Newsweek sorry for op-ed questioning Kamala Harris’ citizenship

Newsweek sorry for op-ed questioning Kamala Harris’ citizenship

Magazine says it failed to anticipate how the op-ed about the vice presidential candidate could be ‘weaponised’.

15 Aug 2020 21:24 GMT

    The op-ed echoed the so-called ‘birther’ conspiracy theory supported by Trump that claimed ex-President Obama was not born in the US [File: Carolyn Kaster/AP]

    The United States-based news magazine, Newsweek, has apologised for an op-ed that questioned Senator Kamala Harris’ citizenship and her eligibility to be Joe Biden’s running mate, a false and racist conspiracy theory which President Donald Trump has not dismissed.

    “This op-ed is being used by some as a tool to perpetuate racism and xenophobia. We apologize,” read Newsweek editor’s note on Friday, which replaced the magazine’s earlier detailed defence of the op-ed.

    “We entirely failed to anticipate the ways in which the essay would be interpreted, distorted and weaponized,” read the apology, signed by Josh Hammer, opinion editor, and Nancy Cooper, global editor in chief.

    But they ended the note by saying that the op-ed would remain on the site, with their note attached.

    The op-ed was written by John Eastman, a conservative attorney who argues the US Constitution does not grant birthright citizenship.

    Eastman sowed doubt about Harris’ eligibility based on her parents’ immigration status. Harris’ mother was born in India and her father in Jamaica.

    Harris, 55, is the first Black woman and woman of South Asian heritage to be granted the honour of a place on the ticket of a major US party.

    Joe Biden, Kamala Harris assail Trump in first campaign event (2:26)

    Newsweek had earlier defended the op-ed piece, arguing that Eastman “was focusing on a long-standing, somewhat arcane legal debate” about the 14th Amendment and not trying to “ignite a racist conspiracy theory around Kamala Harris’ candidacy”.

    But the theory is false. Harris, who was tapped by Joe Biden to serve as his running mate on the Democratic ticket, was born in Oakland, California, and is eligible for both the vice presidency and presidency under the constitutional requirements.

    The question is not even considered complex, according to constitution lawyers. 

    Trump’s political career has seen him questioning an opponent’s legitimacy. He was a high-profile force behind the “birther movement” – the lie that questioned whether President Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president, was eligible to serve.

    Obama was born in Hawaii to a Kenyan father and a white American mother. Only after mounting pressure during his 2016 campaign did Trump disavow his claims.

    Asked about the matter at the White House on Thursday, Trump told reporters he had “heard” rumours that Harris does not meet the requirement to serve in the White House.

    “I heard it today that she doesn’t meet the requirements,” he said. “I have no idea if that’s right.” 

    Trump added that Eastman, who is a professor at Chapman University, “is a very highly qualified, very talented lawyer” and that he considered the rumours “very serious”.

    Eastman was also an unsuccessful Republican challenger, losing in the primary for the 2010 California attorney general’s election won by Harris, who served in that post before becoming a US senator.

    South Africa to ease coronavirus restrictions: Live updates

    South Africa to ease coronavirus restrictions: Live updates

    President Cyril Ramaphosa announces relaxation of tough containment measures as infection rate falls.

    by & 15 Aug 2020 20:57 GMT

      • South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced announced that stringent coronavirus regulations would be eased on Monday as the country’s infection rate falls. 

      • Worldwide coronavirus cases surpassed 21.2 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, while more than 13.2 million people have recovered. More than 767,000 people have died.

      • The French health ministry reported more than 2,500 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, setting a new post-lockdown daily high for the third day in a row, and taking the country’s cumulative total of cases to 249,611.

      • An Australian inquiry into the virus-infected Ruby Princess cruise ship said health officials made a “serious and material error” in allowing passengers to disembark from the vessel. 

      Here are the latest updates:

      Saturday, August 15
      20:00 GMT – Saudi Arabia plans distance learning for school as virus precaution 

      Students at Saudi Arabia’s public schools will be educated via distance learning as a precaution against coronavirus for the first seven weeks of the new term, which begins on Aug. 30, the minister of education said.

      During that time the situation for the rest of the term will be evaluated, Dr. Hamad bin Mohammed Al Shaikh said in remarks carried on state-run al-Ekhbariya TV.

      University and technical schools will be online for theory-based curriculums and in person for practical curriculums, he added.

      COVID-19 could force about 10 million kids out of school: Report (2:28)

      19:35 GMT – Italy coronavirus cases top 600 for first time in three months 

      Italy’s new coronavirus cases surged past 600 daily for the first time in three months. Tourists and vacationing people returning are considered major factors in rising caseloads. 

      The Health Ministry registered 629 coronavirus cases Saturday in the previous 24 hours, increasing the confirmed total to more than 253,000. 

      The last time the daily number was higher was 669 cases on May 23. Only a few weeks ago, Italy had daily cases numbers in the 200s. Italy’s confirmed deaths has exceeded 35,000.

      German sniffer dogs show promise at detecting coronavirus (2:26)

      18:35 GMT – South Africa to resume sale of alcohol, cigarettes  

      South Africa will lift a coronavirus-linked ban on the sale of alcohol and tobacco products from Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced.

      “Restrictions on the sale of tobacco will be lifted, the suspension of the sale of alcohol will be lifted subject to certain restrictions,” Ramaphosa said, announcing the relaxation of several confinement measures. 

      He said a fall in the infection rates, as well as people recovering, were “significantly reducing the pressure on our health facilities”, but he cautioned that cases could easily surge if people fail to maintain vigilance. Restrictions on international travel remained in place, he said.

      South Africa has more than half a million cases, but the rate of infections has declined over the past two weeks.

      Man living in complete isolation for 45 years (15:04)

      18:20 GMT – Turkey coronavirus cases rise by 1,256 

      Turkey’s new coronavirus cases rose to their highest since June at 1,256, with 21 deaths in the last 24 hours, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter.

      The country has seen cases edge higher in recent weeks and has now recorded a total of 278,117, with 5,955 deaths. Turkey lifted a partial lockdown on June 1 and plans to re-open schools next month. 

      18:15 GMT – France reports another post-lockdown peak in daily coronavirus cases

      France’s Health Ministry has reported 3,310 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, setting a new post-lockdown high for the fourth day in a row and taking the country’s cumulative cases to 215,521.

      A total of 252 clusters were being investigated, up 17 compared with 24 hours earlier, the ministry said in a website update.

      17:35 GMT – Fresh spike in Irish COVID-19 cases deeply concerning: Health chief 

      Ireland has reported 200 new COVID-19 cases arising from multiple clusters across the country, the highest daily amount since the beginning of May that the country’s chief medical officer described as “deeply concerning”.

      Ireland has reopened its economy at a slower pace than most European Union countries but that did not stop a rise in cases over the last two weeks that led to the first localised reimposition of some restrictions last week.

      “We now have multiple clusters with secondary spread of disease and rising numbers of cases in many parts of the country. This is deeply concerning. NPHET (Ireland’s public health team) will monitor this extremely closely over the coming days,” Ronan Glynn said in statement.

      17:25 GMT – Kuwait reports 512 new coronavirus cases, four deaths 

      The Kuwaiti health ministry reported 512 new coronavirus (COVID-19) cases during the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of cases to 75,697. 

      The ministry also confirmed four new deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities to 498.

      16:50 GMT – Dutch authorities issue travel warning for Spain, France, Belgium 

      The Netherlands has issued new coronavirus-related warnings for people travelling to Spain, France and Belgium.

      The ANP news agency reported that Dutch authorities were advising the public not to travel to places including Paris, the region surrounding Marseille, Brussels, Ibiza and Mallorca. 

      The new travel warnings will go into effect at midnight (2200 GMT).

      People travelling to the Netherlands from the three countries will required to undergo two-week quarantine at home, the report said. The warnings come as a response to new spikes in the number of coronavirus cases in those countries.

      16:00 GMT – UK reports 1,012 new coronavirus cases 

      The United Kingdom recorded 1,012 new positive tests for COVID-19, the government announced, the fifth day in a row there have been more than 1,000 infections reported in daily figures.

      Britain has now recorded 317,379 COVID-19 cases. A further three people were reported to have died within 28 days after testing positive for the coronavirus.

