Monday, November 9, 2020

Joe Biden urges Americans to wear masks to prevent COVID-19 spread

US President-elect Joe Biden

Wilmington [US], November 9 (ANI): US President-elect Joe Biden on Monday (local time) implored American to wear masks in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus and exuded confidence that virus can be brought under control in the country and economy can be rebuilt.

"Maybe we saved the life of a person who stocks the shelf at your local grocery store. Maybe saves the life of a member of your place of worship. Maybe it saves the lives of one of your children's teachers. Maybe it saves your life. So please, I implore you, wear a mask. Do it for yourself. Do it for your neighbour," he said while speaking from Wilmington, Delaware, after being briefed by his newly formed coronavirus advisory board.

He added that wearing a mask is not a political statement but "a good way to start pulling the country together".

"I won't be president until January 20," he said on Monday. "It doesn't matter who you voted for, where you stood before Election Day. It doesn't matter your party, your point of view. We can save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months. Not Democrat or Republican lives, American lives," he said.

He added that he wants to be clear that the goal of a mask is "not to make your life less comfortable or to take something away from you".

"It is to give something back to all of us -- a normal life," he said. "And masks are critical (in) doing that. It won't be forever. But that's how we get our nation back up to speed and economically. So we can go back to celebrating birthdays and holidays together, so we can attend sporting events together, get back to lives and connections we shared before the pandemic," he said. "We have to do this together."

"We can get the virus under control, I promise you. We can rebuild our economy back better than it was before. We can address race-based disparities that damage our country. It's in our power. So let's wear a mask."

Biden on Monday announced his coronavirus task force with three-co-chairs Indian American Vivek H. Murthy, Surgeon General during the Obama administration; David Kessler, Food and Drug Administration commissioner under Presidents George HW Bush and Bill Clinton; and Marcella Nunez-Smith, associate dean for health equity research at the Yale School of Medicine, Washington Post reported.

The US is the worst-coronavirus impacted country in the world with reporting over one lakh daily coronavirus cases.

The United States became the first nation worldwide since the pandemic began to surpass 10 million coronavirus infections. (ANI)

Russia's Mi-24 shot down over Armenia outside combat zone

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Moscow [Russia], November 9 (ANI/Sputnik): Russian helicopter Mi-24 was shot down in the Armenian airspace outside the combat zone, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said on Monday.

Earlier, the Russian Defense Ministry said that a Mi-24 helicopter crashed in Armenia near the village of Yeraskh after being fired at from the ground from a man-portable air defense system (MANPADS). As a result of the helicopter crash, two crew members were killed, one was evacuated with moderate injuries.

"Russian helicopter Mi-24 was shot down in the airspace over the territory of the Republic of Armenia outside the combat zone," Konashenkov said. (ANI/Sputnik)

SCO summit to make statement on countering spread of terrorism including on Internet

SCO Summit 2019

New Delhi [India], November 9 (ANI): Member countries of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) will issue a statement at the virtual summit meeting on Tuesday on countering the spread of terrorism including on the internet, sources said.

Sources said leaders of all eight member countries - Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan will be present during the 20th summit of the SCO.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will lead the Indian delegation.

The annual meeting of SCO Heads of State will be held for the first time in virtual format due to situation created by COVID-19. Russia is the current chair of SCO and President Vladimir Putin will chair the meeting which will also be attended by Xi Jinping and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.

It will be the first time that PM Modi and the Chinese President will share a platform since border stand-off between the Indian and Chinese troops in May. The two countries have held several rounds of diplomatic and military talks over border tensions.

Apart from the eight-member states, the heads of state of four observer states of SCO - Iran, Afghanistan, Belarus and Mongolia will also participate.

Sources said Secretary-General of SCO and the Executive Director of the SCO Regional Anti-terrorist Structure (SCO RATS) will also make their interventions.

Each member state will speak for 10 minutes. The Summit will end with the adoption of Moscow Declaration under the Chairmanship of the Russian Federation, sources said.

Apart from the Moscow Declaration, there will be SCO Statements on issues like the Commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of World War II, Digital Economy, COVID-19, Countering the Spread of Terrorism Including on the Internet and Countering the Drug Threat. There will also be other decisions relating to major projects and initiatives in trade and economic sphere of activities. The report of the activities of the SCO Secretariat and the SCO RATS will also be adopted, the sources said.

They said India appreciates the efforts of the Russian side for holding extensive meetings in the virtual format and giving new momentum to the ongoing cooperation within SCO despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We wish a constructive and successful SCO Summit under the Chairmanship of Russia on 10 November 2020," a source said.

Last week during a weekly briefing, Ministry of External Affairs' spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said that India will host a summit of the council of heads of government of the SCO on November 30 in the virtual format in which prime ministers of the member countries will participate.

India became a member of the SCO in 2017. (ANI)

Young artists organise exhibition in J-K's Srinagar to promote art

Maroof Ahmad, organiser of art exibition "Harud" (Photo/ANI)

Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir) [India], November 9 (ANI): To promote art and culture of Valley, some young artists, in association with the Department of Tourism, Jammu and Kashmir organised a two-day art exhibition called 'Harud' at Nigeen Club in Srinagar on Monday.

