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Roy Siemens

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Roy likes politics. Knowledge is power, Roy constantly says, so he spends nearly all day gathering information and writing articles about the latest events around the globe. He likes history and studying about war techniques, this is why he finds writing his articles a piece of cake. Another hobby of his is horse – riding.

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Photo: AP/Michel Euler

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has called the beheading of a teacher in a north-western suburb of Paris an “Islamist terrorist attack”.

The teacher of history and geography is said to have shown controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to his pupils. The attacker was shot dead by police.

President Macron said the as yet unnamed victim was murdered because he “taught freedom of expression”.

“They won’t win… We will act,” the president said from the scene.

The attack occurred on October 15, at about 17:00 local time, near a school. Anti-terror prosecutors are investigating.

The knife-wielding attacker was shot as officers tried to arrest him in the aftermath of the attack. Police have not released any personal details about him, although French media report he was an 18-year-old man of Chechen origin who was born in Moscow.

A trial is currently under way in Paris over a 2015 Islamist assault on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which was targeted for publishing the cartoons.

Three weeks ago, a man attacked and wounded two people outside Charlie Hebdo‘s former offices.

A man wielding a large knife attacked the teacher in a street in the town of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, cutting off his head. A police source said that witnesses had heard the attacker shout “Allahu Akbar”, or “God is Greatest”, the Reuters reported.

The attacker then ran off, but local police alerted by the public were quickly at the scene.

The officers confronted the man in the nearby district of Éragny.

When they shouted at him to give himself up, he is said to have threatened them. The officers shot him and he died a short time later.

The scene is now sealed off, as the investigation continues.

Nine people, including a minor, have been arrested, judicial sources have told French media. They reportedly include relatives of the attacker and parents of a child at the school where the teacher worked.

Why was Charlie Hebdo attacked?

Je suis Charlie: Who is behind viral slogan?

According to Le Monde newspaper, the victim had been talking in class about freedom of expression in connection with the Muhammad cartoons, which caused uproar among some Muslims when Charlie Hebdo published them.

He had reportedly advised Muslim students to leave the room if they thought they might be offended.

Earlier this month, some Muslim parents complained to the school about the teacher’s decision to use one or more of the cartoons as part of a discussion about the Charlie Hebdo trial, French media report.

Reacting to the attack, Charlie Hebdo tweeted: “Intolerance just reached a new threshold and seems to stop at nothing to impose terror in our country.”

France has seen a wave of Islamist violence since the 2015 attack on Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead, including famous cartoonists.

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Image source Wikimedia

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been discharged from a Berlin hospital where he was being treated for Novichok nerve agent poisoning.

The Charité Hospital in the German capital said it was ending acute medical care because his condition had sufficiently improved.

Alexei Navalny, 44, posted a picture of himself standing unaided with a message saying doctors had given him every chance of a full recovery.

His team alleges he was poisoned on the orders of President Vladimir Putin.

However, the Kremlin strongly denies any involvement.

Alexei Navalny collapsed on a flight in Siberia on August 20. The Russian activist was later transferred to the Charité hospital in Berlin.

A statement from the hospital said that Alexi Navalny had spent 32 days there, including 24 days in intensive care.

“Based on the patient’s progress and current condition, the treating physicians believe that complete recovery is possible. However, it remains too early to gauge the potential long-term effects of his severe poisoning,” it said.

Earlier this month the hospital revealed that Alexei Navalny had begun to recover, saying that he had been removed from a ventilator and could leave his bed.

At the time, the German government said that laboratories in France and Sweden had reconfirmed German tests showing that the poison used on Alexei Navalny was a Novichok agent.

The Kremlin has said there is no proof of that.

Alexei Navalny’s supporters initially believed that his tea had been spiked at Tomsk airport in Siberia before he caught a flight to Moscow. However, they later said that traces of Novichok had been found on a water bottle in the hotel room where he had been staying.

Alexei Navalny became ill during the flight and the plane made an emergency landing in Omsk. Russian officials were persuaded to allow him to be airlifted to Germany two days later.

After tests confirmed poisoning with a Novichok nerve agent, the EU demanded a “transparent” investigation by the Russian government.

Alexei Navalny: Traces of Nerve Agent Found on A Bottle in His Hotel Room, Says His Team

President Trump Refuses to Condemn Russia over Alexei Navalny Poisoning

Russia: Alexei Navalny In Coma After Allegedly Being Poisoned

In an Instagram post on September 22, Alexei Navalny rubbished suggestions – purportedly from President Putin – that he had poisoned himself.

French newspaper Le Monde reported that in a telephone call with President Emmanuel Macron on September 14, President Putin had spoken “with contempt about Alexei Navalny, considering him a simple internet troublemaker who had simulated diseases in the past”.

“Putin has outsmarted me,” Alexei Navalny wrote on Instagram, mocking the Russian president.

“He is nobody’s fool. As a result, I, like a fool, spent 18 days in a coma but failed to achieve what I wanted. The provocation has failed!”

A nerve agent from the Novichok group was also used to poison Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England in 2018. They both survived, but a local woman, Dawn Sturgess, died after coming into contact with the poison.

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According to Alexei Navany’s team, traces of the nerve agent allegedly used to poison the Russian opposition leader were found on a bottle in the hotel room where he stayed before falling ill.

Alexei Navalny collapsed on a flight in Siberia last month. Germany says he was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent.

It was previously thought that he may have been targeted at the airport.

A post on his Instagram account says: “Now we understand: It was done before he left his room to reach the airport.”

Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most high profile opposition figure and a leading critic of President Vladimir Putin, is currently receiving treatment in the German capital Berlin.

His team alleges he was poisoned on the orders of President Putin.

However, the Kremlin denies any involvement in the case and says there is no evidence that a nerve agent was used.

A video posted on Alexei Navalny’s Instagram account on September 17 shows members of his team in a hotel room in the Siberian city of Tomsk after news of his poisoning emerged.

The post says they were there to gather potential evidence from the hotel to send to Alexei Navalny’s medical team in Germany because they did not trust the Russian authorities.

Several empty water bottles can be seen in the clip. They are among a number of items bagged by individuals wearing gloves.

“It is precisely on the bottle from the Tomsk hotel room that a German laboratory found traces of Novichok,” the post says.

