Japan.

They were allegedly involved in the murders of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.

The accused cell members, who all grew up in west London, allegedly tortured and killed the four American victims, including by beheading, and Daesh released videos of the murders for propaganda purposes.

Alexanda Kotey, a 38-year-old former British national extradited from the UK to the US in 2020 to face charges there, pleaded guilty to his role in the deaths last September and was sentenced to life in prison in April.

El Shafee Elsheikh, 34, another former British national also extradited to the US at the same time, was found guilty of all charges in April, and will be sentenced next week.

They were captured in January 2018 by a Kurdish militia in Syria and turned over to US forces in Iraq before being sent to Britain and then the US.

There they faced federal court charges of hostage-taking, conspiracy to murder US citizens and supporting a foreign terrorist organization.

The other “Beatles” executioner, Mohamed Emwazi, was killed by a US drone in Syria in 2015.

Davis was arrested in Istanbul in 2015 by Turkish authorities on suspicion of being a member of Daesh, and was using a forged travel document, the magistrates’ court heard Thursday.

He was convicted in Turkey 18 months later, sentenced to seven-and-a-half years imprisonment, and released in July into an immigration detention center where he remained until he was deported this week.

In 2014, his wife Amal El-Wahabi became the first person in Britain to be convicted of funding Daesh after trying to send 20,000 euros — worth $25,000 at the time — to him in Syria.

She was jailed for 28 months and seven days following a trial in which Davis was described as a drug dealer before going to fight with Daesh in 2013.

“It’s believed that this (money) was to be collected by Mr. Davis or an associate,” CPS prosecutor Kashif Malik told the court Thursday, noting it had been raised in the UK “to support terrorism.”

He said Davis had sent messages and photos to his wife from Syria.

“It is plain from images that Davis sent to El-Wahabi that he has been with fighters in Syria and was not in Syria for lawful purposes,” he added. “On occasions he was in possession of a firearm.”

A 2014 search of the couple’s London property found speeches by Osama bin Laden and prominent Al-Qaeda preacher Anwar Al-Awlaki, Malik said.

“We believe this was material left behind by Mr. Davis,” he added.


Delhi to enforce mask mandate again after spurt in COVID cases

Updated 55 min 3 sec ago

Delhi to enforce mask mandate again after spurt in COVID cases

  • People caught without masks in public in the Indian capital will have to pay a fine of $6

NEW DELHI: New Delhi will enforce a mask mandate again after COVID-19 infections rose in the past fortnight, a government order showed on Thursday, though a similar order in April failed to improve compliance.
People caught without masks in public in the Indian capital will have to pay a fine of 500 rupees ($6), the order dated Aug. 8 and shared with reporters on Thursday, said. Presently, mask-wearing is uncommon even in shopping malls and crowded markets.
New Delhi reported 2,146 new infections in the past 24 hours and eight deaths, the worst figures among Indian states and federal territories.
The country reported 16,299 new infections during the period, taking the cumulative total to 44.2 million, while deaths rose by 53 to 526,879. The actual numbers are believed to be multiple times higher.


Philippine leader threatens to fire officials in sugar mess

Updated 11 August 2022

Philippine leader threatens to fire officials in sugar mess

  • Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has temporarily taken the helm of the Department of Agriculture due to a looming food crisis
  • The president never approved or was aware of the resolution to import sugar, which was signed by an agriculture undersecretary and other officials

MANILA: The Philippine president has threatened to fire top agricultural officials if an investigation shows they improperly announced a decision to import sugar amid a shortage without his approval, his press secretary said Thursday.
It’s the stiffest punitive step newly elected President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. could take against officials over an apparent irregularity early in his six-year term. He took office on June 30 after a landslide election victory and inherited daunting problems.
Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said a resolution authorizing the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar by the Sugar Regulatory Board, which Marcos Jr. heads, was posted on the website of the Sugar Regulatory Administration under the Department of Agriculture on Wednesday.
Marcos Jr. has temporarily taken the helm of the Department of Agriculture due to a looming food crisis and skyrocketing commodity prices sparked in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Cruz-Angeles said the president never approved or was aware of the resolution to import sugar, which was signed by an agriculture undersecretary and other officials. The document was taken down from the website by Thursday.
“This resolution is illegal,” she told a news conference. “An investigation is ongoing to determine whether any acts that will cause the president to lose trust and confidence in his officials can be found or if there is malice or negligence involved.”
“If such findings are made, then the only determination left will be how many heads are going to roll,” she said.
Officials dealing with sugar shortages and fast-rising prices, caused largely by the devastation of sugarcane fields, milling factories and refineries by a powerful typhoon in December, have opted to secure additional sugar imports to ease the crisis.
But Marcos Jr. rejected the proposal, saying it needed to be studied to protect consumers from rising prices while making sure “that we do not destroy the local industry,” Cruz-Angeles said.
Marcos Jr. also inherited a pandemic-battered economy, lingering coronavirus threats, deep poverty, decades-long Muslim and communist insurgencies, law and order problems and political divisions inflamed by the recent elections.


