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Blinken to meet African leaders to address various crises – Arab News

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WASHINGTON: Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Africa next week as the administration of President Joe Biden intensifies diplomatic efforts to resolve crises in Ethiopia and Sudan and seeks to boost counterterrorism cooperation, the State Department said.
Blinken will leave on Monday for visits to Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal on his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa as America’s top diplomat. In April, Blinken held online talks with the leaders of Nigeria and Kenya in what the State Department billed at the time as a “virtual trip to Africa.”
Although he does not plan to visit either Ethiopia or Sudan, both countries and neighboring Somalia will be at the top of his agenda on his first stop in Kenya.
Kenya, which is currently a member of the UN Security Council, has played a key role in regional efforts to ease the intensifying conflict in Ethiopia and has long sought to stabilize crisis-torn Somalia.
It has also supported broader attempts to restore civilian-led government in Sudan after a coup there last month.
Blinken and Kenyan officials, including President Uhuru Kenyatta, “will discuss our shared interests as members of the UN Security Council, including addressing regional security issues such as Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan,” the State Department said.
The Biden administration’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa shuttled between Kenya and Ethiopia earlier this week in a bid to boost an African Union-led initiative to end the fighting between the Ethiopian government and ethnic Tigrayans from the country’s north.
In Nigeria and Senegal, the State Department said Blinken will discuss West African security, health, climate, democracy and development issues, including recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and the promotion of a fairer and more inclusive global economy.
He will also press for expanded US trade and commercial ties with the two countries, it said.
In Abuja, he will meet Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and give a speech on the Biden administration’s Africa strategy.
He will close out his travel in Dakar, where he will see Senegalese President Macky Sall, who will soon take over the chairmanship of the African Union.
Meanwhile, rebellious Tigrayan forces have threatened to “hunt down” foreigners they said were supporting the Ethiopian government as mercenaries and technical experts in a year-long war.
Tigray People’s Liberation Front spokesperson Getatchew Reda said the foreigners could be from Turkey, China, Israel or the UAE, without offering evidence or going into any more details.
Government spokesperson Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to a request for comment. There have been no independently verified reports of the warring sides using mercenaries to date.
Getachew told Reuters via satellite phone: ““We don’t care (what their nationality is). We will hunt them down. They will be treated like the mercenaries they are.”
The war, which has killed thousands and forced more than two million people from their homes, escalated this month after rebellious forces from the northern region of Tigray and their allies made territorial gains and threatened to march on the capital.
BERLIN: Austria took what its leader called the “dramatic” step Monday of implementing a nationwide lockdown for unvaccinated people who haven’t recently had COVID-19.
This is perhaps the most drastic of a string of measures being taken by European governments to get a massive regional resurgence of the coronavirus under control.
The move, which took effect at midnight, prohibits people 12 years old and older who haven’t been vaccinated or recently recovered from leaving their homes except for basic activities such as working, grocery shopping, going to school or university or for a walk — or getting vaccinated.
The lockdown is initially being imposed until Nov. 24 in the Alpine country of 8.9 million. It doesn’t apply to children under 12 because they cannot yet officially get vaccinated — though the capital, Vienna, on Monday opened up vaccinations for under-12s as part of a pilot project, and reported high demand.
Officials have said that police patrols will be stepped up and unvaccinated people can be fined up to 1,450 euros ($1,660) if they violate the lockdown.
“We really didn’t take this step lightly and I don’t think it should be talked down,” Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg told Oe1 radio. “This a dramatic step — about 2 million people in this country are affected. … What we are trying is precisely to reduce contact between the unvaccinated and vaccinated to a minimum, and also contact between the unvaccinated.”
“My aim is very clearly to get the unvaccinated to get themselves vaccinated and not to lock down the vaccinated,” Schallenberg added. “In the long term, the way out of this vicious circle we are in — and it is a vicious circle, we are stumbling from wave to lockdown, and that can’t carry on ad infinitum — is only vaccination.”
About 65 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, a rate that Schallenberg described as “shamefully low.” All students at schools, whether vaccinated or not, are now required to take three tests per week, at least one of them a PCR test.
Authorities are concerned about rising infections and increasing pressure on hospitals. Austria on Sunday recorded 849.2 new cases per 100,000 residents over the previous seven days. Its situation is far worse than that of neighboring Germany, where case rates on Monday hit the latest in a string of records, with 303 new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days.
Berlin on Monday became the latest of several German states to limit access to restaurants, cinemas, museums and concerts to people who have been vaccinated or recently recovered — shutting out unvaccinated people who have tested negative. Under-18s are exempted.
On Thursday, the German parliament is due to vote on a new legal framework for coronavirus restrictions drawn up by the parties that are expected to form the country’s next government. Those plans are reportedly being beefed up to allow tougher contact restrictions than originally envisioned.
Separately, the three parties — who hope to take office early next month — also appear set to introduce a vaccine mandate in some areas, a step officials so far have balked at.
