Author: soshow goog

France has imposed a curfew on its overseas territory of Guadeloupe and is sending extra police to the island, citing days of “violence,” unrest and vandalism in response to harsh pandemic restrictions.

“Given the ongoing social unrest and acts of vandalism, the prefect of Guadeloupe has decided to establish a curfew starting today from 6pm to 5am,” Alexandre Rochatte, who represents the archipelago as prefect, said on Friday.

Earlier on Friday, the French Interior Ministry noted that 200 French police officers and gendarmes would be shipped into Guadeloupe in the coming days to crack down on the “violence” and “restore republican order.”

READ MORE: Macron discloses whether lockdown for unvaccinated will be necessary in France

The move comes after nearly a week of heated protests over local Covid-19 policies – which include mandatory vaccinations for healthcare staff and other ‘essential’ workers, among other things. Demonstrators have torched cars and erected burning barricades in the streets, while doctors, firefighters and other professionals have walked off their jobs in protest, according to Reuters.

In footage circulating online earlier this week, men purported to be protesting firefighters were seen soaking police with a water hose hooked up to a nearby fire hydrant. Officers quickly shut off the spigot.

As in mainland France, residents are also required to present proof of vaccination, a negative PCR test or show they recently recovered from the virus in order to enter a number of public establishments, including restaurants and museums.

Those policies have proven unpopular for many locals, with trade unions launching indefinite strikes in protest over the past week, joined by other residents in street demonstrations.

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Some voters in Germany’s capital, Berlin, may have to re-cast their ballots after the country’s federal election czar filed an official complaint over irregularities in a parliamentary vote held two months ago.

The election – which saw Berliners decide the makeup of the German parliament, the Bundestag, as well as select city representatives – was marred by irregularities at numerous polling stations, according to the official, Georg Thiel. 

Among the most common problems were ballot shortages and long lines, with waiting times of up to two hours. In some cases, voters were also seen casting their ballots past a 6pm cutoff – the time when all polling stations were supposed to have closed. Thiel, who was tasked with overseeing elections at federal level, saw all of the above as reason enough to raise an objection in the German capital, local media reported on Friday.

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Workers remove a campaign poster showing Armin Laschet, the Christian Democratic Union’s candidate for chancellor, in Bad Segeberg, Germany, September 27, 2021. © Fabian Bimmer / Reuters
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Thiel identified six Berlin constituencies where irregularities were allegedly rampant, potentially setting the stage for a re-do election in the city.  

It is now up to a special Bundestag committee to examine Thiel’s complaint and see if the reported violations ran afoul of German law or electoral procedures. For the vote to be repeated, however, at least one of those violations would have to be deemed serious enough to have affected the distribution of seats in the Bundestag.

The September 26 election saw outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives take a historic beating, with the Social Democrats coming out on top. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) has been engaged in coalition talks with the Greens and the Free Democratic Party ever since, with the trio expected to announce a preliminary deal as early as next week.

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The International Criminal Court has halted an investigation into alleged rights abuses carried out by Philippines authorities as part of a harsh crackdown on the drug trade, saying it is reviewing a deferral request from Manila.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor Karim Khan said the probe was suspended after the Philippines government filed a request to defer the case earlier this month, according to court documents cited by Reuters on Friday. 

“The prosecution has temporarily suspended its investigative activities while it assesses the scope and effect of the deferral request,” he wrote, adding that the court is seeking more information from the government in Manila.

Based in The Hague, the ICC allows states to ask for postponements if they conduct their own investigations into the charges in question. President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration filed its deferral request on November 10, while the country’s Justice Ministry announced its own investigation into the alleged abuses late last month.

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The court initially opened the probe in September over allegations that Philippines police had carried out thousands of extrajudicial executions and used other brutal tactics against suspected drug dealers, and that Duterte gave implicit backing to those actions. Activists have accused authorities of killing innocent people, including children, though the police insist they only use violence in self-defense.

While Duterte has declined to cooperate with the ICC probe, saying it has no authority on the island nation, and even pulled the Philippines out of the international body in 2019, the court has jurisdiction to investigate alleged violations committed by the country while it was still a member.

The president’s chief legal counsel, Salvador Panelo, confirmed the deferral request in brief comments to Reuters, saying “There is no inconsistency with the request for suspension of action,” though he did not elaborate.

