Oxfam: Pandemic Pushing Millions to Brink of Starvation

The coronavirus outbreak has worsened the hunger crisis in the world’s poorest corners, and up to 12,000 people could die each day from hunger linked to the social and economic effects of the pandemic, the humanitarian group Oxfam warned Thursday.Its report said mass unemployment, disruption to food production and declining aid as a result of the pandemic could push an estimated 122 million people to the brink of starvation this year.”The knock-on impacts of COVID-19 are far more widespread than the virus itself, pushing millions of the world’s poorest people deeper into hunger and poverty,” said the group’s chief executive, Danny Sriskandarajah. “It is vital governments contain the spread of this deadly disease, but they must also prevent it killing as many — if not more — people from hunger.”The charity said that in some of the world’s worst hunger “hot spots,” including Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria and South Sudan, the food crisis is worsening because of border and supply route closures or a huge drop in remittances as result of the pandemic. In middle-income countries like India, South Africa and Brazil, millions of people who had been “just about managing have been tipped over the edge.”Even in developed countries like Britain, the report said, up to 3.7 million adults sought charity food or used a food bank during the first weeks of lockdown restrictions.Oxfam cited the World Food Program in estimating that the number of people experiencing crisis-level hunger will rise to 270 million before the end of this year, a jump from 149 million in 2019.It said that women, and women-headed households, are more likely to go hungry because they make up a large proportion of hard-hit groups such as informal workers and also have borne the brunt of an increase in unpaid care work as a result of school closures and family illness. 

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At UN, Russia Fails to Push Through Syria Resolution Cutting Aid Access

Russia failed on Wednesday to push a draft U.N. resolution through the U.N. Security Council that would have cut aid access from Turkey into northwest Syria, leaving the humanitarian operation and millions of needy Syrians in limbo as the mandate’s expiration approaches on Friday.Moscow’s text, which proposed closing one of two remaining crossing points to humanitarians and only renewing the remaining one for six months, failed to win enough support in the 15-nation Security Council. Only four council members (Russia, China, Vietnam and South Africa) supported the measure, while seven opposed it and four abstained.It was the second vote in as many days. On Tuesday, Russia and China vetoed a text put forward by Belgium and Germany that all other council members supported. That draft called for the reauthorization of two crossing points for one year.In a joint statement after the vote, Belgium and Germany, who hold the Syrian humanitarian file on the council, said they voted against the Russian measure because it did not meet the basic requirements requested by the United Nations and aid groups.“One thing remains clear: Millions of people are counting on the Security Council to allow for as much humanitarian access as possible,” they said in a statement. “This council has a responsibility to the Syrian people and the humanitarian aid workers who support them.”The U.N. has also asked for more humanitarian access in Syria, requesting that a third crossing point between northern Iraq and Syria, which Russia and China forced the council to close in January, be reopened.Moscow, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has argued that all aid should go through Damascus to other parts of the country.“This text was not to support Syrians, who are suffering from nine years of war and chemical attacks,” said Estonia’s Ambassador Sven Jürgenson, who voted against the resolution. “Instead, Russia tried with this draft to arm-twist the Security Council members into enhancing Moscow’s political and military objectives.”There is still time to reach a consensus before Friday, when the operation’s authorization will expire. Otherwise, the six-year-old cross-border operation could be closed.In addition to the effects of conflict and COVID-19, Syria is facing its worst financial crisis of its nine-year conflict. The currency is in free fall, commodity prices are skyrocketing and many Syrians are struggling to afford food.“Cross-border aid is needed now more than ever, as Syrians face the threat of COVID-19,” said Oxfam Syria Director Moutaz Adham after the vote. “All available avenues for delivering aid will be critical in helping the more than 11 million people in need of assistance across Syria.”

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Britain In Huawei Dilemma as China Relations Sour

There is growing speculation that Britain may be about to reverse course and ban the Chinese firm Huawei from its rollout of 5G mobile telecoms technology.  A move by the United States to ban U.S. companies from selling crucial microchips to Huawei appears to have changed the calculation in London. But as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, Beijing has warned Britain against what it calls ‘making China into an enemy.’Camera: Henry Ridgwell

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Serbian President Retracts COVID-19 Curfew After 60 Hurt in Violence

