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Netanyahu accused of dictatorship amid coronavirus crisis

Hundreds of people defied restrictions on large gatherings in Israel to protest outside the parliament as they accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of exploiting the coronavirus crisis to solidify his power and undermine Israel’s democratic foundations. In recent days, Netanyahu and his surrogates have shut down Israel’s court system in advance of his trial…

Netanyahu accused of dictatorship amid coronavirus crisis

Hundreds of people defied restrictions on large gatherings in Israel to protest outside the parliament as they accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of exploiting the coronavirus crisis to solidify his power and undermine Israel’s democratic foundations.
In recent days, Netanyahu and his surrogates have shut down Israel’s court system in advance of his trial on corruption charges, have begun using phone-surveillance technology on the public, and adjourned parliament until next week.
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Netanyahu has defended most of these moves as unpleasant, but necessary steps to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. More than 500 cases have been confirmed in Israel, with no deaths.
Opponents say he is more interested in staying in power as Netanyahu governs in a caretaker role after a third consecutive inconclusive election in less than a year.
Israelis ordered to stay at home to halt coronavirus spread
Netanyahu tightened a national stay-at home policy, announcing guidelines aimed at halting the spread of the coronavirus would now be enforced by police under emergency orders.
“Under these orders, you, Israel’s citizens, are required to stay at home. It is no longer a request, it is not a recommendation, it is an obligatory directive that will be enforced by enforcement authorities,” Netanyahu said in a televised address.
The measures stopped short of a total national lockdown. Netanyahu said Israelis would still be allowed to shop for food and medicine, and some workers would be exempted from the restrictions.
Israel’s health ministry has reported 573 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection. Forty-seven cases have been reported among Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
‘Crime minister’
Outside the Knesset, or parliament, on Thursday hundreds protested against the government’s moves, hoisting banners that said “No to dictatorship”, “Democracy in danger” and calling Netanyahu the “crime minister”.
Police said they arrested three people for violating a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people. They also blocked a convoy of dozens of cars from entering Jerusalem and prevented dozens of other cars inside Jerusalem from approaching the Knesset building. Many of the cars honked and hung black flags out of their windows.
Police rejected accusations they were carrying out Netanyahu’s bidding, saying they were following health ministry orders meant to curb the spread of the virus. “No one is above the law or above public health orders released by the ministry of health,” they said.
‘No longer a democracy’
At the nearby Supreme Court, justices heard separate challenges to the new mobile-phone tracking edict and the shutdown of the Knesset. Civil rights groups and the opposition Blue and White party filed the cases.
Netanyahu announced this week that Israel’s Shin Bet security agency would begin deploying its phone surveillance technology to help curb the spread of the coronavirus in Israel by tracking the moves of those infected.
The order went into effect late on Wednesday when the government said it had notified about 400 people they had come into contact with infected people and should immediately quarantine themselves.
The surveillance has sparked widespread criticism from the opposition and rights groups, calling it a “dangerous precedent”. 
Israel is in the process of forming a new government following months of uncertainty and three inconclusive elections, the latest of which took place on March 2.
Parliament has been sitting since Monday, when Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz received the mandate to form a new government.
But Israel’s parliamentary speaker, Yuli Edelstein, a member of Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party, dismissed the Knesset early on Wednesday, after Israel banned gatherings of more than 10 people in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
By dismissing the chamber early, Edelstein ignored a letter signed by 61 parliamentarians calling for the vote to elect his replacement, a move critics slammed as anti-democratic.
The courts have also been shut down and Netanyahu’s corruption trial postponed until May, according to a decree, citing the coronavirus.
In a video statement, Yair Lapid, a senior figure in Blue and White, told Israeli citizens that they “no longer live in a democracy”.
“There is no judicial branch in Israel. There is no legislative branch in Israel. There is only an unelected government that is headed by a person who lost the election. You can call that by a lot of names. It isn’t a democracy,” he said in a recorded video.
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China accused of seeking to turn Taiwan into ‘the next Hong Kong’ |NationalTribune.com

