After weeks of scouring the Java Sea, investigators have found a crucial piece of the cockpit voice recorder belonging to an Indonesian jetliner that crashed in January, killing all 62 people aboard.
The cockpit voice recorder, or CVR, from the Boeing 737-500 could shed light on actions taken by the pilots in the minutes between takeoff from Jakarta and the plane's fateful plunge into the sea on Jan. 9.
Within days of the crash, divers had located the casing and beacon from the Sriwijaya Air Flight SJ 182's "black boxes" — both the cockpit data recorder and the CVR. However, they were unable to find a memory unit that apparently broke away from the rest of the unit at the time of the crash.
Using dredging equipment to sift the muddy seabed, searchers were able to recover the CVR's memory unit Tuesday evening, Soerjanto Tjahjono, the head of Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee, or KNKT, told reporters.
"It was like trying to find a needle in a haystack," he said as the recorder was displayed during a news conference on Wednesday at Jakarta's main Tanjung Priok port.
The Borneo-bound airliner nosed into the Java Sea minutes after takeoff from Jakarta. The last time the plane made contact with the tower was about four minutes after takeoff, when pilots acknowledged instructions to climb to 13,000 feet. The recovered flight data recorder, or FDR, showed that the plane reached only 10,900 feet before it began losing altitude.
Both the plane's captain and the first officer were experienced pilots.
Although a cause for the crash has yet to be determined, investigators issued a preliminary report in February relying only on what could be gleaned from the flight data recorder. They said an imbalance in engine thrust led the plane to experience a sharp roll and then a dive into the sea. Investigators pointed to a faulty throttle as a possible contributing factor.
"But without the CVR, it would be very difficult to find the cause of the Sriwijaya Air accident," Tjahjono said at Tuesday's news conference, according to Reuters.
KNKT investigator Nurcahyo Utomo said the memory unit from the CVR was not damaged in the plane's impact. He said it was being cleaned of mud and salt that accumulated during its weeks at the bottom of the sea.
Tjahjono said it would take "about three days to one week" to read the data off the CVR.
"After that we'll transcribe and match it to FDR," he said.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has confirmed that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were not legally married prior to their televised wedding, clarifying comments made by the duchess in the couple's bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey.
The interview contained plenty of revelations, including the news that Meghan and Harry had exchanged vows in private a few days before the ceremony.
"You know, three days before our wedding, we got married," said Meghan. "No one knows that. The vows that we have framed in our room are just the two of us in our backyard with the Archbishop of Canterbury."
The duchess didn't elaborate on the private service, but many people deduced that it wasn't legally binding because of the absence of witnesses.
Welby, who led the couple in their public vows on May 19, 2018, has now shed more light on events.
"The legal wedding was on the Saturday. I signed the wedding certificate, which is a legal document, and I would have committed a serious criminal offense if I had signed it knowing it was false," Welby said, in comments first reported by Italian newspaper La Repubblica and confirmed to CNN by Lambeth Palace.
"So, you can make what you like of that. But the legal wedding was on the Saturday, but I won't say what happened at any earlier meetings," the archbishop added.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle married at St. George's Chapel in Windsor, becoming the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
However, in January last year, the pair announced they would step back from the royal family.
Earlier this month, they used a heavily publicized interview with Oprah to discuss their experiences, including allegations of racism within the family itself and Meghan's admission that she felt suicidal during her pregnancy.
The two-hour TV special was highly anticipated because Harry and Meghan are now allowed to speak more freely about the royal family after their effective split from the palace.
In one of the interview's most startling revelations, Meghan said an unnamed member of the family raised the issue of how dark their unborn baby Archie's skin would be while she was pregnant.
There were several "concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he was born," she said.
New York state has legalized marijuana for adults and will expunge the criminal records of people previously convicted of crimes that would be legal under the new law.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation on Wednesday, roughly 12 hours after the Legislature approved it. New York is now the 15th state to allow recreational marijuana for adults.