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has retracted his decision to reimpose a coronavirus curfew and has urged people to stop attending anti-government rallies after a violent clash between protesters and police.The president said Wednesday that new measures could still include shortened hours for nightclubs and penalties for those not wearing masks.On Tuesday, Vucic said at a news conference he would implement a curfew Friday, “probably” to run from 6 p.m. until 5 a.m. on July 13. The president added that gatherings would be restricted to five people starting Wednesday, citing a rising number of coronavirus cases in the country and hospitals running at full capacity.Vucic’s backtracking Wednesday came after a protest by thousands Tuesday night outside the parliament building in Belgrade. Police fired tear gas and beat demonstrators, while protesters retaliated by throwing stones and bottles at officers, some chanting for the resignation of the president.The clash left 17 protesters and 43 police injured and 23 protesters arrested, according to police director Vladmir Rebic. More protests were reported Wednesday.Vucic said foreign secret services were behind the protests by “right-wing and pro-fascist demonstrators.” He did not name specific intelligence agencies and stood by the police’s handling of the protests.”We will never allow the destabilization of Serbia from within and abroad,” he said.The president’s critics have accused him of lifting previous lockdown measures to hold parliamentary elections on June 21, which Vucic’s Progressive Party won by a landslide — accusations the president has denied.Critics also blame Vucic for the swell in infection rates, as the government permitted sports matches, religious festivities, parties and private gatherings to resume after lifting state of emergency restrictions on May 6.As of Wednesday afternoon EDT, Serbia had 17,076 reported cases of the coronavirus infection and 341 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University statistics.

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After Show of Military Might, China Offers to Restart S. China Sea Talks

China has agreed to restart talks with worried Southeast Asian countries on a maritime code of conduct to restore its image abroad after COVID-19 and months of reminders that it’s the waterway’s most militarily powerful country. Beijing said July 1 in a consultation with Southeast Asian leaders that it would resume negotiations on a code, pending since 2002, that would help ships avoid mishaps and resolve any accidents in the vast, crowded South China Sea. China and its negotiation counterpart the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has shunned the topic so far this year. Both sides grappled instead with the COVID-19 outbreak, which cast wary eyes on China as the disease’s origin. Also in the first half of the year, China flew military planes at least eight times over a corner of the sea near Taiwan and sent survey ships to tracts of the waterway claimed by Malaysia and Vietnam. Last week it held South China Sea military exercises with an apparent focus on amphibious assaults. “I think that the reason why China is offering the talks is because it feels very confident that it’s in a position of strength and it can shape the direction or the trajectory of the discussions and its counterparts are not in a strong position, because of coronavirus (and) because they haven’t any assets in the seas,” said Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor of politics and international studies at International Christian University in Tokyo. ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam claim parts of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea. China and Taiwan claim nearly all of it. Rival claimants value the waterway for its fisheries, shipping lanes and fossil fuel reserves. After doing little on the code for years, China and ASEAN agreed in 2017 to work on it again. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang estimated in 2018 the code could be wrapped up by 2021, but last year Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said via state media that it could happen even sooner. The COVID-19 outbreak, which hit China in February before coursing into Southeast Asia, has blocked progress on a code year to date, analysts believe. The last talks took place in October. China’s recent military activities and previous land reclamation for artificial islands in the sea give it more bargaining power as well as tarnishing its image elsewhere in Asia, scholars believe. Southeast Asian claimants particularly resent China for adding an estimated 3,000 acres of landfill into the sea and using some newly created islets for military installations. Why China Is Sure to Match US Aircraft Carriers in Disputed Asian Sea Chinese officials want to show Washington, the rest of Asia and their own people they’re at least as resolute as the US Navy Officials in Beijing hope at the same time to shed the image that it spread COVID-19 into Southeast Asia, where Malaysia and the Philippines among other countries have fought caseloads instead of focusing on their maritime claims, analysts say. “All these events have worsened China’s international image, so I think it may make sense for China to ask ASEAN to restart the code of conduct negotiations as a way to restore its image in the region,” said Le Hong Hiep, a fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. Coronavirus cases have topped 160,000 in Southeast Asia, with nearly 4,600 people dead. Chinese leaders probably expect the talks to go their way if moved online instead of in person to avoid any COVID-19 risk, Nagy said. Online talks make all comments formal, he said, sparing the informal sideline chats that Southeast Asian leaders hold when in person. China Uses Cabbage to Advance Disputed Asian Sea ClaimChinese navy just harvested crop it had grown using sand-based agricultural technology on tiny South China Sea islet The code of conduct represents a chance for rivals to cooperate as well as head off accidents. Filipino and Vietnamese fishing boats have sunk after run-ins with Chinese vessels over the past year. In 1974 and 1988, Vietnamese sailors died in clashes with the Chinese. But talks are expected to be tough, possibly leading to a deal without a clear geographic scope and lacking an enforcement mechanism, analysts believe. Either element could imply that no one country has a full sovereignty claim, a blow to governments facing nationalist populations at home. “It’s already 2020 and they still haven’t got to the meat of (the code) really,” said Jay Batongbacal, international maritime affairs professor at University of the Philippines. “We could end up with another very general document.” But he said the parties feel pressured to come up with some kind of code, eventually. “They have no choice but to keep on trying to negotiate this thing, it’s the only thing going between ASEAN and China and for either one to call it off completely would be seen as a failure,” Batongbacal said.

