Pope Francis said Sunday he was “very distressed” over Turkey’s decision to convert the Byzantine-era monument Hagia Sophia back into a mosque.
“My thoughts go to Istanbul. I’m thinking about Hagia Sophia. I am very distressed,” the pope said in the Vatican’s first reaction to a decision that has drawn international criticism.
The Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano had on Saturday carried reaction from different countries about Friday’s decision to turn the monument from a museum back into a mosque but without any comment.
A magnet for tourists worldwide, the Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who critics say is chipping away at the Muslim-majority country’s secular pillars, announced Friday that Muslim prayers would begin on July 24 at the UNESCO World Heritage site.
In the past, he has repeatedly called for the stunning building to be renamed as a mosque and in 2018, he recited a verse from the Koran at Hagia Sophia.
Erdogan’s announcement came after a top court cancelled a 1934 cabinet decision under modern Turkey’s secularising founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to preserve the church-turned-mosque as a museum.
US President Donald Trump wore a face mask in public for the first time Saturday, finally yielding to intense pressure to set a public health example as the coronavirus rampages across America.
Trump had on a dark mask featuring the presidential seal as he walked through the corridors of Walter Reed military hospital outside Washington to meet with wounded veterans.
Trump strode past reporters and did not stop to speak to them about what had become a hotly anticipated moment — would he have a change of heart on a practice recommended by the government’s own medical experts, even as he resisted?
“I’ve never been against masks but I do believe they have a time and a place,” Trump said as he left the White House.
News reports this week said aides practically begged the president to relent and wear a mask in public — and let himself be photographed — as coronavirus cases soar in some states and as Trump trails Democrat Joe Biden badly in polls ahead of the November election.
Trump has steadfastly defended his administration’s handling of the pandemic even though the US is the hardest-hit country in the world.
The country has recently seen several days of more than 60,000 new cases, nearly 135,000 people have died and states have been left to figure out on their own how to reopen without a clear and coherent strategy from the White House.
Masks ‘a great thing’
To wear a mask or not has become a sort of political fulcrum for a deeply divided America.
Conservatives who back Trump often refuse to don one on grounds it impinges on their freedom, while progressives tend to back the practice as a show of collective responsibility at a time of a life-or-death crisis.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend people wear masks in public when they cannot engage in social distancing.
But Trump — at political rallies, media briefings and elsewhere — has repeatedly avoided wearing a mask, even after staffers at the White House tested positive for the virus and as more aides, including Vice President Mike Pence, have taken to wearing them.
In May Trump even made fun of Biden when the latter started wearing a mask in public, sharing a tweet that featured an unflattering photograph of the former vice president in a black face covering.
Trump has reportedly told aides that wearing a mask would make him look weak and he could not stomach the idea of letting the media photograph him in one.
Even Saturday as he left the White House to head to Walter Reed, Trump made it sound like he would wear a mask only because he would be in a hospital — not that he had come around and embraced the idea of donning one regularly.
“I think when you’re in a hospital, especially in that particular setting, where you’re talking to a lot of soldiers and people that, in some cases, just got off the operating tables, I think it’s a great thing to wear a mask,” Trump told reporters.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Robert Clarke, has insisted that politicians contribute majorly to the problem of governance in the country.
Speaking during his appearance on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics, he decried that politicians have continued to corrupt the judicial arm of the government.
He said, “Judiciary is not a problem; judiciary is an institution that we need whether we like it or not, and it is the only force in the country today that one can still rely upon.
“Politicians are our problem; as I have said before in one of my interviews here that the politicians are corrupting the court; they are corrupting the judges and there is nothing we can do”.
Clarke believes the system itself is corrupt and the judiciary has a self-cleansing institution which is the Federal Judicial Service Commission which has the Chief Justice of Nigeria as its chairman.
He explained that the commission has the responsibility of sanctioning erring judges, but based on petitions received.
A Faulty Constitution?
The senior advocate decried the situation where two judges of coordinate jurisdictions give different judgements on political cases.
“It is the rascality we think should not creep into the judiciary, but I still hold it that these events have been created by politicians,” he stressed.
Clarke also faulted the system of governance in the country, saying the 1999 Constitution was the problem of Nigeria.
“This Constitution allows power to be given to individual governors or Mr President to the extent that as soon as they get into the position of responsibility, their personal ego takes over and there is no instrument that can stop them except impeachment and how do you get impeachment when virtually all members of the House are under the portfolio of the governor?” he questioned.
