Israel’s NSO Under Fire for Spyware Targeting Journalists, Dissidents

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There is growing international criticism of Israel following allegations that software from the private security company NSO was used to spy on journalists, dissidents, and even political leaders around the world. A group of American lawmakers is urging the U.S. government to take punitive action against the company, which denies any wrongdoing. In Israel, some experts are calling for better regulation of cyber exports. Linda Gradstein reports for VOA from Jerusalem.

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Big Tech Companies to Allow Only Vaccinated Employees into US Offices

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Big tech companies are making it mandatory for employees in the United States to get COVID-19 vaccinations before entering campuses, as the highly infectious delta variant of the coronavirus drives a resurgence in cases.Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc. said on Wednesday all U.S. employees must get vaccinated to step into offices. Google is also planning to expand its vaccination drive to other countries in the coming months.According to a Deadline report, streaming giant Netflix Inc. has also implemented a policy mandating vaccinations for the cast and crew on all its U.S. productions.Apple Inc. plans to restore its mask requirement policy at most of its U.S. retail stores, both for customers and staff, even if they are vaccinated, Bloomberg News reported.Apple and Netflix did not immediately respond to requests for comments.Many tech companies, including Microsoft Corp. and Uber, have said they expect employees to return to their offices, months after pandemic-induced lockdowns forced them to shift to working from home.In April, Salesforce said it would allow vaccinated employees to return to some of its offices.Google also said on Wednesday it would extend its global work-from-home policy through Oct. 18 due to a recent rise in cases caused by the delta variant across different regions.”We’ll continue watching the data carefully and let you know at least 30 days in advance before transitioning into our full return-to-office plans,” the company said.   

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Malta Government Carries Responsibility for Journalist’s Murder, Inquiry Finds

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An independent inquiry into the car bomb murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia found on Thursday that the state had to bear responsibility after creating a “culture of impunity.”

Caruana Galizia was killed in a massive explosion as she drove out of her home on October 16, 2017.

Prosecutors believe top businessman Yorgen Fenech, who had close ties with senior government officials, masterminded the murder. Fenech, who is awaiting trial for association to murder, denies all responsibility.

Three men suspected of setting off the bomb were arrested in December 2017. One has since pleaded guilty as part of a plea bargain and is serving a 15-year jail term. The other two are awaiting trial. The self-confessed middle-man has turned state witness and was granted a pardon.

The inquiry, conducted by one serving judge and two retired judges, found that a culture of impunity was created by the highest echelons of power within the government of the time.

“The tentacles of impunity then spread to other regulatory bodies and the police, leading to a collapse in the rule of law,” said the panel’s report, which was published by Prime Minister Robert Abela.

It said the state failed to recognize the real and immediate risks to Caruana Galizia’s life and failed to take reasonable steps to avoid them.

It was clear, the inquiry board said, that the assassination was either intrinsically or directly linked to Caruana Galizia’s investigative work.

Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat resigned in January 2020 following Fenech’s arrest. He was never accused of any wrongdoing. Media later also revealed close links between Fenech, ministers, and senior police officers.

The judges called for immediate action to rein in and regulate the links between politicians and big business.

Abela said in a tweet that the report required “mature” and objective analysis. “Lessons must be drawn and the reforms must continue with greater resolve,” he said, without elaborating.

The inquiry heard evidence from the police, government officials, the Caruana Galizia family and journalists, among others.

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Vaccines Save 50 Million Lives, But COVID Threatens Future Gains, Say Scientists

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Vaccination programs against some of the world’s deadliest diseases have saved tens of millions of lives over the past twenty years, according to a new study. However, the researchers warn that continued progress is threatened by the coronavirus pandemic.

The scientists from the Vaccine Impact Modelling Consortium, funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, looked at vaccination programs over the past two decades targeting ten infectious diseases across 112 low- and middle-income countries. 

They found that some 50 million lives have been saved by vaccines, most of them children.

