‘Not a Good Idea:’ Experts Concerned about Pope Trip to Iraq 

Infectious disease experts are expressing concern about Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to Iraq, given a sharp rise in coronavirus infections there, a fragile health care system and the unavoidable likelihood that Iraqis will crowd to see him.No one wants to tell Francis to call it off, and the Iraqi government has every interest in showing off its relative stability by welcoming the first pope to the birthplace of Abraham. The March 5-8 trip is expected to provide a sorely-needed spiritual boost to Iraq’s beleaguered Christians while furthering the Vatican’s bridge-building efforts with the Muslim world.But from a purely epidemiological standpoint, as well as the public health message it sends, a papal trip to Iraq amid a global pandemic is not advisable, health experts say.Their concerns were reinforced with the news Sunday that the Vatican ambassador to Iraq, the main point person for the trip who would have escorted Francis to all his appointments, tested positive for COVID-19 and was self-isolating.In an email to The Associated Press, the embassy said Archbishop Mitja Leskovar’s symptoms were mild and that he was continuing to prepare for Francis’ visit.Beyond his case, experts note that wars, economic crises and an exodus of Iraqi professionals have devastated the country’s hospital system, while studies show most of Iraq’s new COVID-19 infections are the highly-contagious variant first identified in Britain.“I just don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Dr. Navid Madani, virologist and founding director of the Center for Science Health Education in the Middle East and North Africa at Harvard Medical School’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.The Iranian-born Madani co-authored an article in The Lancet last year on the region’s uneven response to COVID-19, noting that Iraq, Syria and Yemen were poorly placed to cope, given they are still struggling with extremist insurgencies and have 40 million people who need humanitarian aid.Christians volunteers decorate streets with the pictures of Pope Francis, ahead of his planned visit to to Iraq, in Qaraqosh, Iraq, Feb. 22, 2021.In a telephone interview, Madani said Middle Easterners are known for their hospitality, and cautioned that the enthusiasm among Iraqis of welcoming a peace-maker like Francis to a neglected, war-torn part of the world might lead to inadvertent violations of virus control measures.“This could potentially lead to unsafe or superspreading risks,” she said.Dr. Bharat Pankhania, an infectious disease control expert at the University of Exeter College of Medicine, concurred.“It’s a perfect storm for generating lots of cases which you won’t be able to deal with,” he said.Organizers promise to enforce mask mandates, social distancing and crowd limits, as well as the possibility of increased testing sites, two Iraqi government officials said.The health care protocols are “critical but can be managed,” one government official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity.And the Vatican has taken its own precautions, with the 84-year-old pope, his 20-member Vatican entourage and the 70-plus journalists on the papal plane all vaccinated.But the Iraqis gathering in the north, center and south of the country to attend Francis’ indoor and outdoor Masses, hear his speeches and participate in his prayer meetings are not vaccinated.And that, scientists say, is the problem.“We are in the middle of a global pandemic. And it is important to get the correct messages out,” Pankhania said. “The correct messages are: the less interactions with fellow human beings, the better.”He questioned the optics of the Vatican delegation being inoculated while the Iraqis are not, and noted that Iraqis would only take such risks to go to those events because the pope was there.In words addressed to Vatican officials and the media, he said: “You are all protected from severe disease. So if you get infected, you’re not going to die. But the people coming to see you may get infected and may die.”“Is it wise under that circumstance for you to just turn up? And because you turn up, people turn up to see you and they get infected?” he asked.The World Health Organization was diplomatic when asked about the wisdom of a papal trip to Iraq, saying countries should evaluate the risk of an event against the infection situation, and then decide if it should be postponed. “It’s all about managing that risk,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19. “It’s about looking at the epidemiologic situation in the country and then making sure that if that event is to take place, that it can take place as safely as possible.”Francis has said he intends to go even if most Iraqis have to watch him on television to avoid infection. The important thing, he told Catholic News Service, is “they will see that the pope is there in their country.”Francis has frequently called for an equitable distribution of vaccines and respect for government health measures, though he tends to not wear face masks. Francis for months has eschewed even socially distanced public audiences at the Vatican to limit the chance of contagion.Dr. Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton’s Faculty of Medicine, said the number of new daily cases in Iraq is “increasing significantly at the moment” with the Health Ministry reporting around 4,000 a day, close to the height of its first wave in September.Head said for any trip to Iraq, there must be infection control practices in force, including mask-wearing, hand-washing, social distancing and good ventilation in indoor spaces.“Hopefully we will see proactive approaches to infection control in place during the pope’s visit to Baghdad,” he said.The Iraqi government imposed a modified lockdown and curfew in mid-February amid a new surge in cases, closing schools and mosques and leaving restaurants and cafes only open for takeout. But the government decided against a full shutdown because of the difficulty of enforcing it and the financial impact on Iraq’s battered economy, the Iraqi officials told AP.Many Iraqis remain lax in using masks and some doubt the severity of the virus.Madani, the Harvard virologist, urged trip organizers to let science and data guide their decision-making.A decision to reschedule or postpone the papal trip, or move it to a virtual format, would “be quite impactful from a global leadership standpoint” because “it would signal prioritizing the safety of Iraq’s public,” she said. 

