Europe Faces Stifling Record-Breaking June Heatwave

Beachgoers gather under parasols at Sokoa Beach, southwestern France, on June 18, 2022, as heatwave conditions sweep across France and western Europe. Spain, France and other western European nations braced for a sweltering June weekend that is set to break records, with forest fires and warnings over the effects of climate change.  GAIZKA IROZ / AFP

 

Spain, France and other western European nations on Saturday sweltered under a blistering June heatwave that has sparked forest fires and concerns that such early summer blasts of hot weather will now become the norm.

The weather on Saturday was the peak of a June heatwave that is in line with scientists’ predictions that such phenomena will now strike earlier in the year thanks to global warming.

The French southwestern town of Biarritz, one of the country’s most sought-after seaside resorts, saw its highest all-time temperature Saturday of 41 degrees, state forecaster Meteo France said.

Queues of hundreds of people and traffic jams formed outside aquatic leisure parks in France, with people seeing water as the only refuge from the devastating heat.

With the River Seine off-limits to bathing, scorched Parisians took refuge in the city’s fountains.

Temperatures in France could reach as high as 42 degrees C in some areas on Saturday, Meteo France said, adding that June records had already been beaten in 11 areas on Friday.

“This is the earliest heatwave ever recorded in France” since 1947, said Matthieu Sorel, a climatologist at Meteo France.

With “many monthly or even all-time temperature records likely to be beaten in several regions,” he called the weather a “marker of climate change”.

– Forest fires rage –

In a major incident in France, a fire triggered by the firing of an artillery shell in military training in the Var region of southern France was burning some 200 hectares (495 acres) of vegetation, local authorities said.

“There is no threat to anyone except 2,500 sheep who are being evacuated and taken to safety,” said local fire brigade chief Olivier Pecot.

The fire came from the Canjeurs military camp, the biggest such training site in Western Europe. Fire services’ work was impeded by the presence of non-exploded munitions in the deserted area but four Canadair plans have been deployed to water bomb the fires.

Farmers in the country are having to adapt. Daniel Toffaloni, a 60-year-old farmer near the southern city of Perpignan, now only works from “daybreak until 11.30am” and in the evening, as temperatures in his tomato greenhouses reach a sizzling 55 degrees C.

Forest fires in Spain on Saturday had burned nearly 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) of land in the northwest Sierra de la Culebra region.

The flames forced several hundred people from their homes, and 14 villages were evacuated.

Some residents were able to return on Saturday morning, but regional authorities warned the fire “remains active”.

Firefighters were still battling blazes in several other regions, including woodlands in Catalonia.

Temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) were forecast in parts of the country on Saturday — with highs of 43 degrees C expected in the north-eastern city of Zaragoza.

There have also been fires in Germany, where temperatures were forecast to go as high as 40 degrees C on Saturday, although only reached 36 degrees C. A blaze in the Brandenburg region around Berlin had spread over about 60 hectares by Friday evening.

– Foretaste of future –

Dutch authorities said they expect Saturday to be the hottest day of the year so far.

The UK recorded its hottest day of the year on Friday, with temperatures reaching over 30 degrees C in the early afternoon, meteorologists said.

“I think at the moment people are just enjoying it being hot but if it gets any hotter than this, which I think it is meant to, then that’s a concern,” said Claire Moran, an editor in London.

Several towns in northern Italy have announced water rationing and the Lombardy region may declare a state of emergency as a record drought threatens harvests.

Italy’s dairy cows were putting out 10 per cent less milk, the main agricultural association, Coldiretti, said Saturday.

With temperatures far above the cows’ “ideal climate” of 22-24 degrees C, animals were drinking up to 140 litres of water per day, double their normal intake, and producing less due to stress, it said.

Experts warned the high temperatures were caused by worrying climate change trends.

“As a result of climate change, heatwaves are starting earlier,” said Clare Nullis, a spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva.

“What we’re witnessing today is, unfortunately, a foretaste of the future” if concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to rise and push global warming towards 2 degrees C from pre-industrial levels, she added.

Huge Europe-Morocco Migration Begins After COVID-19 Hiatus

Morocco, a North African country bordering the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, is distinguished by its Berber, Arabian and European cultural influences.
Morocco, a North African country bordering the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, is distinguished by its Berber, Arabian and European cultural influences.

