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Facebook Says It Will Lift Australian News Ban Soon

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CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Facebook said on Tuesday it will lift its ban on Australians sharing news after it struck a deal with Australia’s government on legislation that would make digital giants pay for journalism.

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Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook confirmed that they have agreed on amendments to proposed legislation to require the social network and Google to pay for Australian news that they feature.

Facebook’s cooperation is a major victory in Australian efforts to make the two gateways to the Internet pay for the journalism that they use. The company had blocked Australian users from accessing and sharing news last week after the House of Representatives passed the draft law late Wednesday.

The amended version of the proposed legislation would give digital platforms one month’s notice before they are formally designated under the code. That would give those involved more time to broker agreements before they are forced to enter the binding arbitration arrangements required by the proposed law.

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Initially, the Facebook news blockade cut access — at least temporarily — to government pandemic, public health and emergency services, sparking public outrage.

A statement Tuesday by Campbell Brown, Facebook’s vice president for news partnerships, said the deal allows the company to choose which publishers it will support, including small and local ones.

“We’re restoring news on Facebook in Australia in the coming days. Going forward, the government has clarified we will retain the ability to decide if news appears on Facebook so that we won’t automatically be subject to a forced negotiation,” Brown said.

Frydenberg described the agreed upon amendments as “clarifications” of the government’s intent. He said his negotiations with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg were “difficult.”

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“There is no doubt that Australia has been a proxy battle for the world,” Frydenberg said.

“Facebook and Google have not hidden the fact that they know that the eyes of the world are on Australia and that is why they have sought to get a code here that is workable,” he added, referring to the proposed News Media Bargaining Code.

The code was designed to curb the bargaining dominance of Facebook and Google in their negotiations with Australian news providers by requiring a negotiation safety net in the form of an arbitration panel. The digital giants would not be able to abuse their overwhelming negotiating positions by making take-it-or-leave-it payment offers to news businesses for their journalism. In case of a standoff, the panel would make a binding decision on a winning offer.

Swinburne University senior lecturer on media Belinda Barnet said the proposed amendments guarantee Facebook time to strike deals before the arbitration panel decides on a price for news.

Peter Lewis, director of the Australia Institute’s Center for Responsible Technology, a think tank, said in a statement that the “amendments keep the integrity of the media code intact.”

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Google also had threatened to remove its search functions from Australia because it said the proposed law was unworkable. But that threat has faded.

Google has been signing up Australia’s largest media companies in content licensing deals through its News Showcase model.

The platform says it has deals with more than 50 Australian titles through Showcase and more than 500 publishers globally using the model which was launched in October.

Facebook said it will now negotiate deals with Australian publishers under its own model, Facebook News.

“We are satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to a number of changes and guarantees that address our core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognize the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them,” Facebook regional managing director William Easton said.

“As a result of these changes, we can now work to further our investment in public interest journalism and restore news on Facebook for Australians in the coming days, ” Easton added.



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Suu Kyi’s party to form ‘interim government’ to rival Myanmar junta

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Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party plans to form an “interim government” to rival the country’s military junta and is seeking official recognition for the new body from the US, UK and UN.

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Sa Sa, an official who has been appointed as the envoy of Myanmar’s disbanded parliament to the UN, outlined the plans in a video interview with the Financial Times.

He accused other south-east Asian countries of “not standing with the people in Myanmar” after Thai and Indonesian officials this week met a representative of the junta that ousted the civilian government in a coup this month. 

“Good neighbours should not play games with military coup leaders who are holding smoking guns,” Sa Sa said. “They should not hold any dialogue unless they release our elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.” 

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His remarks point to an increasingly serious effort by the remnants of Myanmar’s toppled government to set up structures to rival Min Aung Hlaing’s junta and engage with the international community. 

However, they will face serious challenges from Myanmar’s military and shifting diplomatic realities as its Asian neighbours begin making contact with the junta.

On Friday, the new regime, which arrested most of the NLD’s senior leaders and seized power on February 1, officially annulled the results of an election in November in which Aung San Suu Kyi’s party scored an overwhelming victory.

Security forces, facing nationwide protests and strikes, appeared to be escalating their crackdown on dissent and fired at protesters in Yangon and Mandalay.