“We will need compulsory vaccination … in nursing homes, in day care centers and so on,” said the Greens’ parliamentary group leader, Katrin Goering-Eckardt. “We will get that off the ground.”
Germany has struggled to bring new momentum to its vaccination campaign, with just over two-thirds of the population fully vaccinated, and is trying to ramp up booster shots.
Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a new appeal on Saturday for holdouts to get vaccinated. “Think about it again,” she said. The country’s disease control center called last week for people to cancel or avoid large events.
To Germany’s west, the Netherlands on Saturday night implemented a partial lockdown that is due to run for at least three weeks, forcing bars and restaurants to close at 8 p.m. In the northern city of Leeuwarden, hundreds of young people gathered in a central square, setting off fireworks and holding flares, before riot police moved in to push protesters out.
In Austria, the leader of the far-right opposition Freedom Party vowed to combat the new restrictions by “all parliamentary and legal means we have available.” Herbert Kickl said in a statement that “2 million people are being practically imprisoned without having done anything wrong.”
On Monday, Kickl announced on Facebook that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and must self-isolate for 14 days, so he won’t be able to attend a protest in Vienna planned on Saturday.
The government’s next move may well be to tighten the screws.
Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein told ORF television that he wants to discuss further measures on Wednesday, and said that one proposal on the table is limits on going out at night that would also apply to the vaccinated.
Schallenberg sounded a more cautious note. “Of course I don’t rule out sharpening” the measures, he said, but he indicated that he doesn’t expect restrictions on bars and the like at present.
BRUSSELS/WARSAW: The European Union will toughen sanctions on Belarus on Monday and may extend them to include airlines and others involved in transporting migrants, the EU’s top diplomat said, as the migrant crisis on the Polish border intensifies.
Ahead of an EU foreign ministers’ meeting, Germany’s Heiko Maas said airlines could be told to stop transporting migrants to Minsk or face being banned from landing in Europe, warning: “We are nowhere near the end of the sanctions spiral.”
Europe accuses Belarus of mounting “a hybrid attack” by flying in migrants from countries like Syria and Afghanistan and pushing them to cross illegally into EU member Poland. Belarus has repeatedly denied the accusation.
On Monday morning, Polish border guards warned migrants on the other side of the border over loudspeakers that force could be used against them if they disobey orders, after Poland and Lithuania reported they stopped over 100 people each attempting to enter on Sunday.
Arriving at the meeting in Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters the ministers would approve further sanctions on Minsk on Monday. The EU might also seek to broaden them to include airlines, travel agents and other people involved in transporting migrants to Belarus.
Borrell said he had told the Belarusian foreign minister over the weekend that the situation on the border was completely unacceptable and that humanitarian help was needed.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was quoted as saying on Monday that Minsk would retaliate against any new sanctions imposed on it by the West.
State news agency Belta also quoted him as saying that Belarus is trying to persuade migrants living in camps near its western border to return home, but without success.
Thousands of migrants have traveled to Belarus in the hope of crossing into the European Union, only to find themselves trapped on the wooded border in bitter winter conditions.
They moved toward the Polish frontier last Monday, setting up a camp there and, in groups, attempting to enter Poland and nearby Lithuania numerous times.
Poland said it had arrested four foreigners on Sunday attempting to transport 33 migrants out of the country.
EU members Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have warned the standoff could escalate into a military conflict. Their presidents will meet in Vilnius on Monday to discuss the crisis, and will speak to Polish President Andrzej Duda by videolink.
Belarusian state-owned carrier Belavia said in a notice that the United Arab Emirates had barred Afghan, Syrian, Yemeni and Iraqi citizens from flights to Minsk on Monday.
Arriving in Brussels, Lithuanian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said the EU might help with repatriations from Belarus back to the Middle East.
He called for all Belarusian airports to be off-limits for airlines potentially carrying would-be migrants, adding: “We need to make Minsk airport a no-fly zone.”
HOUSTON: The death toll from a lethal crowd surge at a rap concert in Texas has risen to 10, a lawyer for the victims said Sunday, after a nine-year-old boy trampled during the event died of his injuries.
Scores were injured attending a performance by hip-hop artist Travis Scott at the Astroworld Festival on November 5 in Houston when concert-goers found themselves crushed against barriers, unable to move or breathe as the mass pressed toward the stage.
Some fell and others tumbled on top of them, crushing the bodies beneath, with the density of the crowd closer to the stage making it hard to pick them up and evacuate them, attendees said.
Among them was nine-year-old Ezra Blount, who sustained severe injuries and was placed in a medically induced coma as doctors fought for his life.
Ben Crump, a prominent US attorney representing the victims of the tragedy, issued a statement late Sunday saying that Blount had succumbed to his injuries.
“The Blount family tonight is grieving the incomprehensible loss of their precious young son,” Crump said.
“This should not have been the outcome of taking their son to a concert, what should have been a joyful celebration. Ezra’s death is absolutely heartbreaking.”