 

Morocco on Sunday begins welcoming an influx of its citizens living in Europe after the pandemic led to a halt in what has been called one of the world’s biggest cross-continental migrations.

The last such effort in the summer of 2019 saw 3.3 million people and more than three quarters of a million vehicles cross the Gibraltar Strait.

The North African kingdom is just 14 kilometres (nine miles) from the coast of Spain, which has announced it will also put in place special measures for Moroccans from June 15 for two months.

Spain’s government has called the seasonal migration “one of the biggest flows of people across continents in such a small time”.

Resuming large-scale cross-strait travel comes not only after an easing of the pandemic threat but also following a mending of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

The year-long diplomatic dispute had extended border closures originally put in place because of Covid-19, but maritime traffic resumed in April.

READ ALSO: 780 Monkeypox Outbreak Cases – WHO

“Operation Marhaba (Welcome) for Moroccans living overseas begins on June 5,” said a statement late Saturday from the Mohammed V Solidarity Foundation which organises the effort.

More than 1,000 people including doctors, social workers and volunteers have signed up to help people arriving at ports and airports.

Most will come by boat from Spain.

As well as at Moroccan ports, helpers will be stationed in the Spanish ports of Almeria and Algeciras, Marseille in France and Italy’s Genoa, among others.

The traffic goes in both directions, as many Moroccans also head to Spanish coastal resorts for their holidays.

Monkeypox Virus Spreads To North America, Europe

Monkeypox virus was first identified by Preben von Magnus in 1958 as a pathogen of crab-eating macaque monkeys
Monkeypox virus was first identified by Preben von Magnus in 1958 as a pathogen of crab-eating macaque monkeys

 

Health authorities in North America and Europe have detected dozens of suspected or confirmed cases of monkeypox since early May, sparking concern the disease endemic in parts of Africa is spreading.

Canada was the latest country to report it was investigating more than a dozen suspected cases of monkeypox, after Spain and Portugal detected more than 40 possible and verified cases.

Britain has confirmed nine cases since May 6, and the United States verified its first on Wednesday, saying a man in the eastern state of Massachusetts had tested positive for the virus after visiting Canada.

The illness, from which most people recover within several weeks and has only been fatal in rare cases, has infected thousands of people in parts of Central and Western Africa in recent years but is rare in Europe and North Africa.

READ ALSO: Mozambique Detects Polio Case After Malawi Outbreak

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday it was coordinating with UK and European health officials over the new outbreaks.

“We really need to better understand the extent of monkeypox in endemic countries… to really understand how much is circulating and the risk that it poses for people who are living there, as well as the risk of exportation,” infectious disease epidemiologist Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove said at a WHO press conference on Tuesday on global health issues.

The first case in Britain was someone who had traveled from Nigeria, though later cases were possibly through community transmission, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said in a statement.

“These latest cases, together with reports of cases in countries across Europe, confirms our initial concerns that there could be spread of monkeypox within our communities,” said UKHSA Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Susan Hopkins.

The WHO said it was also investigating that many cases reported were people identifying as gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men.

“We are seeing transmission among men having sex with men,” said WHO Assistant Director-General Dr. Soce Fall at the press conference.

“This is new information we need to investigate properly to understand better the dynamic of local transmission in the UK and some other countries.”

‘No risk to the public’

The UKHSA noted that monkeypox has not previously been characterized as a sexually transmitted disease, underscoring that “it can be passed on by direct contact during sex.”

“Anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, can spread monkeypox through contact with body fluids, monkeypox sores, or shared items (such as clothing and bedding) that have been contaminated with fluids or sores of a person with monkeypox,” a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statement said Wednesday, adding that household disinfectants can kill the virus on surfaces.

The illness often starts with flu-like symptoms such as fever, muscle ache and swollen lymph nodes before causing a chickenpox-like rash on the face and body, the US agency explained.

The Massachusetts Department of Health, said that the case there — the first confirmed this year in the United States — occurred in a patient who had recently traveled to Canada and “poses no risk to the public, and the individual is hospitalized and in good condition.”

Health authorities in Canada’s Quebec province announced they were investigating at least 13 suspected cases of monkeypox, the public broadcaster CBC reported Wednesday.

