Trump’s COVID-19 Task Force Adviser Quits As Vaccine Hopes Given New Boost

FILES) In this file photo taken on September 28, 2020, White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Scott Atlas speaks on Covid-19 testing in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC. 
MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

President Donald Trump’s controversial coronavirus adviser resigned Monday, while hopes for a first wave of vaccinations before the end of 2020 received a further boost with an announcement from US firm Moderna.

Scott Atlas, a favored coronavirus adviser of the US president, who tweeted in October “Masks work? NO,” has submitted his resignation, effective as of December 1, Fox News reported.

Lacking relevant experience or qualifications in public health or infectious disease, he also called in November for people in Michigan to “rise up” against Covid-19 measures.

Atlas stepped down as hopes rose for a first wave of vaccinations before the end of the year after Moderna said it was filing for emergency authorization of its vaccine in the United States and Europe.

After top US scientists warned Americans to brace for a “surge superimposed on the surge,” Moderna reported full results had confirmed a high efficacy estimated at 94.1 percent.

It was set to join American pharmaceutical maker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech, which applied for similar approvals last week, and have predicted their vaccine could be greenlit in the US shortly after December 10.

If the US Food and Drug Administration agrees Moderna’s product is safe and effective, the first of the drug’s two doses could be injected into the arms of millions of Americans by the middle of December.

Health Secretary Alex Azar told CBS News: “We could be seeing both of these vaccines out and getting into people’s arms before Christmas.”

Co-developed with the US National Institutes of Health, the jabs were generally well tolerated, with the most common side effects including injection site pain, fatigue, muscle pain, joint pain and headache.

Moderna expects to have approximately 20 million doses of the vaccine available in the US by the end of 2020, and between 500 million to a billion doses globally in 2021.

The news came after leading US scientist Anthony Fauci voiced his fears as millions of travelers returned home after the Thanksgiving holiday.

The United States is the worst-affected country, with more than 267,000 Covid-19 deaths, and the Trump administration has issued conflicting messages on mask-wearing, travel and the danger posed by the virus.

“What we expect, unfortunately, as we go for the next couple of weeks into December is that we might see a surge superimposed on the surge we are already in,” Fauci said Sunday.

 

READ ALSO: Biden To Nominate Yellen To Lead Barrier-Breaking Economic Team

– Fourth wave –

More than 1.4 million people have died worldwide since the outbreak in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.

The World Health Organization (WHO) insisted Monday it was doing everything possible to find the animal origins of the virus, although it hasn’t yet sent a full team of expert investigators to China.

Observers have voiced concern the agency has bowed to Chinese pressure and dragged its feet over the investigation, but WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hit back and urged critics to stop “politicizing” the issue.

At a briefing, Tedros added he was alarmed over a rapid worsening of the Covid-19 situations in Brazil and Mexico, urging them to be “very serious” about halting the spread.

Europe meanwhile is still battling to lower the daily toll of death and infection with a variety of curbs, lockdowns, and tests after fatalities topped 400,000 at the weekend.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a total weekend lockdown and a curfew for the rest of the week.

In Asia, Hong Kong on Monday announced social distancing measures at some of the strictest levels in the city since the start of the pandemic, as authorities battle a fourth wave of infections.

“This new wave of Covid-19 has hit Hong Kong very quickly,” chief executive Carrie Lam said.

Anger over rising infection numbers sparked a riot in a Sri Lankan prison where guards shot dead eight inmates and wounded at least 71 others.

However, Australia’s success against the pandemic saw international students arrive for the first time since it shut its borders in March, with a charter flight touching down in Darwin on Monday.

The situation in former global epicenter New York remains precarious, with Governor Andrew Cuomo warning small gatherings are now responsible for 65 percent of the spread.

“We are now worried about overwhelming the hospital system,” Cuomo said, warning a new lockdown could be needed.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said his state’s hospital intensive care units could be overloaded in just a couple of weeks.

