UK Bids To Reassure Over Northern Ireland After Biden Warning

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on June 24, 2020, to attend Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs)a at the House of Commons – ˜ (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP)

 

Britain on Thursday reaffirmed its backing for Northern Ireland’s peace accord, after White House candidate Joe Biden warned of potential fallout for a future UK-US trade deal from London’s Brexit manoeuvering.

“We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit,” Democrat Biden, who has often spoken passionately of his Irish roots, wrote on Twitter.

“Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said a contentious bill currently being debated by parliament was intended “precisely to make sure that the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement is upheld in all circumstances”.

“We continue to remain absolutely committed to no hard border and no border infrastructure between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland,” he told reporters.

The planned legislation — which Britain admits will override parts of the Brexit treaty — has provoked anger and concern among EU officials.

The proposed law would make unilateral changes to regulate trade with Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, if it cannot seal a post-Brexit deal with the EU by the end of this year.

Brussels has threatened legal action if it is not withdrawn by the end of September and reminded Britain of its duty to uphold international treaty obligations.

Northern Ireland is set to remain bound by some EU rules to ensure its border with Ireland remains open — a key part of the 1998 peace deal that ended 30 years of violence.

But Johnson charges that the EU could carry out a food “blockade” between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain, which would threaten peace and territorial integrity.

“We will continue to engage with our US partners on a bipartisan basis to ensure that our positions are understood,” Johnson’s spokesman said.

“The whole point of this, as the PM has set out, is to make sure the Belfast Good Friday Agreement is upheld.”

Biden’s strong words came as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab visited Washington to try to allay US concerns about the impact of Britain’s departure from the European Union.

It followed a similar warning from Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo voiced confidence that Britain would find a “good outcome” in its standoff with the EU.

Prior to Biden’s intervention, the prime minister told MPs on Wednesday that his bill would “protect the peace process in Northern Ireland”.

“Possibly the vital importance of protecting the symmetry of the Good Friday Agreement is something that may have been lost so far in the presentation of this matter (in Washington),” he said.

AFP

UK PM Says He Has ‘Every Hope’ Of Avoiding No-Deal With EU

PM Johnson Says UK Anti-Racism Protests 'Hijacked By Extremists'
In this file photo taken on April 12, 2020 A handout image released by 10 Downing Street, shows Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he delivers a television address after returning to 10 Downing Street after being discharged from St Thomas’ Hospital, in central London on April 12, 2020. Pippa FOWLES / 10 Downing Street / AFP.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday said he had full confidence that Britain and the EU will avoid a cliff-edge “no deal” at the end of this year, but refused to back down on controversial new legislation.

“It’s not what this country wants (no deal) and it’s not what our EU friends and partners want from us. Therefore I have every hope and expectation that that will not be the outcome,” he told MPs.

However, Johnson said the European Union had “signally failed” to rule out a possible “blockade” between Britain and Northern Ireland if there is no deal, once a post-Brexit transition period ends on December 31.

“It’s always possible that I’m mistaken and perhaps they will prove my suspicions wrong” in ongoing talks, he said. But otherwise, the unilateral new bill to regulate the UK’s internal market was needed as an insurance policy.

“I prefer to have protections that guarantee the integrity of this country and protect against the potential rupture of the United Kingdom,” Johnson said.

A “no deal” outcome would see tariffs imposed by both sides, and on Britain’s side, they “would be quite formidable for some of their products”, he added.

AFP

UK MPs Resume Brexit Feuding As New Bill Faces First Commons Vote

A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock (central left) giving a statement on coronavirus on September 10, 2020.

 

Britain’s parliament on Monday finds itself in familiar territory — arguing about Brexit — with threats of rebellion and resignations over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s controversial plan for a new law that will break his EU divorce treaty.

The House of Commons holds its first debate and vote over the bombshell new bill from late afternoon, despite a call from Brussels for it to be withdrawn by the end of the month.

The contentious legislation, unveiled last week, would override the divorce deal the UK struck with the EU last year in several key areas related to Northern Ireland.

