British Museum To Restore Objects damaged in Beirut Blast

A view shows the damage inside an apartment in the neighbourhood of Gemmayze on August 5, 2020, a day after a blast in a warehouse in the port of the Lebanese capital sowed devastation across entire city neighbourhoods, killing more than 100 people, wounding thousands and plunging Lebanon deeper into crisis. (Photo by PATRICK BAZ / AFP)

 

The British Museum will restore eight ancient glass artefacts damaged in last year’s Beirut port explosion, the London cultural institution announced on Tuesday.

The glass vessels were shattered after 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut’s port caused a blast that devastated the city on August 4, 2020.

Workers will piece together hundreds of glass fragments at the British Museum’s conservation laboratories in London with funding from The European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF).

“These objects hold immense historical, artistic and cultural significance. Their return to their rightful form is a powerful symbol of healing and resilience after disaster,” said TEFAF chairman Hidde van Seggelen.

The artefacts were held in a case displaying 74 Roman, Byzantine and Islamic-era glass vessels in the American University of Beirut’s Archaeological Museum, located 3.2 kilometres (two miles) from the blast.

The explosion caused them to shatter into hundreds of pieces, which were mixed with broken glass from cabinets and windows.

Only 15 vessels were deemed salvageable and eight safe to travel to London for restoration.

Sandra Smith, head of collection care at the British Museum, explained that glass reconstruction is a “delicate process” as shards move out of shape and have to be drawn back under tension.

READ ALSO: Survivors Welcome Extradition Of Rwandan Genocide Suspect

The vessels, dating back to the first century BC, document the evolution of glass-production technology in Lebanon, with two thought to have been imported from Syria or Egypt.

The works will temporarily go on display at the British Museum before returning to Beirut.

Director Hartwig Fischer said the British Museum’s “expertise and resources” would allow the artefacts to be saved and “enjoyed in Lebanon for many more years to come”.

The August 2020 blast killed more than 200 people, caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage and forced the Lebanese government to resign, exacerbating the country’s health and economic crises.

AFP

70% Of EU Adults Have At Least One COVID-19 Shot, Says Brussels

Ursula von der Leyen
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen addresses media on the second day of a European Union (EU) summit at The European Council Building in Brussels on October 2, 2020. (Photo by JOHN THYS / POOL / AFP)

 

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said Tuesday that 70 percent of adults in the bloc have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Overall, 57 percent of over-18s are now fully vaccinated across the 27 nations, she said in a statement.

“These figures put Europe among the world leaders,” von der Leyen said.

“But we need to keep up the effort.”

The European Commission president sounded a warning over the “very dangerous” Delta variant of the virus that has increasingly taken hold on the continent and seen infection rates begin to tick up again.

“I therefore call on everyone – who has the opportunity – to be vaccinated. For their own health and to protect others,” she said.

READ ALSO: British Museum To Restore Objects damaged in Beirut Blast

The European Commission — which has been in charge of securing vaccinations for the bloc — had earlier set the target of getting 70 percent of adults fully vaccinated by the end of summer.

Von der Leyen said on July 10 that the EU had delivered enough vaccines to reach that level.

The inoculation drive in the bloc has picked up speed dramatically after a bumpy start due to supply shortfalls that saw it lag behind pacesetters like the United States, Britain and Israel.

AFP

Survivors Welcome Extradition Of Rwandan Genocide Suspect

 

Clothes of victims of the Tutsi genocide stored in Gatwaro Genocide Memorial in Kibuye, western province of Rwanda, on December 1, 2020.

 

Rwanda’s main genocide survivor group on Tuesday welcomed the extradition of a top fugitive to stand trial over the 1994 killings as a “step in the right direction” for justice.

Prosecutors in Kigali said that Venant Rutunga, a 72-year-old genocide suspect, was flown late Monday from the Netherlands to Rwanda where he is accused of directing massacres over a quarter century ago.

Rutunga, an agricultural scientist, headed a government research institute in Rwanda’s south at the time of the genocide and allegedly mobilised soldiers to kill Tutsis in his department and surrounding area.

“Every time a top genocide fugitive is extradited, it is a step in the right direction for justice,” Naphtali Ahishakiye, executive secretary of the Ibuka survivors’ association, told AFP.