      COVID-19: Peru sees spike in number of hospitalised children (2:08)

      14:50 GMT – South Korea coronavirus cases reach highest level in five months 

      New coronavirus cases in South Korea have reached the highest level in five months, and authorities fear infections are getting out of control in the Seoul region, which is home to half the country’s 51 million people.

      Officials reported 166 newly confirmed cases Saturday. That was the highest since March 11, when South Korea reported 242 amid an outbreak in the southeastern city of Daegu and nearby towns.

      With 103 new cases reported Friday, this is the first time since late March that the daily increase surpassed 100 two days in a row.

      Officials say all but 11 of the new cases were local transmissions, and most were in the Seoul area.

      14:10 GMT – Nearly half of Brazilians say Bolsonaro not to blame for coronavirus deaths

      Almost half of Brazilians think President Jair Bolsonaro bears “no responsibility at all” for the country’s more than 100,000 dead from the coronavirus pandemic, the world’s second highest death toll, according to a new Datafolha poll.

      The poll was published on Saturday in Brazil’s Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper and says 47 percent of Brazilians do not assign him any blame for the body count, whereas percent do.

      Brazil has the world’s worst outbreak outside of the United States and Bolsonaro’s response to the pandemic has been widely condemned by health experts.

      Right-wing Bolsonaro has pushed for the use of an unproven anti-malarial drug to fight the disease, replaced health ministers who opposed his agenda, encouraged Brazilians to oppose lockdown measures and shown indifference to the rising death toll. 


      Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro holds a box of anti-malarial drug chloroquine outside of the Alvorada Palace in Brasilia [File: Adriano Machado/Reuters]

      13:50 GMT – Indonesia records 2,354 new coronavirus cases, 50 deaths 

      Indonesia has reported 2,345 new coronavirus cases, taking the total number of infections to 137,468, according to data from Indonesia’s COVID-19 task force.

      The data showed 50 more coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities to 6,071.

      Colombia economic slump: Fears 20 years of gains could be erased (2:32)

      13:45 GMT – Vietnam reports 21 new coronavirus cases, 2 deaths 

      Vietnam’s health ministry has reported 21 new coronavirus infections and two deaths, bringing the total number of cases in the Southeast Asian country to 950, with 23 fatalities. 

      More than 470 of the cases are linked to the central city of Danang, where a new outbreak began late last month. 

      The ministry said 115,858 people are being quarantined, including 4,182 at hospitals, 25,952 at centralised quarantine centres and the rest at home.  

      11:28 GMT – Qatar announces 277 new confirmed cases

      Qatar’s Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) confirmed 277 new cases of coronavirus taking the country’s cumulative total of cases to 114,809.

      The MOPH also reported 247 recoveries in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of people who recovered from the disease in the country to 111,505 cases. 

      It also announced two new deaths. 

      The number of new daily cases and hospital admissions is continuing to decline each week, the MOPH said in the statement.

      “The virus is affecting poor people the most. It’s having a massive impact on poor nations.” #AJOpinion hears from @WHO‘s Special Envoy for COVID-19 response @davidnabarro, on how coronavirus reveals systemic inequality across the world. pic.twitter.com/pdxnJfXibd

      — Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) August 15, 2020

      10:50 GMT – Thousands of Britons return from France to avoid quarantine

      Thousands of British tourists beat a hasty retreat from France, packing out planes, trains and ferries to return to the UK to avoid a mandatory 14-day quarantine at home.

      UK: Complaints about British tourists ignoring COVID-19 measures

      On Friday, many British travelers in the country opted to cut short their vacations to meet the Saturday deadline that had only been announced the night before.

      Anyone arriving back from France from Saturday must stay at home for two weeks to make sure they cannot spread the coronavirus beyond their households if they have become infected.

      10:05 GMT – Denmark to make face masks compulsory on public transport

      Wearing face masks on public transport will be compulsory in Denmark from August 22 following a spike in numbers of new coronavirus cases, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said.

      In mid-April, Denmark became one the first European countries to ease its coronavirus lockdown as the epidemic appeared to be contained, but the reproduction rate at which it is spreading rose above 1.5 in the past week, the highest reading since early April.

      Frederiksen said the surge also meant that plans to remove a limit on the size of public gatherings would be deferred, with the limit remaining at 100 people for the time being.

      09:51 GMT – Croatia defends opening to tourists as COVID-19 numbers rise

      Croatia launched additional restrictive measures to curb a COVID-19 outbreak.

      The country – which presently has around 820,000 foreign tourists, including many Germans and Austrians holidaying on its Adriatic coast – reported 180 new infections on Thursday and another 208 on Friday.

      Social Distancing: The Dos and Don’ts

      Both were the highest figures to date, after staying around dozens daily until recently.

      Since the outbreak, Croatia had by Friday reported 6,258 infections, with 163 deaths and 5,134 people recovered. However, 979 of the infections occurred over the past 14 days.

      08:50 GMT – Russia starts production of COVID-19 vaccine

      Russia has started manufacturing its new vaccine for COVID-19, the Interfax news agency reported, citing the health ministry.

      Russia has said the vaccine, developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute and the first for the coronavirus to go into production, will be rolled out by the end of this month. Some scientists said they fear Moscow may be putting national prestige before safety.

      08:31 GMT – India set to mass produce COVID-19 vaccine

      India is ready to mass produce COVID-19 vaccines when scientists give the go-ahead, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his Independence Day speech on August 15, also launching a national project to roll out health identities for each citizen.

      In annual celebrations held at the 17th-century Red Fort and scaled down due to the pandemic, Modi identified health and economic self-reliance as the key priorities for his government.


      Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets officers as he arrives at Independence Day celebrations [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

      At the event, soldiers who ceremonially welcomed Modi had been under quarantine days before the event.

      Only around 4,000 guests were allowed and made to sit six feet apart, while medical booths with ambulances were set up for any attendee showing COVID-19 symptoms during entry.

      08:12 GMT – Russia reports more than 5,000 new coronavirus cases

      Russia reported 5,061 new cases of the novel coronavirus, bringing its nationwide tally to 917,884, the fourth highest caseload in the world.

      Russia’s coronavirus crisis response centre said 119 people had also died over the last 24 hours, pushing its official death toll to 15,617. It added that 729,411 people have recovered.

      07:14 GMT – Ukraine sees new record daily high

      Ukraine registered 1,847 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, officials said, a new daily record for infections in the country – which is seeing cases increase sharply following the easing of some COVID-19 restrictions.

      The figure given by the national council of security and defence surpassed the previous single-day record of 1,732 reported on Friday.

      Total cases reached 89,719, including 2,044 deaths.

      Infections have risen since June as authorities have eased some restrictions, allowing cafes, churches and public transport to reopen.

      06:12 GMT – India cases cross 2.5 million with another jump

      India’s confirmed coronavirus cases have crossed 2.5 million with another biggest single-day spike of 65,002 in the past 24 hours.

      India is behind the United States and Brazil in the number of cases.

      The health ministry on Saturday also reported another 996 deaths for a total of 49,036.


      India’s two-month lockdown imposed nationwide in late March kept infections low. But it has eased and is now largely being enforced in high-risk areas [Bikas Das/AP]

      The average daily reported cases jumped from around 15,000 in the first week of July to more than 50,000 at the beginning of August.

      The health ministry said the rise shows the extent of testing with 800,000 carried out in a single day. But experts say India needs to pursue testing more vigorously.

      04:55 GMT – New Zealand’s outbreak grows

      New Zealand reported seven new cases of COVID-19 as a lockdown in the country’s biggest city, Auckland, was extended in response to the Pacific nation’s first coronavirus outbreak in months.

      Six of the seven new cases have been linked to the cluster responsible for all the previous community cases, while one case was being investigated, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield told a media briefing in Wellington.

      The new cases bring New Zealand’s total infections since the start of the year to 1258, while the number of currently active cases stands at 56. Twenty-two people have died so far.

      04:21 GMT – Latin America’s caseload exceeds 6 million

      Coronavirus cases in Latin America have exceeded six million and are continuing to accelerate, according to a Reuters tally, as most of its nations begin to relax lockdown measures.

      The region reached 6,000,005 confirmed cases by Friday evening and 237,360 deaths. That accounts for just under one-third of the world’s total caseload and a similar share of reported deaths from the pandemic.

