UK PM To Self-Isolate When Not Working, After Minister’s Infection

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives to attend the NATO summit at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on June 14, 2021. The allies meet to agree on a statement stressing common ground on securing their withdrawal from Afghanistan, joint responses to cyber-attacks, and relations with a rising China. KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / POOL / AFP

 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will undertake “only essential government business” in the week ahead after the state health service designated him a close contact of a person infected with Covid, Downing Street said Sunday.

Johnson and finance minister Rishi Sunak were both designated but are taking part in a government pilot scheme that enables them to continue working, a spokesperson said.

The development came just as Johnson’s government prepares to ditch most pandemic restrictions in England on Monday. The pilot mandates daily testing for participants and outside of work, they must self-isolate.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed on Saturday he had tested positive for Covid-19 and was now self-isolating for 10 days.

“The prime minister and chancellor have been contacted by NHS (National Health Service) Test and Trace as contacts of someone who has tested positive for Covid,” the Downing Street spokesperson said.

“They will be participating in the daily contact testing pilot to allow them to continue to work from Downing Street.

“They will be conducting only essential government business during this period.”

Javid had a “lengthy” meeting with Johnson on Friday, according to the Sunday Times. The prime minister nearly died of Covid last year.

Javid also appeared alongside ministers in parliament last week, and one government source told The Telegraph newspaper: “I don’t see how half the cabinet doesn’t end up in isolation by the end of the week.”

Javid has only been in the job since late June, when former health secretary Matt Hancock resigned following revelations he had broken coronavirus restrictions during an affair with a close aide.

Jonathan Ashworth, the main opposition Labour party’s health spokesman, accused the government of double standards after millions of schoolchildren and workers were forced to stay home under Covid tracing rules.

The pilot’s exemption amounts to “an exclusive rule for Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak”, he told Sky News, and the public will see “one rule for them and something else for the rest of us”.

‘Pingdemic’

Javid stressed he has received both doses of a Covid vaccine and his symptoms were “very mild”. He said any member of the public feeling symptoms should get a test too.

“If everyone plays their part, you’re not only protecting yourself and your loved ones, but you’re also safeguarding the NHS and helping to preserve our way of life,” the minister said.

However, with coronavirus cases again surging, many scientists say the government is endangering the NHS with its plan on Monday to scrap most legal pandemic requirements in England.

For the first time since January, Britain’s daily Covid caseload now exceeds 50,000, and Javid has warned the figure could double from that in the coming weeks.

But the government insists that with two-thirds of the adult population now fully vaccinated, the risk can be managed, and Monday has been dubbed “freedom day” by many UK media.

Munira Wilson, health spokeswoman for the opposition Liberal Democrats, said Javid’s test result “shows no one is safe from this deadly virus”.

Urging the government “to rethink its reckless plans for Monday”, she said: “By easing all restrictions with cases surging, they are experimenting with people’s lives.”

The surge in infections sweeping Britain led to more than 530,000 people being instructed to self-isolate by a government-run app in the week to July 7, according to latest data.

Some companies such as carmaker Nissan have been losing staff en masse after they were pinged by the app — in a brewing crisis described by UK newspapers as a “pingdemic”.

Staff shortages caused by the isolation rules disrupted the London Underground network on Saturday, with one line suspended entirely.

AFP

South Africa’s Top Court To Review Zuma Jail Term

In this file photo taken on July 27, 2018, former South African president Jacob Zuma stands in the dock of the High Court of Pietermaritzburg during his hearing over 16 corruption charges. Former South African president Jacob Zuma must pay back state funds and cover his own costs, a court ruled on December 13, 2018, leaving him facing massive legal bills as he fights graft charges.
Phill MAGAKOE / POOL / AFP

 

 

South African ex-president Jacob Zuma will on Monday ask the nation’s top court to let him out of jail by rescinding its 15-month sentence for snubbing anti-graft investigators.

The Constitutional Court on June 29 slapped Zuma with the prison stretch for refusing to appear before a probe into the corruption that mired his nine years in power.

Zuma is seeking to have that ruling set aside on the grounds that it was made in his absence.

Should the bid fail, Zuma’s team will seek to convince the judges that jail time is not the appropriate punishment for this instance of contempt, due to reasons including the implications for Zuma’s health, according to an information handout for media from the court on Saturday.

Zuma, 79, is also asking to be released from the Estcourt prison in eastern KwaZulu-Natal province on the grounds of his age and ailing health, adding that the ongoing pandemic means he is not a flight risk.

The man once dubbed the “Teflon president”, spent his first night in jail on Thursday after handing himself in to authorities following hours of drama and suspense.