The German authorities have not commented on the alleged finding.

President Trump Refuses to Condemn Russia over Alexei Navalny Poisoning

Russia: Alexei Navalny In Coma After Allegedly Being Poisoned

Earlier this week, Alexei Navalny posted once for the first time since he fell ill. He said he was now able to breathe unaided. His spokeswoman said he intended to return to Russia.

Alexei Navalny became ill during the flight from Tomsk to Moscow on August 20, and the plane made an emergency landing in the city Omsk. Russian officials were persuaded to allow him to be airlifted to Germany two days later.

After carrying out tests, Germany said there was “unequivocal proof” that Alexei Navalny had been poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent.

According to the German government, labs in Sweden and France later confirmed the findings. A nerve agent from the Novichok group was also used to poison Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, in England, in 2018. They both survived, but a local woman, Dawn Sturgess, died after coming into contact with the poison.

Image source: AP

President Donald Trump has hailed the “dawn of a new Middle East”, amid Israel’s landmark deals with the UAE and Bahrain.

The president spoke as the two Gulf states signed agreements fully normalizing their relations with Israel.

The three countries hailed the deals as historic, as did President Trump, whose administration helped broker them.

The UAE and Bahrain are just the third and fourth Arab countries to recognize Israel since its founding in 1948.

President Trump hopes other countries will follow suit, but the Palestinians have urged them not to while their conflict remains unsolved.

President Donald Trump Presents Middle East Peace Plan

Trump’s Middle East Peace Plan Rejected by Palestinians

President Donald Trump: Israeli Settlements Could Complicate Peace Process with Palestinians

For decades, most Arab states have boycotted Israel, insisting they would only establish ties after Israel’s dispute with the Palestinian was settled.

“After decades of division and conflict we mark the dawn of a new Middle East,” President Trump told a crowd of hundreds gathered at the White House on September 15.

“We’re here this afternoon to change the course of history,” he added.

Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the deals, saying: “This day is a pivot of history; it heralds a new dawn of peace.”

However, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said only an Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories could bring peace to the Middle East.

“Peace, security and stability will not be achieved in the region until the Israeli occupation ends,” he said in a statement after the signing of the deals, AFP reports.

The Israeli army said that two rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel while the ceremony was under way.

Before the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, the only other Arab countries in the Middle East to recognize Israel officially were Egypt and Jordan, who signed peace treaties in 1978 and 1994 respectively.

Mauritania, a member of the Arab League in north-west Africa, established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1999 but severed ties in 2010.

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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been moved to Germany from Siberia for medical treatment.

The prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin is in a coma after drinking what his supporters suspect was poisoned tea; they accuse the authorities of trying to conceal a crime.

Doctors treating Alexei Navalny in Omsk had insisted on August 21 that he was too ill to be moved.

However, they later said his condition was stable enough for the flight. His wife Yulia Navalnaya is traveling with him.

On August 22, Alexei Navalny’s medical evacuation flight – paid for by the German non-governmental organization Cinema for Peace – landed at Tegel airport in Berlin. He is being treated at the Charité hospital in the German capital.

The founder of the Cinema for Peace Foundation, activist and filmmaker Jaka Bizilj, told reporters outside the hospital that Alexei Navalny’s condition was “very worrying”.

“It’s not only about the question if he will survive this,” Jaka Bizilj said.

“It’s a question what kind of damage there is, if he will survive this and come back to normal fully.”

Alexei Navalny’s personal doctor, Anastasia Vasilieva, was not allowed to see him while he was in hospital in Russia. But she said she was hopeful he could recover now that he was in Germany.

She said: “I’m sure that they can treat him and do everything to eliminate this toxic agent from his body.”

Medical staff treating Alexei Navalny at the hospital in Omsk said before his flight that his life was not in immediate danger.

His spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, earlier tweeted: “Massive thanks to everyone for their support. The struggle for Alexei’s life and health is just beginning.”

Kira Yarmysh said it was a pity that doctors had taken so long to approve his flight as the plane and the right documents had been ready since August 21.

Alexei Navalny fell ill during a flight from Tomsk to Moscow on August 20, and his plane made an emergency landing in Omsk.

A photograph on social media appeared to show the Russian opposition leader drinking from a cup at a Tomsk airport cafe before the flight. His team suspects a poisonous substance was put in his tea.

Disturbing video appeared to show a stricken Alexei Navalny howling in agony on the flight.

Russia: Alexei Navalny In Coma After Allegedly Being Poisoned

The head doctor at the hospital where Navalny was being treated in Omsk, Alexander Murakhovsky, warned late on August 21 that doctors did not recommend flying “but his wife insists on her husband being transferred to a German clinic”.

“The patient’s condition is stable,” deputy chief doctor Anatoly Kalinichenko was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

“As we’re in possession of a request from relatives to permit him to be transported somewhere, we have now taken the decision that we do not object to his transfer to another in-patient facility,” he added.

Doctors said earlier that no poison had been found in Alexei Navalny’s body, suggesting his condition might be the result of a “metabolic disorder” caused by low blood sugar.

Health officials then indicated that traces of an industrial chemical had been found on his skin and hair. The local interior ministry told the Rapsi legal news agency that the chemical was usually included in polymers to improve their elasticity, but its concentration was impossible to establish.

Alexei Navalny has consistently exposed official corruption in Russia. He has served multiple jail terms.

Foreign leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s President Emmanuel Macron have expressed concern for him.

In the US, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has described the incident as “unacceptable” and vowed that, if elected, he would “stand up to autocrats like Putin”.

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Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, has received more responsibilities in the government, South Korea’s spy agency claims.

Kim Jong-un still maintains “absolute authority”, but handed various policy areas to others to reduce his stress levels, the spy agency reportedly said.

Kim Yo-jong is now “steering overall state affairs”, the National Intelligence Service added.

However, South Korea’s spy agency has been wrong about North Korea in the past.

The claims were reportedly made during a closed-door briefing on August 20 to South Korea’s National Assembly.

Lawmakers then discussed the assessment with journalists.

The agency was quoted as saying: “Kim Jong-un is still maintaining his absolute authority, but some of it has been handed over little by little.”

Kim Yo-jong now has responsibility for Pyongyang’s policy towards the US and South Korea, among other policy issues, and is “the de-facto number two leader,” it added, although it stressed that Kim Jong-un had “not selected a successor.”