At least 60 lawsuits have been announced singling out Scott and fellow singer Drake, who took to the stage in the final 15 minutes of the concert — well after authorities had declared an emergency.
NEW YORK: Japan’s former princess Mako Komuro arrived in the United States on Sunday with her husband, swapping ancient imperial rites for the bright lights of New York after leaving the royal family.
The pair tied the knot in Tokyo last month in muted fashion, following years of tabloid gossip and online sniping over their union that Komuro said caused her “sadness and pain.”
Footage broadcast on Japanese TV channels showed the couple flanked by security officials as they made their way through New York’s John F. Kennedy airport and into a waiting vehicle.
A move to the United States had long been rumored. The two 30-year-olds finally boarded a commercial flight Sunday from Tokyo to New York, where Kei Komuro attended law school and now works.
Mako, the niece of Emperor Naruhito, lost her royal title when she married a commoner under postwar succession laws that only allow male members of the imperial family to ascend to the throne.
After announcing their engagement in 2017, the Komuros were confronted with a barrage of reports alleging that Kei’s family had run into financial difficulties.
Japan’s royals are held to exacting standards, and the Imperial Household Agency said Mako developed complex post-traumatic stress disorder because of the media attention.
“I have been scared, feeling sadness and pain whenever one-sided rumors turn into groundless stories,” Mako said at a press conference after their marriage.
Kei said he felt “very sad that Mako has been in a bad condition, mentally and physically,” declaring: “I love Mako. We only get one life, and I want us to spend it with the one we love.”
The controversy surrounding the pair, and their US move, has drawn inevitable comparisons to another royal couple: Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Japanese media said the Komuros, who met at university in Tokyo, have already secured a place to live in New York, though it was not clear where in the city they had chosen to set up their new life.
The original plan had been for Kei to travel to the United States ahead of Mako, with the former princess joining him after she got her first passport, reports said.
But Kei stayed in Japan longer than expected to attend the funeral of Mako’s grandfather.
Japan’s emperor holds no political power, but is an important figurehead.
With a dwindling supply of male royals, there has been some debate over changing the rules in Japan, with polls showing the public broadly supports women being allowed to rule.
But any change is likely to be slow, with traditionalists vehemently opposed.
 
COPENHAGEN: Premature deaths caused by fine particle air pollution have fallen 10 percent annually across Europe, but the invisible killer still accounts for 307,000 premature deaths a year, the European Environment Agency said Monday.
If the latest air quality guidelines from the World Health Organisation were followed by EU members, the latest number of fatalities recorded in 2019 could be cut in half, according to an EEA report.
Deaths linked to fine particular matter — with a diameter below 2.5 micrometres or PM2.5 — were estimated at 346,000 for 2018.
The clear reduction in deaths for the following year were put down partly to favourable weather but above all to a progressive improvement in air quality across the continent, the European Union’s air pollution data centre said.
In the early 1990s, fine particles, which penetrate deeply into the lungs, led to nearly a million premature deaths in the 27 EU member nations, according to the report.
That figure had been more than halved to 450,000 by 2005.
In 2019, fine particulate matter caused 53,800 premature deaths in Germany, 49,900 in Italy, 29,800 in France and 23,300 in Spain.
Poland saw 39,300 deaths, the highest figure per head of population.
The EEA also registers premature deaths linked to two other leading pollutants, but says it does not count them in its overall toll to avoid doubling up.
Deaths caused by nitrogen dioxide — mainly from car, trucks and thermal power stations — fell by a quarter to 40,000 between 2018 and 2019.
Fatalities linked to ground-level ozone in 2019 also dropped 13 percent to 16,800 dead.
Air pollution remains the biggest environmental threat to human health in Europe, the agency said.
Heart disease and strokes cause most premature deaths blamed on air pollution, followed by lung ailments including cancer.
In children, atmospheric pollution can harm lung development, cause respiratory infections and aggravate asthma.
Even if the situation is improving, the EEA warned in September that most EU countries were still above the recommended pollution limits, be they European guidelines or more ambitious WHO targets.
According to the UN health body, air pollution causes seven million premature deaths annually across the globe — on the same levels as smoking and poor diet.
In September, the alarming statistics led the WHO to tighten its recommended limits on major air pollutants for the first time since 2005.
“Investing in cleaner heating, mobility, agriculture and industry improves health, productivity and quality of life for all Europeans, and particularly the most vulnerable,” said EEA director Hans Bruyninck.
The EU wants to slash premature deaths due to fine air pollution by at least 55 percent in 2030 compared to 2005.
If air pollution continues to fall at the current rate, the agency estimates the target will be reached by 2032.
However an ageing and increasingly urbanised population could make that more difficult.
“An older population is more sensitive to air pollution and a higher rate of urbanisation typically means that more people are exposed to PM 2.5 concentrations, which tend to be higher in cities,” said the report.

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