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International Headlines

World struggles as confirmed COVID-19 cases pass 40 million

LONDON (AP) — The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases across the planet has surpassed 40 million, but experts say that is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the true impact of the pandemic that has upended life and work around the world.
The milestone was hit Monday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University, which collates reports from around the world.
The actual worldwide tally of COVID-19 cases is likely to be far higher, as testing has been variable, many people have had no symptoms and some governments have concealed the true number of cases. To date, more than 1.1 million confirmed virus deaths have been reported, although experts also believe that number is an undercount.
The U.S., India and Brazil are reporting by far the highest numbers of cases — 8.1 million, 7.5 million and 5.2 million respectively — although the global increase in recent weeks has been driven by a surge in Europe, which has seen over 240,000 confirmed virus deaths in the pandemic so far.
Last week, the World Health Organization said Europe had a reported a record weekly high of nearly 700,000 cases and said the region was responsible for about a third of cases globally. Britain, France, Russia and Spain account for about half of all new cases in the region, and countries like Belgium and the Czech Republic are facing more intense outbreaks now than they did in the spring.
WHO said the new measures being taken across Europe are “absolutely essential” in stopping COVID-19 from overwhelming its hospitals. Those include new requirements on mask-wearing in Italy and Switzerland, closing schools in Northern Ireland and the Czech Republic, closing restaurants and bars in Belgium, implementing a 9 p.m. curfew in France and having targeted limited lockdowns in parts of the U.K.
The agency said several European cities could soon see their intensive care units overwhelmed and warned that governments and citizens should take all necessary measures to slow the spread of the virus, including bolstering testing and contact tracing, wearing face masks and following social distancing measures.
WHO has previously estimated about 1 in 10 of the world’s population — about 780 million people — have been infected with COVID-19, more than 20 times the official number of cases. That suggests the vast majority of the world’s population is still susceptible to the virus.
Some researchers have argued that allowing COVID-19 to spread in populations that are not obviously vulnerable will help build up herd immunity and is a more realistic way to stop the pandemic instead of the restrictive lockdowns that have proved economically devastating.
But WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned against the belief that herd immunity might be a viable strategy to pursue, saying this kind of protection needs to be achieved by vaccination, not by deliberately exposing people to a potentially fatal disease.
“Allowing a dangerous virus that we don’t fully understand to run free is simply unethical,” Tedros said last week.
The U.N. health agency said it hopes there might be enough data to determine if any of the COVID-19 vaccines now being tested are effective by the end of the year. But it warned that first-generation vaccines are unlikely to provide complete protection and that it could take at least two years to bring the pandemic under control.

