Halloween Goes On at White House With a Few Twists

With a bit of rejiggering, President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump played host Sunday to hundreds of superheroes, unicorns, skeletons and even a miniature version of themselves as part of a Halloween celebration at the White House.
In years past, the president and first lady personally handed out candy to the costume-clad kids. This year, the treats were provided separately as participants walked along a path on the South Lawn.  
The kids still briefly met the president and first lady, who waved and offered words of encouragement from a safe distance about how much they liked the costumes. Trump and the first lady have both recently recovered from COVID-19.
Trump was particularly pleased with a young boy with a distinctly Trump head of hair and a partner who did her best Mrs. Trump impersonation. The president motioned for them to turn and pose for the cameras, and they happily agreed.
Another tot, a true princess it appeared, was so smitten with the cameras that she kept waving at them as she walked along, never noticing the VIPs behind her.
The spooky celebration was changed up a bit as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Guests older than 2 were required to wear face coverings and practice social distancing. The same went for all White House personnel working the event, while any staff giving out candy also wore gloves.
The South Portico of the White House was decorated with bright-colored leaves in various shades of autumn, chrysanthemums and pumpkins, while a military band set the mood by playing songs such as Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

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Opposition Announces National Strike in Belarus 

Belarus’s opposition called a countrywide general strike on Monday — the latest in a series of efforts to dislodge longtime leader Alexander Lukashenko from power following what opponents say was a rigged presidential election in the former Soviet republic last August.  Svetlana Tikhanovskaya — Lukashenko’s primary opponent in the race and who fled the country under state pressure following the vote — threatened the strike two weeks ago in an effort to reinvigorate the protest movement.  FILE – Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, candidate for the presidential elections, foreground, greets people during a meeting to show her support, in Brest, 326 km southwest of Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 2, 2020.Her demands: Lukashenko resign, end police violence against demonstrators, and free hundreds of political prisoners or face a national work stoppage.   On Monday, the independent media site Tut.by posted photos of workers striking at several key factories. The news service also reported dozens of workers detained at the Grodno Azot factory for joining the strike. Nexta, People with old Belarusian national flags march during an opposition rally to protest the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Oct. 25, 2020.Yet once again, Lukashenko’s security troops and riot police were out in force.  Central metro stations were closed in advance — forcing people to walk towards the city center.  Crowds chanting “Strike, Strike, Strike” were met with stun grenades, rubber bullets, and tear gas as they closed in on Lukashenko’s residence — sending protesters running for cover.  The Interior Ministry also reported demonstrators had thrown rocks and broken windows outside a police headquarters in central Minsk.  The damage did not appear to be widespread.  Meanwhile, the human rights group Vesna reported more than 300 protesters arrested — adding to the estimated 8,000 detained in the wake of the vote.  On social media, a widely shared video showed masked security guards terrorizing protesters who had fled into a nearby apartment.  Its unbearable to watch. Ferocious from impunity, Lukashenka’s police are hunting protesters in private apartments, threatening to use gas if the people don’t go with them FILE – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko takes his oath of office during his inauguration ceremony at the Palace of the Independence in Minsk, Belarus, Sept. 23, 2020.Lukashenko has refused to step down — arguing he won the election in a landslide with 80% of the vote.  He also has backing from his neighbor Russia, which seeks to maintain a predictable ally in charge along its western border.   Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov implied Russia was growing concerned about the strike’s ability to impact Russia’s economy — noting the two economies were integrated “at the highest levels.” “For us, it’s extremely important how rhythmically and reliably the Belarus factories function,” added Peskov.  President Vladimir Putin has provided both economic aid and assurances of military support if necessary. In another sign of Moscow’s careful watch over events in Belarus, Sergei Narishkin, the head of Russia’s external intelligence services, was in Minsk to meet  with Lukashenko last week. Meanwhile, the U.S. and other Western governments have denounced the violence against demonstrators and backed sanctions on the Lukashenko regime — with the European Union declaring it no longer saw Lukashenko as the head of Belarus.  French President Emanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are among European leaders who have met with Tikhanovskaya directly.  FILE – Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya meets with French President Emmanuel Macron in Vilnius, Lithuania, Sept. 29, 2020.Washington calling In a separate development, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with Lukashenko by phone on Saturday —   the first publicly known high-level contact between the U.S. and the embattled Belarusian leader since the political crisis began.  Secretary Pompeo had been behind recent U.S. efforts to improve relations with Minsk — even meeting with Lukashenko during a high profile visit to Minsk last February.  According to the State Department, Pompeo “reaffirmed U.S. support for the democratic aspirations of the people of Belarus” and demanded the release and evacuation of Vitali Shkliarov, 44, a Belarusian-American political analyst who was arrested ahead of the August vote while visiting his parents in Grodno.  FILE – Belarusian opposition activist Maria Kolesnikova greets protesters during a rally at Independence Square in Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 22, 2020.In recent days, Kolesnikova issued a letter from prison saying Lukashenko’s security forces were threatening to jail her for the next 25 years.  