      The climb from five to six million cases took 11 days, one day less than it took to reach the previous million.

      Latin America is the region of the world worst-affected by the pandemic, reporting an average of more than 86,000 daily infections and more than 2,600 deaths in the last seven days.

      03:47 GMT – China reports 22 new cases

      Health authorities in China reported 22 new coronavirus cases in the mainland for August 14, compared to 30 cases a day earlier.

      Of the new infections, 14 were imported and the locally transmitted cases included seven in the far western region of Xinjiang and one in Guangdong province.

      On Friday, a shopping centre in Shenzhen, a city in Guangdong, was sealed after a COVID-19 case was confirmed there. The Shenzhen health authority later that day said two positive cases had been found, both of whom had worked inside the mall at the Alibaba-owned supermarket Freshippo.

      Freshippo said in a separate statement that it had suspended operations at 21 of its stores in Shenzhen to carry out disinfection work and nucleic acid tests for its employees.


      Medical workers wearing protective suits are seen at a nucleic acid testing site outside the IBC Mall in Shenzhen after a worker was confirmed to have COVID-19 [David Kirton/ Reuters]

      03:13 GMT – Australia’s Victoria reports 303 new cases

      The Australian state of Victoria continued to flatten the curve in its wave of COVID-19 infections and deaths, reporting four more fatalities and 303 new cases in the past 24 hours.

      It was the second-lowest daily figure in Victoria this month after 278 cases on Thursday.

      Victoria’s daily numbers are gradually decreasing, with the seven-day average down to 344 from 521 a week ago. But authorities warn more progress is needed before lockdown restrictions in the city of Melbourne can be eased.

      “We could not conceive of opening up with 200 cases a day. We couldn’t do it with 100 cases a day. We have to head for the lowest possible number,” said Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.

      101 EAST | Australia’s Cruise Ship Nightmare (23:48)

      02:45 GMT – South Korea’s cases jump again

      South Korea reported 166 newly confirmed case of the coronavirus, its highest daily jump in five months, amid fears transmissions were getting out of control in the greater capital area.

      The figures announced by the country’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) brought the national caseload to 15,039, including 305 deaths.

      The KCDC said 155 of the new infections were locally transmitted, mostly from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area where authorities scurried to shut down thousands of churches, which have emerged as a major source of COVID-19 cases. Many of them had failed to properly enforce preventive measures, allowing worshippers to take off their masks, sing in choirs or eat together in diners.

      Other clusters have been tied to nursing homes, schools, restaurants, outdoor markets and door-to-door salespeople.

      02:29 GMT – Top official says coronavirus has peaked in Mexico

      Hugo Lopez-Gatell, Mexico’s point man for the coronavirus pandemic, said he thinks the country reached its peak of infections over the last three weeks.

      “We have now had a maximum point in the curve,” the assistant health secretary said, while also predicting that second waves of infections would continue occurring around the world for some time.

      “This is a phenomenon that is going to be with us in the whole world for several years,” he said.

      Lopez-Gatell had previously wrongly predicted that infections would peak in May and June.

      Meanwhile, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Mexico rose by 5,618 on Friday to reach 511,369. The health department reported 615 newly confirmed deaths from COVID-19, bringing the country’s total deaths to 55,908.

      COVID-19 vaccine: Safety concerns as countries rush for cure (1:57)

      01:37 GMT – Paris expands mask requirements for pedestrians

      France’s capital, Paris, is expanding the areas of the city where pedestrians will be obliged to wear masks starting on Saturday morning.

      The Champs-Elysees Avenue and the area around the Louvre Museum are among zones where masks will be mandatory, and police checks ensuring respect for mask-wearing in designated areas are to be reinforced.

      Bars and restaurants could be ordered closed if distancing and other barriers to virus transmission are not respected, health officials said. 

      00:20 GMT – California surpasses 600,000 cases, most in US

      California became the first state in the United States to surpass 600,000 cases of COVID-19 on Friday, although Governor Gavin Newsom said he was encouraged to see that hospitalisations have declined 20 percent over the past two weeks and admissions to ICU wards were down 14 percent in the same period.

      “The number that really matters to us is that positivity rate,” he said when asked about the state’s caseload. The positivity rate – the number of confirmed infections as a percentage of tests done – has declined from 7 percent to 6 percent statewide over the past 14 days, Newsom said.

      “I’m not going to back off on more tests because I fear [more cases],” he said.


      Karla Funderburk, artist and owner of Matter Studio Gallery, stands among some of the thousands of origami cranes hanging during an exhibition honouring the victims of COVID-19 in Los Angeles, the US on Tuesday, August 11, 2020 [Richard Vogel/ AP]

      Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m Zaheena Rasheed in Male, Maldives. 

      For all the key developments from yesterday, August 14, go here

      Belarus president says Putin ready to help ‘ensure security’

      Belarus president says Putin ready to help ‘ensure security’

      Comments by President Alexander Lukashenko comes as thousands gather in Minsk to remember man killed during protests.

      15 Aug 2020 20:35 GMT

        Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, left, called in for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s, right, help after warning there was ‘a threat not only to Belarus’ [File: Mikhail Klimentye/Sputnik/AFP]

        Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko says his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, has agreed to help to “ensure the security” of the country if needed as thousands of people continue to hold peaceful protests against his rule.

        Lukashenko made the comments on Saturday evening, several hours after a phone call with Putin, the first publicly known direct contact between the two leaders since he claimed a landslide victory in an election his opponents said was rigged.

        Facing the biggest challenge to his rule since taking power in 1994, Lukashenko called in Moscow’s help after warning there was “a threat not only to Belarus”.

        “To talk about the military element, we have an agreement with Russia as part of the union state and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Such situations fall under that agreement,” Lukashenko told defence chiefs according to by Belta state news agency.

        “I had a long, substantial conversation today with the Russian president … We agreed that at our very first request, comprehensive help will be given to ensure the security of Belarus.”

        Belarus and Russia have formed a “union state” linking their economies and militaries, while the CSTO is a military alliance between six ex-Soviet states.

        Protesters have been demanding that Lukashenko resign, saying the official results of the August 9 presidential election that gave him a sixth term in office are fraudulent.

        On Saturday, thousands of demonstrators gathered at the spot in the capital, Minsk, where a protester died. Some stripped off their shirts to display deep bruises they said came from being beaten by police.

        Despite harsh police crackdowns against the protesters, including the detention of some 7,000 people, the demonstrations have swelled into the largest and most sustained anti-government movement since Lukashenko took power 26 years ago.

        Belarus protests: UN human rights chief condemns crackdown (2:33)

        ‘We don’t need any foreign government’

        The 65-year-old Lukashenko, for his part, on Saturday rejected suggestions that foreign mediators become involved in trying to resolve the country’s political crisis.

        “Listen – we have a normal country, founded on a constitution. We don’t need any foreign government, any sort of mediators,” Lukashenko said.

        He appeared to be referring to an offer from the leaders of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to become involved.

        Meanwhile, a Kremlin statement said Putin and Lukashenko both expressed hope for a quick resolution to the tensions.

        “It is important that these problems are not used by destructive forces aimed at causing injury to the cooperation of the two countries in the framework of the union state,” the Kremlin said.

        Ties between the two traditional allies had been under strain before the election, as Russia scaled back the subsidies that propped up Lukashenko’s government. Russia sees Belarus as a strategic buffer against NATO and the European Union.

        A statement by Kremlin made no mention of the assistance mentioned by Lukashenko but said both sides expressed hope for a quick resolution to the tensions.

        Statements by both sides contained a pointed reference to a “union state” between the two countries. The neighbours had signed an agreement in the late 1990s which was supposed to create a unified state. The unification project was never properly implemented, and more recently, Lukashenko had rejected calls by Moscow for closer economic and political ties as an assault on his country’s sovereignty.


        People gather at the place where Alexander Taraikovsky died amid clashes protesting the election results, during his civil funeral in Minsk, Belarus [Dmitri Lovetsky/AP]

        Meanwhile, a funeral was held on Saturday for Alexander Taraikovsky, a 34-year-old protester who died on Monday in Minsk under disputed circumstances.

        Belarusian police said he died when an explosive device he intended to throw at police blew up in his hand. But his partner, Elena German, told The Associated Press news agency that when she saw his body in a morgue on Friday, his hands showed no damage and he had a perforation in his chest that she believes is a bullet wound.