Covid risk across most of the US is now considered “critical” and more than 93,000 people are hospitalized, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

Scientists estimate around 70 percent of the population will need to be vaccinated to bring an end to the outbreak, and this may not be achievable until the second half of next year.

Amid signs of growing global vaccine skepticism, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies president Francesco Rocca warned Monday: “To beat this pandemic, we also have to defeat the parallel pandemic of distrust.”

-AFP

Turkey Tells Germany Chance For Libya Peace Should Not Be Wasted

 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday said the peace drive to end the conflict in Libya since 2011 should not be wasted, in a video conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

There has been increased hope since the two main warring factions separately announced in August that they would cease hostilities, which was followed by a series of UN-backed talks.

The two main factions are based around the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and a parliament in the eastern city of Tobruk.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Monday voiced “cautious optimism” over efforts to end the conflict in Libya, after co-chairing talks with the United Nations that involved the warring Libyan sides.

Erdogan told Merkel that “the opportunity that emerged thanks to the calm sustained on the field in Libya should not be wasted,” the Turkish presidency said.

Turkey strongly backs the Tripoli government providing military support following an April 2019 offensive by rival strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Russia.

Erdogan on Sunday expressed “full solidarity” with the GNA after a meeting in Istanbul with its head Fayez al-Sarraj.

AFP

Turkey Says ‘No Concessions’ In East Mediterranean Row

AFP Photo

 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday warned Turkey would make “no concessions” in the eastern Mediterranean and told Greece to avoid taking steps that could lead to its “ruin”.

His remarks come just hours after Athens said it would launch military exercises Wednesday with France, Italy and Cyprus in the region, where tensions between the two neighbours have escalated in recent weeks.

“In the Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Sea, Turkey will get what is rightfully ours,” Erdogan said in the eastern province of Mus on the anniversary of the 1071 Battle of Malazgirt where pre-Ottoman tribes defeated the Byzantines.

The victory has been celebrated with increasing fervour in modern Turkey in recent years, and this year was no different with a socially-distanced audience listening to Erdogan.

“We don’t have our eye on someone else’s territory, sovereignty and interests, but we will make no concessions on that which is ours,” he said in the televised speech.

“We invite our counterparts to change their ways and avoid wrongs that will be the path to ruin,” Erdogan added in pointed remarks to NATO ally Greece.

“We want everyone to see Turkey is no longer a country whose patience, determination, means and courage will be tested. If we say we will do something, we will do it, and we will pay the price,” he said.

Greece and Turkey are already divided on significant issues including migration and Byzantine heritage in Istanbul, formerly Constantinople.

But the discovery of hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has further strained relations, with Turkey rejecting calls from the EU and Athens to immediately stop energy exploration in the region.

Turkey sent the Oruc Reis research vessel accompanied by warships to disputed waters on August 10. Its activities were meant to end on last Sunday but were extended to Thursday.

Germany has led the charge in Europe to defuse tensions, dispatching its foreign minister to Ankara and Athens on Tuesday to resolve the issue through dialogue.

Both sides said they were open to dialogue after talks with the German minister, and there will be an informal EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Berlin on Thursday and Friday.

AFP

Erdogan Threatens To Attack Regime Forces ‘Everywhere’ In Syria

President of Turkey and leader of Justice and Development (AK) Party Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at the party’s group meeting at Grand National Assembly of Turkey in Ankara, on February 12, 2020. Adem ALTAN / AFP

 

Turkey will strike Syrian regime forces “everywhere” if its soldiers come under renewed attack, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Wednesday and accused Damascus ally Russia of committing “massacres” in Idlib.

“I hereby declare that we will strike regime forces everywhere from now on regardless of the Sochi deal if any tiny bit of harm comes to our soldiers at observation posts or elsewhere,” Erdogan told a meeting of his ruling party in parliament.

The latest threat comes after more than a dozen Turkish soldiers were killed in regime shelling in the northwestern province of Idlib — the last rebel bastion in Syria.