Speaking to ANI, organiser Maroof Ahmad thanked the Department of Tourism for the support and said a platform like this was needed to help the young artist and boost their morale.

"We wanted to organise an event like this for a long time, and now that the situation in the Valley is improving, it was the best time to do that. We wanted to provide a platform for people who otherwise couldn't get to share their art with others. This helps in boosting the morale of artists. We want to thank the Department of Tourism for sponsoring the event, and providing us the venue," said Ahmad.

The exhibition witnessed a huge turnout and artists thanked the organisers and the Department of tourism for providing them a platform to showcase their talent.

"This is a big step in Kashmir. I'm thankful for the Department of Tourism for providing the platform. Steps like this help the new talent like us to rise," said the painter Ahmad Kamali who displayed his painting in the exhibition.

Another participating artist Fakeera Mir said more such events should be organised to promote art in the valley.

"Artists from across the valley came here and displayed their artwork. More such events should be organized to promote art and culture. Events like this boost our (artist's) confidence," said Mir.

The art exhibition was also well received by visitors. Some appreciated the uniqueness in each artist's work, and others praised the aesthetics of the art.

"The artworks displayed here are beautiful. Every artist had a unique way of expression. Youth from across Kashmir came here, and they brought an essence of places they belong in their art. I am thankful to the Department of Tourism for providing this platform to the young talent," said Professor Zahoor Zargar, an attendee and admirer of art. (ANI)

Four Afghan police officers injured by blast in Herat

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Kabul [Afghanistan], November 09 (ANI/Sputnik): The detonation of a roadside bomb in Afghanistan's Herat province on Monday has left four police officers with injuries, a Sputnik correspondent reported.

A source told Sputnik that the injured officers were affiliated with the seventh police district.

The blast took place around 09:30 GMT in an area called Braman. (ANI/Sputnik)

New building of Nepal school built by India inaugurated

The new school building built by India in Nepal's Dhanusha

Kathmandu (Nepal) November 9 (ANI): India handed over the newly built infrastructure of Shree Laxminiya Janata Secondary School at Kumhrauda in Dhanusha district of Nepal on Monday.

Built with the Indian government's financial assistance of Nepalese Rs 26.24 million, the new building was jointly ina
ugurated by the representatives of the Embassy of India, Kathmandu; Department of Urban Development Building Construction; Federal Project Implementation Unit, Dhanusha; the School Management Committee; and local representatives.

The India grant, under "Nepal-Bharat Development Cooperation", was utilised for the construction of the three-floor school building, including 15 classrooms and sanitation facilities. It was taken up as a High Impact Community Development Project (HICDP) under an agreement between the Governments of India and Nepal, a release from the Embassy of India stated.

The project is a reflection of India's development partnership with Nepal and complements the effort of the Government of Nepal in augmenting infrastructure in the field of education, the release added.

India has already completed 428 HICDPs in Nepal, of which 45 are in Province 2, including 10 in Dhanusha District. Further, 21 more projects, funded by the Government of India, are under various stages of completion/implementation in Province 2, including nine in Dhanusha district.

The most recent Memorandum of Understanding was signed on March 16, 2020, for Shree Baidyanath Devnarayan Janata Secondary School, Tulsiyahi in Dhanusha. Mukhiyapatti Musarnya Gaunpalika, the implementing agency for the project, is it yet to complete the tendering process. (ANI)

SAIL introduces 'shorter working period scheme' for employees

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New Delhi [India], November 9 (ANI): Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) has introduced a 'shorter working period scheme' for helping employees attain a better work-life balance, a company statement said here on Monday.

The scheme, which became effective from November 1, can be availed by all regular employees upto mid-management levels.

Under the Scheme, employees upto E-7 grade can opt for various shorter working hours options like three days a week, working every alternate day, four hours every working day or half of the working days in a month with a variable pay structure without having any bearings on their facilities and benefits including HRA/accommodation, medical benefits and other perks, as per the scheme.

This scheme is aimed at facilitating employees for self-development, getting opportunities to enhance their knowledge and expertise while managing their working hours/time by making it flexible.

Commenting on the scheme, Anil Kumar Chaudhary, Chairman, SAIL said it will give an opportunity to those employees who want to invest their time in other pursuits and responsibilities, while still being employed.

"SAIL has always been reckoned as a pro-employee organization. The company always adopts strategies and introduces schemes for better employee engagement and motivation. This new scheme is a step towards this and it will give a larger canvas to several employees wanting to invest or devote time to other pursuits and responsibilities, while also being in employment," Chaudhary said. (ANI)

China refrains from congratulating US President-elect Joe Biden

US and Chinese Flags

Beijing [China], November 9 (ANI): China on Monday refrained from congratulating US President-elect Joe Biden on his victory in the high staked presidential election, saying the results of the poll "will be confirmed according to US laws and procedures ".

