Africa’s COVID-19 envoy blasts EU, COVAX over vaccine crisis

Not one vial has left a European factory for Africa, according to African Union special envoy. (File/AFP)
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Updated 01 July 2021

Africa’s COVID-19 envoy blasts EU, COVAX over vaccine crisis

  • The criticism revealed African leaders’ sheer exasperation at the world’s dramatic vaccine divide
  • Just one percent of Africans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19

NAIROBI: The African Union special envoy tasked with leading efforts to procure COVID-19 vaccines for the continent is blasting Europe as Africa struggles amid a crushing third surge of infections, saying Thursday that “not one dose, not one vial, has left a European factory for Africa.”

Strive Masiyiwa also took aim at the global effort meant to distribute vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, accusing COVAX of withholding crucial information including that key donors hadn’t met funding pledges. He didn’t name which donors.

“The situation could be very different had we known back in December that ‘Listen, this help is not coming, do for yourselves,’” Masiyiwa told reporters, adding that “many countries were just sitting back saying, ‘the vaccines are coming.’ ... We as Africans are disappointed.”

The criticism revealed African leaders’ sheer exasperation at the world’s dramatic vaccine divide, with Masiyiwa describing vaccinated, unmasked Europeans attending football matches while just one percent of Africans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

He stressed that Africa has purchased 400 million vaccine doses and can buy more, but he challenged donors: “Pay up your money ... We will no longer measure pledges, we will measure vaccines arriving at our airports.”

The African continent of 1.3 billion people is now in the grip of a third surge of infections that is “extremely aggressive,” the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told reporters. Health officials have described overflowing COVID-19 wards, dangerous oxygen shortages and a growing spread of the virus to extremely vulnerable and unequipped rural areas.

Masiyiwa said COVAX had promised to deliver 700 million vaccine doses to Africa by December. But at mid-year, Africa has received just 65 million doses overall. Less than 50 million doses via COVAX have arrived.

“We are very far away from our target,” Nkengasong said. “We don’t want to be seen as the continent of COVID ... (In Europe) the stadiums are full of young people shouting and hugging. We can’t do that in Africa.”Spokespeople for COVAX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

However, Nkengasong and Masiyiwa announced that the first shipments of Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines with US support will begin arriving next week. It was not clear how many doses would be in those first shipments.

Meanwhile, more African-purchased doses will arrive in August, Masiyiwa said.

The African continent has had 5.5 million confirmed COVID-19 infections and has seen a “remarkable” 23 percent increase in deaths over the past week, the Africa CDC director said.

He said the continent needs 1.6 billion doses in a double-dose regime, or 800 million for a single-dose regime, to meet the goal of vaccinating 60 percent of the population.

Masiyiwa gave a frank accounting of where global efforts to vaccinate the world against COVID-19 had sputtered. “It became pretty clear by December that the hope that we would all as a global community buy vaccines together through COVAX was not being adhered to, particularly by the rich and powerful nations,” he said.

COVAX aimed to provide 20 percent of Africa’s vaccine needs, with African nations stepping up for the rest, he said. But “it really doesn’t matter how much money your country has, they couldn’t buy vaccines ... I never saw presidents try so hard, calling chief executives.”

The African continent has relied on vaccine manufacturing capabilities elsewhere in the world, but the COVID-19 vaccine crisis has jolted African leaders into pursuing their own production power.

Step by step, Masiyiwa laid out the challenges: Vaccine suppliers require advance purchases, and the World Bank could only lend to countries once vaccines are available. African nations scrambled via the Africa Export-Import

Bank, owned by member states, to come up with some $2 billion. African countries created a purchasing platform to improve their buying power.

But the vaccines have been hard to find as countries with manufacturing capabilities imposed controls on export sales in the interest of vaccinating their own citizens first. “It was the same whether we were talking to the East, to the West, whatever,” Masiyiwa said. “This has created a massive crisis.”

