Brazil to Host Copa America as Pandemic-Hit Argentina Withdraws

Next month’s Copa America soccer tournament will take place in Brazil, the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) said on Monday, as it thanked President Jair Bolsonaro for stepping in after original host Argentina pulled out after a surge of COVID-19 cases.
 
The surprise decision, which relocates the competition from one South American coronavirus hot spot to another, means the oldest international tournament in the world will kick off as planned on June 13, with the final on July 10.
 
“The Brazilian government has shown agility and decisive thinking at a crucial moment for South American football,” CONMEBOL president Alejandro Dominguez said in a statement.
 
“Brazil is in a time of stability, it has proven infrastructure and recent experience in hosting a tournament of this magnitude.”
 
Brazil hosted the Copa America in 2019 and the World Cup in 2014.
 
The decision is a boost for Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain who has railed against lockdowns and urged Brazilians to return to normal life.
 
In a separate tweet, CONMEBOL thanked Bolsonaro for “opening the country’s doors to what is now the safest sporting event in the world.”
 
The president’s office directed questions to the sport department at the Ministry of Citizenship, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
 460,000 Dead
 
More than 460,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Brazil, the second highest number in the world after the United States, and the vaccination roll-out has stuttered. But Argentina is struggling with a recent spike. According to a Reuters tally, Brazil has reported 204 infections per 100,000 people in the last seven days, compared to 484 per 100,000 in Argentina.
 
Large protests took place across Brazil on Saturday against Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic.
 
Huge social demos also shook Brazil during the 2013 Confederations Cup but vice president Hamilton Mourao told reporters in Brasilia he did not expect more demonstrations during the Copa America and said he thought Brazil was a “less risky” choice than Argentina. With no fans expected to attend, the risk was diminished, he said.
 
But many others in Brazil, where soccer is a national obsession, were outraged by the decision.
 
“The authorities act as if Brazil had advanced vaccination as in the United States. It will be difficult to cheer for the national team,” prominent journalist Guga Chacra wrote in a tweet.
 
The CONMEBOL announcement comes less than 24 hours after Argentina said its outbreak meant it could no longer host.
 
This year’s Copa America was to be the first featuring joint hosts, but Colombia was removed as co-host on May 20 after a wave of protests demanding social and economic change spread across the country.
 
CONMEBOL hoped Argentina could then host all 28 games or share them with South American neighbors.
 
Organizers had been reluctant to cancel the lucrative tournament. The last Copa America, held in Brazil in 2019, brought in $118 million in revenue.
 
Although no decision has yet been made on venues, many of the stadiums Brazil built or reformed for the 2014 World Cup could be candidates to host matches, with the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro or the Mane Garrincha stadium in the capital Brasilia possible locations.
 
One source told Reuters that venues in Brasilia, Natal, Manaus and Cuiaba will be used. CONMEBOL said it would reveal the host cities “in the coming hours.”
 
The last-minute decision also throws up some complicated questions for the Brazilian national federation (CBF). The Brazilian league was not due to be halted for the Copa America and at least 70 league games are scheduled to be played during the month-long tournament.
 
News reports in Brazil said Flamengo will ask the CBF to suspend the league for the duration of the Copa.
 

Turkish Agents Capture Nephew of US-Based Cleric Overseas

Turkish agents have captured a nephew of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen in an overseas operation and have brought him to Turkey where he faces prosecution, Turkey’s state-run news agency said Monday.Selahaddin Gulen, who was wanted in Turkey on charges of membership in a terror organization, was seized in an operation by Turkey’s national spy agency MIT, the Anadolu agency reported.  The report did not say where he was seized or when he was returned to Turkey. Gulen’s nephew, however, was believed to be residing in Kenya.His case is the latest in a series of forced repatriation of people affiliated with Gulen’s movement, which the Turkish government blames for a failed coup attempt in 2016.  Gulen, a former ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who now lives in exile in Pennsylvania, has rejected the accusations of involvement in the coup attempt.Turkey has designated his network a terrorist group, which it has named the Fethullahist Terror Organization, or FETO.Erdogan announced earlier in May that a prominent member of Gulen’s network had been captured but did not provide details.On July 15, 2016, factions within the Turkish military used tanks, warplanes and helicopters in an attempt to overthrow Erdogan. Fighter jets bombed parliament and other spots in Turkey’s capital. Heeding a call by the president, thousands took to the streets to stop the coup.A total of 251 people were killed and around 2,200 others were wounded. Around 35 alleged coup plotters were also killed. 