The diseases the researchers looked at included measles, hepatitis B, human papillomavirus (HPV), yellow fever, Haemophilus influenzae type b, Streptococcus pneumoniae, rubella, rotavirus, Neisseria meningitidis serogroup A, and Japanese encephalitis. 

The study is the largest assessment of vaccine impact before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Katy Gaythorpe, a co-author of the report at Imperial College London, told VOA that the successes of the past two decades would be replicated if progress in vaccination programs can be sustained.

“If we continued with the vaccinations in our projections, so beyond 2019, we’d avert another 47 million deaths — so huge numbers,” Gaythorpe said. “And really what we wanted to show in this paper is this is what we projected vaccination to look like before the COVID pandemic. And we wanted to emphasize these long-term effects, these long-term benefits of vaccination going into the future.”

Immunization programs have added benefits beyond the prevention of specific diseases.

“For example, if people aren’t getting sick of vaccine-preventable diseases then that means there’s less stress on healthcare due to those infections, which means you could potentially be treating people for other things,” Gaythorpe said.

But the researchers warn that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted vaccination programs — and could lead to a decline in coverage.

“We’ve got not only healthcare services stretched by possibly treating people infected with COVID, we’ve also got people’s personal choice — you know, they might put off going to seek immunization just because of fear surrounding being infected with COVID,” Gaythorpe said.

The World Health Organization earlier this year launched its “immunization agenda 2030” to try to get vaccine programs back on track and reach even more people. 

“It would mean reducing by half the children who are completely left out of essential vaccines — the ‘zero dose children’ — [and] it would mean achieving another 500 introductions of new and underused vaccines in low- and middle-income countries,” the WHO’s Vaccines Department chief Kate O’Brien told reporters in April.

Scientists say the huge number of lives saved demonstrates the stunning advances in modern medicine — and the importance of keeping other vaccine programs on track, alongside tackling the COVID pandemic.

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Rights Groups Call on Morocco to Not Extradite Uyghur Activist

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Rights groups are urging Morocco not to extradite to China a Uyghur activist who was arrested after arriving on a flight from Turkey.

The nongovernmental group Safeguard Defenders said Yidiresi Aishan was taken into custody in response to an Interpol Red Notice issued at China’s request.

The charges against Aishan are not clear.

Morocco’s General Directorate for National Security said Tuesday the Interpol notice was linked to suspicions that Aishan belonged to “an organization on the lists of terrorist organizations.”

Amnesty International said Aishan faces “arbitrary detention and torture if he is forcibly returned to China.”

“Deporting Idris Hasan to China, where Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities are facing a horrifying campaign of mass internment, persecution and torture, would violate international law,” Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Program director, Joanne Mariner, said in a statement.

The World Uyghur Congress also demanded Moroccan authorities halt any deportation procedures. Eric Goldstein, Human Rights Watch deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa region, described the Interpol system as “tainted” and said Aishan should be given a lawyer to fight extradition.

Aishan had been living in Turkey working as a web designer and activist since 2012. He flew from Istanbul to Casablanca on July 19. 

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US Gymnast Simone Biles Withdraws from Individual All-Around Competition

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A day after withdrawing from the women’s gymnastics team finals, Simone Biles of the United States has taken herself out of the individual all-around competition at the Tokyo Olympics.  

A statement issued Wednesday morning from USA Gymnastics said Biles, considered the all-time greatest in her sport, is withdrawing “after further medical evaluation” in order to focus on her mental health. 

The statement said Biles will continue to be evaluated daily “to determine whether or not to participate in next week’s individual event finals.”   

The 24-year-old Biles withdrew from the overall team finals Tuesday after failing to execute her planned maneuver in the vault and stumbling backward on her landing. She then briefly left the floor with her coach, then returned to rejoin her teammates with her ankle wrapped in a bandage.   

With the loss of Biles, the Russian Olympic Committee took the gold in the team finals with the U.S. taking silver and Britain getting the bronze.  

Biles later told reporters that she was not in the right frame of mind because of the stress and pressure heading into the competition, and that she needed to “focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and well-being.” 