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Pakistani PM: French Leader Stoking ‘Islamophobia’

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has accused French President Emmanuel Macron of “attacking Islam” by defending the publication of “blasphemous” caricatures.
 
The comment Sunday comes four days after Macron said France would not “give up cartoons” depicting the Prophet Muhammad, pledging that Islamists “will never have” his country’s future.
 
“Sadly, President Macron has chosen to deliberately provoke Muslims, including his own citizens, through encouraging the display of blasphemous cartoons targeting Islam & our Prophet PBUH (peace be upon him),” Khan said in a series of tweets.
 
“It is unfortunate that he has chosen to encourage Islamophobia by attacking Islam rather than the terrorists who carry out violence, be it Muslims, White Supremacists or Nazi ideologists,” Khan wrote.
 FILE – French President Emmanuel Macron.Macron’s controversial remarks came in response to the beheading of a French teacher, Samuel Paty, outside Paty’s school near Paris after he had shown cartoons depicting the Prophet during a class on free speech. The French president described the slain teacher as a hero, saying Islamists were a threat to the country.
 
“This is a time when Pres Macron could have put healing touch & denied space to extremists rather than creating further polarisation & marginalisation that inevitably leads to radicalisation,” Khan said.
 
Caricatures of the Prophet are forbidden by Islam. Insulting the religion or the Prophet carries the death penalty under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
 
“By attacking Islam, clearly without having any understanding of it, President Macron has attacked & hurt the sentiments of millions of Muslims in Europe & across the world,” Khan said.
 
Earlier this month, Macron sparked controversy when he said, “Islam is a religion that is in crisis all over the world,” prompting several Muslim countries to call for a boycott of French goods.
 
In recent years, France has experienced a series of violent attacks blamed on suspected Islamists, including a bloody 2015 assault on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for publishing anti-Islam images.
 Khan writes to Facebook
 
Separately, the Pakistani leader wrote to Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive officer of Facebook, urging him to ban anti-Islam content on the social media platform.
 
“Given the rampant abuse and vilification of Muslims on social media platforms, I would ask you to place a similar ban on Islamophobia and hate against Islam for Facebook that you have put in place for the Holocaust,” said Khan in a letter his office released to media late Sunday.There was no immediate comment from Facebook.The social media giant recently announced it was updating its hate speech policy to ban any content that denied or distorted the Holocaust.
 
Khan noted in the letter that Islam has been associated with terrorism in France and publication of blasphemous cartoons targeting Islam have been allowed there.
 
“This will lead to further polarization and marginalization of Muslims in France. How will the French distinguish between radical extremist Muslim citizens and the mainstream Muslim citizenry of Islam?,” Khan asked.
 
Last month, the Pakistani prime minister, in his address to the United Nations General Assembly, denounced Charlie Hebdo for re-publishing the cartoons and demanded that “willful provocations” be “universally outlawed.”
 

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Belarus Opposition Prepares Mass Strikes After Lukashenko Ignores Deadline to Quit