Turkey’s Erdogan Under Renewed Pressure Following Mafia Boss Allegations

The Turkish government is facing accusations of arming and funding jihadists in Syria. The allegations are just the latest by an exiled mafia boss in a weekly YouTube broadcast that are putting the Turkish president in an increasingly tight spot.  
 
Among the many allegations being spread by Sedat Peker on YouTube is one that allegedly implicates the Turkish government of arming and buying oil from Syrian jihadists. In one of his broadcasts Peker explains in detail how key aides of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ran the scheme.  
 
Peker, who analysts say once enjoyed close ties to Turkey’s rulers, started broadcasting weekly Sunday videos on a YouTube channel, alleging government misdeeds after he was forced to flee the country.  
 
Analyst Atilla Yesilada says the mafia boss has a growing audience.  
 
“It is huge. He is easily attracting audiences in excess of four and five million per video. And everything he says is scrutinized in the opposition channels. So, I would say everyone knows about what he is saying. Obviously, the most damaging is him opening the 1990s file, the extrajudicial killings,” Yesilada said.
Peker alleges former interior minister Mehmet Aga was the head of a shadowy organization known as the “deep state,” which is said to have been responsible for a series of assassinations of prominent journalists dating back to the 1990s. Aga is closely linked to Erdogan, and his son Tolga is a parliamentary deputy for the ruling AKP, Turkey’s ruling party.  FILE – A photo taken May 26, 2021, in Istanbul, Turkey, shows a YouTube broadcast by exiled mob boss Sedat Peker on a mobile phone.Aga has denied the allegations. Erol Onderoglu of Reporters Without Borders says there is a need for government transparency.
 
“This should be part of a parliamentary investigation first, but I think that it will never be possible without the Turkish government naming some state actors in this period. So, transparency today should calm public opinion today and show respect to victims’ families,” Onderoglu said.
 
But Erdogan is dismissing the allegations.
 
Speaking to his party’s deputies, the Turkish president claimed the accusations are part of an international conspiracy to oust him.  
 
But Peker’s allegations continue, accusing the son of Erdogan’s close confidant, former prime minister Binali Yildirim, of cocaine smuggling, and turning Turkey into one of the biggest hubs for importing and distributing drugs into Europe. Yildirim dismissed the allegations.  
 
Analysts point out Erdogan is experienced at weathering political storms. But analyst Yesilada says, unlike in the past, Turkey is in the midst of an economic crisis and record-low opinion poll ratings for Erdogan.
 
“These are all unmistakable signs of Armageddon for Erdogan approaching. It will really take a miracle to repair the reputational damage that is caused by the Peker videos. The picture that emerges is that this is a government set for personal benefit and for the benefit of cronies and [one that] has completely lost interest in the voters,” Yesilada said.
 
Peker is promising more YouTube videos that he says will share more intimate secrets he claims he learned from spending two decades in the inner circles of the ruling party.
 

‘Tarzan’ Actor Joe Lara Among 7 Presumed Dead in US Plane Crash

All seven passengers aboard a plane, including “Tarzan” actor Joe Lara and his diet guru wife, are presumed dead after it crashed in a lake near the U.S. city of Nashville, authorities said.
 
The small business jet crashed at around 11:00 am local time Saturday, shortly after taking off from the Smyrna, Tennessee airport for Palm Beach, Florida, Rutherford County Fire & Rescue (RCFR) said on Facebook.
 
The plane went down into Percy Priest Lake, about 19 kilometers south of Nashville.
 
The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed seven people had been aboard the plane, CNN reported.
 
By Saturday night, operations had switched from search and rescue to recovery efforts, RCFR incident commander Captain Joshua Sanders told a press conference.
 
“We are no longer in an attempt to (look) for live victims at this point so we’re now recovering as much as we can from the crash site,” he said.
 
On Sunday afternoon, RCFR said on Facebook that recovery operations had found “several components of the aircraft as well as human remains” in a debris field about half a mile wide.
 
Operations would continue until dark and resume Monday morning, RCFR wrote.
 
Lara played Tarzan in the 1989 television movie “Tarzan in Manhattan.” He later starred in the television series “Tarzan: The Epic Adventures,” which ran from 1996-1997.
 
His wife Gwen Shamblin Lara, whom he married in 2018, was the leader of a Christian weight-loss group called Weigh Down Ministries. She founded the group in 1986, and then in 1999 founded the Remnant Fellowship Church in Brentwood, Tennessee.
 