The North Korean leader’s decision to delegate was in part to “relieve stress from his reign and avert culpability in the event of policy failure,” it said.

However, some analysts have been skeptical of the intelligence, with website NKNews noting that Kim Yo-jong appeared to have missed two important meetings this month, leading to speculation from some observers that she may have been demoted.

Image source EPA

PyeongChang 2018: Kim Jong-un’s Sister, Kim Yo-jong, to Visit South Korea for Olympics

Kim Yo-jong: Kim Jong-un’s Sister to Take up Important Role in North Korea’s Core Leadership

Kim Yo-jong is the younger sister of Kim Jong-un and the only one of his siblings considered a close and powerful ally.

Born in 1987, she is four years younger than Kim Jong-un. The two of them lived and studied in Bern, Switzerland, at the same time.

Kim Yo-jong first gained international attention in 2018, when she was the first member of the Kim dynasty to visit South Korea.

She was part of the delegation to the Winter Olympics, where North and South competed as a joint team.

Kim Yo-jong also worked alongside her brother at international summits, including his meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, China’s Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump.

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Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta has stepped down, after being detained by soldiers on August 18.

In a TV address, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta said he was also dissolving the government and parliament, adding: “I want no blood to be spilled to keep me in power.”

The president and PM Boubou Cissé were taken to a military camp near the capital Bamako, drawing international condemnation.

A spokesman for the soldiers called for “a civil political transition leading to credible general elections”.

Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta won a second term in elections in 2018, but there has been anger over corruption, the mismanagement of the economy and a dispute over legislative elections. It has prompted several large protests in recent months.

There has also been anger among troops about pay and over a continuing conflict with jihadists.

Wearing a surgical mask amid the coronavirus pandemic, President Keïta resigned in a brief address on state TV.

“If today, certain elements of our armed forces want this to end through their intervention, do I really have a choice?” he asked.

“I hold no hatred towards anyone, my love of my country does not allow me to,” he added.

“May God save us.”

A televised statement was read out early on August 19 on behalf of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People.

Air force deputy chief of staff Col-Major Ismaël Wagué said: “Civil society and political social movements are invited to join us to create together the best conditions for a civil political transition leading to credible general elections for the exercise of democracy through a roadmap that will lay the foundations for a new Mali.”

He added: “As of today, all air and land borders are closed until further notice. A curfew is in place from 09:00 to 17:00 until further notice.”

Flanked by soldiers, Col. Wagué said: “Our country is sinking into chaos, anarchy and insecurity mostly due to the fault of the people who are in charge of its destiny.”

It remains unclear who began the mutiny, how many soldiers took part or who will now take charge.

It appears to have started when mutinying soldiers took control of the Kati camp, where the president and PM were later taken.

After taking over the camp, about 9 miles from Bamako, the mutineers marched on the capital, where they were cheered by crowds who had gathered to demand President Keïta’s resignation.

Mali Hotel Siege: President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita Declares State of Emergency

Mali Radisson Blu Hotel Attack Leaves at Least Three Dead

On August 18, they stormed his residence and arrested the president and his prime minister – who were both there.

The president’s son, the speaker of the National Assembly, the foreign and finance ministers were reported to be among the other officials detained.

Kati camp was the focus of a mutiny in 2012, also by mid-ranking soldiers, who were angry at the inability of the senior commanders to stop jihadists and Tuareg rebels taking control of northern Mali.

When news first broke of the mutiny, the UN and African Union both called for the release of those held by the soldiers.

The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), a regional body, also said its 15 member states had agreed to close their borders with Mali, suspend all financial flows to the country, and eject Mali from all Ecowas decision-making bodies. In recent months, Ecowas has been trying to mediate between President Keïta’s government and opposition groups.

The UN Security Council is to meet on August 19 to discuss the latest developments in Mali.

Mali’s former colonial ruler, France, was also quick to condemn the president’s detention, and Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian urged the soldiers to return to barracks.

Mali is a key base for French troops fighting Islamist insurgents across the Sahel region.

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Russia has agreed to offer security assistance to Belarus in the case of external military threats, President Alexander Lukashenko has said.

President Lukashenko also voiced concerns over NATO military exercises taking place in neighboring Poland and Lithuania.

The news comes as the embattled Belarusian president faces mass protests over the disputed August 9 election.

Thousands of Belarusians gathered outside state television on August 15, demanding full coverage of the demonstrations.

The unrest erupted after Alexander Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory in last week’s election, the result of which has been condemned amid widespread allegations of vote-rigging.

The Central Election Commission says Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, won 80.1% of the vote and the main opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya 10.12%.

However, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya insists that where votes were properly counted, she won support ranging from 60% to 70%.

As the unrest continued on August 15, President Lukashenko sought help from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

President Lukashenko said President Putin had promised to provide what he called comprehensive assistance in the event of external military threats to Belarus.

The announcement came the day after EU foreign ministers agreed to prepare new sanctions against Belarusian officials responsible for “falsification”. The US has also condemned the election as “not free and fair”.

Image source: kremlin.ru

Belarus Elections 2020: Alexander Lukashenko Wins Presidential Election Marred by Protests

In a joint statement on August 15, the prime ministers of three Baltic republics – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – “expressed deep concern at the violent crackdown… and the political repression of the opposition by the authorities”.

Latvia and Lithuania have previously said they are prepared to mediate in Belarus, provided the authorities stopped violence against protesters and formed a national council with members of civil society. They warned that the alternative was sanctions.

The Baltic leaders said the Belarusian presidential election was “neither free nor fair” and called for a “transparent” vote “with the participation of international observers”.

“The prime ministers urge the Belarusian authorities to refrain from violence against peaceful demonstrators [and to] release all political prisoners and those that have been detained,” the statement added.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya left for Lithuania following the election after she publicly denounced the results. She had sent her children to Lithuania for safety before the vote.

Some 6,700 people were arrested in the wake of the election, and many have spoken of torture at the hands of the security services.

Amnesty International said accounts from released detainees suggested “widespread torture”.

Demonstrations have continued following Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s call for further peaceful rallies on August 14.

Some 100 staff came out of the state television building to join August 15 protests, saying they planned a strike on August 17, AFP reports. Others have signed a letter in support of a strike.