It would see London unilaterally regulate UK trade and state aid within the British province, ignoring the EU treaty which gives Brussels a continuing say over Northern Ireland’s trading relationship.

If the law passes in the coming weeks, Brussels has warned it could scupper ongoing trade deal talks and threatened court action, leaving the prospects of an orderly Brexit in tatters.

Even some Brexiteer lawmakers were aghast that Britain would wilfully trash an international treaty, threatening the country’s reputation and potentially endangering Northern Ireland’s fragile peace.

Former prime ministers John Major and Tony Blair this weekend openly criticised the action, while David Cameron said Monday he had “misgivings” about the approach.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s pro-Brexit former attorney general Geoffrey Cox said it would be “unconscionable” to override an international treaty.

“I think it is wrong that the British government or our parliament should renege on an agreement on which we gave our solemn word,” he told Times Radio.

– ‘Squabbling days’ –

The latest row revives the bitter wrangling over how to implement British voters’ shock decision in 2016 to quit the bloc, which led to parliamentary deadlock and repeated postponements.

The impasse was broken after Johnson sealed a divorce deal with Brussels and used it to win a thumping victory in a December general election which gave his Conservatives an 80-seat majority in the House of Commons.

Brexit took legal effect the next month, but in practice Britain has remained bound by EU rules under a transition period until the end of this year.

With the clock ticking down, no breakthrough is in sight for regulating cross-Channel trade from January, and Northern Ireland is back as a fiendishly complicated obstacle.

Britain claims it needs the new law as an insurance policy in case no trade agreement is struck, but the EU was left blind-sided, as were many in parliament.

The government nonetheless appears determined to ram the UK Internal Market Bill through as quickly as possible, and senior minister Michael Gove believes it can avert a full-scale rebellion.

“I think we have got the support of our own MPs and MPs in other parties as well,” he told BBC television. “But you’re absolutely right we are reaching a crunch moment.”

On Friday evening, the prime minister held a chaotic Zoom call with about 250 Conservative backbenchers which appeared to do little to mollify the malcontents.

Johnson warned them against a return to the “miserable, squabbling days of last autumn” over Brexit, according to MPs’ accounts to the media afterwards.

Not long after the call, he accused the EU of plotting to break up the UK with a food “blockade” down the Irish Sea, which EU leaders have denied.

– ‘Madman theory’ –

MPs will get their first chance to debate the legislation from mid-afternoon Monday, before voting at around 2100 GMT to continue its passage through parliament.

However, more meaningful votes on attempts to change the draft law will not come until next week.

Commons Justice Committee chairman Bob Neill has filed an amendment to dictate that parliament, not the government, will have the final say on any changes to the EU Withdrawal Agreement.

The bill “is potentially a harmful act for this country, it would damage our reputation and I think it will make it harder to strike trade deals going forward,” he told Channel 4 News.

It remains to be seen whether Tory rebels can muster the numbers to seriously embarrass the government on Monday or whether they could hold their fire until future votes.

The main opposition Labour party, which opposed Brexit, says it is open to negotiation about the bill but would rather be talking about Covid-19.

“We should be getting on with defeating this virus, not reigniting old rows,” Labour leader Keir Starmer wrote in the Sunday Telegraph.

AFP

British Pound Sinks Amid Brexit Deadlock Fears

PM Johnson Says UK Anti-Racism Protests 'Hijacked By Extremists'
In this file photo taken on April 12, 2020. Pippa FOWLES / 10 Downing Street / AFP.

 

The British pound sank Monday after Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared to revive investor fears of a no-deal Brexit, dealers said.

Heading into the half-way point in London, sterling deepened losses to shed 1.0 percent versus the dollar. It was also down 0.8 percent against the European single currency.

Johnson has given an October 15 deadline for a post-Brexit trade agreement with the European Union, brushing off fears about “no-deal” chaos if talks fail.

“If we can’t agree by then, then I do not see that there will be a free-trade agreement between us,” Johnson said, insisting it would still be a “good outcome” for Britain.