At Bicoastal Globes on Sunday, ‘Borat’ Could Triumph

When drained of glamour, what’s left of the Golden Globes?That’s one of the biggest questions heading into the 78th annual awards on Sunday night. The show, postponed two months from its usual early-January perch, will have little of what makes the Globes one of the frothiest and glitziest events of the year. Due to the pandemic, there will be no parade of stars down the red carpet outside the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California. Its hosts, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, will be on different sides of the country.More than any award show, the Globes revel in being an intimate banquet of stars. When the show begins at 8 p.m. EST on NBC, with Poehler in Beverly Hills and Fey in New York’s Rainbow Room, the circumstances will test the Globes telecast like never before.Presenters will include Awkwafina, Joaquin Phoenix, Kristen Wiig, Tiffany Haddish, Margot Robbie and Angela Bassett. At least some of them will be present at one of the two locations. Pre-show coverage is still going forward on E! beginning at 4 p.m. EST and on NBC beginning at 7 p.m. EST. The telecast will be streamed on NBC’s website with a television-provider log-in, as well as on the Roku Channel, Hulu with Live TV, YouTube TV, AT&T TV, Sling TV and Fubo TV.Lack of diversityBut pandemic improvising is only part of the damage control the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which puts on the Globes, finds itself dealing with this year. A pair of extensive reports by the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times in the week leading up to the awards renewed scrutiny on the press association and its 87 voting members.While the HFPA has long been known as an organization with members of questionable qualification — most of its members don’t write for well-known publications — and are known for being swayed by high-priced junkets, the reports again forced the HFPA to defend itself.Among the most damning details was the revelation that there are no Black voting members in the group, something that only reinforced criticism that the press association — which host Ricky Gervais last year called “very, very racist” in his opening monologue — needs overhauling. This year, none of the most acclaimed Black-led films — Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, One Night in Miami, Judas and the Black Messiah, Da 5 Bloods — were nominated for the Globes’ best picture award.In a statement, the HFPA said it would make “an action plan” to change. “We understand that we need to bring in Black members, as well as members from other underrepresented backgrounds,” the group said.For some, none of the revelations were surprising. Ava DuVernay tweeted in response to the Los Angeles Times article: “Reveals? As in, people are acting like this isn’t already widely known? For YEARS?”Two-time nominee Sterling K. Brown, who’s presenting Sunday, said in an Instagram post that “having a multitude of Black presenters does not absolve you of your lack of diversity.”“87 people wield a tremendous amount of power,” said Brown. “For any governing body of a current Hollywood award show to have such a lack of voting representation illustrates a level of irresponsibility that should not be ignored.”42 nominations for NetflixYet the Globes have persisted because of their popularity (the show ranks as the third most-watched award show, after the Oscars and Grammys), their profitability (NBC paid $60 million for broadcast rights in 2018) and because they serve as important marketing material for contending films and Oscar hopefuls. That may be especially true this year when the pandemic has upset the normal rhythms of buzz in a virtual awards season lacking the usual frenzy.The Globes are happening on the original date of the Academy Awards, which are instead to be held April 25.Netflix comes in with a commanding 42 nominations, including a leading six nods for David Fincher’s Mank and The Crown also topping TV nominees with six nods. Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, also from Netflix, is also a heavyweight with five nominations.Chloe Zhao, the Nomadland filmmaker and Oscar frontrunner, is expected to become the first woman of Asian descent to win best director at the Globes and the first woman since Barbra Streisand won for Yentl in 1984.Chadwick Boseman, nominated for best actor for his performance in the August Wilson adaptation Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, could win a posthumous Golden Globe. Boseman is widely expected to be nominated for an Oscar.And Borat Subsequent Moviefilm stands a good chance of being crowned best picture, comedy or musical. With many of the leading nominees in the drama category — among them Mank, Nomadland, The Father, Promising Young Woman and The Trial of the Chicago 7 — Sacha Baron Cohen’s sequel could emerge a big winner. Cohen, who won a Globe for his performance in the first Borat film, is nominated for Borat and for his role in The Trial of the Chicago 7.Jane Fonda, a seven-time Globe winner, will receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement. Norman Lear will be honored for his television career and accept an award named after Carol Burnett.