On election day, Belarusian state channels aired the voices of Lukashenko supporters and did not cover the demonstrations. State TV later showed footage of violence to blame protesters and warn people not to participate.

Several journalists have resigned over the coverage.

A “March for Freedom” is also planned in the center of Minsk on August 16, a week after the contested election.

The death toll of August 4 devastating explosion in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, has exceeded 200, according to officials.

Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud said dozens were still missing, many of them foreign workers.

On August 9, there was a second night of violence in Beirut, as police clashed with protesters angry with the government’s response to the disaster.

The resignation of three members of the cabinet, including the justice minister on August 10, has not quelled the fury.

Fresh protests have been called for August 10 when PM Hassan Diab is due to chair a cabinet meeting.

PM Diab has said the blast was the result of the detonation of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that had been stored unsafely at Beirut’s port for six years.

The decision to keep so much hazardous material in a warehouse near the city center has been met with disbelief by many Lebanese, who have long accused the political elite of corruption, neglect and mismanagement.

Marwan Abboud was quoted by the al-Marsad Online news website as saying the death toll from the explosion had risen to 220, and that 110 people remained missing.

The governor told the Al Jadeed TV channel that many foreign workers and lorry drivers were among the missing, which he said had made identifying them more difficult.

The Lebanese army, meanwhile, said it was calling off the rescue phase of the search operation at the port because no survivors had been found.

Elsewhere in Beirut, hundreds of thousands of people are living in severely damaged homes, many without windows or doors.

STR/AFP via Getty Images

Beirut Explosion: World Leaders Attend Virtual Conference to Secure Aid for Lebanon

Beirut Explosion: Rescuers Search for Survivors as 113 People Are Confirmed Dead

Beirut Explosion: At Least 27 Killed And More Than 2,500 Injured

Officials have estimated that the explosion caused more than $3 billion of damage and that Lebanon’s collective economic losses may amount to $15 billion.

Lebanon was already suffering a major economic downturn before the explosion, with families pushed into poverty and hunger, and UN agencies have warned of a humanitarian crisis unless food and medical aid are delivered swiftly.

International donors pledged $297 million in aid for Lebanon at a virtual summit on August 9 hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron.

A joint statement underscored their concerns about corruption, saying that the assistance should be “directly delivered to the Lebanese population, with utmost efficiency and transparency”.

The donors said further assistance was dependent on Lebanese authorities fully committing to “timely measures and reforms expected by the Lebanese people”.

On August 9, world leaders will hold talks to raise aid for Beirut, five days after the massive explosion which devastated the Lebanese capital.

The virtual conference – set up by France and the United Nations – starts at 14:00 Lebanon time.

President Donald Trump has said he plans to join the call.

Officials estimate the explosion at the warehouse, which stored 2,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, caused up to $15 billion in damage.

The blast left at least 158 people dead, 5,000 injured and 300,000 homeless.

On August 8, thousands of people protested in Beirut. Police fired tear gas at stone-throwing protesters and some demonstrators storming government ministries.

In a TV address, Lebanese PM Hassan Diab said he would ask for early elections as a way out of the crisis. The issue will be discussed in cabinet on August 10.

Lebanon was already mired in a deep economic crisis and struggling to tackle the coronavirus pandemic before the explosion tore through Beirut.

An anti-government protest movement erupted last October, fuelled by the financial situation and a collapsing currency.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut on August 6, and announced he wanted to co-ordinate international aid for Lebanon.

A statement from France’s presidential palace says August 9 conference “will aim to mobilize Lebanon’s main international partners and to organize and co-ordinate emergency support from the international community”.

STR/AFP via Getty Images

Beirut Explosion: Rescuers Search for Survivors as 113 People Are Confirmed Dead

Beirut Explosion: At Least 27 Killed And More Than 2,500 Injured

Representatives from EU member states, the UK, Russia, China, Egypt and Jordan will all take part, with many others invited to attend.

In a series of tweets, President Trump said he had discussed the “catastrophic event” in Beirut with President Macron and would himself join the call.

He tweeted: “We will be having a conference call on Sunday with President Macron, leaders of Lebanon, and leaders from various other parts of the world. Everyone wants to help!”

A number of countries have already pledged millions of dollars worth of aid and sent ships, health workers and materiel to assist Beirut.

However, UN agencies have called for more help and warned about the massive challenge ahead. Many homes are without water or electricity, there are growing worries about food shortages, and cases of Covid-19 are spiking in the country – an additional challenge for hospitals which are already overwhelmed.

Rescue teams in Lebanon are searching rubble for dozens of people missing a day after a huge explosion devastated the port area of the capital, Beirut.

The explosion, which shook the whole city, killed at least 113 people and injured more than 4,000 others. A two-week state of emergency has been declared.

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun said the blast was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely in a warehouse.

All port officials have been put under house arrest pending an investigation.

According to local media, customs chief Badri Daher claims his agency had repeatedly called for the ammonium nitrate to be removed, but “this did not happen, and we leave it to the experts to determine the reasons”.

Ammonium nitrate is used as a fertilizer in agriculture and as an explosive.

Opening an emergency cabinet meeting, President Aoun said: “No words can describe the horror that has hit Beirut last night, turning it into a disaster-stricken city.”

The blast occurred just after 18:00 on August 4 after a fire at the port, and it was felt 150 miles away on the island of Cyprus, in the eastern Mediterranean.

Security forces have sealed off a wide area around the blast site, and rescuer workers have been looking for bodies and survivors under rubble while boats searched the waters off the coast.

However, the overnight rescue effort was hampered by a lack of electricity.

Public Health Minister Hamad Hassan said the country’s health sector was short of beds and lacked the equipment necessary to treat the injured and care for patients in critical condition.

He said a “large number of children” had been rescued but added that he feared that the number of dead would rise further.

The Saint Georges hospital near the site of the blast was badly damaged and several members of staff were killed. Three Beirut hospitals were closed with two others only partially operational, the World Health Organization (WHO) said. The WHO said it would airlift medical supplies to Lebanon on August 5.

Three French planes are due to arrive carrying 55 rescuers, medical equipment and a mobile clinic equipped to treat 500 people. French President Emmanuel Macron will visit on August 6. The EU is sending 100 firefighters with vehicles, dogs and equipment. Russia is sending five planes carrying rescuers, doctors and equipment.