Taiwan faces an increasingly difficult position as China pressures the democratic island to accept conditions that would turn it into the next Hong Kong, its top diplomat told visiting US Health Secretary Alex Azar on Tuesday. Azar arrived in Taiwan on Sunday as the highest-level US official to visit in four decades, a trip condemned…

China accused of seeking to turn Taiwan into ‘the next Hong Kong’ |NationalTribune.com

Taiwan faces an increasingly difficult position as China pressures the democratic island to accept conditions that would turn it into the next Hong Kong, its top diplomat told visiting US Health Secretary Alex Azar on Tuesday.
Azar arrived in Taiwan on Sunday as the highest-level US official to visit in four decades, a trip condemned by China which claims the island as its own.
Chinese fighter jets on Monday briefly crossed the median line of the sensitive Taiwan Strait, and were tracked by Taiwanese anti-aircraft missiles, part of what Taipei sees as a pattern of harassment by Beijing.
Azar’s trip to Taiwan has also coincided with a further crackdown in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, where, on Monday, police arrested media tycoon Jimmy Lai under a tough new national security law.
“Our life has become increasingly difficult as China continues to pressure Taiwan into accepting its political conditions, conditions that will turn Taiwan into the next Hong Kong,” Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said at a joint media appearance with Azar in Taipei.

US Heath Secretary Alex Azar and Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu hold a joint news conference in Taipei, Taiwan, August 11, 2020 [Ann Wang/ Reuters]

China has proposed a “one country, two systems” model of autonomy to get Taiwan to accept its rule, much as it uses in Hong Kong.
The proposal has been rejected in Taiwan by all major parties and the government.
Wu said Taiwan was lucky to have friends like Azar in the United States to help fight for Taiwan’s international space.
“We know this is not just about Taiwan’s status, but about sustaining democracy in the face of authoritarian aggression. Taiwan must win these battles so democracy prevails.”
Washington broke off official ties with Taipei in 1979 in favour of Beijing, but is still Taiwan’s biggest arms supplier. The Trump administration has made strengthening its support for the democratic island a priority as relations with China sour over issues including human rights and trade.
Azar is in Taiwan to offer not just the administration’s support for its democracy, but to learn about its successful fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Taiwan has kept its infection numbers low, thanks to early and effective prevention efforts.
Azar said the world should recognise Taiwan’s health accomplishments, pointing to Taiwan’s exclusion from the World Health Organization (WHO) due to Chinese objections, which considers Taiwan merely a wayward province.
“Especially during a pandemic, but at all times, international organisations should not be places to play politics. They must be venues for constructive, open dialogue and cooperation.”
Both China and the WHO said Taiwan has been provided with the help it needs during the pandemic.
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Hong Kong man accused of ‘terrorism’ under new Chinese law |NationalTribune.com

A man carrying a “Liberate Hong Kong” sign as he drove a motorcycle into police at a protest against the territory’s Chinese rulers has become the first person to be charged with inciting secession and “terrorism” under a new national security law. Beijing imposed the legislation on the former British territory earlier this week despite protests…

Hong Kong man accused of ‘terrorism’ under new Chinese law |NationalTribune.com

A man carrying a “Liberate Hong Kong” sign as he drove a motorcycle into police at a protest against the territory’s Chinese rulers has become the first person to be charged with inciting secession and “terrorism” under a new national security law.
Beijing imposed the legislation on the former British territory earlier this week despite protests from Hong Kong residents and Western nations.
Critics say the law – which punishes crimes of secession, subversion, “terrorism” and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison – is aimed at crushing dissent and a long-running campaign for greater democracy in the major financial hub.
Police say 23-year-old Tong Ying-kit rammed into and injured some officers at an illegal protest on Wednesday. A video online showed a motorbike knocking over several officers on a narrow street before the driver falls over and is arrested.
Tong, who was hospitalised after the incident, was charged less than 24 hours after the city government said the slogan he was carrying – “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” – connotes secession or subversion under the new law. The rallying cry appears on placards, T-shirts, and post-it notes stuck to walls around Hong Kong.