“It has taken decades but we welcome the extradition of Venant Rutunga to Rwanda, who was responsible for the murder of many Tutsi he worked with and lived with in his home area.”

READ ALSO: British Museum To Restore Objects damaged in Beirut Blast

Rutunga was detained by the Dutch authorities in 2019 after Rwanda issued a warrant for his arrest and extradition some years earlier.

Dutch courts rejected his appeal against being returned to Rwanda for trial.

Rutunga becomes the third genocide suspect to be extradited from the Netherlands after Jean Baptiste Mugimba and Jean Claude Iyamuremye returned to stand trial in 2016.

Rwanda’s National Public Prosecution Authority thanked Dutch authorities for their “continued cooperation in matters of mutual legal assistance and contribution to global efforts to fight impunity”.

Some 800,000 mainly Tutsi people were beaten, hacked or shot to death in the genocide, a roughly 100-day killing spree carried out mostly by Hutu forces.

AFP

Cyber Attack Hits South Africa’s Port Terminals

File Photo: Molise Molise / AFP.

 

South Africa’s state-owned logistics firm Transnet says its main port terminals have been hit by a major cyber attack, prompting it to turn to a rarely-invoked clause releasing it from liability.

In a letter to its customers, dated Monday, the company said it was declaring force majeure — a clause that prevents a party from fulfilling a contract because of external and unforeseen circumstances.

It said it had “experienced an act of cyber-attack, security intrusion and sabotage, which resulted in the disruption of… normal processes and functions.”

READ ALSO: British Museum To Restore Objects damaged in Beirut Blast

The attack has affected ports in Durban — the busiest in sub-Saharan Africa — as well as Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Ngqura, Transnet said in the “confidential” notice seen by AFP on Tuesday.

The attack began on July 22 but continued, forcing the firm to switch to manual systems.

“Operations at the container terminals are still running albeit slower than expected,” it said.

AFP

EU Calls For Quick Return To Stability In Tunisia

A logo for the European Union

 

The European Union on Tuesday called for a speedy return to political stability in Tunisia after the country plunged into turmoil following the president’s ousting of the prime minister.

“The European Union is following developments in Tunisia with the greatest attention,” the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

“We call for the restoration of institutional stability as soon as possible, and in particular for the resumption of parliamentary activity, respect for fundamental rights and an abstention from all forms of violence.”

Borrell insisted that “the preservation of democracy and the stability of the country are priorities”, and pointed to the “considerable support” given by the EU to help with a financial crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic.

READ ALSO: British Museum To Restore Objects damaged in Beirut Blast

The young North African democracy, the cradle of the Arab Spring uprisings a decade ago, was thrust into a constitutional crisis on Sunday after President Kais Saied dismissed premier Hichem Mechichi and ordered parliament closed for 30 days, a move the biggest political party Ennahdha decried as a “coup”.

Saied then sacked the defence minister and justice minister.

The crisis follows months of deadlock between the president, the premier and Ennahdha chief Rached Ghannouchi, which has crippled the Covid response, as deaths have surged to one of the world’s highest per capita rates.

AFP

Ronaldo Undergoes Juve Medical Ahead Of Fourth Season In Turin

Juventus’ Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo warms up prior to the Italian Serie A football match Bologna vs Juventus Turin on May 23, 2021 at the Renato-Dall’Ara stadium in Bologna.
ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

 

Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo underwent a medical in Turin on Monday ahead of his fourth season with Juventus, along with four other returning Euro 2020 participants.

The 36-year-old Portugal international, who has one-year left on his contract, flew back to northern Italy on Sunday night.

On Monday morning the top scorer in Serie A last season arrived at the team’s medical centre for tests where he was greeted by about one hundred cheering Juve fans and signed autographs.

Also returning were European championship participants Dejan Kulusevski, Matthijs De Ligt, Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot.

Ronaldo was reported to be set to meet coach Massimiliano Allegri and the Juventus management to clarify his future amid speculation linking him with a move to Paris Saint-Germain.

READ ALSO: World Bank To Finance Extra COVID-19 Jabs For Poorer Nations

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s future had been in doubt after a difficult campaign during which Juventus lost their Serie A crown after nine years, exited the Champions League in the last 16 and only sealed fourth place and elite European football on the final day.