WWII Plane Flyby Honors Britain’s ‘Captain Tom’ at Funeral

Church bells rang and a World War II-era plane flew Saturday over the funeral for Captain Tom Moore, the veteran who single-handedly raised millions of pounds for Britain’s health workers by walking laps in his backyard.Soldiers performed ceremonial duties at the private service for Moore, who died February 2 at age 100 after testing positive for COVID-19. Captain Tom, as he became known, inspired the U.K. during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic with his humble endeavor that raised almost 33 million pounds ($46 million) for Britain’s National Health Service last year.The funeral cortege of Captain Tom Moore arrives at Bedford Crematorium, in Bedford, England, Feb. 27, 2021.The service was small, attended by eight members of the veteran’s immediate family. But soldiers carried his coffin, draped in the Union flag, and formed a ceremonial guard. Others performed a gun salute before a C-47 Dakota military transport plane flew past.A Dakota performs a flyby at the funeral of Captain Tom Moore, in Bedford, England, Feb. 27, 2021.”Daddy, you always told us, ‘Best foot forward,’ and true to your word, that’s what you did last year,” Moore’s daughter Lucy Teixeira said at the service. “I know you will be watching us, chuckling, saying, ‘Don’t be too sad as something has to get you in the end.’ “His other daughter, Hannah Ingram-Moore, said the world was “enthralled” by her father’s “spirit of hope, positivity and resilience.””They, too, saw your belief in kindness and the fundamental goodness of the human spirit,” she said.The service featured music that reflected the man being honored, opening with the rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone that Moore recorded for charity with Michael Ball and the NHS Voices of Care Choir. The song topped the U.K. singles charts last April.Singer Michael Bublé recorded a version of Smile for the funeral, and as requested by Moore, Frank Sinatra’s My Way was played. A bugler sounded The Last Post to close the service.A church in Bedfordshire, England, where the family is based, rang its bell 100 times in Moore’s honor. A post on Moore’s Twitter account invited his admirers to remember him Saturday with a cup of tea and a slice of Victoria sponge cake.Moore, who served in India, Burma and Sumatra during World War II, set out to raise a modest 1,000 pounds for Britain’s NHS by walking 100 laps of his backyard by his 100th birthday last year. But donations poured in from across Britain and beyond as his quest went viral, catching the imagination of millions stuck at home during the first wave of the pandemic.FILE – In this July 17, 2020, photo, Captain Tom Moore poses for the media after receiving his knighthood from Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, during a ceremony at Windsor Castle in Windsor, England.His positive attitude — “Please remember, tomorrow will be a good day” became his trademark phrase — inspired the nation at a time of crisis. Prime Minister Boris Johnson described him as a “hero in the truest sense of the word.”He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in July in a socially distanced ceremony at Windsor Castle, west of London. 

Archaeologists Find Intact Ceremonial Chariot Near Pompeii 

Officials at the Pompeii archaeological site in Italy announced Saturday the discovery of an intact ceremonial chariot, one of several important discoveries made in the same area outside the park near Naples following an investigation into an illegal dig.The chariot, with its iron elements, bronze decorations and mineralized wooden remains, was found in the ruins of a settlement north of Pompeii, beyond the walls of the ancient city, parked in the portico of a stable where the remains of three horses previously were discovered.The Archaeological Park of Pompeii called the chariot “an exceptional discovery” and said “it represents a unique find — which has no parallel in Italy thus far — in an excellent state of preservation.”A detail of the decoration of a chariot that was found in Civita Giuliana, north of Pompeii. Officials at the Pompeii archaeological site near Naples announced its discovery Feb. 27, 2021.The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD destroyed Pompeii. The chariot was spared when the walls and roof of the structure it was in collapsed, and also survived looting by modern-day antiquities thieves, who had dug tunnels through to the site, grazing but not damaging the four-wheeled cart, according to park officials.The chariot was found on the grounds of what is one of the most significant ancient villas in the area around Vesuvius, with a panoramic view of the Mediterranean Sea, on the outskirts of the ancient Roman city.Archaeologists last year found in the same area on the outskirts of Pompeii, Civita Giulian, the skeletal remains of what are believed to have been a wealthy man and his male slave, attempting to escape death.The chariot’s first iron element emerged January 7 from the blanket of volcanic material filling the two-story portico. Archaeologists believe the cart was used for festivities and parades, perhaps also to carry brides to their new homes.While chariots for daily life or the transport of agricultural products have been previously found at Pompeii, officials said the new find is the first ceremonial chariot unearthed in its entirety.The villa was discovered after police came across the illegal tunnels in 2017, officials said. Two people who live in the houses atop the site are on trial for allegedly digging more than 80 meters of tunnels at the site.  