The Financial Times meanwhile reported that Johnson is planning legislation to override parts of the withdrawal treaty that Britain and the EU agreed last year.

The report cited three people close to the plans as saying a bill to be put before parliament this week would undermine agreements relating to Northern Ireland customs and state aid.

– ‘Negotiation tactics?’ –

“Judging by today’s price action in the pound, investors appear to believe that Johnson has indeed resurrected the spectre of a no-deal Brexit,” ThinkMarkets analyst Fawad Razaqzada told AFP.

“However, I reckon it is all part of negotiation tactics — and in the end a cliff-edge Brexit will probably be avoided as it is not in either party’s interests.”

In response to the report, Downing Street said only that it was still “working hard to resolve outstanding issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol” but was considering “fall-back options”.

EU leader Ursula von der Leyen warned that Britain is legally obliged to respect the Brexit withdrawal agreement, which must form the basis of bilateral relations going forward.

The eighth round of negotiations resume in London this week, with both sides talking increasingly tough, amid accusations of intransigence and political brinkmanship.

– European stocks rally –

The weak pound meanwhile handed a fillip to the London stock market, because it boosts the share prices of multinationals earning in dollars.

Frankfurt and Paris also charged higher as investors snapped up bargain stocks following heady losses last week.

Asian equities struggled Monday, with a mixed US jobs report offsetting a pledge from Federal Reserve boss Jerome Powell that interest rates would remain rock-bottom for years.

China-US tensions and a lack of progress in Washington stimulus talks — all against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic — were keeping markets from surging.

Wall Street nursed more losses on Friday, albeit shallower than Thursday’s rout that hammered the tech sector as traders took profits from months of huge gains.

In commodity markets on Monday, world oil prices sank on stubborn concerns over the long-term energy demand outlook, as economies struggle to shake off coronavirus fallout.

“The market is growing less and less confident that oil demand will recover as quickly as it hoped,” said Rystad Energy analyst Paola Rodriguez-Masiu.

– Key figures around 1115 GMT –

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3150 from $1.3279 on Friday

Euro/pound: UP at 89.89 pence from 89.15 pence

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1834 from $1.1838 at 2100 GMT

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 106.20 yen from 106.24 yen

London – FTSE 100: UP 1.6 percent at 5,890.67 points

Frankfurt – DAX 30: UP 1.4 percent at 13,017.69

Paris – CAC 40: UP 1.2 percent at 5,022.54

EURO STOXX 50: UP 1.2 percent at 3,298.52

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.5 percent at 23,089.95 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.4 percent at 24,589.65 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 1.9 percent at 3,292.59 (close)

New York – Dow: DOWN 0.6 percent at 28,133.31 (close)

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 1.4 percent at $42.08 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 1.5 percent at $39.17

AFP

Spain PM Concerned At Madrid Spike In COVID-19 Infections

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez addresses media representatives at a press conference following a European Union Summit at European Union Headquarters in Brussels on October 18, 2019. AFP

 

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Tuesday his government is concerned about a spike in coronavirus infections in the capital Madrid.

Spain was one of the hardest-hit countries when the coronavirus struck Europe this year before a strict lockdown helped reduce the outbreak’s spread.

But infections have surged since the lockdown measures were fully removed at the end of June, especially in Madrid, with the rise in infections often linked to the return of nightlife and social gatherings.

“We are worried about the state of public health and the evolution of the virus in Madrid,” Sanchez said in an interview with news radio Ser.

The socialist premier added that “some” regional governments which he did not identify needed to boost their ability to track Covid-19 cases and improve their “strategic capacities” in the fight against the virus.

Spain’s central government last week made 2,000 soldiers available to help regional governments, which are responsible for health care, to track people who have been exposed to those infected with virus.

So far 11 of the country’s 17 regional governments had requested soldiers, Sanchez said.

Madrid, which is governed by the conservative Popular Party, requested 150 soldiers.

Spain registered over 23,000 new Covid-19 cases since Friday, health emergency chief Fernando Simon told a news conference on Monday, bringing the total to 462,858.