The cases were flagged to Montreal authorities after diagnoses were made in several clinics specializing in sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) told CBC it had called on “public health authorities and laboratory partners across Canada to be alert for and investigate any potential cases.”

According to the CDC, there were no reported cases of monkeypox for 40 years before it re-emerged in Nigeria in 2017.

 

AFP

African Players In Europe: Aubameyang Reigns In Spain

Barcelona’s Gabonese midfielder Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates after scoring a goal during the Spanish League football match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 20, 2022. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang made a memorable Clasico debut at the weekend, scoring the first and last goals as Barcelona humiliated Real Madrid 4-0 in La Liga at the Santiago Bernabeu.  

The 32-year-old Gabon captain and forward has scored eight goals since a January free-transfer move from Arsenal, helping early-season strugglers Barca rise to third, 12 points behind leaders Real.

“I was very excited to come to Barcelona and do well. It is very easy when you play with such good players,” he said after the rout of Real.

READ ALSO: Aubameyang Scores Brace As Barcelona Humiliate Real Madrid

Here, AFP Sport highlights Africans who starred in the major European league and cup competitions:

ENGLAND WILFRIED ZAHA (Crystal Palace)

Zaha took his tally for the season to 10 and set up Jean-Philippe Mateta’s goal as Palace stormed into the FA Cup semi-finals for the first time in six seasons with a 4-0 thrashing of Everton. The Ivorian was alert to take advantage with a cool low finish for Palace’s third goal after Michael Olise’s looping effort came back off the crossbar.

HAKIM ZIYECH (Chelsea)

Next up for Palace in the last four are Chelsea after they proved too good for Championship side Middlesbrough. Morocco international Ziyech got the second goal in a 2-0 win at the Riverside as he cut inside onto his favoured left foot and arrowed the ball into the far corner for his eighth goal of the season.

RIYAD MAHREZ (Manchester City)

Mahrez’s tally for the season rose to 22 despite starting on the bench for City’s 4-1 FA Cup win at Southampton. The Algerian was rested by Pep Guardiola, but came off the bench just after the hour mark with the Saints threatening to take the tie to extra time. He rounded off the scoring by wrong-footing Fraser Forster as he whipped the ball in at the near post to set up an enticing semi-final against Liverpool.

SPAIN PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG (Barcelona)

Aubameyang started the humiliation by heading in Ousmane Dembele’s cross and then finished it, a scooped shot making it four in the second half. Although Barca trail Real Madrid by 12 points with nine rounds remaining, they do have a game in hand.

ITALY ISMAEL BENNACER (AC Milan)

The Algeria midfielder scored on 59 minutes to give league leaders AC Milan a 1-0 win at Cagliari and a three-point advantage over Napoli in the Serie A title race. Bennacer met an Olivier Giroud lay-off with a sumptuous first-time finish from the edge of the box.

VICTOR OSIMHEN (Napoli)

Osimhen scored twice as Napoli came from behind to defeat Udinese 2-1 at home. The Nigerian equalised after 52 minutes and scored the winner 11 minutes later.

MOUSTAPHA CISSE (Atalanta)

The 18-year-old Guinean struck as a substitute on his Serie A debut to earn Atalanta a 1-0 victory away to Bologna. Cisse was signed by the club last month after being spotted playing for a team of refugees in Italy’s eighth tier.

GERMANY ISHAK BELFODIL (Hertha Berlin)

The Algeria striker tapped home a free-kick as Hertha Berlin broke their nine-match Bundesliga winless streak with a 3-0 thrashing of Hoffenheim. With new coach Felix Magath forced to watch from his hotel after testing positive for Covid-19 and Hertha 1-0 up, Marc Oliver Kempf got on the end of a free-kick and passed to Belfodil, who scored with 63 minutes gone to claim his third goal in 21 league games this season.

FRANCE SERHOU GUIRASSY (Rennes)

The France-born forward celebrated his first call-up by Guinea with a hat-trick in Rennes’ 6-1 demolition of Metz. Guirassy has eight Ligue 1 goals this season for a team that has won five matches in a row and is challenging for an automatic Champions League spot.

CEDRIC BAKAMBU (Marseille)

The Democratic Republic of Congo international headed in a crucial late second goal within moments of coming off the bench in Marseille’s 2-1 win over Nice. He has scored three times in six league appearances since arriving on a free transfer in January and was named in his country’s squad for the World Cup play-off with Morocco.

