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Myanmar coup leader defends action amid mass protests

The leader of the coup in Myanmar has made his first TV address, seeking to justify the action amid mass protests. A protester holds a photo of detained Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a demonstration against the military coup. Photo: AFP Min Aung Hlaing said November's election, won in a landslide by the party of detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, had been unfair. The military has begun to impose restrictions in some areas, including curfews and limits to gatherings. Huge protests were held on Monday for a third straight day, along with a nationwide strike, to oppose the coup. One demonstrating doctor - who did not want to be named - told the BBC: "Today, we, professionals - especially civil servant professionals such as doctors, engineers and teachers - came out to show that we are all together in this. Our objective is the same - to make the dictatorship fall." The general's speech drew angry opposition, with images on social media showing people banging pots and pans in protest in front of television screens. The military seized power last week and declared a year-long state of emergency in Myanmar, also known as Burma, with power handed over to General Min Aung Hlaing. Suu Kyi and senior leaders of her National League for Democracy Party (NLD), including President Win Myint, have been put under house arrest. An Australian economic adviser to Suu Kyi, Sean Turnell, has also been detained and on Monday his family posted a statement on Facebook calling for his immediate release. What did the general say? Min Aung Hlaing's speech focused more on the reasons for the coup and less on threats to protesters. He said the electoral commission had failed to investigate irregularities over voter lists in the November election and had not allowed fair campaigning. The commission had said there was no evidence to support claims of widespread fraud. Min Aung Hlaing, wearing green military uniform, promised new elections and to hand power to the winner. A new "reformed" election commission would oversee it. He also said his rule would be "different" from what was effectively a 49-year military grip on power that ended in 2011 and which saw brutal crackdowns in 1988 and 2007. He spoke of achieving a "true and disciplined democracy", a phrase that drew scorn from some opponents of the coup on social media. Myanmar military chief General Min Aung Hlaing makes an announcement on the nationwide demonstrations being held in protest over the military coup. Photo: AFP He also told citizens to "go with the true facts and not to follow feelings of your own". The general did not issue direct threats to protesters, saying only that no-one was above the law. But some areas have seen clampdowns, with parts of Yangon and second city Mandalay, along with other areas, under a 20:00 to 04:00 curfew and with gatherings limited to groups of five or less. Earlier, a broadcast on state TV warned "action must be taken, according to the law... against offences that disturb, prevent and destroy state stability, public safety and the rule of law". Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said: "For a military coup government that has trampled all over democracy and the rule of law, it's absurd for them to claim they have any right to 'legal action' against peaceful protesters." Who has been on the streets? Tens of thousands gathered on Monday in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, for the strike, with other cities such as Mandalay and Yangon also reporting significant numbers, according to BBC Burmese. The protesters include teachers, lawyers, bank officers and government workers. Online there had been calls asking workers to skip work to protest. "This is a work day, but we aren't going to work even if our salary will be cut," one protester, 28-year-old garment factory worker, Hnin Thazin, told news agency AFP. People holding placards shout slogans of anti-coup as they protest against the military coup. Photo: AFP Another protester, Hnin Hayman Soe, told the BBC she had joined the protest alongside her children, nieces and nephews. "We can see many young people can't accept the military junta. We can even see teenagers here," she said. A few injuries have been reported, but no violence. However, a water cannon was activated in Nay Pyi Taw to disperse crowds. A video appears to show protesters rubbing their eyes and helping one another after being soaked. Kyaw Zeyar Oo, who took the video, told the BBC two vehicles had sprayed protesters with "no prior warning", while "the crowd was peacefully protesting in front of [the police]". The BBC's Nyein Chan Aye, in Yangon, says Buddhist monks, members of the minority Muslim community, top footballers and film and music stars have all been joining the anti-coup protests, which he says are expected to become more organised in the coming days. - BBC
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Trump's lawyers challenge constitutionality of post-White House impeachment trial