“We wholeheartedly support Simone’s decision and applaud her bravery in prioritizing her well-being,” USA Gymnastics said in its statement. “Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many.”

Jade Carey, who finished ninth in qualifying, will take Biles’ place in the all-around competition. 

Wednesday’s competitions saw U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky making Olympic history while her Australian rival Ariarne Titmus earned a second gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.  

Ledecky won the finals of the women’s 1,500-meter freestyle race at the Tokyo Aquatics Center, the first time the event has been staged at a Summer Olympics. Ledecky’s fellow American Erica Sullivan won the silver medal, while Sarah Kohler of Germany took home the bronze medal.  

Ledecky’s dominating performance in the 1,500-meter freestyle — she finished four seconds ahead of Sullivan — came just moments after her dismal finish in the finals of the 200-meter freestyle event, her second head-to-head matchup against Titmus.  The Australian star, whose dominating performances have earned her the nickname “The Terminator” in her home country, finished the race at 1:53.50 (one minute, 53.50 seconds) to set a new Olympic record.  Hong Kong’s Siobhan Haughey won the silver medal, while Canadian Penny Oleksiak finished third to take the bronze.

Ledecky finished the 200-meter freestyle in fifth place, nearly two seconds behind Titmus, who also beat the celebrated American in Monday’s 400-meter freestyle race.  Ledecky won both events at the 2016 Rio Olympics and had been favored to repeat in Tokyo. But her win in the 1,500-meter freestyle gives her six career Olympic gold medals dating back to the 2012 London Games.  

Japanese swimmer Yui Ohashi also became a double gold medal winner Wednesday after winning the 200-meter individual medley, three days after her victory in the 400-meter individual relay. Ohashi edged Americans Alex Walsh and Kate Douglass, who won the silver and bronze medals respectively. Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, the 2016 champion and current world-record holder, finished in seventh place.   

Meanwhile, the British men’s team, anchored by Tom Dean, Duncan Scott, James Guy and Matthew Richards, won the 4×200 freestyle relay race, giving Britain its third swimming gold medal at Tokyo. Dean won the 200-meter freestyle Tuesday, with Adam Peaty winning gold in the 100-meter breaststroke the day before.   

And Kristof Milak of Hungary set a new Olympic record in winning the gold medal in the men’s 200-meter butterfly race, finishing at 1:51.25 (one minute, 51.25 seconds), with 19-year-old Tomoru Honda of Japan winning the silver medal and Italy’s Federico Burdisso finishing third to win the bronze medal.   

Cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten of the Netherlands won the gold medal in the women’s time trials event with a time of 30:13.49 (30 minutes, 13.49 seconds) at Fuji International Speedway.  Switzerland’s Marlen Reusser finished in second place, with van Vleuten’s compatriot Anna van der Breggen winning bronze.   

Van Vleuten’s victory is certain to erase the memory of her humiliating finish in Sunday’s road race when she ecstatically crossed the finish line believing she had won, only to find out Austrian Anna Kiesenhofer had broken away from the field to take the gold medal, leaving van Vleuten with the silver medal.

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Nigerian Companies Use Charcoal Substitutes to Reduce Deforestation

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Some Nigerian companies are using coconut and palm shells to make charcoal briquettes in an effort to slow ongoing deforestation. Nigeria banned charcoal exports after a World Bank report showed the country lost nearly half its forest cover in just a decade. Timothy Obiezu reports from Kuje, Nigeria.

Camera: Emeka Gibson 

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Biden Accuses Russia of Already Interfering in 2022 Election

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Russia is already interfering in next year’s midterm U.S. elections, President Joe Biden said Tuesday in a speech at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).  

Referencing the day’s classified briefing prepared by the intelligence community for him, Biden said: “Look at what Russia’s doing already about the 2022 election and misinformation.” 