AFP

European Radio To Play ‘Give Peace A Chance’ For Ukraine

A carboard reading “stop war” is pictured in front of a part of the banking district’s skyline during a protest organized by “Fridays for Future” against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on March 3, 2022.
Yann Schreiber / AFP

 

Around 150 public radio channels across Europe will play “Give Peace a Chance” at 07:45 GMT on Friday in solidarity against the war in Ukraine, the European Broadcasting Union announced.

The track, penned by John Lennon, will be heard in more than 25 countries including Ukraine, while European commercial radio stations will also join in the moment, the EBU said.

“This powerful call for peace through an iconic song will resonate with millions of listeners,” said EBU director general Noel Curran.

The idea came from German public broadcaster RBB.

“The horrors of the war against Ukraine are more apparent every day. Our solidarity, our humanity and our support are needed,” said RBB chief Patricia Schlesinger.

“It is a good signal seeing Europe’s radio stations join forces to remind us of that with this song.

“It is a source of strength and urges us not to look the other way.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces into Ukraine on February 24.

The United Nations has opened a probe into alleged war crimes, as the Russian military bombards cities with shells and missiles, forcing civilians to cower in basements, more than a week into the full-scale invasion.

Speaking on behalf of Ukrainian Radio, Yurii Tabachenko said: “It is extremely important that today Europe is united around Ukraine.”

“Give Peace a Chance”, released in 1969 by the Plastic Ono Band, was recorded in Montreal during Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono’s “bed-in” for peace at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel.

Founded in 1950, the Geneva-based EBU is the world’s biggest public service media alliance. It has 113 member organisations in 56 countries, plus 31 associates elsewhere around the globe.

Winter Olympics Return To Italy In Sprawling Milano-Cortina Event

The flags of China, Greece and Italy sway in the wind during the closing ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, at the National Stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest, in Beijing, on February 20, 2022. (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP)

 

After two editions in Asia, the Winter Olympics returns to Europe and to Italy in 2026, in a huge event spread over hundreds of kilometres.

The joint bid of Milan and Cortina D’Ampezzo saw off Swedish pair Stockholm and Are in 2019 to bring the Winter Games back to Turin, two decades after they were last held there.

Crucially, it will be the first Winter Olympics to be co-organised by two cities.

It will be no easy task as Milan and Cortina are in two different regions — Lombardy and Veneto — and separated by some 400 kilometres (250 miles), or five hours by road.

The distance is such that when skier Sofia Goggia crashed at Cortina on the eve of the Beijing Olympics she had to be flown by helicopter to Milan for tests on her knee injury.

Federica Brignone, a double alpine skiing medal winner at the Beijing Olympics, expressed concern that the large distances involved “won’t be great for the Olympic spirit” at what will likely be the last Games for the 31-year-old.

Cortina will be hosting the event for the first time in 70 years and the 2026 Games will be held in a winter sports hub.

Cortina, in the Italian Dolomites, and Bormio — one of four event ‘clusters’ — regularly host World Cup alpine skiing.

Organisers have been aiming to make the most of existing sports infrastructure to limit the economic and environmental impact for which the Winter Games are often criticised.

The Beijing Olympics were under scrutiny for the massive use of artificial snow and the building of alpine skiing facilities in an area north of Beijing that suffers from drought.

The Games before that, the 2018 event in Pyeongchang, South Korea, was beset by bone-chilling cold.

The 2026 opening ceremony will be held at Milan’s iconic San Siro Stadium, which will be approaching 100 years old by the time the Games begin.

It is due to eventually be demolished as Serie A football clubs AC Milan and Inter Milan plan a new stadium on the same site on the western outskirts of the city.

The two clubs have announced “The Cathedral” designed by the Populous firm, who designed the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London.

– Few new sites –

Italian media report that matches will not be played there until 2027, and on Friday Milan mayor Giuseppe Sala said it will be the current arena, with the distinctive concrete structure that was added in its latest revamp, that hosts the opening ceremony.

“I think that the opening ceremony will be held at the current San Siro because I know how long it takes to build a new stadium and I don’t think it will be finished,” Sala told reporters at a pre-handover media conference.