She is survived by two children from a previous marriage, according to a statement posted on the church’s website.

Fueling Box Office Rebound, ‘Quiet Place’ Opens With $58.5M asso

Moviegoing increasingly looks like it didn’t die during the pandemic. It just went into hibernation.  
John Krasinski’s thriller sequel “A Quiet Place Part II” opened over the Memorial Day weekend to a pandemic-best $48.4 million, according to studio estimates Sunday. Including the Monday holiday, the studio forecasts the film will gross $58.5 million in North America. It added another $22 million in ticket sales overseas.  
The film’s performance cheered a movie industry that has been punished and transformed by the pandemic. Paramount Pictures’ “A Quiet Place Part II,” which was on the cusp of opening in March 2021 before theaters shut, was the first big film this year — and one of the only larger budget COVID-era releases beside Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” — to open exclusively in theaters.  
Chris Aronson, distribution chief for Paramount, called the opening “an unqualified success.”
“It’s a huge sigh of a relief and a sense of optimism for sure,” Aronson said.
“Movies, moviegoing, movie theaters aren’t dead. Yes, they’ve been threatened but they’re proving once again that they’re resilient and that people do want to have that communal experience.”  
Many studios have trotted out hybrid release plans during the pandemic, debuting films simultaneously in the home. The Walt Disney Co. did that this weekend with its  live-action PG-13 Cruella De Vil prequel, “Cruella,”  making it available to Disney+ subscribers for $30. In theaters, it grossed $21.3 million, Disney said, and an estimated $26.4 million over the four-day weekend. “Cruella” also added $16.1 million in 29 international territories. Disney didn’t say how much the film made on the company’s streaming platform.  
“A Quiet Place II” will also turn to streaming after 45 days in theaters when it becomes available on Paramount+. One clear result of the pandemic is that the theatrical window has shrunk, probably permanently. Three months was once the customary length of a movie’s run in theaters. The year’s previous best debut belonged to Warner Bros.’ “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which opened with $32.2 million, or $48.5 million over its first five days, while simultaneously streaming on HBO Max. 
The contrasting release strategies between “A Quiet Place Part II” and “Cruella” offered a test case for Hollywood. How much does a day-and-date release cost a movie like “Cruella” in ticket sales? Is it worth it? Without knowing how much “Cruella” benefitted Disney+, a true comparison isn’t possible. But the strong returns for the theater-only “A Quiet Place Part II” are telling, says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for data firm Comscore. He called it a “pivotal weekend” for the movie industry that proved predictions of the movie theater’s demise “flat-out wrong.”  
“That ‘Quiet Place Part II’ did so well makes a strong case that a theatrical-first release for a big movie is the way to go,” Dergarabedian said. “This is the best possible news for an industry that’s been dealing with probably the most profoundly challenging chapter in the history of the movie theater.”  
The debut of “A Quiet Place Part II” was much watched throughout Hollywood as the kickoff to its delayed summer movie season. After largely sitting out the pandemic, or diverting to streaming platforms, a lineup of blockbusters are again queuing up. On tap are Warner Bros.’ “In the Heights,” Universals’ “F9” and Disney’s “Black Widow.”  
Last week, Universal Pictures’ ninth installment in the “Fast & Furious” franchise, “F9,” opened with $162 million in ticket sales in eight international markets, and $135 million in China alone. In its second weekend, “F9,” which opens in North America on June 25, raced toward $230 million worldwide.  Emily Blunt and John Krasinski attend the world premiere of Paramount Pictures’ “A Quiet Place Part II” at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall, March 8, 2020, in New York.”A Quiet Place Part II” had already had its red-carpet premiere in March last year, and spent some of its marketing budget. But it opened remarkably in line with predictions of how many tickets it would sell before the onset of the pandemic.
In the intervening months, Paramount sold off many of its films to streamers — “Coming 2 America,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7” — but Krasinski and the studio felt strongly that the hushed intensity of “A Quiet Place Part II” worked best on the big screen.  
In an interview ahead of the film’s release, Krasinski said a theatrical release was “non-negotiable.” And Krasinski worked hard to stoke excitement, traveling the country in the week leading up to release to surprise moviegoers. Still, given the circumstances, he had little idea whether audiences would come out.  
“As bizarre as the entire year has been is how bizarre whatever opening weekend is,” Krasinski said. “I don’t really know what it is anymore.”  
In the end, “A Quiet Place Part II” performed a lot like how the first one did. That 2018 hit, which ultimately grossed $340 million globally on a $17 million budget, launched with $50.2 million in North American ticket sales. Sequels usually do better than the original but “Part II” had far more challenges due to pandemic.  
Rich Gelfond, chief executive of IMAX, where “A Quiet Place Part II” earned $4.1 million domestically, called the film “the first domestic release this year to cross the threshold from ‘great opening weekend given the pandemic’ to ‘great opening weekend, period.'”
Memorial Day weekend, usually one of the busiest for theaters, still didn’t look like it normally does at the movies. Total box office exceeded $80 million but that’s about a third of the holiday weekend’s normal business. Last Memorial Day, when nearly all operating theaters were drive-ins, ticket sales amounted to $842,000, according to Comscore.  
Many theaters, particularly in New York and Los Angeles, are still operating with social distancing measures. But guidelines are thawing. Last week, the nation’s top theater chains — AMC, Regal, Cinemark — said they would no longer require vaccinated moviegoers to wear face masks. 