While leaders around the world rushed to congratulate Biden on his election victory, Russia, China, Mexico and Brazil are yet to officially wish him.

In first response since Saturday, when Biden was announced winner of the 2020 elections, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said: "We have noticed that Biden announced being successfully elected, and, as we understand, the result of the presidential election will be determined in accordance with the US legislation and established procedures."

In 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulated Donald Trump soon after the Republican candidate's win in 2016, South China Morning Post reported.

Asked on Monday when Xi would offer his congratulations, Wang Webin Wang did not respond directly, saying only that China would "act according to international customary practice".

"On China-US relations, we have always advocated that both sides should enhance dialogue, manage differences on the basis of mutual respect, cooperate on the basis of mutual benefits, and to push for the healthy and stable development of bilateral relations," Wang said.

Chinese foreign policy specialists have said they expect tensions between US and China to continue under the Biden presidency.

At times during the election campaign, Biden took a tough line on China, calling Xi a "thug". His campaign has also signalled that he will call out China on its repressive policies in the far western region of Xinjiang.

Wang said China remained resolute in protecting its sovereignty and hoped the next US administration would "meet China halfway". (ANI)

Police arrest 4 people for 'significant damage' in unrest near school in France

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Paris [France], November 9 (ANI/Sputnik): Security forces have arrested four individuals amid unrest that erupted in front of a school building in the northern French Compiegne commune, the local prefecture reported on Monday.

"In #Compiegne, return to calm and situation restored. 4 arrests by law enforcement following significant and inadmissible material damage. We wish the slightly injured firefighter a speedy recovery," the prefecture tweeted.

The security forces and firefighting services arrived at the Mireille Grenet high school, in front of which a group of individuals, reportedly some 20 young people, lit pallets and bins on fire. When police officers and firefighters came to the scene, the perpetrators attacked them with projectiles.

In addition, according to media reports, the attackers stormed a police car and stole several items, including a police helmet and several shields. The items were subsequently retrieved.

In this regard, earlier in the day, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced that the authorities are to consider legislation, under which those who sell mortar fires to amateurs would be charged with a six-month prison term and a fine of 7,500 euros (nearly $9,000). (ANI/Sputnik)

Arjun Kapoor to celebrate Diwali with 'Bhoot Police,' cast in Dalhousie

Actor Arjun Kapoor

New Delhi [India], November 9 (ANI): Actor Arjun Kapoor who is currently in Dharamshala shooting for his upcoming horror-comedy 'Bhoot Police,' on Monday said that he would be shooting for the film even on this Diwali.

The 35-year-old actor will be celebrating this Diwali with the cast of 'Bhoot Police,' which includes actors Jacqueline Fernandez, Saif Ali Khan and Yami Gautam.

"I am not going to meet my friends and family this Diwali and I will be working but I feel blessed and lucky that I am getting to work this year after all that we have seen," he said.

"I think my friends and family would understand the lesser we socialise and the more we maintain distance, it will only allow us to maybe prevail against the virus it's beneficial to all. Even our festivities should teach us that we don't need to be with one another to celebrate. It's the emotion, it's the feeling," he added.

The 'Ishaqzaade,' actor went on to express gratitude for being able to work during the coronavirus pandemic and said that being able to work during this is his actual "Diwali gift."

"I am feeling grateful to be working, lucky to start a film in a time where it seemed impossible a couple of months back. I guess that's a Diwali gift. God has been kind. I plan to spend it in Dharamshala with our cast and crew," Kapoor said.

"I think we will be able to have a basic get together because we are in a bubble while we are shooting. It will be a day off, allowing everybody to connect with their families back home and take it easy and just be happy and pray for an amazing start to the new year," he added.

'Bhoot Police' has been presented by Tips Industries Ltd in association with 12th Street Entertainment.

The spooky comedy has been produced by Ramesh Taurani, Akshai Puri, and co-produced by Jaya Taurani. (ANI)

Delhi BJP Yuva Morcha pledges to plant 1 lakh trees in city

Delhi BJP Yuva Morcha members at the cycle rally on Monday. (Photo/ANI)


New Delhi [India], November 9 (ANI): With crumbling air quality in the public capital, Delhi BJP Yuva Morcha coordinated a bike rally on Monday to advance protection of the climate. At the meeting, they vowed to plant one lakh trees in the public capital.

The assembly initiated from Sadaiv Atal Samadhi Place situated close to Raj Ghat.

All the individuals and members were seen wearing veils and rehearsing social removing standards. The scene was appropriately santised.

To support up the soul of the members, devoted melodies were played at the setting. (ANI)

Durga Puja -- a special bond that connects India, Bangladesh

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Dhaka [Bangladesh], November 9 (ANI): India and Bangladesh have always had a special bonding, which only gets strengthened during Durga Puja as people from both the sides come together to seek the blessings of the Goddess.

Dr Mamun Al Mahtab, Member Secretary of Sampritee Bangladesh -- a civil society organisation that promotes inter-religion harmony in the country -- says it is not just the outbreaks like dengue that happens in this part of the world, but festivals like Durga Puja that connect both the nations.