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National News

Trump, Biden go on offense in states they’re trying to flip

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden went on offense over the weekend as both campaigned in states they are trying to flip during the Nov. 3 election, just over two weeks away.
Trump began his Sunday in Nevada, making a rare visit to church before a fundraiser and an evening rally in Carson City. Once considered a battleground, Nevada has not swung for a Republican presidential contender since 2004.
The rally drew thousands of supporters who sat elbow to elbow, cheering Trump and booing Biden and the press. The vast majority wore no masks to guard against the coronavirus, though cases in the state are on the rise, with more than 1,000 new infections reported Saturday. The Republican president, as he often does, warned that a Biden election would lead to further lockdowns and appeared to mock Biden for saying he would listen to scientists.
“He’ll listen to the scientists. If I listened totally to the scientists, we would right now have a country that would be in a massive depression,” Trump said.
Biden, a practicing Catholic, attended Mass in Delaware before campaigning in North Carolina, where a Democrat has not won in a presidential race since Barack Obama in 2008.
Both candidates are trying to make inroads in states that could help secure a path to victory, but the dynamics of the race are remarkably stable. Biden enjoys a significant advantage in national polls, while carrying a smaller edge in battleground surveys.
Earlier in the day, Trump sat in the front row at the nondenominational International Church of Las Vegas as the senior associate pastor, Denise Goulet, said God told her early that morning that the president would secure a second term.
“At 4:30, the Lord said to me, ‘I am going to give your president a second win,'” she said, telling Trump, “you will be the president again.”
Trump spoke briefly, saying “I love going to churches” and that it was “a great honor” to attend the service. He dropped a wad of $20 bills in the collection plate before leaving.
The message was far different in both style and substance later in the day, when Biden attended a virtual discussion with African American faith leaders from around the country.
Biden held up a rosary, which he said he carries in his pocket every day, and described it as “what the Irish call a prisoner’s rosary” since it was small enough to be smuggled into prisons.
“I happen to be a Roman Catholic,” Biden said. “I don’t pray for God to protect me. I pray to God to give me strength to see what other people are dealing with.”
Earlier, at a drive-in rally in Durham, North Carolina, Biden focused heavily on promoting criminal justice changes to combat institutional racism and promised to help build wealth in the Black community.
He noted that Trump had said at one of his rallies that the country had turned the corner on the pandemic.
“As my grandfather would say, this guy’s gone around the bend if he thinks we’ve turned the corner. Turning the corner? Things are getting worse,” Biden said.
In addition to public polling that indicates Biden has an edge, the former vice president enjoys another considerable advantage over Trump: money.
Trump raked in $12 million during a fundraiser Sunday afternoon at the Newport Beach home of top GOP donor and tech mogul Palmer Luckey, which also featured a performance by the Beach Boys.
But over the past four months, Biden has raised over $1 billion, a massive amount of money that has eclipsed Trump’s once-overwhelming cash advantage.
That’s become apparent in advertising, where Biden and his Democratic allies are on pace to spend twice as much as Trump and the Republicans in the closing days of the race, according to data from the ad tracking firm Kantar/CMAG.
Though Trump has pulled back from advertising in Midwestern states that secured his 2016 win, he’s invested heavily elsewhere, including North Carolina, where he is on pace to slightly outspend Biden in the days ahead.
In Nevada, which Trump came close to winning in 2016, Democrats are set to outspend Trump in the closing days by a more than 3-to-1 ratio.
Trump’s visit to the state is part of an aggressive schedule of campaign events, where he has leaned heavily into fear tactics.
Trump’s Carson City rally was held at an airport with a golden scrub brush-covered hill providing a dramatic backdrop. He relived fond moments from his 2016 campaign against Hillary Clinton, revisited his long-running feud with NFL players and went on an extended rant about water management policy, which he blamed for people having to “flush their toilet 15 times.”
He also added to his litany of hyperbolic attacks against Biden, claiming that, if Biden were elected, he would mandate new lockdown measures that would make Carson City “a ghost town” and “the Christmas season will be cancelled.”
As he surveyed his crowd, Trump expressed disbelief that he could possibly be tied (in fact losing, according to public polls) to Biden in the state.
“How the hell can we be tied?” he asked. “What’s going on? … We get these massive crowds. He gets nobody…. It doesn’t make sense!” Biden has held very small and virtual events in recent months because of the ongoing pandemic.
Biden started his day with Mass in Delaware at St. Joseph’s on the Brandywine, as he does nearly every week. He and his wife, Jill, entered wearing dark-colored face masks. She carried a bunch of flowers that including pink roses.
The church is a few minutes’ drive from Biden’s home. Biden’s son Beau, who died of brain cancer in 2015, is buried in the cemetery on its grounds. Joe and Jill Biden visited the grave after the service.
Trump attends church far less often but has drawn strong support from white Evangelical leaders and frequently hosts groups of pastors at the White House. Trump often goes to the Church of Bethesda-By-The Sea near Mar-a-Lago in Florida for major holidays, including Easter, and he attended a Christmas Eve service last year at Family Church in West Palm Beach before the onset of the pandemic.
If elected, Biden would be only the second Roman Catholic president in U.S. history and first since John F. Kennedy. The former vice president speaks frequently about his faith and its importance in his life.