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But later on Friday at the UN, the protest movement received a powerful and startling endorsement when Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar’s official ambassador to the world, body denounced the coup in a speech to the General Assembly. He pledged loyalty to Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government and urged the world to “use any means necessary to take action against the Myanmar military”.

“It is crystal clear that we do not want to go back to the system we were in before,” he said, raising three fingers at the end of his speech in a salute used by democracy protesters in Myanmar and in neighbouring Thailand. 

During the week of the coup, NLD MPs who avoided arrest set up a Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) — the ousted parliament, and held their own swearing-in ceremony.

The CRPH on Tuesday nominated Sa Sa, a medical doctor and philanthropist, as its UN envoy and Htin Lin Aung, a former political prisoner based in Maryland, US, as its international relations representative.

While most of the NLD’s MPs are now either under arrest or “on the run”, Sa Sa said, the CRPH still planned to take the risk of setting up a temporary government inside the country “for the sake of the people of Myanmar”.

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Sa Sa with villagers in Myanmar before he was forced to leave. Following the coup, he says his job will be ‘to make sure all the free world and the democratic world stays with us’ © Health & Hope

“We will be working very closely with the international community, and work with China and India,” he said. “It’s better for them to have a stable neighbour than an unstable one.” 

The official declined to say where he was speaking from for safety reasons, except to say it was outside Myanmar, but “very close”. 

While the US and some other western countries have condemned the coup and announced sanctions against the generals, Myanmar’s Asian neighbours, which have closer economic ties, have been more guarded in their rhetoric and actions, as with past military regimes. 

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the 10-member regional grouping, is positioning itself to mediate, with Indonesia taking a leading role.

Wunna Maung Lwin, the junta’s foreign minister, on Wednesday flew to Thailand to meet Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, himself a former coup leader. Retno Masudi, Indonesia’s foreign minister, also spoke briefly with the junta official at Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport, after which she said she expressed concerns for “the safety and wellbeing of the people of Myanmar”. 

Reports of the preliminary diplomatic overtures infuriated protesters in Yangon who demonstrated outside Indonesia’s embassy this week. 

“We don’t want any Asean or any foreign country to deal with the coup leaders right now,” Sa Sa said. “They should work with us.” 

Sa Sa, whose name, given by his grandmother means “higher higher”, is a Christian and member of Myanmar’s Chin ethnic minority in a majority Buddhist and ethnic Burmese country.

He was on track for a senior position in government. But after the coup, he said his job would be “to make sure all the free world and the democratic world stays with us”. 

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“Our actions today will be history tomorrow,” he said.

Twitter: @JohnReedwrites





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Why Russian Diplomats Returned From North Korea On Rail Trolley

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Russian diplomats and family members leave North Korea to Russia using a hand-pushed rail trolley.

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Eight Russian diplomats and family members — the youngest of them a three-year-old girl — have arrived home from North Korea on a hand-pushed rail trolley due to Pyongyang’s coronavirus restrictions.

Video posted on Russia’s foreign ministry’s verified Telegram account showed the trolley, laden with suitcases and women, being pushed across a border railway bridge by Third Secretary Vladislav Sorokin, the only man in the group.

They waved and cheered as they approached their homeland, the culmination of an expedition that began with a 32-hour train trip from Pyongyang, followed by a two-hour bus ride to the border.

“It took a long and difficult journey to get home,” the ministry said in the post late Thursday, speaking of the final stretch.

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“To do this, you need to make a trolley in advance, put it on the rails, place things on it, seat the children — and go,” it said.

“Finally, the most important part of the route — walking on foot to the Russian side.”

Sorokin was “the main ‘engine’ of the non-self-propelled railcar”, it said, and had to push it for more than a kilometre.

Once on Russian territory, they were met by foreign ministry colleagues and were taken by bus to Vladivostok airport.

“Don’t leave your own behind”, the ministry added as a hashtag.

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North Korea imposed a strict border shutdown in January last year to try to protect itself from the coronavirus that first emerged in neighbouring China and has gone on to sweep the world.

The shutdown has cancelled all flights in or out of the nuclear-armed, sanctions-hit country, and cross-border trains.

‘Rigorous and demanding work’

With staff and supplies unable to enter, the restrictions have severely hampered the activities of diplomats and aid workers, and several Western embassies have pulled out their entire staff.

