Lockdown Dampens Eid Celebrations in Kenya’s Eastleigh Neighborhood

In Nairobi, the residents of Eastleigh, a predominantly Somali neighborhood, will celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, in lockdown after the government extended the movement in and out of the area for another two weeks. Some families say they have never experienced an Islamic celebration like this one. Mohammed Yusuf reports.
Camera: Amos Wangwa, Producer: Jason God

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US Doctor Who Left Home to Help Fight COVID at Epicenter, Now Unemployed

The United States is slowly reopening, state by state, ending lockdowns imposed to combat the coronavirus.  The pandemic has throttled many economic sectors, including the very health industry tasked with saving lives during the crisis. The fallout for health care workers and those who rely on them could linger long after the coronavirus is contained. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has the story of one doctor who uprooted himself to work at America’s COVID-19 epicenter — and who is now unemployed.Produced by: Mike Burke

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Judge Rules Against Florida on Felons Paying Fines to Vote

A Florida law requiring felons to pay legal fees as part of their sentences before regaining the vote is unconstitutional for those unable to pay, or unable to find out how much they owe, a federal judge ruled Sunday.  The 125-page ruling was issued by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle in Tallahassee. It involves a state law to implement a 2016 ballot measure approved by voters to automatically restore the right to vote for many felons who have completed their sentence. The Republican-led Legislature stipulated that fines and legal fees must be paid as part of the sentence, in addition to serving any prison time.  Hinkle has acknowledged he is unlikely to have the last word in the case, expecting the administration of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to launch an appeal. The case could have deep ramifications in the crucial electoral battleground given that Florida has an estimated 774,000 disenfranchised felons who are barred because of financial obligations. Many of those felons are African Americans and presumably Democrats, though it’s unclear how that group of Floridians overall would lean politically in an election and how many would vote. The judge called the Florida rules a “pay to vote” system that are unconstitutional when applied to felons “who are otherwise eligible to vote but are genuinely unable to pay the required amount.”  A further complication is determining the exact amount in fines and other kinds of legal fees owed by felons seeking the vote — by some estimates it would take elections officials several years for those pending now. Hinkle said it’s unconstitutional to bar any voter whose amount owed could not be “determined with diligence.” Hinkle ordered the state to require election officials to allow felons to request an advisory opinion on how much they owe — essentially placing the burden on elections officials to seek that information from court systems. If there’s no response within three weeks, then the applicant should not be barred from registering to vote, the ruling said.  Hinkle said the requirement to pay fines and restitution as ordered in a sentence is constitutional for those “who are able to pay” — if the amount can be determined. The case, Kelvin Jones vs Ron DeSantis, consolidates five lawsuits filed by advocates of disenfranchised felons, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Brennan Center and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “This is a tremendous victory for voting rights,” Julie Ebenstein, senior staff attorney with ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. “The court recognized that conditioning a person’s right to vote on their ability to pay is unconstitutional. This ruling means hundreds of thousands of Floridians will be able to rejoin the electorate and participate in upcoming elections.” The 2018 ballot measure, known as Amendment 4, does not apply to convicted murderers and rapists, who are permanently barred from voting regardless of financial obligations. 

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A Voice for Justice for Rohingyas, Rwandans and Gambians