Armenian President Refuses to Fire Armed Forces Chief at Center of Political Crisis

Armenian President Armen Sarkissian has refused to fire the head of the general staff of the country’s armed forces after he was dismissed by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, the presidential office said Saturday.
 
Pashinyan dismissed the head of the general staff, Onik Gasparyan, Thursday after what he had called an attempted coup to remove him, but the move had to be signed off by the president.
 
According to the president’s statement, posted on the presidential office website, the move to dismiss Gasparyan was unconstitutional.
 
The army has called for the resignation of Pashinyan and his government after what critics say was the disastrous handling of a bloody six-week conflict between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh last year.
 

Human Rights Violations Eroding Fundamental Freedoms Globally, Bachelet Says

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet warns a proliferation of human rights violations around the world is eroding fundamental freedoms and heightening grievances that are destabilizing.Presenting a global update Friday to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva,
Bachelet zipped through a long litany of global offenders. No region was spared. Few countries emerged with clean hands.  
 
She criticized repressive policies in powerful countries such as Russia, which she said enacted new legal provisions late last year that further limited fundamental freedoms.“Existing restrictive laws have continued to be harshly enforced, including during recent demonstrations across the country. On several occasions, police were filmed using unnecessary and disproportionate force against largely peaceful protesters and made thousands of arrests,” she said.
 
Bachelet noted problems in the U.S. with systemic racism. She took the European Union to task for anti-migrant restrictions that put lives in jeopardy. She denounced the shrinking civic space across Southeast Asia, condemning the military coup in Myanmar and death squads in the Philippines.  
 
She condemned corrupt, discriminatory and abusive practices in Venezuela, Honduras and other countries in the Americas that have forced millions of people to flee for their lives. She deplored the terrible suffering of millions of people victimized by conflicts in the Middle East.
 
Specifically, Bachelet expressed concern about alleged abuses committed by all parties in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. She called for a credible investigation into allegations of mass killings, extrajudicial executions, and other attacks on civilians, including sexual violence in the province.
 
“I am also disturbed by reported abductions and forcible returns of Eritrean refugees living in Tigray—some reportedly at the hands of Eritrean forces. At least 15,000 Eritreans who had taken refuge are unaccounted for following the destruction of their shelters. Coupled with growing insecurity in other parts of Ethiopia, the conflict in Tigray could have serious impact on regional stability and human rights,” she said.
 
Bachelet called on the Ugandan government to refrain from using regulations to combat COVID-19 to arrest and detain political opponents and journalists. And, she warned of the dangers posed by apparent official attempts in neighboring Tanzania to deny the reality of COVID-19.
 
“Including measures to criminalize recognition of the pandemic and related information. This could have serious impact on Tanzanians’ right to health. I note reports of pushbacks of hundreds of asylum seekers from Mozambique and the DRC, as well as continued reports of torture, enforced disappearances and forced returns of Burundian refugees,” she said.
 
Bachelet noted people in every region of the world were being left behind and excluded from development and other opportunities as the coronavirus pandemic continued to gather pace. She said building trust and maintaining and expanding freedoms were central to global efforts to contain and crush the coronavirus.
 