Syrian regime forces, backed by Russian air strikes, have pressed ahead with an offensive to retake the province from rebel groups despite the 2018 Sochi ceasefire deal agreed between Turkey and Russia.

Recent direct clashes between Turkish soldiers and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have significantly raised the stakes, as well as heightening tensions between Moscow and Ankara, the chief foreign brokers of the conflict.

In a rare move on Wednesday, Erdogan was directly critical of Russia.

“The regime, backed by Russian forces and Iran-backed militants, are continuously attacking civilians, committing massacres and shedding blood,” he said.

He added that Turkey would do “whatever necessary” to push back regime forces behind the 12 observation posts it set up in Idlib under the Sochi deal in a bid to prevent a regime offensive.

But Syrian forces are advancing and taking town after town despite Ankara’s warnings.

“We are determined to push back (regime forces) behind the borders of the Sochi deal by the end of February,” said Erdogan.

“We will do whatever is necessary both on the ground and in the air without any hesitation and without any delay.”

The Turkish leader also said that aircraft striking settlements in Idlib would “no longer move freely”.

AFP

Turkey Threatens To Teach Libya Strongman ‘A Lesson’

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a press conference following a meeting with Italian Prime Minister at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey on January 13, 2020.
Adem ALTAN / AFP

 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday he would “teach a lesson” to Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar if he resumed fighting after abandoning ceasefire talks in Moscow.

Haftar left Moscow on Tuesday without signing a peace deal aimed at ending nine months of fighting with the UN-backed government in Tripoli.

“We will not hesitate to teach a deserved lesson to the putschist Haftar if he continues his attacks on the country’s legitimate administration and our brothers in Libya,” Erdogan told a meeting of his party in Ankara in a televised speech.

READ ALSO: Libya Strongman Leaves Moscow Without Signing Ceasefire Deal

Erdogan said the issue would now be discussed at talks in Berlin on Sunday attended by European, North African and Middle Eastern countries, as well as the UN, EU, Africa Union and Arab League.

“The putschist Haftar did not sign the ceasefire. He first said yes, but later unfortunately he left Moscow, he fled Moscow,” Erdogan said.

“Despite this, we find the talks in Moscow were positive as they showed the true face of the putschist Haftar to the international community.”

 

AFP

Iran-US Tension: Putin, Erdogan Call For Restraint

The leaders of Russia and Turkey called for restraint in the escalating crisis between Iran and the United States, following a meeting in Istanbul on Wednesday. 

“We believe that exchange of attacks and use of force by any party do not contribute to finding solutions to the complex problems in the Middle East,” said President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a joint statement written in English.

“We express our commitment to de-escalate the existing tensions in the region and call on all parties to act with restraint as well as commonsense and to prioritize diplomacy,” they added.

AFP

Erdogan To Tell Trump: US Hasn’t Met Syria Ceasefire Obligations

 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday he would tell US counterpart Donald Trump that Washington must do more to implement a ceasefire deal they agreed in order to halt Turkey’s offensive in Syria.

“I will tell him, with the use of documents, that the agreement we reached on the operation has not been fully implemented,” Erdogan told reporters as he prepared to leave for Washington.

Syria: US Troops Withdrawal ‘Positive’, Says Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during the extended meeting with provincial heads of ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party in Ankara, Turkey, on October 10, 2019.
Adem ALTAN / AFP

 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday welcomed the announcement by Washington that it was pulling 1,000 troops out of northern Syria. 

“This is a positive approach,” Erdogan told reporters, when asked about Sunday’s statement from US Pentagon chief Mark Esper.

Turkey is in the sixth day of an offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria.

It says it has seized control of two key towns, Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain, although fighting was reported as ongoing in the latter.

Erdogan said he expected Kurdish forces to withdraw from other key towns such as Manbij.

“When Manbij is evacuated, we will not go in there as Turkey. Our Arab brothers, who are the real owners, the tribes… will return there. Our approach is to ensure their return and security there,” he said.