According to Beirut’s governor Marwan Aboud, many buildings and homes have been reduced to an uninhabitable mess of glass and as many as 300,000 people have been left homeless.

STR/AFP via Getty Images

Beirut Explosion: At Least 27 Killed And More Than 2,500 Injured

Beirut explosion kills four people in Haret Hreik district

Beirut car bomb kills at least 5 people in Hezbollah stronghold

The ammonium nitrate had reportedly been in a warehouse in Beirut port for six years after it was unloaded from a ship impounded at the port in 2013.

The head of Beirut port and the head of the customs authority both told local media that they had written to the judiciary several times asking that the chemical be exported or sold on to ensure port safety.

The port’s General Manager Hassan Koraytem told OTV that they had been aware that the material was dangerous when a court first ordered it stored in the warehouse, “but not to this degree”.

Lebanon’s Supreme Defense Council has vowed that those found responsible will face the “maximum punishment” possible.

The ammonium nitrate arrived on a Moldovan-flagged ship, the Rhosus, which entered Beirut port after suffering technical problems during its voyage from Georgia to Mozambique, according to Shiparrested.com, which deals with shipping-related legal cases.

The Rhosus was inspected, banned from leaving and was shortly afterwards abandoned by its owners, sparking several legal claims. Its cargo was then removed and stored in a port warehouse for safety reasons, the report said.

At least 27 people have been killed and more than 2,500 injured in a large blast in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, the health minister says.

It is not yet clear what caused the explosion in the port region. Videos posted online showed a column of smoke followed by a large mushroom cloud.

Hospitals are said to be overwhelmed and many buildings have been destroyed.

According to Lebanon’s internal security chief, the blast happened in an area housing highly explosive materials.

The explosion comes at a sensitive time for Lebanon, with an economic crisis reigniting old divisions. Tensions are also high ahead of August 7 verdict in a trial over the killing of ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.

Image source: STR/AFP via Getty Images

Beirut explosion kills four people in Haret Hreik district

Beirut car bomb kills at least 5 people in Hezbollah stronghold

Some reports suggest the explosion may have been an accident. Lebanon’s National News Agency reported a fire breaking out at what it called an explosives depot at the port before the explosion.

Local media showed people trapped beneath rubble. A witness described the first explosion as deafening, and video footage showed wrecked cars and blast-damaged buildings.

President Michel Aoun called for an emergency meeting of the Supreme Defense Council, the presidency said on Twitter.

August 5 has been declared a day of mourning, the Lebanese prime minister said.

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The Department of Justice has accused China of sponsoring hackers who are targeting labs developing Covid-19 vaccines.

US officials have charged two Chinese men who allegedly spied on American companies doing coronavirus research and got help from state agents for other thefts.

The indictment comes amid a US crackdown on Chinese cyber espionage.

The US, UK and Canada last week accused Russia of seeking to steal research related to Covid-19.

The accusations against former electrical engineering students Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi released on July 21 include charges of trade secret theft and wire fraud conspiracy.

Prosecutors said the two men spied on a Massachusetts biotech company in January which was known to be researching possible cures for Covid-19. They also hacked a Maryland company less than a week after it said it was researching Covid-19.

Officials called the Chinese men private hackers who occasionally received support from Chinese intelligence agents, including an officer from the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS).

Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi previously stole “hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of trade secrets, intellectual property, and other valuable business information” beginning in 2009, prosecutors alleged.

The indictment unsealed in Washington state said Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi – who reside in China – recently “researched vulnerabilities in the networks of biotech and other firms publicly known for work on Covid-19 vaccines, treatments, and testing technology”.

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Countries where companies were targeted include Australia, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

According to the indictment, the hackers were able to infiltrate a British artificial intelligence firm, a Spanish defense contractor, and a Australian solar energy company.

Prosecutors said the men at times acted in their own self-interest – including one occasion when they demanded a ransom from a company in exchange for not releasing its private information – but at other times “were stealing information of obvious interest” to the Chinese government.

According to the indictment, the hackers “worked with, were assisted by, and operated with the acquiescence of” the MSS.

Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi allegedly stole military data and provided the Chinese government with the passwords of a democracy activist in Hong Kong and a former Tiananmen Square protester.

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The trial of 20 Saudi nationals accused of killing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has begun in absentia in Turkey.

Jamal Khashoggi, 59, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

Those being tried include two former top aides to Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Jamal Khashoggi was a vocal critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Saudi Arabia carried out a separate trial over the killing that was heavily criticized as incomplete.

The trial in Istanbul follows an international outcry over the murder, which tarnished the prince’s reputation.

Turkish prosecutors accuse the former deputy head of Saudi intelligence, Ahmed al-Asiri, and the royal court’s media adviser Saud al-Qahtani of having led the operation and instructed a Saudi hit team.

The other 18 defendants are accused of having suffocated Jamal Khashoggi, whose remains have not been found. Turkish officials say his body was dismembered and removed to an unknown site.

Jamal Khashoggi, who was resident in the US, had entered the consulate seeking papers for his impending wedding.

The journalist’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz is attending the trial alongside the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Agnes Callamard, who has directly linked the crown prince to the killing, AFP news agency reports.

The Saudi authorities initially denied any involvement in the case, but later called it a “rogue operation”.

In December 2019, a court in Saudi Arabia sentenced five people to death and three to jail for Jamal Khashoggi’s killing, but the trial was secretive and the defendants were not named.

Image source www.alaraby.co.uk

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The CIA and some Western governments believe the murder was ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – something he denies. The crown prince is de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.

UN special rapporteur Callamard says Jamal Khashoggi was “the victim of a deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible”.

At the time of his death Jamal Khashoggi worked for the Washington Post.

The prosecutors have charged Ahmed al-Asiri and Saud al-Qahtani with “instigating the deliberate and monstrous killing, causing torment”.

Hatice Cengiz is hoping that the trial will reveal significant new evidence and finally reveal what happened to Jamal Khashoggi’s remains.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has suspended plans for “military action” against South Korea, state news agency KCNA reported.

Recent weeks saw a rising tide of angry rhetoric from North Korea over activist plans to send leaflets with anti-North Korean messages over the border.