The day before former President Donald Trump's impeachment trial begins on a charge of inciting the deadly attack on the Capitol last month, his lawyers on Monday denied he had encouraged violence and challenged the constitutionality of the trial now that he has left office. Photo: AFP Trump's lawyers accused the nine Democratic lawmakers known as "impeachment managers" who will prosecute him of "intellectual dishonesty and factual vacuity" in their portrayal of Trump's fiery 6 January speech to a crowd of his supporters before hundreds stormed the Capitol as Congress was meeting to formally certify President Joe Biden's election win. A source familiar with the discussions said the trial will open with a four-hour debate and then a vote on whether the proceedings are unconstitutional because Trump is no longer president. The trial will then feature up to 32 hours of debate beginning on Wednesday at noon, the source added. The nine Democrats who will serve as prosecutors hope to persuade members of the evenly divided 100-seat Senate to convict Trump and bar him from ever again holding public office. Trump, a Republican, ended his four-year term on 20 January, having lost the 3 November election to Biden. "The intellectual dishonesty and factual vacuity put forth by the House Managers in their trial memorandum only serve to further punctuate the point that this impeachment proceeding was never about seeking justice," Trump lawyers wrote in a filing in response to a brief by the House prosecutors. "Instead, this was only ever a selfish attempt by Democratic leadership in the House to prey upon the feelings of horror and confusion that fell upon all Americans across the entire political spectrum upon seeing the destruction at the Capitol on 6 January by a few hundred people," Trump's lawyers wrote. Pro-Trump supporters storm the US Capitol on 6 January. Photo: 2021 Getty Images They underscored their view that a post-presidency trial is not permitted under the Constitution. A failed 26 January bid to dismiss the case against Trump on the basis that it would be unconstitutional to hold a post-presidency trial drew the support of 45 of the 50 Republicans in the Senate. The House prosecutors rejected that argument in their brief filed with the Senate last week. They argued for Trump's conviction to protect American democracy and national security and to deter any future president who might consider provoking violence in the pursuit of power. They argued that Trump had a "singular responsibility" for the Capitol attack. To secure a conviction, 17 Republicans would need to join the Senate's 50 Democrats in the vote, a daunting hurdle. Possible debate on witnesses If the House prosecutors decide they want to call witnesses, the Senate would debate and hold a vote on whether witnesses will be allowed, the source said. The Democratic-led House impeached Trump on 13 January. He is the first US president to be impeached twice and the first to face trial after leaving office. Donald Trump at the rally that preceded the Capitol Hill insurrection Photo: AFP In his 6 January speech, Trump repeated false claims that the election was fraudulent and exhorted supporters to march on the Capitol, telling them to "stop the steal," "show strength" and "fight like hell." The rampage interrupted the formal congressional certification of Biden's election victory, sent lawmakers into hiding for their own safety and left five people dead including a police officer. Trump's lawyers said he used the word fight in a "figurative sense" that "could not be construed to encourage acts of violence." "Notably absent from his speech was any reference to or encouragement of an insurrection, a riot, criminal action, or any acts of physical violence whatsoever," they wrote. Challenging the case against Trump on constitutional grounds would enable his fellow Republicans in the Senate to vote against conviction without directly defending his speech to supporters shortly before the riot. Both parties may have an interest in completing the trial expeditiously. Biden since taking office has called for healing and unity in a nation that was left deeply polarized after Trump's presidency. Democrats hold slim majorities in both the House and Senate, and the trial could make it more difficult for Congress to pass Biden's $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief plan and complete the confirmation of nominees to government posts. Trump's false claims of a stolen election and his speech before the riot have left fissures in his party. Ten Republicans joined House Democrats in voting to impeach Trump. Trump's first impeachment trial, on charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress arising from his request that Ukraine investigate Biden and his son Hunter, ended last year in acquittal by the then-Republican-led Senate. The Senate will pause the impeachment trial from Friday evening to Saturday evening to honor a request by a Trump attorney, David Schoen, who observes the Jewish Sabbath, a spokesman for Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on Sunday. The trial will them resume on Sunday, the source familiar with the matter said. - Reuters