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko defied an ultimatum to surrender power by midnight on Sunday, challenging his opponents to make good on their threat to paralyze the country with a national strike.Eleven weeks after a disputed presidential election, the crisis in the former Soviet republic entered a new phase with the expiration of the “People’s Ultimatum” set by opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.Lukashenko’s refusal to quit after 26 years in power will test whether the opposition has the mass support it needs to bring enterprises across the country of 9.5 million people to a halt.Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to Lithuania after the Aug. 9 election for the safety of her family, has urged Belarusians starting Monday to block roads, shut down workplaces, stop using government shops and services and withdraw all money from their bank accounts.Lukashenko has scoffed at the calls for a strike. “Who will feed the kids,” he has asked, if workers at state-owned enterprises go on strike.Tsikhanouskaya on Sunday called for the strike to go ahead after police forces loyal to Lukashenko fired stun grenades and detained scores of people in a clampdown on protests by tens of thousands in Minsk and elsewhere.”The regime once again showed Belarusians that force is the only thing it is capable of,” she wrote in a statement. “That’s why tomorrow, Oct. 26, a national strike will begin.”The standoff is being closely watched by neighboring Russia and by Western governments.Russian President Vladimir Putin has no desire to see another leader toppled by protests in a former Soviet state, as happened in Ukraine in 2014 and in Kyrgyzstan earlier this month. He too has faced street demonstrations at various times, including for the past three months in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk.Since the crisis began, Moscow has backed Lukashenko with a $1.5 billion loan and increased security cooperation, including a series of joint military exercises and a visit last week by the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency.Agencies: Belarus and Russia Will Respond to External Threats, Lukashenko Tells Pompeo Lukashenko had sought to mend fences with the West in recent yearsSecurity crackdownLukashenko, 66, claimed victory in the Aug. 9 election with officially more than 80% of the vote, but the opposition accused him of vote-rigging on a massive scale.He has responded to mass street protests by arresting around 15,000 people, though most have since been released, and jailing opposition leaders or forcing them to leave the country.
A U.N. human rights investigator said last month that thousands of people had been “savagely beaten” and there were more than 500 reports of torture, which the authorities deny.The United States, European Union, Britain and Canada have imposed travel bans and asset freezes against a string of officials accused of election fraud and human rights abuses.Tsikhanouskaya presented her ultimatum on Oct. 13 after the government said police would be authorized to use combat weapons against protesters if needed.Three days later, a senior police official repeated the threat.”We will of course humanely use weapons against them, including firearms, and we will remove the most dangerous ones from the streets,” said Nikolai Karpenkov, head of the police unit in charge of fighting organized crime.

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Belarus: Police Use Stun Grenades to Disperse Protests

Police in Belarus used stun grenades Sunday to disperse protesters, who after months of demonstrations, have threatened a national strike if longtime President Alexander Lukashenko does not resign by midnight.News reports say than 100,000 protesters were in the streets of Minsk Sunday – the 11th in a row of demonstrations against Lukashenko’s contested victory in August presidential elections.Video posted on RFE/RL showed police using stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse crowds as they marched to the Independence Palace in the capital, carrying the white and red flags that have come to symbolize the opposition movement.Agencies: Belarus and Russia Will Respond to External Threats, Lukashenko Tells Pompeo Lukashenko had sought to mend fences with the West in recent yearsOpposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled the country for her safety since the August election, has called for a national strike if Lukashenko does not resign by midnight.Lukashenko has indicated he will ignore the ultimatum.At least two people were injured by police in Sunday’s protests, according to RFE/RL. Sixty people were arrested, according to Belarusian rights group Vesna.Lukashenko maintains he won the poll in a landslide — garnering 80% of all ballots — despite widespread claims at home and abroad that the vote was heavily rigged to keep him in power. He has been in office for 26 years.Public anger has grown over the crackdown in the wake of the protests that have seen more than 7,500 arrests and police violence against demonstrators.Hundreds have emerged from police custody with bruises and tales of torture at the hands of Lukashenko’s security agents.Lukashenko has said the protests are encouraged and supported by the West and accused NATO of moving forces near Belarusian borders. The alliance has denied the accusations.

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Pope Names 13 New Cardinals, Includes WDC Archbishop Gregory 