He also said Russia — a decisive actor in the multi-faceted Syria conflict as a key backer of Damascus — was not putting obstacles in the way of an offensive on another key town, Kobani.

“There is a lot of gossip now, but it seems… there won’t be any problem in Kobani with Russia’s positive approach as of now,” Erdogan said.

The Turkish president again criticised Western allies who have come out strongly against the operation. France, Germany and Italy are among those who have suspended arms shipments to Turkey over the issue.

“Who will you side with? With your NATO ally or terrorists? They cannot answer. It is not possible to understand the goal and reason of what they are doing,” he said.

“I am thinking — is it because Turkey is the only country in NATO whose people are Muslim?”

Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin tweeted: “Those who remained silent while Mosul, Raqa, and Dier al-Zor were being torn down and thousands of civilians were killed are making ‘Stop the operation’ calls… and threatening Turkey with sanctions. There is no stop until we achieve our targets.”

AFP

Syria: Erdogan Threatens To Flood Europe With Refugees

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during the extended meeting with provincial heads of ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party in Ankara, Turkey, on October 10, 2019.
Adem ALTAN / AFP

 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned the EU on Thursday that Ankara would allow millions of refugees to head to Europe if the bloc criticised Turkey’s military offensive in Syria. 

“Hey EU, wake up. I say it again: if you try to frame our operation there as an invasion, our task is simple: we will open the doors and send 3.6 million migrants to you,” Erdogan said in a speech to his party.

Turkey launched an operation into Syrian territory on Wednesday, aimed at combating Kurdish militants tied to insurgents in its own territory.

Erdogan said 109 “terrorists” had been killed so far in the operation, which would soon cover ground from Manbij in northern Syria to the Iraqi border some 350 kilometres (220 miles) east.

“God willing, we will crush these snakes’ heads quickly,” he said.

“What we are trying to do is prevent the establishment of a terrorist state on our southern border. This cannot happen,”

Turkey currently hosts 3.6 million refugees from the eight-year conflict in Syria — the highest number in the world.

Under a 2016 agreement with the EU, Turkey agreed to prevent refugees from leaving towards Europe in exchange for six billion euros and visa-free travel for its citizens, but has frequently criticised the lack of assistance from Brussels.

“You have never been sincere,” Erdogan said, addressing the EU.

“Now they say they will withhold three billion euros from us. Have you ever kept any promise you gave us so far? No.”

One aim of the military operation is to establish a “safe zone” in which at least one million Syrian refugees can be repatriated, after the long-term presence of refugees became an increasingly political liability.

“For those who want to return to their country but don’t have a home left anymore, we plan to build settlements for one million people, with international financing,” Erdogan said.

He also sought to assuage concerns regarding Islamic State prisoners currently held by Kurdish forces.

“Those that need to be kept in jail we will keep in jail. We will return foreigners to their home countries if they accept them back,” he said.

AFP

Egyptian Ex-President Morsi Was ‘Killed’, Says Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a symbolic funeral ceremony for the former Egyptian President the day after his death in Cairo, on June 18, 2019, at Fatih Mosque in Istanbul. Thousands joined in prayer in Istanbul on June 18, 2019, for former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi who died the previous day after collapsing during a trial hearing in a Cairo court.
PHOTO: STRINGER / AFP

 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoganon said his close ally, Mohamed Morsi, was “killed” and accused Egyptian authorities of failing to intervene to save the ex-president.

“Morsi was struggling on the floor in the courtroom for 20 minutes. Authorities, unfortunately, did not intervene to save him,” Erdogan said during a televised speech in Istanbul.

“Morsi was killed, he did not die of natural causes,” he said on Wednesday.

Erdogan forged close ties with Morsi, Egypt’s first civilian president, and a prominent Muslim Brotherhood member.

But Ankara’s relations with Cairo ties deteriorated after the Egyptian military, then led by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, ousted Morsi in 2013. Sisi then became president.