US Spied on Merkel, Other Europeans Through Danish Cables, Broadcaster DR Alleges

The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) used a partnership with Denmark’s foreign intelligence unit to spy on senior officials of neighboring countries, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Danish state broadcaster DR said.
 
The findings are the result of a 2015 internal investigation in the Danish Defense Intelligence Service into NSA’s role in the partnership, DR said, citing nine unnamed sources with access to the investigation.
 
According to the investigation, which covered the period from 2012 to 2014, the NSA used Danish information cables to spy on senior officials in Sweden, Norway, France and Germany, including former German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and former German opposition leader Peer Steinbruck.
 
Asked for comment on the DR report, a spokesperson for the German chancellery said it only became aware of the allegations when asked about them by journalists and declined to comment further.
 
Danish Defense Minister Trine Bramsen declined to comment on “speculation” about intelligence matters in the media. “I can more generally say that this government has the same attitude as the former Prime Minister expressed in 2013 and 2014 – systematic wiretapping of close allies is unacceptable,” Bramsen told Reuters in a statement.
 
In Washington, the NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) declined to comment. A spokesperson for the Danish Defense Intelligence Service also declined to comment.
 
Denmark, a close ally of the United States, hosts several key landing stations for subsea internet cables to and from Sweden, Norway, Germany, Holland and Britain.
 
Through targeted retrievals and the use of NSA-developed analysis software known as Xkeyscore, NSA intercepted both calls, texts and chat messages to and from telephones of officials in the neighboring countries, sources told DR.
 
The internal investigation in the Danish Defense Intelligence Service was launched in 2014 following concerns about former NSA employee Edward Snowden’s leaks the previous year revealing how the NSA works, according to DR.
 
Snowden fled the United States after leaking secret NSA files in 2013 and was given asylum in Russia.
 
Following DR’s report, Snowden posted a cryptic Danish-language comment on Twitter saying: “If only there had been some reason to investigate many years ago. Oh why didn’t anyone warn us?”
 
Steinbruck told German broadcaster ARD he thought it was “grotesque that friendly intelligence services are indeed intercepting and spying on top representatives” of other countries.
 
“Politically I consider it a scandal,” he said.  
 
Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist told Swedish SVT broadcaster that he “demanded full information”. Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen told broadcaster NRK that he took the allegations seriously.
 
In Paris, French Minister for European Affairs Clement Beaune told France Info radio that the DR report needed to be checked and that, if confirmed, it would be a “serious” matter.
 
“These potential facts, they are serious, they must be checked,” he said, adding there could be “some diplomatic protests.”
 
A decision in August last year to suspend the head of the Danish Defense Intelligence Service and three other officials following criticism and accusations of serious wrongdoings from an independent board overseeing the agency centered on the 2015 investigation, according to DR.
 
Denmark said last year it would initiate an investigation into the case based on information from a whistleblower report.
 
That investigation is expected to be concluded later this year.

Brazil’s Castroneves Wins Indianapolis 500 for 4th Time

Helio Castroneves won the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday for a record-equaling fourth time, in front of the largest crowd to attend a sporting event in the United States since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.The 46-year-old Brazilian surged to the front with two laps to go and held off a challenge from hard-charging Spanish young gun Alex Palou to claim victory and join AJ Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser as the only four-time winners of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”It was the 21st Indy 500 start for Castroneves but his first with Meyer Shank Racing, his other wins in 2001, 2002 and 2009 all coming with Team Penske.With the race back in its traditional U.S. Memorial Day holiday weekend slot, after last year’s event was moved to August and held at an empty track because of the pandemic, a sold-out crowd of 135,000 excited fans flocked to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.While the crowd was well shy of the nearly 400,000 that the speedway can accommodate, the roars returned to the Brickyard as fans partied in the sunshine.
 