But Russia has close relations with the North and maintains a significant diplomatic presence.

On Friday, the Kremlin said the journey out of North Korea demonstrated that diplomatic service is no walk in the park.

“It seems very pleasant and elegant but in reality this is very complex, rigorous and demanding work,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, himself a trained diplomat, told reporters.

“Things like this can happen too,” he added.

Stalin’s Soviet Union played a key role in the North’s foundation after it and the US decided to split the peninsula into two zones either side of the 38th parallel following the World War II surrender of Korea’s colonial overlord Japan.

Moscow still has a grand embassy in a prime spot in central Pyongyang, close to the North Korean leadership compound.

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In South Korea, people online reacted gleefully to reports of how the diplomats departed.

“I am glad I was not born in North Korea,” one posted on South Korea’s biggest internet portal Naver.

Another joked: “Please return your cart to where you found it.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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French Greens given a grilling over meat-free school lunches

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Grégory Doucet, mayor of Lyon, said he had no inkling that the school lunches served up in the French city this week would put him at the centre of a political storm. 

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But the decision by the environmentalist mayor that children should be offered just a single lunch option — one without meat — prompted immediate denunciations from French government ministers, and protests by farmers who responded by releasing herds of cows outside city hall. 

The ruling — which Doucet said he took for a limited period to avoid long queues for multiple menus that would bunch pupils close together during the Covid-19 pandemic — has set carnivores against vegetarians, town against country, and right against left. 

“It touches a lot of topics deeply rooted in French political culture,” said Vincent Martigny, politics professor at the University of Nice. “Everybody knows we should be eating less meat, but we’re still a very traditional food culture in France, quite conservative. If you don’t eat meat and drink wine, you’re not very French.” 

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Doucet and his Europe Ecologie-Les Verts (EELV) , which took Lyon from the centre-right in local elections last year, say the row has more to do with June’s regional elections and the presidential and legislative polls due in 2021. 

“They’re targeting the ecologists because we’re the biggest threat,” Doucet told the Financial Times. 

Farmers released herds of cows outside Lyon city hall to protest against the removal of meat from school lunches
Farmers released herds of cows outside Lyon city hall to protest against the removal of meat from school lunches © Olivier Chassignole/AFP via Getty Images

Even so, a mini-campaign by some ministers in President Emmanuel Macron’s government to curry favour with conservative voters and paint the Greens as crazed ideologues quickly spun out of control and exposed divisions in the cabinet.

Gérald Darmanin, the hardline interior minister, denounced the Lyon Greens for what he called a “moralistic, elitist policy” to deprive working-class students of meat. Julien Denormandie, who holds the agriculture portfolio, leapt to the defence of farmers, calling the decision “shameful” and saying: “Let’s stop putting ideology on our children’s plates!”

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Environment minister Barbara Pompili, however, said she was sorry to hear a “prehistoric debate” full of clichés about the supposed nutritional inadequacies of vegetarian food. Macron eventually had to tell them to stop disagreeing in public as he called for an end to the “idiotic” argument. 

The school meals controversy is the latest manifestation of a long-running debate in France and abroad over the environmental sustainability of meat consumption by an increasingly wealthy and numerous world population, given the land taken up by cattle and their greenhouse gas emissions. 

Doucet, a “flexitarian” who said he tried to limit his intake of meat and fish, has campaigned to reduce consumption of animal protein and provide more vegetarian meals in schools, but he said his immediate priority was to ensure the meat served comes from local farmers.

He also pointed out that Gérard Collomb, his centre-right predecessor as mayor, had made exactly the same decision for a single, no-meat menu acceptable to the largest number of school pupils during an early phase of the pandemic — and there had been no political backlash. 

“When we took the decision, we didn’t think for one minute it would lead to a political polemic,” Doucet said. 

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Somewhat later than neighbouring countries such as the UK, France is in any case gradually coming to accept vegetarianism. The Michelin Guide this year for the first time awarded one of its prized stars of approval to a French vegan restaurant called ONA — for Origine Non Animale

“People used to be treated as the village idiot if they were vegetarian,” said Jean-Pierre Poulain, a sociologist specialising in food at the University of Toulouse. “That’s no longer the case.” 