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International Headlines

Reports: Turkey tests Russian-made S-400 defense system

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — NATO-member Turkey has tested its Russian-made advanced air defense missile system, Turkish media reports said Friday, raising the specter of a new standoff with the United States.
A Haber television, which is close to the government, said on its website that Turkey’s military test-fired the Russian S-400 air defense system in the Black Sea province of Sinop. It based its reports on an amateur video, reportedly filmed in Sinop, showing a contrail shooting into the sky. Other media carried similar reports.
Turkish military and defense officials have refused to comment on the reports.
The U.S. Department of Defense said that if the reports are accurate it “strongly condemns” the test.
“We have been clear: an operational S-400 system is not consistent with Turkey’s commitments as a U.S. and NATO ally,” chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman said. “We object to Turkey’s purchase of the system, and are deeply concerned with reports that Turkey is bringing it into operation.”
He said the system “should not be activated.”
“Doing so risks serious consequences for our security relationship,” the spokesman said, adding that Turkey has already been suspended from the hi-tech F-35 fighter jet program, “and the S-400 continues to be a barrier to progress elsewhere in the bilateral relationship.”
A U.S. official said Friday that the U.S. believes Turkey fired off three missiles in the test — all successful launches. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss information not yet made public.
Washington has warned Ankara that it risks U.S. sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act if the S-400 system is activated.
Ankara insists it was forced to purchase the Russian system after Washington refused to sell it the U.S. Patriot system. It also argues that it’s Turkey’s sovereign right to buy the system it wants.
Russia delivered the defense system last year. Turkey had initially said the S-400 would be operational in April but delayed activating it.
During a visit to Turkey earlier this month, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated that the Russian-made system, which has reportedly cost Turkey $2.5 billion, cannot be integrated into the NATO air and missile defense system.
Turkey was widely expected to test the system this week, after issuing notices warning vessels and aircraft to avoid the area in the Black Sea.
U.S. President Donald Trump is under pressure by legislators to sanction Turkey over the S-400 deal.
In 2018, Washington slapped sanctions on Turkey over the detention of an American pastor, sparking a severe currency crisis in the country. The sanctions were lifted following the pastor’s release.

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International Headlines

Nigeria’s anti-police brutality protests block major roads

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Nigerian protests against police brutality continued Friday for the ninth day, with demonstrators fending off attacks from gangs suspected to be backed by the police, warnings from the Nigerian military, and a government order to stop because of COVID-19.
In Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, protesters blocked the road to the international airport and the main highway into the city. The Lagos-Ibadan highway, one of Nigeria’s busiest, is the main road linking the port city to the rest of Nigeria.
Protesters in the capital, Abuja, dedicated the day to Nigerians they charge have been killed by the police Special Anti Robbery Squad, known as SARS. The unit has killed and tortured many Nigerians, according to human rights groups.
Since the protests began more than a week ago, at least 10 people have been killed and hundreds injured, according to Amnesty International, which accuses the police of using excessive force against the demonstrators.
The #EndSARS campaign has attracted international support, including from supporters of Black Lives Matter in the U.S. and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey who has retweeted posts from Nigerian demonstrators.
The protests erupted last week after a video circulated online showing a man being beaten, apparently by police from the SARS unit. In response to the widespread demonstrations by young Nigerians, the government said it would disband the SARS unit, but the protesters are continuing, saying they want an end to all police brutality.
The largely peaceful protesters have been attacked in recent days by gangs armed with guns, knives, clubs, and machetes. The protesters say they are determined to continue and charge that the attackers are backed by the police, according to reports in the local press.
Nigeria’s military issued a warning against “subversive elements and troublemakers,” saying the army would “maintain law and order, and deal with any situation decisively.”
Authorities in the capital have called for an end to all protests in the city, saying the gatherings risk spreading COVID-19 but a protester in Abuja said they are ignoring the order.
“If they are sincere, they would have banned the crowded rallies politicians have been holding,” protester John Uche told The Associated Press.