Far-Right Party, Centrist Group Gain Big in Cyprus Poll

The far-right ELAM party and a centrist splinter group made big gains in Cyprus’ parliamentary election on Sunday as a sizeable chunk of supporters appeared to have turned their back on the top three parties amid voter disenchantment with traditional power centers.With 100% of votes counted, ELAM garnered 6.78% of the vote — a 3% increase from the previous election in 2016 — to edge out the socialist EDEK party by the razor-thin margin of around 200 votes.The centrist DIPA — made up of key figures from the center-right DIKO party which has traditionally been the third biggest party — gained 6.1% of the vote.The center-right DISY emerged in first place with 27.77% of the vote, 5.4% more than second-place, communist-rooted AKEL. But the parties respectively lost 2.9% and 3.3% of their support from the previous election.“The result isn’t what we expected,” AKEL General-Secretary Andros Kyprianou told a party rally. “We respect it and we’ll examine it carefully to draw conclusions, but we can now say that we failed to convince (our supporters).”Analyst Christoforos Christoforou said the results indicate a “very big failure” on the part of both DISY and AKEL to rally more supporters by convincing them of the benefits of their policies. A last-ditch appeal by the DISY leadership limited a projected 5% voter loss to 3%.Christoforou said the real winners were ELAM with its strident anti-migration platform and hardline nationalist policies and DIPA whose top echelons still have connections to the centers of political power as former ministers and lawmakers.He said that the high electoral threshold of 3.6% means that 15,000 voters who cast ballots for smaller parties who didn’t win any seats are left without a voice in parliament.Opinion polls in the weeks preceding the vote indicated that both DISY and AKEL would hemorrhage support as disappointed voters seek out alternatives among smaller parties.The election won’t affect the running of the government on the divided Mediterranean island nation, as executive power rests in the hands of the president, who is elected separately.About 65.73% of nearly 558,000 eligible voters cast ballots for the 56 Greek Cypriot seats in parliament. Voter turnout was 1% less than the previous poll.Among the key campaign issues were the country’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the hoped-for economic reboot as the country ramps up vaccinations. Migration has also been an issue as the Cypriot government insists it has exceeded its limits and can no longer receive more migrants.Smaller parties have appealed to voters to turn their backs on DISY, which they said is burdened by a legacy of corruption.An independent investigation into Cyprus’ now-defunct investment-for-citizenship program found that the government unlawfully granted passports to thousands of relatives of wealthy investors, some with shady pasts. DISY bore the brunt of the criticism because it backs the policies of Anastasiades, the party’s former leader.Christoforou said there are questions as to whether the government has breached rules by using state funds to campaign for DISY.
 

Georgia Opposition Ends Parliamentary Boycott

Georgia’s main opposition party on Sunday announced the end of a months-long parliamentary boycott that has plunged the Caucasus nation into a spiraling political crisis, following disputed elections last year.Georgia’s opposition parties have denounced massive fraud in the October 31 parliamentary elections, which were won narrowly by the ruling Georgian Dream party.In the months since, they have staged numerous mass protests, demanding snap polls and refused to assume their seats in the newly elected parliament.The boycott that has left around 40 seats vacant in the 150-seat legislature weighed heavily on Georgian Dream’s political legitimacy.On Sunday, Georgia’s main opposition force — the United National Movement (UNM) founded by exiled ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili — said it had taken the decision to end the boycott.”We will enter parliament to liberate the Georgian state captured by oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili,” UNM chairman Nika Melia told journalists.He was referring to the billionaire founder of the ruling party, who is widely believed to be the man in charge in Georgia, despite having no official political role.The post-electoral stalemate worsened in February after police arrested Melia in a violent raid on his party headquarters, leading to the prime minister’s resignation and prompting swift condemnation from the West.Melia was released from pre-trial detention in May, on bail posted by the European Union.The move was part of an agreement Georgian Dream and the opposition signed in April under the European Council President Charles Michel’s mediation.The deal commits opposition parties to enter parliament, while Georgian Dream has promised sweeping political, electoral and judicial reforms.In power since 2012, Georgian Dream and its founder Ivanishvili — Georgia’s richest man — have faced mounting criticism from the West over the country’s worsening democratic record.Critics accuse Ivanishvili of persecuting political opponents and creating a corrupt system where private interests permeate politics.
 