Britain, Denmark contribute more money and weapons to Ukraine

Updated 11 August 2022

Britain, Denmark contribute more money and weapons to Ukraine

  • Britain to send more multiple-launch rocket systems and precision guided M31A1 missiles
  • Denmark will increase its financial aid to Ukraine by $114 million

COPENHAGEN: Britain and Denmark will provide more financial and military aid to Ukraine, they said on Thursday as European defense ministers met in Copenhagen to discuss long-term support for the country’s defense against Russia’s invasion.
Britain, which has already donated advanced weapons systems to Ukraine and given thousands of its troops military training, said it would send more multiple-launch rocket systems.
It would also donate a “significant number” of precision guided M31A1 missiles that can strike targets up to 80km away.
“This latest tranche of military support will enable the armed forces of Ukraine to continue to defend against Russian aggression and the indiscriminate use of long-range artillery,” UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said in a statement.
“Our continued support sends a very clear message, Britain and the international community remain opposed to this illegal war and will stand shoulder-to-shoulder, providing defensive military aid to Ukraine to help them defend against Putin’s invasion.”
Denmark will increase its financial aid to Ukraine by 110 million euros ($114 million), Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said at a conference in Copenhagen hosted by Ukraine, Denmark and Britain.
“This is a war on the values that Europe and the free world are built upon ... Today we reaffirm our commitment to support of Ukraine,” she said.
The new measures will take Denmark’s total aid to Ukraine since the start of the war to more than $417 million (3 billion Danish crowns).
Just over half of the financial aid announced on Thursday will be spent on weapons procurement and support of weapons production. The rest will be spent on supplies of Danish weapons and military equipment, as well as military training.
The announcements come after the government in Kyiv repeatedly pleaded with the West to send more weapons, including long-range artillery, as it tries to turn the tide on Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.
Earlier this month, Ukraine said it had received another delivery of high-precision heavy weapons from Germany and the United States.
Moscow, which has accused the West of dragging out the conflict by giving Ukraine more arms, says it is conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine aimed at safeguarding Russia’s security against NATO expansion.


Blinken, Kagame discuss UN report that Rwanda supports rebel group

Updated 11 August 2022

Blinken, Kagame discuss UN report that Rwanda supports rebel group

  • Regional analysts expect US Secretary of State to privately exert pressure to stop Rwanda’s alleged support for the M23 rebel group

KIGALI: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday he discussed with Rwandan President Paul Kagame “credible reports” that Rwanda continued to support the M23 rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Blinken said Kagame and Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi had agreed to engage in direct talks to address the fighting in eastern Congo.

The US senior diplomat is on a visit to Kigali less than a week after it emerged United Nations experts had found “solid evidence” Rwanda has been interfering militarily in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Rwanda’s government has disputed the UN findings.

The conflict was a focus of his meeting with Tshisekedi on Tuesday.

“My message to both President Tshisekedi and President Kagame this week has been the same: any support or cooperation with any armed group in eastern DRC endangers local communities and regional stability, and every country in the region must respect the territorial integrity of the others,” Blinken said during a joint media event with his Rwandan counterpart.

“Both presidents have agreed to engage in direct talks with each other.”

Kagame and Tshisekedi met at a summit in Angola to de-escalate tensions from the rebel insurgency.

Rwanda has previously denied accusations by Congo that it supports the M23 and that it has sent troops into the country. The M23 has denied it receives Rwandan support.

A target of the M23 and Rwandan operations in Congo has been the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu militia which Rwanda accuses Congo of using as a proxy. Congo’s government has denied this.

Standing next to Blinken, Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta said Kigali backed peace in the region.

“We agreed on the need to eradicate all irregular armed groups operating in the eastern DRC including the FDLR and its factions,” Biruta said.

Biruta later told local media that Rwanda was not supporting the M23 rebel group.

Since May, M23 has waged its most sustained offensive in years, killing dozens and displacing tens of thousands of people. By July, it controlled a territory in Congo almost three times as large as it did in March, UN experts said.