Last week, North Korea blew up the joint liaison office with South Korea and also threatened to send troops to the border area.

At a meeting chaired by leader Kim Jong-un, state media said the decision was taken to suspend military action.

The Central Military Commission made its decision after taking what it called the “prevailing situation” into consideration.

Image source Wikimedia

North Korea Bombs Joint Liaison Office with South Korea

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North Korea also began to dismantle loudspeakers it had erected only last week, traditionally used to blast anti-South Korean messages over the border, Yonhap reported.

The move represents a notable de-escalation in rhetoric after Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong’s orders to the army to “decisively carry out the next action” – in part because of what Pyongyang said was Seoul’s failure to stop activists floating balloons with anti-regime leaflets over the border.

The meeting also discussed documents outlining measures for “further bolstering the war deterrent of the country,” KCNA reported.

Tensions between North and South Korea appeared to be on the mend when in 2018, leaders of both countries met for the first time at the border.

The historic summit saw both sides pledge to rid the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons – and in the months that followed, there were efforts to improve ties and maintain dialogue.

However, the relationship has been on a downward spiral after a failed summit between Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump.

And the past few weeks saw relations deteriorate especially rapidly – prompted by defector groups in South Korea sending propaganda across the border,

South Korean activists typically send balloons that carry objects like leaflets, USB sticks or DVDs with criticism of the Pyongyang regime, as well as South Korean news reports or even Korean dramas.

All of this is aimed at breaking North Korea’s control on domestic information with the hope that people might eventually topple the regime from within.

The South Korean government has already tried to stop groups sending leaflets across the border, arguing their actions put residents near the border at risk. The move prompted North Korea to renew threats of military action – and shortly afterwards it blew up a joint liaison office that it had established with South Korea in 2018.

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North Korea has blown up a joint liaison office with South Korea near the border town of Kaesong.

The incident comes just hours after North Korea renewed threats of military action at the Korean border.

The site was opened in 2018 to help the Koreas – officially in a state of war – to communicate. The joint liaison office had been empty since January due to Covid-19 restrictions.

In a statement, South Korea warned it would “respond strongly” if North Korea “continues to worsen the situation”.

The destruction of the office, the statement said, “abandons the hopes of everyone who wanted the development of inter-Korean relations and peace settlement in the Korean Peninsula”.

“The government makes it clear that all responsibility of this situation lies in the North.”

Image source Wikimedia

North Korea Cuts All Official Communication Channels with South Korea

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Russia expressed concern at the renewed tensions between the Koreas.

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said on June 16: “We call for restraint from all the sides.”

Tensions between North and South Korea have been escalating for weeks, prompted by defector groups in the South sending propaganda across the border.

Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong – considered a close and powerful ally – threatened at the weekend to demolish the office.

There were hopes for improved relations between North Korea and South Korea and its close ally the US after President Donald Trump met Kim Jong-un at the North-South border last June, but nothing materialized and the atmosphere has since deteriorated.

North Korea is under crippling US and UN economic sanctions over its militarized nuclear program. Washington has not yet commented on the North’s latest action.

In recent weeks, North Korea has repeatedly condemned South Korea for allowing propaganda into its territory.

Defector groups regularly send such material via balloons, or even drones, into North Korea.

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The Met Police clashed with demonstrators in London, where thousands, including some far-right activists, gathered despite warnings to avoid protests.

Groups gathered in the center of the capital on June 13, claiming they were protecting statues from anti-racism activists.

UK’s Home Secretary Priti Patel described the violence as “thoroughly unacceptable thuggery”.

Some anti-racism protests have taken place in London and across the UK.

The Met Police had placed restrictions on several groups intending to protest, including having to finish at 17:00 BST, following violent scenes last weekend.

However, several groups remained on the streets of central London after the official cut-off.

As of 17:00 BST, Scotland Yard said they had arrested five people for offences including violent disorder, assault on police, possession of an offensive weapon, being drunk and disorderly and possession of Class A drugs.

Image source Sky News

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As some protestors moved towards Waterloo Station around 18:00 BST, both the underground and mainline station were temporarily closed due to the protests – but later reopened.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan urged protesters to leave to prevent further violence and the spread of coronavirus in London.

Various groups from around the country, including some far-right activists, said they had come to London to protect symbols of British history.

Hundreds of mostly white men gathered around the Cenotaph war memorial in Whitehall and the boarded-up statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square.

There were a number of clashes with police in riot gear as crowds – chanting “England” and raising their arms – surged towards lines of officers.

Some protesters managed to break metal barriers around the Cenotaph on Whitehall while hurling flag poles, a smoke flare and a traffic cone towards police who were striking them back with batons.

Large groups of right-wing protesters then moved to Trafalgar Square, where fireworks were thrown across the crowds.

A statement from the London Ambulance Service said it had treated 15 patients, including two police officers, for injuries at the protests.

Police attempted to stop protesters getting to Hyde Park where an anti-racist demonstration, which had largely been peaceful, was taking place.

Organizers from the Black Lives Matter movement had urged people not to join any anti-racism rallies planned for the weekend over fears there could be clashes with far-right groups. One demonstration planned for June 13 in London was brought forward by a day.

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North Korea has announced it will cut off all official communication channels with South Korea, including a hotline between the two nations’ leaders.

It said this was the first in a series of actions, describing South Korea as “the enemy”.

Daily calls, which have been made to a liaison office located in the North Korean border city of Kaesong, will cease from June 9.

North and South Korea had set up the office to reduce tensions after talks in 2018.

Image source Flickr

The two states are technically still at war because no peace agreement was reached when the Korean War ended in 1953.

North Korea “will completely cut off and shut down the liaison line between the authorities of the North and the South, which has been maintained through the North-South joint liaison office… from 12:00 on 9 June 2020,” the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) report said.

Military communication channels will also be cut, it said.

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When the liaison office was temporarily closed in January because of Covid-19 restrictions, contact between the two states was maintained by phone.

North Korea and South Korea made two phone calls a day through the office, at 09:00 and 17:00. On June 8, the South said that for the first time in 21 months, its morning call had gone unanswered, although contact was made in the afternoon.

“We have reached a conclusion that there is no need to sit face-to-face with the South Korean authorities and there is no issue to discuss with them, as they have only aroused our dismay,” KNCA said.

Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s sister, threatened last week to close the office unless South Korea stopped defector groups from sending leaflets into North Korea.

She said the leaflet campaign was a hostile act that violated the peace agreements made during the 2018 Panmunjom summit between South Krea’s Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un.

North Korean defectors occasionally send balloons carrying leaflets critical of the communist region into the North, sometimes with supplies to entice North Koreans to pick them up.

North Koreans can only get news from state-controlled media, and most do not have access to the internet.

Ties between North Korea and South Korea appeared to improve in 2018, when the leaders of both countries met three times. Such high-level meetings had not taken place in over a decade.

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North Korea and South Korea have exchanged gunfire in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which divides the two Asian countries.

Gunshots fired by North Korea at 07:41 AM local time hit a South Korean guard post in the central border town of Cheorwon, Seoul’s military said.

No casualties were reported on the South Korean side.

In response, South Korea fired “two rounds of gunfire and a warning announcement according to our manual”, the military statement said.

It is not clear what provoked the initial gunshots. The joint chiefs of staff (JCS) said that they were trying to contact North Korea through their military hotline to determine the cause of the incident.

Kim Jong-un Appears In Public After 20 Days of Absence

This is the first time in five years that North Korean troops have directly fired on South Korea. The last incident happened when a North Korean soldier made a dash across the military demarcation line to defect to South Korea.

The DMZ was set up after the Korean War in 1953 in order to create a buffer zone between the two countries.

For the past two years, the South Korean government has tried to turn the heavily fortified border into a peace zone.

Easing military tensions at the border was one of the agreements reached between the leaders of the two countries held a summit in Pyongyang in September 2018.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has appeared in public for the first time after 20 days of absence, North Korean state media says.

According to KCNA news agency, Kim Jong-un cut the ribbon at the opening of a fertilizer factory.

The agency adds that people at the factory “broke into thunderous cheers of hurrah” when he appeared on May 1st.

The reported appearance – Kim Jong-un’s first since an event on state media on April 12 – comes amid global speculation over his health.

However, the latest reports from North Korean media could not be independently confirmed.

State media later released images that it said showed Kim Jong-un cutting a ribbon outside a factory.

Asked about Kim Jong-un’s reported reappearance, President Donald Trump told reporters that he didn’t want to comment yet.

According to KCNA, Kim Jong-un was accompanied by several senior North Korean officials, including his sister Kim Yo-jong.

He cut a ribbon at a ceremony at the plant, in a region north of Pyongyang, and people who were attending the event “burst into thunderous cheers of ‘hurrah!’ for the Supreme Leader who is commanding the all-people general march for accomplishing the great cause of prosperity”, KCNA says.

Kim Jong-un said he was satisfied with the factory’s production system, and praised it for contributing to the progress of the country’s chemical industry and food production, the state news agency adds.

Speculation about Kim Jong-un’s health began after he missed the birth anniversary celebrations of his grandfather, state founder Kim Il-sung on April 15.

The anniversary is one of the biggest events in the North Korean calendar, and the North Korean usually marks it by visiting the mausoleum where his grandfather lies. Kim Jong-un had never missed this event.

Claims about Kim Jong-un’s ill-health then surfaced in a report for a website run by North Korean defectors.

An anonymous source told the Daily NK that they understood Kim Jong-un had been struggling with cardiovascular problems since last August “but it worsened after repeated visits to Mount Paektu”.

Image source: KCNA

Kim Jong-un Climbs Mount Paektu on Horseback

Kim Jong-un climbs Mount Paektu

This led to a chain of reporting by international media on a single-sourced story.

News agencies then began to run with that claim, and it was all they had until some reports emerged that intelligence agencies in South Korea and the US were monitoring the claim.

Then came a more sensational headline in US media that Kim Jong-un was in a critical condition after heart surgery.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared to stoke the rumors on April 29, by saying US officials “hadn’t seen” Kim Jong-un recently.

However, a statement from the South Korean government, and sources at Chinese intelligence – speaking to the Reuters – said this was not true.

Kim Jong-un went missing for 40 days in September 2014, after attending a concert. He reappeared in mid-October, using a cane.

State media never explained where Kim Jong-un had been. However, South Korea’s intelligence agency said he probably had an operation on his left ankle stemming from problems with a cyst.

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China has observed a three-minute silence for the victims of the coronavirus outbreak.

A day of remembrance was declared in China on April 4 to honor the more than 3,300 people who died of Covid-19.

At 10:00 AM local time, people stood still nationwide for three minutes in tribute to the dead.

Cars, trains and ships then sounded their horns, air raid sirens rang as flags were flown at half-mast.

The first cases of coronavirus were detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei province at the end of 2019.

Since then, the virus has swept the globe, infecting more than one million people and killing nearly 60,000 in 181 countries.

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In Wuhan, the epicenter of China’s outbreak, all traffic lights in urban areas were turned red at 10:00, ceasing traffic for three minutes.

The Chinese government said the event was a chance to pay respects to “martyrs”, a reference to the 14 medical workers who died battling the virus.

They include Li Wenliang, a doctor in Wuhan who died of Covid-19 after being reprimanded by the authorities for attempting to warn others about the disease.

Wearing white flowers pinned to their chest, China’s President Xi Jinping and other government officials paid silent tribute in Beijing.

The commemorations coincide with the annual Qingming festival, when millions of Chinese families pay respects to their ancestors.

China first informed the WHO about cases of pneumonia with unknown causes on December 31, 2019.

By January 18, 2020, the confirmed number of cases had risen to around 60 – but experts estimated the real figure was closer to 1,700.

Just two days later, as millions of people prepared to travel for the lunar new year, the number of cases more than tripled to more than 200 and the virus was detected in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.

From that point, the virus began to spread rapidly in Asia and then Europe, eventually reaching every corner of the globe.

However, in the past few weeks, China has started to ease travel and social-distancing restrictions, believing it has brought the health emergency under control.

Last week, Wuhan partially re-opened after more than two months of isolation.

On April 4, China reported 19 new confirmed cases of coronavirus, down from 31 a day earlier. China’s health commission said 18 of those cases involved travelers arriving from abroad.

As it battles to control cases coming from abroad, China temporarily banned all foreign visitors, even if they have visas or residence permits.