"This is a historic day in New York -- one that rights the wrongs of the past by putting an end to harsh prison sentences, embraces an industry that will grow the Empire State's economy, and prioritizes marginalized communities so those that have suffered the most will be the first to reap the benefits," Cuomo said in a statement.
The legislation could generate $350 million in annual tax revenue and create 60,000 jobs, according to the statement.
Under the final legislation, New Yorkers will be allowed to possess 3 ounces of marijuana and grow up to three mature pot plants at home, with a limit of six per household.Anyone previously convicted of possessing an amount of marijuana now under the legal limit automatically will be subject to expungement and re-sentencing.
"This effort was years in the making and we have finally achieved what many thought was impossible, a bill that legalizes marijuana while standing up for social equity, enhancing education and protecting public safety," state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement Wednesday.
The legislation will create the Office of Cannabis Management, which will regulate the sale and distribution of both recreational and medical marijuana, which was legalized in 2014. A five-member board will lead the office, with three members appointed by the governor and one appointed by each house of the Legislature.
The pressure on state leaders to legalize marijuana has increased after several states, including for New York neighboring New Jersey, recently approved measures to allow recreational cannabis. Marijuana legalization advocates applauded New York leaders for passing the legislation during this year's session.
"The Assembly and the Senate modeled what democracy actually looks like when the legislature allows progressive movements to lead towards justice," Jawanza James Williams, the director of organizing at VOCAL-NY, said in a statement Tuesday night.
North Korea launched a "newly developed new-type tactical guided projectile", state news agency KCNA reported on Friday, as the US warned of a threat to international peace and security.
The launches, which were the country's first ballistic missile tests in nearly a year, underscored steady progress in its weapons programme amid stalled denuclearisation talks with the United States.
President Joe Biden said on Thursday the United States remained open to diplomacy with North Korea despite its missile tests this week, but warned there would be responses if North Korea escalates matters.
The State Department later condemned the ballistic missile launches as destabilising. "These launches violate multiple UN Security Council resolutions and threaten the region and the broader international community," a State Department spokesman said.
The new weapon is based on existing technology that was improved to carry a 2.5-tonne warhead, KCNA reported.
It said the two weapons accurately struck a target 600 km off North Korea's east coast, which conflicts with estimates by South Korean and Japanese authorities who said the missiles flew about 420-450 km.
"The development of this weapon system is of great significance in bolstering up the military power of the country and deterring all sorts of military threats," said Ri Pyong Chol, the senior leader who oversaw the test.
Photos released by state media showed a black-and-white painted missile blasting off from a military launch vehicle.
Missile specialists at the California-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) said it appeared to be a missile that was unveiled at a major military parade in Pyongyang in October.
If it is, then Thursday's missiles were likely an improved and probably stretched variant of the previously tested KN-23 missile with "a really big warhead," said Jeffrey Lewis, of CNS.
The KN-23 is a North Korean short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) first tested in May 2019, with visual similarity to Russia's Iskander-M SRBM, prompting analysts to debate whether it was developed with foreign help.
The new missile's 2.5-tonne warhead may be a response to South Korea's announcement in August that its latest Hyunmoo-4 SRBM had "the largest payload in the world" at 2 tonnes, Lewis said.
The SRBMs developed by North Korea are designed to defeat missile defences and conduct a precision strike in South Korea, analysts say.
KCNA said Thursday's test confirmed the missile's capability to conduct "low-altitude gliding leap type flight mode," a feature that makes such weapons harder to detect and shoot down.
KCNA's report suggested North Korean leader Kim Jong Un did not attend the launch, and undated state media photos published on Friday showed him inspecting new passenger buses in Pyongyang.
Kim has vowed to try to improve living conditions for citizens as North Korea's economy was ravaged by multiple crises, including international sanctions over the missile and nuclear weapons programmes, natural disasters, and a crushing self-imposed border lockdown that slowed trade to a trickle in an effort to prevent a coronavirus outbreak.
EU leaders have voiced frustration over a massive shortfall in contracted deliveries of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, as a third wave of infections surged across Europe.
With inoculation programmes running far behind those of Britain and the United States, the bloc's executive warned that vaccine exports by the British-Swedish company would be blocked until it delivers the shots it promised to the EU.