Of the 1,656 hospitalisations from the disease during the last seven days, 420, or 25 percent, were in Madrid, according to health ministry figures.

The region accounted for nearly half of the 141 deaths in the last seven days.

Spain has recorded a total of 29,094 virus deaths since the start of the pandemic, one of the world’s highest tolls.

AFP

Lebanon’s PM-Designate Vows Reforms, New IMF Talks

Lebanon’s newly appointed premier Mustapha Adib (C) speaks during a press conference at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, on August 31, 2020. – Lebanon named its envoy to Germany as the new premier to steer the country through a deep crisis after the Beirut explosion compounded a sharp economic downturn. (Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP)

 

Lebanese prime minister-designate Mustapha Adib vowed Monday to swiftly launch a reformist government and seek international financial assistance after the Beirut blast deepened a political and economic crisis.

In a televised speech after his nomination, Adib said there is “a need to form a government in record time and to begin implementing reforms immediately, starting with an agreement with the International Monetary Fund”.

An AFP correspondent then spotted him in an immaculate white shirt, tie and face mask touring the Gemmayzeh neighbourhood, which was hard hit by an August 4 Beirut explosion.

“I want your trust,” the AFP correspondent heard him tell a resident.

The PM-designate also met with volunteers spearheading relief efforts in the blast-hit district, telling them he wanted the state to work with them in rebuilding Beirut.

No other senior government official has visited neighbourhoods near the port since the explosion.

Lebanon, mired in its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, started IMF talks in May but they have since hit a wall.

Three negotiators with the government’s team have already quit in protest over the government’s handling over the crisis.

An August 4 Beirut explosion that killed more than 180 people and laid to waste entire districts of the capital has compounded the country’s economic woes.

A handout picture provided by the Lebanese photo agency Dalati and Nohra on August 31, 2020 shows President Michel Aoun (C) meeting with prime minister-designate Mustapha Adib (R) and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri at the presidential palace in Baabda east of the capital Beirut. – Lebanon’s under-fire political leaders named their envoy to Germany, Mustapha Adib, as new PM as French President Emmanuel Macron was expected Monday for a fresh visit aimed at pushing for political change. Handout / DALATI AND NOHRA / AFP.

It caused up to $4.6 billion worth of physical damage, according to a World Bank assessment. In addition, the report calculates the blow to economic activity at up to $3.5 billion.

In his speech, Adib said there “was no time for words, promises and wishes,” pledging instead to enact swift reforms long demanded by the international community.

Adib has been Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany since 2013 and his name only emerged on Sunday to replace Hassan Diab, whose government resigned in the aftermath of the deadly August 4 blast.

The 48-year-old was born in the northern city of Tripoli.

From 2000 to 2004, he served as an advisor to Najib Mikati, a billionaire and former prime minister who backed his nomination on Monday.

In 2011, then-prime minister Mikati appointed Adib as his chief of cabinet.

AFP

Mustapha Adib, Lebanon’s New PM-Designate

Lebanon’s newly appointed premier Mustapha Adib (C) speaks during a press conference at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, on August 31, 2020. – Lebanon named its envoy to Germany as the new premier to steer the country through a deep crisis after the Beirut explosion compounded a sharp economic downturn. JOSEPH EID / AFP.

 

Mustapha Adib, a little-known diplomat who was nominated to become Lebanon’s new prime minister Monday, faces the nearly impossible challenge of embodying change after being picked by the political establishment.

Adib has been Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany since 2013 and his name only emerged on Sunday to replace Hassan Diab, whose government resigned in the aftermath of the deadly August 4 blast at Beirut port.

The 48-year-old was born in the northern city of Tripoli and is a Sunni Muslim, making him eligible to become prime minister under Lebanon’s sectarian-based power-sharing system.

His biography on the Berlin embassy website presents him as an academic who holds a PhD in political science.

It says he has conducted “research and expert work in the areas of both human and state security, parliamentary oversight of the security sector, decentralisation and local democracy, and electoral laws”.

From 2000 to 2004, he served as an advisor to Najib Mikati, a billionaire and former prime minister who backed his nomination on Monday.