Tong Ying-kit’s barrister Laurence Lau speaks to the media outside the West Kowloon court in Hong Kong [Isaac Lawrewnce/AFP]

International concerns
China’s parliament adopted the security law after sometimes violent protests last year triggered by fears Beijing was stifling freedoms, guaranteed under a “one country, two systems” formula agreed when Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong say the law aims at a few “troublemakers” and not wider rights that underpin the city’s role as a gateway for capital flows in and out of China.
But international anxiety is growing after authorities arrested 10 people under the new law within 24 hours of it taking effect. The European Union has put Hong Kong high on its agenda while the United Nations’s rights office expressed alarm over arrests.At another court, dozens gathered in solidarity with a man charged for stabbing a policeman in the arm during Wednesday’s disturbances. They held up blank pieces of paper to show fears for free speech.
“I’m not scared. Come what may,” said a 25-year-old protester who gave his name only as Wilson.
On Wednesday’s 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule, police arrested about 370 people, with 10 cases involving violations of the new law.

Memos with protest slogans were replaced by empty memos at a ‘yellow’ restaurant, a business that supports the pro-democracy movement, after the new national security law legislation in Hong Kong [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

China appoints new security chief
In a further ominous sign for activists, a Communist Party official prominent during a 2011 clampdown on land rights protesters in a south China village is to head a newly-empowered national security office in Hong Kong, official news agency Xinhua said.
Zheng Yanxiong, 57, most recently served as secretary-general of the Communist Party committee of Guangdong province, bordering Hong Kong.
Leaked footage during the 2011 dispute showed him berating villagers and calling foreign media “rotten”.

This file photo taken on December 20, 2011 shows Zheng Yanxiong, then-Communist Party secretary of Shanwei prefecture, speaking on television as villagers watch the broadcast in Wukan, Guandong province [Mark Ralston/AFP]

The new legislation gives the security office greater enforcement action and powers to take suspects onto the mainland, as well as granting privileges for agents, including that Hong Kong authorities cannot inspect their vehicles.
Some activists have been keeping a low profile or leaving.
Demosisto, a pro-democracy group led by Joshua Wong, disbanded hours after the legislation was passed, while prominent group member Nathan Law left the city.
“The protests in Hong Kong have been a window for the world to recognise that China is getting more and more authoritarian,” Law told Reuters News Agency.
Canada halts extraditions
Meanwhile, Canada says it is suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong in the wake of China’s move to impose the new legislation, top officials said on Friday.
In a statement, Minister of Foreign Affairs Francois-Philippe Champagne also said Ottawa would not permit the export of sensitive military items to Hong Kong, which is home to about 300,000 Canadians.

Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Francois-Philippe Champagne speaking during news conference in Riga, Latvia [File: Ints Kalnins/Reuters]

Champagne condemned the “secretive” way the legislation had been enacted and said Canada had been forced to reassess existing arrangements.
“Canada will treat exports of sensitive goods to Hong Kong in the same way as those destined for China. Canada will not permit the export of sensitive military items to Hong Kong,” he said. “Canada is also suspending the Canada-Hong Kong extradition treaty.”
Separately, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a briefing that Canada could take further measures, including those related to immigration, but gave no details.
Canada and China are locked in a diplomatic and trade dispute which erupted in late 2018 after Canadian police arrested Huawei Technologies Co’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, on a US warrant.
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China accused of hiding coronavirus data from WHO: Live updates |NationalTribune.com

The coronavirus death tolls in Brazil and Mexico have soared to new daily records, with 1,349 and 1,092 confirmed fatalities, even as the countries begin to ease lockdown restrictions. Brazil now has more than 32,000 deaths, while Mexico has over 11,000. At least two US senators have accused China of hiding data from the World Health…

China accused of hiding coronavirus data from WHO: Live updates |NationalTribune.com

The coronavirus death tolls in Brazil and Mexico have soared to new daily records, with 1,349 and 1,092 confirmed fatalities, even as the countries begin to ease lockdown restrictions. Brazil now has more than 32,000 deaths, while Mexico has over 11,000.
At least two US senators have accused China of hiding data from the World Health Organization that could have altered the course of the coronavirus outbreak, even as a Chinese official denied delays in sharing information, and said the government acted openly and transparently.
The malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine – which President Donald Trump took to try to prevent COVID-19, proved ineffective for that purpose in the first large, high-quality study to test it in people in close contact with someone with the disease, according to a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

Around 6.5 million coronavirus cases have been confirmed around the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. More than 386,000 people have died, including some 107,000 in the US. More than 2.7 million people have recovered from the disease.