Pope Francis on Sunday named 13 new cardinals, including Washington D.C. Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who would become the first Black U.S. prelate to earn the coveted red hat.In a surprise announcement from his studio window to faithful standing below in St. Peter’s Square, Francis said the churchmen would be elevated to a cardinal’s rank in a ceremony on Nov. 28.Other new cardinals include an Italian who is the long-time papal preacher at the Vatican, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, a Franciscan friar; the Kigali, Rwanda, Archbishop Antoine Kambanda; the Capiz, Philippines, Archbishop Jose Feurte Advincula, and the Santiago, Chile, Archbishop Celestino Aos Braco. Another Franciscan who was tapped is Friar Mauro Gambetti, in charge of the Sacred Convent in Assisi. The pope, when elected in 2013, chose St. Francis of Assisi as his namesake saint. Earlier this month, the pontiff journeyed to that hill town in Umbria to sign an encyclical, or important church teaching document, about brotherhood.In a reflection of the pope’s stress on helping those in need, Francis also named the former director of the Rome Catholic charity, Caritas, the Rev. Enrico Feroci, to be a cardinal.Wilton, 73, was picked by Francis to lead the prestigious diocese in the U.S. capital last year. The prelate has his pulse on factions in the U.S. Catholic Church, which has both strong conservative and liberal veins since he served three times as the head of the U.S. Conference of Bishops.Nine of the new cardinals are younger than 80, and thus eligible to elect the next pontiff in a secret conclave. Some cardinals head powerful Vatican offices, and pontiffs frequently turn to cardinals for advice.No details were immediately given by the Vatican about the concistory, as the formal ceremony to make the churchmen cardinals is known, especially in view of travel restrictions involving many countries during the COVID-19 pandemic.As he has in other groups of cardinals he tapped in his papacy, Francis in this selection reflected the global nature of the Catholic Church and his flock of 1.2 billion Catholics.Others named cardinals include a Maltese prelate, Monsignor Mario Grech; Monsignor Marcello Semeraro, an Italian serving as prefect of the Vatican office which runs the saint-making process; Bishop Cornelius Sim, a Brunei native who serves as apostolic vicar of Brunei; the Italian archbishop of Siena and nearby towns in Tuscany, Augusto Lojudice; the retired bishop of San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, Monsignor Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel; and an Italian former Vatican diplomat, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi.Churchmen over 80 who are named cardinals are chosen to honor their life of service to the church. Those in this batch too old to vote in a conclave are Cantalamessa, Tomasi, Feroci and Arizmendi Esquivel. 

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Italy Further Tightens Closures as Coronavirus Infections Surge 

With the number of daily new infections from the coronavirus now close to 20,000, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Sunday announced new closures set to take effect on Monday. He is tightening restrictions nationwide for the next month despite street protests in Rome and Naples over curfews.  Concerns over the fast-rising numbers in new daily infections from the coronavirus have brought a rapid tightening of measures by the Italian government. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a new decree announcing the new closures that would take effect across the country starting at midnight.  Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte wearing a protective face mask gestures as he speaks during a news conference on government’s new anti-COVID-19 measures, at Chigi Palace in Rome, Oct. 25, 2020.Conte said the analysis of the epidemiological curve shows a rapid increase with the consequence that across nearly the entire country, the spread of the contagion and the stress on the health system have reached concerning levels. The government has ordered bars, cafes and restaurants to stop serving at 6 p.m. local time. At restaurants, only four customers will be allowed to sit at the same table unless they live under the same roof. Seventy-five percent of lessons for high school students will be online but younger children will continue to be able to attend their classes in person. Gyms, swimming pools, spas, cinemas, theaters and gaming halls will be shuttered as will ski resorts. There will be no more fairs and gatherings for weddings and other such events. Local police officers check that stores are closed in a shopping center in Milan, after the Lombardy region imposed a stop to non-essential economic activities and people’s movements between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m, in Milan, Oct. 24, 2020.The latest decree also encourages members of the public not to leave home unless they have to go to work, school, or venture out for health or other strictly necessary reasons. The government says smart working must take place as much as possible and families should also avoid hosting people at home. As the number of people going into intensive care units also rises, Prime Minister Conte has been trying to avoid a new national lockdown, aware of the further damage it would cause to the Italian economy, already suffering from last-year’s two-month-long lockdown. He says every effort is needed to halt the rapid resurgence of the virus responsible for the COVID-19 disease. Conte said everything possible must be done to protect both health and the economy. For the past couple of days and before the new closures were announced, Italy witnessed street protests in Naples and Rome, indicating that despite the concerns over the rising number of infections, there is general discontent in the nation and fears that this pandemic is far from under control.      

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Greece Court Orders Neo-Nazi Leaders to Jail