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Russia Charges Former Journalist with Treason 

A former Russian journalist currently employed by the country’s space agency has been arrested and charged with state treason for passing secrets to the West — punishment, his supporters argue, for his past coverage of sensitive Russian military and political affairs.    Ivan Safronov, 30, spent much of the past decade was a military analyst and reporter for Kommersant and Vedomosti, two vaunted national newspapers that have seen their independence increasingly clipped and key staff shakeups amid a wider curtailing of media freedoms in Russia.  Video released by Russia’s Federal Security Service, FSB, showed the former journalist quickly being detained by agents as he approached his car outside his home in Moscow on Wednesday morning.  Ivan Safronov is escorted before a court hearing in Moscow, Russia, July 7, 2020.“Safronov, carrying out tasks for one of the NATO countries’ intelligence services, gathered and handed over to its representative state secrets and information about military-technical cooperation and about the defense and security of the Russian Federation,” said the agency in a statement Tuesday.  Safronov has denied the charges and says the arrest is tied to his journalist work.  He could be heard saying “I’m not guilty” to reporters as agents frog-marched him into a closed court hearing.  A judge later ruled he remain in pre-trial detention until September 6, pending an investigation.  Allegations of spying for NATO Safronov’s lawyer, Ivan Pavlov, says the FSB alleges Czech agents recruited Safronov in 2012 on behalf of the US, and that his client is accused of passing information about Russian military cooperation with a country in the Middle East and Africa to them in 2017.  “No evidence was presented on which those charges are based,” said Pavlov to journalists.  Yet Russian media attention has focused on publications that may have played a role in Safronov’s troubles.  In June 2019, the state launched court proceedings against Kommersant over allegedly disclosing state secrets.  The article in question was widely considered to be a piece co-authored by Safronov that said the Kremlin was preparing the sale of Russian SU-35 Sukhoi fighter jets to Egypt, a U.S. ally.  The piece caught the attention of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who reacted by threatening Egypt with sanctions.  The deal never took place and the article has since been pulled from Kommersant’s online archives.  FILE – Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, meets with the speaker of the Federation Council, upper parliament chamber Valentina Matviyenko at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence, outside Moscow, Russia, June 26, 2017.Safronov also provoked the ire of authorities as one of the authors of a 2019 article asserting that Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of Russia’s Upper Chamber, was being pushed out of her position amid a Kremlin shakeup.    Kommersant’s management fired Safronov over the article amid the government pressure.  Kommersant’s entire political department quit over the decision.   Today, Matviyenko remains in her post.  Two months ago, Safronov left journalism for a job as a media advisor to Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s former Ambassador to NATO who currently heads Russia’s Space Agency, Roscosmos.   Roscosmos issued a statement insisting the arrest and nothing to do Safronov’s work at the agency.  Yet the Kremlin insisted Safronov’s journalistic work was not related to the charges.  ”As far as we know this is not linked to his prior journalistic activity in any way,” said spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Safronov had worked for a time in the so-called “presidential pool” covering the activities of Vladimir Putin.  Supporters detained Outraged Russian journalists picketed in support of Safronov outside of FSB headquarters in Moscow — with a number of people briefly detained.   FSB representatives justified the arrests by pointing to restrictions outlawing protests amid to the coronavirus outbreak.  Protesters also expressed anger at the detention of journalist Taisiya Bekbulatova, the editor of the online portal Kholod and a friend of Safronov’s, after police raided her apartment and took her in for questioning related to the case.  “When they imprison one journalist after another — it’s a bad sign, a bad sign for the country,” said Kommersant reporter Alexander Chernikh, in a video posted to Twitter from the back of a police van.   «Когда один за другим сажают журналистов — это очень плохой знак, очень плохой знак для всей нашей страны». Задержанный корреспондент “Ъ” Александр Черных о деле Ивана Сафронова. pic.twitter.com/VHMmzkNuOQ
— Коммерсантъ (@kommersant) Prominent Russian investigative journalist Ivan Golunov, cries as he leaves a Investigative Committee building in Moscow, Russia, June 11, 2019.While Safronov’s supporters are preparing to launch a similar public campaign, some note that treason charges make examining the evidence in trial all but impossible.   “It will be carried out with maximum secrecy,” wrote Medizona editor Sergei Smirnov FILE – Paul Whelan, a former U.S. marine who was arrested for alleged spying, listens to the verdict in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, June 15, 2020.Under Russian law, Safronov could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.  Safronov developed skills as a military analyst in the footsteps of his father,  Ivan Safronov Sr., who worked at Kommersant as a military analyst before his son.    
He died in 2007 after falling from a 5th story of his apartment under disputed circumstances.   At the time, he was investigating illicit sales of arms to Syria and Iran.  

