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Nigerian president leaves protest shootings out of speech

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari spoke to the nation about the unrest that has gripped the country in recent days, but without making any mention of the shootings of peaceful protesters at Lekki toll plaza on Tuesday night that prompted international outrage.
The military opened fire without warning on thousands of peaceful protesters singing the national anthem Tuesday night, killing at least 12 people, according to Amnesty International.
The shootings have been widely condemned but Buhari did not speak of them at all during his Thursday address, instead urging protestors to stop their demonstrations.
“This government will not allow anybody or (any) groups to disrupt the peace of the nation,” he warned in his televised address, urging protesters to “resist the temptation of being used by some subversive elements to cause chaos with the aim of truncating our nascent democracy.”
“For you to do otherwise will amount to undermining national security and law and order,” he said. “Under no circumstances would this be tolerated.”
He called on Nigeria’s youths “to discontinue the street protests and constructively engage the government in finding solutions. Your voice has been heard loud and clear and we are responding.”
Buhari responded to the criticism he has received from fellow African heads of state and other world leaders by calling on them “to seek to know all the facts available before taking a position, or rushing to judgment and making hasty pronouncements.”
Even as Buhari was speaking, irate Nigerians flooded social media with denunciations.
“President Buhari during his speech refused to acknowledge those dead as a result of military attacked on Lekki protesters #EndSARS,” tweeted Usman Okai Austin.
“With this speech, it is confirmed we are on our own. May the souls of our brothers and sisters who died at #LekkiMassacre2020 and other places on #EndSARS protest rest in peace. Sad,” posted Henry Okechukwu.
The street demonstrations began early this month with calls for Nigeria’s government to shut down the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a police unit known as SARS. The squad was launched to fight crime, but it carried out torture and killings, according to Amnesty International.
The #EndSARS campaign spread across the country and Buhari’s government announced that it would disband the SARS unit. The protest persisted with demonstrators calling for more widespread reforms of the police and an end to corruption.
But on Tuesday night security forces fired without warning into crowds of thousands of protesters singing Nigeria’s national anthem, killing 12, Amnesty said, citing witnesses and camera images. Nigeria’s military has denied shooting at the protesters.
Violent unrest erupted Wednesday in Lagos as mobs vandalized and burned police stations, courthouses, TV stations and a hotel. Smoke billowed from several locations in the city as police battled angry crowds with tear gas and gunfire.
Looting and gunfire continued in Nigeria’s second-largest city on Thursday. As looting gangs stormed through parts of Nigeria’s largest city, spreading violence for a second day in Lagos.
Plumes of smoke rose from a prison where gunfire could be heard on Thursday, and a resident of the neighborhood where the Ikoyi Correctional Center is located, Tunde Oguntola, said he heard gunshots as soldiers and police officers put down what appeared to be an attempted jailbreak.
Police spokesman Olamuyiwa Adejobi told The Associated Press later Thursday that an incident inside the prison “has been put under control as our men have moved in there to assist prison security.” He did not describe the nature of the disturbance or say if anyone had been killed.
Gangs continued to vandalize properties in Lagos, he said. The police spokesman distinguished the “hoodlums” from the thousands of demonstrators who had been peacefully protesting police brutality on the city’s streets.
“They are looting properties, looting shopping malls and attacking ATM machines,” Adejobi said.
Scores of rioters broke into a warehouse and stole food. Gunfire was heard in several parts of Lagos. By the afternoon, eight people with bullet wounds had been taken to Ikeja General Hospital, said a medic who spoke on condition of anonymity for lack of authorization to speak to journalists.
In other parts of the sprawling city of 14 million, the streets were empty and shops were shuttered, as residents largely obeyed a government curfew meant to curb the chaos. Protesters active on social media disavowed the violence, saying their demonstrations had been hijacked by criminals.
The #EndSARS demonstrations began early this month with calls for Nigeria’s government to shut down the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a police unit known as SARS. The squad was launched to fight crime, but it carried out torture and killings, according to Amnesty International.
The government has agreed to disband the unit, but the protesters broadened their demands to include more widespread reforms to end human rights abuses and pervasive government corruption.
Nigeria has massive oil wealth and one of Africa’s largest economies, but many of its more than 200 million people live in deep poverty and without basic services because of rampant graft, according to rights groups.
The protesters on the streets earlier blocked traffic throughout Lagos and other cities in Nigeria but were peaceful, although 10 people died during the demonstrations, according to Amnesty International, which accused authorities of using unnecessary force.
But on Tuesday night security forces fired without warning into crowds of thousands of protesters singing Nigeria’s national anthem, killing 12, Amnesty said. The shootings drew international outrage and new attention from around the globe to the protests.
Violent unrest erupted Wednesday in Lagos as mobs vandalized and burned police stations, courthouses, TV stations and a hotel. Smoke billowed from several locations in the city as police battled angry crowds with tear gas and gunfire.
Activists in the U.S.-based Black Lives Matter movement issued a statement Thursday in support of Nigeria’s anti-police brutality protesters.
“We join others around the world in demanding the Nigerian government end the attack on protesters and we call for justice for those who have been injured and killed by all Nigerian forces,” said the statement from the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of more than 150 grassroots groups that make up the broader Black American liberation movement.
Following a summertime surge of U.S. and international protests over the killing of Black people by law enforcement, the BLM activists said the reason Nigerians were demanding an end to SARS is the same reason Black Americans have called for the defunding of police.
“The epidemic of police violence against Black people in a country led by Black faces proves what we have said time and again: violence imposed by law enforcement is about more than a few bad apples, the institution itself is irredeemable and exists to use violence to maintain a false sense of order in an unequal and unjust society,” the statement read. “We are one movement, one people, and we stand with the people of Nigeria.”
Also Thursday, the U.S. State Department issued a statement strongly condemning “the use of excessive force by military forces who fired on unarmed demonstrators in Lagos, causing death and injury.”
“We welcome an immediate investigation into any use of excessive force by members of the security forces. Those involved should be held to account in accordance with Nigerian law,” the State Department said.
International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said her office in the Netherlands was closely following the events around the current protests in Nigeria and the reaction of Nigeria’s law enforcement and security agencies.
“Any loss of life and injury is concerning. We have received information alleging crimes and are keeping a close eye on developments, in case violence escalates … I call for calm and restraint.”