Organisers say that the only new sites to be built for 2026 had already been planned independently of the Games — the Arena PalaItalia ice hockey venue and the Milan Olympic Village, which will then be converted into student housing.

However there is some tension about some of the infrastructure, in particular the Cortina bobsleigh track.

The Veneto region has committed to refurbishing the historic Eugenio Monti track, which has been abandoned since 2008, at a cost of some 60 million euros ($67.9 million).

But the works have been blasted by CIPRA, an international collective of NGOs which aims to protect the Alps, which has pleaded for “alternatives that are less expensive and more respectful of the environment”, such as relocating the events to Innsbruck in Austria, two-and-a-half hours from Cortina.

Buhari Demands Weighty Sanctions For Coup Plotters In Africa

President Muhammadu Buhari spoke at the African Union - European Union Summit in Brussels, Belgium on February 18, 2022. Sunday Aghaeze/State House
President Muhammadu Buhari spoke at the African Union – European Union Summit in Brussels, Belgium on February 18, 2022. Sunday Aghaeze/State House

 

President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday in Brussels, Belgium, called on European leaders as partners in promoting democracy and good governance to lend their weight behind measures put in place by the African Union to stem the tide of unconstitutional leadership changes, rearing its head again on the continent.

In his contribution to the roundtable discussion on Peace, Security, and Governance at the ongoing 6th EU-AU Summit, President Buhari equally stressed the need to nip the root causes of extremism, conflicts, and tensions in Africa at inception.

READ ALSOPDP Governors Ask Buhari To Resign As Petroleum Minister

“Africa has continued to witness different waves of violent extremism, community-based conflicts, and inter-ethnic tensions, notably in rural areas. For many decades, our continent has been deprived of political stability and socio-economic development due to terrorism and violent extremism,” he said.

“More worrisome is the current state of democracy on the continent, which has become a great source of concern to many of us, with increasing cases of unconstitutional change of governments across the continent, particularly in West Africa. This is in addition to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The African Union has often responded to these challenges through its different structures, such as the African Peace and Security Architecture and the African Governance Architecture.

“Through enhanced collaboration with our development partners, especially the European Union, we can identify areas of cooperation for quick and substantive results.

“As leaders and policymakers, it is important for our partnership to place priority on tackling the root causes of conflicts in Africa, as well as taking measures in safeguarding peace and security if we are to achieve the African Union Agenda 2063.

“We also call for stronger support from the European Union in the condemnation and imposition of weighty sanctions on countries that engage in unconstitutional change of governments, as well as manipulation of constitutions in favor of extension of term limits.”

According to his spokesman, Garba Shehu, the Nigerian leader added that it was imperative to ensure that election processes in Africa have outcomes that truly reflect the wishes of the electorate, as to go contrary to these is courting instability.

He said, “we have a responsibility to reduce conflicts that stem from lack of good governance, unaccountability, corruption and social exclusion.

“Free, fair, credible, and transparent elections remain crucial elements in ensuring peace and security and promoting constitutional order, democracy, and inclusive governance on the continent.

“It is, therefore, imperative for our partnership to also focus on strengthening election processes in Africa and prevent interference to influence the process and outcomes of elections.”

President Buhari also called for the concretization and transformation of promises of cooperation made by the European leaders to actions.

“I wish to underscore the need to convert our pledges on political cooperation in the area of peace, security, and conflict prevention into concrete initiatives such as joint field missions, shared understanding and analysis on crisis situations, as well as joint early action and swift implementation of agreed positions.

“The movement and operation of terrorists and violent extremist groups along the Sahel could better be addressed through an improved Continental Early Warning Mechanism. Consequently, we believe there is a clear need to strengthen our cooperation on security with the European Union, particularly through improved intelligence sharing and acquisition of military equipment and hardware.

“We invite the EU to upscale its support for the G5 Sahel and the Multinational Joint Taskforce in the Lake Chad Region as we strive to further degrade the Boko-Haram insurgents and their Islamic State in the West Africa Province counterparts. Africa also looks up to Europe for enhanced support in the area of combating Illicit financial flows and terrorism funding that aid the activities of terrorists and violent extremist groups,” the president added.

He called for all hands to be on deck to ensure that Africa’s Blue Economy Agenda for development is realized.