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Jailed Iranian Dissident Hit with 2nd Conviction for Peaceful Prison Protests

A female Iranian dissident imprisoned by her nation’s Islamist rulers since 2016 has been handed a second conviction for engaging in peaceful acts of anti-government protest while in jail.Speaking to VOA Persian by phone from Tehran last Thursday, the father of jailed activist Atena Daemi said a Revolutionary Court in the Iranian capital notified his daughter’s lawyer Mostafa Nili of the conviction the previous day.Hossein Daemi said the court presided over by Judge Amouzadeh convicted his daughter of two charges of spreading anti-government propaganda and disrupting prison order. He said the court sentenced her to one-year prison terms for each charge plus a punishment of 74 lashes. Iranian state-approved news site Didarnews.ir confirmed the sentence in a July 2 report citing Nili, the defendant’s lawyer.It was not clear if Atena Daemi would have to serve the one-year prison terms consecutively or simultaneously, or whether she would challenge the ruling in the higher Iranian appeals court.Daemi’s father said the charges stemmed from her involvement in a peaceful protest inside Evin prison last December, when she and several other female inmates staged a sit-in to mourn Iranians killed in a government crackdown on nationwide anti-government demonstrations the month before. He said he learned about the sit-in through a handwritten message that his daughter sent from prison to ask her family to spread the word about the female inmates’ protest.Hossein Daemi said another prominent dissident who joined the sit-in was Iranian journalist Narges Mohammadi, imprisoned since 2015 and serving a 10-year sentence for human rights advocacy.The father of Atena Daemi said her conviction for “disturbing prison order” related to the peaceful sit-in, while the conviction for “spreading propaganda” related to the handwritten note she had sent. He said she had been found guilty in a trial that lasted only five minutes.“There is no justice in Iran when a pre-determined sentence is issued in such a brief trial,” Hossein Daemi said.In a report published Tuesday, New York-based group Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) cited Atena Daemi’s mother, Masoumeh Nemeti, as saying the trial took place on June 27. Nemeti said her daughter appeared in the court but was not able to present a defense.Hossein Daemi previously had told VOA that his daughter had been scheduled to be released from Evin prison on parole on Saturday, following her 2016 imprisonment for a five-year term for alleged national security offenses related to her peaceful human rights activism. Her penalized activities included meeting the families of Iranian political prisoners, using Facebook to criticize the government and condemning its mass executions of political prisoners in 1988.CHRI cited Nemeti as saying in a Monday interview that her daughter was being kept in detention beyond July 4 to serve a new sentence of two years and one month for being involved in earlier acts of peaceful protest inside prison.An Iranian appeals court had confirmed Atena Daemi’s new 25-month sentence last September after a lower court convicted her of disseminating anti-government propaganda and insulting Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The charges arose from her writing an open letter from prison condemning the government’s executions of several political prisoners in September 2018 and her singing a revolutionary anthem to honor those prisoners.Female Iranian Activist in Jail Since 2016 Faces New Charges, Prolonged ImprisonmentNew charges could add to her seven-year prison term for peaceful activismLast month, Hossein Daemi told VOA that his daughter faced the prospect of even more prison time for her alleged involvement in a third peaceful protest at Evin. He said the prison’s prosecutor informed her on June 7 that she had been charged with “disturbing order” by chanting anti-government slogans on the night of February 11, the anniversary of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. His daughter denied that charge, he added.“She should be released because she has not committed any crime,” the dissident’s father told VOA in his latest interview. “All this pressure is being put on her just to bring her to her knees. But she still is determined and strongly insists on her beliefs.”This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service. Click here for the original Persian version of the story.  