The change was slow in coming, said Poulain, but as in other urbanised societies, French city dwellers anthropomorphised pets, idealised wild animals and no longer automatically accepted the legitimacy of killing animals to eat them.

As mayor of Lyon, Doucet has also found himself at the heart of another contemporary debate — this time a particularly French one — about the role of schools and other state institutions in shaping the values and ideals of the nation’s youngest citizens.

Macron and his ministers, who are currently promoting legislation designed to curb Islamist “separatist” ideology and lifestyles, are demanding strict adherence to French secular values. As such they are reluctant to see the state’s prerogatives usurped by local governments with their own priorities.

Conservatives have already fulminated about the Green mayor of Bordeaux rejecting a public Christmas fir because he did not want to celebrate around a “dead tree”. Other Green civic leaders have refused to host the Tour de France cycle race in their towns because of the carbon footprint of all the accompanying motor vehicles.

On the right, the loss of meat as a choice for school meals is sometimes portrayed as another step towards the forced dismantling of the French way of life, but politicians wary of pointless conflicts are more phlegmatic about the affair.

“I don’t think the children of Lyon are going to die of anaemia in the days ahead, but I also don’t think this will do much to reduce greenhouse gases,” Roland Lescure, an MP with Macron’s governing La République en Marche! party, was quoted as saying in Le Parisien.

“Everyone is playing politics,” he added, “including the mayor of Lyon.” 

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Israel reveals Pfizer vaccine has stopped 94% of recipients getting symptoms in study of 1.2m people

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The Pfizer vaccine has prevented 94 per cent of recipients in Israel from getting symptoms in a huge peer-reviewed study of 1.2 million people.

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The experiment took place between December 20 and February 1 – a period when the British mutant strain of Covid was rampant, making the vaccine’s performance all the more impressive. 

The paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine marks the latest victory for Israel whose world-beating vaccine rollout has given Pfizer jabs to more than 50 per cent of its 9 million population – more than a third have received both doses. 

The country ended draconian lockdown restrictions earlier this month and started to reopen its economy over the weekend with concert halls, gyms, hotels and theatres welcoming vaccine passport holders. 

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The ‘green pass’ is valid for six months from the time of full vaccination (two doses) or for those who have recovered from Covid-19 and are immune. 

The Health Ministry has recorded more than 763,000 cases and 5,660 Covid deaths since the pandemic started. The country started easing out of its winter lockdown on February 7 and over the weekend started to breathe life into the economy

The Health Ministry has recorded more than 763,000 cases and 5,660 Covid deaths since the pandemic started. The country started easing out of its winter lockdown on February 7 and over the weekend started to breathe life into the economy

Data from the study of 1.2 million people shows the number of people hospitalised with Covid-19 among the unvaccinated (red line) and the vaccinated (blue line)

Data from the study of 1.2 million people shows the number of people hospitalised with Covid-19 among the unvaccinated (red line) and the vaccinated (blue line)

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Those who were found to be at severe risk of Covid-19 in the study (blue line = vaccinated; red line = unvaccinated)

Those who were found to be at severe risk of Covid-19 in the study (blue line = vaccinated; red line = unvaccinated)

'Green pass' holders attending a concert by the singer Nurit Galron in Tel Aviv last night. Restrictions have been eased to allow for up to 500 to attend an outdoor venue and up to 300 indoors

‘Green pass’ holders attending a concert by the singer Nurit Galron in Tel Aviv last night. Restrictions have been eased to allow for up to 500 to attend an outdoor venue and up to 300 indoors

A concert by Israeli singer Nurit Galron is taking place for people with a 'Green Pass', who are vaccinated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) or those with presumed immunity, at Yarkon park, in Tel Aviv last night

A concert by Israeli singer Nurit Galron is taking place for people with a ‘Green Pass’, who are vaccinated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) or those with presumed immunity, at Yarkon park, in Tel Aviv last night

Up to 500 passport holders can attend outdoor cultural venues, while crowds of 300 are permitted indoors at theatres, museums and cinemas.  

Restaurants and cafes remain restricted to takeaway service and schools kids are back in class only in areas where infection rates are low. 