“I must emphasize the importance of expanding regional and international cooperation on ocean governance, on the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing as well as on maritime security, including piracy, illicit trafficking and other maritime crimes and threats as reflected in the 2050 Africa Integrated Maritime Strategy,” the Nigerian leader added.

Buhari Rues Youth Migration, Seeks Europe’s Partnership To Halt Trend

A file photo of President Muhammadu Buhari.

 

President Muhammadu Buhari has lamented the mass migration of youths and is seeking partnership with European countries to halt the trend.

Buhari, who is Brussels, Belgium for the 6th EU-AFRICA, made the comment in an article published about the meeting.

“By 2050, Africa’s population of 1.3 billion is set to double, making up a quarter of the world’s total. My country, Nigeria, is set to double its population to 400 million by then, surpassing the United States to become the third-largest nation in the world.

“This means a huge youthful market right on Europe’s doorstep and — with increased trade — a growing middle class with money to spend,” Buhari said in the article published on the Politico, an online/offline magazine on Thursday.

“However, despite burgeoning possibility, irregular northward migration from my continent drains Africa’s talent pool, while provoking political crises in the EU. Despite its best efforts, Europe will not find a sustainable remedy to this problem by further reinforcing its Fortress Europe approach.

“Instead, more opportunities must be created for Africans at home, providing alternatives to the decision to take a life-threatening boat journey in order to seek them elsewhere. The relationship between the EU and Africa must be rebalanced to power job creation. Unfortunately, today’s arrangements do just the opposite.”

READ ALSO: PDP Governors Ask Buhari To Resign As Petroleum Minister

While explaining why Nigeria did not sign the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with Europe, he noted that agricultural subsidies in Europe are major blows to farmers on the continent. According to him, Africa is flooded with “artificially depreciated produce”, thus affecting competition.

“For instance, subsidy-driven surpluses of European milk are powdered and sent to Africa, decimating its dairy industry,” he said.

“It is a similar story when it comes to wheat and poultry production. Despite having the most underutilised arable land in the world, Africa remains a net food importer.”

The Nigerian leader noted that over €50 billion is pushed into markets in Europe to help them produce cheaper food. This, he explained, keeps Africa at the losing end.

“With its main export market distorted against them, African countries are deprived of foreign exchange, and investment in agriculture is stifled,” Buhari said.

No Plans To Quit Europe Amid Data Spat, Says Facebook’s Meta

This illustration photo taken in Los Angeles on October 28, 2021, shows a person using Facebook on a smartphone in front of a computer screen showing the META logo.  (Photo by Chris DELMAS / AFP)

 

Facebook’s parent firm Meta said Monday it has no plans to pull its services from Europe, after raising the possibility amid an ongoing row over transferring European data to the United States.

Data is central to the ad business that generates nearly all of the company’s billion of dollars in revenue, and frameworks that have overseen the transfer of information from the continent are now in limbo.

“We have absolutely no desire and no plans to withdraw from Europe, but the simple reality is that Meta, and many other businesses, organisations and services, rely on data transfers between the EU and the US in order to operate global services,” the firm said in a statement.

The crucial “Privacy Shield” online data arrangement between Europe and the United States was invalidated in July 2020 in a top EU court decision that threw transatlantic big tech into legal uncertainty.

READ ALSO: Buhari Launches National Policy On 5G, Says It Will Address Insecurity

Meta also noted in a filing Thursday to US market regulators that the bases it uses for data transfer are also in legal and regulatory jeopardy.

“If a new transatlantic data transfer framework is not adopted… we will likely be unable to offer a number of our most significant products and services, including Facebook and Instagram, in Europe,” Meta wrote in its Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

European authorities and the US government are still talking through ways to resolve the issue.

The social media giant recently saw its worst-ever plunge in market value, after disappointing quarterly results that raised questions about its future.

Its signature Facebook platform saw a small dip in daily users globally at the end of 2021, the first such decline for a platform relentlessly focused on growth.

The company’s preoccupation with adding users was central to the whistleblower scandal last year, in which leaked internal documents underpinned press reports saying the company prioritized growth over safety.