Belarus News Site Editor Arrested Over Extremism Suspicions 

The chief editor of a popular internet news site in one of Belarus’ largest cities was detained Sunday on suspicion of extremism. The arrest Sunday of Hrodna.life editor Aliaksei Shota comes amid a crackdown on independent journalists and opponents of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko. The publication focuses on Belarus’ fifth-largest city, Grodno. City police said the website “posted information products that were duly recognized as extremist,” but didn’t give details. It wasn’t immediately clear if Shota had been formally charged with extremism, which can carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years. Shota had collaborated with the country’s most popular internet portal Tut.by, which authorities closed this month after arresting 15 employees. Belarusian journalist Raman Pratasevich stands in an airport bus in the international airport outside Minsk, Belarus, May 23, 2021, in this photo released by Telegram Chanel t.me/motolkohelp. He was arrested shortly thereafter.Belarus’ crackdown escalated a week ago with the arrest of dissident journalist Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend who were aboard a commercial flight that was diverted to the Minsk airport because of an alleged bomb threat. The flight was flying over Belarus en route from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania. The move sparked wide denunciation in the West as an act of hijacking and demands for Pratasevich’s release. The European Union banned flights from Belarus. Pratasevich is charged with organizing riots, a charge that carries a potential sentence of 15 years. The day after his arrest, authorities released a brief video in which Pratasevich said he was confessing, but observers said the statement appeared to be forced. The Belarusian human rights group Viasna said Sunday that Pratasevich had received a package from his sister but that an unspecified book had been taken from it. Large protests broke out last August after a presidential election that officials said overwhelmingly gave a sixth term in office to Lukashenko, who has consistently repressed opposition since coming to power in 1994. Police detained more than 30,000 people in the course of the protests, which persisted for months. Although protests died down during the winter, authorities have continued strong actions against opposition supporters and independent journalists.  