Such actions by Moscow are a “pure violation of our sovereignty,” the president said, without elaborating, in remarks to about 120 representatives of the U.S. intelligence community who gathered in northern Virginia at the ODNI headquarters.  

Biden’s public reference to something contained in that day’s top secret Presidential Daily Brief is certain to raise some eyebrows.  

“He’s the president. He can declassify anything he wants to whenever he wants to,” said Emily Harding, deputy director and senior fellow with the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

“And I’m not sure it’s going to be a shock to anybody that Russia is looking at disinformation for the 2022 election. I think it is a really good reminder, though, that Russia continues to do this and that nothing has dissuaded them yet,” she said. 

The president also had an ominous prediction about the escalating cyberattacks targeting the United States that his administration has blamed on state-backed hackers in China and those operating with impunity in Russia.    

Biden said he believes it is growing more likely the United States could “end up in a real shooting war with a major power,” as the consequence of a cyber breach.  

Such cyber capabilities of U.S. adversaries are “increasing exponentially,” according to the president.  

Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed much on Biden’s mind during his remarks to the intelligence community.  

Putin has “nuclear weapons, oil wells and nothing else,” Biden said, adding that the Russian leader knows he is in real trouble economically, “which makes him even more dangerous.”  

Biden also praised the U.S. intelligence community for its superiority over its counterpart in Moscow.  

Putin “knows that you’re better than his team. And it bothers the hell out of him,” Biden said.  

“I can see the wheels in Moscow turning to respond to that one,” Harding told VOA.  

Biden referred to both Russia and China as “possibly mortal competitors down the road.”  

In his remarks, the U.S. president said that Chinese President Xi Jinping “is deadly earnest about becoming the most powerful military force in the world, as well as the largest and most prominent economy in the world” by the mid-2040s.  

Biden made several cryptic references to hypersonic weapons of adversaries. But he stopped himself once in midsentence after saying, “I don’t know, we probably have some people who aren’t totally cleared” in the room. In fact, a group of White House reporters was present, and a television camera was recording the speech on behalf of the media.  

The president also appealed to his intelligence team, which is composed of elements from 17 different agencies, “to give it to me straight. I’m not looking for pablum … and when you’re not sure, say you’re not sure.”  

Biden said he “can’t make the decisions I need to make if I’m not getting the best unvarnished, unbiased judgments you can give. I’m not looking to hear nice things. I’m looking to hear what you think to be the truth.”  

Those words are “a big deal. That’s the thing that he probably most needed to say” to this particular audience, according to Harding.  

Biden stressed that the intelligence agencies should not be swayed by which political party holds power in Congress or the White House. He said it is “so vital that you are and should be totally free of any political pressure or partisan influence.”  

Biden vowed that while he is president he will not try to “affect or alter your judgments about what you think the situation we face is. I’ll never politicize the work you do. You have my word on that. It’s too important for our country.”  

The appearance by the 46th U.S. president was intended, in part, to demonstrate a different relationship with the intelligence community than experienced by his predecessor, Donald Trump.  

“I think you can all make the inherent contrast,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters the previous day.  

Trump’s attitude toward the intelligence community publicly soured after he sided with Putin’s denial of the U.S. government’s conclusion that the Kremlin had meddled in the 2016 presidential election. Trump, a Republican, narrowly defeated Democratic Party challenger Hillary Clinton in that election.  
 

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EU: 70% of Adults in Bloc Now Have at Least One COVID Vaccination

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European Union leaders said Tuesday that 70% of adult residents have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, hitting the target they set for the end of July.
 
Speaking to reporters in Brussels, European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen said 57% of all adults in the EU are now fully vaccinated. She said these numbers put Europe among the world leaders.
 
Von der Leyen said that, after falling behind early in its vaccination program, the EU’s “catch-up process has been very successful — but we need to keep up the effort.”
 
She said the Delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 “is very dangerous. I therefore call on everyone — who has the opportunity — to be vaccinated. For their own health and to protect others.” She said the EU will continue to provide sufficient volumes of vaccine.
 