EU, NATO Leaders Discuss Security Priorities for Europe

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg Friday took part in a European Union summit to discuss security and defense priorities for the alliance.
Stoltenberg joined European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel at EU headquarters in Brussels where they addressed other EU leaders by videoconference.
Ahead of the meeting, at a news briefing with Michel, Stoltenberg said NATO troops are working with civilian efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, helping to set up military field hospitals, transporting patients and medical equipment, among other efforts. He said their main focus is to ensure a health crisis does not become a security crisis.
But Stoltenberg said, the main role of the alliance is to act as a link between North America and Europe, and he welcomed the strong message from U.S. President Joe Biden regarding his commitment to rebuilding alliances with Europe.  
Michel agreed saying he is “totally convinced” the Biden administration offers a unique opportunity to strengthen the partnership between NATO and the EU.  
At a news briefing following the security meeting, Von der Leyen said cooperation with NATO was a top priority, but, reflecting the views of other key EU members, said the bloc, “as a whole, has more tasks for stabilization and security than the tasks within NATO. And for that, we have to be prepared.”
EU members Germany and France have been pressing for “strategic autonomy” within the bloc, particularly after what they called former U.S. president Donald Trump’s ambiguous attitude towards traditional U.S. European allies. They said they believe Europe has to be able to stand alone.
The French news agency reports a draft of conclusions from Friday’s meeting indicates the bloc’s leadership will reaffirm that “in the face of increased global instability, the EU needs to take more responsibility for its security,” but no concrete new announcements are expected.
 

US to Release Intelligence Report on Khashoggi Killing

The U.S. is expected to release a declassified intelligence report Friday that blames Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the 2018 grisly murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was a U.S. resident with U.S. citizen children.  
 
Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul Oct. 2, 2018, and was killed by operatives linked to the crown prince. His body was dismembered, and his remains have never been found. Riyadh eventually admitted that Khashoggi was mistakenly killed in what it called a rogue operation but denied the crown prince’s involvement.  
 
The role of the crown prince, often referred to by his initials, MBS, in Khashoggi’s death has been the subject of media reports since late 2018.  
 
U.S. President Joe Biden talked with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Thursday.  The White House said that during the call, Biden and Salman “discussed regional security, including the renewed diplomatic efforts led by the United Nations and the United States to end the war in Yemen, and the U.S. commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups.”   
The White House readout of the call noted the recent release of several Saudi-American activists and Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul from custody and affirmed the importance the U.S. places on universal human rights and the rule of law. It did not mention the report on Khashoggi.   
 
The Trump administration rejected demands by lawmakers to release a declassified version of the report as the White House prioritized arms sales to the kingdom and alliance with Riyadh amid rising U.S. tensions with Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, Iran.  
 

On Eve of Russia Invasion Anniversary, US, EU Reaffirm Crimea Belongs to Ukraine

On the eve of the seventh anniversary of the Russian invasion and seizure of Crimea, the United States and European Union have reaffirmed their positions that Crimea belongs to Ukraine.
 
“Russia’s invasion and seizure of Crimea” is “a brazen affront to the modern international order,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “We affirm this basic truth: Crimea is Ukraine,” Blinken said.
 
The U.S. “does not, and will never, recognize Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea,” the statement added.
 
The United States is repeating its call for Russia to immediately end its occupation of Crimea, to release all Ukrainian political prisoners, and return full control of the peninsula to Ukraine.  The U.S. is also calling on Russia to end its “aggression” in eastern Ukraine.
 Until Russia reverses its course regarding Ukraine and Crimea, U.S. sanctions on the country will remain in place, Blinken said.
 
In his capacity as the president of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas reiterated EU’s condemnation of the annexation of Crimea, which it says constitutes a violation of international law.
 
The Council reaffirms its “unequivocal and unwavering support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders,” Maas said in a statement.  
    
The statement calls on Russia “to fully comply with international humanitarian law and international human rights standards, including by granting unimpeded access to regional and international human rights monitoring mechanisms, as well as non-governmental human rights organisations, to Crimea and Sevastopol.”
 
On February 27, 2014, masked Russian troops moved in and captured strategic locations in Crimea, as well as Crimean institutions, including the Supreme Council or Crimean Parliament. The council of ministers was dissolved and a new pro-Russian prime minister installed. 

В офісі Зеленського назвали новий час отримання траншу МВФ

«Нам гроші потрібні для макроекономічної стабільності, і, особливо, до вересня. Тому я думаю, що в будь-якій ситуації ми досягнемо домовленостей десь до початку літа», – сказав Милованов