"We have to and want to explain to our European citizens that they get their fair share," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference after a video-conference summit of the European Union's leaders.
"The company has to catch up, has to honour the contract it has with the European member states, before it can engage again in exporting vaccines," she said.
Of 300 million doses due to be delivered to EU countries by the end of June, Astrazeneca aims to deliver only 100 million.
That has contributed to a stuttering start to vaccination rollouts. As of March 23, Britain had administered nearly 46 shots for every 100 people, compared with under 14 per 100 in the 27-nation bloc it left last year, according to figures compiled by website Our World In Data.
This week, the European Commission unveiled plans to tighten oversight of vaccine exports. This would allow greater scope to block shipments to countries with higher inoculation rates.
The EU is divided over whether to take a tougher line on vaccine exports by companies that do not meet contractual commitments. French President Emmanuel Macron made it clear he was fully behind it.
"It's the end of naivety," he told a news conference after the summit. "I support the fact that we must block all exports for as long as some drug companies don't respect their commitments with Europeans."
The Philippines will reimpose stricter quarantine measures in the capital Manila and nearby provinces, a senior official said on Saturday, as the country battles to contain a surge in COVID-19 cases that put a bigger strain on hospitals.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the measures would be in effect from March 29 to April 4.
The health ministry on Saturday reported 9,595 new coronavirus cases, marking the second straight day the daily jump in infections remained above 9,000. The country posted a record rise in three of the past five days.
Spain is to require people arriving by land from France to present a negative COVID-19 test, the Health Ministry said on Saturday, amid rising numbers of French arrivals and an uptick in Spain's coronavirus rate.
Anyone arriving by land from risk areas will have to present a negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test that was taken within 72 hours prior to their arrival.
"The order will take effect three days after its publication in the Official State Gazette and until the government declares the end of the health crisis situation caused by COVID-19," the Health Ministry said in a statement.
The new requirement will not apply to truck drivers, cross-border workers, and people who live within 30 kilometres of the border.
Many French people, weary of their own lockdown, have been flocking over the border to enjoy open bars and restaurants in areas such as Madrid.
But Spain's coronavirus infection rate has continued to climb steadily over the past week, suggesting a long decline could be in danger of reversing.
The rate, which is measured over the preceding 14 days, rose on Friday to 138.6 per 100,000 people from 134 on Thursday, the Health Ministry said. It reported 7,586 new cases, bringing Spain's overall tally to 3.26 million. The death toll rose by 590 to 75,010.
Tanzania has given a hero's burial to President John Magufuli, who died earlier this month after denying that COVID-19 was a danger to the East African country.
Magufuli's coffin was lowered into the ground Friday by military generals followed by a 21-gun salute in Chato, his hometown in the country's northwest.
Magufuli was one of Africa’s most prominent COVID-19 skeptics. Even though his government announced on March 17 that he had died of heart failure, opposition leaders charge that he died of complications from COVID-19.
Magufuli claimed last year that three days of national prayer had eradicated COVID-19 from Tanzania and discouraged residents from wearing face masks and getting vaccines.
An estimated 3,500 mourners gathered, many of them unmasked and standing close together, on a soccer field for a Catholic mass for Magufuli that was presided over by Archbishop Gervas Nyaisonga and more than 20 priests.
Former President Jakaya Kikwete delivered a eulogy in Swahili, remembering Magufuli as a longtime friend and confidante. “I nominated him for the presidency and I had no doubt,” he said, describing Magufuli as “an honest, hardworking, attentive leader who does not tolerate negligence.”
Also attending the burial was President Samia Suluhu Hassan, the former vice president who succeeded Magufuli to become Tanzania's first woman president.
Many Tanzanians followed the proceedings on live TV and radio in the country of 60 million where the populist leader was admired by many for his pugnacious style of leadership and action against corruption.
Others, however, are critical of his legacy, saying his rule reduced fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly.
Opposition leader Tundu Lissu, who came in second in elections in October that were marred by violence, widespread allegations of rigging, maintains that Magufuli died of COVID-19.