The Reuters news agency reports the EU hopes to have 70% of all adults fully vaccinated by the end of the summer and the current statistics indicate that goal is within reach.
 
From her Twitter account, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides called on all citizens to “trust the science” and get vaccinated to protect themselves and those around them.

 

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PM Imran Khan’s Party Wins Elections in Pakistani-Controlled Kashmir

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Prime Minister Imran Khan’s PTI party has won the legislative elections in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, held Sunday, with a comfortable majority. The election commission announced the results Monday.

These were the first elections in the region after India in 2019 revoked the semi-autonomous status of the parts of Kashmir under its control. The Indian move played heavily in the campaign, with opposition parties accusing the prime minister of trying to do the same to Pakistani Kashmir.  

Countering the opposition claims, Khan offered to give Kashmiris the choice to decide their fate.

“We will give the opportunity of [a] referendum to Kashmiris to decide either to want to go with Pakistan or want to be an independent,” Khan said while addressing an election rally in Pakistani Kashmir just two days before the polling.

Kashmir-based newspaper columnist Arif Bahar sees Khan’s offer of a referendum as a big change in Islamabad’s stated position.  

“His (Imran Khan’s) statement to give [an] opportunity of [a] referendum indicates that Islamabad is ready to accept Kashmir as an independence state if Kashmiris wish so,” Bahar said.  

The disputed Himalayan region is divided between India and Pakistan, which have fought several wars over it. Regular skirmishes break out on the Line of Control that acts as the de facto border between the two sides.

The Pakistani-controlled portion of Kashmir continues to have a semi-autonomous government which includes its own national flag, a national anthem, and a Supreme Court. Its legislative assembly elects the region’s president and prime minister. Pakistan, however, controls foreign affairs as well as the currency and defense for the region.

Historically, the party in power in Islamabad also wins elections in Kashmir.

“It’s not unusual that PTI won here. … Voters are very wise and cast their vote for those who can solve their problems and develop their area more,” said Syed Afaq Hussain, editor of a widely circulated Urdu language newspaper in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir.  

Kashmiri nationalists demanding the independence of Kashmir from both India and Pakistan boycotted the polls calling them a “fraud.”  

Opposition parties accused Khan’s party of rigging but local journalists called the process mostly fair and transparent, barring a few cases of irregularities.

Pakistan’s army, supervising the polls, lost four men when the vehicle they were riding in went off the road and fell into a deep ravine.
 

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Russia Blocks Website of Jailed Opposition Leader Navalny

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Russian officials have blocked access to the website of jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny along with dozens of other websites run by allies of him. 

Russian internet regulator Roskomnadzor said it blocked navalny.com along with the other sites at the request of the prosecutor general. 

Included in the blocked sites is the website of Navalny’s top strategist, Leonid Volkov, along with the website for Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption, and the site for the Navalny-backed Alliance of Doctors union. 

The move comes ahead of September’s parliamentary elections, seen as a key part of President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to increase his support before a 2024 presidential election.  

Last month, a Russian court ruled that organizations linked to Navalny were “extremist,” barring them from operating and preventing people associated with them from running for public office.  

Navalny is Putin’s most prominent critic, and his organization has worked to expose corruption in Russia. 

He is currently serving a 2 1/2-year jail sentence for parole violations stemming from a 2014 embezzlement conviction, which he says was politically motivated.  

Navalny has accused the Kremlin of trying to poison him with a nerve agent, an accusation the government denies. 

His arrest and jailing earlier this year sparked a wave of protests across Russia and have been condemned by Western nations. 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters. 
 

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Europe Makes New Vaccination Push to Counter Rising COVID Cases

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With Europe’s rise in coronavirus infections accelerating, more governments are seeking ways to force the unvaccinated, mainly in their twenties and thirties, to get inoculated, and avoid a return to lockdowns.

Italy and Britain have followed France’s lead in planning or imposing restrictions on the unvaccinated.  The moves prompted street protests in both countries Sunday and Saturday. Several British Conservative lawmakers are threatening to boycott their party’s annual conference later this year because of vaccination requirements for attendees.