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The scheme is being closely watched abroad, with Boris Johnson saying that Britain was looking at the idea of ‘Covid-status certification’ while adding that there were ‘many concerns surrounding exclusion, discrimination and privacy’. 

Despite Israel’s cautious unlocking, academics have been buoyed by Wednesday’s study and it will raise Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hopes of cruising to election victory on March 23 after the successful vaccination drive.

‘The fact that the vaccines worked so well in the real world… really does suggest that if the nations of the world can find the will, we now have the means to end Covid-19 forever,’ said Ben Neuman, a virologist from Texas A&M University who was not involved in the research. 

The study took around 1.2 million Israelis and divided them into equal groups of vaccinated and unvaccinated.

Each vaccinated participant was matched to an unvaccinated ‘control’ person of similar age, sex, geographic, medical and other characteristics.

Lead author Noam Barda, head of epidemiology and research at the Clalit Research Institute, told AFP the matching process was highly robust.

An elderly Ultra-Orthodox Jewish man from a particular neighbourhood with a particular set of comorbidities and flu vaccination history would be matched for another person fitting that precise profile, for example.

The researchers then recorded outcomes at days 14-20 after the first of the two doses and day seven or more after the second.

The efficacy against symptomatic infections was 57 percent between 14-20 days after the first dose, but rose to 94 percent seven days after the second dose – very close to the 95 percent achieved during Phase 3 clinical trials.

People who received second doses were also highly protected against hospitalisation and death – though the precise numbers here are less significant and had a wider statistical range because of the relatively lower number of cases.

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More than a third of Israel's population has been fully vaccinated in the world's quickest immunisation programme against Covid-19, meaning nearly three million people are eligible for the pass. Pictured: A graph showing Covid vaccine doses per 100 people in various countries, with Israel vaccinating well over over 80 people per 100

More than a third of Israel’s population has been fully vaccinated in the world’s quickest immunisation programme against Covid-19, meaning nearly three million people are eligible for the pass. Pictured: A graph showing Covid vaccine doses per 100 people in various countries, with Israel vaccinating well over over 80 people per 100

The woeful European vaccine rollout has been exemplified by France which has only managed to administer doses to 5.88 per 100 people. This compares to 27.3 per 100 Britons, 6.41 Germans, 6.77 Spaniards and 6.12 Italians

The woeful European vaccine rollout has been exemplified by France which has only managed to administer doses to 5.88 per 100 people. This compares to 27.3 per 100 Britons, 6.41 Germans, 6.77 Spaniards and 6.12 Italians

The study also found people who received their second dose had a 92 percent lower chance of getting any form of infection at all compared to those who were unvaccinated.

While this finding was considered encouraging, the researchers and outside experts said it needs more confirming evidence.

That’s because the participants weren’t being systematically tested at regular intervals; rather, they were getting a test when they wanted one.

The authors attempted to correct for this with statistical methods but the result is still likely imperfect.

‘Unless you are testing everyone all the time, this will miss some infections,’ said Natalie Dean, a biostatistician at the University of Florida.

She added she was certain there was a strong protective benefit, but ‘nailing down this number more precisely will require specialised study designs with frequent testing.’

More than three million Israelis are now eligible for the Green Pass having either had both doses of the Pfizer jab or been infected by Covid already.  

Israel, which has one of the world’s most sophisticated medical data systems, secured a substantial stock of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by paying above market price and by striking a data-sharing deal with the drug giant.  

Shopping malls and stores with street access re-opened to the general public on Sunday, with certain limitations on crowd size.

But gyms, swimming pools, hotels and some cultural facilities are re-opening only to those who have been fully vaccinated and obtained the so-called green pass. 

Lifting weights at a gym in Petah Tikva near Tel Aviv late Saturday, Mr Netanyahu insisted Israel was moving ahead ‘with caution’, while imploring ‘everyone to get vaccinated’.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu (pictured on Tuesday at the Khan Theatre) is hoping that the vaccine success and the end of Israel's third lockdown will propel him to victory in March 23 elections

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu (pictured on Tuesday at the Khan Theatre) is hoping that the vaccine success and the end of Israel’s third lockdown will propel him to victory in March 23 elections

A holder of the "green pass" (proof of being fully vaccinated against the coronavirus), trains at a gym in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv, on February 21

A holder of the ‘green pass’ (proof of being fully vaccinated against the coronavirus), trains at a gym in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv, on February 21

Standing at the entrance of a posh Tel Aviv gym, 90-year-old Ora Davidovicz said she ‘couldn’t wait’ to go swimming.