Lissu, in exile in Belgium fearing for his life after refusing to accept the election results, was among the first to note Magufuli's absence from public view before his death. Magufuli had not been seen in public since Feb. 27, when he swore in a new chief secretary after his predecessor died with what many speculate was COVID-19. For days government officials denied Magufuli was ill, claiming he was simply busy.
“President Magufuli defied the world, defied science, defied common sense in his approach to COVID-19 and it finally brought him down,” Lissu told The Associated Press last week.
Felix Maluma, a trader in the largest city, Dar es Salaam, said he was shocked by the death of Magufuli.
“I don’t think we will have such a good leader," he said. "I pray that the next leader (President Samia Suluhu Hassan) gets the courage to fulfill the promises made by President Magufuli.”
Source: Associated Press
A southern Indiana nurse has been charged with practicing medicine without a license for allegedly removing a nursing home resident's oxygen mask hours before he died from COVID-19 last year.
Connie Sneed, 52, was charged Thursday with the felony, which in Indiana carries a potential penalty of one to six years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Authorities began investigating the man's April 2020 death at a nursing home in Clarksville, Indiana, after learning that Sneed wrote in a social media post that she had asked the man if he wanted her to remove his oxygen mask so he could “fly with the angels."
In that Facebook post, Sneed called her alleged actions, “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in 28 years," according to an inspection report from the Indiana Department of Health.
The man, who was a resident at Wedgewood Healthcare Center, had been struggling after days of aggressive oxygen treatment for COVID-19, according to investigators. Sneed wrote in her Facebook post that she saw him repeatedly try to take off his oxygen mask when she approached him and asked if he wanted her to remove it, according to the report.
“I asked him on day 4 if he’s tired he said yes I said do you want me to take all this off for you and let you go and fly with the angels and he said yes," she wrote. “I took it all off for him I went in the hallway and cried and I let him go he passed away 1 hour and 45 minutes after I left.”
The man received no additional treatment and died nearly eight hours later, the report states.
Reached by telephone on Friday morning, Sneed told The Indianapolis Star, “I have no comment.” She said she has an attorney but would not provide a name. Online court records do not list an attorney representing her.
Sneed is a licensed practical nurse with an active license, according to the state’s online licensing database.
In a May 2020 interview with state inspectors, Sneed confirmed that she had removed the man’s oxygen. She said she’d had a “terrible” week and was caring for more than 40 COVID-19 patients at the nursing home when she forgot to notify the resident’s physician of the man's decline.
Sneed also told inspectors that the man’s daughter had told her “if it was her father’s wishes she could remove the mask.”
Sneed, who had worked at the nursing home for 15 years, was terminated May 6, 2020, when it was determined she had violated the nursing home's policy and standard nursing practice by both administering and then removing the oxygen.
Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull said he received a report from the Indiana Attorney General’s office last week that resulted in the charge being filed Thursday against Sneed.
“After reviewing the results of the investigation it was my conclusion that this nurse was not justified in removing this man’s oxygen without consulting with and getting the permission of the supervising physician,” Mull told the News and Tribune.
Source: Associated Press
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrived in Iran on Friday for a visit that Iranian state media said would see the signing of a 25-year cooperation agreement between the two countries, which are both under U.S sanctions.
The accord, final details of which are yet to be announced, is expected to include Chinese investments in Iran’s energy and infrastructure sectors.
In 2016, China, Iran’s largest trading partner and long-time ally, agreed to boost bilateral trade by more than 10 times to $600 billion in the next decade.
"The signing of the comprehensive cooperation programme of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People's Republic of China by the foreign ministers of the two countries is another programme of this two-day trip," state news agency IRNA said.
Iran is hardening its stance towards the United States and the European parties to Tehran's 2015 nuclear accord with world powers.
"This document is a complete roadmap with strategic political and economic clauses covering trade, economic and transportation cooperation ... with a special focus on the private sectors of the two sides," Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told state TV.