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International Headlines

Arrest of former Mexican defense minister shakes military

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The arrest of Mexico’s former defense minister in the United States on charges that he protected a drug cartel in exchange for bribes is a blow to Mexico’s military, one of the few institutions that had maintained the confidence of the people.
Until Thursday’s arrest of retired Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos at Los Angeles International Airport, the military was still respected by virtue of appearing to be largely above the corruption commonly seen in other pieces of Mexico’s security apparatus, despite documented human rights abuses.
For Mexico’s last three presidents at least, the military was the security force that could be deployed against the country’s powerful drug cartels. U.S. prosecutors’ allegations that Cienfuegos was nicknamed “the Godfather” and carried on direct conversations with the leader of a violent cartel moving cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin into the United States led many Mexicans to wonder: what now?
“Now we’re in a really complicated situation because now nobody can help us,” said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, an associate professor with George Mason University. “You can’t argue anymore that you’re going to send in the army because it’s the least corrupted institution. It’s the same or more corrupt than the others.”
Cienfuegos was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport Thursday at the request of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. He was scheduled to make an initial appearance in court via video call Friday afternoon and to eventually be transferred to New York where the case originated.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Friday that his ambassador to the United States Martha Bárcena told him two weeks ago that there was an investigation underway there involving Cienfuegos, who had been Mexico’s top military official during the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto from 2012 to 2018.
López Obrador said Cienfuegos’ arrest was “regrettable.”
“This is an unmistakable example of the decomposition of the government, of how civil service was degrading, the government service during the neoliberal period,” López Obrador said. He said there was no drug-related investigation of Cienfuegos in Mexico.
He offered a vote of confidence to current military leaders asserting that the leaders of the army and navy that he selected are “incorruptible.”
But the allegations against Cienfuegos are sure to spur doubt that anyone is.
According to documents filed by U.S. prosecutors, Cienfuegos helped a drug trafficking organization dubbed the “H-2 cartel,” by ensuring military operations weren’t conducted against them, acting against their rivals, introducing cartel leaders to other corrupt officials and warning the cartel about U.S. investigations. In one case, his warning about U.S. use of confidential informants led to the murder of a cartel member leaders believed “incorrectly” was helping U.S. authorities.
Mexico’s defense secretary is not just another Cabinet post. It’s equivalent to being king of an independent fiefdom. In Mexico there is an iron-clad agreement that the army doesn’t interfere in politics, and politicians — the president included — don’t interfere with the army’s internal affairs. The president doesn’t just choose a defense secretary — he chooses from a list of acceptable candidates that the generals submit.
López Obrador said Friday that the current leaders of the army and navy were not names Cienfuegos had recommended.
The power that Cienfuegos wielded led military analyst Juan Ibarrola, who often expresses the army point of view, to express disbelief in an interview with W Radio Friday.
“A secretary general can’t be a criminal, can’t participate in the sale or distribution of drugs, or anything like that, it isn’t necessary, they don’t need it,” Ibarrola said. Until proven otherwise, he said Cienfuegos had an impeccable military career.
Mexico’s reliance on its military has only grown under López Obrador. He has entrusted it with not only leading the government’s ongoing fight with drug cartels, but also with stopping rampant fuel pipeline theft, building major infrastructure projects and being the backbone of the new, ostensibly civilian, National Guard.
“It’s a time when the president has put an enormous amount of trust and responsibility in the hands of the armed forces under the argument that they are more trustworthy and that it is the cleaner institution and yet what this case shows is corruption can go to any level,” said Maureen Meyer, vice president for programs and director for Mexico and migrant rights at the Washington Office on Latin America.
While López Obrador talks daily, including Friday, about corruption being at the root of all of Mexico’s problems, the biggest catches of his term have so far come across the border in the United States.
Cienfuegos, 72, is the second former Mexican cabinet official arrested in the U.S. on drug charges in the past year.
Genaro García Luna was arrested last year in Texas on drug trafficking charges. U.S. prosecutors allege he took tens of millions of dollars in bribes to protect Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel. He had served as Mexico’s Secretary of Public Security from 2006 to 2012 under then-President Felipe Calderon. He pleaded not guilty earlier this month to drug trafficking charges in a federal court in New York.
The García Luna case and now Cienfuegos would represent 12 straight years of corruption at the highest levels of Mexico’s security efforts, Meyer said.
Cienfuegos is not the first general arrested for involvement with drug traffickers. Gen. Jesús Gutiérrez Rebollo was made Mexico’s drug czar by President Ernesto Zedillo in 1996. He was arrested the following year after it was discovered he was living in a luxury apartment owned by the leader of the Juarez cartel, Amado Carrillo Fuentes.
Under Cienfuegos, Mexico continued its pursuit of the war on the drug cartels launched under Calderon. Guzman was captured twice while Cienfuegos was in command — in 2014 and 2016 — but the army was not directly involved in either. There was talk at the time that the DEA had more confidence in Mexico’s marines for acting on the most sensitive intelligence.
A Colombian drug trafficker testified early last year at Guzman’s U.S. trial that the kingpin had boasted about paying a $100 million bribe to Peña Nieto to call off the hunt for him. Peña Nieto’s spokesman denied the accusation.
Mexico’s Defense Department had no immediate reaction to Cienfuegos’ arrest.
Samuel González, who founded Mexico’s special prosecutor’s office for organized crime in the 1990s, said that the prosecutions of Guzman, García Luna and now Cienfuegos illustrate that “it’s really a trial against all the cartels and the ties between public servants and the cartels.”
“It is a very powerful paradigm change,” he said. “In the United States they are getting into the entire security area and it’s the first time they’re doing it. Are they going to get into the political protection and arrive at an ex-president? It looks like the prosecutors in New York want to get into the political arena.”