His lawyers had also petitioned the Pietermaritzburg High Court in KwaZulu-Natal to stave off imprisonment. But on Friday it rejected the case, saying it lacked jurisdiction over the matter and Zuma’s claims about his health were “not supported by any evidence.”

The former president testified to the commission once in July 2019, but then swiftly withdrew his cooperation, saying he was offended by being treated as an “accused” and not as a witness.

He returned in November 2020, without uttering a word, and missed several subsequent appointments by evading his summonses on various grounds, including medical reasons, lack of funds and his request to have the chairman of the commission, then-deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, recuse himself.

If Zuma is to serve the full term, he could still see himself back home long before year-end as he would be eligible for parole in less than four months.

Meanwhile, sporadic violence has erupted in the country, with dozens arrested after looting in KwaZulu-Natal and in the economic capital Johannesburg.

AFP

Djokovic Wins Record-Equalling 20th Grand Slam And Sixth Wimbledon Title

Serbia's Novak Djokovic speaks as he holds the winner's trophy after beating Italy's Matteo Berrettini during their men's singles final match on the thirteenth day of the 2021 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on July 11, 2021. Adrian DENNIS / AFP
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic speaks as he holds the winner’s trophy after beating Italy’s Matteo Berrettini during their men’s singles final match on the thirteenth day of the 2021 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on July 11, 2021.
Adrian DENNIS / AFP

 

Novak Djokovic won a record-equalling 20th Grand Slam title and sixth Wimbledon on Sunday with a four-set victory over Italian slugger Matteo Berrettini with rival superstar Roger Federer hailing the achievement as a “wonderful performance”.

The world number one triumphed 6-7 (4/7), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 to move level on 20 majors with Federer and Rafael Nadal.

His win also put him three-quarters of the way to the first calendar Grand Slam of all four majors since 1969.

“I could definitely envisage that happening and I hope I will give it a shot. I’m in great form and played well and having my best form at Grand Slams is my number one priority,” said Djokovic.

A sixth victory at the All England Club for Djokovic, who was playing in his 30th final at the Slams, added to his nine Australian Opens, two Roland Garros titles as well as three at the US Open.

Should he win a fourth title in New York in September, he will become just the third man in history after Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962 and 1969) to complete the calendar Grand Slam.

“It was more than a battle. He is a true Italian hammer I felt it on my skin,” said Djokovic of Berrettini.

Of sharing the record with Federer and Nadal, he said: “It means none of us three will stop. Roger and Rafa are legends, they are the reason I am where I am today.

“They showed me what I needed to do to get stronger, physically, tactically and mentally. Over the last 10 years it has been an incredible journey that’s not stopping here.”

Federer — who bowed out in the quarter-finals while Nadal did not play — tweeted his congratulations.

“Congrats Novak on your 20th major,” said Federer, an eight-time champion at Wimbledon.

Federer praise

“I’m proud to have the opportunity to play in a special era of tennis champions. Wonderful performance, well done.”

Djokovic also now has 85 career titles while he has become the first man to break the $150 million prize money barrier.

A gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics could give him the first ever Golden Grand Slam by a male player.

“Novak is a great champion, he is writing history on this court,” said Berrettini.

Djokovic overcame a nervy start to break for 3-1, which he stretched to 5-2.

He even had a set point in a marathon eighth game which the Italian saved after eight deuces.

Reinvigorated, he broke Djokovic when he served for the set and then dominated the tiebreaker which he sealed with his fourth ace of the contest.

The top seed stormed to a 5-1 lead in the second set on the back of a double break.

Berrettini, bidding to be Italy’s first men’s Grand Slam winner since Adriano Panatta at the 1976 French Open, clawed his way back to 4-5, saving three set points, but Djokovic this time served it out for a set apiece.

Djokovic struck first again for a 2-1 lead in the third set and fought off three break points in the sixth game, a show of defiance which brought watching Hollywood star Tom Cruise to his feet.

That was Berrettini’s last chance of the set as Djokovic served it out in the 10th game.

A weary Berrettini then served up a double fault on break point to hand Djokovic a 4-3 lead in the fourth set.

Djokovic kept coming, sprinting from the back of the court to pull off a wondrous pick-up and he held on for 5-3.

Berrettini, hoping to be Italy’s first singles champion at Wimbledon, saved two championship points in the eighth game.

But he was powerless on the third as Djokovic swept to his place in history.

“It is not the end, it is the beginning for me,” said Berrettini.

“Without my family, friends, and team all this would not have been possible so I just say Grazie Grazie.”