He took special aim at Europe: “When we go to talk to their manufacturers, they tell us they’re completely maxed out meeting the needs of Europe, we’re referred to India.” But the European Union now imposes public health restrictions on people vaccinated with Covishield, the Indian-produced version of the EU-accepted AstraZeneca vaccine.

“So how do we get to the situation where they give money to COVAX, who go to India to purchase vaccines, and then they tell us those vaccines are not valid?” Masiyiwa said. “It’s self-evident where the problem is.”

Without mentioning the EU issue, COVAX in a statement on Thursday warned that “any measure that only allows people protected by a subset of WHO-approved vaccines to benefit from the re-opening of travel into and within that region would effectively create a two-tier system, further widening the global vaccine divide.”

Some countries engage in so-called vaccine diplomacy and those bilateral donations are welcome, Masiyiwa said, but they’re not enough to “move the needle.”


Director general of Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant detained by Russian patrol

Updated 5 sec ago

Director general of Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant detained by Russian patrol

  • Ihor Murashov was detained on his way from Europe’s largest nuclear plant to the town of Enerhodar
KYIV: The director general of Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was detained by a Russian patrol, Energoatom, the state-owned company in charge of the plant, said on Saturday.
Ihor Murashov was detained on his way from Europe’s largest nuclear plant to the town of Enerhodar around 4 p.m. (1300 GMT) on Friday, company chief Petro Kotin said in a statement.
“He was taken out of the car, and with his eyes blindfolded he was driven in an unknown direction,” Kotin wrote on the Telegram messaging app, adding there was no immediate word on Murashov’s fate.
The Zaporizhzhia plant has been a focal point of Russia’s seven-month invasion of Ukraine, as Moscow and Kyiv accuse each other of shelling the facility, risking a nuclear disaster.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for area around the plant, which is staffed by Ukrainians, to be demilitarized.
Murashov “bears main and exclusive responsibility for the nuclear and radiation safety” of the plant and his detention “jeopardizes the safety of operation of Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant,” Kotin said.
He called on Russian forces to “stop immediately the acts of nuclear terrorism toward the management and personnel” of the plant and release Murashov.

North Korea conducts fourth round of missile tests in 1 week

Updated 44 min 30 sec ago

North Korea conducts fourth round of missile tests in 1 week

  • South Korea said the liftoffs occurred from North Korea’s capital region
  • Missile tests this week bookended US Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to South Korea