As the coronavirus crisis in China abates, the rest of the world remains firmly in the grip of the disease.

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Image source Wikimedia

North Korea hailed a test of “super large” multiple rocket launchers after two short-range missiles had been fired, the latest in a flurry of tests this month.

Just hours before, South Korea condemned the North as “inappropriate” for pursing tests amid the global coronavirus outbreak.

North Korea generally ramps up missile tests in the spring and the global virus outbreak has not deterred it.

The country has reported no virus cases, but experts have cast doubt on this.

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The March 29 test was of two short-range ballistic missiles fired from the eastern city of Wonsan. They flew for 255 miles with a maximum altitude of around 30 miles before falling into the sea, the South Korean military said.

On March 30, North Korean state media outlet KCNA reported that it had successfully tested “super large” multiple rocket launchers.

By then South Korea had already condemned the North’s actions in a harshly-worded statement.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said: “In a situation where the entire world is experiencing difficulties due to Covid-19, this kind of military act by North Korea is very inappropriate and we call for an immediate halt.”

According to Reuters, the latest test marked the eighth and ninth missiles launched in four rounds of tests this month.

North Korea had earlier announced it would be holding a session of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the country’s parliament, on April 10. Analysts say the meeting will involve almost 700 of North Korea’s leaders in one spot.

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Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus pandemic began, has partially re-opened after more than two months of isolation.

Crowds of passengers were pictured arriving at Wuhan train station on March 28.

According to reports, people are being allowed to enter but not leave.

Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, saw more than 50,000 coronavirus cases. At least 3,000 people in the province died from the disease.

However, numbers have fallen dramatically, according to China’s figures. On March 28, the state reported 54 new cases emerging the previous day – which it said were all imported.

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As it battles to control cases coming from abroad, China has announced a temporary ban on all foreign visitors, even if they have visas or residence permits. It is also limiting Chinese and foreign airlines to one flight per week, and flights must not be more than 75% full.

The new coronavirus is thought to have originated in a seafood market in Wuhan that “conducted illegal transactions of wild animals”.

Wuhan’s 11 million residents have been shut off from the rest of the world since the middle of January, with roadblocks around the outskirts and drastic restrictions on daily life.

However, roads reopened to incoming traffic late on March 27, according to Reuters.

State media said the subway was open from March 28 and trains would be able to arrive at the city’s 17 railway stations.

All arrivals in Wuhan have to show a green code on a mobile app to prove that they are healthy.

Officials say restrictions on people leaving Wuhan will be lifted on April 8, when domestic flights are also expected to restart.

The new coronavirus emerged in China in December 2019 and more than 3,300 people there have died from the infection – but both Italy and Spain now have higher death tolls.

It is now battling to control a wave of imported cases as infections soar abroad.

This so-called “second wave” of imported infections is also affecting countries like South Korea and Singapore, which had been successful in stopping the spread of disease in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, the virus continues to spread rapidly in other countries around the world.

Nearly 600,000 infections have been confirmed globally and almost 28,000 deaths, according to figures collated by Johns Hopkins University.

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According to South Korea’s military, North Korea has fired two projectiles into the Sea of Japan.

The projectiles appeared to be short-range ballistic missiles.

They were launched early on March 21 from Pyongan province towards the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan.

North Korea launched multiple missiles as part of firing drills earlier this month. The US and China have called on North Korea to return to talks on ending its nuclear and missile programs.

On March 21, South Korea’s Joint Chief of Staff said it was monitoring the situation in case there are additional launches.

It described the actions as “extremely inappropriate” at a time when the world was dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

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The projectiles flew for 255 miles with a maximum altitude of around 30 miles, the South Korean military said.

Japan’s coast guard confirmed a missile had landed outside the waters of its exclusive economic zone.

It comes as North Korea announced it would be holding a session of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the country’s parliament, on April 19. Analysts say the meeting will involve almost 700 of North Korea’s leaders in one spot.

There have been no reported cases of coronavirus in North Korea, though some experts have cast doubt on this.

North Korea borders China, where the virus emerged, and South Korea, where there has been a major outbreak.

A top US military official said last week he was “fairly certain” there were infections in North Korea.

However, North Korea quarantined around 380 foreigners – mostly diplomats and staff in Pyongyang – in their compounds for at least 30 days. The restrictions were lifted at the beginning of March. Around 80 foreigners, mainly diplomats, were flown out of Pyongyang on March 9.

The US and Taliban militants have signed a “comprehensive peace agreement” to end fighting in Afghanistan after more than 18 years of conflict.

The US and NATO allies have agreed to withdraw all troops within 14 months if the militants uphold the deal.

President Donald Trump said the US was “working to finally end America’s longest war and bring our troops back home”.

Talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are due to follow.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Taliban leaders attended the signing ceremony in Doha in Qatar.

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Under the agreement, the Talibans also agreed not to allow al-Qaeda or any other extremist group to operate in the areas they control.

The US invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks in New York by the Afghanistan-based al-Qaeda group.

More than 2,400 US troops have been killed during the conflict. About 12,000 are still stationed in Afghanistan. President Donald Trump has promised to put an end to the conflict.

The deal was signed by US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar with Mike Pompeo as a witness.

In a speech, Mike Pompeo urged the militant group to “keep your promises to cut ties with al-Qaeda”.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar said he hoped Afghanistan could now emerge from four decades of conflict.

Meanwhile Defense Secretary Mark Esper was in the Afghan capital Kabul alongside Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani – whose government did not take part in the US-Taliban talks.

Mark Esper said: “This is a hopeful moment, but it is only the beginning. The road ahead will not be easy. Achieving lasting peace in Afghanistan will require patience and compromise among all parties.”

He said the US would continue to support the Afghan government.

President Ghani said Afghanistan was “looking forward to a full ceasefire”. The government said it was ready to negotiate with the Taliban.

Within the first 135 days of the deal the US will reduce its forces in Afghanistan to 8,600, with allies also drawing down their forces proportionately.

The move would allow President Donald Trump to show that he has brought troops home ahead of the US presidential election in November.

The deal also provides for a prisoner swap. Some 5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 Afghan security force prisoners would be exchanged by March 10, when talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are due to start.

The US will also lift sanctions against the Taliban and work with the UN to lift its separate sanctions against the group.