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

Infectious disease experts are expressing concern about Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to Iraq, given a sharp rise in coronavirus infections there, a fragile health care system and the unavoidable likelihood that Iraqis will crowd to see him.No one wants to tell Francis to call it off, and the Iraqi government has every interest in showing off its relative stability by welcoming the first pope to the birthplace of Abraham. The March 5-8 trip is expected to provide a sorely-needed spiritual boost to Iraq’s beleaguered Christians while furthering the Vatican’s bridge-building efforts with the Muslim world.But from a purely epidemiological standpoint, as well as the public health message it sends, a papal trip to Iraq amid a global pandemic is not advisable, health experts say.Their concerns were reinforced with the news …

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

Church bells rang and a World War II-era plane flew Saturday over the funeral for Captain Tom Moore, the veteran who single-handedly raised millions of pounds for Britain’s health workers by walking laps in his backyard.Soldiers performed ceremonial duties at the private service for Moore, who died February 2 at age 100 after testing positive for COVID-19. Captain Tom, as he became known, inspired the U.K. during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic with his humble endeavor that raised almost 33 million pounds ($46 million) for Britain’s National Health Service last year.The funeral cortege of Captain Tom Moore arrives at Bedford Crematorium, in Bedford, England, Feb. 27, 2021.The service was small, attended by eight members of the veteran’s immediate family. But soldiers carried his coffin, draped in the Union …

Archaeologists Find Intact Ceremonial Chariot Near Pompeii 

Officials at the Pompeii archaeological site in Italy announced Saturday the discovery of an intact ceremonial chariot, one of several important discoveries made in the same area outside the park near Naples following an investigation into an illegal dig.The chariot, with its iron elements, bronze decorations and mineralized wooden remains, was found in the ruins of a settlement north of Pompeii, beyond the walls of the ancient city, parked in the portico of a stable where the remains of three horses previously were discovered.The Archaeological Park of Pompeii called the chariot “an exceptional discovery” and said “it represents a unique find — which has no parallel in Italy thus far — in an excellent state of preservation.”A detail of the decoration of a chariot that was found in Civita Giuliana, …

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

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

Human Rights Violations Eroding Fundamental Freedoms Globally, Bachelet Says

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet warns a proliferation of human rights violations around the world is eroding fundamental freedoms and heightening grievances that are destabilizing.Presenting a global update Friday to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Bachelet zipped through a long litany of global offenders. No region was spared. Few countries emerged with clean hands.     She criticized repressive policies in powerful countries such as Russia, which she said enacted new legal provisions late last year that further limited fundamental freedoms.“Existing restrictive laws have continued to be harshly enforced, including during recent demonstrations across the country. On several occasions, police were filmed using unnecessary and disproportionate force against largely peaceful protesters and made thousands of arrests,” she said.   Bachelet noted problems in the U.S. …

Global Proliferation of Human Rights Violations Eroding Fundamental Freedoms, Bachelet Says

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet warns a proliferation of human rights violations around the world is eroding fundamental freedoms and heightening grievances that are destabilizing.Presenting a global update Friday to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Bachelet zipped through a long litany of global offenders. No region was spared. Few countries emerged with clean hands.     She criticized repressive policies in powerful countries such as Russia, which she said enacted new legal provisions late last year that further limited fundamental freedoms.“Existing restrictive laws have continued to be harshly enforced, including during recent demonstrations across the country. On several occasions, police were filmed using unnecessary and disproportionate force against largely peaceful protesters and made thousands of arrests,” she said.   Bachelet noted problems in the U.S. …

EU, NATO Leaders Discuss Security Priorities for Europe

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg Friday took part in a European Union summit to discuss security and defense priorities for the alliance. Stoltenberg joined European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel at EU headquarters in Brussels where they addressed other EU leaders by videoconference. Ahead of the meeting, at a news briefing with Michel, Stoltenberg said NATO troops are working with civilian efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, helping to set up military field hospitals, transporting patients and medical equipment, among other efforts. He said their main focus is to ensure a health crisis does not become a security crisis. But Stoltenberg said, the main role of the alliance is to act as a link between North America and Europe, and he welcomed the …

US to Release Intelligence Report on Khashoggi Killing

The U.S. is expected to release a declassified intelligence report Friday that blames Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the 2018 grisly murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was a U.S. resident with U.S. citizen children.     Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul Oct. 2, 2018, and was killed by operatives linked to the crown prince. His body was dismembered, and his remains have never been found. Riyadh eventually admitted that Khashoggi was mistakenly killed in what it called a rogue operation but denied the crown prince’s involvement.     The role of the crown prince, often referred to by his initials, MBS, in Khashoggi’s death has been the subject of media reports since late 2018.     …

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

On the eve of the seventh anniversary of the Russian invasion and seizure of Crimea, the United States and European Union have reaffirmed their positions that Crimea belongs to Ukraine.   “Russia’s invasion and seizure of Crimea” is “a brazen affront to the modern international order,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “We affirm this basic truth: Crimea is Ukraine,” Blinken said.   The U.S. “does not, and will never, recognize Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea,” the statement added.   The United States is repeating its call for Russia to immediately end its occupation of Crimea, to release all Ukrainian political prisoners, and return full control of the peninsula to Ukraine.  The U.S. is also calling on Russia to end its “aggression” in eastern Ukraine.  Until …

Kremlin Critic Navalny Transferred to Prison Outside Moscow

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has been sent to a prison outside Moscow to serve his sentence, his lawyer said Thursday, a move that came despite a demand by Europe’s top human rights court for his release.Navalny lawyer Vadim Kobzev did not immediately name the prison where Navalny was sent. Russian news reports have previously indicated that Navalny, who has been held in a maximum-security jail in Moscow, would likely be sent to a facility in western Russia.Navalny, 44, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most vociferous foe, was arrested January 17 upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have rejected the accusation and accused Navalny of cooperating with Western intelligence agencies — claims he has ridiculed.Earlier …