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Sri Lanka Parliament votes to strengthen presidential power

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s Parliament by a large majority has approved a constitutional amendment concentrating powers under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and reversing reforms a previous government had made to curb authoritarianism.
After the August elections gave him the parliamentary votes to change the charter, Rajapaksa had said the amendment would be his government’s priority because the reduced presidential powers hindered his work.
The 20th Amendment to the constitution was passed late Thursday with a 91-vote majority with 156 lawmakers in the 225-member Parliament voting in favor. Sixty-five lawmakers voted against.
With the change, Rajapaksa will be able to hold ministries, as well as appoint and sack ministers. He will also be the appointing authority of the elections, public service, police, human rights, bribery or corruption investigation commissions.
These commissions were perceived as independent with a constitutional council comprising of lawmakers from different political parties and civil personalities making the appointments. With the amendment, the constitutional council is abolished for a parliamentary council whose observations the president is not bound to implement.
The president can also dissolve Parliament after two years and six months of the Legislature being elected instead of the previous law that prohibited him from dissolving Parliament until six months before its five-year term ends.
Rajapaksa also overcame internal opposition to a clause that lifted a ban on dual citizens holding political office.
This will pave the way for a sibling who is a U.S. citizen to enter Parliament, further strengthening Rajapaksa family’s hold on Sri Lanka’s political power. Currently, Rajapaksa’s older brother, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is prime minister. Another older brother and three nephews are also lawmakers — three of them ministers.
Rajapaksa renounced his U.S citizenship last year to run for president.
The amendment was passed with several changes because the Supreme Court had earlier determined certain clauses in the original proposals were against people’s sovereignty and they needed approval in a public referendum to become law.
Accordingly, the government brought back clauses enabling citizens to challenge a president’s actions in court, subjecting the president’s office to financial audit and making the president answerable to Parliament. Also, a proposal that allowed the president to dissolve Parliament after year of the Legislature’s election was changed to two years and six months.
Sri Lanka has been ruled under a powerful executive presidential system since 1978 but a reformist government in 2015 clipped much of the president’s powers and gave them over to the Parliament and independent commissions, saying successive presidents had been more authoritarian.
However, Rajapaksa said reduced powers has deterred him from performing his duties.