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International Headlines

A look at H-2 cartel Mexican ex-army chief accused of aiding

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Former Mexican defense secretary Salvador Cienfuegos stands accused by U.S. prosecutors of aiding the so-called H-2 cartel ship drugs to the United States. But in a country where the names of drug lords and cartels are household words the H-2 gang left many Mexicans scratching their heads. Here is what is known about the group:
H-2 CARTEL
The brief reign of Juan Francisco Patrón Sánchez, alias “El H2” — the only name included in documents initially released by U.S. prosecutors in Cienfuegos’ case — became known more for the way he died than anything he did when he was alive.
A successor to Hector Beltran-Leyva, the original “H”, Patrón Sánchez was really just a piece of the once-mighty Beltran-Leyva cartel, the group prosecutors have always said was the most sophisticated at spying on, co-opting and corrupting government officials.
The family-run Beltran Leyva cartel was once a leading player in Mexican drug trafficking, with control of the U.S. border region in Sonora. But Hector’s brothers Alfredo and Carlos were arrested, and another brother, Arturo, was killed — by marines, not the army — in 2009. Following the deaths and arrests, the Beltran Leyva splintered into offshoots.
H-2’s STYLE
While some cartels like the Zetas or Jalisco preferred to shoot it out with government forces, the Beltran-Leyva cartel often preferred to buy them off, though its members would sometimes shoot it out when cornered.
Hector Beltran-Leyva, in fact, was captured peacefully as he dined without apparent worry at a restaurant in the colonial tourist city of San Miguel de Allende. He died of a heart attack while imprisoned in 2018.
Patrón Sánchez also was living comfortably and apparently without fear in February 2017 in an upscale home in the western Mexico city of Tepic, near the Pacific coast. Patrón Sánchez headed the cartel’s operations in the Pacific coast state of Nayarit and in the southern part of Jalisco state.
H-2’S DEMISE
In 2017, President Donald Trump had just taken office and, casting doubt on Mexico’s ability to reign in drug traffickers, had issued an insulting offer to send U.S. forces down to Mexico to sort things out.
Mexico’s answer appeared to come when marines — who are controlled by the navy, not Cienfuegos’ army — launched a raid on Patrón Sánchez’s hideout, complete with the firing of a storm of bullets at the home from an electronically-controlled “minigun” machine gun mounted on a helicopter.
Night-time footage showed how the helicopter’s minigun — a weapon usually used only in war zones and capable of firing thousands of rounds per minute — lit up the night sky over the city.
Patrón Sánchez and his seven accomplices opened fire on the marines and barricaded themselves in the upper part of the house. The Navy said a grenade launcher and several rifles and pistols were found at the scene. Officials said the helicopter gunship had been called in to provide “dissuasive fire,” to suppress outgoing gunfire from the structure.