Juventus open the new season at Udinese with Allegri, who signed Ronaldo in 2018, back at the helm two years after his shock departure despite winning five consecutive league titles with the Turin club.

Former Real Madrid and Manchester United star Ronaldo has scored 101 goals in total for the club in 133 games.

AFP

After COVID-19 Jab, BioNTech Sets Sights On Malaria Vaccine

A health worker shows a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 at the Pascual Guerrero Olympic stadium, in Cali, Colombia, on April 26, 2021. Luis ROBAYO / AFP

 

Germany’s BioNTech, which developed a coronavirus vaccine with US giant Pfizer in record time, said Monday it aimed to start trialling a malaria vaccine next year using the same breakthrough mRNA technology.

If successful, the vaccine could be a crucial step in the fight against the mosquito-borne disease, which kills more than 400,000 people a year — mainly young children in Africa.

“We will do whatever it takes to develop a safe and effective mRNA-based malaria vaccine that will prevent the disease, reduce mortality and ensure a sustainable solution for the African continent and other regions affected by this disease,” BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said in a statement.

The company said it will assess several vaccine candidates and begin clinical trials by the end of 2022.

The project is backed by the World Health Organization, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the European Union.

READ ALSO: World Bank To Finance Extra COVID-19 Jabs For Poorer Nations

BioNTech said it was also looking at setting up an mRNA hub in Africa so that future vaccines can be manufactured and distributed on the continent.

The planned malaria vaccine would use the same messenger RNA method that made its debut with the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, which was the first jab against Covid to be approved in the West in late 2020.

The coronavirus jab developed by US rival Moderna also uses mRNA technology.

Scientists believe mRNA vaccines, which provoke an immune response by delivering genetic molecules containing the code for key parts of a pathogen into human cells, could be a game-changer against many diseases.

They also take less time to develop than traditional vaccines.

BioNTech’s Covid-19 shot was developed and approved by regulators in less than a year.

– ‘Realistic goal’ –

“We are witnessing the start of a revolution in medical science, the revolution of messenger RNA,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at Monday’s online launch event.

“Eradicating malaria is now a realistic goal and now we know that it can be achieved already in this generation.”

In a conference call with reporters, Sahin said he believed BioNTech’s malaria efforts have “a high likelihood for success”.

The fight against malaria received a boost in April when researchers from Britain’s Oxford University announced that their Matrix-M vaccine candidate had become the first to surpass the WHO’s threshold of 75-percent efficacy, in a study on infants in Burkina Faso.

A large-scale, final stage trial is ongoing.

AFP

World Bank To Finance Extra COVID-19 Jabs For Poorer Nations

 

A new World Bank financing mechanism will allow developing countries to purchase Covid-19 vaccines collectively through the Covax facility, the scheme announced Monday.

Covax was set up to ensure 92 developing territories could access coronavirus vaccines to fight the pandemic, with the cost covered by donors.

The new mechanism will allow those countries to buy additional doses on top of the subsidised ones they will already receive via Covax.

Using money from the World Bank and other development banks, the facility says it will make advanced purchases from vaccine manufacturers based on aggregated demand across countries.

Under the World Bank financing arrangement, up to 430 million additional doses, or enough doses to fully vaccinate 250 million people, would be available for delivery between late 2021 and mid-2022 for the 92 countries that currently get their vaccine doses covered by donors.

Countries should also have some flexibility in selecting to buy particular vaccines that align with their preferences.

READ ALSO: NYC Orders COVID-19 Vaccines Or Weekly Tests For All Public Workers

Covax is co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Gavi vaccine alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

The financing mechanism “will allow Covax to unlock additional doses for low- and middle-income countries” Gavi chief executive Seth Berkley said in a statement.

“As we move beyond initial targets and work to support countries’ efforts to protect increasingly large portions of their populations, World Bank financing will help us advance further towards our goal of bringing Covid-19 under control.”

– Vaccine inequity –

The WHO has raged against the staggering imbalance in global distribution of Covid-19 vaccine doses.

Nearly 3.9 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been injected around the world in at least 216 territories, according to an AFP count.

In high-income countries, as defined by the World Bank, 95.4 doses have been administered per 100 inhabitants.

That figure stands at just 1.5 doses per 100 people in the 29 lowest-income countries.