AFP

‘Experience Of A Lifetime’: Billionaire Branson Achieves Space Dream

Sir Richard Branson speaks on stage with other crew members, after they flew into space aboard a Virgin Galactic vessel, a voyage he described as the "experience of a lifetime" -- and one he hopes will usher in an era of lucrative space tourism at Spaceport America, near Truth and Consequences, New Mexico on July 11, 2021. AFP
Sir Richard Branson speaks on stage with other crew members, after they flew into space aboard a Virgin Galactic vessel, a voyage he described as the “experience of a lifetime” — and one he hopes will usher in an era of lucrative space tourism at Spaceport America, near Truth and Consequences, New Mexico on July 11, 2021.

 

British billionaire Richard Branson flew into space Sunday aboard a Virgin Galactic vessel, a voyage he described as the “experience of a lifetime” — and one he hopes will usher in an era of lucrative space tourism.

“Congratulations to all our wonderful team at Virgin Galactic for 17 years of hard, hard work to get us this far,” he said during a live feed as the VSS Unity spaceship glided back to Spaceport America in New Mexico.

It reached a peak altitude of around 53 miles (85 kilometers) — beyond the boundary of space, according to the United States — allowing the passengers to experience weightlessness and admire the Earth’s curvature.

The trip proceeded without drama, and touchdown occurred at around 9:40 am Mountain Time (1540 GMT), about an hour after take-off.

The mission’s success means Branson has beaten fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos in the race to be the first tycoon to cross the final frontier in a ship built by a company he founded.

Earlier, a massive carrier plane took off and ascended to 50,000 feet before dropping VSS Unity to complete the rest of the flight using its rocket-powered engine.

The spaceplane carried two pilots and four passengers, including Branson.

The ship then re-entered the atmosphere, lowered its flexible wings and glided back to the runway.

A smiling Branson hugged loved ones after the trip.

“It’s a beautiful day to go to space,” the brash Brit wrote in a tweet earlier where he posted a video of himself biking to the base and meeting with his crewmates, all Virgin employees.

He also posted a picture of himself standing in a kitchen with SpaceX boss Elon Musk, who’d come to show his support.

Several tourists journeyed to the International Space Station in the 2000s, but on Russian rockets.

Branson’s official role is to evaluate the private astronaut experience to enhance the journey for future clients.

Space base

Branson, who founded the Virgin Group that today has interests in everything from commercial aviation to fitness centers, is known for his appetite for adventure and has set world records in hot air ballooning and boating.

“As a child, I wanted to go to space,” the 70-year-old wrote a few days ahead of his trip.

He founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, but the dream almost came to an end in 2014 when an in-flight accident caused the death of a pilot, considerably delaying the program.

Since then, VSS Unity has successfully reached space three times, in 2018, 2019 — which included the first crew member who wasn’t a pilot — and finally in May this year.

Sunday’s flight left from Spaceport America, a huge base built in the Jornada del Muerto desert, around 20 miles southeast of the nearest town, Truth or Consequences.

Financed largely by the state of New Mexico, Virgin Galactic is the principal tenant.

Paying passengers in 2022?

After Sunday, Virgin Galactic plans two further flights, and then the start of regular commercial operations from early 2022. The ultimate goal is to conduct 400 flights per year.

Some 600 tickets have already been sold to people from 60 different countries — including Hollywood celebrities — for prices ranging from $200,000 to $250,000.

And though, according to Branson, “space belongs to us all,” the opportunity for now remains the preserve of the privileged.

“When we return, I will announce something very exciting to give more people the chance to become an astronaut,” he promised.

The competition in the space tourism sector, whose imminent rise has been announced for years, has come to a head this month.

Bezos, the richest person in the world, is due to fly on July 20 on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

Blue Origin posted an infographic Friday boasting the ways in which the experience it offers is superior.

The principal point: New Shepard climbs up to more than 60 miles in altitude, thus exceeding what is called the Karman line, the frontier of space according to international convention.

Bezos himself wished Branson “best of luck” in an Instagram post.

AFP

Nine Children Among 10 Killed In Storm-Hit Alabama Crash

Drone image shows aftermath of a deadly crash of 18 vehicles on interstate 65 in Butler County, Alabama, on Sunday June 20, 2021, leaving 10 dead - 9 children and one adult.
Drone image shows aftermath of a deadly crash of 18 vehicles on interstate 65 in Butler County, Alabama, on Sunday June 20, 2021, leaving 10 dead – 9 children and one adult.

 

 

Nine children and an adult were killed in a fiery multi-vehicle crash on an Alabama highway as heavy storms lashed the southeastern US, authorities said Sunday.