The SAN added, “So, it is the system that is wrong. When you spend billions of naira to get the nomination for a gubernatorial election in a party or when campaigning as a president, you have to traverse the whole of Nigeria; you don’t need such a system.
“It is too expensive; we cannot afford it. We have to change it.”
US disease expert Anthony Fauci told Congress Tuesday that Donald Trump never told him or other officials to curb coronavirus testing, essentially contradicting the president who told supporters he had urged such slowdown.
“None of us have ever been told to slow down on testing,” Fauci told a House panel on US efforts to mitigate the pandemic, adding that “in fact, we will be doing more testing” instead of less.
Trump raised alarm bells Saturday when he told a Tulsa campaign rally — where most attendees were not wearing masks or following social distancing guidelines — that testing is a “double-edged sword,” and that he had told his experts to “slow the testing down.”
Zimbabwe’s health minister Obadiah Moyo was arrested Friday for alleged corruption related to the supply of medical materials to combat the coronavirus pandemic, the anti-graft agency said.
He was being held at a Harare police station and is likely to appear in court on Saturday.
“I can confirm that the minister of health and child welfare has been arrested and is being detained at Rhodesville police station,” John Makamure, spokesman for the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, told AFP.
“It’s to do with the procurement of COVID-19 materials,” he added.
The government did not immediately comment on the arrest, which came a day after the country’s main opposition condemned alleged state corruption following suspicions over a $2-million-dollar payment to a medical company contracted to provide anti-coronavirus equipment.
Harare has come under fire for granting two-month-old company Drax Consult SAGL a contract to supply $20 million worth of drugs, personal protective equipment and COVID-19 test kits.
The deal was allegedly signed without the legal consent of Zimbabwe’s procurement registration authority.
In March, authorities in Hungary — where Drax Consult SAGL is registered — flagged a suspicious $2 million deposit into the company’s accounts, drawing anger from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
Local media reported last week the arrest of businessman Delish Nguwaya, believed to be Drax’s local representative, in connection with the same case.
The government last week ordered the cancellation of all contracts for the supply of medicines and sundries by Drax, according to the state-run Herald newspaper.
The country has detected 479 virus cases, including four deaths, although that figure is believed to be underestimated due to a lack of testing.
A professor of law, Akin Oyebode, has faulted the political system in the country, 21 years after the return to civil rule.
Speaking during his appearance on Channels TV’s Democracy Day programme on Friday, he believes the present system is counterproductive for the nation’s development.
Assessing the nation’s democracy since 1999, Professor Oyebode said, “I think this is a work in progress.”
“The question of the Nigerian political system; it’s problematic, it’s an ongoing issue.”
“The word restructuring might be problematic to some people but to most objective observers, the system we are operating is very dysfunctional and counterproductive,” he added.
The professor of law recalled that he was among the over 400 delegates who attended the 2014 National Conference (CONFAB) organised by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
According to him, the question of the nature of the polity and what needed to be done to ameliorate its dysfunctionality resonated very loudly at the event, but nothing has yet to be done six years later.
Professor Oyebode stressed that it was not the duty of the National Assembly to create a national constitution.
He said, “The CONFAB came up with over 600 resolutions, but nothing has been done to date to effectuate those recommendations which would have made the Nigerian polity a little bit easier to understand to enhance its functionality.
“If you don’t want to touch the recommendations of the CONFAB, then you need another forum, not the National Assembly.
“The National Assembly is to make laws for the peace, order, and good governance of Nigeria; it is not a constituent assembly. It is neither the place nor the role, or function of the National Assembly to give us a constitution.”
Meanwhile, Brazil has emerged as the epicenter of the pandemic in Latin America, with 11,519 deaths so far.
Experts say under-testing means the real figure is likely far higher, and that things stand to get a lot worse.
“We know from history that anytime there’s such a cacophony in a situation like this, such huge disagreement on public policy among leaders, tragedy ensues,” said Brazilian historian Sidney Chalhoub, a professor at Harvard University.
As an example, he cited the last major cholera outbreak in Europe, in the late 19th century, that killed more than 10,000 people in Hamburg, Germany.
“It was largely caused by divisions between the local political elite and dominant economic interests, which trumped public health concerns. And the result was an even bigger economic catastrophe,” he said.