In 2011, then-prime minister Mikati appointed Adib as his chief of cabinet.

Former premiers Saad Hariri and Fouad Siniora also threw their weight behind Adib after two other candidates were reportedly rejected by the dominant Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah and its political allies.

His appointment came on the day French President Emmanuel Macron was due to arrive for another landmark visit.

An acquaintance of Adib from Tripoli who asked not to be named described him as “calm, courteous and diplomatic”.

“He is not a man of confrontation and does not take strong stances, but avoids problems and strives to solve them diplomatically with a view to consolidating his relationship with different sides,” the acquaintance said.

Opposition groups representing the protest movement that erupted last year to demand the wholesale removal of a political class seen as corrupt and incompetent rejected Adib’s nomination before it was even confirmed.

Activists on social media were quick to compare Adib to Diab, who had promised to lead Lebanon’s first government of technocrats when he took office in January but showed no ability to break from his political sponsors.

Lebanon Rises Up — Germany, a Facebook page representing Lebanese activists in Germany, told AFP that Adib was a product of the past and could not embody change.

“We see no change for the better in Ambassador Mustapha Adib being named, as he is subject to the quota system in place in Lebanon,” the group said in a statement.

It claimed that Adib himself, who was not a career diplomat when he was appointed to Berlin seven years ago by a Mikati government, owed his job to the former prime minister and to Lebanon’s sectarian quotas.

AFP

New Zealand Lifts Auckland COVID-19 Lockdown

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during a press conference about the COVID-19 coronavirus at Parliament in Wellington on June 8, 2020. – New Zealand has no active COVID-19 cases after the country’s final patient was given the all clear and released from isolation, health authorities said on June 8. Marty MELVILLE / AFP.

 

Schools across Auckland reopened Monday as New Zealand’s largest city emerged from lockdown, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expressing confidence a second-wave outbreak of coronavirus was under control.

While Aucklanders were allowed out of their homes, the government limited non-school social gatherings in the city to 10 people and made masks compulsory on public transport nationwide.

The Auckland lockdown began on August 12 after four cases were detected in the city of 1.5 million, ending 102 days free of community transmission when it appeared New Zealand had beaten the virus.

The cluster of infections has since grown to 141, with four new cases of community transmission reported on Monday, making it the largest recorded in New Zealand.

The origin of the outbreak has not been found and Ardern said it was “inevitable” there would be more cases linked to the cluster.

But even though it continues to grow, Ardern said it was safe to lift the lockdown.

“We have a plan that we know will work,” a masked Ardern told reporters in Auckland.

“We just need everyone’s compliance and help. If everyone sticks to the guidelines and rules, coupled together with all our public health measures, we can make this work.”

Ardern, who delayed New Zealand’s general election by a month to October 17 because of the outbreak, urged fellow Kiwis to “do their bit” in fighting the virus.

“It’s natural that we feel tired, the whole world is,” she said.

“But relative to others we’re doing really well. We’ll be able to get back in front of the virus if we follow the guidelines.”

AFP

Masks Compulsory Across Paris As COVID-19 Cases Mount

French Prime Minister Jean Castex puts his protective face mask on during a press conference on the situation of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in France, at the Hotel de Matignon in Paris on August 27, 2020. CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT / POOL / AFP
French Prime Minister Jean Castex puts his protective face mask on during a press conference on the situation of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in France, at the Hotel de Matignon in Paris on August 27, 2020. CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT / POOL / AFP.

 

France’s prime minister announced Thursday that face masks will become compulsory throughout Paris as he urged the public to help halt a trend of mounting coronavirus infections.

Jean Castex said 19 departments have been added to a map with “red” zones of active virus circulation, meaning 21 of mainland France’s 94 departments are now classified as such.

Official figures released Wednesday showed more than 5,400 confirmed new cases in just 24 hours, with admissions to hospital and intensive care units on the rise.

There was an “undeniable resurgence” of the Covid-19 epidemic throughout France, Castex told a press conference, with 39 positive tests per 100,000 population — four times the level of a month ago, and rising in all age groups.