AFP

US Deploys Troops To Support NATO In Ukraine Standoff

In this image released by the US Department of Defense, two NATO supply soldiers prepare to move to the location of their next mission during Allied Spirit 22 military exercise on January 31, 2022. (Photo by Alun Thomas / US DEPARTMENT OF STATE / AFP)

 

The United States said Wednesday it was deploying thousands of troops to bolster NATO forces in eastern Europe, ratcheting up its military response to fears that Russia could invade Ukraine.

Russia has massed than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders, and Western leaders have warned that any incursion into the ex-Soviet nation would be met with “severe consequences.”

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said 1,000 US troops in Germany would deploy to Romania, and 2,000 based in the United States would be sent to Germany and Poland.

“It’s important that we send a strong signal to (President Vladimir) Putin and the world that NATO matters to the United States,” Kirby said, adding “this is not the sum total of the deterrence actions that we will take.”

“These forces are not going to fight in Ukraine,” he stressed. “They are not permanent moves. They respond to current conditions.”

As NATO leaders pursued diplomatic efforts to avert any invasion of pro-Western Ukraine, a senior Kremlin official stressed that Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping shared views on global security.

READ ALSO: #EndSARS Protest: Senate Calls For Holistic Reform Of Police Force

Russia denies any plans to invade its neighbor, with Putin accusing the West of failing to respect Moscow’s security concerns.

The Kremlin said China would explicitly back Russia’s stance when Putin visits Beijing for the opening of the Winter Olympics this week.

“China supports Russia’s demands for security guarantees,” the Kremlin’s top foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov told reporters.

Russian officials have demanded a ban on Ukraine joining NATO and on the deployment of missile systems near Russia’s borders, as well as a pullback of the US-led military alliance’s forces in eastern Europe.

– ‘Ukraine just a tool’ –

In his first major remarks on the crisis in weeks, Putin on Tuesday suggested Washington was using Kyiv as an instrument to potentially drag Moscow into a war.

“Ukraine itself is just a tool to achieve this goal” of containing Russia, Putin said.

Putin left the door open to talks however, saying he hoped that “in the end we will find a solution.”

The United States and NATO have provided written responses to Moscow’s demands, which Putin said he is studying.

Spanish newspaper El Pais on Wednesday published what it said were leaked copies of the responses, which showed Washington and NATO offering Moscow arms control and trust-building measures.

The proposals remain firm on insisting that Ukraine and any other country have a right to apply to join the alliance.

But the reported US response suggests “reciprocal commitments by both the United States and Russia to refrain from deploying offensive ground-launched missile systems and permanent forces with a combat mission in the territory of Ukraine.”

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was meanwhile the latest NATO leader to visit Kyiv in a show of support for Ukraine, where he met President Volodymyr Zelensky.

After the talks, Zelensky said Ukraine was focused “only on peace”, but insisted it has the right to defend itself.

The Ukrainian leader had met a day earlier with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was due to hold a phone call with Putin on Wednesday.

Tensions have been further aggravated by plans for joint military exercises between Russia and neighboring Belarus, where Washington claims Moscow is preparing to send 30,000 troops.

While stressing that “conflict is not inevitable,” Kirby on Wednesday accused Putin of continuing “to destabilize the environment by adding more forces to the western part of his country and Belarus.”

Video footage released by the Russian defense ministry on Wednesday showed tanks speeding across snowy fields in Belarus and combat helicopters flying overhead as units from both countries practised ahead of the February 10-20 drills.

Ukraine has been battling Moscow-backed insurgencies in two separatist regions since 2014, when Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula.

More than 13,000 people have been killed in the fighting, the last major ongoing war in Europe.

AFP

Pope Hails ‘Hero’ Parents Who Flee Conflict With Children

Pope Francis celebrates the New Year's day mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on January 1, 2022. Tiziana FABI / AFP
Pope Francis celebrates the New Year’s day mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on January 1, 2022. Tiziana FABI / AFP

 

Pope Francis hailed parents who flee conflict to save their children as “heroes”, highlighting those “rejected at the borders of Europe”, in an interview published on Thursday.

“I think of many fathers, many mothers and many families that flee war, who are rejected at the borders of Europe and elsewhere, who experience situations of suffering and injustice and who no one takes seriously or willingly ignores,” he told Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano.

“I would like to say to these fathers, to these mothers, that for me they are heroes because I see in them the courage of those who risk their lives for love of their children, for love of their family.”