Initial evidence, however, suggests compulsion is working. Within 24 hours of Italy announcing that from next month entry to sports stadiums, museums, cinemas, swimming pools and gyms will only be permitted for people who’ve been inoculated, appointments for vaccinations soared in some regions by 200%, say authorities in Rome.

France saw a similar spike in vaccine bookings after it announced that certification — in other words a digital vaccine passport — would be needed to enter many venues.

The Italian government has prolonged its state of emergency to December 31 but is desperately trying to avoid lockdowns or reintroducing tighter restrictions for regions seeing spikes in confirmed cases, such as Lazio, Sicily, Veneto and Sardinia. Prime Minister Mario Draghi told reporters last week, “The health pass is an instrument to allow Italians to continue their activities with the guarantee of not being among contagious people.”

“No vaccines means new lockdowns,” he added.

Draghi had intended for the measure to go further and wanted to include vaccination requirements for counter service in bars and for traveling on long-distance trains, but had to weaken the measure in the face of resistance from Matteo Salvini and his Lega party, who threatened to block the restrictions in parliament.

Salvini was belatedly was inoculated Friday. The populist nationalist leader spoke out last week against compelling or seeking to coerce people to get the jab.

“I’m interested in not ruining the lives of millions of Italians who are not yet covered by the vaccine,” he said.  “Many cannot do it, for health reasons. Complicating the lives of these people with the obligation of the Green pass? Let’s not joke. We can’t stop in mid-July, a tourist season that is painstakingly restarting.”  By Green pass, he was referring to vaccine passports.

That earned a sharp rebuke from Draghi, who shot back at a press conference, “The appeal to the No Vax is an invitation to die.”

Thousands of Italians disagree with their prime minister and Saturday took to the streets in dozens of towns across the country to protest the new measure, which comes into effect August 6.

“Better to die free than live like slaves!” read a banner waved outside Milan’s cathedral, while another in Rome was captioned, “Vaccines set you free” over a picture of the gates to Auschwitz, according to AFP reports.

An estimated 160,000 people protested nationwide in France Saturday against making health passports a key tool in the bid to curb infections.  Dozens of people were arrested, according to French police. Twenty-nine policemen were injured.

The protests came hours before lawmakers hammered out a compromise deal between members of the National Assembly and Senate and approved a measure that requires proof of a double vaccination, recent recovery from the virus or a negative test for entry into entertainment venues. Proposed criminal sanctions for businesses that don’t check health passports were removed from the measure that passed.

Under the terms, employees of establishments that require a health pass cannot be dismissed if they refuse to be vaccinated or undergo regular testing, but will be required to take annual leave and thereafter unpaid leave.

“Nice evening for democracy, bad for the virus,” tweeted health minister Olivier Véran.

French President Emmanuel Macron, responding to accusations by vaccine opponents that he is trampling on individual liberty, said, “Everyone is free to express themselves calmly with respect for one another. But freedom where I owe nothing to someone else does not exist.”

French health authorities reported nearly 23,000 new confirmed cases Saturday, mainly of the high contagious delta variant.

Despite the raucous protests, the signs both in Italy and France are that tougher vaccination-related restrictions have public backing, with recent opinion polls in Italy and France suggesting support ranges from between 65% and 70%. 

Since Macron announced his plans for health pass rules two weeks ago, six million people in France have signed up for vaccinations.

In Britain, too, there is pushback to new proposed rules from an alliance of anti-vaxxers and libertarians on both the left and right of the political spectrum. After weeks of rejecting the idea of a regime of vaccine passports, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has been urging young people to get vaccinated, turned to the stick, too. Come September, vaccine passports will be needed to enter nightclubs and sports stadiums.

The tougher line came as the government’s own private polling suggested young people were far less likely to take up the offer of vaccinations than their older counterparts, government officials told VOA. Public polling by YouGov, a British pollster, has shown the same thing. According to a recent YouGov survey, people aged 16 to 34 are twice as likely to refuse the jab as those between the ages of 55 and 75.