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Myanmar coup: Police use water cannon as thousands strike

Workers across Myanmar have gone on a nationwide strike, as protests calling for the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and for democracy to be restored continue for a third day. Thousands of people rally against Military Junta, near Sule pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar Photo: Anadolu Agency via AFP Thousands have gathered in Yangon and Mandalay, while water cannon was deployed in the capital Nay Pyi Taw. It comes a day after Myanmar saw its largest protest in more than a decade. The military seized power in a coup after claiming without evidence that an earlier election was fraudulent. They also declared a year-long state of emergency in Myanmar, also known as Burma, and power has been handed over to commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing. Again large demonstrations converging at Sule Pagoda / City Hall today. Many more police in evidence, plus water cannon truck. pic.twitter.com/5mj6ABo0wh — Richard Horsey (@rshorsey) February 8, 2021 Suu Kyi and senior leaders of her National League for Democracy Party (NLD), including President Win Myint, have been put under house arrest. 'We aren't going to work' By Monday morning, tens of thousands of people had gathered in Nay Pyi Taw, with other cities also reporting significant numbers, according to BBC Burmese. The protesters include teachers, lawyers, bank officers and government workers. About a thousand teachers have been marching from a township in Yangon towards the Sule Pagoda in the heart of Myanmar's main city. Online, there were also calls asking workers to skip work to protest. "This is a work day, but we aren't going to work even if our salary will be cut," one protester, 28-year-old garment factory worker, Hnin Thazin, told news agency AFP. In Nay Pyi Taw, police used water cannon on protesters and there were reports of a few injuries. One online video of the incident appears to show protesters rubbing their eyes and helping one another after being soaked. There were no other immediate reports of violence. “We all know how terrible it was,” said 40-year-old Maw Maw Aung, who was also among the crowds beside Sule Pagoda, of direct army rule. “We cannot live under the boot of the military. We hate dictatorship. We really hate it.” https://t.co/EOSoNHqpCM — Thu Thu Aung (@thuttag) February 7, 2021 Other videos showed large crowds holding placards and chanting as they walked through the streets. Earlier last week, Myanmar's military seized control following a general election which saw the NLD party win by a landslide. The armed forces had backed the opposition, who were demanding a rerun of the vote, claiming widespread fraud. A police vehicle fires water cannon in an attempt to disperse protesters during a demonstration against the military coup in Naypyidaw Photo: AFP The election commission said there was no evidence to support these claims. The coup was staged as a new session of parliament was set to open. The military has replaced ministers and deputies, including in finance, health, the interior and foreign affairs. It also blocked access to Facebook, which is widely used across the country, Twitter and Instagram. But that failed to stop large nationwide protests on Saturday and Sunday - which saw the country's largest protests since the so-called Saffron Revolution in 2007, when thousands of the country's monks rose up against the military regime. - BBC
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Myanmar coup: Workers join nationwide strike as protests continue

Workers across Myanmar have gone on a nationwide strike, as protests calling for the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and for democracy to be restored continue for a third day. Thousands of people rally against Military Junta, near Sule pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar Photo: Anadolu Agency via AFP Thousands have gathered in Yangon and Mandalay, while water cannon was deployed in the capital Nay Pyi Taw. It comes a day after Myanmar saw its largest protest in more than a decade. The military seized power in a coup after claiming without evidence that an earlier election was fraudulent. They also declared a year-long state of emergency in Myanmar, also known as Burma, and power has been handed over to commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing. Again large demonstrations converging at Sule Pagoda / City Hall today. Many more police in evidence, plus water cannon truck. pic.twitter.com/5mj6ABo0wh — Richard Horsey (@rshorsey) February 8, 2021 Suu Kyi and senior leaders of her National League for Democracy Party (NLD), including President Win Myint, have been put under house arrest. 