Egypt Bets on Ancient Finds to Pull Tourism out of Pandemic 

Workers dig and ferry wheelbarrows laden with sand to open a new shaft at a bustling archaeological site outside of Cairo, while a handful of Egyptian archaeologists supervise from garden chairs. The dig is at the foot of the Step Pyramid of Djoser, arguably the world’s oldest pyramid, and is one of many recent excavations that are yielding troves of ancient artifacts from the country’s largest archaeological site.   As some European countries re-open to international tourists, Egypt has already been trying for months to attract them to its archaeological sites and museums. Officials are betting that the new ancient discoveries will set it apart on the mid- and post-pandemic tourism market. They need visitors to come back in force to inject cash into the tourism industry, a pillar of the economy.   But like countries elsewhere, Egypt continues to battle the coronavirus, and is struggling to get its people vaccinated. The country has, up until now, received only 5 million vaccines for its population of 100 million people, according to its Health Ministry. In early May, the government announced that 1 million people had been vaccinated, though that number is believed to be higher now.   In the meantime, authorities have kept the publicity machine running, focused on the new discoveries.   In November, archaeologists announced the discovery of at least 100 ancient coffins dating back to the Pharaonic Late Period and Greco-Ptolemaic era, along with 40 gilded statues found 2,500 years after they were first buried. That came a month after the discovery of 57 other coffins at the same site, the necropolis of Saqqara that includes the step pyramid.   “Saqqara is a treasure,” said Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled el-Anany while announcing the November discovery, estimating that only 1% of what the site contains has been unearthed so far.   “Our problem now is that we don’t know how we can possibly wow the world after this,” he said.   If they don’t, it certainly won’t be for lack of trying.  FILE – Dr. Zahi Hawass, the renowned Egyptian archeologist credited with discovering the site, leads a media tour of the roughly 3,000-year-old “lost golden city” in Luxor, Egypt, Apr. 10, 2021. (Hamada Elrasam/VOA)In April, Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s best-known archaeologist, announced the discovery of a 3,000-year-old lost city in southern Luxor, complete with mud brick houses, artifacts and tools from pharaonic times. It dates to Amenhotep III of the 18th dynasty, whose reign (1390–1353 B.C.) is considered a golden era for ancient Egypt.   That discovery was followed by a made-for-TV parade celebrating the transport of 22 of the country’s prized royal mummies from central Cairo to their new resting place in a massive facility farther south in the capital, the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization.   The Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh is now home to an archaeological museum, as is Cairo’s International Airport, both opened in recent months. And officials have also said they still plan to open the massive new Grand Egyptian Museum next to the Giza Pyramids by January, after years of delays. Entrance fees for archeological sites have been lowered, as has the cost of tourist visas.   The government has for years played up its ancient history as a selling point, as part of a yearslong effort to revive the country’s battered tourism industry. It was badly hit during and after the popular uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak and the ensuring unrest. The coronavirus dealt it a similar blow, just as it was getting back on its feet.   In 2019, foreign tourism’s revenue stood at $13 billion. Egypt received some 13.1 million foreign tourists — reaching pre-2011 levels for the first time. But in 2020, it greeted only 3.5 million foreign tourists, according to the minister el-Anany.   At the newly opened National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, Mahmoud el-Rays, a tour guide, was leading a small group of European tourists at the hall housing the royal mummies.   “2019 was a fantastic year,” he said. “But corona reversed everything. It is a massive blow.”   Tourism traffic strengthened in the first months of 2021, el-Anany, the minister, told The Associated Press in a recent interview, though he did not give specific figures. He was optimistic that more would continue to come year-round.   “Egypt is a perfect destination for post-COVID in that our tourism is really an open-air tourism,” he said.   But it remains to be seen if the country truly has the virus under control. It has recorded a total of 14,950 deaths from the virus and is still seeing more than a thousand new cases daily. Like other countries, the real numbers are believed to be much higher. In Egypt, though, authorities have arrested doctors and silenced critics who questioned the government’s response, so there are fears that information on the true cost of the virus may have been suppressed from the beginning.   Egypt also had a trying experience early on in the pandemic, when it saw a coronavirus outbreak on one of its Nile River cruise boats. It first closed its borders completely until the summer of 2020, but later welcomed tourists back, first to Red-Sea resort towns and now to the heart of the country — Cairo and the Nile River Valley that hosts most of its famous archaeological sites. Visitors still require a negative COVID-19 test result to enter the country.   In a further cause for optimism, Russia said in April that it plans to resume direct flights to Egypt’s Red Sea resort towns. Moscow stopped the flights after the local Islamic State affiliate bombed a Russian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula in October 2015, killing all on board.   Amanda, a 36-year-old engineer from Austria, returned to Egypt in May. It was her second visit in four years. She visited the Egyptian Museum, the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization and Islamic Cairo, in the capital’s historic center.   She had planned to come last year, but the pandemic interfered.   “Once they opened, I came,” she said. “It was my dream to see the Pyramids again.”   El-Rays, the tour guide, says that while he’s seeing tourists starting to come in larger numbers, he knows a full recovery will not happen overnight.   “It will take some time to return to before corona,” he said.  

Ukrainian Ambassador in Thailand Dies on Resort Island

The Ukrainian ambassador to Thailand collapsed and died on Sunday while on a resort island with his family, authorities said.Andrii Beshta, 44, was declared dead on Lipe Island in southern Satun province, Gov. Ekkarat Leesen told The Associated Press.Police quoted his teenage son, who was staying in the same hotel room, as saying his father vomited and fainted early Sunday. He said he was feeling fine before. Police said they suspect he may have suffered a heart failure.Leesen said the body was sent to the police hospital for an autopsy.Beshta had assumed the post of ambassador in January 2016. He is survived by his wife, daughter and two sons, according to a bio on the embassy’s website.