AG: Olympics Gymnastics Coach, Charged with Dozens of Crimes, Dies by Suicide

A former U.S. Olympics gymnastics coach with ties to disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar died by suicide Thursday after being charged with two dozen crimes, including forms of human trafficking, Michigan’s attorney general said. The announcement from Attorney General Dana Nessel came about three hours after a news conference where Nessel announced that John Geddert was charged with crimes, including sexual assault, human trafficking and running a criminal enterprise. The charges were the latest fallout from the sexual abuse scandal involving Nassar, a former Michigan State University sports doctor now in prison. Geddert was accused of turning his Michigan gym into a yearslong criminal enterprise by coercing girls to train under him and then verbally and physically abusing them. FILE – Larry Nassar sits during his sentencing hearing in Lansing, Mich., Jan. 24, 2018.He was accused of lying to investigators in 2016 when he denied ever hearing complaints about Nassar, who is serving decades in prison for sexually assaulting female athletes in a scandal that counted hundreds of victims and turned USA Gymnastics upside down. Geddert, 63, was head coach of the 2012 U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics team, which won a gold medal. He has long been associated with Nassar, who was the Olympic team’s doctor and also treated injured gymnasts at Twistars, Geddert’s Lansing-area gym. Geddert was accused of recruiting minors for forced labor, a reference to the gymnasts he coached, according to documents filed in an Eaton County court. A message seeking comment was left with his attorney. Nessel said the coach used “force, fraud and coercion” for financial benefit. FILE – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel speaks during a news conference in Lansing, Mich., March 5, 2020.”The victims suffer from disordered eating,” Nessel said, “including bulimia and anorexia, suicide attempts and attempts at self-harm, excessive physical conditioning, repeatedly being forced to perform even when injured, extreme emotional abuse and physical abuse, including sexual assault.” The charges against Geddert included two counts of sexual assault against a teen in 2012. Nessel acknowledged that the case might not fit the common understanding of human trafficking. “We think of it predominantly as affecting people of color or those without means to protect themselves … but honestly, it can happen to anyone, anywhere,” she said. “Young, impressionable women may at times be vulnerable and open to trafficking crimes, regardless of their stature in the community or the financial well-being of their families.”  Assistant Attorney General Danielle Hagaman-Clark said the charges against Geddert had “very little to do” with Nassar. Geddert was suspended by Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics during the Nassar scandal. He told families in 2018 that he was retiring. On his LinkedIn page, Geddert described himself as the “most decorated women’s gymnastics coach in Michigan gymnastics history.” He said his Twistars teams won 130 club championships. But Geddert was often portrayed in unflattering ways when Nassar’s victims spoke during court hearings in 2018. “What a great best friend John was to Larry for giving him an entire world where he was able to abuse so easily,” said Lindsey Lemke, now a coach at the University of Arkansas. “You two sure do have a funny meaning of friendship. You, John Geddert, also deserve to sit behind bars right next to Larry.” 

China’s Detention of Irish Businessman Spotlights Global Issue

After two years of discreet silence about his detention without charges in China, Irish businessman Richard O’Halloran finally spoke up this month. His youngest child was only 5 years old when he traveled to Shanghai in February 2019 on what he expected to be a short business trip, O’Halloran said in an interview with FILE – People hold signs calling for China to release Canadian detainees Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, March 6, 2019.While the case of the “two Michaels” has been widely publicized, O’Halloran’s ordeal was little known until he went public this past week. In the interview, the 45-year-old father of four said his anguish had reached the point that he asked the Chinese judge in charge of his case: “Do you expect that I tell my wife to get on with her life, and for my kids to try and forget about me? Is that what you’re trying to do?” O’Halloran, an executive with the Irish subsidiary of an aviation leasing company, traveled to China to help settle a commercial dispute that resulted in the arrest of his employer on charges of defrauding Chinese investors of some $70 million. While not charged with any crime, O’Halloran has been told he cannot leave China until the money is returned to the investors. The Chinese embassy in Dublin told RTE: “In any country, company representatives have the legal obligation to return the proceeds of crime flowing into the company and related yields to the victims.” The embassy added, “We fully understand Mr. O’Halloran’s family’s anxiety and hope they will advise Mr. O’Halloran to cooperate in a meaningful way with judicial authorities in Shanghai to ensure an early solution to the case.” But O’Halloran argued in his interview that the Chinese legal system is “fundamentally flawed.” “To expect somebody to sign documents in Chinese, to conduct an entire interview in Chinese, without legal representation, is just not correct in my view,” he said. FILE – Winston Lord, then-U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia, addresses a press conference in Honolulu, Jan. 25, 1996.The case has attracted the attention of some major China policy experts, including Winston Lord, a former U.S. ambassador to China and assistant secretary of state for East Asia. “I’ve been following the case closely for many months, it’s a very sad, frustrating and cruel case,” Lord said in a phone interview from his home in Manhattan. “This man is a businessman from Ireland, he went to the mainland to try to help the Chinese resolve a case against another Chinese, and he’s been kept in detention — not house arrest, but he can’t leave the country — for two years.”  Lord said China may be hurting its own economic interests by holding O’Halloran. “I already know people who don’t want to be stationed in China, whether it’s pollution, repression, or extreme measures like this,” he said. The detention has also been denounced on the floor of the Irish parliament, where Senator Michael McDowell insisted that “no Chinese citizen would be treated in this way in this country.”Watch: In the #Seanad today I highlighted the ongoing wrongful detention of Richard O’Halloran in China https://t.co/xs8h15ztJ5 via @YouTube— Michael McDowell (@SenatorMcDowell) February 15, 2021″Comparative size of our two countries doesn’t justify wolf diplomacy being deployed against Ireland to try and blackmail this man into doing something unlawful,” he said. McDowell cautioned the Irish government against falling into what he called the three stages of inaction — “the stage which was premature to do anything, the stage which was too sensitive, and the stage which was too late.” 
 