'We aren't going to work' By Monday morning, tens of thousands of people had gathered in Nay Pyi Taw, with other cities also reporting significant numbers, according to BBC Burmese. The protesters include teachers, lawyers, bank officers and government workers. About a thousand teachers have been marching from a township in Yangon towards the Sule Pagoda in the heart of Myanmar's main city. Online, there were also calls asking workers to skip work to protest. "This is a work day, but we aren't going to work even if our salary will be cut," one protester, 28-year-old garment factory worker, Hnin Thazin, told news agency AFP. In Nay Pyi Taw, police used water cannon on protesters and there were reports of a few injuries. One online video of the incident appears to show protesters rubbing their eyes and helping one another after being soaked. There were no other immediate reports of violence. “We all know how terrible it was,” said 40-year-old Maw Maw Aung, who was also among the crowds beside Sule Pagoda, of direct army rule. “We cannot live under the boot of the military. We hate dictatorship. We really hate it.” https://t.co/EOSoNHqpCM — Thu Thu Aung (@thuttag) February 7, 2021 Other videos showed large crowds holding placards and chanting as they walked through the streets. Earlier last week, Myanmar's military seized control following a general election which saw the NLD party win by a landslide. The armed forces had backed the opposition, who were demanding a rerun of the vote, claiming widespread fraud. A police vehicle fires water cannon in an attempt to disperse protesters during a demonstration against the military coup in Naypyidaw Photo: AFP The election commission said there was no evidence to support these claims. The coup was staged as a new session of parliament was set to open. The military has replaced ministers and deputies, including in finance, health, the interior and foreign affairs. It also blocked access to Facebook, which is widely used across the country, Twitter and Instagram. But that failed to stop large nationwide protests on Saturday and Sunday - which saw the country's largest protests since the so-called Saffron Revolution in 2007, when thousands of the country's monks rose up against the military regime. - BBC
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Several dead after glacier bursts dam in India

At least 14 people are dead and 150 missing after a piece of a Himalayan glacier fell into a river and triggered a huge flood in northern India. Indo Tibetan Border Police personnel work to clear Tapovan tunnel from debris following floods Photo: AFP/ Indo Tibetan Border Police The floodwaters burst open a dam and a deluge of water poured through a valley in the state of Uttarakhand. Most of the missing are believed to be workers from two hydro power plants in the area. Hundreds of troops, paramilitaries and military helicopters have been sent to the region to help with rescue efforts. Experts are investigating the incident though it is not yet clear what might have caused the glacial burst. Officials say 25 people have been rescued so far. In a tweet on Monday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was keeping a close watch on the situation in Uttarakhand. "Have been continuously speaking to authorities and getting updates on ... deployment, rescue work and relief operations," he said in a tweet. "India stands with Uttarakhand and the nation prays for everyone's safety there." Leaders from across the world have also sent their condolences to families of the victims. "My thoughts are with the people of India and rescue workers in Uttarakhand as they respond to devastating flooding from the glacier collapse," said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a tweet. "The UK stands in solidarity with India and is ready to offer any support needed." Destruction in its wake Uttarakhand police said an avalanche struck at about 11am (local time) on Sunday, destroying a dam known as the Rishiganga Hydroelectric Project. Police said the impact catapulted water along the Dhauli Ganga river, damaging another power project downstream in the Tapovan area. Photo: AFP / Indo-Tibetan Border Police One witness compared the flash flood to "a scene from a Bollywood film". Video showed the floodwater barrelling through the area, leaving destruction in its wake. Emergency workers had earlier evacuated dozens of villages, but authorities later said the main flood danger had passed. Emergency crew have managed to rescue 16 workers who had been trapped inside a tunnel that had been filled with debris. Officials said around 35 to 40 others are thought to be trapped in a second tunnel. Emergency crews have reached the mouth of the tunnel and are in the process of clearing the area with heavy equipment. Some 6000 people are believed to have been killed in floods in June 2013 which were triggered by the heaviest monsoon rains in decades. What caused the glacial burst? The remoteness of where this happened means no-one has a definitive answer, so far. Experts say one possibility is that massive ice blocks broke off the glacier due to a temperature rise, releasing a huge amount of water. That could have caused avalanches bringing down rocks and mud. "This is a strong possibility because there was a huge