Here are the latest updates:
Thursday, June 4
05:00 GMT – Australia airport opens register for travellers to New Zealand
Canberra Airport has opened a register for travellers interested in flying from the Australian capital to New Zealand on July 1 in a proposed resumption of international travel, AP news agency reported.
Canberra Airport managing director Stephen Byron said the proposal to restart travel between the two countries with flights connecting the capitals was under discussion between the two governments as well as Qantas and Air New Zealand.
Under the proposal, the flights between Canberra and Wellington would not require the quarantine of passengers. Canberra Airport opened its register of interest on Thursday for the first flight on July 1 and 140 names were added within the first hour.
04:45 GMT – ICRC: Protect jobs or risk a boom in aid dependency
Economic hardships brought about by the coronavirus pandemic could increase aid dependency in countries in conflict without coordinated responses from governments and international institutions, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Thursday.
“The ongoing economic and food security impact of COVID-19 is massive and appears likely to worsen over time,” it added, after releasing a survey on the effects of the pandemic.
In Nigeria, for example, 95 percent of people surveyed said their livelihoods had suffered because of the pandemic, resulting in reduced salaries or revenue. In Iraq the number was 83 percent, and 52 percent in Libya.
04:30 GMT – Japan to explore ‘simplified’ Olympic Games: Tokyo governor
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said on Thursday it may be necessary to a stage a “simplified” Olympics next year due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and that organisers were already discussing possible changes.
“Holding the Olympic and Paralympic Games calls for sympathy and understanding of Tokyoites and the Japanese people,” Koike told reporters.
Koike’s comments come after the Yomiuri newspaper reported that various options, such as mandatory coronavirus testing and having fewer spectators, were being considered by organisers.
John Coates, the head of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) inspectorate for Tokyo, has said a lack of a defence against the new coronavirus threatened the games and organisers had to start planning for what could be a “very different” Olympics if there were no signs of COVID-19 being eradicated.
04:04 GMT – North Macedonia reintroduces strict movement order
North Macedonia has reintroduced stringent movement restrictions in the capital, Skopje, and another three parts of the country, after registering a record number of new COVID-19 infections, according to AP news agency.
Health Minister Venko Filipce said an almost blanket curfew will be imposed from 9pm (local time) on Thursday till 5am (local time) on Monday in these areas. People will be allowed out to visit hospitals or pharmacies.
The health ministry said 101 new infections – a record since the country’s first case in late February – and four deaths were recorded in the previous 24 hours. That brings the total of infections to 2,492, with 145 deaths.
03:43 GMT – Philippines’ youngest coronavirus survivor dies
An infant, who contracted the coronavirus disease and later recovered, has died in the Philippines. 
According to an ABS-CBN report on Thursday, Kobe Manjares became infected with the coronavirus five days after he was born on April 12. He had been released from hospital on April 8.
He was later brought back to hospital due to complications, including blood infection and bloated stomach, ABS-CBN quoted his father as saying. The infant died early on Thursday.
The Philippines has reported more than 19,000 coronavirus cases and 974 deaths as of Wednesday.

The Philippines has reported more than 19,000 coronavirus cases and 974 deaths as of June 3 [Rolex dela Pena/EPA]