Describing the common rituals and bonding that countries share, Dr Al Mahtab recalls his travel to Guwahati as the Secretary General of the South Asian Association for the Study of the Liver last year.

"On one fine winter morning, I was standing at the footsteps of the hills, home to the famous Kamakhya temple. Though not part of my liver itinerary, I had to be there, as 'dengue or no dengue', to me it was simply beyond my imagination to be in Guwahati and not visit this famous Hindu temple right in the heart of the city.

One thing that drew my attention as I arrived there, was that there were two queues... I eventually realized that the longer queue was for those who came to offer prayers to the Goddess, while the second one was for people like us who would only offer visit. I witnessed with great wonder how the two different types of offerings by... people across religion were going on simultaneously, without any disruption to the serenity of the temple.

"And then I suddenly realised that it is not only the dengue outbreak that we share between us in our part of the world, it is also the communal harmony and peaceful coexistence of diverse religious beliefs and practices that add beauty to our region."

He goes on to compare the scene with the recently concluded Durga Puja in Bangladesh that happens with similar enthusiasm as in India.

"As I visited the Dhakeswari National temple and Ramna Kalibari in Dhaka city during the recently concluded Durga Puja, I could feel this inner beauty of Bangladesh once again. As delegates of Sampritee Bangladesh, comprising not only of Hindus but also Muslims like me, when we visited the mandaps (dais), we could feel the warmth of the organisers to have us amidst them during their holiest religious festival," he said.

He added that people "could freely move all-around" and even pose for a selfie with the Goddess.

"It was not only me, who was a non-Hindu, but many in the crowd who were there to share the joy of the celebrations. In fact, the COVID-19 has forced the organisers to curtail the celebrations to a minimum this year. There was no musical soiree and the mandaps remained accessible to the people only till 8 in the evening," Al Mahtab added.

The experience made him nostalgic "like old normal times" when in most Durga Puja mandaps in Dhaka people would see two separate queues, one for the devotees who came to offer prayers and the other for visitors, just like the Kamakhya Temple in India.
"Be it Gulshan-Banani Sarbojonin Puja mandap or the Sarbojonin Durga Puja in Kalabagan, the scenario remained the same... And this is not something that we see in Dhaka or the urban areas of Bangladesh only. This is a scenario that prevails countrywide from cities to villages...," he said.

About the violence faced by the minority community in Bangladesh, Al Mahtab said that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina "will not withstand" any act of communalism in a country that her late father liberated and "established on four pillars, one of which was secularism."

"Contrary to the post-Bangabandhu Bangladesh, now we are seeing a continuous injection of all that is good, better and best for a secular society... by a government that not only believes in but also nurtures secularism and the spirit of our great liberation war of 1971 that was fought by the Bengali Muslims and Hindus alike," he said.

Bangladesh is a country with a long history of communal harmony, he further said, adding that this is a land where Sufism prevails over Wahabism and where even the Vaishnavas were patronised by the Muslim rulers: "I see brighter days ahead for a secular Bangladesh, where the forces of evil and the dark will soon be defeated once and forever," he concluded. (ANI)

Nepal President unveils special anthology on Mahatma Gandhi

Nepal President Bidhya Devi Bhandari unveiled special anthology on Mahatma Gandhi with Indian Ambassador Vinay Mohan Kwatra. Photo/ANI

Kathmandu [Nepal], November 9 (ANI): Nepal President Bidhya Devi Bhandari on Monday delivered "maile bujheko gaandhii" deciphered as 'My comprehension about Gandhi' - an exceptional collection on Mahatma Gandhi during a service.

President Bidya Devi Bhandari, divulged unique collection at Shital Niwas, Kathmandu within the sight of Indian Ambassador Vinay Mohan Kwatra.

"The book has been brought out by the Embassy of India alongside the BP Koirala India-Nepal Foundation to appreciate the estimations of the Mahatma's all inclusive lessons with our Nepali companions. It unites unexpectedly exceptionally Nepali points of view on this worshipped worldwide symbol as close to home commitments from 25 famous and recognized characters speaking to a rich cross segment of voices," a delivery from Indian Mission in Nepal states.

"The distribution additionally wants to carry the young people of Nepal closer to Mahatma Gandhi, whose life and beliefs stay immortal, general and applicable for the present world," the assertion further added.

The pictorial collection in Nepalese is delivered to celebrate 151st Birth Anniversary of India's National Father, Mahatma Gandhi and to check the zenith of the two years in length festivities of '150 years of Mahatma'- Gandhi@150. (ANI)

India welcomes removal of Sudan from List of State Sponsors of Terrorism

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New Delhi [India], November 9 (ANI): India on Monday welcomed the removal of Sudan from the List of State Sponsors of Terrorism and Sudan's normalisation of relations with Israel.

"India's relations with Sudan are historic and special, and forged on the basis of shared values and close people-to-people contacts. We welcome the removal of Sudan from the List of State Sponsors of Terrorism and Sudan's normalisation of relations with Israel," said the Ministry of External Affairs in an official statement.