SEOUL: North Korea on Saturday test-fired two short-range ballistic missiles, its neighbors said, the fourth round this week of weapons launches that prompted quick, strong condemnation from its rivals.
In an unusually strong rebuke of North Korea’s weapons programs, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said North Korea’s “obsession” with nuclear weapons is deepening the suffering of its own people, and warned of an “overwhelming response” from South Korean and US militaries should such weapons be used.
“North Korea hasn’t abandoned its obsession with nukes and missiles despite the persistent international objection in the past 30 years,” Yoon said during an Armed Forces Day ceremony at the military headquarters in central South Korea. “The development of nuclear weapons will plunge the lives of North Korean people in further pains.”
“If North Korea attempts to use nukes, it’ll face a resolute, overwhelming response by the South Korea-US alliance and our military,” Yoon said.
Yoon’s comments could enrage North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who in July alleged that Yoon’s government was led by “confrontation maniacs” and “gangsters.” Kim has also rebuffed Yoon’s offers of massive assistance in return for denuclearization.
The North’s testing spree this week is seen as a response to recent naval drills between South Korea and the United States and their other training that involved Japan. North Korea views such military exercises by the allies as an invasion rehearsal and argues they reveal US and South Korean “double standards” because they brand the North’s weapons tests as provocation.
On Saturday, South Korea, Japanese and US militaries said they detected the two North Korean missile launches. South Korea said the liftoffs occurred from North Korea’s capital region.
According to South Korean and Japanese estimates, the missiles flew about 350-400 kilometers (220-250 miles) at a maximum altitude of 30-50 kilometers (20-30 miles) before they landed in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Toshiro Ino, Japan’s vice defense minister, said the missiles showed “irregular” trajectory.
Some observers say the weapons’ reported low and “irregular” trajectory suggest they were likely nuclear-capable, highly maneuverable missiles modeled after Russia’s Iskander missile. They say North Korea has developed the Iskander-like weapon to defeat South Korean and US missile defenses and strike key targets in South Korea, including US military bases there.
The five other ballistic missiles fired by North Korea on three occasions this week show similar trajectories to the ones detected Saturday.
“The repeated ballistic missile firings by North Korea are a grave provocation that undermines peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in the international community,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
Ino called the launches “absolutely impermissible,” adding that four rounds of missile testing by North Korea in a week is “unprecedented.”
The US Indo-Pacific Command said the launches highlight “the destabilizing impact” of North Korea’s unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.
On Friday, South Korea, the United States and Japan held their first trilateral anti-submarine drills in five years off the Korean Peninsula’s east coast. Earlier this week, South Korean and US warships conducted bilateral exercises in the area for four days. Both military drills this week involved the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.
The North Korean missile tests this week also bookended US Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit Thursday to South Korea, where she reaffirmed the United States’ “ironclad” commitment to the security of its Asian allies.
Worries about North Korea’s nuclear program have grown since the North last month adopted a new law authorizing the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in certain situations, a move that shows its escalatory nuclear doctrine.
During his speech Saturday, Yoon said the North Korean law threatens South Korea’s national existence and that Seoul will expand military exercises with Washington and bolster South Korea’s own missile strike and surveillance capacities in response.
South Korean officials have typically avoided harsh rhetoric on North Korea to prevent an escalation of animosities. But Yoon’s Defense Ministry has recently warned North Korea would self-destruct if it uses its nuclear weapons
This year, North Korea has carried out a record number of missile tests in what experts call an attempt to expand its weapons arsenal amid stalled nuclear diplomacy with the United States. South Korean and US officials say North Korea has also completed preparations to conduct a nuclear test, which would be the seventh of its kind and the first in five years.
Experts say Kim Jong Un eventually wants to use the enlarged nuclear arsenal to pressure the United States and others accept his country as a legitimate nuclear state, a recognition he views as necessary to win the lifting of international sanctions and other concessions.
Multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions ban North Korea from testing ballistic missiles and nuclear devices. The country’s missile launches this year are seen as exploiting a divide at the UN council over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and US-China competitions.
“North Korea’s frequent short-range missile tests may strain the isolated state’s resources. But because of deadlock on the UN Security Council, they are a low-cost way for the Kim regime to signal its displeasure with Washington and Seoul’s defense exercises while playing the domestic politics of countering an external threat,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.


Defiant Putin proclaims Ukrainian annexation as military setback looms 

Updated 01 October 2022

Defiant Putin proclaims Ukrainian annexation as military setback looms 

  • US condemns annexation, imposes new sanctions as Putin slams neo-colonial ‘Satanic’ West 
  • Zelensky announces NATO membership application, says no peace talks while Putin in power 

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine: A defiant Vladimir Putin proclaimed Russia’s annexation of a swathe of Ukraine in a pomp-filled Kremlin ceremony, promising Moscow would triumph in its “special military operation” even as he faced a potentially serious new military reversal. 

The proclamation of Russian rule over 15 percent of Ukraine — the biggest annexation in Europe since World War Two — was roundly rejected by Ukraine and Western countries as illegal. The United States, Britain and Canada announced new sanctions. 

Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky said his country had submitted a fast track application to join the NATO military alliance and that he would not hold peace talks with Russia while Putin was still president. 

Putin’s proclamation coincided with Russian forces in one of the four regions being annexed facing encirclement by Ukrainian troops, showing how tenuous Russia’s grip is on some of territory it is claiming. 

In one of his toughest anti-American speeches in more than two decades in power, Putin signalled he was ready to continue what he called a battle for a “greater historical Russia,” slammed the West as out to destroy Russia and, without evidence, accused Washington and its allies of blowing up the Nord Stream gas pipelines. 