        Some 5,000 demonstrators gathered in the area where Taraikovsky died. They laid a mass of flowers in tribute, piling into a mound about 1.5 metres (five feet) tall, as passing cars blared their horns.

        Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen, reporting from the gathering in Minsk, said people had been streaming in to visit the shrine, in memory of Taraikovsky but also as a sign of protest and defiance.

        She added that no police or security forces had been seen in the area in the last 48 hours.

        “On Friday, when people were marching towards the Independence Square, there was some military in front of the government house, but they lowered their shields, which led to remarkable scenes with women hugging them.

        “There was some riot police standing by. There were also reports about military trucks moving into the city, but so far, they haven’t shown themselves.”

        The brutal suppression of post-election protests in Belarus has drawn harsh criticism by Western countries and the United Nations. European Union foreign ministers said on Friday that they rejected the election results in Belarus and began drawing up a list of officials in Belarus who could face sanctions for their role in the crackdown.

        US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Saturday that he was glad to see that some protesters in Belarus had been freed but that it was not enough. He also said the presidential election in Belarus fell short of democratic standards.

        Opposition presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who fled to neighbouring Lithuania on Tuesday, has called for more protests and an election recount. Her campaign announced she was starting to form a national council to facilitate the transfer of power.

        Lukashenko has accused the demonstrators of being in cahoots with foreign backers aiming to topple his government and compared them to criminal gangs.

        Inside Story

        Will Belarus’s Lukashenko survive protests against his rule?

        George Floyd’s death: Officer minimises role during questioning

        George Floyd’s death: Officer minimises role during questioning

        Tou Thao, one of four officers charged for the death, says he was a ‘human traffic cone’ focused on crowd control.

        15 Aug 2020 20:32 GMT

          George Floyd’s death in police custody sparked national and international protests [File: Shannon Stapleton/AP]

          A former Minneapolis police officer involved in George Floyd’s arrest has told investigators he was focused on crowd control and minimised his role in the actions that led to Floyd’s death, video of the interview shows.

          Tou Thao, one of the four former officers charged in Floyd’s death, described himself as a “human traffic cone” as he held back onlookers who became increasingly horrified at the police officers’ actions during the May 25 incident, the Star Tribune reported on Saturday, citing video that was released a day before.

          Floyd, a handcuffed Black man, died after a white officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee against his neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25 as Floyd repeatedly said he could not breathe and as bystanders pleaded with officers to help him.

          “I don’t want anyone to die,” Thao told an investigator who asked what his reaction was to Floyd’s death. “It was kind of a sombre moment, especially for me. My heart kind of sank.”

          Thao voluntarily participated in the one-hour, 40-minute interview with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension eight days after Floyd’s death. He said as the bystanders got louder, he became worried they might rush Chauvin and two other officers who were holding Floyd on the ground.

          Floyd’s death has prompted a national reckoning over racial injustice and police atrocities that has seen months of protests across the United States.

          US police’s facial recognition systems misidentify Black people

          Thao and Chauvin had gone to the scene to help two officers, Thomas Lane and J Alexander Kueng, who were attempting to arrest Floyd for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store.

          While they were on the way, Thao said dispatch cancelled the backup call. But Thao, who was driving, said he felt compelled to respond because Lane and Kueng were new officers and the intersection was known to be “especially hostile” to police.

          In the interview, Thao said Floyd appeared to be on drugs, resisted arrest and used his legs to get out of a squad car.

          As the officers restrained Floyd on the ground, Thao said he heard him say he could not breathe, adding, “but then he was obviously yelling and talking”.

          Thao also said he has never used the manoeuvre that Chauvin used to pin Floyd to the ground.

          Although a woman who identified herself as a Minneapolis firefighter approached Thao and demanded that officers check Floyd’s pulse, Thao told investigators his job was securing the scene and that he could not “be in two places at once”.

          Thao, Lane and Kueng are charged with aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and manslaughter.

          Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. All four officers were fired and are scheduled for trial in March.

          The video of Thao’s interview was made available on Friday after Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office filed it to support a motion to have all four officers tried jointly.

          The next court hearing for the four is scheduled for September 11.

          South Africa’s Ramaphosa announces easing of coronavirus lockdown

          South Africa’s Ramaphosa announces easing of coronavirus lockdown

          Africa’s hardest-hit country to permit sale of alcohol and tobacco as well as reopening of restaurants and taverns.

          15 Aug 2020 19:49 GMT

            Ramaphosa said rates of new infections had fallen to an average of 5,000 a day, from a peak of 12,000 a day [Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters]

            South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that stringent coronavirus regulations would be eased as of Monday as the country’s infection rate falls.

            In a televised address on Saturday, Ramaphosa said the government would end a ban on alcohol and tobacco sales, allow restaurants and taverns to return to normal business – subject to strict hygiene regulations – and remove the ban on travel between provinces.

            “All indications are that South Africa has reached the peak and moved beyond the inflection point of the curve,” Ramaphosa said, adding that the cabinet had decided to move to lower, “level two” restrictions from midnight on Monday. 

            “The move to level two means that we can remove nearly all of the restrictions on the resumption of economic activity across most industries,” he said. 

            South Africa imposed in March one of the strictest lockdowns in the world as part of efforts to stem the spread of coronavirus. Alcohol sales were prohibited to ease pressure on hospitals, allowing doctors in emergency wards to focus on COVID-19 rather than road accidents and other booze-related injuries.

            Tobacco products were restricted because of the health impacts of smoking as well as the risk of contamination between people sharing cigarettes.

            South Africa’s healthcare system threatened by coronavirus crisis (2:43)

            South Africa still has the fifth-highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world and the most on the African continent, with 583,653 infections and some 11,550 related deaths registered to date. More than 460,000 people have recovered.

            The coronavirus pandemic has battered an economy already in recession and pushed millions of South Africans deeper into extreme poverty.

            But Ramaphosa said rates of new infections had fallen to an average of 5,000 a day, from a peak of 12,000 a day.

            This, as well as a rise in recoveries, were “significantly reducing the pressure on our health facilities”, but he cautioned that cases could surge if people fail to maintain vigilance. Restrictions on international travel remained in place, he said.

            The lifting of restrictions on alcohol will be a relief to the battered hospitality and drinks industries, some of which have been pushed close to bankruptcy and shed thousands of jobs.

            “The further easing of restrictions presents us with the greatest opportunity since the start of the pandemic to breathe life into our struggling economy,” Ramaphosa said.

            The announcement came almost two weeks after South Africa’s anti-corruption watchdog said it was investigating irregularities in government tenders during the coronavirus crisis.

            It came after several media reports alleged that politically connected individuals have benefitted from government contracts for goods and services mobilised to contain the spread of COVID-19. Ramaphosa has previously promised swift action against anyone found guilty of corruption.

            South Africa has been lauded by the World Health Organization for its efforts to curb the spread of the pandemic through medical interventions, disease monitoring and movement restrictions.

            Facebook ignored hate speech by India’s BJP politicians: Report

            Facebook ignored hate speech by India’s BJP politicians: Report

            Current and ex-Facebook staff tell Wall Street Journal a top India executive opposed taking down anti-Muslim posts.

            15 Aug 2020 19:45 GMT

              A woman checks the Facebook page of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, in New Delhi [File: Manish Swarup/AP]

              Facebook ignored its hate speech policy and allowed anti-Muslim posts on its platform to avoid ruining the social media company’s relationship with India’s governing party, says a report in the Wall Street Journal.

              The WSJ report published on Friday said a top Facebook executive in India refused to apply the company’s hate speech rules to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politicians and other “Hindu nationalist individuals and groups”.

              “The company’s top public-policy executive in the country, Ankhi Das, opposed applying the hate-speech rules to [T Raja] Singh and at least three other Hindu nationalist individuals and groups flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence,” it said, according to current and former Facebook employees.

              191030184750344

              Singh, the BJP’s only legislator in the southern state of Telangana, is known for his anti-Muslim rhetoric. The WSJ said the right-wing politician had demanded mainly-Muslim Rohingya refugees be shot, called India’s Muslims traitors and threatened to demolish mosques in his Facebook posts and public speeches.