The “positivity rate” — the percentage of tests that come back positive — was up from one percent in May to 3.7 percent today, and the so-called “R” rate of viral transmission is now 1.4 nationwide, meaning 10 infected people are infecting 14 others on average.

More than 800 coronavirus patients are being admitted to hospital on average each week, up from 500 six weeks ago, the prime minister said.

“The epidemic is gaining ground, and now is the time to intervene” to curb exponential infection growth, he said.

– Dash to avoid lockdown –

Castex announced that Paris, one of the 21 zones with active virus circulation, will make face masks compulsory throughout the city.

The city council later said the measure would come into effect at 8:00 am on Friday.

Masks are already obligatory on public transport nationwide and in most enclosed public spaces, including the workplace.

File photo: Homemade protective face masks are prepared by Sarah, a 45-year-old volunteer, who sews face masks to be distributed to people in need, at her home in Vincennes, eastern suburbs of Paris, on May 7, 2020, on the 52nd day of a strict lockdown in France to stop the spread of COVID-19. – GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP.

 

Local authorities in some cities and towns, including Paris, have also used executive powers to make face coverings compulsory in busy outdoor areas.

On Tuesday, the Mediterranean port city of Marseille — also in a red zone — made masks compulsory in public places throughout the city, including outdoors, and announced bars and restaurants would close every day at 11:00 pm.

Castex said the government would do everything in its power to avoid issuing new nationwide stay-at-home orders, but the possibility could not be excluded entirely and localised lockdowns may be on the cards.

– ‘Relaxation’ to blame –

He urged French people to do their part by taking infection-prevention measures such as regular hand-washing and mask wearing, and to practice social distancing.

Some “relaxation” in French society appears to have contributed to the post-lockdown infection rise, he said, with some unwilling to wear masks or follow guidelines to avoid parties or stay away from older people at higher risk.

The rate of infection increase was particularly high among people aged 20 to 30.

Castex said the situation was not yet “serious”, with the virus incidence rate still 20 times lower today than it was at the peak of the epidemic, when there were an estimated 1,000 cases per 100,000 of the population.

But if things do take a turn for the worse, he said hospitals were ready with sufficient beds, masks and equipment.

The outbreak has claimed over 30,500 lives in France.

Masks will become obligatory for all children over 11 when they return to school next week after the summer holidays, including on the playground, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer announced Thursday.

AFP

Netanyahu Vows ‘Forceful’ Response If More Attacks From Lebanon

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference in Jerusalem on August 13, 2020. – Israel and the UAE agreed to normalise relations in a landmark US-brokered deal, only the third such accord the Jewish state has struck with an Arab nation. The agreement, first announced by US President Donald Trump on Twitter, will see Israel halt its plan to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank, according to the UAE. (Photo by Abir SULTAN / POOL / AFP)

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel views with “great gravity” the latest flare-up on the Lebanese border and pledged a tough response in the event of further incidents.

“We shall react forcefully to any attack against us,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “I advise Hezbollah not to test Israel’s strength. Hezbollah is once again endangering Lebanon due to its aggression.”

Israel and Hezbollah fought a devastating month-long war in 2006.

Israel said earlier it had launched air strikes against Hezbollah observation posts in Lebanon after shots were fired from across the border towards its troops the previous evening.

The border flare-up came hours after Lebanon rejected an Israeli call to reform the UN peacekeeping force which patrols the border ahead of a UN Security Council vote to renew its mandate.

The Israeli army had said earlier that a “security incident” was unfolding near Manara, a kibbutz near the UN-demarcated border between the two countries, and urged residents to take shelter.

It reported no Israeli casualties.

Manara was quiet on Wednesday morning, an AFP journalist reported. The army told residents they could come into the open and resume work in the fields.

AFP

French PM Urges Public ‘Responsibility’ In COVID-19 Battle

France’s new Prime Minister Jean Castex looks on at the police station of La Courneuve, a northern Paris suburb, on July 5, 2020, during one of his first official visits following his appointment as Premier on July 3. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

 

France’s prime minister urged the population to take “responsibility” for limiting the coronavirus outbreak by wearing masks to protect one another, saying a new epidemic lockdown cannot be ruled out.