The leader and founder of Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party has turned himself in after a court ordered him and other senior members of the party to serve more than 13 years in prison for acting as a criminal organization under the guise of a political party.It is a historic decision bound to have ramifications for other far-right parties across Europe.However, as a three-member criminal court here ordered the leaders of the far-right Golden Dawn party to immediately serve out their prison sentences, many of them emerged defiant.Nikos Michaloliakos, the leader of Golden Dawn, emerged from his home, vowing to quickly return.“We will be vindicated!” he shouted. “I am proud to be taken to jail for my ideas, and we will be vindicated by history and the Greek people,” he said.Michaloliakos and six other leading members of Golden Dawn were former members of the Greek parliament. One continues to hold a seat in the European Parliament.They were convicted earlier this month and sentenced to more than 13 years in prison for leading a violent, decade-long campaign that targeted anyone who was on the political left and not Greek.Despite their conviction, the defendants battled in court for days seeking to win some sort of leniency or suspended sentences that would allow them to serve their sentences at home. Even the court’s prosecutor recommended the neo-Nazis be kept out of jail on the grounds that they had had no prior criminal record.After repeated delays and days of deliberation, though, the judge, Maria Lepenioti, ordered the entire leadership to serve out their sentences behind bars, insisting the order take immediate effect.Police have already started rounding up Golden Dawn’s leaders. They are all expected to appeal their convictions.After the five-year trial, prosecution attorneys such as Kostas Papadakis emerged elated, punching the air in victory.This decision is historic, he said, because it debunks the mystique surrounding Golden Dawn.With a symbol similar to a swastika, and stiff-arm salutes in praise of Adolf Hitler, Golden Dawn is a neo-Nazi party that emerged from obscurity, gaining surprising prominence during Greece’s grim economic crisis.The party went from winning fewer than 20,000 votes in the 2009 general election to more than 7% of the vote and winning 21 parliamentary seats within three years.It retained that hold through 2019, with 18 lawmakers in Greece’s Parliament.No outright fascist party in Europe managed to make such gains in general elections for years.What made Golden Dawn different, and potentially more dangerous than all other Nazi groupings in Europe, was that in public many of its members professed respectable politics and community service that put Greeks first.Many of its members helped escort young women, protecting them at night across the country’s crime-infested capital. They came to the aid of senior citizens and brought food and clothes to many of those in need, including the tens of thousands of Greeks who had lost their jobs to the financial crisis.But they were also seen as the kind of Nazis read about in history books, all driven by profound racism and an admiration for Adolf Hitler, his extremist rhetoric, the torchlit flag-waving rallies, the endless recruitment of young men and the operation of violent hit squads that frequently roamed the streets of the country, targeting immigrants, communist trade unionists, gay people and an antifascist rapper.It was this deadly attack in 2013 against Pavlos Fyssas that finally forced authorities to crack down on the violent group and send its leaders to jail.It remains unclear whether the party can and will remain operative. It is also unclear whether the end of Golden Dawn will stamp out far-right extremism and racist attitudes still strong within Greek society.

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Agencies: Belarus and Russia Will Respond to External Threats, Lukashenko Tells Pompeo

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a phone call on Saturday that Belarus and Russia were ready to respond jointly to external threats, Russian agencies quoted Belarus state media as saying.Lukashenko, who is holding on to power despite major protests in recent weeks calling for him to resign, is facing the prospect of a national strike that could begin on Monday following an ultimatum set by opposition leaders.Lukashenko has shown no sign he will heed the ultimatum and step down. Protests against his 26-year rule began following an Aug. 9 election victory his opponents say was rigged.Lukashenko had sought to mend fences with the West in recent years and Pompeo had traveled to Belarus in February in a bid to “normalize” ties. But the crisis after the disputed election pushed Lukashenko back closer to traditional ally Russia.A U.S. State Department spokesperson confirmed Pompeo’s call on Saturday. “The Secretary called for the full release and immediate departure from Belarus of wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Vitali Shkliarov and reaffirmed U.S. support for the democratic aspirations of the people of Belarus,” the spokesperson said in a statement.Washington has imposed sanctions on Belarus officials following violent crackdowns at demonstrations in Minsk and across the country.Protesters shouting slogans and waving red-and-white opposition flags marched through the streets of Minsk on Saturday, footage taken by local media showed.”Russia does not interfere in the internal affairs of Belarus. At the same time, the countries are ready to jointly respond to emerging external threats,” Russia’s Interfax news agency cited Belarus state television as saying, describing the call.”By mutual opinion, after Pompeo’s February visit to Minsk, the situation has changed dramatically, new challenges have arisen and are emerging,” Interfax cited Belarusian state television as saying.