Saturday’s crash on an interstate highway near the city of Greenville involved at least 15 vehicles and was “probably” caused by hydroplaning under torrential rains, Butler County coroner Wayne Garlock told AFP.

Storm Claudette dumped up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) of rain in the Gulf Coast region Saturday. It was blamed for at least two other deaths.

The dead in the crash included a father and his nine-month-old daughter in an SUV, and eight occupants of a van — aged four to 17 — from a “girls ranch” for neglected and abused children, local media reported.

“This was probably the most horrific accident in Butler County history,” Sheriff Danny Bond told the al.com website.

He said at least two of the vehicles involved were 18-wheel trucks, and that four or five other people had suffered nonfatal injuries.

The driver of the van was pulled out alive by a bystander, witnesses said. The bystander then tried to help the children but was prevented by a fierce fire engulfing the vehicle, Garlock said.

The van driver was identified as Candice Gully, director of the girls farm in Tallapoosa County, an official with the state ranch system told al.com.

‘Suffered a great loss’

The SUV driver was identified as Cody Fox, 29, an emergency management worker from Tennessee. His fiancee was injured in the wreck.

Garlock said the crash scene was in an area notorious for hydroplaning as Interstate 65 curves down a steep hill.

Northbound and southbound traffic on the busy highway was halted for hours by the accident, but both had reopened by Sunday, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said on Twitter.

The Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch said it was providing grief counselors for children there.

“Our hearts are heavy today. Our ranch has suffered great loss… Please send prayers our way,” the ranch’s account said on Twitter.

The van in the accident was one of two bringing children back from a weeklong beach outing to nearby Gulf Shores, al.com reported. The other van was unscathed.

Storm Claudette, later downgraded to a tropical depression, has dumped heavy rain across the southeastern US.

The Tuscaloosa News said two people died — a 24-year-old man and his three-year-old son — when a tree fell on their house.

Claudette is forecast to return to tropical storm status on Monday over eastern North Carolina, before weakening again by Tuesday.

The system has washed out roads, trapped motorists in their cars, and flooded residential areas in the region, and the National Hurricane Center warned that further flooding was likely.

Passenger Tries To Break Into Cockpit On US Flight

 

 

A passenger on a US airplane tried to smash his way into the cockpit until another traveler and members of the aircrew tackled him and pinned him down, witnesses said.

The Delta Air flight from Los Angeles to Nashville made an emergency landing in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the man was dragged off the plane with his hands and feet secured by zip ties.

He had repeatedly screamed “Stop this plane” as he was wrestled to the floor at the front of the cabin, according to a phone camera footage of the incident on Friday.

An unnamed passenger told CNN that the man “seemingly unprovoked, just got up and rushed the pilot’s cabin and began banging on the doors.”

Another passenger, Jessica Robertson, described the scene as “terrifying” but praised flight attendants for acting quickly.

The FBI in Albuquerque confirmed on Twitter that it had responded to the incident.

Delta, in a statement to US media, expressed “thanks to the crew and passengers of Delta Flight 386, LAX to Nashville, who assisted in detaining an unruly passenger.

“The aircraft landed without incident and the passenger was removed by law enforcement.”

The remaining passengers spent five hours in Albuquerque before a new flight took them to Nashville.

AFP

At Least 138 Killed In Deadliest Burkina Faso Attacks Since 2015

In this file photograph taken on November 11, 2019, an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) of the French Army patrols a rural area during the Bourgou IV operation in northern Burkina Faso along the border with Mali and Niger. AFP

 

Suspected jihadists have massacred at least 138 civilians in Burkina Faso’s volatile north in the deadliest attacks since Islamist violence erupted in the West African country in 2015, officials said Saturday.

President Roch Marc Christian Kabore denounced an attack near the borders with Mali and Niger, where jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda and Islamic State have been targeting civilians and soldiers.

“Several injured have succumbed to their wounds and new bodies have been discovered. The still provisional toll is 138 deaths,” one local official said Saturday evening.

“The bodies were buried in mass graves,” the official said, adding that “there are dozens of injured” after the overnight attack by armed assailants.

“We must remain united and solid against these obscurantist forces,” Kabore said, condemning the massacre in the village of Solhan as “barbaric” and “despicable.”

Declaring three days of national mourning, ending Monday night at 11:59 pm, the government stated that “terrorists,” a term for jihadists, killed civilians of all ages and set fire to homes and the main market.

A security source lamented “the heavy human toll, the worst recorded to date,” while warning it could still increase.

Meanwhile, United Nations chief Antonio Guterres’ spokesman said that he was “outraged” over the massacre.