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International Headlines

After Lebanese revolt’s fury, waning protests face long road

BEIRUT (AP) — A year ago, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese took to the streets protesting taxes and a rapidly deteriorating economic crisis. A spontaneous and hopeful nationwide movement was born, denouncing an entire political establishment that had for decades pushed Lebanon toward collapse.
Today, as crises multiply and the country dives deeper into uncertainty and poverty, protests seem to have petered out. Even widespread anger over a devastating explosion at Beirut’s port on Aug. 4, blamed on government negligence, failed to re-ignite the movement.
It is both bewildering and frustrating for those who believe only a sustained popular uprising can bring change in Lebanon.
Some argue the protests lost momentum because of the political elite’s moves to hijack and weaken the movement. Protesters have been met with violence, arrest and intimidation. Others say Lebanese have become numb to incompetence and corruption among the political class.
But Lebanon’s confessional-based power-sharing system also proved difficult to bring down. A revolt against the status quo means breaking a sectarian patronage network cultivated by the ruling elite that many in the divided population benefit from. Even if dissatisfied, some blame other factions for the country’s problems or fear change will give another sect power over them — a fear politicians eagerly stoke.
“We don’t have one head of state, it’s a group of men, they have agreed to divide the spoils of the state at every level. It’s a system that you can hardly topple,” said Carmen Geha, associate professor in public administration and an activist. She compared the dismantling of Lebanon’s system to the dismantling of Apartheid in South Africa, a long and arduous process.
For all its limitations, the protest movement that erupted on Oct. 17, 2019 had successes.
Even after street demonstrations dissipated, grassroots networks quickly mobilized following the Beirut explosion, which killed nearly 200 and wrecked tens of thousands of homes. Authorities almost completely left the public on its own to deal with the aftermath, with no government clean-up crews in the streets and little outreach to those whose homes or businesses were wrecked.
So activists stepped in and took charge of rebuilding.
“You find people more mobilized toward helping each other … that is another face of the revolution,” Geha said. “We need to show people how inept politicians are and provide them with an alternative system, one focused on services.”
The protests showed Lebanese could march against politicians of their own sect. In unprecedented scenes, large crowds turned out even in cities like Tripoli, Sidon and Nabatiyeh, which have been strongly affiliated to traditional sectarian parties, including Hezbollah. Politicians considered untouchable gained something of a pariah status, named and shamed in public or even chased out of restaurants.
“We broke the sectarian barriers and the taboo of opposing these warlords, we broke their halo,” said Taymour Jreissati, once a prominent protester, now living in France. Jreissati left in the summer, for the sake of his children, he said, and after being threatened by politicians and security agencies.
Two governments were toppled under the pressure of the streets — one last October, the other right after the Beirut explosion.
Jad Chaaban, an economist and activist, says the protest movement was thwarted by the political elite.
“The politicians cemented their alliances again and distributed the roles to protect each other,” he said. “The counter-revolution was at the level of the economy, allowing it to deteriorate .. (and) on the streets through a fierce police crackdown.”
The political factions in power have generally claimed to support the protesters’ goals of reform and an end to corruption. At the same time, they have made no move to enact reform, often depicting the protesters as agents of instability.
In a speech to his party faithful last week, former Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil — who is the son-in-law of the president and who was particularly vilified in protesters’ chants as a symbol of the ruling class — called on “the true, sincere movement” to join his party in forming a program of change. But he also warned that Lebanese are threatened “with being brainwashed by ‘revolutions’ fabricated and financed from abroad.”
The protest movement also failed to offer solid leadership. From the start, protesters shunned calls to do so, worried leaders could be targeted or co-opted. With time, that absence became a constraint.
Some experts see the protesters’ chief demand as unrealistic — typified in the chant, “All of them means all of them,” meaning all politicians in the establishment must step down.
That addressed the wrong issue and was “a dilution of the problem,” said Nadim Shehadi, from the London-based think tank Chatham House.
“The problem in Lebanon is not the system of governance, it has its flaws but it is not the cause of the problem, Hezbollah is,” said Shehadi, who is also executive director of the New York headquarters and academic center at the Lebanese American University.
At various protests, supporters of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and its Shiite ally Amal attacked demonstrators. Hezbollah and its political allies have also snarled efforts to form a more reformist government since the port explosion — wary, critics say, of changes that could impact its strength as an independent armed force and support system for its Shiite community.
The uprising tripped over a myriad of crises. The coronavirus pandemic undermined turnout. The breakdown of the economy — and then the port explosion — threw people into survival mode, drained by their inability to make ends meet.
People may eventually go back to street protests. The Central Bank is expected to end subsidies of basic goods in coming weeks, throwing more people into poverty.
But many activists now focus on the grassroots level, building an alternative to the patronage system to deliver basic needs. With time, they hope more people will break with their traditional leadership.
“It’s a long road,” says activist Lina Boubess, a 60-year-old mother who has not missed one protest since October.
“I am the civil war generation, but this new generation gives me hope. I believe in a tomorrow, I don’t want to give up.”