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Europe, US Watch COVID Case Totals Grow, Debate New Restrictions

Confirmed coronavirus infections continued to soar Saturday in many parts of the U.S. and Europe. In some cases, so did anger over the restrictions governments put in place to try to stem the tide.Oklahoma, Illinois, New Mexico and Michigan were among states announcing new record highs in daily confirmed cases Saturday, a day after a nationwide daily record of more than 83,000 reported infections, according to Johns Hopkins University.Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said it’s “now more important than ever that people take this seriously.” The 3,338 new COVID-19 cases in her state topped the old record by more than 1,300.German authorities reported a record one-day total of new coronavirus cases this weekend while leaders in Spain and Italy debated how to control the resurgent virus amid public pushback to curfews despite a global death toll topping 1.1 million.In Italy, officials huddled with regional authorities on Saturday to determine what new restrictions could be imposed as confirmed cases surpassed half a million.Premier Giuseppe Conte has said he doesn’t want to put Italy under severe lockdown again, as he did at the pandemic’s start. In past days, several governors ordered overnight curfews in their regions to stop people from congregating at night outside bars and other venues.One such curfew fueled anger in Naples, triggering a violent clash by protesters with police. Italian media said protesters hurled rocks, pieces of broken ceramic tiles and smoke bombs at police while they battled back with tear gas. Elsewhere in Europe, police in Warsaw, Poland, used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse protesters angry over new virus restrictions, and anti-lockdown demonstrators gathered in London’s Trafalgar Square.Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese on Saturday branded the Naples protests “unacceptable” and said prosecutors were investigating.According to Health Ministry figures, Italy’s one-day new caseload of confirmed infections crept closer to 20,000 on Saturday, a slightly bigger daily increase than Friday. The nation’s confirmed death toll, second-highest in Europe after Britain’s, rose to 37,210 after 151 more deaths.Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez plans to meet with his Cabinet on Sunday morning in Madrid to prepare a new state of emergency, a strategy used twice since the start of the pandemic.The first in March ordered strict home confinement across the nation, closed stores, and recruited private industry for the national public health fight. The second went into effect two weeks ago, focused on transit limits in the Madrid area.In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel urged citizens again to reduce their number of social contacts as the nation recorded a new daily high for infections.The 14,714 cases reported on Saturday includes cases from both Friday and Thursday because of a three-hour data outage at the country’s disease control agency Thursday. Forty-nine more people died, bringing the overall death toll past 10,000.The chancellor said in her weekly podcast “if we all obey (to social distancing) we will all together survive this enormous challenge posed by the virus.”Other European countries have tightened restrictions hoping to cope with their own rising case counts.Slovenia closed down hotels, shopping malls and other nonessential shops as authorities reported a record high of both new daily infections and deaths in the small country of 2 million people. Greece unveiled a mask requirement and a mandatory nightly curfew for Athens and other areas deemed high risk.In South America, Colombia became the eighth country to reach 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases on Saturday, according to the Colombian Ministry of Health. Two of the others are also in Latin America: Argentina, which hit that mark on Monday, and Brazil, which has more than 5 million confirmed cases.In the U.S., the virus has claimed about 240,000 lives, according to the COVID-19 Dashboard published by Johns Hopkins. The total U.S. caseload reported Friday was 83,757, topping the 77,362 cases reported on July 16.Many rural communities are bearing the brunt. In Columbia, Tennessee, Maury Regional Medical Center said Friday it was suspending elective surgical procedures that require an overnight stay for two weeks, beginning on Monday. The Daily Herald reported that it was treating 50 COVID-19 inpatients, 20 of whom were in the medical center’s 26-bed intensive care unit.Martin Chaney, Maury Regional’s chief medical officer, said small home gatherings have become the emerging threat through which the disease is being spread in the six-county region the medical center covers.”In our homes, we all let our guard down,” Chaney said. “You think it is safe to not socially distance, and you take your masks off. That is spreading the disease very rapidly.”

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Texas Singer-Songwriter Walker Dies at 78

Jerry Jeff Walker, a Texas country singer and songwriter who wrote the pop song “Mr. Bojangles,” has died at age 78.Walker died Friday of cancer, family spokesman John T. Davis told The Associated Press.”He had battled throat cancer for many years, and some other health issues,” Davis said Saturday.Walker emerged from New York’s Greenwich Village folk scene in the 1960s, and he was a founding member of the band Circus Maximus. He moved to Texas in the 1970s and in 1972 scored a hit with his version of the Guy Clark song “L.A. Freeway.”Walker and the Lost Gonzo Band in 1973 recorded an album live in Texas called “Viva Terlingua” that became a classic of the country-rock scene. Walker had since released more than 30 albums.In 1986, he formed independent music label Tried & True Music and released albums under it.Walker was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2017, undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, he told the Austin American Statesman in 2018.”I guess I took my singing for granted, and now I don’t,” he told the newspaper.In 2017, it was announced that Walker had donated more than 100 boxes of his music archives to The Wittliff Collections at Texas State University, including tapes, photographs, handwritten lyrics and artifacts.Walker’s survivors include his wife, Susan; son, Django; and daughter, Jessie Jane. 
 