Guterres “strongly condemns the heinous attack and underscores the urgent need for the international community to redouble support to the Member States in the fight against violent extremism and its unacceptable human toll,” Stephane Dujarric said in a statement, offering Burkinabe authorities the UN’s “full support”.

The assailants struck around 2:00 am (0200 GMT) against a position of the Volunteers for the Defence of the Motherland (VDP), an anti-jihadist civilian defence force that backs the national army, before attacking homes and carrying out “executions,” a local source said.

Opposition leader Eddie Komboigo demanded that “the massacre of our people, we never tire of repeating, must stop unconditionally. Every measure must be taken to protect the Burkinabe” people.

The VDP was set up in December 2019 to help Burkina’s poorly-equipped military fight jihadists but it has suffered more than 200 fatalities, according to an AFP tally.

The volunteers are given two weeks’ military training before working alongside the security forces, typically carrying out surveillance, information-gathering or escort duties.

‘Neutralise these terrorists’

The government said that “the defence and security forces are at work to neutralise these terrorists and restore calm to populated areas.”

A security forces official said that men were deployed to secure populated areas and to remove and bury bodies.

Solhan, a small community around 15 kilometres from Sebba, the main city in Yagha province, has suffered numerous attacks in recent years.

On May 14, Defence Minister Cheriff Sy and military top brass visited Sebba to assure people that life had returned to normal, following a number of military operations.

The massive attack by suspected jihadists came hours after another attack Friday evening on Tadaryat village in the same region in which 14 people were killed, including an armed volunteer who had come to help them.

Since 2015, Burkina Faso has struggled to fight back against increasingly frequent and deadly jihadist attacks from groups including the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS).

The attacks first started in the north near the Mali border, but have since spread to other regions, particularly in the east.

Around 1,400 people have died and more than a million have fled their homes.

AFP

Millions Of Dollars Lost As Elephants On Tour Wreak Havoc In China

UNMING, June 1, 2021 (Xinhua) -- Aerial photo taken on May 28, 2021 shows the herd of wandering wild Asian elephants in Eshan County, Yuxi City, southwest China's Yunnan Province. (Xinhua/Hu Chao) Hu Chao / XINHUA / Xinhua via AFP
June 1, 2021 (Xinhua) — Aerial photo taken on May 28, 2021 shows the herd of wandering wild Asian elephants in Eshan County, Yuxi City, southwest China’s Yunnan Province. (Hu Chao/AFP)

 

A herd of 15 wandering elephants on an epic trek through southwestern China have entered villages to gorge on crops, broken into barns, and caused a million dollars of losses.

Over the past week, the animals drained a water tank, helped themselves to a cornfield, and guzzled supplies after crashing into a barn, state broadcaster CCTV said.

It is unclear why the wild Asian elephants, a protected species in China, strayed from the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve in Yunnan province.

Their destination so far is unknown as well.

READ ALSO: China Confirms First Human Case Of Bird Flu Strain

But since April, the large animals have embarked on a 500km journey, closely monitored by residents and authorities, with hundreds of people mobilised to ensure public safety.

On Tuesday, Yunnan authorities said the herd was in a city just 20km from its provincial capital where millions live.

Experts believe the leader of the group might have led it astray, adding that it is rare for them to trek so far.

Since mid-April, the elephants have wrecked around 56 hectares of crops, causing an estimated 6.8 million yuan ($1.07 million) in losses, CCTV said.

No casualties have been reported so far, with locals attempting to guide the animals with food and by blocking roads with trucks.

The wild elephant population in Yunnan is around 300, up from 193 in the 1980s, reported Xinhua.

But there have been more reports of such elephants wandering into villages and harming crops in recent years, with the plants they usually eat gradually replaced by non-edible varieties amid forest expansion, said, local officials.

AFP

At Least 50 Dead In Two Attacks In Eastern DR Congo

In this file photo taken on February 18, 2020 An Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) soldier takes part in a foot patrol in the village of Manzalaho near Beni, following an attack allegedly perpetrated by members of the rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
In this file photo taken on February 18, 2020, An Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) soldier takes part in a foot patrol in the village of Manzalaho near Beni, following an attack allegedly perpetrated by members of the rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). Alexis Huguet / AFP

 

 

At least 50 people were killed overnight in two new attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s deeply troubled east, monitors said Monday.

A local official blamed the notorious ADF militia, which has been linked to the Islamic State group, but others said the attacks may have been ethnic in origin.

Citing a provisional toll, the Kivu Security Tracker (KST) said 28 people had been killed in Boga and 22 in Tchabi, villages lying about 10 kilometres (six miles) apart in an area known for Allied Democratic Forces attacks and community friction.