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Fauci Warns US Not to Give Into ‘False Complacency’ as COVID-19 Death Rate Falls

As the United States approaches 3 million total coronavirus cases, the nation’s top infectious disease expert warned Americans on Tuesday not to fall into a “false complacency” about the nation’s falling death rate from the coronavirus pandemic.Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, made the remarks during a question-and-answer session with U.S. Senator Doug Jones on Facebook.“It’s a false narrative to take comfort in a lower rate of death,” Fauci said. “There’s so many other things that are very dangerous and bad about this virus, don’t get yourself into false complacency.The U.S. has recorded 131,457 deaths from COVID-19 as of Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University. President Donald Trump boasted late Tuesday night on Twitter that the “Death Rate from Coronavirus is down tenfold!”Death Rate from Coronavirus is down tenfold!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 8, 2020But Fauci warned earlier this week that the United States is “still knee-deep in the first wave” of the pandemic.Fauci’s latest warning on the state of coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. came on the same day the Trump administration formally notified the United Nations it is withdrawing from the World Health Organization, despite the surging number of COVID-19 cases in the country.Trump has accused the WHO of having a pro-China bias in its handling of the coronavirus outbreak and has demanded the agency impose reforms.  Trump froze U.S. funding for the WHO in April and a month later announced his intentions to drop out.It will be a full year before the U.S. officially exits the WHO under the organization’s rules. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has said he will rejoin world health body if he is elected in November.Meanwhile, the WHO acknowledged on Tuesday that airborne transmission plays a role in the spread of the coronavirus and planned to release a new set of recommendations about how to avoid infection.A group of 239 scientists from 32 countries released an open letter on Monday calling on the agency to review its guidance on how the disease passes between people.The scientists say the coronavirus is airborne, meaning virus particles can hover in the air in indoor spaces and infect people when the particles are inhaled.The WHO has said the virus is spread through larger respiratory droplets from an infected person’s coughs and sneezes but which drop out of the air quickly because of their size. 

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Biden Finally Wins Home State Presidential Primary

In his third run for the White House, Joe Biden has finally won a presidential primary in his home state.Biden, the last man standing from a Democratic field that once numbered more than 24 candidates, won Delaware’s Democratic presidential primary on Tuesday, beating Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.Sanders and Warren both suspended their campaigns months ago, but their names remained on Tuesday’s ballot because they did not officially withdraw as candidates in Delaware by the March 6 deadline. Warren suspended her campaign just one day before the deadline, while Sanders didn’t stop campaigning until April.Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer also had filed for Delaware’s primary but withdrew their names in early March.Biden also won New Jersey’s mostly mail-in Democratic presidential primary.Biden faced Sanders on the ballot Tuesday, even though Biden has accumulated enough delegates to become the party’s presumptive nominee.New Jersey’s already-late primary got pushed a month later because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy mandated that the election take place mostly by mail-in ballots.New Jersey’s 14 electoral votes have gone to Democrats in every presidential election since 1988.Tuesday’s victories give Biden another notch in his Democratic delegate belt, although the former vice president became his party’s presumptive nominee months ago after Sanders dropped out of the race.Biden first ran for president in 1987 but dropped out before the first contests of the 1988 primary campaign amid reports of plagiarism in political speeches and while he was in law school at Syracuse University. Jesse Jackson went on to win Delaware’s Democratic caucus.Biden also sought the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination but dropped out of the race after finishing fifth in the Iowa caucus with only 1 percent of the vote. He nevertheless remained on the Democratic primary ballot in Delaware and garnered almost 3 percent of the vote, well behind future boss Barack Obama and runner-up Hillary Clinton.Meanwhile Tuesday, President Donald Trump won Delaware’s GOP presidential primary over Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, a California businessman and perennial gadfly candidate.The primary elections were open only to registered Democrats and Republicans.Tuesday’s election was the first in Delaware to feature universal absentee voting, with absentee ballots having been sent to every registered Democrat and Republican in the state. Under Democratic Gov. John Carney’s emergency coronavirus declarations, any voter could choose “sick or temporarily or permanently physically disabled” and be eligible to vote absentee.Because of the coronavirus, Delaware election officials also limited the number of polling places for Tuesday’s primary. Kent County, with more than 94,000 eligible voters, had only 12 locations where people could cast ballots in person. Sussex County, with more than 133,000 registered Democrats and Republicans, had 24. New Castle County had 46 polling locations available for more than 315,000 voters. In the 2016 presidential primary, Delaware voters cast ballots at 313 precincts. 

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