The Argentine pontiff, 85, is outspoken in his calls for support and understanding for migrants and asylum seekers.

He added: “I feel very close to the suffering of those families, of those fathers and mothers who are experiencing particular difficulty, worsened above all due to the (coronavirus) pandemic.”

“I think that not being able to feed one’s children, feeling the responsibility for the life of others, is suffering that is not easy to face. In this regard, my prayers, my closeness but also all the support of the Church is for these people, for these least ones,” he said.

WHO Warns Of Omicron Overload As China, Europe Impose New Curbs

File photo of WHO

 

The WHO warned Tuesday that the Omicron coronavirus variant could lead to overwhelmed healthcare systems even though early studies suggest it leads to milder disease, as China and Germany brought back tough restrictions to stamp out new infection surges.

China put hundreds of thousands more people under lockdown, while infections hit new highs in multiple US states and European countries.

Covid-19 surges have wreaked havoc around the world, with many nations trying to strike a balance between economically punishing restrictions and controlling the spread of the virus.

The United States has halved the isolation period for asymptomatic cases to try and blunt the disruption, while France has ordered firms to have employees work from home at least three days a week.

Contact restrictions were in place in Germany for the second year in a row heading into the New Year, as Europe’s biggest economy shuttered nightclubs and forced sports competitions behind closed doors.

Despite facing a much smaller outbreak compared with global virus hotspots, China has not relaxed its “zero Covid” strategy, imposing stay-at-home orders in many parts of the city of Yan’an.

The hundreds of thousands of affected residents there joined the 13 million people in the city of Xi’an, who entered a sixth day of home confinement as China battled its highest daily case numbers in 21 months.

“I’m about to be starved to death,” wrote one Xi’an resident on the Twitter-like Weibo platform.

“There’s no food, my housing compound won’t let me out, and I’m about to run out of instant noodles… please help!”

Many Xi’an residents have similarly complained on social media about the restrictions, which include a ban on driving and only one member of a household permitted to go outside for groceries every three days.

This lockdown is the most sweeping in China since the similarly-sized city Wuhan was cut off from the world in the early days of the pandemic.

– ‘Widespread disruption’ –

The surges in many countries have been propelled by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

The WHO warned against complacency even though preliminary findings suggest that Omicron could lead to milder disease.

“A rapid growth of Omicron… even if combined with a slightly milder disease, will still result in large numbers of hospitalisations, particularly amongst unvaccinated groups, and cause widespread disruption to health systems and other critical services,” warned WHO Europe’s Covid Incident Manager Catherine Smallwood.

To hold back the tide, European nations brought back curbs with painful economic and social consequences.

Facing record-high infections, France stopped short of issuing a stay-at-home order but called on employers to make staff work from home three days a week where possible.

Sweden and Finland required negative tests for incoming non-resident travellers from Tuesday, a day after Denmark — which currently has the world’s highest rate of infection per capita — applied the same measure.

In Germany, private gatherings are now limited to 10 vaccinated people — or two households where any unvaccinated people are present — and nightclubs have been closed. All sports competitions will now be held behind closed doors.

“Something has to be done to bring the infection figures down,” a Berlin resident told AFP TV.

But not all accepted the measures.

Thousands of protesters went on the march across Germany late Monday against the curbs, with some hurling fireworks or bottles at police and leaving at least 12 officers injured.

– Travel chaos –

Beyond social strife, the pandemic has been punishing economically, in particular for sectors like travel.

Some 11,500 flights have been scrapped worldwide since Friday, and tens of thousands more delayed, during one of the year’s busiest travel periods.

Multiple airlines have blamed staffing shortages caused by spikes of Omicron cases.

The surge in the US has been fuelled by the Omicron variant, as well as large pockets of unvaccinated residents and a lack of access to quick and easy testing.

President Joe Biden said Monday some US hospitals could be “overrun” but that the country was generally well prepared.

He stressed that Omicron would not have the same impact as the initial Covid outbreak or the Delta variant surge this year.

“Omicron is a source of concern, but it should not be a source of panic,” Biden said.

In an effort to prevent mass labour shortages during the surge, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday cut the isolation period for asymptomatic cases from 10 to five days.

The US is the nation hit hardest by the pandemic, and is closing in on its daily high of 250,000 cases recorded last January.