              In March this year, the report said, Facebook employees responsible for policing the platform found Singh had violated their hate speech rules and suggested banning his account.

              But Das refused to act against Singh, who has tens of thousands of followers on Facebook and the company-owned Instagram, it added.

              “Das, whose job also includes lobbying India’s government on Facebook’s behalf, told staff members that punishing violations by politicians from [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi’s party would damage the company’s business prospects,” the report said, quoting unnamed current and former employees.


              In this September 27, 2015 photo, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg hugs Indian PM Narendra Modi in Menlo Park, California [File: Jeff Chiu/AP]

              Facebook spokesman Andy Stone “acknowledged that Das had raised concerns about the political fallout that would result from designating Singh a dangerous individual,” according to the WSJ report.

              It said the company deleted some of Singh’s hate posts after the newspaper made queries, removed the blue tick mark signifying a verified account and was “still considering whether a ban is warranted”.

              The report also mentioned at least two other BJP leaders, whose incendiary posts were reportedly deleted from the platform after the United States-based newspaper approached them for a response.

              200710075507831

              In his Facebook posts, Anantkumar Hegde, a BJP member of parliament, had alleged that Muslims were spreading coronavirus in the country as part of a conspiracy called “Corona Jihad”.

              In March, as the virus began to spread across India, a significant right-wing campaign by the BJP and sections of the media accused a Muslim missionary movement called Tablighi Jamaat of spreading COVID-19. Dozens of Jamaat leaders were arrested.

              A month before that, a video featuring former BJP legislator Kapil Mishra had emerged in which he could be seen warning the police in capital New Delhi to clear protesters demonstrating against a controversial citizenship law passed by the Indian parliament last December.

              The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) eases the path for non-Muslims from three neighbouring countries – Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan – to gain Indian citizenship.

              Muslims fear the CAA coupled with a planned national citizenship register is aimed at disenfranchising them. The United Nations has called the law “fundamentally discriminatory” towards Muslims and other minorities.

              Within hours of Mishra’s video going viral on social media, religious violence erupted in New Delhi, in which 53 people, most of them Muslims, were killed.

              The WSJ said the three-day rioting in the national capital in February was also organised via Facebook-owned WhatsApp, according to court documents filed by police and published in Indian newspapers.

              “[Facebook’s Mark] Zuckerberg had cited Mishra’s post, without naming him, in an employee town hall meeting in June, as an example of the sort of behavior that the platform wouldn’t tolerate from a politician,” the report said, adding that the company removed the video.

              Chile: UN probes Mapuche leader hunger strike, unrest

              Chile: UN probes Mapuche leader hunger strike, unrest

              OHCHR sends fact-finding mission following Mapuche leader’s hunger strike, which has continued for more than 100 days.

              15 Aug 2020 19:26 GMT

                Activists hold banners reading ‘And you, who are you defending?’ and ‘Mapuche Nation’ during a protest in support of Mapuche community members who have been jailed and are on hunger strikes [File: Ivan Alvarado/Reuters]

                The United Nations has sent a fact-finding team to Chile’s restive Araucania region where a jailed Indigenous Mapuche leader has spent more than 100 days on a hunger strike over his detention during the coronavirus pandemic.

                The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) confirmed on Saturday its team had visited the hospital in the regional capital, Temuco, where Celestino Cordova was being treated, according to Reuters news agency. They have also visited prisons where at least 20 other Mapuche people are on hunger strikes.

                The Mapuche fiercely resisted the Spanish conquest of Chile and have for decades been fighting for what they say is their ancestral land against landowners and the wood pulp industry.

                Chile: Mapuche protesters dispersed with water cannon

                Cordova was jailed for 18 years in 2014 for his alleged participation in the killing of an elderly landowning couple in an arson attack. He has been on a hunger strike for 104 days after the courts rejected his appeal to be transferred to house arrest because of COVID-19.

                His case has recently increased tensions in Chile, which were already high after several months of protests over inequality and deepening economic hardships due to the pandemic. 

                Protests and arson attacks have occurred in Araucania and elsewhere in the country. On Friday night, in Santiago’s Plaza Italia, police used water cannon to break up a demonstration in support of Cordova and made several arrests.

                Continued hunger strike

                Indigenous leaders have alleged forced evictions from council property, excessive or unnecessary use of force by the authorities and racial discrimination amid the unrest, Reuters reported citing a communique by OHCHR. 

                During the mission, the UN team has met with those leaders as well as with police, prosecutors and business representatives, it said.

                In July, after Cordova’s health deteriorated, Temuco’s appeals court ordered a hospital to intervene, including providing nutrients against his will. 

                On Friday, the government told Cordova he could return home to conduct an important Mapuche blessing ceremony of a totem carved into a tree if he ceased his hunger strike.

                “Both the government and various national and international organisations have made every effort to bring positions closer,” the justice ministry said in a statement.

                In an audio message circulated on social media that was purportedly recorded by Cordova, he said he would start a liquids strike, and accused President Sebastian Pinera of lacking the “wisdom” to resolve the conflict.

                “Because he is not up to the task, he will finally kill me,” he allegedly said. 

                People & Power

                Defiance of the Mapuche

                Ship leaking tonnes of oil off Mauritius splits apart

                Ship leaking tonnes of oil off Mauritius splits apart

                Japanese ship struck a reef on July 25 and is believed to have leaked some 1,000 tonnes of oil in pristine waters.

                15 Aug 2020 18:47 GMT

                  MV Wakashio, a bulk carrier ship that ran aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius is shown leaking oil [Eric Villars via AP]

                  A grounded Japanese-owned ship that leaked tonnes of oil near protected areas off the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius has split apart, with remaining fuel spreading into the turquoise waters.

                  The bulk carrier struck a coral reef off Mauritius on July 25 and its hull began to crack after days of pounding waves. Some 1,000 tonnes of fuel began to leak on August 6, threatening a protected marine park boasting mangrove forests and endangered species. 

                  On Sunday, photos posted on social media by the official clean-up showed the MV Wakashio in two pieces. Oil barriers were in place and a skimmer ship was nearby.

                  Mauritius declared an environmental emergency last week, and salvage crews raced against the clock to pump the remaining 3,000 tonnes of oil off the ship as environmental groups warned the damage to coral reefs and once-pristine coastal areas could be irreversible.

                  As of Saturday, about 90 tonnes of oil remained on board, much of it residue from the leakage.

                  Meanwhile, Japanese Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi said Tokyo planned to send a team of officials from the ministry and other specialists to Mauritius to assess the damage from the oil spill.

                  Koizumi also told reporters on Saturday he saw the oil spill as a grave crisis that could lead to a loss of biodiversity.

                  Indian Ocean faces growing threat of fuel spill

                  Under pressure

                  The Mauritius government is under pressure to explain why immediate action was not taken to empty the ship of its fuel. Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth earlier blamed bad weather for the slow response.

                  Owner Nagashiki Shipping is investigating why the ship went off course. The ship was meant to stay at least 16km (10 miles) from shore. The company has sent experts to help in cleaning up the damage.

                  The Mauritius government is seeking compensation from the company. Nagashiki has pledged to “sincerely” respond to requests for compensation over damage to the marine environment.

                  France and Japan have responded to Mauritius’s call for help with clean-up operations.  

                  After the government declared an environmental emergency, thousands of volunteers rushed to the shore to create makeshift oil barriers from tunnels of fabric stuffed with sugar cane leaves and even human hair, with empty soft drink bottles tucked in to keep them afloat.

                  So far, more than 800 tonnes of oil liquid waste and more than 300 tonnes of solid waste sludge and debris has been removed from the ocean.

                  The country of some 1.3 million people relies heavily on tourism and already had taken a severe hit with the coronavirus pandemic travel restrictions.

                  “The people of Mauritius are holding their breath,” Vassen Kauppaymuthoo, an oceanographer, told Al Jazeera.

                  “The image of Mauritius has been deeply impacted. When we look at those very sad images of oil sipping in one of the most pristine areas of the southeastern coast of Mauritius we feel very sad in Mauritius – and at the same time very angry about the situation and why it has occurred,” he said.

                  Noting that the oil spill came “at a very bad time” for Mauritius, Kauppaymuthoo said: “This part of the island may be severely impacted – and I am not sure it’s going to really recover after this event.”