Protecting vulnerable people “is a question of our humanity, over and above anything else,” Abubacarr Tambadou says. That belief motivated Tambadou, as attorney general and justice minister of the Gambia since early 2017, to set up an ongoing commission to investigate crimes allegedly linked to former president Yahya Jammeh. It has also led him to spend more than a decade prosecuting atrocities in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.    And last November, it prompted him – on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation – to file a case with the International Court of Justice accusing Buddhist-majority Myanmar of attempting to commit genocide against its ethnic Rohingya Muslim population. The Asian country Friday filed its first court-mandated report on its government’s and military’s efforts to comply with emergency provisional measures to protect Rohingyas, preserve evidence of any crimes against them, and to facilitate their repatriation.  The 47-year-old Tambadou, speaking to VOA Sunday from his residence in Gambia’s capital, Banjul, called the filing “a positive development that Myanmar continues to engage with the court on this matter.” He said it demonstrates that the government “is acting as a responsible member of the international community.”  History of persecution Excluded from citizenship in 1982, Rohingya Muslims have faced persecution and spasms of violence for decades. But in August 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya fled from Rakhine state across the border to Bangladesh, bringing with them accounts of massacres, extrajudicial killings, gang rapes and villages set on fire by Burmese military and civilian militants. Myanmar characterized its crackdown as a response to insurgent attacks on security posts.  The Gambia’s legal team had sought the emergency measures to protect the estimated 600,000 Rohingya Muslims still in Myanmar, goaded by a September 2019 U.N. report that found “a serious risk that genocidal actions may occur or recur.”    In January, the ICJ – the United Nations’ top court – granted the request, requiring Myanmar to file periodic reports on its efforts to comply. The court’s final decision in the case could take years.   Tambadou said he and his legal team – led by the Washington firm Foley Hoag – have received a copy of the filing. Myanmar and the ICJ could determine whether to reveal the report’s contents before the genocide case goes to trial, he said.  Myanmar’s foreign ministry said the report is confidential, VOA’s Burmese Service reported Sunday.  The country has at least overtly suggested new safeguards. In April, the Myanmar government issued presidential directives ordering “all ministries and all regions and state governments” to ensure against acts of genocide and to preserve evidence.  Friday, Myanmar Army spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said at a news conference that the military was cooperating with the government-formed Independent Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations to share information on investigations and to set up transparent courts martial of security forces alleged to have committed crimes. The commission had found no evidence of genocide.  A chance visit Tambadou’s involvement in the Rohingya case was a matter of happenstance. A committee of the OIC, which represents 57 countries with significant Muslim populations, had been contemplating action against Myanmar since 2018. It chose Tambadou as its chair after he had filled in at the last minute for the Gambia’s foreign minister on an OIC delegation visit to Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar district in southeastern Bangladesh.  “When I visited the refugee camps in Bangladesh, in talking with witnesses, I was convinced that what I was hearing was genocide,” Tambadou said of his May 2018 trip.   Following the U.N. fact-finding report in September 2019, the committee decided the Gambia should file the case.  Like Tambadou, Simon Adams, the executive director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, told VOA he also saw Myanmar’s filing as “a very positive thing. But we’ve still got a long way to go. Those discriminatory laws and policies are still in place. There’s still 1 million Rohingya refugees sheltering in nearby Bangladesh who want to come home.” Adams praised Tambadou and his country for supporting the Rohingyas.  “Look, any state that is a signatory to the [1948] Genocide Convention could have brought this case forward, but they didn’t. It took tiny Gambia, the smallest country in Africa,” he said. “… There’s so few states who actually have the intestinal fortitude, the political vision and the determination to take a case like this forward.” Measures at home Tambadou, who studied law in Britain, also is engaged in a reckoning at home in the Gambia. Its independent Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission began publicly televised hearings last year into alleged crimes committed under Jammeh, president from late 1996 into January 2017. As Human Rights Watch notes, Jammeh is accused of ordering the torture and killing of political opponents, the murders of 56 West African migrants, and the detention of hundreds of women. He also is suspected of raping some women brought to him.    Tambadou spoke about the ICJ case on the Rohingyas, the recent arrest of a long-sought fugitive alleged to have financed the Rwandan genocide, the Gambia’s commission – and the human rights issues that tie them together.  His comments have been edited for length and clarity. What are you looking for in Myanmar’s report to the ICJ? Three key things. We are looking for a demonstration by Myanmar of action it has taken to prevent the commission of genocide; demonstration that it has refrained from committing genocide; and [an account] of what measures it has taken to preserve evidence. Is the Gambia legal team also monitoring the ground situation in Myanmar? We are doing so through a variety of sources. And hopefully we will have a basis to confirm what Myanmar has just submitted to the court.  To what extent is the COVID-19 pandemic an issue in the case? Does it add any urgency? COVID-19 is a serious matter. It has not only impacted our ability to prepare fully for submission within the deadline given to us by the court. [The ICJ has granted three-month extensions to both Myanmar’s and the Gambia’s legal teams.] But we are thinking about the potential devastating consequences it could have on the Rohingyas both in Myanmar and in the refugee camps in Bangladesh.  How has your experience as a prosecutor with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda shaped your understanding of the signs of genocide? I have spent a decade and a half as a prosecutor at the tribunal. I have been involved in the cases of accused persons, including the former chief of staff of the Rwandan Army General Augustin Bizimungu. I have met hundreds if not thousands of witnesses, including perpetrators and victims.  The fact that there was a historical dehumanization of the Rohingya, the fact that there was prejudice, there was suspicion, there was mistrust – all of those are signs of genocidal intent. And then when you match that rhetoric with action on the ground, the modus operandi, the collaboration between the military and civilians, the torching of houses, the burning of little children, the sexual violence against women, the execution of unarmed civilian men — all of these point strongly to the fact that the authorities in Myanmar did want to destroy in whole or in part the Rohingya. What does the May 16 arrest of Rwandan fugitive Felicien Kabuga in France mean to you? This is a triumph of international justice and accountability mechanisms that have been put in place by the United Nations. This is good news for both the international community and the victims of the Rwanda genocide. Kabuga will have his day in court.  The Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission is in its second year of public hearings on alleged crimes during the military junta. What is your role? The commission was established to first ensure that there is an accurate historical account of events … during former president Jammeh’s rule but also to identify for prosecution those who bear the greatest responsibility for these crimes. This is the first truth commission around the world with such a mandate. The proceedings have also been interrupted by COVID-19. But we’re hoping that this is going to be the final year. … And I’m happy that the victims are finding answers and closure to several questions that they’ve had about the disappearance of their loved ones. I am the minister responsible for the truth commission process.     Why do you — and, by extension, the Gambia — care about what’s happening to the Rohingya? Why should anyone else care? This is about our humanity. What is happening to the Rohingya is horrendous. It’s appalling. The international community failed in Rwanda back in 1994, leading to at least 800,000 deaths. We are again failing in today’s world as we see what is going on in Myanmar against the Rohingya and we do nothing to stop it. I think it’s our moral obligation. It’s our human obligation to do something about it. And there’s no better way to condemn what is going on in Myanmar than to go to the world’s highest court. VOA’s Burmese Service and Jason Patinkin of VOA’s English to Africa Service contributed to this report.  