Part of the reason for the schism is that the young feel they are at a much-reduced risk from the virus, say the government’s scientific advisers, and they are more susceptible to vaccine-conspiracy theories via social media, they add.

In Britain and other European countries, governments are being unnerved by the sluggish take-up of the jabs as a delta-driven pandemic picks up steam. In Greece, around 44% of the population is fully vaccinated. Greece’s government has announced mandatory vaccinations for health workers and other staff at hospitals and clinics. 

But the government is encountering fierce resistance from some senior Greek Orthodox clerics, despite the support for the government from Archbishop Ieronymos, the church’s primate, who last year spent several days in intensive care after contracting the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease.

Earlier this month, the Greek health minister, Vasilis Kikilias, met with the Synod, the church’s governing body, in an effort to persuade officials to back the vaccination campaign. The Synod, though, would only support the “free choice of vaccination as the exclusive and scientifically tested solution to stop the spread of the virus.” It added that prayer and “participation in worship” were also important and refrained from rebuking anti-vax clerics.

Germany, too, is now considering imposing restrictions on the unvaccinated, after weeks of German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying she disapproved of the idea. The change of heart coincides with warnings from disease modelers that cases are likely to increase by more than 60% per week.

“Vaccinated people will definitely have more freedoms than unvaccinated people,” Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, said in a broadcast interview Sunday. 

But there’s fierce debate within the ruling Christian Democratic Party about the tougher retractions on the unvaccinated with the party’s candidate to succeed Merkel in September elections, Armin Laschet, opposing efforts to compel people. “I do not believe in compulsory vaccination, and I do not believe in indirectly putting pressure on people to get vaccinated,” he told ZDF television Sunday.

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Only Tokyo Could Pull Off These Games? Not Everyone Agrees

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Staging an Olympics during the worst pandemic in a century? There’s a widespread perception that it couldn’t happen in a better place than Japan.

A vibrant, open democracy with deep pockets, the host nation is known for its diligent execution of detail-laden, large-scale projects, its technological advances, its consensus-building and world-class infrastructure. All this, on paper, at least, gives the strong impression that Japan is one of the few places in the world that could even consider pulling off the high-stakes tightrope walk that the Tokyo Games represent.

Some in Japan aren’t buying it.

“No country should hold an Olympics during a pandemic to start with. And if you absolutely must, then a more authoritarian and high-tech China or Singapore would probably be able to control COVID better,” said Koichi Nakano, a politics professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.

The bureaucratic, technological, logistical and political contortions required to execute this unprecedented feat — a massively complicated, deeply scrutinized spectacle during a time of global turmoil, death and suffering — have put an unwelcome spotlight on the country.

Most of all, it has highlighted some embarrassing things: that much of Japan doesn’t want the Games, that the nation’s vaccine rollout was late and is only now expanding, and that many suspect the Games are being forced on the country because the International Olympic Committee needs the billions in media revenue.

The worry here isn’t that Tokyo’s organizers can’t get to the finish line without a major disaster. That seems possible, and would allow organizers to claim victory, of a kind.

The fear is that once the athletes and officials leave town, the nation that unwillingly sacrificed much for the cause of global sporting unity might be left the poorer for it, and not just in the tens of billions of dollars it has spent on the Games.

The Japanese public may see an already bad coronavirus situation become even worse; Olympics visitors here have carried fast-spreading variants of the virus into a nation that is only approaching 25% fully vaccinated.

The Tokyo Olympics are, in one sense, a way for visitors to test for themselves some of the common perceptions about Japan that have contributed to this image of the country as the right place to play host. The results, early on in these Games, are somewhat of a mixed bag.

On the plus side, consider the airport arrivals for the thousands of Olympics participants. They showcased Japan’s ability to harness intensely organized workflow skills and bring them to bear on a specific task — in this case, protection against COVID-19 that might be brought in by a swarm of outsiders.