                  My Nigeria

                  I remember the day… an oil spill changed my life

                  Egypt, Sudan ‘optimistic’ over Nile dam talks with Ethiopia

                  Egypt, Sudan ‘optimistic’ over Nile dam talks with Ethiopia

                  Egyptian PM Mostafa Madbouli and Sudanese counterpart Abdalla Hamdok issue joint statement after Khartoum talks.

                  15 Aug 2020 18:08 GMT

                    Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said last month his country had already achieved its first-year target for filling the reservoir [Adwa Pictures/AFP]

                    The prime ministers of Sudan and Egypt have expressed optimism after talks in the Sudanese capital that stalled negotiations with Ethiopia on its construction of a controversial giant dam on the Blue Nile would bear fruit.

                    The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is being built some 15km (9 miles) from Ethiopia’s border with Sudan, has become a significant source of discord between the three countries. Downstream Egypt and Sudan view the multibillion-dollar dam as a threat to vital water supplies, while Ethiopia considers its flagship infrastructure project crucial for its electrification and development.

                    Talks between the three countries were suspended last week after the Ethiopian government insisted on linking them to renegotiating a deal on sharing the waters of the Blue Nile.

                    On Saturday, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli made his first official visit to Sudan since the formation of a transitional government in Khartoum last year following the overthrow of longtime President Omar al-Bashir.

                    Following his talks with Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in Khartoum, a joint statement was issued saying that “negotiations are the only way to resolve the problems of the dam”.

                    The two prime ministers said they were “optimistic regarding the outcome of the negotiations” held under mediation by the African Union (AU), according to the statement.

                    “It is important to reach an agreement that guarantees the rights and interests of all three nations,” it said, adding that a “mechanism to resolve [future] disputes” should be part of any deal.

                    The politics behind the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (3:11)

                    Earlier this month, Egypt’s water ministry said Addis Ababa had put forward a draft proposal that lacked a legal mechanism for settling disputes.

                    South Africa, which holds the presidency of the AU and is mediating negotiations, has urged the three countries to “remain involved” in the talks.

                    In late June, Ethiopia rejected a United Nations Security Council meeting requested by Egypt saying the 15-member body should not be involved in the dispute, adding that it should be resolved at a regional level.

                    Almost a decade of tortuous negotiations have failed to yield an agreement to regulate how Ethiopia will fill the reservoir and operate the hydroelectric dam while protecting Egypt’s scarce water supplies.

                    The Blue Nile is a tributary of the Nile river, from which Egypt’s 100 million people get about 90 percent of their fresh water.

                    Last month, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said his country had already achieved its first-year target for filling the reservoir, thanks to a heavy rainy season.

                    Madbouli was accompanied to Khartoum by a delegation including Egypt’s ministers of water and irrigation, electricity, health, and trade and industry.

                    During his visit, Madbouli is also expected to meet with General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the ruling Sudan Sovereign Council, and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemeti), council deputy chief and military general.

                    Hamdok’s office said the visit aimed to improve cooperation between the two neighbouring countries.

                    Thai students protest to remove gov’t and reform monarchy

                    Thai students protest to remove gov’t and reform monarchy

                    The royal family is protected by laws designed to prevent criticism.

                    by 15 Aug 2020 17:44 GMT

                      Protesters in Thailand are planning another large rally on Sunday as they continue their push to remove the government and reform the monarchy.

                      The mainly student-led protests are calling for significant changes to the royal family’s role in society, which is considered a taboo subject in Thailand.

                      Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay reports.

                      FBI team heading to Beirut to join explosion investigation

                      FBI team heading to Beirut to join explosion investigation

                      The cause of the fire that ignited 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate at the port of Lebanon’s capital remains unclear.

                      15 Aug 2020 17:32 GMT

                        US Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale and ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea visit the site of the enormous blast [Reuters]

                        A team of FBI investigators is due to arrive in Lebanon this weekend to take part in an investigation into the massive explosion that devastated Beirut earlier this month.

                        David Hale, the US under-secretary for political affairs, called for a thorough and transparent investigation, adding that the FBI team is taking part at the invitation of Lebanese authorities to find answers about what caused the August 4 explosion at the port which killed more than 170 people and wounded thousands.

                        “We can never go back to an era in which anything goes at the port or the borders of Lebanon that had to contribute to this situation,” Hale said on Saturday after visiting the port.

                        French investigators are also taking part in the Lebanese-led probe.

                        The cause of the fire that ignited 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate at Beirut’s port remains unclear.

                        Documents have emerged showing the country’s top leadership and security officials were aware of the chemicals stored at the port. 

                        “We really need to make sure that there is a thorough, a transparent and credible investigation. I know that is what everyone is demanding,” Hale said.


                        Beirut hospitals, clinics struggle after deadly explosion (2:44)

                        Many Lebanese want the investigation taken out of the hands of their leaders, fearing that bickering among the long-entrenched political factions, notorious for corruption, will not allow any results to come to light that are damaging to their leadership.

                        Top Lebanese officials, including President Michel Aoun, have rejected calls for an independent probe, describing it as “a waste of time” that would be politicised.

                        Late on Friday, the leader of the powerful Hezbollah group said that he did not trust any international investigation, in a clear reference to the FBI assistance.

                        Hassan Nasrallah said the cause of the explosion was still unclear, adding that any international investigation would also have to clear Israel of any responsibility in the port explosion.

                        Israel has denied involvement and so far no evidence has emerged suggesting otherwise.

                        However, Aoun, who is supported by Hezbollah, has said it is one of the theories being investigated.

                        The explosion has fuelled popular anger and upended politics in crisis-hit Lebanon, leading to violent demonstrations and the resignation of the country’s government.

                        Western leaders have said they will send aid directly to the Lebanese people and that billions of dollars will not be pumped into the country before significant reforms take place.

                        Counting the Cost

                        Lebanon’s economy: Plundered by politics and banking elites

                        After devastating Beirut explosion, trauma sinks in

                        After devastating Beirut explosion, trauma sinks in

                        Those who survived the explosion that ripped through the Lebanese capital struggle with uncertainty, loss and paralysis.

                        by 15 Aug 2020 17:17 GMT

                          The trauma of the explosion in Beirut has piled problems onto a crisis-weary population [Timour Azhari/Al Jazeera]

                          Beirut, Lebanon – Walking through the rubble of her neighbourhood last week, Sabine Salameh spotted a car crushed under the yellow sandstone blocks of an old heritage building.

                          The silver sedan was flattened, caked in dust and was clearly never going to function again.

                          “I thought, that’s exactly how I feel right now,” Salameh says.

                          She brought a spray can close to its dented bodywork and wrote “Mood” in black, capital letters. Later, the 27-year-old freelance writer found out that the car belonged to a friend – a testament, she agrees, to how small Beirut is and how inextricably-linked so many of its inhabitants are.

                          A ferocious explosion tore through the Lebanese capital on August 4, killing more than 170 people, wounding upwards of 6,000 and leaving some 300,000 homeless. It also rippled across the connections that criss-cross the city, shaking even those who were at no immediate risk from the blast wave itself.


                          ‘That’s exactly how I feel right now,’ Beirut resident Sabine Salameh said of the flattened silver sedan, caked in dust [Azhari/Al Jazeera]

                          Some 10 days later, as the sound of glass being cleared recedes behind the clamour of hammers and the drills of reconstruction, many are struggling to see a way forward – the trauma of the explosion at the Beirut port has piled problems onto people already weary after a biblically-bad year.

                          In October, the worst wildfires in decades were swiftly followed by an unprecedented uprising demanding an overhaul of the political system. Then, the country’s deepest-ever economic crisis impoverished thousands. Then the coronavirus.

                          “And now this,” Salameh says. “We’re constantly trying to put our lives back together and then something else happens.”

                          “You feel that there is no place for you to put your feet on the ground, there’s nowhere safe,” she adds.

                          “We didn’t feel safe on the streets and then the revolution gave them back to us – we conquered the corner, then the square. Then corona showed us that safety is only inside our house, and then this broke everything: our home isn’t even safe any more.”

                          ‘We are waste-people in a wasteland’

                          Ghalia Alwani, a Syrian writer based in Beirut, had just opened her balcony door, facing the port, when the sky turned grey and an airborne tsunami rolled over her home.