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Uighurs in US Say China Using Detained Family Members in Forced Interviews

Uighur community members in the United States are expressing skepticism after the Chinese government media in a series of separate videos showed their families in Xinjiang allegedly denouncing their detention as propaganda.
 
Those Uighurs say their family members, after disappearing for years, are now reaching out to them via Chinese social media platforms to discourage them from speaking out against the crackdown in Xinjiang region.
 
One of the Uighurs residing in the U.S., Samira Imin, told VOA that China Daily earlier this month showed her father, Iminjan Seydin, in a video on its Twitter account after he had gone missing in a Chinese detention camp for more than two years. Seydin also contacted Imin via WeChat, rejecting his detention and telling his daughter that she was “deceived by anti-China forces.””In our first online conversation on WeChat, after (nearly) three years, he is demanding me to delete my posts in the past and not publish anything on social media apps such as Twitter,” Imin, a 27-year-old medical worker in Boston, told VOA. She said she is convinced that her father has been coerced by Chinese authorities to ask her halt pro-Uighur activism.
 
“The Chinese government’s attempt to control my actions and thoughts through my father is not acceptable,” she said, adding “I want my father to be free from all types of state surveillance. I want to have normal conversations with him.”
 ‘Inciting extremism’Before his arrest in mid-2017, Seydin was a full-time professor of Chinese history at the Xinjiang Islamic Institute in the region’s capital Urumqi. At the same time, he owned a publishing organization called the Imin Publishing House, which since its inception in 2012, had printed nearly 50 books on topics such as language, education, technology and psychology.
 