‘It’s been almost a year since I went to the pool,’ she said. ‘I’ve been counting the days. All I have to do is put on my swim suit,’ she said, before heading in.

Tom John, a muscular 33-year-old, said he’d been training at home for months but felt safe being back at the gym with the protection systems in place.

‘Everyone here has a green badge,’ he said, surveying the gym.

At the family owned Katalina shoe store in central Tel Aviv, Mordechai Nazarian said his business had been closed for eight of the last 12 months, with ‘little openings here and there’ as Israel lifted restrictions between lockdowns.

‘We hope this one is the right one,’ he said. 

Israel has given more does people per-100 people than any other country in the world. As of February 25, 88.77 people out of 100 have had at least one dose.

By comparison, 27.34 people per 100 have been given at least one dose in Britain, which is still the third highest rate in the world.

At the Third Ear record store in Tel Aviv, 32-year-old Itay Shimon said he hadn’t been in a record store in many months, but was enjoying just browsing the aisles.

Describing himself as a vaccine supporter, he also voiced caution about compelling people to get the jab.

‘We cannot force those who don’t want it to do it,’ he said.

A visitor presents a coronavirus vaccination certificate at the entrance to the Khan Theatre in Jerusalem, Israel, 23 February 2021

A visitor presents a coronavirus vaccination certificate at the entrance to the Khan Theatre in Jerusalem, Israel, 23 February 2021

Despite the successful vaccination Israel’s government has approved a night-time curfew from Thursday until Sunday to prevent the spread of the coronavirus over the Purim holiday.

The Prime Minister’s Office and Health Ministry said a curfew from 8.30pm until 5am would be in force starting Purim eve.

Purim, a Jewish holiday traditionally marked with carnivals and gatherings, begins Thursday at sunset. 

The holiday lockdown prohibits any large gatherings of more than 10 people indoors at concerts, parades or parties typical of the holiday’s observances.

Israel reopened its economy last week after a nearly two-month lockdown, the country’s third since the start of the pandemic. But recent days have seen a slight uptick in new infections.

It has one of the highest immunisation rates per capita, with over 4.5 million of its citizens having received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

The Health Ministry has recorded more than 763,000 cases and 5,660 Covid deaths since the pandemic started. 



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SNP feud reveals the lack of accountability in UK politics

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Anyone who has met Alex Salmond knows that you wouldn’t want him as an enemy. The former Scottish first minister is a born arguer: half-poetic, half-patronising, and generally overpowering.

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Salmond once tormented New Labour, then David Cameron’s Conservatives. Now he torments his own former allies. His friction with the Scottish National party ended when he became its leader, and restarted shortly after he stepped down.

He accuses his successor, the current first minister Nicola Sturgeon, of lying to parliament, in relation to an investigation into harassment allegations against him. If proven, this would normally be a resigning offence for her.

She claims that she mixed up the date when she heard about the allegations, because she forgot about a meeting which one former Salmond aide says was specifically organised to discuss them. Salmond says a government official leaked the name of one of those who complained about him, a potentially serious breach of confidentiality that Sturgeon denies.

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She also denies other figures, including her husband, the SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, acted maliciously against Salmond, although Murrell’s text messages show that he welcomed the police taking action.

Salmond’s case is that senior figures wanted to “remove me from public life in Scotland”. In truth, he was already marginal to public life. By 2018, he had lost his seat as an MP, and was hosting a chat show on the Kremlin-backed TV station, RT (Freeview channel 234).

He wanted the SNP to push quickly for a second referendum, but the party was in Sturgeon’s hands and largely ignored him. His influence waned further when he admitted acting inappropriately towards younger women, although a court acquitted him of sexual assault and rape.

One poll found Salmond is less popular in Scotland than Boris Johnson, which some thought impossible. He retains the affections of only one in four independence supporters. Nonetheless, the affair is clearly bad for the SNP, whose poll ratings have otherwise been as unresponsive to reality as Tesla’s share price. Brexit and coronavirus had increased public support for the party. Salmond’s re-emergence will remind some swing voters of the old SNP, which they didn’t like. He is scratching the consensual veneer that Sturgeon gained with her leadership during the pandemic.