                          Since then, the 25-year-old has only managed to spend one night at her house in the badly affected Mar Mikhael district, a cosmopolitan neighbourhood where foreigners of varied backgrounds live side-by-side with Lebanese.

                          The rumble of trucks driving past her glassless windows jolts her awake at night. “I’m literally scared of my bed,” she says.

                          The sound of running water in the shower morphs into the wailing of ambulance sirens and screaming people. Through her blurred vision, a roadside fruit stall contorts into dead bodies, including a bloodied couple she saw as she tried to escape.

                          All the memories are compounded by the fact that, like many Lebanese, Alwani has little confidence that the local investigation into the explosion will bring any justice for the victims.

                          “We are waste-people in a wasteland,” she said. “I’ve always felt through my experience with Syria that Arabs are so expendable. Maybe people here felt a bit more special because of the hip bars and life and art, but we are all waste-people who die and it doesn’t matter.”

                          Alwani stops, winces at the sound of a loud thud, and carries on: “It’s not normal that we can’t find joy in silly things like the latest TikTok trend because we’ve literally seen death. I don’t want to be an Arab-survivor-victim for life. But I am, it’s done.”


                          The Restart Center, specialised in rehabilitating victims of war, set up a tent in Beirut’s Mar Mikhael neighbourhood [Timour Azhari/Al Jazeera]

                          The explosion was so fierce that psychologists trained to help victims of war and torture have deployed to the streets, going door to door to provide emergency mental healthcare.

                          “Right now, we can talk about acute stress, people scared, fearing it may happen again, and lots of anger, we’re seeing so much anger,” Joelle Wehbe, a clinical psychologist at the Restart Center, specialised in rehabilitating victims of war, said from a tent set up in the Mar Mikhael neighbourhood.

                          She urges survivors to speak about what they saw, heard and felt, rather than push it down, which would only “amplify the symptoms”.

                          ‘What’s next?’

                          Many feel all they can do is to bury the horrors.

                          Mohamad Soliman, 27, was watching Netflix and drinking green tea when the explosion threw him and his dog into a wall of his house.

                          Shell-shocked, he walked through the street past dead people. One, he recalls, was bloodless but propped up lifeless against a wall, like “the soul was knocked out of him”.

                          He pushed on to his neighbour’s house. She was stuck on the fifth floor, blinded by shards of glass.

                          Soliman climbed stairs strewn with debris and cleaned her bloodied face. One of her eyes was split open. He says he told her it was dust, and shudders at the memory. 

                          The 27-year-old Egyptian lost everything in the explosion – his apartment, a bar he owns and a popular restaurant he has stakes in. People he knew – the chef at a local sandwich place; a waiter at a Resto-pub; Rawan, a 19-year-old waitress – were also in the explosion.

                          “What’s next? I don’t know. I get up and try to do something useful so I don’t think. Give me boxes to carry or bottles to move,” he says, before shaking his head.

                          “I can’t make any life decisions or think about the future when my whole community is gone.”

                          Inside Story

                          How will Lebanon deal with the devastating Beirut explosion?

                          MS Dhoni, ex-India cricket captain, says ‘consider me as retired’

                          MS Dhoni, ex-India cricket captain, says ‘consider me as retired’

                          Dhoni led India to inaugural Twenty20 World Cup title in 2007 and repeated the feat at 50-overs World Cup in 2011.

                          15 Aug 2020 17:16 GMT

                            Dhoni fields during the 2019 Cricket World Cup group stage match between South Africa and India at the Rose Bowl in Southampton, southern England [File: Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP]

                            Indian wicketkeeper-batsman and former captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has announced his retirement from international cricket in a cryptic message posted on Instagram.

                            “Thanks a lot for your love and support throughout. From 1929 hrs consider me as Retired,” he wrote on Instagram on Saturday with a video montage which had images from his 15-year international career.

                            The message ended speculation around the international future of the enigmatic 39-year-old, who quit test cricket in 2014 and has not played for India since the team’s semi-final exit at the 50-overs World Cup in July last year.

                            Dhoni burst onto the international scene in an one-dayer against Bangladesh in late 2004 as a long-haired wicketkeeper with spectacular power-hitting prowess.

                            He went on to become statistically India’s most successful captain, leading them to World Cup triumphs in 2007 (Twenty20) and 2011 (50-overs ODI), while they also became the top ranked test team under him in 2009.

                            MS Dhoni on Instagram: Consider me retired from 19:29 👀 pic.twitter.com/ZEgJL82x3h

                            — ICC (@ICC) August 15, 2020

                            As a batsman, Dhoni also transformed himself into one of the best finishers of the game, famously illustrating it by securing India’s 2011 World Cup victory by hitting a six in the final against Sri Lanka.

                            The immensely popular cricketer ends his ODI career having played 350 matches, scoring 10,773 runs and effecting 444 dismissals. He holds the record for most dismissals in T20 internationals with 91 in 98 matches.

                            Overall, Dhoni has amassed 17,000 international runs across formats, including 16 centuries, and more than 800 victims as wicketkeeper.

                            Dhoni also captains the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in the franchise-based T20 Indian Premier League (IPL). He led the CSK team since the inaugural 2008 edition of the IPL tournament, winning the title in 2010, 2011 and 2018.

                            Your contribution to Indian cricket has been immense, @msdhoni. Winning the 2011 World Cup together has been the best moment of my life. Wishing you and your family all the very best for your 2nd innings. pic.twitter.com/5lRYyPFXcp

                            — Sachin Tendulkar (@sachin_rt) August 15, 2020

                            ‘End of an era’

                            Fellow India great Sachin Tendulkar said Dhoni’s contribution had been immense.

                            “Winning the 2011 World Cup together has been the best moment of my life,” the 47-year-old former batting maestro tweeted. “Wishing you and your family all the very best for your 2nd innings.”

                            “It is the end of an era,” Indian cricket board (BCCI) president Sourav Ganguly said in a statement.

                            “His leadership qualities have been something which will be hard to match, especially in the shorter format of the game.

                            “Every good thing comes to an end and this has been an absolutely brilliant one,” added Ganguly, himself a former India captain.

                            BCCI secretary Jay Shah called Dhoni “one of the greats of the modern era”.

                            “I wish him all the very best for IPL and his future endeavours,” Shah said, suggesting Dhoni would play in this year’s IPL, which will be held in the United Arab Emirates from September 19.

                            Shortly after Dhoni’s announcement, former India all-rounder Suresh Raina also said he was retiring from international cricket.

                            “It was nothing but lovely playing with you [Dhoni],” Raina, also Dhoni’s CSK teammate, wrote on Instagram. “With my heart full of pride, I choose to join you in this journey. Thank you India.”

                            Apart from appearing in 18 tests and 78 T20 matches, the 33-year-old Raina also played in 226 ODIs, where he averaged 35 with the bat, including 36 half-centuries and five 100s, and took 36 wickets.

                            Congratulations, Suresh on a wonderful career playing 🏏 for India.

                            Still remember our partnership & on-field conversations during your debut Test!

                            Wish you all the very best for your future endeavours. pic.twitter.com/kyhczi2juE

                            — Sachin Tendulkar (@sachin_rt) August 15, 2020

                            Pompeo signs deal to deploy more US troops in Poland

                            Pompeo signs deal to deploy more US troops in Poland

                            Deal comes two weeks after the US announced it was withdrawing nearly 12,000 troops from Germany.

                            15 Aug 2020 16:26 GMT

                              US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Poland’s Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak sign the US-Poland Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement on Saturday [Janek Skarzynski/The Associated Press]

                              The United States has sealed a defence cooperation deal with Poland that will pave the way to deploy more US troops to the Eastern European nation.

                              US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak on Saturday signed the deal, called the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which makes Poland a critical component of the US military presence in Europe.

                              “This will also strengthen the guarantee that our soldiers will stand shoulder to shoulder in the case of any kind of danger, whether it be a threat to Poland or one for the USA,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said after the ceremony.

                              US President Donald Trump concurred, in a statement released by the White House.

                              “The agreement will enhance our military cooperation and increase the United States military presence in Poland to further strengthen NATO deterrence, bolster European security, and help ensure democracy, freedom, and sovereignty,” it read.