Imin said she did not know the whereabouts of her father for months until 2019 when her contacts in Beijing said he was put in a so-called “re-education camp.” She was told Seydin was sentenced to 15 years in prison for “inciting extremism” in a secret trial.FILE – Security cameras are seen above the perimeter fence of what is officially known as a vocational skills education center in Dabancheng, in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, Sept. 4, 2018. Critics call these centers “re-education camps.Imin has since garnered the power of social media to raise awareness about the Uighur plight and demand her father’s release who she says was arrested for publishing an Arabic grammar book.
 
Imin is not the only Uighur abroad who has found her family on Chinese media after being missing for years.
 
Kuzzat Altay, 36, found his father, Memet Kadir, in a video by China’s state media Global Times in January. The 68-year-old had been missing for about two years.
 
“For up to two years, I just didn’t know if he was alive or not. All of a sudden, I see my father denouncing me on Chinese state TV saying that I should stop my activism or he would sever his blood relation with me,” Altay said, adding that his father looked half paralyzed and his statements were staged.
 
The young Uighur activist fled Xinjiang in 2005 and moved to McLean, Virginia where he heads the Uighur American Association. He started his activism after his father, in a voice message in February 2018, told him that the Chinese police were taking him to an internment camp in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi.
 ‘My father did need skills’
 
“My father was a healthy retired businessman and he didn’t need any skills training to find a job as China claims what the camps are for. He was capable of creating jobs, not in need of a job. But they took him in anyway,” Altay told VOA.
 
Confident that his father has been compelled to appear on the Chinese media, he said, “I ask China to let my father come to the U.S. and testify as he did in Global Times video.”
 
Rights organizations say China since late 2016 has started a systematic campaign of massive surveillance and arbitrary detention of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the northwest region of Xinjiang.  The U.N. earlier this year demanded ‘unfettered access’ to the region where as many as a million people could be held.FILE – Uighur activists and their supporters rally in defense of Uighur rights in China, in front of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, in New York City, Feb. 5, 2019.The Chinese government, however, is rejecting the accusations saying it is running a “transformation-through-education centers” campaign in Xinjiang. Chinese officials have called the camps “vocational training” facilities for people who were exposed to “ideas of extremism and terrorism.” In other occasions, the officials have said the camps teach the people skills needed to undertake new jobs.
 
Francisco Bencosme, the Asia Pacific Advocacy Manager at Amnesty International USA, told VOA that the growing number of videos coming out of Xinjiang are the latest “harassment” effort by Beijing against vocal Uighurs abroad who are lobbying for their people in Xinjiang. He said his organization has documented many such cases which are “really chilling and extremely concerning.”
 
“They are just a part of a larger pattern where China has used forced confessions and coercion of family members to silence activists,” said Bencosme.
 Online harassment
 
According to Louisa Greve, a global advocacy director for the Uyghur Human Rights Project, the attempt to undermine Uighur voices abroad is already taking a toll on the activists. She said they are “secondary survivors of this total persecution” and many of them are suffering from trauma.
 
“They are always being put in a dilemma of fear and guilt of whether they are causing more suffering to their family in China by speaking out. It is despicable,” said Greve.
 
Among the Uighurs who remained quiet for a while after she lost contact with her mother in September 2018 is Ziba Murat. She told VOA that she initially thought inaction was the best she could do for her mother. Her relatives in Xinjiang told her that her online activism could prove more harmful to their cause.
 
“Staying silent became unbearable,” said the Tampa, Florida-based 34-year-old corporate analyst and mother of a toddler. She said her family has yet to hear about her mother, Gulshan Abbas, who was a retired dermatologist from a hospital in Urumqi before suddenly disappearing in late 2018.
 