– Polarizing disease –
Bolsonaro supporters have held a series of anti-confinement protests in recent weeks.
Sometimes the president himself has joined in, hitting the street, shaking hands and giving fiery speeches, all while refusing to wear a face mask.
The protests have included virulent attacks on Congress and the Supreme Court, which have moved to counter Bolsonaro’s anti-confinement measures.
At times, they have erupted into violence, including against journalists and even nurses.
But a recent poll by the Datafolha institute found that 67 percent of Brazilians believe stay-at-home measures are needed to contain the virus, even if they hurt the economy.
Even in his own camp, Bolsonaro’s support is far from universal.
Another poll found that while 56 percent of those who call themselves right-wing or center-right supported the president’s handling of the pandemic, 40 percent did not.
“The more closely related people are to someone who has been infected or died, the more they distance themselves from Bolsonaro,” said political scientist Carlos Pereira of the Getulio Vargas Foundation, who conducted the latter poll.
– ‘Anti-knowledge’ –
Like his US counterpart Donald Trump, whom he admires, Bolsonaro has touted the medication chloroquine as a wonder drug against COVID-19.
Scientists at Brazil’s leading public health research institute, Fiocruz, have stated that preliminary studies do not indicate chloroquine is an effective treatment for the disease.
Perceived to be attacking the president, they have received threats on social media in response.
“We’re talking about a far-right, anti-democratic government,” some of whose supporters have “fascist” tendencies, said sociologist Debora Messenberg, of the University of Brasilia.
“We can’t even talk about society being ‘polarized’ in the usual sense. It’s not a democratic polarization. Right now, the debate is between democracy and authoritarianism,” she said.
Brazil, like the United States, is facing the pandemic “with a government that is anti-knowledge,” said Chalhoub.
The Bolsonaro administration “is depicting this as a public health catastrophe versus an economic catastrophe. But that’s a harmful view that will drive us toward both,” he said.
“As you know, I wrote and championed the Violence Against Women Act, transformed how this country gets justice and support to survivors and led the ‘It’s On Us’ campaign to fight sexual assault on campuses. As VP, I fought to provide a special victims counsel for sexual assault cases in the military,” the 77-year-old said.
He promised that “all options are on the table” when it came to assaults in the military.
Biden spoke as the furor surrounding the claim by Reade continues to grow, despite a statement issued by his campaign on April 13 which said the incident “absolutely did not happen.”
The claim has drowned out other news about Biden, such as his search for a running mate, who he has pledged will be a woman.
President Donald Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale has flooded his Twitter feed with mocking references to Reade’s allegation, ignoring the string of accusations made by women against his own candidate.
More than a dozen women have accused the real estate mogul of sexual misconduct including rape before he became president.
Biden has not been asked directly about Reade’s allegation in either the interviews he has given from his Delaware home, where he has been confined because of the coronavirus pandemic, or various online campaign events.
According to Reade, the assault took place in August 1993 in a hallway on Capitol Hill.
“We were alone, and it was the strangest thing,” Reade said in a late March interview on the Katie Halper Show podcast. “There was no, like, exchange, really, he just had me up against the wall.
“His hands were on me and underneath my clothes and, yeah, he went, he went down my skirt but then up inside it and he penetrated me with his fingers,” she said.
“He was kissing me at the same time,” she said.
Reade said she pulled away and Biden allegedly said: “Come on man, I heard you liked me.”
“For me everything shattered at that moment,” Reade said.
Reade has since recounted her story to other media outlets, and filed an incident report with the Washington police in early April — seen by AFP — in which she did not name Biden.
“This is an inactive case,” a police spokesman told AFP when asked about the status of the matter.
Reade told the right-leaning Washington Examiner that she had filed the report to show she was serious and establish a paper trail.
Other women have accused Biden of touching them inappropriately in the past, and Reade’s initial claims were similar — less severe than her most recent allegations.
The New York Times reported that it had interviewed Reade on multiple occasions, along with her friends and others who worked for Biden in the early 1990s.
According to the Times, no former Biden staffers corroborated her account, and a pattern of misconduct was not uncovered.
A friend said Reade had told her about the alleged assault at the time. A second friend said Reade told her in 2008 of a traumatic experience while working in Biden’s office.
Reade said she had also related the incident to her brother.
The allegations have led some supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, who dropped out of the Democratic race and endorsed Biden, to call on the former vice president to end his White House bid.