Since its founding some 20 years ago, the ICC has successfully convicted just five people of war crimes or crimes against humanity – all leaders of armed movements in Africa, including in Mali, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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The planned introduction of chemical castration for serial rapists in Pakistan has been dropped due to objections from experts in Islamic law, who said such punishment would be counter to Sharia.

The controversial clause in a bill amending criminal law in Pakistan was dropped before the National Assembly voted on it on Wednesday, a parliament official said on Friday. If it were passed, it would have been unconstitutional, Parliamentary Secretary for Law and Justice Maleeka Bokhari explained. The basic law of the country requires all its laws to be in line with the Sharia and the Koran.

Bokhari said the decision to drop the clause was taken due to objections from the Council of Islamic Ideology, a constitutional body that advises the government of Pakistan on the intricacies of Islamic law.

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The bill amends Pakistan’s Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code to streamline investigations and prosecutions of sexual crimes as part of wider anti-rape reform. Some conservative lawmakers vocally argued against the castration clause as the piece of legislation was moving towards approval. Senator Mushtaq Ahmed from the Islamist Jamaat-i-Islami party argued that rapists should be hanged publicly, while castration was never mentioned in Sharia.

A separate bill also approved by the parliament on Wednesday introduces a system of special regional investigators for rape allegations to be appointed by the prime minister, as well as new protections for victims, and punishments for officials who fail to investigate their complaints properly. Among other things, it makes evidence that a victim is “generally of immoral character” inadmissible in court.

The reform is necessary because currently deterrence of sexual crimes in Pakistan is undermined by “poor investigation, archaic procedures and rules of evidence and delay in the trial,” the bill said.

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Reuters has apologized for its poor choice of photo to illustrate a story about a monkey brain study that was deemed offensive and racist in China.

On Thursday, Reuters published a story titled “Monkey-brain study with link to China’s military roils top European university.” The report was about a Chinese professor studying how a monkey’s brain functions at extreme altitude.

The study was done with the help of Beijing’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with the aim of developing new drugs to prevent brain damage, Reuters said.

The news agency promoted the story on Twitter with a photo of smiling Chinese soldiers in an oxygen chamber.

The tweet prompted outrage in China, with people calling it racist on social media. Reuters responded on Friday night by deleting the original tweet because the photo of Chinese soldiers was unrelated to the story and “could have been read as offensive.”

“As soon as we became aware of our mistake, the tweet was deleted and corrected, and we apologize for the offense it caused,” Reuters said in a statement to the Global Times, China’s state-run newspaper.

It was not the first time the leading Western news agency had run into trouble in China. In July, the Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka criticized Reuters for using a photo of Chinese weightlifter and Tokyo 2020 Olympics gold medalist Hou Zhihui that the country’s state media described as “ugly” and “disrespectful to the athlete.”

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Covid-19 variants keep emerging in different parts of the world, causing experts to ask how long the pandemic will last, and how effective the current methods of protection really are.

Since the pandemic started in 2019, people have referred to the disease which has paralyzed the world simply as ‘coronavirus’. Now, in 2021, when we talk about it, we mean not just the original variant, but also its numerous mutations. 

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In May, the WHO decided to label the key variants with Greek letters. Since then, the Delta variant has been proclaimed the predominant strain across the world, and now we have titles that look like codes to detail the differences between variants. Last month, the UK was put on high alert over a fast-spreading Delta AY.4.2 variant. This week, Norway reported finding one more version of the Delta strain – AY. 63. The country’s experts suggest it’s not more dangerous than the Delta mutation itself. Meanwhile, another Covid variant, discovered in France (B.1.640), brought the researchers an unpleasant surprise: they said they’d never seen mutations like it. 

Professor David Dockrell, from the Center for Inflammation Research of the University of Edinburgh, described to RT the reasons for the constant mutation of the coronavirus. “The areas in the virus that are most likely to change are those that come into contact with what we call ‘selective pressures’ – or factors that make them need to change,” he explains. “So, a version of the virus which mutates and changes to give it a selective advantage to escape from the immune system is more likely to prosper and become a dominant strain.” 

That’s how it works: The part of the virus many of the immune responses (or antibodies, T-cells etc.) are responding to is called the spike protein (or the S-protein). So, the virus tries to change it in order to survive. 

“We know that a variety of different viruses are able to mutate and change when exposed to the selective pressure of the immune system, whether it would be the human immune system or other species in which these viruses have evolved,” Prof. Dockrell says. “And of course, we’ve seen it most clearly with HIV, which is particularly good at changing and evolving. It does something called ‘reverse transcription’ – it copies material in the reversed direction from DNA to RNA.” 