Covax has so far delivered more than 138 million vaccine doses to 136 participating territories — far short of the numbers it hoped to have delivered by this point.

“Accessing vaccines remains the single greatest challenge that developing countries face in protecting their people from the health, social, and economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said World Bank president David Malpass.

“This mechanism will enable new supplies and allow countries to speed up the purchase of vaccines. It will also provide transparency about vaccine availability, prices, and delivery schedules.”

AFP

US Maintains Entry Restrictions Due To Rising Delta COVID-19 Cases

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on July 26, 2021. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

 

The United States said Monday it would maintain restrictions on international travel into the country, sidestepping European pressure, as cases rise of the Covid-19 Delta variant.

“We will maintain existing travel restrictions at this point,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

“The more transmissible Delta variant is spreading both here and abroad,” she said.

She said the trend of rising cases appeared likely to continue “in the weeks ahead,” although she repeated that it mostly affected unvaccinated people.

READ ALSO: NYC Orders COVID-19 Vaccines Or Weekly Tests For All Public Workers

The United States has restricted travel from the European Union, Britain, China and Iran for more than a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, later adding other countries including Brazil and India.

The European Union in June opened up to travelers from the United States, typically requiring proof of vaccination or negative tests, under pressure from tourism-dependent nations such as Greece, Spain and Italy that feared another troubled year.

EU leaders have asked the United States to show reciprocity and President Joe Biden on July 15 said he would have an answer on the issue “within the next several days” after appeals by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

AFP

Tunisia President Sacks Defence Minister Amid Political Turmoil

Photo taken from President Kais Saied’s televion announces on television the dissolution of parliament and Prime Minister Mechichi’s government on July 25, 2021 at Carthage Palace after a day of nationwide protest. FETHI BELAID / AFP

 

Tunisian President Kais Saied sacked the defence minister Monday, a day after ousting the prime minister and suspending parliament, plunging the young democracy into constitutional crisis in the midst of a pandemic.

Street clashes erupted Monday outside the army-barricaded parliament, after Saied dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and ordered parliament closed for 30 days, a move the biggest political party Ennahdha decried as a “coup”.

Saied declared on Sunday that he had “taken the necessary decisions to save Tunisia, the state and the Tunisian people,” following street protests in multiple cities against the government’s handling of the Covid pandemic.

READ ALSO: World Bank To Finance Extra COVID-19 Jabs For Poorer Nations

The president, who under the constitution controls the armed forces, warned his opponents against taking up arms, threatening that if anyone “fires a single bullet, our forces will respond with a rain of bullets”.

On Monday afternoon, a statement from the presidency announced the dismissals of Defence Minister Ibrahim Bartaji and acting justice minister Hasna Ben Slimane, who is also the government spokeswoman.

– ‘Very dangerous’ –

Soldiers from early Monday blockaded the assembly in Tunis while Saied backers hurled stones, bottles and insults at supporters of the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha, whose leader was barred entry to the complex.

Troops also surrounded the office of Mechichi, who was yet to officially react to the events rocking the North African country.

Later in the afternoon, the protests died down.

Saied’s dramatic move — a decade on from Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, often held up as the Arab Spring’s sole success story — comes even though the constitution enshrines a parliamentary democracy.

It “is a coup d’etat against the revolution and against the constitution,” said Ennahdha, the lead party in Tunisia’s fractious ruling coalition charged, warning its members “will defend the revolution”.

The crisis follows months of deadlock between the president, the premier and Ennahdha chief Rached Ghannouchi, which has crippled the Covid response as deaths have surged to one of the world’s highest per capita rates.

Tunisia has recently been overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases which have raised the death toll to more than 18,000 in a nation of 12 million.

Police also shuttered the local bureau of Qatari-based Al Jazeera television, the network’s Tunis director Lotfi Hajji said, warning that “what is happening is very dangerous, it is proof that freedom of the press is threatened”.

– ‘Imminent danger’ –

The powerful Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) which played a key role in the 2011 uprising, said the president acted “in accordance” with the constitution to “prevent imminent danger and to restore the normal functioning” of the state.

Saied’s power-grab sparked jubilant rallies late Sunday by thousands of his supporters who flooded the streets of Tunis, waving the national flag and sounding their car horns as fireworks lit up the sky.