The respected monitor said this was the highest death toll it had recorded in a single day since it was founded in 2017. It had earlier given a tally for the attacks of 39 dead.

One community leader said children and the elderly were among the victims.

The DRC army gave a slightly higher provisional toll of 53 after a meeting of security forces in Bunia, the capital of Ituri province where the attacks took place. Local MP Gracien Iracan spoke of 60 dead.

“Seven trucks arrived to remove the victims — it’s a dramatic situation,” Iracan told AFP.

“They’re still finding bodies, so the toll is likely to grow,” he added, while “many wounded people are still hiding in the bush, everyone fled there”.

A UN source told AFP that South African blue helmets from the MONUSCO peacekeeping mission’s small base in Tchabi had exchanged fire with the attackers when they tried to intervene.

A local civil society leader attributed the attacks to the ADF, a historically Ugandan Islamist group blamed for a string of massacres in the past 18 months.

The two villages lie on the border between North Kivu and Ituri provinces in an area where the ADF is believed to be active.

In this file photo taken on February 18, 2020, An Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) soldier takes part in a foot patrol in the village of Manzalaho near Beni, 2020, following an attack allegedly perpetrated by members of the rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). (Photo by Alexis Huguet / AFP)

‘Targeted’ assault

Lawmaker Iracan said that “a very large number of attackers showed up. The assault was well targeted, they killed two local leaders. We can’t rule out that they were settling scores,” he added.

The KST said the wife of a traditional leader in Benyali-Tchabi had been killed in the attack on Tchabi.

Two local officials reached in Boga by AFP said the assailants had attacked a camp for displaced people.

They said 36 bodies had been found so far in Boga, a figure that has yet to be independently confirmed.

Those same officials also cautioned against immediately blaming the ADF, given the ethnic conflicts in the region.

Suspicions that the violence was ethnically motivated stem from the fact that the displaced people’s camp in Boga mostly hosted displaced people from the Nyali group — but a nearby site housing Banyabwisha people was spared.

“We think it was the same group” behind the attacks on both villages, the head of the Nyali community in Tchabi told AFP by phone.

“They attacked around 1:00 am. There are children and the very old among the dead… at the moment we’re preparing to bury them,” he added.

Military government

The ADF is the deadliest of an estimated 122 armed militias that roam the mineral-rich east of the DRC, many of them a legacy of two regional wars that ran from 1996 to 2003.

As of Friday, the KST estimated that at least 1,228 civilians have been killed in the Beni territory of North Kivu alone since November 2019, when DRC forces launched a crackdown that splintered the ADF into smaller groups.

Three other attacks since last Tuesday, blamed on the ADF, have claimed 39 lives.

On March 11, the United States said the ADF was linked to IS, which is also known by the acronym ISIS. The ADF was called ISIS-DRC, or Madina at Tauheed Wau Mujahedeen.

DRC President Felix Tshisekedi on May 6 proclaimed a 30-day “state of siege” in North Kivu and Ituri in a bid to curb bloodshed by the ADF.

Under the move, military and police officers have taken over from civilian authorities.

AFP

Israel, Egypt Hold Talks Toward Gaza ‘Permanent Ceasefire’

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (2nd-R) meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Jerusalem on May 25, 2021, days after an Egypt-brokered truce halted fighting between the Jewish state and the Gaza Strip's rulers Hamas Alex Brandon / POOL / AFP
Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (2nd-R) meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Jerusalem on May 25, 2021, days after an Egypt-brokered truce halted fighting between the Jewish state and the Gaza Strip’s rulers Hamas. Alex Brandon / POOL / AFP

 

Israeli and Egyptian officials held talks in both countries Sunday aimed at bolstering the Cairo-brokered ceasefire that ended the latest deadly flare-up of violence between the Jewish state and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel in Jerusalem to discuss “strengthening cooperation” between their countries, Netanyahu’s office said.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi tasked Kamel and his delegation, who were also to visit the occupied Palestinian Territories, with hammering out a permanent ceasefire deal, senior Egyptian security officials told AFP.

On the same day, Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi made the first official visit by an Israeli top diplomat to neighbouring Egypt in 13 years, for talks with his counterpart Sameh Shoukry.

Ashkenazi tweeted on his arrival that they would “discuss establishing a permanent ceasefire with Hamas, a mechanism for providing humanitarian aid and the reconstruction of Gaza with a pivotal role played by the international community”.

The Egyptian foreign ministry tweeted that the ministers’ talks were “part of Egypt’s relentless and continued efforts to revive the peace track and to build on the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip”.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was also expected in Cairo for talks, senior Egyptian security officials said, without providing further details.