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Every poll in the last nine months has found a majority for independence, but the latest, published this week, is a marginal 52 per cent to 48 per cent. In a way, it’d be surprising if Scotland didn’t vote for independence. The SNP has been the biggest party and in government since 2007. Imagine if the UK Independence party were in power for a decade without achieving Brexit.

Sturgeon is lucky. If she needs a precedent for someone breaking the ministerial code and not resigning, Johnson has provided one. He refused to sack Priti Patel, his home secretary, even after an investigation found her to have bullied officials. If Sturgeon needs to explain why procedures weren’t adhered to, or parliament was treated with contempt, she can nod to Johnson’s behaviour, including his threat to break international law.

This is why it is grubby and depressing to see Salmond versus Sturgeon through the lens of independence. It should be about something bigger. Over the past decade, the norms of British politics have become eroded. Principles of good practice have been made subservient to higher purposes — Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn, Scottish independence. Those who have crossed lines have not resigned or apologised, because to do so would weaken the cause. Those who have complained have been ignored.

In Scotland, no one has been held accountable for the flawed investigation into Salmond, which led to him winning £512,000 in costs in a judicial review. Only one-quarter of SNP supporters say that Sturgeon should resign if she’s found to have misled an independent investigation.

A lack of accountability chokes good governance. It deprives political debate of its escape valves. It deepens partisanship. “You can break the rules, but not the conventions”, is how someone once explained the game of bridge to me. Indeed, there are procedures to enforce rules, but conventions rely on personal responsibility and shame.

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The Salmond-Sturgeon affair may determine Scotland’s fate, or it may not. She could be a key figure in a second independence referendum, even if she is found to have acted wrongly. Yet before we can have fruitful debates about the future of the UK, we should re-establish some basic democratic decency. If Salmond’s allegations of serious wrongdoing are upheld, resignations must follow.

henry.mance@ft.com



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US Airstrike In Syria A Warning To Iran: Joe Biden

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Joe Biden said that a US airstrike in Syria should be seen by Iran as a warning. (FILE)

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President Joe Biden said Friday that a US airstrike against an Iranian-backed militia in eastern Syria should be seen by Iran as a warning.

Asked what the message was from the air strike, Biden said: “You can’t act with impunity.”

“Be careful,” he added, speaking in Houston during a tour of relief efforts after a huge winter storm in Texas.

Earlier, Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, called the raid an “unambiguous message” that Biden is “going to act to protect Americans and when threats are posed he has the right to take an action at the time and the manner of his choosing.”

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The Pentagon said Thursday’s strike, which according to a Syrian war monitoring group killed 22 militia members, was in response to a series of rocket attacks targeting US soldiers in Iraq.

One of those strikes, on a military complex in the Kurdish regional capital Arbil on February 15, killed a civilian and a foreign contractor working with coalition forces, and wounded several US contractors and a soldier.

Psaki said the decision behind the strike was “deliberative” and that Biden’s aim was for “deescalating activity in both Syria and Iraq.”

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said two F-15E “Strike Eagles” dropped seven precision-guided munitions, totally destroying nine facilities and partially destroying two facilities.

Kirby said the location targeted near the Syria-Iraq border was “known to facilitate Iranian-aligned militia group activity.”

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He said the Pentagon had “preliminary details about casualties” but declined to release any figures.

“We’re confident that these were legitimate targets that were utilized by groups associated with these recent attacks,” Kirby said.

He said Iraqi and Kurdish partners had provided intelligence that led to the identification of the groups behind the rocket attacks.

Kirby also responded to criticism by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said Moscow was notified just four or five minutes before the US struck the targets.

“We did what we believe was the proper amount of notification for this,” Kirby said. “It shouldn’t come as a shock to anybody that we’re going to do what we have to do to notify but we’re also going to do what we have to do to protect our forces.”

Kirby and Psaki also addressed criticism from some members of Congress that Biden should have sought legislators’ authority before ordering the strike.

Psaki said the Pentagon briefed congressional leadership “before the action.”

“There will be a full classified briefing early next week at the latest,” she said.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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