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UN chief says G20 leaders must coordinate to fight COVID-19

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. chief finds it “very frustrating” that leaders of the 20 major industrialized nations didn’t come together in March and establish a coordinated response to suppress the coronavirus in all countries as he proposed.
Instead, they went their own ways as infections moved “every way, everywhere,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. The result is that every country is taking its own sometimes “contradictory” actions, and the virus is moving “from east to west, north to south,” with second waves of COVID-19 now affecting many nations.
With a Group of 20 summit coming next month, Guterres said in an interview with the Associated Press that he hopes the international community now understands “they need to be much more coordinated in fighting the virus.”
He recalled the March meeting of the G20 where he urged adoption of a “wartime” plan, including a stimulus package “in the trillions of dollars” for businesses, workers and households in developing countries trying to tackle the pandemic and “a task force to have a combined effort to defeat the virus.”
At the virtual G20 summit on Nov. 21-22, he said, the United Nations will be “strongly advocating” for the need for better coordination and also seeking a “guarantee” that any coronavirus vaccine is treated as “a global public good” and be made “available and affordable for everyone, everywhere.”
Guterres said the international initiative to distribute coronavirus vaccines to countries worldwide, known as COVAX, now has 156 countries participating “but it is underfunded.”
The U.N. leader said all countries need to be brought together to understand the need “to adopt a vaccine with a common strategy” and “to advocate for a much stronger solidarity with the developing countries.”
There was “a massive mobilization of resources and a huge increase of liquidity in the developed world, and that was positive to avoid the worst in the economies of the global north,” he said, “but not the same has happened in the global south.”
In developing countries in the south, there is “a dramatic lack of liquidity” and problems of debt payments that have become more serious with “the risk of defaults that could be then in a cascade, and these would have devastating impacts in relation to the global economy,” he said.
“It’s time to have effective solidarity with the countries of the south,” Guterres said. “It’s time to make sure that we can come out of this with a recovery strategy that is sustainable, that is inclusive, and that at the same time addresses the biggest inequalities and injustices” facing the world.
The U.N. chief said tackling COVID-19 must top the global agenda and this year’s G20 summit.
“This is the moment to say the COVID is the crisis of the moment, but the climate change is the crisis of the century,” he said.
“We need to be able to address the climate change threat with a much more effective way than we did with the COVID,” he said. “And for that we need to combine efforts for everybody to respect one common objective, to get to carbon neutrality in the middle of the century, in 2050.”
Guterres said that will be main U.N. objective in 2021 — to create “a global coalition in which all countries, all companies, all cities in the world commit themselves to a transition to carbon neutrality, to have net zero emissions in 2050.”

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Top UK bishops slam ‘disastrous’ bill as Brexit talks teeter