amount of sediment flowing down," said DP Dobhal, a senior glaciologist formerly with the government's Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology. Experts say an avalanche could also have hit a glacial lake that then burst. Another possibility is that an avalanche or landslide may have dammed the river for some time, causing it to burst out after the water level rose. Sunday's disaster has prompted calls by environment groups for a review of power projects in the ecologically sensitive mountains. "Avalanches are common phenomena in the catchment area," MPS Bisht, director of the Uttarakhand Space Application Centre, told news agency AFP. "Huge landslides also frequently occur." Uma Bharti, a former water resources minister, said that she had previously spoken out against having any power projects on the Ganges and its tributaries when in government. - BBC
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Explainer: What's at stake for Israel's Netanyahu as corruption trial resumes

By Maayan Lubell Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption trial resumes on Monday (local time), when Israel's longest-serving leader will have to enter his plea to charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Photo: AFP Involving secret recordings, media moguls, gifts of cigars and champagne and aides' betrayals, the three corruption cases have all the makings of a political thriller. Will it bring him down? Netanyahu has managed to stay in office throughout the investigations and three election campaigns - with a fourth election due on 23 March. He denies wrongdoing and a trial is likely to take years. He will fight to remain prime minister in March and possibly for years afterwards. If he wins, he could try to secure parliamentary immunity, or pass laws to exempt a serving prime minister from standing trial. How has he remained in office? Under Israeli law, a prime minister is under no obligation to stand down unless convicted. No other government minister is protected in this way, so there are legal and political reasons why Netanyahu wants to stay at the top. People gather to protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his failure to combat the Covid-19 pandemic and his corruption charges cases and demanding his resignation Photo: Anadolu Agency via AFP Do Israelis care? Yes. The corruption case has had a polarising impact on Israelis. Thousands of demonstrators gather weekly outside his official residence and across Israel under the banner of "Crime Minister", demanding he quit. But his right-wing voter base has stayed loyal. Supporters see the man they call King Bibi as strong on security and an influential voice for Israel abroad. What are the charges? CASE 4000 alleges Netanyahu granted regulatory favours worth around 1.8 billion shekels (approx $NZ695 million) to telecommunications company Bezeq Telecom Israel. In return, prosecutors say, he sought positive coverage of himself and wife Sara on a news website controlled by the company's former chairman, Shaul Elovitch. In this case, Netanyahu has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Elovitch and his wife, Iris, have been charged with bribery and obstruction of justice. The couple deny wrongdoing. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and his coalition partner Defence Minister Benny Gantz. Photo: Ariel Schalit / Pool / AFP CASE 1000, in which Netanyahu has been charged with fraud and breach of trust, centres on allegations that he and his wife wrongfully received almost 700,000 shekels worth of gifts from Arnon Milchan, a Hollywood producer and Israeli citizen, and Australian billionaire businessman James Packer. Prosecutors said gifts included champagne and cigars and that Netanyahu helped Milchan with his business interests. Packer and Milchan face no charges. CASE 2000 alleges Netanyahu negotiated a deal with Arnon Mozes, owner of Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, for better coverage and that, in return, he offered legislation that would slow the growth of a rival newspaper. Netanyahu has been charged with fraud and breach of trust. Mozes has been charged with offering a bribe, and denies wrongdoing. What does Netanyahu say? Netanyahu says he is the victim of a politically orchestrated "witch hunt" by the left and media to oust him from office, and that receiving gifts from friends is not against the law. Could he go to jail? Bribery charges carry a jail sentence of up to 10 years and or a fine. Fraud and breach of trust carry a sentence of up to three years. Will a verdict come soon? Unlikely. The trial could take years. But proceedings could be cut short if Netanyahu seeks a plea deal. - Reuters
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Australian journalist Cheng Lei formally arrested in China