“There is still that fear inside me that I might put somebody back home in jeopardy. But If I don’t speak out then who will speak out for my mom…I will speak out more and more until they release her,” she told VOA.
 

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Iranian Fuel Heads Toward Venezuelan Port, More Tankers to Come

The lead vessel of a five-tanker flotilla carrying fuel supplied by Iran to gasoline-thirsty Venezuela was set to arrive at one of state-run PDVSA’s ports Sunday, escorted by the military, according to Refinitiv Eikon data and Venezuelan officials.Iran is providing Venezuela with 1.53 million barrels of gasoline and components in a move criticized by U.S. authorities as both nations are under sanctions, according to the governments, sources and calculations by TankerTrackers.com.The Trump administration said earlier this month it was considering measures it could take in response to the shipments, without providing specifics.The gasoline is desperately needed in Venezuela as its refining network has been operating this year around 10% of its 1.3 million-barrel-per-day capacity, forcing it to rely on imports amid U.S. sanctions that limit the sources and types of fuel it can receive.Tanker Fortune was scheduled to arrive at PDVSA’s El Palito port, a facility close to the country’s capital, according to a company source and the Eikon data showing its trajectory. A second vessel, the Forest, entered the Caribbean Sea on Saturday afternoon, and the three remaining vessels were crossing the Atlantic, the data showed.PDVSA did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the exact content of the cargoes or further plans to receive supply from Iran.Washington has steadily escalated sanctions on PDVSA as part of its effort to oust President Nicolas Maduro, a socialist who has overseen a six-year economic collapse. A senior Trump administration official Sunday said the fuel arriving would last for just a few weeks and would likely benefit only security forces and “people with connections.””Pretty soon most people will be wondering where it all went and why they couldn’t get any,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.The official declined to comment on what U.S. response was under consideration, if any. Last week, a Pentagon spokesman said he was unaware of any military move planned against the vessels. But Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday warned of retaliation if Washington caused problems for the tankers.The two OPEC nations have previously helped each other in the face of U.S. sanctions. In 2010-2011, PDVSA sent fuel to Iran, which was under sanctions aimed at stifling its nuclear program.The U.S. Treasury Department earlier this month imposed sanctions on a Chinese firm for doing business with sanctioned Iranian company Mahan Air, which transported refining parts to Venezuela in over a dozen flights earlier this year. 
 

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US Marks Grim Coronavirus Milestone Amid Push to Reopen

There are now over 5.3 million reported cases of the coronavirus globally, and more than 335,000 deaths as a result of infection.  The United States is the country with the most reported infections.  As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the country is noting a somber milestone amid a push to re-open businesses, and churches, in a bid to return the economy and daily life to some sense of normalcy.

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Trump Again Tweets Conspiracy Theory Linking TV Host to a 2001 Death

U.S. President Donald Trump is rekindling one of his long-running conspiracy theories, that a Republican congressman turned television critic of his played a nefarious role in the death of a young woman in 2001.
 