                              Along with the extra troop presence, the agreement would make Poland the headquarters of the leadership of the US Army V Corps, which is primarily based in Fort Knox in Kentucky. About 200 members of that unit will now be in Poland on a rotational basis.

                              At present, some 4,500 US military personnel are stationed in the European NATO member nations, but there is no permanent base for them.

                              Poland has long pressed for a permanent presence, which it sees as a guarantee against any potential Russian aggression. Russia has criticised the planned NATO presence so near to its borders.

                              Is NATO still relevant?

                              The US-Poland deal came two weeks after Washington announced plans to withdraw nearly 12,000 troops from Germany, redistributing about half of them to other NATO countries, including Poland, Belgium and Italy, and returning the rest to the US.

                              The Trump administration had repeatedly criticised Germany, one of the US’s closest allies since the second World War, saying it was not meeting its funding commitments to NATO.

                              “The opportunities are unlimited, the resources will be available,” Pompeo said at a news conference after the deal was signed.

                              “Troop levels matter … but the world has moved on, too,” Pompeo said, referring to threats posed in space, cyberspace and disinformation campaigns. He said the deal would address those threats too.

                              The deal would also further other aspects of US-Polish cooperation, he added, citing primarily investment and trade ties.

                              Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said the presence of US troops “enhances our deterrence potential because we are closer to the potential source of conflict”.

                              “It is important that they should be deployed here in Poland and not in Germany,” he said.

                              After the signing ceremony, Pompeo joined Duda and other Polish leaders at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to mark the centennial of Poland’s landmark victory against the Russian Bolsheviks in 1920 during the Polish-Soviet war.

                              Equatorial Guinea’s government, prime minister resign

                              Equatorial Guinea’s government, prime minister resign

                              Announcement comes as country struggles to cope with economic shock linked with coronavirus and crude price drop.

                              15 Aug 2020 15:51 GMT

                                President Teodoro Obiang said he ‘regretted that the outgoing government did not fulfil its policy objectives, which undoubtedly led to this crisis situation’ [Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images]

                                The government and prime minister of Equatorial Guinea have tendered their resignation to President Teodoro Obiang, who said they had not done enough to help the country at a time of crisis.

                                The Central African oil producer is suffering a double economic shock linked to the coronavirus pandemic and a drop in the price of crude oil, which provides about three-quarters of state revenue.

                                “The head of state regretted that the outgoing government did not fulfil its policy objectives, which undoubtedly led to this crisis situation,” read a statement on the government website on Friday.

                                Francisco Pascual Obama Asue had been prime minister since June 2016.

                                In February 2018, the president dissolved the government before reappointing the prime minister and the three deputy prime ministers to their posts. 

                                A new government is expected to be announced soon.

                                Obiang, who has ruled the country since deposing his uncle in a 1979 coup, has been accused by critics of repressing political opponents.

                                Speculation over the state of the 78-year-old’s health in recent weeks has raised expectations the cabinet could be reshuffled to include those more supportive of his son, Vice President Teodorin Obiang, according to Tutu Alicante, the head of EG Justice, a US-based organisation.

                                “They were going to move progressively towards having a government, a cabinet, that would not stand in the way of Teodorin fully assuming the governing roles,” Alicante was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

                                The younger Obiang was convicted of embezzlement in France in October 2017 during a trial in absentia. The court ordered the confiscation of assets worth more than 100 million euros ($118m).

                                Earlier, Swiss prosecutors had confiscated a collection of his supercars under a deal ending a money-laundering inquiry. The cars fetched nearly $27 million ($32m) at auction last September.

                                The economy of Equatorial Guinea has struggled to recover from a recession caused by a 2014 slump in oil prices and is expected to contract by a further 5.5 percent in 2020, according to International Monetary Fund figures.

                                COVID-19 vaccine: Safety concerns as countries rush for cure (2:24)

                                Belarus braces for fresh protests as pressure grows on Lukashenko

                                Belarus braces for fresh protests as pressure grows on Lukashenko

                                Opposition leaders call for weekend of protests; prime ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania call for new polls.

                                15 Aug 2020 15:10 GMT

                                  Protesters are demanding President Lukashenko step down and call for fresh elections [Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters]

                                  Thousands are gathering in the capital, Minsk, as Belarus gears up for a weekend of new demonstrations with pressure growing on longtime leader Alexander Lukashenko.

                                  With the opposition gaining momentum after days of protests over last Sunday’s disputed presidential vote, Lukashenko’s main election challenger Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has called on supporters to rally this weekend again.

                                  Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen, reporting from Minsk, said protesters have started gathering near the Pushkinskaya metro station to honour Alexander Taraikovsky, a 34-year-old protester who died there on Monday and whose funeral was being held.

                                  “Thousands have gathered here in the last hour. They held a minute’s silence. People are here on the streets for the seventh day in a row to not just protest police violence but also the election results,” she said.

                                  “They are asking for President Lukashenko to step down. They are also asking for fresh elections to be held. So far, the government has not responded to any of their requests.”

                                  Thousands are chanting: “Sve-ta! Sve-ta!” (Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya). pic.twitter.com/oArqFBwNGS

                                  — Franak Viačorka (@franakviacorka) August 15, 2020

                                  A “March for Freedom” is planned in central Minsk on Sunday, a week after the contested election that 65-year-old Lukashenko claims to have won with 80 percent of the vote.

                                  Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old political novice who ran after other opposition candidates, including her husband, were jailed, accuses Lukashenko of rigging the vote and has demanded he step down so new elections can be held.

                                  On Tuesday, she left the country for neighbouring Lithuania, with her allies saying she came under official pressure.

                                  On Friday, she re-emerged with the call for a weekend of “peaceful mass gatherings” in cities across the country.

                                  Belarus election challenger Tikhanovskaya flees to Lithuania (03:01)

                                  She is also demanding authorities be held to account for a police crackdown on post-election protests that saw more than 6,700 people arrested.

                                  Hundreds have been injured after police used rubber bullets, stun grenades and, in at least one case, live rounds to disperse the crowds.

                                  Officials have confirmed two deaths in the unrest, including Taraikovsky who they say died when an explosive device went off in his hand during a protest, and another man who died in custody after being arrested in the southeastern city of Gomel.

                                  On Friday, authorities began releasing hundreds of those arrested and many emerged from detention with horrific accounts of beatings and torture.

                                  Amnesty International condemned “a campaign of widespread torture and other ill-treatment by the Belarusian authorities who are intent on crushing peaceful protests by any means”.

                                  In some of the biggest demonstrations yet, thousands marched in Minsk on Friday to denounce the police violence and demand Lukashenko step down.


                                  Women greet a soldier guarding the Belarusian government building in a show of friendliness, in Minsk, Belarus [Sergei Grits/AP]

                                  In euphoric scenes on Independence Square in Minsk, protesters hugged and kissed young interior ministry troops guarding a government building and put flowers in their anti-riot shields.

                                  Unlike the scenes of violent detentions days earlier, police stood by quietly.

                                  ‘We will not give up the country to anyone’

                                  On Saturday, prime ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania called on Belarus to conduct new “free and fair” elections.

                                  A new vote should be held “in a transparent way with the participation of international observers”, the leaders said in a joint statement after meeting in Estonia.

                                  The Kremlin said on Saturday that President Vladimir Putin and Lukashenko agreed in a phone call that the “problems” in Belarus would be swiftly resolved.

                                  “Both sides expressed confidence that all the problems that have arisen will be resolved soon,” the Kremlin said in a statement after Lukashenko said he needed to contact Moscow over the growing protests against his rule.

                                  Lukashenko rejected on Saturday offers of foreign mediation, telling defence chiefs he would not give up power.

                                  “We will not give up the country to anyone,” state news agency Belta quoted Lukashenko as saying at a meeting at the defence ministry.

                                  “We don’t need any foreign governments, any intermediaries,” he said.

                                  Chile: Mapuche protesters dispersed with water cannon

                                  Chile: Mapuche protesters dispersed with water cannon

                                  Most of Chile’s Indigenous Mapuche people live in poverty.

                                  by 15 Aug 2020 14:43 GMT

                                    Police in Chile have used water cannon against protesters demonstrating in the capital, Santiago.

                                    Several people demanding better rights for the Indigenous Mapuche people were arrested.

                                    Al Jazeera’s Sara Khairat reports.