The Chinese government has formally charged Australian journalist Cheng Lei with "illegally supplying state secrets overseas", almost half a year after she was first detained. Australian journalist Cheng Lei. Photo: AFP Cheng Lei has been held since August last year under a form of detention that allows Chinese police to imprison and question a suspect for up to six months without access to lawyers. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Chinese authorities advised Australia late last week that they had formally charged Cheng, meaning an official investigation into her conduct would now begin. "We have consistently raised concerns (about Cheng Lei) regularly at the most senior levels," Payne said. "We have made a number of consular visits to her as part of our bilateral consular agreement - the most recent of those was on the 27th of January - and we continue to seek assurances of her being treated appropriately, humanely and in accordance with international standards, and that will continue to be the case." Lei was working as a high profile anchor for China's state-run English language news service, CGTN. Payne said the charges against Lei were "broad" and she expected the investigation to continue for months. When asked if the Australian government believed the allegations against Lei were baseless, she said Australia was "seeking further advice in relation to the charges". Lei has two young children living with her family in Melbourne. Last year, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Lei was "suspected of carrying out criminal activities endangering China's national security", but did not provide any further details. - ABC
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New Zealand placed fourth in global democracy index

New Zealand has been ranked fourth on a global democracy index, behind three Nordic countries. New Zealand is a land of comparative freedom, according to a recent report on global democracy. Photo: RNZ The Economist Intelligence Unit's 2020 Democracy Index has just been released. It weighed data from 167 countries to provide a snapshot of democracy worldwide, with a focus on the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. Factors taken into consideration were electoral process, the functioning of government, political participation and culture, and civil liberties. New Zealand scored 9.25 out of 10 in the latest index - a fraction less than in 2019. Norway topped the list, followed by Iceland and Sweden, while North Korea came last with a score of 1.08 out of 10. The US was defined as a "flawed democracy" and ranked 25th, with a score of 7.92. "The negatives [for USA] include extremely low levels of trust in institutions and political parties, deep dysfunction in the functioning of government, increasing threats to freedom of expression, and a degree of societal polarisation that makes consensus almost impossible to achieve. "Social cohesion has collapsed ... the new president, Joe Biden, faces a huge challenge in bringing together a country that is deeply divided over core values," the report stated. Joe Biden is the president of the US that was categorised as a "flawed democracy" in the Economist Intelligence Unit's 2020 Democracy Index. Photo: AFP Australia was ranked ninth with a score of 8.96 and kept its status as a "full democracy". The report found almost 14 percent of countries worldwide were "full democracies", 31 percent were "flawed democracies", and 21 percent were "hybrid regimes". Just over 34 percent of the countries included were ruled by "authoritarian regimes". Hong Kong dropped down the rankings by 12 places, becoming a "hybrid regime" rather than a "flawed democracy", and Myanmar fell by 13 places. Asia's average regional score fell to its lowest since 2013, as official measures to combat the pandemic led to some of the most severe constraints on individual freedoms and civil liberties in the world, the report's writers said. "China, Singapore and others went much further than the rest of the world in tracking and policing their citizens and locking them down in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. "As a result, more than half of the countries in the region recorded a fall in their total score. "However, the biggest country downgrades, for Myanmar and Hong Kong, were driven by other factors, including mass voter suppression in the former and a crackdown by the authorities on dissent in the latter." Report editor Joan Hoey said Asia gained three new "full democracies" in 2020 - Japan, South Korea and Taiwan - while western Europe lost two - France and Portugal. "Asia continues to lag behind the West in democratic terms having only five "full democracies", compared with western Europe's 13, but the region has, so far, handled the pandemic much better than virtually any other, with lower infection and mortality rates and a fast economic rebound," Hoey said. Asian governments had reacted decisively to the pandemic, even though coercive powers had been used in some cases, Hoey said. Asian countries had well-organised health systems and their populations still trusted their governments, he said. "By contrast, European governments were slow to act, some health systems came close to collapse and public trust in government declined," Hoey said. France scored 7.99 overall and was ranked 24th, while Portugal scored 7.9 and was in 26th place.