03:08 GMT – South Korea reports 39 new coronavirus cases
South Korea has confirmed 39 additional cases of the coronavirus, all but three of them reported in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, as authorities are struggling to contain a resurgence of COVID-19.
AP news agency quoted the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as saying that the newly reported cases raised the country’s total to 11,629 with 273 deaths.
The agency says 10,499 of them have recovered while 857 people are still being treated for the disease.
02:23 GMT – Brazil looks to reopen despite record coronavirus deaths
Brazil has registered a record number of daily deaths from the novel coronavirus for a second consecutive day, according to the latest data from the health ministry, even as city and state authorities move aggressively to reopen commerce.
The nation recorded 1,349 new coronavirus deaths on Wednesday and 28,633 additional confirmed cases, the data showed. Brazil has now registered 32,548 deaths and 584,016 total confirmed cases.
President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly downplayed the threat of the virus, saying on Tuesday that death was “everyone’s destiny”.
02:08 GMT – New Zealand on verge of eradicating coronavirus
New Zealand is on the verge of eradicating the virus from its shores after it notched a 13th straight day with no reported new infections, the Associated Press news agecy reported.
Only a single person in the nation of 5 million people is known to still have the virus, and that person is not hospitalised. However, it remains likely that the country will import new cases once it reopens its borders, and officials say their aim remains to stamp out new infections as they arise.
The country has already lifted many of its virus restrictions and could remove most of those that remain, including limiting crowd sizes, next week. Just over 1,500 people contracted the virus during the outbreak, including 22 who died.
01:33 GMT – Mexico reports new one-day high of 1,092 coronavirus deaths
The coronavirus toll in Mexico has soared to a new daily high, with the health department reporting 1,092 test-confirmed deaths – more than double the previous one-day record and in line with numbers in the United States and Brazil, according to AP news agency.
The announcement was an embarrassment for officials, who have consistently predicted that cases in Mexico were about to start levelling off. The country began a gradual reopening of industrial and business activity on Monday.
Mexico has at least 101,000 cases and more than 11,000 deaths.

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 11,000 people in Mexico as of the end of Wednesday [File: Jorge Nunez/EPA]

01:03 GMT – Baby among new fatalities of coronavirus in US
A nine-month-old infant who tested positive for COVID-19 was among another eight people whose deaths were related to the coronavirus in the US state of Kentucky, Governor Andy Beshear has announced.
The latest deaths raised the statewide death toll to 450 since the pandemic began. There are more than 107,000 fatalities across the US.
In announcing the infant’s death, Beshear said: “Far too often, people think that it’s something that only happens to medically compromised seniors. This is a reminder of how deadly this virus can be. How precious all of our lives are.”
00:20 GMT – China reports new COVID-19 cases

Students wearing masks to curb the spread of the new coronavirus leave after the end of a school day in Beijing on Wednesday [Ng Han Guan/AP]

China reported on Thursday one new coronavirus case and four new asymptomatic COVID-19 cases as of the end of June 3, according to Reuters news agency quoting the health commission.
The national health commission said all five of the cases were imported, involving travellers from overseas. For June 2, China reported one confirmed case and 4 asymptomatic cases.
China does not count asymptomatic patients, those who are infected with the coronavirus but do not exhibit symptoms, as confirmed cases. The total number of infections in China stands at 83,022. The death toll remained unchanged at 4,634.
00:05 GMT – Report raises coronavirus concerns about China, WHO; Beijing denies
At least two US senators said that China hid data from the World Health Organization (WHO) that could have altered the course of the coronavirus outbreak, even as a Chinese official denied delays in sharing information and said the government acted openly and transparently.
They were referring to an Associated Press investigation published this week that found China stalled on providing critical coronavirus information to WHO, which expressed considerable frustration in private even as it praised the country in public. Politicians said the report raised key questions and public health experts said it shed light on a story that has become highly politicised.
At a press briefing on Wednesday, Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called the AP report “seriously inconsistent with the facts”. He read off a timeline of events that did not contradict the AP’s findings and added that China had always maintained “close and good communication and cooperation with WHO”.
00:01 GMT – Malaria drug fails to prevent COVID-19 in a rigorous study
A malaria drug US President Donald Trump took to try to prevent COVID-19 proved ineffective in the first large, high-quality study to test it in people in close contact with someone with the disease, AP news agency reported.
Results published by the New England Journal of Medicine show that hydroxychloroquine was no better than placebo pills at preventing illness from the coronavirus. The drug did not seem to cause serious harm, though – about 40 percent of people on it had few side effects, mostly mild stomach problems.
“We were disappointed. We would have liked for this to work,” said the study leader, Dr David Boulware, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Minnesota. “But our objective was to answer the question and to conduct a high-quality study,” because the evidence on the drug so far has been inconclusive, he said.
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Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m Ted Regencia in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Read all the updates from yesterday (June 3) here.
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