Trump tweeted twice over the weekend about the death of aide Lori Klausutis in the Florida congressional office of Joe Scarborough shortly before Scarborough left Congress and later became an MSNBC television talk show host.Scarborough often interviewed candidate Trump on his “Morning Joe” show as he ran for the presidency in 2016, but more recently, along with his wife and show co-host Mika Brzezinski, has become a thorn in Trump’s side as he faces a re-election contest in November.Earlier in May, Trump tweeted, ““When will they open a Cold Case on the Psycho Joe Scarborough matter in Florida. Did he get away with murder? Some people think so.”Then, on Saturday, Trump tweeted, “A blow to her head? Body found under his desk? Left Congress suddenly? Big topic of discussion in Florida…and, he’s a Nut Job (with bad ratings). Keep digging, use forensic geniuses!”A blow to her head? Body found under his desk? Left Congress suddenly? Big topic of discussion in Florida…and, he’s a Nut Job (with bad ratings). Keep digging, use forensic geniuses! https://t.co/UxbS5gZecd— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 24, 2020On Sunday morning, Trump added another tweet: “A lot of interest in this story about Psycho Joe Scarborough. So a young marathon runner just happened to faint in his office, hit her head on his desk, & die? I would think there is a lot more to this story than that? An affair? What about the so-called investigator? Read story!”A lot of interest in this story about Psycho Joe Scarborough. So a young marathon runner just happened to faint in his office, hit her head on his desk, & die? I would think there is a lot more to this story than that? An affair? What about the so-called investigator? Read story! https://t.co/CjBXBXxoNS— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 24, 2020Trump tweeted about the case at least as far back as 2017. But a coroner found no evidence of foul play, ruling that that the 28-year-old Klausutis died because of a heart problem, causing her to hit her head on her desk. Scarborough was in Washington at the time she died.Trump has long traded in debunked conspiracy theories.Perhaps his most discredited theory was that former U.S. President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. state of Hawaii and shouldn’t have been eligible to become the country’s leader, a claim Trump eventually acknowledged was wrong as he ran for the presidency in 2016.  Trump also claimed that he saw Muslims in a television report celebrating the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida terrorist jetliner attack on the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center by dancing on the rooftop of a building in neighboring New Jersey. No such television report has been found.
 

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US Begins to Reopen, but Coronavirus Concerns Remain High 

A key U.S. coronavirus official voiced serious concerns Sunday about Americans failing to take the highly contagious disease seriously enough as the country begins to reopen its commercial and recreational life. Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, told the “Fox News Sunday” show, “I’m very concerned about people going out without social distancing,” staying at least two meters away from others to curb the chances of passing on the disease. “We have to have social distancing if they’re in groups,” she said. “They don’t know if they’re asymptomatic” and could unwittingly pass on the virus. “We want to urge people to hike, golf, play tennis,” but to do it safely by maintaining an appropriate distance from other people, she said. With the U.S. world-leading coronavirus death toll likely to top 100,000 within a week, President Donald Trump erroneously claimed on Twitter, “Cases, numbers and deaths are going down all over the Country!” Cases, numbers and deaths are going down all over the Country!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) US President Donald Trump leaves after speaking to the press on May 22, 2020, in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC. Trump urged state governors to allow places of worship to reopen immediately.Trump on Friday ordered the country’s 50 state governors to reopen houses of worship although legal experts say he lacked the authority to do so. In some states, coronavirus restrictions allowed stores and restaurants to begin to reopen with restrictions but not churches, synagogues and mosques. “In America, we need more prayer, not less,” Trump said. But Birx offered a cautionary note for worshippers, saying, “Although it may be safe for some to go to church, it may not be safe for those with [health] vulnerabilities.” She deplored some shoppers who have refused to wear face masks in stores, who claimed they had the constitutional freedom in the U.S. to defy store employee requests to do so. “There’s clear scientific evidence” that people without masks can pass on the virus to others, Birx said. “A mask does prevent others from becoming infected.” More than 38 million laid-off U.S. Workers — nearly a fourth of the country’s labor force — has filed for unemployment compensation over the last nine weeks.  The official unemployment rate in April was 14.7%, but officials predict that it could top 20% in May, when the official count for the month is released in early June. White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett told CNN he believes it is quite possible the national unemployment rate will still be in double digits when Trump faces reelection Nov. 3 against the presumptive Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden. FILE – People wait in line for help with unemployment benefits in Las Vegas, Nevada, March 17, 2020.Hassett said the country’s economic recovery will be well underway in the second half of the year, but that “unemployment is something that will move back slower. If there were a [coronavirus] vaccine in July I’d be way more optimistic.” U.S. health officials had originally suggested that it was not likely that a coronavirus vaccine would be available until well into 2021. But Birx said the availability of a vaccine could be reached in late 2020 or early 2021. She said the push for the rapid development of a cure by several companies in the U.S. and elsewhere and the early production of the “most promising candidates” even before health officials have concluded that they are safe and effective could advance the timetable for inoculations.      

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