“Out of respect for survivors and for the good of the country, he should withdraw from the race,” said Claire Sandberg, the former national organizing director of the Sanders campaign.
He added that “If you’ve lost your job – whether you worked full time, on contract, or were self-employed – you qualify for the benefit.
“If you lost income because you’re sick or quarantined, if you’re looking after someone who’s sick, or if you’re home taking care of the kids – you qualify. And if you’re still employed but not receiving income because of COVID-19 – you qualify too. We won’t leave anyone behind”.
Canada lawmakers recently passed the coronavirus aid package after an all-night session
The lawmakers on Wednesday morning approved a more than Can$100 billion aid package to help individuals and businesses through the pandemic, after all-night negotiations on what emergency powers to grant the minority government.
Following approval by the House of Commons, they were adopted by the Senate.
The total aid package of Can$107 billion will allow for a new emergency fund that will dispense Can$2,000 per month for four months to Canadian workers who find themselves without an income due to the new coronavirus.
Nearly one million have been laid off following temporary closure orders given to many businesses in an effort to slow the virus’s spread.
The government expects to enact the emergency measure from April 6, according to Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
He said he was pleased with obtaining “unanimous consent with the other parties to move forward” with the response plan.
To respect “social distancing” measures during the pandemic, only 32 members of Parliament, proportionally representing each party instead of the full 338, had gathered in Ottawa for a vote Tuesday on the emergency measures.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday closed a three-nation Africa tour with a thinly-veiled swipe at China as he talked up Washington’s ability to stimulate growth and entrepreneurship on the continent.
“Countries should be wary of authoritarian regimes with empty promises. They breed corruption, dependency,” Pompeo said in a speech to diplomats and business leaders at the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
“They run the risk that the prosperity and sovereignty and progress that Africa so needs and desperately wants won’t happen.”
Pompeo in his remarks did not explicitly mention China — Africa’s largest trading partner — but analysts predicted ahead of his trip that he would attempt to pitch the US as an alternative source of investment.
On Wednesday Pompeo name-checked US companies operating in all three countries on his Africa tour, the first by a US cabinet-level official in 19 months: Bechtel in Senegal, Chevron in Angola and Coca-Cola in Ethiopia.
He also hailed the free market generally, blasting “failed socialist experiments of years past” in places like Zimbabwe and Tanzania.
And he criticised a proposed constitutional amendment in South Africa that would allow private property to be expropriated without compensation — a plan that seeks to overcome inequalities set down in the apartheid era.
The amendment would be “disastrous for that economy and most importantly for the South African people,” he said.
Pompeo left later for Riyadh.
Pompeo’s attempt to lay out a positive vision for US cooperation with Africa has been undermined by President Donald Trump’s Africa policy so far, analysts say.
Critics are quick to cite Trump’s widely-reported remarks in 2018 when he used a profanity to describe African and poorer Western Hemisphere nations whose citizens migrate to the United States.
Washington is currently discussing military cuts in Africa, and the US recently announced tightened visa rules targeting Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, as well as Tanzania, Sudan and Eritrea.
“Pompeo is unlikely to undo the damage from the Trump administration’s travel bans, the proposed budget cuts, or the president’s disparaging comments about the region,” said Judd Devermont, Africa director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think-tank in Washington.
But African leaders would nonetheless “welcome his long-overdue engagement and focus on the positives as much as possible,” Devermont said.
Even so, countries like Ethiopia have benefitted from Chinese engagement, rendering Pompeo’s message less effective, said Abel Abate Demissie, an Ethiopian political analyst.
“It is undeniable that Chinese investment was quite crucial in keeping Ethiopia on track as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies for many years,” Abel said.
He added that much Chinese money has gone toward tangible projects like roads and buildings, while American money is more often funnelled to “less visible” fields like education and health.
“The fact that Chinese loans and sometimes grants have less bureaucracy also makes it quite convenient for Ethiopia and Africa at large,” Abel said.
China has funnelled cash and loans into infrastructure projects across the continent.
However Beijing has faced accusations, which it denies, of saddling poor nations with debt, siphoning off mineral resources and leaving environmental damage.
Pompeo insisted Wednesday that Trump was eager to play a bigger role on the continent.
“If there’s one thing you should know about our president –- my boss –- you should know that he loves deals,” he said, drawing laughs from the audience.
“He wants more to happen between the United States and nations all across Africa.”