LONDON (AP) — The U.K.’s most senior Anglican bishops warned Monday that legislation breaching part of the Brexit divorce agreement the government signed with the European Union will set a “disastrous precedent” and could undermine peace in Northern Ireland.
The warning came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government told British businesses to prepare for a no-deal economic break with the EU in 10 weeks’ time, after the U.K. declared negotiations on future trade ties at an end unless the bloc makes major concessions.
In a letter published in the Financial Times, the top archbishops in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said the government’s Brexit-related Internal Market Bill would give the government power to break international law and had “enormous moral, as well as political and legal, consequences.”
“We believe this would create a disastrous precedent,” said the letter, signed by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who heads the Church of England, and four other archbishops.
“If carefully negotiated terms are not honored and laws can be ‘legally’ broken, on what foundations does our democracy stand?” they asked.
The Internal Market Bill has been approved by the House of Commons and begins its passage through the House of Lords on Monday. It is likely to face strong opposition in Parliament’s upper chamber, where the governing Conservative Party does not have a majority.
The bill has triggered a crisis of trust between Britain and the EU, who have been attempting to strike a new trade deal since the U.K. left the bloc on Jan. 31.
If passed, the bill will allow the British government to override parts of the legally binding Brexit withdrawal agreement relating to trade with Northern Ireland, the only part of the U.K. to share a border with the EU.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government says it needs the legislation as an insurance policy in case the EU behaves unreasonably after a post-Brexit transition period ends on Dec. 31 and tries to impede the flow of goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.
The bloc sees it as a flagrant breach of an international treaty that could undermine the delicate foundations of Northern Ireland’s peace settlement, created by the 1998 Good Friday accord.
The bill soured talks aimed at securing a new trade deal between Britain and the EU. Those talks ground to a halt last week, with each side calling for the other to compromise in order to secure a deal. The EU said it was happy to keep talking, but the British government declared that the talks were over unless there was a “fundamental” shift from the bloc.
Despite that hard line, Britain’s Brexit preparations minister, Michael Gove, said the door to talks was still “ajar.” The two sides’ chief negotiators, Michel Barnier for the EU and Britain’s David Frost, are expected to speak by phone Monday.
Negotiations are gridlocked on the issues of fishing — highly symbolic for maritime nations on both sides — and rules to ensure common regulatory standards and fair competition. The EU fears the U.K. will gain an unfair advantage by slashing food, workplace and environmental standards and pumping state money into businesses once it is free of the bloc’s rules.
Britain accuses the bloc of seeking to impose demands that it has not placed on other countries it has free trade deals with, such as Canada.
If there is no deal, businesses on both sides of the English Channel face tariffs and other obstacles to trade starting Jan. 1. British business groups warn that could mean border delays, soaring prices and shortages of some goods.
Even with an agreement, British firms will have to fill out customs declarations and other paperwork, because the U.K. is leaving the bloc’s vast single market.
The British government launched an ad campaign Monday telling businesses to get ready for the end of decades of seamless trade with the Continent.
But many firms say the government has not supplied the support structures they need, including tens of thousands of customs agents.
“It’s a lot of red tape, and we know that preparations have gone backwards because of the impact of COVID,” said Carolyn Fairbairn, head of the Confederation of British Industry. “So this is deeply challenging for many businesses.”

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Japan, Vietnam agree to boost defense ties, resume flights

HANOI, Vietnam. (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, in his first overseas summit since taking office last month, agreed with his Vietnamese counterpart to step up defense and security cooperation in the face of China’s expanding influence in the region.
In talks in Hanoi on Monday, Suga and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc set a basic agreement allowing Japan to export defense equipment and technology to Vietnam. Japan has been pursuing such pacts in recent years to bolster ties with Southeast Asia and sustain its own defense industry.
Suga said his four-day trip to Vietnam and later Indonesia was key to pursuing multilateral economic and security cooperation to counter China’s growing power and protect sea lanes in disputed areas of the South China Sea.
“Vietnam is crucial to achieving our vision of ‘the Free and Open Indo-Pacific,’ and our valuable partner,'” Suga told a news conference after his meeting with Phuc. “Japan, as an Indo-Pacific nation, will continue to contribute to the peace and stability in this region.”
Suga said Vietnam, at the center of the region, was the most suitable destination for his first trip abroad as Japan’s leader.
Neither of the two leaders mentioned China by name in their news conference. Phuc said the peace and stability of the South China Sea should be protected by the rule of law, not unilaterally by force or threats.
“Vietnam appreciates that Japan, one of the world’s leading powers, is actively contributing its efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region and in the world,” Phuc said.
In a speech later Monday at Vietnam-Japan University, Suga said that Japan’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” concept and “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific,” formulated by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2019, share values such as rule of law, openness, transparency and freedom.
Suga expressed strong support for their vision and said together Japan and ASEAN can achieve a peaceful and prosperous future.
“Unfortunately in this region, there is a move in the South China Sea that goes against the rule of law and openness stated in this ASEAN Outlook, and Japan strongly opposes any attempt that escalates tensions in the South China Sea,” Suga said in his speech, hinting at China’s growing assertiveness in the area.
Japan already has defense equipment transfer deals with the U.S., Britain and Malaysia, among other countries. Vietnam is a 12th partner, while Japan is still negotiating deals with Indonesia and Thailand. In its first actual delivery of such exports, Japan in August exported a radar surveillance system to the Philippines.
Details of possible equipment sales were not mentioned, but Suga called the agreement “a major step” for a bilateral defense cooperation, saying he expects further developments.
Japan partially lifted its ban on military equipment and technology transfer in 2014 as part of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to build Japan’s defense capabilities.
Suga and Phuc signed other agreements to cooperate in a range of economic fields and on anti-terrorism measures.
The two sides also agreed to ease entry bans and allow short-term business visits and reopen flights between Vietnam and Japan. Such travel has been very tightly restricted due to the pandemic, but both countries have managed to somewhat stabilize COVID-19 outbreaks.
Suga also promised to provide support for Vietnamese workers in Japan affected by the pandemic’s hit to the economy. Vietnamese accounts for more than half of the foreign workers Japan has accepted in recent years to make up for its declining and aging population.
Japan is one of Vietnam’s top trading partners with two-way trade of $28.6 billion so far this year. Japan is also Vietnam’s largest overseas aid donor, providing $23 billion as of 2019 and accounting for more than a quarter of Vietnam’s foreign loans.
The government has been trying to entice Japanese companies to invest in Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries to lessen Japan’s dependence on manufacturing and other businesses in China.
On Monday, Japan and Vietnam agreed on the need to cooperate on diversifying supply chains — a lesson Japan learned from its dire shortages of surgical masks and protective gowns earlier this year due to heavy dependence on Chinese imports.
In August, Vietnam agreed to buy six coast guard patrol boats worth $345 million from Japan. The country is seeking to improve its maritime defenses amid China’s continuing development and militarization of artificial islands in contested waters of the South China Sea.
Progress in talks between ASEAN and China over the disputes appears to be at a standstill.
Suga’s predecessor Abe also chose Vietnam as the first country he visited after taking office. Suga is the first foreign head of a state to visit Vietnam since the country closed its borders to contain COVID-19.