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Europe, US Watch Case Totals Grow, Debate New Restrictions

Confirmed coronavirus infections continued to soar Saturday in many parts of the U.S. and Europe. In some cases, so did anger over the restrictions governments put in place to try to stem the tide.Oklahoma, Illinois, New Mexico and Michigan were among states announcing new record highs in daily confirmed cases Saturday, a day after a nationwide daily record of more than 83,000 reported infections, according to Johns Hopkins University.Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said it’s “now more important than ever that people take this seriously.” The 3,338 new COVID-19 cases in her state topped the old record by more than 1,300.German authorities reported a record one-day total of new coronavirus cases this weekend while leaders in Spain and Italy debated how to control the resurgent virus amid public pushback to curfews despite a global death toll topping 1.1 million.In Italy, officials huddled with regional authorities on Saturday to determine what new restrictions could be imposed as confirmed cases surpassed half a million.Premier Giuseppe Conte has said he doesn’t want to put Italy under severe lockdown again, as he did at the pandemic’s start. In past days, several governors ordered overnight curfews in their regions to stop people from congregating at night outside bars and other venues.One such curfew fueled anger in Naples, triggering a violent clash by protesters with police. Italian media said protesters hurled rocks, pieces of broken ceramic tiles and smoke bombs at police while they battled back with tear gas. Elsewhere in Europe, police in Warsaw, Poland, used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse protesters angry over new virus restrictions, and anti-lockdown demonstrators gathered in London’s Trafalgar Square.Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese on Saturday branded the Naples protests “unacceptable” and said prosecutors were investigating.According to Health Ministry figures, Italy’s one-day new caseload of confirmed infections crept closer to 20,000 on Saturday, a slightly bigger daily increase than Friday. The nation’s confirmed death toll, second-highest in Europe after Britain’s, rose to 37,210 after 151 more deaths.Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez plans to meet with his Cabinet on Sunday morning in Madrid to prepare a new state of emergency, a strategy used twice since the start of the pandemic.The first in March ordered strict home confinement across the nation, closed stores, and recruited private industry for the national public health fight. The second went into effect two weeks ago, focused on transit limits in the Madrid area.In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel urged citizens again to reduce their number of social contacts as the nation recorded a new daily high for infections.The 14,714 cases reported on Saturday includes cases from both Friday and Thursday because of a three-hour data outage at the country’s disease control agency Thursday. Forty-nine more people died, bringing the overall death toll past 10,000.The chancellor said in her weekly podcast “if we all obey (to social distancing) we will all together survive this enormous challenge posed by the virus.”Other European countries have tightened restrictions hoping to cope with their own rising case counts.Slovenia closed down hotels, shopping malls and other nonessential shops as authorities reported a record high of both new daily infections and deaths in the small country of 2 million people. Greece unveiled a mask requirement and a mandatory nightly curfew for Athens and other areas deemed high risk.In South America, Colombia became the eighth country to reach 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases on Saturday, according to the Colombian Ministry of Health. Two of the others are also in Latin America: Argentina, which hit that mark on Monday, and Brazil, which has more than 5 million confirmed cases.In the U.S., the virus has claimed about 240,000 lives, according to the COVID-19 Dashboard published by Johns Hopkins. The total U.S. caseload reported Friday was 83,757, topping the 77,362 cases reported on July 16.Many rural communities are bearing the brunt. In Columbia, Tennessee, Maury Regional Medical Center said Friday it was suspending elective surgical procedures that require an overnight stay for two weeks, beginning on Monday. The Daily Herald reported that it was treating 50 COVID-19 inpatients, 20 of whom were in the medical center’s 26-bed intensive care unit.Martin Chaney, Maury Regional’s chief medical officer, said small home gatherings have become the emerging threat through which the disease is being spread in the six-county region the medical center covers.”In our homes, we all let our guard down,” Chaney said. “You think it is safe to not socially distance, and you take your masks off. That is spreading the disease very rapidly.”

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