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International Headlines

Dark déjà vu for European economy as virus cases spike

LONDON (AP) — Europe’s economy was just catching its breath from what had been the sharpest recession in modern history. A resurgence in coronavirus cases this month is a bitter blow that will likely turn what was meant to be a period of healing for the economy into a lean winter of job losses and bankruptcies.
Bars, restaurants, airlines and myriad other businesses are getting hit with new restrictions as politicians desperately try to contain an increase in infection cases that is rapidly filling up hospitals.
The height of the pandemic last spring had caused the economy of the 19 countries that use the euro to plunge by a massive 11.8% in the April-June quarter from the previous three-month period. About 1.5 million more people registered as unemployed during the pandemic. The damage was contained only by governments’ quick decision to spend hundreds of billions of euros (dollars) to keep another 45 million on payrolls and companies running.
While the new restrictions are so far not as drastic as the near-total shutdown of public life imposed in the spring, they are kicking an economy that’s down. For many Europeans, there is a foreboding sense of déjà vu.
“It is a disaster,” says Thomas Metzmacher, who owns a restaurant in Germany’s financial hub, Frankfurt, of the government’s decision to impose an 11 p.m. curfew.
He noted that even before the new restrictions many people in his industry could only just about survive. The curfew means people who come in for a meal don’t linger for a few extra beers or schnapps, which is where restaurants make most of their profits. “Now it is: go for a meal, finish your drink, pay, go home,” he says.
Experts say that the global economy’s course depends on the health crisis: Only when the pandemic is brought under control will it recover.
Countries like China, which have so far avoided a big resurgence like Europe, are faring better economically. The U.S. never quite got its first wave under control and its economy remains hobbled by it.
Europe had reduced the number of infections much faster than the U.S. and managed to keep a lid on unemployment. But the narrative that contrasted Europe’s successes against the Trump administration’s failure to subdue the pandemic is being quickly revised.
As coronavirus cases rise anew in Europe, economists are slashing their forecasts.
Ludovic Subran, the chief economist at financial services firm Allianz, says there is a high risk that the economies of France, Spain, and the Netherlands will contract again in the last three months of the year. Italy and Portugal are also at risk. While Germany is seeing an increase in infections, too, it is not as bad and the economy appears more resilient.
“We see an elevated risk of a double dip recession in countries that are once again resorting to targeted and regional lockdowns,” he said.
The pandemic is worsening just as governments were trying to ease off the massive amounts of financial support they have been giving households and business owners.
Many governments have programs where they pay the majority of salaries of workers who are redundant in the hope that they will be able to quickly get back to work after the pandemic. In France and Britain that covered a third of the labor force at one point, and 20% in Germany. They also gave cash handouts to households and grants to business owners.
Now governments are phasing out some of that support and aiming to provide more targeted aid to people directly affected by new restrictions. That will not help people whose jobs are affected indirectly. A pub facing a curfew, say, would be eligible to get wage support for its staff but the brewery supplying it might not.
The impact will vary between countries — while Britain is shifting to a less-comprehensive wage support plan, Germany has extended its program.
As with the pandemic’s initial surge in the spring, the sectors in Europe most affected by limits on public life are services including travel and hospitality — those that depend most on face-to-face contact between people.
Countries like Spain, Portugal and Greece rely heavily on tourism. It accounts for almost 12% of Spain’s economy, compared with less than 3% for the U.S. and about 7% for France.
Major airlines in Europe expect to operate at about 40% of normal levels this winter and are again cutting the number of flights. Lufthansa, British Airways and others are cutting tens of thousands of jobs as they expect no quick return to how things were before the pandemic — even with government aid.
Even where there are no hard restrictions, the health hazard scares customers away, so shops are likely to see less business.
The EU is giving 750 billion euros ($880 billion) in financial support to member countries to cope with the fallout. Governments like Spain’s were planning to invest in long-term projects such as renewable energy and technology. It now appears they will have to spend more on just keeping the economy afloat. The European Central Bank is injecting 1.35 trillion euros ($1.6 trillion) into the economy, which keeps borrowing cheap even for countries with weak finances like Spain and Italy.
But the longer the pandemic drags on, the more the decisions on how to spend financial aid will become political, says Subran, the economist. Political parties are fighting over how to deploy the resources, and unions are going on strike to influence the debate. It mirrors the turmoil in the U.S., where a badly needed stimulus package has been delayed.
For Ludovic Nicolas-Etienne, a Parisian shopping for food among the stalls of the central Bastille square, it is a tragedy foretold. He blames the people who during the summer disregarded safety recommendations to party and socialize after months of lockdown.
“I was expecting this,” he says, wearing a mask outdoors the day after France announced a state of emergency. “Some people are not responsible enough, so the good people are paying for the bad ones.”

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Bangkok shuts down transit systems as protests persist