Egypt played a pivotal role in negotiating the May 21 ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that brought an end to 11 days of deadly fighting.

Israeli strikes on Gaza killed 254 Palestinians, including 66 children, health officials said.

Rockets and other fire from Gaza claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child and an Arab-Israeli teenager, medics said.

Prisoners

Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s demand “for the prompt return” of Israelis being held in the Gaza Strip, according to the statement.

Ashkenazi also said Israel was “fully committed” to repatriating Israeli prisoners held by Hamas.

Since Israel’s 2014 invasion of the Gaza Strip, the Islamist group has held the bodies of Israeli soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, although Hamas has never confirmed their deaths.

Hamas is also believed to be holding two Israeli citizens who entered Gaza alone and whose families say they have mental health issues.

Israel is meanwhile holding more than 5,000 Palestinians in its jails.

Sisi has pledged $500 million to help reconstruction efforts in the densely populated Gaza enclave, which was pummelled by Israeli air strikes.

Hamas has pledged not to touch “a single cent” of international aid to rebuild Gaza.

Israel, which has enforced a land and maritime blockade on the enclave since 2007, accuses the group of diverting international aid to military ends.

The statement from Netanyahu’s office said he and Kamel also discussed “mechanisms and processes to prevent the strengthening of Hamas and its use of the resources that will be directed to the civilian population in the future”.

Root causes

The latest violent flare-up was sparked by increased tensions in Jerusalem, including over Israeli security forces cracking down on Palestinians inside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site, which is also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount.

A bitter divide between Hamas and Fatah has long plagued Palestinian politics, but analysts say the latest escalation has served to unite the geographically fragmented Palestinian community in a way not seen in years.

Sisi also tasked Kamel with working to help iron out political divisions between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the Egyptian officials said.

The UN Human Rights Council decided Thursday to create an open-ended international investigation into violations surrounding the latest Gaza violence.

It said it would also look at the “underlying root causes of recurrent tensions and instability, including systematic discrimination” in the occupied Palestinian Territories and inside Israel.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet voiced particular concern about the “high level of civilian fatalities and injuries” from the bombing of Gaza and warned the Israeli strikes on the enclave “may constitute war crimes”.

AFP

Israeli ‘Change’ Bloc Steps Up Effort To Oust Netanyahu

In this file photo taken on February 9, 2020, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP.

 

Israelis waited Sunday to see whether nationalist hardliner Naftali Bennett would agree to join a governing coalition that could end the rule of the country’s longest-serving leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Lawmakers opposed to right-wing Netanyahu were in intense talks ahead of a Wednesday deadline, as a ceasefire held following the latest deadly military conflict with Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu, 71, who faces trial on fraud, bribery and breach of trust charges which he denies, has clung to power through a period of political turmoil that has seen four inconclusive elections in under two years.

After a March vote in which Netanyahu’s Likud party gained the most seats but again failed to form a government, former TV anchor Yair Lapid is now trying to build a rival coalition.

Centrist Lapid has until Wednesday 11:59 pm local time (2059 GMT) to build a coalition of at least 61 deputies, a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

The 57-year-old is seeking to forge a diverse alliance the Israeli media has dubbed a bloc for “change”, which would include Bennett as well as Arab-Israeli lawmakers.

In his determination to bring down the hawkish prime minister, Lapid has offered to share power and let Bennett, 49, serve the first term in a rotating premiership.

Bennett was expected to speak Sunday evening after a meeting with his party, a spokeswoman said.

Netanyahu, in office for 12 consecutive years after an earlier three-year term, tried to cling to power Sunday by offering his own, last-ditch power-sharing agreement to several former allies including Bennett.

He warned that Israel would otherwise be ruled by a dangerous “left-wing” alliance.

‘Desperate position’

A Lapid government would also include the centrist Blue and White party of Benny Gantz and the hawkish New Hope party of Netanyahu’s former ally Gideon Saar.

Avigdor Lieberman’s pro-settlement Yisrael Beitenu party as well as historically powerful Labour and the dovish Meretz party would also join.

The shaky arrangement would the backing of some Arab-Israeli lawmakers of Palestinian descent in order to pass a confirmation vote in parliament.

The intense talks follow weeks of escalating tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, including a deadly 11-day exchange of rocket fire from Gaza and devastating Israeli airstrikes.

The war with Hamas that ended with a May 21 truce, as well as tensions in the occupied West Bank and in mixed Jewish-Arab towns in Israel, initially appeared to leave Netanyahu more likely to hold onto power.