"We congratulate the Transitional Government and the people of Sudan on the signing of the Juba Peace Agreement, and hope that these positive developments will usher in democratic changes and contribute to enhancing Sudan's development, peace, security and stability," the MEA further said.

India's relations with Sudan are historic and special and forged on the basis of shared values and close people-to-people contacts, the MEA added.

On October 27, US President Donald Trump had sent Congress a letter formally informing the lawmakers that his administration has rescinded Sudan's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, Sputnik reported.

In late September, Sudan and the US had reached a deal on signing a peace treaty with Israel in exchange for being excluded from the US State Sponsors of Terrorism List. (ANI)

France welcomes Biden's pledge to bring US back to Paris Climate Accord

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Paris [Europe], November 9 (ANI/Sputnik): Paris welcomes US President-elect Joe Biden's commitment to return to the Paris agreement on climate change, French Minister-Delegate for Foreign Trade and Economic Attractiveness Franck Riester said on Monday.

Last week, the Donald Trump administration officially withdrew from the Paris agreement, claiming that it would undermine the US economy, one of the biggest in the world and responsible for nearly 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Joe Biden, who is projected to win over 270 electoral votes necessary to take the White House, has voiced his intention to rejoin the accord in 77 days and lead the country towards carbon neutrality by 2050.

"The return of the United States to the Paris agreement is a very positive signal of a changing situation. But Europe has an obligation to fully assume its role as a political and commercial power," Riester wrote on Twitter.

The Paris deal went into force in November 2016 to keep the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and limit warming to 1.5 degrees in a bid to reduce the impact and risks of climate change.

The signatories must determine and report regularly its efforts to mitigate global warming. The deal, however, has no compliance mechanism. (ANI/Sputnik)

15 farmers 'missing' after Pak police stop them from demonstrating, petitioning Imran Khan

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Lahore [Pakistan], November 9 (ANI): Farmers protesting in Punjab last week demanding their rights have no clue about the whereabouts of their 15 colleagues who went missing after the police began baton charging their protest and arrested around 250 farmers on Multan Road, Dawn reported.

"In fact, the farmers, who were severely injured during the Wednesday mayhem - when police used the batons, water cannons and tear-gassed - were whisked away to unidentified places and are being treated before release. The farmers knew this (being kept at private police places) for the last three days and it has been confirmed by the Saturday returnees as well," Malk Zulfiqar Awan, president of one wing of Pakistan Kissan Ittehad (PKI), was quoted as saying.

He further said, "We will return to roads shortly. We are observing qul of the martyred leader Malik Ashfaq on Sunday (today). After that, we plan to call the meeting of the district presidents of the PKI and announce next round of protest. It is a fight for our rights and will be fought to the end."

Condemning the police for resorting to baton charge on the protesters, Ch Muhammad Anwer, chairman of the PKI, said, "We were simply demonstrating for our rights. All those who came to negotiate on behalf of the government expressed sympathy to our cause and agreed to our demand being perfectly justified revision of wheat support price to Rs 2,000 per 40 kg."

"We were demanding just a meeting either with Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar or Prime Minister Imran Khan to persuade them on the rationality of our demand. We still have not been able to comprehend why police were unleashed and unleashed with such ferocity. Both Punjab and federal governments must remember that movements for rights cannot be controlled or killed with the police force. The PKI is going to convene meetings of all district presidents to chalk out next phase of protest," he added.

Following the incident, farmers' bodies in the province and civil society organisation have decided to support PKI in their protest.

"The government has killed a farmer but still it's not listening to farmers. I have been to three districts today, attending farmers' meeting and have seen a very high level of anger among them. The soon government take notice of all four issues - pricing of wheat, killing of a farmers' leader, quick release of those still missing and factors behind police atrocity - the better it would be. Otherwise, the farmers may return to roads with more determination and anger," said Farooq Tariq, general secretary of Kissan Rabita Committee. (ANI)

Zambia in talks with Russia on accessing Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine

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Lusaka [Zambia], November 9 (ANI/Sputnik): Zambia is eager to get Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine as soon as it hits the market, the African nation's ambassador told Sputnik, adding that health ministers of the two countries were already in talks on the matter.

"The Russian government has already exchanged correspondence with the Zambian government regarding rolling out of this vaccine. We are anxiously following the process of rolling out of the Sputnik V vaccine on the market so that we can access it," Shadreck Luwita said in an interview.

Russia became the first country to register a vaccine against COVID-19. It started rolling out Sputnik V before the end of the third phase of clinical trials.

Zambia is very interested in the medicine and is waiting for it to go on the international market, the ambassador confirmed to Sputnik.

"The two ministries of health are liaising on this matter," the diplomat said.

He admitted that it had been difficult to schedule any official visits amid the pandemic.

"That's why the issue of the vaccine is crucial, as it will unlock everything, which has come to a standstill," Luwita said.