Kremlin Critic Navalny Transferred to Prison Outside Moscow

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has been sent to a prison outside Moscow to serve his sentence, his lawyer said Thursday, a move that came despite a demand by Europe’s top human rights court for his release.Navalny lawyer Vadim Kobzev did not immediately name the prison where Navalny was sent. Russian news reports have previously indicated that Navalny, who has been held in a maximum-security jail in Moscow, would likely be sent to a facility in western Russia.Navalny, 44, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most vociferous foe, was arrested January 17 upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have rejected the accusation and accused Navalny of cooperating with Western intelligence agencies — claims he has ridiculed.Earlier this month, Navalny was sentenced to 2½ years in prison for violating the terms of his probation while convalescing in Germany. The sentence stems from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Navalny has rejected as fabricated — and which the European Сourt of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled to be unlawful.Large protestsNavalny’s arrest has fueled a wave of protests that have drawn tens of thousands to the streets across Russia. Authorities have detained about 11,000 people, many of whom were fined or given jail terms ranging from seven to 15 days.Russian officials have dismissed demands from the United States and the European Union to free Navalny and stop the crackdown on his supporters.Moscow also rejected the ECHR ruling that, citing risks to Navalny’s life in custody, ordered the Russian government to release him. The Russian government has rebuffed the court’s demand as unlawful and “inadmissible” meddling in Russia’s home affairs.Earlier this week, EU foreign ministers agreed to impose new sanctions against Russian officials linked to Navalny’s jailing.Since Navalny’s arrest, Russian officials and state news media have aggressively tried to discredit him, a change from the previous tactic of largely ignoring him.Possible ‘advocacy of hatred’Some of the criticism has emphasized anti-migrant views expressed years ago as he was rising to prominence.Amnesty International this week stripped Navalny of his designation as a “prisoner of conscience” because of those views. “Navalny had, in the past, made comments which may have amounted to advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, violence or hostility,” the organization said in a statement Thursday.The statement denied the move was in response to external pressure, but news reports have suggested Amnesty International was targeted in a coordinated campaign to discredit him.”These were not independently acting activists … these were people who would like to defame Alexey as the most prominent opponent of Mr. Putin,” Vladimir Ashurkov, executive director of Navalny’s anti-corruption organization, said in a conference call Thursday.Amnesty International said rescinding the prisoner-of-conscience designation did not change its demand for Navalny to be freed.”There should be no confusion: Nothing Navalny has said in the past justifies his current detention, which is purely politically motivated. Navalny has been arbitrarily detained for exercising his right to freedom of expression, and for this reason, we continue to campaign for his immediate release,” the organization said. 

Держборг України за січень 2021 року зріс на 6,34 млрд грн – Мінфін

В Мінфіні зауважили, що частка державного боргу в гривні станом на кінець січня 2021-го року склала 38,9 відсотка, що більше на 0,7 відсоткового пункту в порівнянні з попереднім місяцем