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India army apprehends Chinese soldier amid military standoff

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — The Indian army said it apprehended a Chinese soldier Monday in the remote Ladakh region, where the two countries are locked in a monthslong military standoff along their disputed mountain border.
The soldier, Cpl. Wang Ya Long from China’s People’s Liberation Army, was apprehended inside Indian-controlled Ladakh’s Demchok area and was to be released soon, the army said in a statement.
It said the soldier “had strayed” across the de facto border along the eastern section of what’s known as the Line of Actual Control, a loose demarcation separating Indian- and Chinese-controlled areas.
“As per established protocols, he will be returned back to Chinese officials at the Chushul–Moldo meeting point after completion of formalities,” the statement said.
China did not immediately comment on the soldier’s apprehension.
The high-altitude standoff between the Asian giants began in early May with a fierce brawl, and exploded into hand-to-hand combat with clubs, stones and fists on June 15 that left 20 Indian soldiers dead. China is believed to also have had casualties, but has not given any details.
China detained at least 10 Indian soldiers, including four officers, following the deadly brawl. They were returned three days later after intense military and diplomatic negotiations.
The Indian army statement Monday said the Indian side had received an inquiry from China’s military “about the whereabouts of the missing soldier.”
The soldier “has been provided medical assistance including oxygen, food and warm clothes to protect him from the vagaries of extreme altitude and harsh climatic conditions,” the statement said.
India and China have each stationed tens of thousands of soldiers backed by artillery, tanks and fighter jets and are bracing for a harsh winter in the cold-desert region, where temperatures can fall to minus 50 degrees Celsius (minus 58 Fahrenheit).
The nuclear-armed rivals have accused each other of crossing into rival territory and of firing shots for the first time in 45 years.
The sides have held several rounds of talks by military, diplomatic and political officials, including negotiations between their foreign ministers and defense ministers in Moscow last month. Although the standoff has persisted, the talks seem to have calmed the situation along the border, with no new military aggression reported for over a month now.
The fiercely contested Line of Actual Control separates Chinese-held and Indian-held territories from Ladakh in the west to India’s eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims in its entirety. It is broken in parts where the Himalayan nations of Nepal and Bhutan border China.
India claims the Chinese-controlled Aksai Chin plateau as part of the Ladakh region.
According to India, the control line is 3,488 kilometers (2,167 miles) long, while China says it is considerably shorter. The line divides the areas of physical control rather than territorial claims.
Relations between the two countries have often been strained, partly due to their undemarcated border. They fought a border war in 1962 that spilled into Ladakh and ended in an uneasy truce. Since then, troops have guarded the undefined border and occasionally brawled. They have agreed not to attack each other with firearms.
India unilaterally declared Ladakh a federal territory and separated it from disputed Kashmir in August 2019, ending Indian-administered Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status. It also vowed to take back the Aksai Chin plateau.
China was among the first countries to strongly condemn the move, raising it at international forums including the U.N. Security Council.