Covid is still seemingly running faster than humanity’s efforts to curb it, but Prof. Dockrell has some good news. “The coronavirus – and viruses like it – are not as able to make these changes. They are going to do it to some extent, but they are not going to be as successful as retroviruses and HIV.” 

And the other major thing to say: When the viruses make changes, there’s always what we call ‘a fitness cost’. Many of the potential changes that the virus could make will actually not favor its survival. So there are only a certain number, potentially, of changes that the virus can make, before it starts affecting its fitness. 

Now, unfortunately, we are still in a phase where Covid19 can continue to evolve and change. It’s not time to panic, though, because across the world various ways to adapt the current anti-Covid strategies are already in place. First of all, people should keep getting vaccines – maybe receiving slightly altered booster doses, Prof. Dockrell suggests, “in a way, that we, after all, have to do with influenza, by providing a seasonal influenza vaccine and changing it every year.” 

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“And maybe we have to keep changing some of the treatments like these new monoclonal antibodies against the virus, because they also may be limited by the emergence of a mutation of the virus evolving the S-protein,” he adds. 

Sounds promising – but won’t it become a never-ending race against constantly emerging mutations? 

Hopefully not. According to Prof. Dockrell, there are parts of viruses that scientists call ‘conserved areas’. With time, vaccines and monoclonal antibodies will target these areas, which the virus finds very hard to change. “Clearly, the direction of travel is to develop either vaccine responses that affect more different kinds of virus, or these ‘monoclonal antibodies’ that we could use to prevent or treat infection, that they will target more conserved areas and therefore will be less limited by the ability of these virus to evolve and change,” he concludes.

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Any apology for Nazism is unacceptable, Colombia’s president Ivan Duque has insisted, after photos of police academy cadets dressed up in Third Reich uniforms were uploaded online, causing outrage.

“Any apology for Nazism is unacceptable,” Duque stated in a tweet on Friday. The president said he condemned any references to those who were “responsible for the Jewish Holocaust that claimed the lives of more than 6 million people,” adding that “anti-Semitism has no place in the world.”

Duque had earlier made demands for “heads to roll” at an academy that “promotes such criminal practices,” with its director, Lieutenant Colonel Jorge Ferney Bayona Sanchez, already having been sacked.

Colombia’s defense ministry, which oversees the country’s police, also insisted in a statement that that its training programs “don’t envisage in any way an activity such as the one which took place” at the academy.

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The images of police cadets in Nazi uniforms caused anger and bewilderment among internet users.

The German and Israeli embassies in the country reacted by issuing a joint statement, in which they expressed “total rejection of any form of apology or demonstration of Nazism.” The US embassy in Bogota also said that it was “shocked and deeply disappointed” by the development.

The controversial images, in which aspiring officers were caught sporting black SS outfits with red swastika armbands and grey Wehrmacht uniforms from the World War II era, weren’t revealed in some bombshell media report, but were actually published on the official Twitter account of the Colombian police this Thursday.

The photos were taken as part of a “cultural exchange” event at the police academy in the city of Tulua, aimed at commemorating Germany and “strengthening the knowledge of our police students.” The cosplay was apparently intended to illustrate the history of German law enforcement, with more cadets pictured wearing more modern versions of the country’s police uniforms in the pictures.

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Scientists have used artificial intelligence to “predict” formulas for new designer drugs, with the stated goal of helping to improve their regulation. The AI generated formulas for nearly nine million potential new drugs.

Researchers with the University of British Columbia (UBC) used a deep neural net for the job, teaching it to make up chemical structures of potential new drugs. According to their study, released this week, the computer intelligence fared better at the task than the scientists had expected.

The research team used a database of known designer drugs – synthetic psychoactive substances – to train the AI on their structures. The market for designer drugs is ever-changing, since their manufacturers are constantly tweaking their formulas to circumvent restrictions and produce new “legal” substances, while cracking their structure takes months for law enforcement agencies, the researchers said.

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“The vast majority of these designer drugs have never been tested in humans and are completely unregulated. They are a major public-health concern to emergency departments across the world,” one of the researchers, UBC medical student Dr. Michael Skinnider has said.