But the shock move was criticised abroad.

Germany urged a rapid “return to constitutional order” while the foreign ministry in Turkey, where the government supports Ennahdha, called for “democratic legitimacy” to be restored.

Since Saied was elected in 2019, he has been locked in a showdown with Mechichi and Ghannouchi, who is also house speaker.

The rivalry has blocked ministerial appointments and diverted resources from tackling Tunisia’s many economic and social problems.

In the chaotic scenes outside parliament Monday, Ghannouchi admonished an army officer who was blocking access and who had declared the troops were “the protectors of the nation”.

Ghannouchi retorted that “the Tunisian people will never accept an authoritarian government, whatever your efforts”.

Saied said he would assume executive power “with the help” of a government whose new chief he would appoint himself.

The president also lifted parliamentary immunity for lawmakers.

– ‘Birth of a dictator’ –

In the 10 years since Tunisia’s popular revolution toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has had nine governments.

Some of them have lasted only a few months, hindering the reforms needed to revamp the country’s struggling economy and poor public services.

Sunday’s political drama began with mass protests against the government for its failures in tackling the pandemic.

“The people want the dissolution of parliament,” the crowd chanted outside parliament in Tunis. Protests were also reported in several other cities.

A senior Ennahdha official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, alleged that the protests and subsequent celebrations, had all been choreographed by the president.

After Saied’s announcement, one jubilant supporter, Nahla, brandished a Tunisian flag and hailed the president’s “courageous decisions”.

“This is the president we love!,” she said.

But one man, aged in his forties, watched on without enthusiasm and said: “These fools are celebrating the birth of a new dictator.”

AFP

NYC Orders COVID-19 Vaccines Or Weekly Tests For All Public Workers

File Photo: Carl Court / POOL / AFP

 

New York City will require all municipal workers to get vaccinated against coronavirus or take a weekly test, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday as the Delta variant fuels an uptick in cases in the metropolis.

The order will go into effect from September 13 and will apply to more than 300,000 city personnel, including police officers, fire fighters and teachers.

“This is about our recovery. This is about keeping people safe,” de Blasio told a press conference.

The move comes after the mayor announced last week that the city’s 30,000 public hospital workers would need to get vaccinated or face weekly testing from August 2.

The measure announced Monday is the most stringent measure taken so far in the US megacity to boost vaccination rates following a campaign based on voluntary participation and incentives.

In New York, 59 percent of the entire population has received at least one dose of a vaccine against Covid-19 but the speed of injections has slowed.

Controversy is building in the United States over what steps should be taken to increase vaccination rates against the Delta variant, which accounts for more than 89 percent of US infections, according to estimates.

READ ALSO: World Bank To Finance Extra COVID-19 Jabs For Poorer Nations

Many health officials are pushing to make vaccination mandatory, at least for certain segments of the population.

On Monday, 57 medical groups representing millions of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health workers called for mandatory vaccinations for all health staff.

“The health and safety of US workers, families, communities, and the nation depends on it,” said the statement, whose signatories included the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association.

Several Republican-led states have instead passed laws banning coercive measures, though, particularly in schools.

The September 13 date will coincide with the return of one million students to New York’s public schools for the new academic year.

AFP

 

Osaka Makes Winning Return At Tokyo Olympics

Japan’s Naomi Osaka returns a shot to China’s Zheng Saisai during their Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games women’s singles first round tennis match at the Ariake Tennis Park in Tokyo on July 25, 2021. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

 

Japan’s Naomi Osaka, the star of the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony, began her quest for gold Sunday with a 6-1, 6-4 win over China’s Zheng Saisai in her first match since taking a break for mental health reasons.

The second-seeded Osaka, the favourite for gold following the shock first-round exit of Ashleigh Barty, will play Switzerland’s Viktorija Golubic in the last 32.

 

Japan’s Naomi Osaka returns a shot to China’s Zheng Saisai during their Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games women’s singles first round tennis match at the Ariake Tennis Park in Tokyo on July 25, 2021. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

 

Australian Open champion Osaka had not played since May, when she walked out of the French Open saying that media commitments were harming her mental health.

Osaka, who was chosen to light the Olympic cauldron on Friday, is attempting to become her country’s first Olympic tennis champion.

AFP