On Thursday, China's commerce ministry said Beijing will make efforts to safeguard the Iran nuclear deal and defend the legitimate interests of Sino-Iranian relations.
China made the comments after Reuters reported that Iran has" indirectly" moved record volumes of oil into China in recent months, marked as supplies from other countries, even as China customs data showed that no Iranian oil was imported in the first two months of this year.
U.S. President Joe Biden has sought to revive talks with Iran on the nuclear deal abandoned by former President Donald Trump in 2018, although harsh economic measures remain in place that Tehran insists be lifted before any negotiations resume.
The United States and the other Western powers that joined the 2015 deal appear at odds with Tehran over which side should return to the accord first, making it unlikely that U.S. sanctions which have crippled Iran's economy can be quickly removed.
However, the OPEC member's oil exports climbed in January after a boost in the fourth quarter, despite U.S. sanctions, ina sign that the end of Trump's term may be changing buyer behaviour. Since late 2018 there was a sharp drop in Iranian exports to China and other Asian customers.
Brazil's daily Covid-19 death toll has passed 3,000 for the first time as the virus continues its rapid spread, pushing hospitals close to collapse.
The country has reported 298,676 deaths linked to the virus since the start of the pandemic, with experts saying the situation is virtually out of control.
President Jair Bolsonaro, who has opposed lockdowns and criticised face masks, defended his actions on Tuesday.
Pot-banging protests were held in major cities during his televised address.
The far-right president - who repeatedly played down the virus, raised doubts about vaccines and defended unproven drugs as treatment - said he would make 2021 the year of vaccinations.
"Very soon we'll resume our normal lives," said the president, who has been under heavy criticism at home and abroad. Shortly before his four-minute speech, the health ministry reported that 3,251 people had died with the virus in the previous 24 hours.
Brazil has been struggling with the rollout of its vaccination programme, with 6.64 doses administered per 100 people, according to the Our World in Data tracker. Critics say the Bolsonaro government was slow in negotiating supplies amid a worldwide run, leaving Brazil facing delays in receiving jabs.
The worsening of the Brazilian outbreak is also attributed to the spread of highly contagious variants of the virus. States and cities have announced a number of measures in recent weeks to limit the movement of people in an attempt to slow contagion.
The president has argued that the collateral damage to the economy brought by restrictions would be worse than the effects of the virus itself, a view shared by many of his supporters. But his attempt to stop local authorities from imposing them was blocked by the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Many hospitals are running out of ICU beds and drugs needed to treat critically ill patients are in short supply. Six states also reported "worrying" levels of medical oxygen supplies, the prosecutor general's office said.
On Tuesday, the leading health institute Fiocruz urged authorities to co-ordinate a national response and close non-essential businesses in all but two states for 14 days. "Partial and isolated measures will only prolong this health crisis," the institute's researchers said.
To date, Brazil has reported more than 12.1 million cases, according to the health ministry.
The director of the Pan American Health Organization, Carissa Etienne, said the virus continued "to surge dangerously across Brazil", urging all Brazilians to adopt preventive measures.
"Unfortunately, the dire situation in Brazil is also affecting neighbouring countries," she added, saying that cases had risen in border regions of Venezuela, Peru and Bolivia.
Also on Tuesday, President Bolsonaro swore in cardiologist Marcelo Queiroga as his fourth health minister since the pandemic began. He replaces Eduardo Pazuello, an active-duty army general who is under investigation at the Supreme Court over alleged negligence.
Analysts say it is not yet clear how much freedom Mr Queiroga will have to implement policies aimed at curbing the virus. Mr Pazuello's two predecessors both left government after clashing with President Bolsonaro's positions on Covid-19.
Source: BBC News
Two cruise lines are heading to the Mediterranean this summer.
On Thursday, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises both announced they will be launching 7-night sailings around Greece and Cyprus.
Both operators are requiring all passengers and crew members over 18 to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. Passengers younger than 18 will be allowed to board if they have a negative test result.
Celebrity Cruises -- which is owned by Royal Caribbean -- will launch its Mediterranean cruise first.