Zambia has recorded 16,770 cumulative cases and 349 deaths. The incidence is 88.9 cases per 100,000 population, according to the World Health Organization's latest figures. (ANI/Sputnik)

UK govt, social media networks agree measures to tackle COVID-19 vaccine disinformation

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London [UK], November 9 (ANI/Sputnik): The UK government and leading social media platforms have agreed on a set of new measures to tackle the spread of disinformation and misinformation related to vaccines against COVID-19, according to a joint press release published by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and the Department of Health and Social Care.

Ministers have held a virtual roundtable with representatives from Facebook, Twitter, and Google, and the social media giants agreed to respond quicker to anti-vaccine misinformation and disinformation and gave a commitment that no profits should be made from such posts, according to the press release.

"So I welcome this new commitment from social media giants not to profit from or promote flagged anti-vax content, given that making money from this dangerous content would be wrong," Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said in a press release on Sunday.

Government officials also raised concerns about the length of time that misleading or false information remains on the social media platforms before it is deleted, according to the press release.

In addition to tackling misleading information, social media networks will also work with public health bodies to ensure that "authoritative messages" about vaccine safety are spread as widely as possible, the government said.

The UK Department of Health registered 20,572 new positive tests on Sunday, taking the country's case total since the start of the pandemic to 1.19 million. The country's death toll currently stands at 49,044, after 156 new deaths were registered on Sunday. (ANI/Sputnik)

Austrian Chancellor, French President to hold online conference today

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz

Vienna [Austria], November 9 (ANI/Sputnik): Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is to hold an online meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday.

According to media reports, citing the Austrian government, the two leaders are expected to discuss the topic of counteracting Islamist terrorism in the wake of attacks in Nice and Vienna. Other topics will include border security and relations with Turkey.

Macron was originally to visit Austria in person but had to shift to a videoconferencing due to COVID-19 regulations.

Previously, both leaders called for a European response to counter Islamist terrorism in light of recent attacks. (ANI/Sputnik)

Production of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine begins in Australia

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Canberra [Australia], November 9 (ANI/Sputnik): The CSL Limited company started production of the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine on Monday, Australian media report.

Thirty million doses of the vaccine will enter manufacturing in Victoria on Monday, according to Sydney's 2GB radio.

"[The vaccine] is going to be voluntary but we will encourage as many people as possible," Health Minister Greg Hunt told 2GB on Monday. "We are confident that we will have a very high take-up amongst the Australian population," he added.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that it will take CSL about 50 days to completely process the vaccine. According to the newspaper, the company has separate contracts with AstraZeneca and the Australian government for the production of the vaccine.

The AstraZeneca vaccine still needs to be approved by Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Phase three clinical trials of the vaccine are expected to wrap up by the end of this year.

According to Health Minister Greg Hunt, the vaccine will start to be available to the public in March. (ANI/Sputnik)

China exhibits caution at US election result

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Hong Kong, November 9 (ANI): Arguably the world's most important bilateral relationship is between the USA and China. With president-elect Joe Biden to replace Donald Trump in the White House, what are the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) thoughts on the change in reins?

Though a number of national leaders have already rung Biden to offer congratulations, notable among the absentees so far are China and Russia. Certainly the relationship between the USA and China is its most fractious ever, as Chairman Xi Jinping accelerates efforts to influence and browbeat others, and a belligerent Trump has refused to back down.

Ironically, there is both Chinese consternation and handclapping over Trump's past four years. Difficult for Xi has been the business mogul's unpredictability, and among the people there is bewilderment as to why so many Americans support their narcissistic leader. Yet at the same time, China is pleased at the confusion Trump has infused among friends and would-be allies over his controversial policies and style.

The US election campaign has provided plenty of ammunition for the CCP to make its case that its political system is superior. The CCP's compact with the Chinese people is that they will have less freedom but more stability and unity. Indeed, Beijing will have reinforced its conviction that the USA is in structural decline, and the notion that there is systemic antagonism towards China so as to contain its rise.

This election encourages Chinese nationalists to continue belittling Western-style democracy. Thus, Hu Xijin, editor of the Chinese tabloid Global Times, posted on Sino Weibo, "American society is now highly divided, which creates the soil for further political derailment." This is in sharp contrast to the immutable stability of the CCP, of course!

Naturally, it is difficult to ascertain the true feelings of the CCP's innermost core. However, Chinese state-owned media reacted with cautious and measured optimism to Biden's election victory. This approach is part of China's propaganda narrative - optimism over Biden's election, but continuing to peddle the story that the USA as a whole is in irrevocable decline. On Weibo, the US elections were the most-searched topic, demonstrating huge interest there.

The Global Times quoted Xin Qiang, deputy director of the Center for US Studies at Fudan University, as saying deteriorating relations had entered a vicious circle, leading to damaged strategic mutual trust, suspended high-level communication and little concrete cooperation. He assessed "it will take time to rebuild mutual strategic trust".

Similar sentiments were expressed by Jin Canrong, associate dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University: "Biden will be more moderate and mature on handling foreign affairs," and this will usher in a "buffering period" to slow worsening ties.