After its training, the AI was able to generate some 8.9 million potential designer drugs. Afterwards, researchers ran a data sheet of some 196 new drugs, which had emerged in real life after the model was trained, and found that more than 90% of these have been already predicted by the computer.

“The fact that we can predict what designer drugs are likely to emerge on the market before they actually appear is a bit like the 2002 sci-fi movie, Minority Report, where foreknowledge about criminal activities about to take place helped significantly reduce crime in a future world,” senior author Dr. David Wishart, a professor of computing science at the University of Alberta, has said.

Identifying completely unknown substances remains an issue for the AI, the research team has noted, but they hope it might potentially help with that task, since the computer was also able to predict which formulas of designer drugs were more likely to be created and hit the market. The model “ranked the correct chemical structure of an unidentified designer drug among the top 10 candidates 72 percent of the time,” while throwing in spectrometry analysis, which is an easily obtained measurement, bumped the accuracy to some 86%.

“It was shocking to us that the model performed this well, because elucidating entire chemical structures from just an accurate mass measurement is generally thought to be an unsolvable problem,” Skinnider stated.

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Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb has described an anti-lockdown protest in his city as an “orgy of violence.” The Dutch demonstration devolved into a violent riot that saw police open fire on protesters.

Aboutaleb described the events of Friday night as an “orgy of violence,” after protesters packed Rotterdam’s central Coolsingel shopping street to voice their opposition to an ongoing partial lockdown, a ban on New Year’s Eve fireworks displays, and the possibility of a two-tiered system of freedom in the Netherlands, one of liberty for the vaccinated and restrictions for those without the jab.

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The protest soon got out of hand, and police said on Saturday that 57 people were arrested. Protesters were seen torching police vehicles and launching fireworks at police, who shot at them in response.

Aboutaleb said that the cops had been “forced” to use their weapons. “On a number of occasions the police felt it necessary to draw their weapons to defend themselves,” he told reporters. “They shot at protesters, people were injured.”

Police say at least seven people were injured. Two of these injuries were caused by police bullets, and the victims are still in hospital. One officer was hospitalized, while several others were treated at the scene for minor injuries.

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Sporadic clashes broke out at massive Saturday demonstrations in major European cities, as thousands of people took to the streets of Vienna, Paris and Rome to express their discontent with Covid-19 restrictions.

The Austrian capital Vienna on Saturday saw the largest protest turnout since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. A total of 38,000 people took to the city streets to join a dozen demonstrations protesting government measures.

The protests came a day after the Austrian authorities ordered nationwide compulsory vaccination from February 1 and imposed a full lockdown, starting Monday. The massive procession that spanned over several kilometers marched along Vienna’s central ring road. The city center was paralyzed for several hours as traffic was restricted.

Austria’s right-wing Freedom Party, whose members joined the rallies, put the number of protesters at 100,000. Some demonstrations were also attended by members of various far-right groups. The protests were generally peaceful but footage published by Ruptly video news agency showed several scuffles between the police and the demonstrators breaking out.

Law enforcement spoke of a total of five arrests. One incident saw a protester attempting to grab an officer’s gun and take it from its holster. In another incident, the officers were pelted with bottles and fireworks and had to use pepper spray in response.

Hundreds of kilometers away from Vienna, in the French capital Paris, events took a more dramatic turn. There, a demonstration against the government Covid-19 measures coincided with the third anniversary of the Yellow Vests movement. Hundreds of protesters took part in the protest, which quickly turned into clashes between the demonstrators and law enforcement.

The protesters were building barricades and setting them on fire as well as pelting police with bottles and various other projectiles. Law enforcement responded with profuse amounts of tear gas, sometimes filling entire streets with thick smoke to disperse the crowds.

Rome saw a massive demonstration against Italy’s Covid-19 health pass, also known as the Green Pass. Some 4,000 people gathered in the center of the Italian capital, according to the police. The demonstrators were waving national flags and chanting “Freedom” and “No Green Pass,” referring to the vaccination certificate needed to enter various public venues such as clubs or bars.

The crowd staged a sit-in in the Circus Maximus – an ancient Roman chariot-racing stadium converted into a modern-day park. They remained there after sunset, lighting the area with thousands of phones and colored smoke bombs. The rally was peaceful, though, as the police did not report any incidents.

Unlike Rome, Italy’s northern city of Milano saw clashes between protesters and the police as law enforcement officers sought to break up an unauthorized rally at the city center. Large police forces were deployed to the city center and several squares were cordoned off.

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