The operator’s newest ship, Celebrity Apex, will start sailing on June 19 and will offer 7-night journeys round trip from Athens, Greece, according to Celebrity Cruises’ announcement.
The ship will have two itineraries. The Greek Islands and Cyprus journey will include stops on the islands of Rhodes, Mykonos, Santorini, as well as along the southern coast of Cyprus.
The Greek Islands and Israel itinerary will stop on Rhodes and Santorini, as well as in Haifa, Israel and Jerusalem.
Celebrity Apex’s cruises will run through September. Passengers will be able to start booking the operator’s Mediterranean sailings starting March 30, the announcement said.
Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean will be launching its Jewel of the Seas on July 10. The ship will depart from Limassol, Cyprus, and will be able to visit Athens, Greece and the Greek islands of Rhodes, Crete, Mykonos and Santorini, according to the cruise line’s announcement.
Passengers will be able to start booking those cruises starting April 7.
"I’m delighted to announce our safe and gradual return to Europe," Michael Bayley, Royal Caribbean International’s president and CEO, said in a statement. "We know how eager our guests are to enjoy a getaway this summer, and these sailings, which include a mix of fantastic destinations and must-visit islands, make for the perfect getaway."
Aside from requiring everyone to be fully vaccinated onboard its ships, both cruise lines said passengers will have to follow the travel requirements of their departing country, which can be found on their respective tourism and government websites.
Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises both also said their health and safety protocols "may evolve" over time.
Last week, Royal Caribbean announced it would begin "fully vaccinated" Bahamas cruises in June, after the success of its three- and four-night "ocean getaway" trips from Singapore with no stops aboard its Quantum of the Seas.
The cruise line is also set to resume journeys aboard its Spectrum of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas out of China next month, as well as "fully vaccinated" cruises aboard its Odyssey of the Seas from Israel to the Greek Isles and Cyprus starting in May, Fox News previously reported.
Source: Fox News
Two trains collided on Friday in southern Egypt apparently after someone activated the emergency brakes, killing at least 32 people and leaving 108 injured.
The collision caused three passenger cars to flip over and videos on local media from the scene showed wagons with passengers trapped inside and surrounded by debris.
Some victims seemed unconscious while others could be seen bleeding. Bystanders carried bodies and laid them out on the ground near the site.
Egypt’s railway authority said the trains collided after emergency brakes were triggered by “unknown individuals” near the city of Sohag, about 500km (260 miles) south of the capital Cairo.
The brakes caused one of the trains to stop and the other to crash into it from behind, and the authority is conducting further investigations, it said.
The public prosecutor’s office said it has also ordered an investigation.
“The trains collided while going at not very high speeds, which led to the destruction of two carriages and a third to overturn,” an unnamed security source told Reuters news agency.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi promised to punish those responsible for the deadly wreck.
“Anyone who caused this painful accident through negligence or corruption, or anything similar, must receive a deterrent punishment without exception or delay,” el-Sisi said on Twitter.
El-Sisi told Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly to head to the site of the crash with the ministers of health and social solidarity, state television reported.
Middle East analyst Yehia Ghanem said the punishment for low-level employees, as has occurred in the past, fails to address the structural problems with Egypt’s massive and decaying rail system.
“There is a serious problem when it comes to fundamental services to the Egyptian people, including the railways. These kinds of accidents happen sometimes on a weekly basis. The responsibility falls on the system, on the regime, on the president himself,” Ghanem told Al Jazeera.
Run-down rail systemEgypt has one of the oldest and largest rail networks in North Africa and accidents causing casualties are common.
Official figures show that 1,793 train accidents took place in 2017 across the country.
In 2018, el-Sisi said the government lacks about $14.1bn to overhaul the run-down rail system.
A year earlier, two passenger trains collided just outside the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, killing 43 people. In 2016, at least 51 people were killed when two commuter trains collided near Cairo.
Egypt’s deadliest train crash took place in 2002, when more than 300 people were killed after a fire broke out on a speeding train travelling from Cairo to southern Egypt.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has reacted to President Joe Biden calling him a "killer" by challenging Biden to take part in a conversation with him broadcast live online.