Nonetheless, Beijing's optimism is certainly not getting out of hand. Jin said, "We should not put too much expectation on Biden, because to contain and confront China is a strategic consensus between the two major parties of the US." He added that "Biden might mean different measures but not a different direction".

There is realistically no expectation within the CCP of a U-turn in American posture towards China, nor even a return to Obama's genteel foreign policy. China might hope for a reduction in trade tariffs, though Biden can use the current sanctions as a useful bargaining chip. Decoupling in high-tech sectors will continue, and there is hope that Biden will appoint officials that are less hawkish.

Biden's China policy should be more predictable, strategic and calculated, rather than Trump's shoot-from-the-hip style. Surely the CCP will be seeking a return to greater stability, something akin to a minor reset in their bilateral relations.

However, things are not so simple. The COVID-19 pandemic - which originated in China - has exacerbated already strained relations. There is strong US bipartisan consensus that China is a strategic competitor, and outrage exists over the incarceration of more than a million Uighurs in concentration camps, state-sanctioned spying, industrial espionage, 5G network domination, political influence operations, debt trap and wolf warrior diplomacy, trade war, illegal territorial claims in the South China Sea, huge investment in the People's Liberation Army, and the CCP's despicable treatment of Hong Kong.

These matters cannot be swept under the carpet; the tide has changed. A Pew Research Center poll revealed that 73 per cent of Americans now have a negative view of China, up 20 per cent since 2017.

Nonetheless, China will do its best to pressure Biden into resetting ties. Biden's son's business ties with China could be one avenue the CCP pursues. The US business lobby will also pressurize Biden, including semiconductor manufacturers, farmers and financial institutions looking for Chinese money.

The Democratic Party under Barak Obama had a poor record of dealing with China, its policy marked by benign softness. There are still plenty of progressives in the party that want to restore relations with China, and figures such as John Boehner, Diane Feinstein, Joe Lieberman and Mitch McConnell have strong financial links there.

The Democrats never owned up to getting it wrong under Obama, and history-denying excuses to watch out for from the party are, "Nobody could have foreseen what would happen", "There at least hasn't been a war", and "If we had treated China like an enemy, it would have become one."

Many talk a good game, but will they follow through? The Democrats may say they will be tough on China, but there is scant evidence to date. Furthermore, Biden will have his hands full handling domestic issues such as rampaging COVID-19 and political discord. With so much going on at home, can he devote energy and time into strengthening America's forward presence in the Indo-Pacific? Will he have the stomach to stand up to China as his pugnacious predecessor did?

Trump clearly identified China as the biggest threat to the USA, something to which Biden has paid lip service too. Although he advocated for closer Sino-US economic cooperation while he was in the Senate, Biden now says China is "the greatest strategic challenge to the United States and our allies in Asia and in Europe". Biden has called Xi a "thug" and promised "swift economic sanctions" if China unduly interferes in American companies or citizens.

Additionally, Biden has declared, "China's continuing oppression of its own people, especially the abuse and internment of more than one million Uighurs, is one of the worst human rights crises in the world today. It can't be ignored. Human rights must be at the core - not periphery - of our engagement in the world." He now has an opportunity to back up his words.

Biden has also vowed to lead an international campaign to "pressure, isolate and punish China". As COVID-19 began spreading, Biden said, "The United States does need to get tough with China. The most effective way to meet that challenge is to build a united front of US allies and partners to confront China's abusive behaviors and human rights violations."

In fact, this should be one of the hallmarks of Biden's presidency, that of multilateral accord. Presumably, Biden will not antagonize American allies and friends the way Trump did. China will be concerned about that, particularly US relations with countries like Australia, India, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Sino-US interests will continue to clash because of strategic competition, but Biden may be able to generate strong multilateral support against Beijing. Indeed, with greater predictability, Biden's China policy may well be more effective. This is the opposite side of the coin to those who say Biden may be too soft on China compared to Trump.

Collin Koh, research fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, tweeted, "Biden could be more worrisome for Beijing than Trump ever was. Trump had been mocked in PRC as helping to make the country look better on the world stage. A Biden admin may also respond better to Beijing's challenge with allies and partners' help."

Many countries, including a number in Asia, will be heaving a sigh of relief that Biden has replaced Trump. The latter cajoled allies, questioned historic friendships and took a transactional approach that left a bitter aftertaste in the mouths of many. Biden now has to allay fears around the world that the USA is in decline.

Critical in these efforts will be the office holders that Biden selects. The strongest contender for defense secretary is Michele Flournoy. She is hawkish, writing in June, "If the US military had the capability to credibly threaten to sink all of China's military vessels, submarines, and merchant ships in the South China Sea within 72 hours, Chinese leaders might think twice before, say, launching a blockade or invasion of Taiwan."

Anthony Blinken is a contender for secretary of state, but Susan Rice is touted as the strongest candidate. However, many in Asia would consider her a "catastrophic" choice. As Obama's National Security Council Advisor, Rice showed little interest in Asia and no stomach for confronting China. For example, when meeting Xi in 2016, she did not even raise the issue of the South China Sea in the wake of the Permanent Court of Arbitration's decision against Beijing.