But US President Joe Biden said it “was a deliberate act of sabotage and now the Russians are pumping out disinformation and lies,” adding that Washington and its allies would send divers to find out what happened. 

The four Ukrainian regions — Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia — that Putin said Russia was absorbing had made a historic choice, Putin said. 

“They have made a choice to be with their people, their motherland, to live with its fate, and to triumph with it. Truth is on our side. Russia is with us!” Putin told his country’s political elite, who had gathered in one of the Kremlin’s grandest halls to watch him sign the annexation documents. 

Russia organized so-called referendums, which were denounced by Kyiv and Western governments as illegal and coercive. 

“We will defend our land with all our strength and all our means,” he added, calling on “the Kyiv regime to immediately cease hostilities and return to the negotiation table.” 

UKRAINE NATO BID 

In Ukraine, Zelensky said he was only ready for peace talks if and when Russia had a new president. 

He also announced that Ukraine was formally applying for fast-track membership of NATO, something Moscow fiercely opposes, and accused Russia of redrawing borders “using murder, blackmail, mistreatment and lies.” 

He said, however, that Kyiv remained committed to the idea of co-existence with Russia “on equal, honest, dignified and fair conditions.” 

“Clearly, with this Russian president it is impossible. He does not know what dignity and honesty are. Therefore, we are ready for a dialogue with Russia, but with another president of Russia,” Zelensky said. 

Putin said the United States had set a precedent when it had dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945, while stopping short of issuing new nuclear warnings against Ukraine himself, something he has done more than once in recent weeks. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States had not yet seen Russia take any action that suggested it was contemplating the use of nuclear weapons, despite what he called Putin’s “loose talk.” 

The annexation ceremony culminated in Putin, 69, chanting “Russia! Russia!” as he clasped the hands of the Russian-backed officials he wants to run the annexed regions. 

NEW SANCTIONS 

Biden said new US sanctions would hurt those who provided political or economic support to the annexation drive. 

“We will rally the international community to both denounce these moves and to hold Russia accountable,” Biden said in a statement, promising to continue to supply Ukraine with equipment to defend itself. 

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg accused Putin of provoking “the most serious escalation” of the war since Russia began its invasion on Feb. 24, but said he would not succeed in deterring the alliance from supporting Kyiv. 

A resolution introduced by the United States and Albania at the United Nations Security Council condemning Russia’s proclaimed annexation of parts of Ukraine was rejected on Friday after Russia exercised its veto. 

Blinken earlier on Friday promised that should Russia block the resolution, Washington would ask the 193-member UN General Assembly to condemn the declared annexation and referendums. 

In eastern Donetsk region, Russia’s garrison in the town of Lyman was in serious trouble with reports from both sides saying Russian forces were nearly surrounded. 

Ukraine said it had all the supply routes to the Russian stronghold in the crosshairs of its artillery in the east, and told Moscow it would have to appeal to Kyiv if it wanted its forces to be allowed out. 

The encirclement could leave Ukrainian forces an open path to seize more territory in Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, captured earlier in some of the war’s bitterest fighting. 

“We have significant results in the east of our country ... everyone has heard what is happening in Lyman,” Zelensky said in a Friday night video address. 

The war’s brutality was further hammered home just hours before Putin’s speech when missiles struck a convoy of civilian cars preparing to cross the frontline from Ukrainian-held territory in Zaporozhzhia province. 

Reuters saw a dozen bodies amid blasted cars in a scene of carnage. Ukraine said 30 people had been killed and almost 100 wounded. 

Ukrainian officials called it a deliberate Russian attempt to sever the last links across the front. Moscow blamed the Ukrainians. 