“I’ve just thought of this now,” Putin told a Russian state television reporter. “I want to propose to President Biden to continue our discussion, but on the condition that we do it basically live, as it’s called. Without any delays and directly in an open, direct discussion. It seems to me that would be interesting for the people of Russia and for the people of the United States.”
Putin’s invitation seemed to amount to a challenge to Biden to a live televised debate, following a day of diplomatic uproar that began when Biden said he thought Putin was a “killer” in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. Russia recalled its ambassador to the United States in response to the remark.
After issuing his invitation, Putin said he didn’t want to delay, proposing he and Biden hold the discussion as early as Friday.
“I don’t want to put this off for long. I want to go the taiga this weekend to relax a little,” Putin said. “So we could do it tomorrow or Monday. We are ready at any time convenient for the American side.
In response to reporters' questions, White House press secretary Jen Psaki suggested the discussion was unlikely to happen and noted that Biden is scheduled to travel to Georgia on Friday.
"I'll have to get back to you if that is something we're entertaining. I would say that the president already had a conversation with President Putin," Psaki said, noting Biden still had other word leaders to talk with. "The president, of course, will be in Georgia tomorrow and quite busy," she said.
Biden’s remarks in the ABC interview that aired Wednesday has triggered a furious reaction from Russia’s government, which unleashed a barrage of criticism and took the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassador back to Moscow for "consultations" over the comments.
In the interview, Stephanopoulos asked Biden if he thinks Putin “is a killer.”
“Mmm hmm, I do,” Biden responded.
Before issuing the discussion challenge, Putin reacted to Biden’s comment earlier with a playground retort: “I know you are, but what am I.”
“You know, I remember, in childhood, when we were arguing with each other in the courtyard, we would say, ‘I know you are, but what am I,’” Putin said. “And that’s no accident. It’s not just a childish saying. There is a very deep meaning in that.”
Putin suggested Biden was accusing him of what the U.S. itself is guilty of. He referred to the killings of Native Americans people during colonization and the injustice faced by African Americans.
The Russian leader also said he wished Biden "good health."
“I would say to him: 'Be well.' I wish him good health. I say that without any irony, without jokes,” Putin said.
But while Putin has presented himself as responding with good humor, the rest of the Russian government has reacted with a torrent of outrage against Biden, who in the ABC interview also warned Putin would “pay a price” for meddling in American elections.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday that Biden’s words had confirmed for them that Biden has no interest in improving relations with Russia.
"I'll say only that these remarks by the U.S. president are very bad. He definitely doesn't want to normalize relations with our country. And we'll be acting based precisely on this premise," Peskov said.
The move to recall its ambassador is almost unheard of in recent U.S.-Russian relations. The last time Russia recalled its ambassador for consultations was reportedly in 1998 in protest over the bombing of Iraq ordered by then-President Bill Clinton.
The Russian embassy in Washington D.C. said the ambassador, Anatoly Antonov, would leave Saturday. It said Antonov’s would have a meeting with the foreign ministry in Moscow to “discuss ways to rectify Russia-U.S. ties that are in crisis.”
Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for Russia’s foreign ministry, said in a statement, “We are interested in not allowing the irreversible degradation” of relations with the U.S. “If the American realize the risks connected with that.”
The reaction to Biden’s comments highlighted the tense relations between Russia and the U.S. that appear likely only to worsen in the coming weeks as the Biden administration looks set to respond over a variety of alleged Russian misdeeds.
A U.S. intelligence report declassified this week found that Putin had ordered efforts to try to influence the 2020 presidential election by undermining Biden’s campaign and seeking to boost that of former President Donald Trump. This month, the Biden administration ordered sanctions on Russian officials for the poisoning and jailing of the Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny.
Source: Yahoo News
Italy is facing another lockdown, as the government attempts to contain a recent surge of coronavirus cases, marred by the presence of new variants.
Half of Italy's 20 regions, which include the cities Rome, Milan and Venice, will be entering new coronavirus restrictions from Monday, March 15. The measures will be effective through April 6, according to a decree passed by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi's cabinet on Friday.