The Neican newsletter predicted, "US-China relations could potentially stabilize in 2021 after falling to the worst state since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the US and the PRC in 1979. Biden's more predictable and measured approach to China may help to drive this. Beijing will likely be receptive to reciprocal measures to improve relations, such as lifting visa restrictions and opening Houston and Chengdu consulates."

If China plays its cards right, it could extend a gracious hand to Biden, an olive branch, if you will. China knows a period of intense rivalry with the USA has arrived. What it needs is time to build its domestic market and reduce dependency on the West, to continue enhancing its military strength in Asia, and to exert more influence through the Belt and Road Initiative. A more stable relationship with the USA in the interim could help Xi further these objectives.

Conversely, if Beijing feels this approach is making no progress, it may well play hardball, perhaps manufacturing a crisis in the South China Sea or elsewhere to test the resolve of the new administration. China could try to lull Washington into a false sense of security before taking stronger action. This means the USA cannot let down its guard in any respect.

Nonetheless, China will be on guard itself, because Trump still has 70 days left in office. Will he pursue some reckless last gambit? That is a fear the CCP leadership holds, that Trump could go out with a bang. For instance, Washington could send a senior US official to Taiwan, or Trump could charge China of "genocide" or of being a currency manipulator.

In his last weeks, Trump may also attempt to solidify various pieces of policy, including his China stance. Any effort by the Democrats to reverse Trump's last-minute executive orders could set them up to look soft.

Worthy of note is Taiwan, with Trump strongly supportive of this democratic nation with arms sales, for example. Beijing will attempt to slow or reverse that trend. Biden's foreign policy might not be as aggressive as Trump's in its support of Taiwan, but reduced recklessness might help calm frayed nerves on both sides of the strait.

China has weathered Trump for four years, but its grand ambitions are longer-term than that. Indeed, China has already charted its course, as witnessed at the Fifth Plenum last month. Xi's 2021-25 Five-Year Plan vows self-reliance in technology, predicts a worsening external environment, increasing global uncertainty, more centralized control of the economy and a rejection of liberalism.

Beijing does not expect a dramatic turnaround in bilateral fortunes under Biden or anyone else, so it is digging in its heels for the long haul. (ANI)

Tropical storm Eta kills 26 in Honduras

Representative image

Tegucigalpa [Honduras], November 9 (ANI/Xinhua): Tropical storm Eta, which ravaged Central America and moved towards Cuba, has killed 26 people in Honduras and left four others missing, the country's disaster relief agency said Sunday.

Eta moved over Honduras on Thursday as a tropical depression weakened from a Category 4 hurricane that slammed into Nicaragua.

After the storm exited Honduran territory Thursday night, recovery teams have been working to rescue people from flooding, said the Permanent Contingency Commission, adding that more than 1.7 million people were affected.

So far, 26,795 people have been rescued in Honduras, 65,912 people cut off in 68 communities, and 57,258 people evacuated to 175 shelters, it said. Heavy rains brought by Eta also destroyed 21 bridges, damaged 2,384 houses and 100 roads.

Images posted on social media showed people escaping rising floodwaters by climbing onto their rooftops. "We have no idea how many people are on the roofs, on the terraces of the houses. It's an incalculable number, I can't say how many people are waiting to be rescued," the head of the Fire Department, Manuel Zelaya, told local media.

As the water receded, rescuers found the bodies of victims who were unable to escape flash flooding caused by overflowing rivers.

A team from the Green Cross of El Salvador joined rescue operations in Honduras on Sunday, while a helicopter from Guatemala has been helping to search for victims since Friday. According to local media, at least 100 people have been killed by Eta in Central America. (ANI/Xinhua)

COVID-19: Arrangements for virtual 'Deepotsav' in UP's Ayodhya

UP Chief Minister Adityanath Yogi

Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh) [India], November 9: Arrangements have been made for virtual 'Deepotsav' this year in Ayodhya as a precaution against the COVID-19 pandemic, as per the directions of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

"As per the directions of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Deepotsav 2020 that will be held in Ayodhya, there are arrangements for virtual Deepotsav. Due to COVID-19, devotees who are unable to reach Ayodhya will be able to light a lamp in front of Sri Ram Lala Virajman through the website," a tweet from the Office of Chief Minister, Uttar Pradesh said (roughly translated from Hindi).

Uttar Pradesh Tourism Minister Neelkanth Tiwari on Saturday said that Deepotsav will be held for the first time at Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya, "an event which has been pending for the last 500 years".

"Over five lakh earthen lamps will be lit in this year's Deepotsav. And this will be the first time that it will also be held at the Ram Janmbhoomi site, an event which has been pending for the last 500 years," he said, adding Chief Minister Yogi Aditynath started celebrating Deepotsav under the guidance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi after taking the oath of office. "Ayodhya Deepotsav entered the Guinness Book of Records in 2018 and this record was broken again in 2019." (ANI)

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