Indonesian police kill militant suspected in farmers’ deaths

Updated 01 October 2022

Indonesian police kill militant suspected in farmers’ deaths

  • The East Indonesia Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for the killings of police officers and minority Christians
  • Some of the victims were killed by beheading by the group, known by its Indonesian acronym MIT, an affiliate of the Daesh group

PALU, Indonesia: Indonesia’s elite counterterrorism police have killed a militant who was the last remaining member of an organization that pledged allegiance to Daesh, police said Friday.
Police said Al Ikhwarisman, also known as Jaid, was a key member of the East Indonesia Mujahideen network.
The East Indonesia Mujahideen, known by the Indonesian acronym MIT, has claimed responsibility for the killings of police officers and minority Christians, some by beheading, and has pledged allegiance to the Daesh group.
Provincial police chief Rudy Sufahriadi said Jaid conducted at least 10 of the group’s executions, including the killing of four Christian farmers in May 2021. He was killed by the Densus 88 counterterrorism unit in a shootout late Thursday in mountainous Kawende village in Poso district, an extremist hotbed in Central Sulawesi province, Sufahriadi said.
Thursday’s shootout occurred four months after security forces killed the other remaining member of MIT in a jungle shootout, police said.
“He was the last remaining suspected member of the group,” Sufahriadi said. “We have managed to eliminate a dangerous militant group that has disturbed peace in Poso.”
Security operations in Central Sulawesi were intensified last year to capture MIT members, particularly Ali Kalora, the group’s leader and Indonesia’s most wanted militant. Kalora was killed in a shootout in July 2021, two months after the group killed the four Christians in Kalemago village, including one who was beheaded.
Authorities said the attack was in revenge for the killing in March 2021 of two militants, including the son of the group’s former leader, Abu Wardah Santoso.
Santoso, Kalora’s predecessor, was killed by security forces in July 2016. Dozens of other leaders and members of the group who escaped to remote mountain jungles of Poso have since been killed or captured.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, has conducted a crackdown on militants since bombings on the resort island of Bali in 2002 killed 202 people, mostly Western and Asian tourists.
Militant attacks on foreigners in Indonesia have been largely replaced in recent years by smaller, less deadly strikes targeting the government, mainly police and anti-terrorism forces, and people militants consider to be infidels, inspired by Daesh group tactics abroad.

 

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Japan PM condemns Russian annexation of parts of Ukraine, pledges to work with G7 for more support to Kyiv

Updated 01 October 2022

Japan PM condemns Russian annexation of parts of Ukraine, pledges to work with G7 for more support to Kyiv

  • As G7 host next year, Japan pledges to propose further sanctions against Russia and reconstruction plan for Ukraine

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, in telephone call Friday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, condemned Russia’s new annexation of parts of Ukraine as illegal and a violation of the country’s sovereignty.
“I told him that the process that Russia called a referendum and its annexation of parts of Ukraine should never be accepted, and that I strongly condemn them,” Kishida said afterward.
Kishida said he also reassured Zelensky in their 30-minute conversation that Japan is committed to working with other Group of Seven nations and the broader international community in further supporting Ukraine, and plans to impose more sanctions against Russia.
Western leaders including US President Joe Biden have also condemned Russia’s annexation of four occupied Ukrainian regions days after voters supposedly approved Moscow-managed “referendums” on joining Russia.

Kishida, who is to host a meeting of leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized nations next year, told Zelensky he plans to propose that they impose tough sanctions against Russia, and will lead a discussion on Ukraine’s reconstruction.
He said Japan is assessing when it can reopen its embassy in Kyiv, which he described as important for close contacts between Japan and Ukraine. Japan closed its embassy in March as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine intensified and moved part of its operations to Lviv in western Ukraine.
Japan has closely cooperated with other G-7 members and European nations in imposing sanctions on Russia over its war in Ukraine. Most recently, Japan banned exports of sensitive materials that could be used to make chemical weapons.
Japan’s sanctions against Russia have further damaged their ties, already strained over a group of islands taken by Moscow at the end of World War II that have prevented the two countries from signing a peace treaty formally ending their war hostilities.
In retaliation for Tokyo’s sanctions, Moscow terminated peace talks, including negotiations over the islands.