China’s Detention of Irish Businessman Spotlights Global Issue

After two years of discreet silence about his detention without charges in China, Irish businessman Richard O’Halloran finally spoke up this month. His youngest child was only 5 years old when he traveled to Shanghai in February 2019 on what he expected to be a short business trip, O’Halloran said in an interview with FILE – People hold signs calling for China to release Canadian detainees Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, March 6, 2019.While the case of the “two Michaels” has been widely publicized, O’Halloran’s ordeal was little known until he went public this past week. In the interview, the 45-year-old father of four said his anguish had reached the point that he asked the Chinese judge in charge of his case: “Do you expect that I …

French Prime Minister: 20 Regions Under ‘Reinforced Surveillance’ for COVID-19

French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced Thursday that 20 French regions or departments, including Paris and surrounding areas, will be under “reinforced surveillance” for COVID-19 and could be placed under weekend lockdowns beginning March 6 if infection rates do not improve. In a televised news conference along with Health Minister Olivier Veran, Castex said “the health situation in our country has deteriorated,” but he said a nationwide lockdown is still not being considered. French Prime Minister Jean Castex adjusts his protective face mask during a press conference on the government’s current strategy for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in Paris, France, Feb. 25, 2021.Castex said the “virus is gaining ground,” citing more than 30,000 new cases reported Wednesday after several months of between 15,000 and 20,000 cases per day. He also said hospital …

Ankara Seeks Reset with Washington

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is calling for a reset in U.S. – Turkish relations. Relations between the two NATO allies have been strained, particularly over Ankara’s deepening ties with Moscow and its purchase of a Russian missile system. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul. Producer: Henry Hernandez  …

WHO Urges Authorities to Prioritize ‘Long COVID’ Sufferers

The World Health Organization said Thursday that one in 10 COVID-19 patients experience persistent ill health 12 weeks after having had the virus and urged health authorities to take their situation seriously. At a virtual news conference Thursday, WHO’s Europe division released a policy brief that documents how different countries in the region have responded to patients who suffer long-term COVID-19 symptoms. WHO European director Hans Kluge said so-called “long COVID” can bring symptoms that include severe fatigue, chest pain, heart inflammation, headache, forgetfulness, depression, loss of smell, recurrent fever, diarrhea and ringing in the ears.    The policy brief says available data shows about one in four people with COVID-19 show symptoms about a month after testing positive, while one in 10 experience symptoms after 12 weeks. Kluge said, …

Former Serbian Mayor Convicted in Arson Attack on Reporter

A Serbian court has sentenced a former mayor to four years in prison for ordering an arson attack on the home of an investigative journalist.In a trial that lasted nearly two years, a court Tuesday found Dragoljub Simonovic guilty of ordering the December 2018 attack on Milan Jovanovic, a reporter for the news website Zig Info. Simonovic, a member of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), was mayor of Grocka, a municipality near the capital, Belgrade, at the time of the attack.”I hope that this verdict will be the harbinger of more media freedom in Serbia,” Jovanovic told reporters outside the court, adding that he was satisfied with the ruling.Jovanovic and his wife were at home at the time of the attack and had to escape through a window after Molotov …

Police in Germany, Belgium Seize Record 23 Tons of Cocaine

German customs authorities Wednesday announced the largest seizure of cocaine in European history, more than 23 tons discovered in two raids this month at ports in Hamburg, Germany and Antwerp, Belgium.German customs official Rene Matchke told reporters the 28-year-old owner of a Dutch import company was arrested Wednesday in the Netherlands, where police say both shipments were bound.  German officers had first discovered 16 tons of cocaine hidden in containers from Paraguay at the port of Hamburg February 12, following a tip from a Netherlands-based company. German and Dutch investigations led the officials Sunday to seize another 7.2 tons of cocaine at the port of Antwerp.German and Dutch police confirm the two shipments account for the largest amount of cocaine confiscated in a criminal investigation, and one of the top …

Putin Signs Laws Imposing Fines for ‘Foreign Agent’ Law Violations, Protest-Related Offenses

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law bills that impose fines for violating a controversial law on “foreign agents” as well as other legislation relating to protests, such as the financing of rallies and disobedience of law enforcement.   According to the laws, signed by Putin Feb. 24, releasing information about so-called “foreign agents” and their materials without also indicating their status could lead to fines of up to 2,500 rubles ($34) for individuals and up to 500,000 rubles ($6,720) for entities. The law applies regardless of whether the “foreign agent” in question is a mass media outlet or an individual.   The other laws signed by Putin the same day set fines for individuals found guilty of illegally financing a rally at up to 15,000 rubles ($200), while …

France Weighs More COVID-19 Restrictions as Infections, Hospitalizations Rise

The French government Wednesday said the COVID-19 situation is deteriorating in about 10 French regions, including the Paris-Ile-de-France area around the capital, and said it is considering additional restrictions to address the situation. At a news conference in Paris, government spokesman Gabriel Attal told reporters infection numbers and infection rates have started to climb over the past week after declining the week before. He said some regions “require rapid and strong measures.”  He said the regions of most concern are the northern Hauts-de-France region, the Ile-de-France or Paris region, the eastern Grand Est region and the southern PACA region surrounding the city of Marseille. Officials in the Alpes-Maritimes Mediterranean coastal region around the cities of Nice and Cannes on Monday announced a partial lockdown, to last during the daytime over the next …