BANGKOK (AP) — The authorities in Bangkok shut down mass transit systems and set up roadblocks Saturday as Thailand’s capital faced a fourth straight day of determined anti-government protests.
The protesters have been doing their best to elude the authorities, using social media to assemble followers before police have time to block them. The government has announced plans to take legal action against Twitter and Facebook accounts that announce the protests, but fresh calls to action were posted Saturday.
The protesters are calling for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to leave office, the constitution to be amended to make it more democratic and the nation’s monarchy to undergo reform. The protests have been called in defiance of a state of emergency imposed on Thursday.
All stations of Bangkok’s elevated Skytrain mass transit system were ordered closed Saturday afternoon in an effort to thwart protests. A line of the underground MRT system was also shut, and police blocked off several roads. Organizers had called for their followers to meet at Skytrain stations pending further instructions.
Groups of protesters met at many of the stations that were closed, in effect establishing a protest presence across the city. In a further twist, organizers issued a fresh advisory for followers to gather at three stations outside the city’s central area, where access was easier, especially for people living in the suburbs.
Police on Friday had also tried to block demonstrators, but failed when protest organizers announced a last-minute switch of venue.
Friday’s rally was broken up by a large contingent of riot police backed by water cannons after at least 1,000 people had gathered. It was the first time the authorities have employed such forceful tactics against the student-led protests. Both Thursday’s and Friday’s protests were held in normally busy areas of central Bangkok.
“The government has been pushing us to the cliff and now we have nowhere to go. We need to stand right now; if not now, then we don’t know when,” said one protester, a 26-year-old who declined to give her name for fear of getting in trouble with the authorities..
Police took control of Friday’s rally site after about an hour, though continued to engage with some stragglers. Flash protests were launched in solidarity at several universities around the country.
“From the dispersal of protesters on the evening of October 16, we have learned that the government and military have established themselves as the enemy of the people,” said a statement issued after Friday’s events by the People’s Party, the umbrella organization for the protesters. Most of its top leaders have been arrested.
The call by the protesters for reform of the monarchy has significantly raised the political temperature in Thailand, angering many older conservative Thais for whom any critical discussion of the monarchy is tantamount to treason.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn and other key members of the royal family are protected by a lese majeste law that has regularly been used to silence critics who risk up to 15 years in prison if deemed to have insulted the institution.
Prayuth’s declaration of a state of emergency said the measure was necessary because “certain groups of perpetrators intended to instigate an untoward incident and movement in the Bangkok area by way of various methods and via different channels, including causing obstruction to the royal motorcade.”
He was referring to an incident Wednesday that showed some members of a small crowd heckling a motorcade carrying Queen Suthida and Prince Dipangkorn as it slowly passed.
On Friday, two activists were arrested under a law covering violence against the queen for their alleged part in the incident. They could face up to life in prison if convicted. They denied any wrongdoing.

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Azerbaijan: Armenian missile killed 13, wounded over 50

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Azerbaijan on Saturday accused Armenia of striking its second-largest city with a ballistic missile that killed at least 13 civilians and wounded 50 others in a new escalation of their conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Armenian Defense Ministry denied launching the strike, but the separatist authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh put out a statement listing alleged “legitimate” military facilities in the city of Ganja, although they stopped short of claiming responsibility for the attack.
Azerbaijani officials said the Soviet-made Scud missile destroyed or damaged about 20 residential buildings in Ganja overnight, and emergency workers spent hours searching in the rubble for victims and survivors.
Scud missiles date back to the 1960s and carry a big load of explosives but are known for their lack of precision.
In a televised address to the nation, Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, denounced the missile strike as a war crime and warned the leadership of Armenia that it would face responsibility for that.
“Azerbaijan will give its response and it will do so exclusively on the battlefield,” Aliyev said.
While authorities in both Azerbaijan and Armenia have denied targeting civilians, residential areas have increasingly come under shelling amid the hostilities that have raged for three weeks despite Russia’s attempt to broker a cease-fire.
Stepanakert, the regional capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, came under intense shelling overnight, leaving three civilians wounded, according to separatist authorities.
Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994. The latest outburst of fighting began on Sept. 27 and has involved heavy artillery, rockets and drones, killing hundreds and marking the largest escalation of hostilities between the South Caucasus neighbors in more than a quarter-century.
Aliyev announced Saturday that Azerbaijani forces have taken the town of Fizuli and seven villages around it, gaining a “strategic edge.”
Fizuli is one of the seven Azerbaijani regions outside Nagorno-Karabakh that was seized by the Armenian forces during the war in the early 1990s.
Russia, which has a security pact with Armenia but also has cultivated warm ties with Azerbaijan, hosted top diplomats from both countries for more than 10 hours of talks that ended with Saturday’s cease-fire deal. But the agreement immediately frayed, with both sides blaming each other for breaching it.
Azerbaijan has insisted it has the right to reclaim its land by force after efforts by the so-called Minsk group of international mediators that comprises Russia, the United States and France failed to yield any progress. Azerbaijan has actively pushed for its ally Turkey to take a prominent role in future peace talks.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar spoke on the phone with his Azerbaijani counterpart, congratulating Azerbaijan on “liberating Fizuli from the occupation” and downing the Armenian jets.
The Azerbaijani military declared Saturday that they downed an Armenian Su-25 jet, a claim quickly dismissed by Armenia’s Defense Ministry.
Drones and rocket systems supplied by Turkey have given the Azerbaijani military an edge on the battlefield, helping them outgun the Armenian forces that rely mostly on outdated Soviet-era weapons.