European Governments Resist Public Clamor for Easing of Pandemic Lockdown

Months of lockdowns and pandemic restrictions are taking their toll on Europeans, with many chafing at the prolonged limitations on public life. With vaccine distribution now starting to pick up after a sluggish start in most countries, calls are mounting for an easing of restrictions.Britain is first up, with pressure building for easing after a blisteringly fast rollout of its inoculation program that’s already seen one in three adults in the country receive at least one vaccine dose.In a race against a faster-spreading variant of the virus, more than 18 million people in Britain have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, fueling demands for a speedy end to the country’s lockdown, the third since the pandemic emerged.The ruling Conservatives hope the success of the largest mass vaccination program in the country’s history will erase public memories of the missteps and reversals of last year, which saw ill-disguised clashes between the government, lawmakers and medical advisers. There were more than two dozen abrupt U-turns in policy.But a Conservative popularity bounce risks being lost amid squabbling about when and how quickly pandemic restrictions are lifted, according to lawmakers and analysts. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Monday that his government would take a “cautious” approach to easing a national lockdown, with restrictions lifted every few weeks so the impact can be judged.FILE – Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a vial of Astra Zeneca coronavirus vaccine during a visit to a coronavirus vaccination center in Orpington, England, Feb. 15, 2021.The prime minister told lawmakers this week that England is going to start “reclaiming our freedoms” with the goal of removing all legal limits on people’s social contact set to end by June 21. His road map for relaxing the country’s lockdown will see schools reopen on March 8 and some outdoor restrictions lifted three weeks later.Hugs could be allowed in May, he said.For some, the planned relaxation is too fast; for others, too slow. And Johnson’s party is becoming restive. Influential Conservative lawmaker Steve Baker lamented the slow pace of relaxation, saying it “will be a hammer blow for aviation, for pubs, for restaurants, hotels, gyms and pools, the arts and the establishment.”Nearly 70,000 finesAnd many Britons are straining at the leash with breaches of pandemic restrictions rising steeply since last month. Police have handed out in the past year nearly 70,000 fines to people for breaking lockdown rules, according to government data, but of those, more than a third were issued since January 17 of this year.Elsewhere in Europe, relaxation seems a distant dream, but public impatience is mounting with the slow vaccination campaigns, which are likely to have electoral consequences.In the Czech Republic, where infections are surging, Prime Minister Andrej Babis has been criticized for sending inconsistent signals about when coronavirus measures will be lifted.FILE – A man wearing a face mask to guard against coronavirus transmission walks across the medieval Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic, Feb. 25, 2021.The country’s parliament has moved to restrict Babis’ powers to tighten restrictions, and the opposition coalition now has overtaken the ruling party in the opinion polls, suggesting voters are losing faith in the government.Despite the fact that the country’s two-week infection rate is three times the EU average and its death rate of 174 people per million is among the worst in Europe, Babis’ government started to loosen a few pandemic restrictions, only to backtrack as health experts denounced the move.Rastislav Maďar, head of the University of Ostrava’s Institute of Epidemiology, told Politico EU, “Many people are fed up and tired of the political games, and now refuse to respect obligatory lockdown rules.”Some relaxationPartly as a result of public pressure, governments in Italy, the Netherlands and Denmark have all tweaked their restrictions to allow some letup on lockdowns.Starting March 1, high school children in Holland will have at least one day in the classroom. Hairdressers and other so-called contact professions can reopen on March 3. Teenagers and adults up to age 27 can play team sports outside. But a nighttime curfew, which triggered several days of riots when introduced, will remain.Denmark, which has been under a lockdown since December, is lifting some restrictions that will see the retail sector reopen. Older school students are expected to be allowed to return to classrooms in regions with low infection rates.FILE – Carabinieri officers patrol an access road to Bollate, in the outskirts of Milan, Italy, Feb. 18, 2021. Italy’s Lombardy region asked the national government Feb. 25 to send more vaccines north to help stem a surge of new COVID cases.And in Italy, high school students are now returning to class, the first time since October, and bars and restaurants in some regions are being allowed again to serve customers at tables and counters until dusk. But a nationwide nighttime curfew remains and travel among Italy’s 20 regions is restricted.In other European countries, lockdowns and severe restrictions are remaining. Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Germany and France aren’t ready for any serious easing. In Germany, the government is coming under increasing pressure to present the public with a road map out of the coronavirus crisis amid growing anger over the snail-paced vaccination campaign.’We envy you’Only 6% of Germans have received at least one shot so far, compared with about 33% of Britons. That huge disparity prompted Bild Zeitung, a major tabloid newspaper, to splash across its front page Wednesday: “Dear Britons, We envy you!” The paper went on to ask, “When will we be as far as the British are?”The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has been rebuffing calls for a major relaxation of lockdown rules, saying there has to be a significant reduction in the incidence rate to under 35 per 100,000 first. It currently stands at about 60 per 100,000.At a Tuesday meeting with lawmakers from her ruling Christian Democratic party, Merkel said she understood “the valid desire for an opening up,” but that could be done safely only in “four stages of opening, without a yo-yo effect.”