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Iran again breaks its single-day record for virus deaths

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran recorded its worst day of new deaths since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with 337 confirmed dead on Monday.
The grim milestone represents a significant spike from the previous single-day death toll record of 279. The Health Ministry also announced 4,251 new infections, pushing the total count to 534,630.
Fatalities have soared in recent weeks, as authorities struggle to contain the virus’s spread months into the pandemic. Health officials say the capital, Tehran, has run out of intensive care beds.
The Islamic Republic emerged early in the pandemic as a global epicenter of the virus and has since seen the worst outbreak in the Middle East, with a death toll that topped 30,000 this week. The government has resisted a total lockdown to salvage its devastated economy, already weakened by unprecedented U.S. sanctions.
As the death toll skyrockets, eclipsing the previous highs recorded in the spring amid the worst of its outbreak, authorities have started to tighten restrictions. The government ordered shut recently reopened schools and universities, as well as museums, libraries, beauty salons and other public places in Tehran earlier this month, and imposed a mask mandate outdoors.
Underscoring authorities’ contradictory response, the current spike comes just weeks after schools nationwide welcomed back its 15 million students for in-person instruction.
The virus has also sickened senior Iranian officials, including an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and most recently the country’s atomic energy agency and its vice president in charge of budget and planning.
The timing of the pandemic has proved particularly difficult for Iran’s economy. The Trump administration re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran after its unilateral withdrawal in 2018 from Tehran’s nuclear accord with world powers. The nation’s currency plunged to its lowest-ever level last week following the U.S. administration’s decision last week to blacklist Iranian banks that had so far escaped the bulk of re-imposed American sanctions.

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Belgium fears virus ‘tsunami’ as virus cases keep soaring

BRUSSELS (AP) — Bars and restaurants across Belgium shut down for a month and a night-time curfew took effect Monday as health authorities warned of a possible “tsunami” of new virus cases in the hard-hit nation that host the European Union’s headquarters.
The new measures aim to limit social interactions to slow down the exponential growth of the pandemic in the nation of 11.5 million people. The new surge of coronavirus cases has already prompted several hospitals to delay nonessential operations to focus on treating COVID-19 cases.
“We are really very close to a tsunami,” Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke told broadcaster RTL.
According to AP figures based on data collected by Johns Hopkins University, Belgium recorded an average of 73.95 daily cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days, the second-worst record in the EU behind the Czech Republic.
Yves Van Laethem, the COVID-19 crisis center spokesman, said Monday that 7,876 daily new cases were diagnosed on average over the past seven days, up 79% compared with the previous week. Van Laethem said the epidemiological situation could be even worse, given delays in the publication of test results.
To fight the spread of the disease, Belgium’s curfew will be enforced from midnight until 5 a.m., at least for a month. Alcohol sales will be banned after 8 p.m., while the number of people that residents can see socially outside their households will be reduced from three to just one all month.
People have been ordered to work from home wherever possible. Thousands of students have been affected as several universities have demanded that only one seat in five in lecture halls hosting more than 50 people can be occupied.
As of Monday, 2,485 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in Belgium, including 412 in intensive care. Authorities have warned that intensive care units will hit their capacity of 2,000 beds by mid-November if new cases continue to soar at the same pace.
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said the situation in Belgium now is more serious than it was in March when the country implemented a national lockdown.
“We have three times as many people in intensive care in hospitals. So the situation in the hospitals is serious. It will continue to deteriorate,” De Croo told RTL.
With the extra restrictions, many restaurant and bar owners fear they might have to pull the plug for good. The sector contains more than 57,000 businesses and employs 120,000 people in Belgium.
Henrique Martins, the chef at the Gout et Saveur restaurant in Brussels, says he will rely on state subsidies and takeout sales to survive.
“It’s pretty catastrophic, we’ll see and try to hold on,” he told The Associated Press on Monday.

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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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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.