Erdoganhas sharply denounced the military takeover in Egypt and called it a “coup”.

On Wednesday, he said he would follow up on the process related to Morsi’s death.

“We will do whatever is needed for Egypt to be tried in international courts.”

The attorney general’s office in Egypt has said that Morsi was “transported immediately to the hospital”, where medics pronounced him dead — a version confirmed by a judicial source.

Morsi was buried on Tuesday, as rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called for an independent probe into the causes of his death.

Erdoganon Tuesday joined in prayer at an Istanbul mosque for the former Egyptian leader.

AFP

Mesut Ozil Gets Married With Turkish President As Best Man

A handout photo released by the Turkish president’s press office shows Arsenal’s German midfielder Mesut Ozil (C-L) and his fiance Amine Gulse (L) standing next to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during their wedding ceremony at the Four Seasons Bosphorus Hotel in Istanbul, Turkey, on June 7, 2019. TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP

 

Former German international football Mesut Ozil was married in Istanbul on Friday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as his best man.

The 30-year-old Ozil, who has Turkish family roots, sparked controversy last year when he was photographed with Erdogan, raising questions about the footballer’s loyalty to Germany on the eve of their disastrous 2018 World Cup campaign.

The Turkish leader arrived in the early evening for Friday’s ceremony at a luxury hotel on the banks of the Bosphorus to see the former Arsenal midfielder marry his fiancee, former Miss Turkey Amine Gulse.

A smiling Erdogan and his wife Emine were seen standing next to the young couple as their marriage was formalised.

After 92 appearances for Germany, including a key role in the 2014 World Cup victory, Ozil suddenly quit the national squad last July, accusing German football officials of racism.

Ozil announced in March that he had asked Erdogan to be his best man.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff was part of a chorus of criticism of the invitation.

Helge Braun, a CDU told the Bild newspaper then that it “makes one sad” that Ozil would make a such a move despite having already been sharply criticised by the German public over his first meeting with Erdogan.

Ozil has dated Gulse since 2017 and the couple announced their engagement in June 2018.

The footballer, a third-generation German, whipped up a political storm when he was pictured alongside Erdogan last May.

Criticism intensified after the red-faced defending champions crashed out of the first round of the World Cup in Russia.

In the wake of the World Cup fiasco, Ozil announced his resignation from the national squad, saying: “I am German when we win, an immigrant when we lose”.

Erdogan often attends marriages in Turkey of celebrities, whom he particularly seeks out during election campaigns.

His presence at Ozil’s marriage comes ahead of a mayoral election in Istanbul on June 23, required after the original voting in March was annulled following a narrow victory for the main opposition Republican People’s Party.

Failed Coup: Turkey Seeks Arrest Of 295 Army Officers

Failed Coup: Turkey Seeks Arrest Of 295 Army Officers
(FILES) In this file photo taken on July 15, 2018, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during a ceremony marking the second anniversary of the attempted coup at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, ADEM ALTAN / AFP

 

Turkey on Friday issued arrest warrants for almost 300 active military officers for alleged links to a failed 2016 coup aimed at unseating President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prosecutors said. 

A total of 295 officers including two colonels are targeted in the warrants, the Istanbul prosecutor’s office said.

They are accused of having links to US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen who Ankara blames for orchestrating the failed putsch.

Tens of thousands of people have been arrested over suspected links to Gulen, a former Erdogan ally turned foe who has denied the allegations against him.

READ ALSO: Michael Jackson Estate Sues HBO Over Documentary

The latest arrest order issued in 59 cities including Istanbul comes on the heels of police raids this week seeking to detain over 300 people including military personnel suspected of ties to coup plotters.

Turkish authorities carry out raids almost daily against people suspected of supporting Gulen.

Despite criticism from rights advocates over the magnitude of the crackdown, Ankara insists the raids are essential to remove Gulen’s alleged influence in state bodies.

AFP