In an interview with France Inter, Jean Castex said people who resisted mask-wearing, now compulsory in the workplace, enclosed public spaces and on public transport, should “think of others”.

“They all have vulnerable and elderly people in their families. People feel invincible and think that they do not need a mask.

“People will contaminate others,” he warned. “I appeal to a sense of responsibility.”

Castex said the French government alone could not bear all responsibility for curbing the outbreak, and “everyone must feel invested in the fight against the epidemic.”

France on Tuesday reported over 3,300 new infections in 24 hours, with new admissions to hospital and intensive care also continuing an upward trend observed in recent weeks following a dip brought about by a near two-month social lockdown.

Asked whether the government could issue new stay-at-home orders if the situation spirals out of control, Castex said Wednesday “all hypotheses” were on the table, though a new lockdown was “not the goal” given the severe economic impacts.

– ‘Cannot drop our guard’ –

The government is to unveil details of an economic revival plan worth some 100 billion euros ($118 billion) on Thursday next week, and Castex announced the cultural sector would receive two billion euros to cover lost revenue.

He added a 5,000-person limit for concerts and sporting events will remain in place.

In addition, local authorities in departments with high virus rates, including the Paris Ile-de-France region, will no longer have the power to grant exceptions to the attendance limit.

Given that no proven vaccine or cure exists, Castex warned the population must learn to “live with the virus”.

But life also has to go on, and Castex said the government would do all it can for the French to resume work, school and social and cultural participation “as normally as possible”.

Masks are being made compulsory for children aged 11 and older when they return to school next week and will be provided for free to those at particular risk or cannot afford it.

But “we are not going to pay for masks for families that don’t need” assistance, said the premier.

Masks are now compulsory in the busiest areas of many French towns and cities, including the capital.

On Tuesday, the southern port city of Marseille became the latest to make face coverings compulsory city-wide outdoors, while bars and restaurants will close every day at 11 pm.

AFP

EU Trade Commissioner Apologises For COVID-19 Breach

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan apologised on Sunday as he faced calls to resign for attending an Irish parliamentary golf society dinner which breached COVID-19 guidelines.

The event — attended by a cabinet minister, a supreme court judge and swathes of lawmakers — was held on Wednesday, just 24 hours after the government announced new coronavirus restrictions.

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin urged Hogan, a former Irish government minister, to “consider his position” after revelations he was one of the 82 attendees at the dinner.

In the face of a fresh surge in cases, Dublin specifically said there should be no “formal or informal events or parties” at hotel restaurants.

The dinner has sparked a series of resignations at the top tier of Irish politics and prompted Martin to decide Sunday to recall parliament.

“I wish to apologise fully and unreservedly for attending,” Hogan said in a statement.

“I acknowledge my actions have touched a nerve for the people of Ireland, something for which I am profoundly sorry.”

Irish Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary and deputy chair of parliament’s upper chamber Jerry Buttimer have both already resigned for attending the event.

Hogan said he had spoken to Martin and respected his views, and said he had been reporting to the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

Later on Sunday, a Commission spokesman said von der Leyen was “following the situation closely” and had ordered Hogan to prepare a report detailing the event.

“It is important that facts are established in detail to carefully assess the situation,” the spokesman said.

Hogan previously said he had been assured the dinner would comply with government coronavirus guidelines and did not offer an apology.

On Saturday, Martin and deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar — the head of Fine Gael, the party for which Hogan previously served — said in a joint statement that “the commissioner’s apology came late” and that he needed to “give a full account and explanations of his actions”.

The Irish Examiner newspaper — which revealed details of the dinner on Thursday — said guests sat at tables of 10 in breach of coronavirus guidelines, and organisers erected a room divider in a bid to skirt legislation banning gatherings of more than 50.

Police on Friday said they had opened an investigation into the event for alleged breaches of that same legislation.

AFP