From the moment visitors stepped from their aircraft at Narita International Airport, they were corralled — gently, cheerfully, but in no uncertain terms firmly — into lines, then guided across the deserted airport like second-graders heading to recess. Barriers, some with friendly signs attached, ensured they got documents checked, forehead temperatures measured, hands sanitized and saliva extracted.

Symmetrical layouts of chairs, each meticulously numbered, greeted travelers awaiting their COVID-19 test results and Olympic credentials were validated while they waited. The next steps — immigration, customs — were equally efficient, managing to be both crisp and restrictive, but also completely amiable. You emerged from the airport a bit dizzy from all the guidance and herding, but with ego largely unbruised.

But there have also been conspicuous failures.

After the opening ceremony ended, for example, hundreds of people in the stadium were crammed into a corrallike pen, forced to wait for hours with only a flimsy barricade separating them from curious Japanese onlookers, while dozens of empty buses idled in a line stretching for blocks, barely moving.

Japan does have some obvious advantages over other democracies when it comes to hosting these Games, such as its economic might. As the world’s third-largest economy, after the United States and China, it was able to spend the billions needed to orchestrate these protean Games, with their mounting costs and changing demands.

Another advantage could be Japan’s well-deserved reputation for impeccable customer service. Few places in the world take as much pride in catering to visitors’ needs. It’s an open question, however, whether that real inclination toward hospitality will be tested by the extreme pressure.

A geopolitical imperative may be another big motivator. Japanese archrival China hosts next year’s Winter Games, and many nationalists here maintain that an Olympic failure is not an option amid the struggle with Beijing for influence in Asia. Yoshihide Suga, the prime minister, may also be hoping that a face-saving Games, which he can then declare successful, will help him retain power in fall elections.

And the potential holes in the argument that Japan is the perfect host nation for a pandemic Games?

Start, maybe, with leadership. It has never been clear who is in charge. Is it the city of Tokyo? The national government? The IOC? The Japanese Olympic Committee?

“This Olympics has been an all-Japan national project, but, as is often pointed out, nobody has a clear idea about who is the main organizer,” said Akio Yamaguchi, a crisis communications consultant at Tokyo-based AccessEast. “Uncertainty is the biggest risk.”

Japan has also faced a problem particular to democracies: a fierce, sometimes messy public debate about whether it was a good idea to hold the Games.

“After the postponement, we have never had a clear answer on how to host the Olympics. The focus was whether we can do it or not, instead of discussing why and how to do it,” said Yuji Ishizaka, a sports sociologist at Nara Women’s University.

“Japan is crucially bad at developing a ‘plan B.’ Japanese organizations are nearly incapable of drafting scenarios where something unexpected happens,” Ishizaka said. “There was very little planning that simulated the circumstances in 2021.”

Another possibly shaky foundation of outside confidence in Japan is its reputation as a technologically adept wonder of efficiency.

Arriving athletes and reporters “will probably realize that Japan is not as high-tech or as efficient as it has been often believed,” Nakano said. “More may then realize that it is the utter lack of accountability of the colluded political, business and media elites that ‘enabled’ Japan to hold the Olympics in spite of very negative public opinion — and quite possibly with considerable human sacrifice.”

The Tokyo Games are a Rorschach test of sorts, laying out for examination the many different ideas about Japan as Olympic host. For now, they raise more questions than they answer.
 

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South Africa Turmoil

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Бізнес, ЄС, Новини, Світ

On this edition of Encounter, Ambassador Michelle Gavin, senior fellow for Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and former Ambassador to Botswana, and Frans Cronje, CEO of the Johannesburg-based Institute of Race Relations, analyze with host Carol Castiel the political, economic and social situation in South Africa following the arrest and detention of former South African president Jacob Zuma given the protests, looting and violence which this incident triggered.  How did the celebrated multiracial democracy led by Nelson Mandela reach this critical juncture point, and what does the future hold for South Africa? 

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