In regions demarcated as "red zones" people will be unable to leave their houses except for work or health reasons, with all non-essential shops closed. In "orange zones," people will also be banned from leaving their town and their region -- except for work or health reasons -- and bars and restaurants will only be able to do delivery and take-away service.
Affected regions will be labelled red or orange, depending on the level of contagion. Regions that report weekly Covid-19 cases of more than 250 per 100,000 residents will also automatically go into lockdown, meaning that other regions could also be affected during this time period.
The health ministry said that the aim of the measures is to get the R rate -- the number of people that one infected person will pass the virus onto -- down to 1.
Additionally, over Easter weekend, the entire country will be considered a "red zone," and will be subject to a national lockdown from April 3 to 5.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said new coronavirus measures are "necessary" because "we are unfortunately facing a new wave of infections" one year after the start of the pandemic.
The country's R rate is now at 1.6 with coronavirus variants increasing the spread of the virus, according to the health ministry.
The variant B.1.1.7, which was first identified in the United Kingdom, is also now prevalent in the country, according to the health ministry, who also said that they are worried about the presence of small clusters of the Brazilian variant.
The UK variant was originally found to be more easily transmissible -- and new data published in the medical journal, the BMJ, supports claims from UK officials, based on preliminary data, that the variant may be more deadly, as well.
Meanwhile, the variant first reported in Brazil, known as P.1, may be up to 2.2 times more transmissible and could evade immunity from previous Covid-19 infection by up to 61%, according to a modeling study, released earlier this month by researchers in Brazil and the UK.
Speaking at a vaccination center at Rome's Fiumicino airport on Friday, the PM said he understands the toll that lockdowns take on society, but the upcoming measures were a necessary step to ensure the situation didn't further deteriorate.
"I am aware that today's measures will have consequences on children's education, on the economy and also on the psychological state of us all," Draghi said.
Italy was under a national lockdown from March to May 2020, however there have been many localized lockdowns in regions across Italy since.
A long road ahead
In the past week, there have been 150,175 new coronavirus infections, up nearly 15% from the previous week, according to Draghi.
On Thursday alone Italy reported more than 25,000 new daily cases. That was its highest record since November -- and it jumped to over 26,000 cases on Friday.
The last two weeks have also seen an additional 5,000 people in hospital with Covid-19, with the number in intensive care increasing by more than 650, he said.
In tandem with the lockdown, the PM also promised to accelerate the country's vaccination program, even as Italy banned the use of vaccines from a specific batch of AstraZeneca doses following the death of a serviceman in Sicily, who had died of cardiac arrest one day after receiving his first dose of the vaccine.
Draghi said the Italian Medicines Agency's (AIFA) suspension of that specific AstraZeneca batch was "a precautionary decision, in line with what has been done in other European countries."
The European Union's medicines regulator, the EMA, is currently investigating whether the shot could be linked to a number of reports of blood clots.
Draghi added that "the opinion of AIFA, shared by scientists, is that there is no evidence that these events are related to the administration of the vaccine," he added.
Meanwhile, some European nations have completely paused their AstraZeneca rollout while the EMA investigation continues. The European drugs regulator said the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risks, and did not recommend suspending use.
"There is currently no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions, which are not listed as side effects with this vaccine," the EMA said in a statement on Thursday.
"Whatever the final decision of the EMA, I can assure you that the vaccination campaign will continue with renewed intensity," Draghi continued.
On Saturday, Italy's new Covid-19 commissioner Paolo Figliuolo said, "By this summer, all Italian adults will be vaccinated," noting that the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which is expected to be the next coronavirus vaccine authorized by the EU, will be "decisive."
Only 3.08% (1,861,852 people) of Italy's eligible population has been fully vaccinated so far, with 6,219,849 doses administered, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University (JHU).
Italy, once the epicenter of Covid-19 in Europe, has marked 3,149,017 Covid-19 cases in total. The country ranks sixth highest in the world for coronavirus fatalities, with 101,184 deaths recorded, according to JHU.
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