Actor MacLeod, ‘Love Boat’ Captain, Dies at 90 

Gavin MacLeod, the veteran supporting actor who achieved stardom as Murray Slaughter, the sardonic TV news writer on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” before going on to even bigger fame as the cheerful Captain Stubing on “The Love Boat,” has died. He was 90. MacLeod died early Saturday, his nephew, Mark See, told Variety. MacLeod’s health had been poor recently, but no cause of death was given, the trade publication reported. Known to sitcom fans for his bald head and wide smile, MacLeod toiled in near anonymity for more than a decade, appearing on dozens of TV shows and in several movies before landing his “Mary Tyler Moore” role in 1970. He had originally tested for Moore’s TV boss, Lou Grant, a part that went to Ed Asner. Realizing he wasn’t right for playing the blustery, short-tempered TV newsroom leader, MacLeod asked if he could try instead for the wisecracking TV news writer, whose jokes were often made at the expense of dimwitted anchorman Ted Baxter. “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was a smash from the start and remains a classic of situation comedies. It produced two spinoffs, “Rhoda” and “Phyllis,” starring Valerie Harper and Cloris Leachman, who had portrayed Mary’s neighbors. It was still top-rated when Moore, who played news producer Mary Richards, decided to end it after seven seasons. MacLeod moved on to “The Love Boat,” a romantic comedy in which guest stars, from Gene Kelly to Janet Jackson, would come aboard for a cruise and fall in love with one another. Although scorned by critics, the series proved immensely popular, lasting 11 seasons and spinning off several TV movies, including two in which MacLeod remained at the cruise ship’s helm. It also resulted in his being hired as a TV pitchman for Princess Cruise Lines. “The critics hated it. They called it mindless TV, but we became goodwill ambassadors,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2013. Private strugglesMacLeod’s lighthearted screen persona was in contrast to his private life. In his 2013 memoir, This Is Your Captain Speaking, MacLeod acknowledged that he had struggled with alcoholism in the 1960s and ’70s. He also wrote that losing his hair at an early age made it hard for him to find work as an actor. “I went all over town looking for an agent, but no one was interested in representing a young man with a bald head,” he wrote. “I knew what I needed to do. I needed to buy myself a hairpiece.” A toupee changed his luck “pretty quickly.” By middle age, he didn’t need the toupee.MacLeod, whose given name was Allan See, took his first name from a French movie and his last from a drama teacher at New York’s Ithaca College who had encouraged him to pursue an acting career. After college, the Mount Kisco, New York-native became a supporting player in “A Hatful of Rain” and other Broadway plays, and in such films as “I Want to Live!” and “Operation Petticoat.” He made guest appearances on TV shows throughout the 1960s, including “Hogan’s Heroes,” “Hawaii Five-O” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” He also appeared on “McHale’s Navy” from 1962 to 1964 as seaman Joseph “Happy” Haines.He auditioned for the role of Archie Bunker in “All in the Family.” But he quickly realized that the character, immortalized by Carroll O’Connor, was wrong for him. “Immediately I thought, ‘This is not the script for me. The character is too much of a bigot.’ I can’t say these things,” MacLeod wrote in his memoir. Other movie credits included “Kelly’s Heroes,” “The Sand Pebbles” and “The Sword of Ali Baba.” MacLeod had four children with his first wife, Joan Rootvik, whom he divorced in 1972. He was the son of an alcoholic and his drinking problems helped lead to a second divorce, from Patti Steele. But after MacLeod quit drinking, he and Steele remarried in 1985. The couple later hosted a Christian radio show called “Back on Course: A Ministry for Marriages.” 

British Prime Minister Weds Fiancee in Secret, Reports Say 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson married his fiancee, Carrie Symonds, in a secret ceremony at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday, The Sun and Mail on Sunday newspapers reported.A spokeswoman for Johnson’s Downing Street office declined to comment on the reports.Both newspapers said that guests were invited at the last minute to the central London ceremony, and that even senior members of Johnson’s office were unaware of the wedding plans.Weddings in England are currently limited to 30 people because of COVID-19 restrictions.The Catholic cathedral was suddenly locked down at 1:30 p.m. (1230 GMT) and Symonds, 33, arrived 30 minutes later in a limo, in a long white dress with no veil, both reports said.Johnson, 56, and Symonds, 33, have been living together in Downing Street since Johnson became prime minister in 2019.Last year they announced they were engaged and that they were expecting a child, and their son, Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas Johnson, was born in April 2020.Earlier this month the Sun had reported that wedding invitations had been sent to friends and family for July 2022.Johnson has a complicated private life. He was once sacked from the Conservative Party’s policy team while in opposition for lying about an extramarital affair. He has been divorced twice and refuses to say how many children he has fathered.Johnson’s last marriage was to Marina Wheeler, a lawyer. They had four children together but announced in September 2018 that they had separated.

France Reports Drop in COVID Hospitalizations

France reported Saturday that the number of people in intensive care units with COVID-19 had fallen by 76 to 3,028, while the overall number of people in hospital with the disease had fallen by 425 to 16,847.Both numbers have been on a downward trend in recent weeks.While reporting 10,675 new cases, the health ministry also announced 68 new coronavirus deaths in hospitals and said there had been 487,309 COVID-19 vaccine injections over the past 24 hours.

Talks Between Russian, Belarusian Leaders Continue Into Second Day: TASS

Talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko in the southern Russian town of Sochi continued into a second day on Saturday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
 
Lukashenko flew into Russia on Friday for talks with Putin amid an uproar in Europe over the grounding of a passenger plane in Minsk and the arrest of a dissident blogger.
 
“Discussion between the two presidents continue today,” Peskov was quoted as saying by TASS news agency.