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South Africa halts AstraZeneca jab over new strain

South Africa has put its roll-out of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on hold after a study showed "disappointing" results against its new Covid-19 variant. A vial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Photo: AFP Scientists say the strain accounts for 90 percent of new Covid-19 cases in South Africa. The study, involving around 2000 people, found the vaccine offered "minimal protection" against mild and moderate cases of Covid-19. South Africa has received 1m doses of the AstraZeneca jab and was due to start vaccinating people next week. Speaking at an online news conference on Sunday, South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said his government would wait for further advice on how best to proceed with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in light of the findings. The trial was carried out by the University of the Witwatersrand but has not yet been peer reviewed. In the meantime, he said, the government will offer vaccines produced by Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer in the coming weeks. "Unfortunately, the AstraZeneca vaccine does not work against mild and moderate illness," Professor Shabir Madhi, who led the study, told the briefing. He said that the study had not been able to investigate the vaccine's efficacy in preventing more serious infections, as participants had an average age of 31 and so did not represent the demographic most at risk of severe symptoms from the virus. Oxford's lead vaccine developer Professor Sarah Gilbert said vaccines should still protect against severe disease. She said developers were likely to have a modified version of the injection against the South Africa variant, also known as 501.V2 or B.1.351, later this year. Experts say vaccines could be redesigned and tweaked to be a better match for new variants in a matter of weeks or months if necessary. Early results from Moderna suggest its vaccine is still effective against the South Africa variant, while AstraZeneca has said its vaccine provides good protection against the UK variant first identified in the UK. Early results suggest the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine protects against the new variants. - BBC
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US and Iran in deadlock over economic sanctions and nuclear deal

US President Joe Biden says he will not lift economic sanctions against Iran until it complies with the terms agreed under a 2015 nuclear deal. US President Joe Biden says economic sanctions against Iran will stay until it agrees to a 2015 nuclear deal. Photo: AFP Biden was speaking in a CBS News interview aired yesterday. But Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Tehran would only return to compliance if the US first lifted all economic sanctions. The 2015 deal sought to limit Iran's nuclear programme, with sanctions eased in return. Former President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions, leading Iran to roll back on a number of its commitments. Iran, which says its nuclear programme is peaceful, has been increasing its stockpile of enriched uranium. Enriched uranium can be used to make reactor fuel, but also nuclear bombs. Why did the nuclear deal fall apart? Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, says the US must abolish sanctions before Iran will comply with the nuclear deal. Photo: AFP Under the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal - an agreement reached between Iran, the US, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the UK - Tehran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment and allow international inspectors to access sites and facilities. In return, sanctions imposed on Tehran were lifted. Trump withdrew the US from the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in an effort to force Iran to negotiate a new accord, and reinstated economic sanctions. Trump wanted to place indefinite curbs on Tehran's nuclear programme and also halt its development of ballistic missiles. Iran refused. In July 2019, it breached the 3.67 percent cap on uranium enrichment and in January this year announced it had resumed enriching uranium to 20 percent purity. Weapons-grade uranium is 90 percent purity. In a short clip of the interview published before the full broadcast yesterday, Biden was asked if he would halt economic sanctions to bring Tehran back to the negotiating table, and he replied: "No." Ali Khamenei said for Iran to return to its commitments under the deal, the US must first "abolish all sanctions", Iranian state TV reported yesterday. "We will assess, and if we see that they have acted faithfully in this regard, we will return to our commitment," he said. "It is the irreversible and final decision and all Iranian officials have consensus over it." What else did Biden say? The president also talked about the US relationship with China. He said there was no reason for Washington to be drawn into direct conflict with Beijing, but both sides would engage in "extreme competition" on the global economic stage. Biden said he had not spoken to his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, since becoming president last month, and that he had not changed his stance towards Beijing. "He's very bright, he's very tough," Biden said of Xi. "He doesn't have a democratic - small 'd' - bone in his body." - BBC
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