But political scientist Gayil Talshir at Hebrew University told AFP on Sunday that Israel was now “closer than ever” to a coalition of change, adding that “Netanyahu is in a desperate position”.

Netanyahu’s Likud party won 30 seats in the March elections but failed to form a governing coalition after his far-right partners refused to sit with Arab factions or receive their support.

Lapid, whose party won 17 seats, was then given four weeks to form a government.

Netanyahu had previously pushed for yet another election, which would be the fifth since April 2019.

“Now that he sees a change coalition may be announced this evening or tomorrow, he has to move forward with a more serious deal,” Talshir told AFP.

More elections?

On Sunday Netanyahu offered a rotation agreement to Bennett and Saar. But Saar on Twitter said he remained committed to “replacing the Netanyahu regime”.

Netanyahu in a video then called on Saar and Bennett to “come now, immediately” to meet him and join a three-way rotation government, warning they were “in crucial moment for the security, character and future of the state of Israel”.

Lapid’s “change” coalition also still faced several obstacles.

Some right-wing lawmakers object to a partnership with politicians from Israel’s Arab minority, around a fifth of the population.

The recent Gaza conflict sparked inter-communal clashes between Jewish and Arab Israelis in mixed cities.

Arab politicians have also been divided about joining a government headed by Bennett, who supports expanding Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, where Palestinians hope to create a future state.

Even with support from an Arab party, a new coalition in Israel is unlikely to reverse years of Israeli settlement construction or bring peace any time soon with Hamas in Gaza.

If the anti-Netanyahu camp does not manage to form a government on time, a majority of 61 lawmakers could vote to ask the president to name a new premier.

Another scenario would be for the country to gear up for yet another general election — Israel’s fifth in a little more than two years.

Florida Shooting Kills Two, Wounds 20

Miami-Dade police officers collect evidence near shell case evidence markers where a mass shooting took place outside of a banquet hall on May 30, 2021 in Hialeah, Florida.
Miami-Dade police officers collect evidence near shell case evidence markers where a mass shooting took place outside of a banquet hall on May 30, 2021 in Hialeah, Florida.

 

Two people were killed and at least 20 wounded Sunday when three shooters fired “indiscriminately” into a crowd outside a concert in the Miami area, police said, the latest shooting in a year that has seen a surge in both gun sales and gun violence.

The shots erupted near a banquet and events hall in a strip mall in Miami Gardens, a heavily Cuban community of working-class families.

Angelica Green told reporters at the scene that her son and nephew, both 24, were among those wounded. Both were in hospital recovering, though the nephew, hit four times, was in more serious condition.

She had spoken to her son, who was “frantic” when he called right after the shooting. “They say that some guys came out with hoodies and ski masks and just started spraying at the crowd,” she said, adding that it was “very scary.”

The venue was “hosting a scheduled event and several patrons were standing outside,” Miami-Dade Police Department said in a statement.

When a Nissan Pathfinder SUV approached the scene, police added, “three subjects exited the vehicle and began shooting indiscriminately into the crowd.”

The trio fled. Their motive was unknown.

On Sunday, about a dozen small yellow cones could be seen on the street outside the hall, marking where bullet casings and evidence were found.

In addition to the two people killed at the scene, at least 20 people were hospitalized, one in critical condition, police said.

In a tweet, the department’s director, Alfredo “Freddy” Ramirez III, condemned the “cowardly act of gun violence.”

“These are cold-blooded murderers that shot indiscriminately into a crowd, and we will seek justice,” he said.

Police were seeking help from the community in finding the shooters.

43,000 gun-related deaths

Florida remains marked by the 2016 shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, in which a gunman killed 49 people, many of them young Cuban-Americans.

And over the past year, gun-related homicides have surged nationwide.

On Wednesday, a public transit worker shot dead nine people at a California rail yard before turning his gun on himself.

A search this week of the shooter’s home — which was set ablaze shortly before the attack — turned up 12 guns, some 22,000 rounds of ammunition and suspected Molotov cocktails.

That followed recent mass shootings in Indiana, California, Colorado and Georgia.

While the coronavirus pandemic slowed workplace violence as more people stayed home, it also saw record gun sales.

In March last year, the number of weekly federal background checks on gun buyers surpassed one million for the first time, the New York Times reported. Then this spring the number hit 1.2 million one week, with many sales going to first-time owners.

The United States has a long, painful history of gun violence — a problem President Joe Biden has branded an “epidemic.”

There were more than 43,000 gun-related deaths in the country last year, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo issued an impassioned plea Sunday for action.

“If we don’t fully mobilize as a society against it,” he said on Twitter, “it will get worse before it gets better.”

AFP