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Flood-hit Germany requests EU funds to rebuild infrastructure

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Flood-hit Germany requests EU funds to rebuild infrastructure

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The German government aims to rebuild infrastructure damaged by deadly floods in the western part of the country as quickly as possible and hopes for financial support from the European Union’s solidarity fund, a draft document showed.

As the search continues for survivors of last week’s catastrophic floods which swept away houses and bridges and left at least 160 people dead, Germany is starting to count the financial cost of its worst natural disaster in almost 60 years.

The federal government plans to provide 200 million euros ($236 million) in emergency aid to repair buildings, damaged local infrastructure and to help people in crisis situations, the draft document, due to go to cabinet on Wednesday, showed.

If the 16 federal states also contribute 200 million, a total of 400 million euros will be available in immediate aid, it said.

The government will apply to the EU for help from a fund set up to deal with natural disasters across the bloc, it said.

Just two months before a federal election, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government wants to show it is doing all it can to restore people’s homes, livelihoods and the fabric of the flood zones.

“The federal government will do everything needed to restore the federally owned infrastructure as quickly as possible,” it said in the draft document.

“Dealing with the damage and rebuilding the infrastructure will require a major financial effort in the coming years,” it said, adding it was ready to set up a fund for future big disasters that hit several regions. The states could contribute to such a fund.

During a visit on Saturday to parts of Belgium also hit by the floods, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told the communities Europe was with them. “We are with you in mourning and we will be with you in rebuilding,” she said.

Southern Germany has also been hit by floods and the state of Bavaria is initially making 50 million euros available in emergency aid for victims, reports said.

German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze called for greater financial resources to prevent extreme weather events caused by climate change.

“The current events in so many places in Germany show with what force the consequences of climate change can hit us all,” she said.

Currently, the government is limited in what it can do to support flood and drought prevention by the constitution, she said, adding she would favour anchoring adaptations for climate change in the Basic Law.

Experts say the floods that hit northwestern Europe last week should act as a warning that long-term climate change prevention is needed.

 

Olusola Akintonde/Reuters

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Ecuador revokes WikiLeaks founder Assange’s citizenship

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Ecuador revokes WikiLeaks founder Assange’s citizenship

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A court has revoked WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange‘s Ecuadorian citizenship.

Ecuador’s justice system formally notified the Australian that his naturalisation had been nullified after Ecuadorian authorities said the supporting letter had multiple inconsistencies, different signatures, the possible alteration of documents and unpaid fees, among other issues.

Carlos Poveda, Assange’s lawyer, told The Associated Press news agency the decision was made without due process and Assange was not allowed to appear in the case.

“On the date [Assange] was cited, he was deprived of his liberty and with a health crisis inside the deprivation of liberty centre where he was being held,” Poveda said, adding he would file an appeal.

Assange remains imprisoned in London’s high-security Belmarsh prison as the United States seeks his extradition. A UK court ruled in January that Assange should not be extradited to the US, saying the move would be “oppressive”.

He has been accused of conspiring with former US military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to leak a trove of classified material in 2010. His supporters and press freedom groups view him as an investigative reporter who has brought war crimes to light.

The secret documents relating to the military engagement of Allied forces in Afghanistan were released on WikiLeaks while Assange also collaborated with journalists at prominent news outlets.

A total of 18 charges relating to “Assange’s alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States” have been lodged by Washington, laid out in a statement by the US Department of Justice. US officials argue Assange put the lives of US informants at risk.

If found guilty, Assange could be jailed in the US for 175 years.

Assange fled to Ecuador’s embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition. He was granted asylum there and later gained citizenship.

At the time, Ecuador’s government planned to grant Assange diplomatic status, which would allow him to safely leave the embassy.

However, tensions later flared between Quito and Assange.

The Ecuadorian government revoked his asylum status in 2019 and Assange was subsequently jailed by British police for violating bail conditions.

Aljazeera

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England scraps quarantine for fully vaccinated EU, US visitors

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COVID-19: Nigeria confirms 123 new cases 

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England will allow fully vaccinated visitors from the European Union and United States to arrive without quarantine from next week, the transport minister said on Wednesday, in a huge and long-awaited boost for airlines and travel companies.

Britain’s travel industry has heavily criticised the government for being too slow to open up, saying it has squandered its lead in the global vaccine rollout and given the EU a headstart in attracting tourists.

The government said in a statement that from Aug. 2, travellers with U.S. and EU-approved vaccines would not have to quarantine. That will cover Britain’s top nine biggest markets by visitor volumes pre-pandemic.

The opening up of England would likely be followed by the rest of the United Kingdom.

Travellers will, however, still have to take a COVID-19 test before departure and soon after arrival in England, transport minister Grant Shapps wrote on Twitter.

The move will help airlines and travel companies drum up more business after 16 months of restrictions left many of them under severe financial strain.

Quarantine for fully vaccinated Britons returning to the UK from medium risk countries was scrapped on July 19, helping to kickstart a travel recovery, but frequent rule changes over the last two months mean travel is still plagued by uncertainty.

Moreover, the U.S. remains shut to British visitors so for the transatlantic carriers like British Airways and Virgin Atlantic planes will primarily be carrying U.S. citizens to England.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on LBC Radio earlier on Wednesday that he wants U.S. citizens to come to England “freely” and is discussing a travel corridor with the United States, which would mean the restart of two-way traffic with the U.S.

Reuters

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Three Armenian soldiers killed in clashes with Azerbaijan, ceasefire called

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Three Armenian soldiers killed in clashes with Azerbaijan, ceasefire called

Armenia

Armenia said on Wednesday that three of its soldiers had been killed in an exchange of gunfire with Azerbaijan and Interfax reported that both sides had later accepted a Russian ceasefire proposal to try to calm tensions.

Armenia’s defence ministry said in a statement that Azeri forces had attacked Armenian positions near the border between the two countries. Two Armenian servicemen had been injured in the same incident, it said, and “fighting continued”.

Azerbaijan’s defence ministry accused Armenian forces of what it called “provocations” in the Kalbajar district and said its army would continue to retaliate, Russia’s TASS news agency reported.

Interfax later reported that Azerbaijan had however accepted a Russian proposal to enforce a ceasefire in the area. It then reported that Armenia’s defence ministry had also accepted the ceasefire.

The incident was one of the deadliest since a six-week war between ethnic Armenian forces and Baku over the Nagorno-Karabakh region and surrounding areas ended last year.

In six weeks of fighting last September to November, Azeri troops drove ethnic Armenian forces out of swathes of territory they had controlled since the 1990s in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region, before Russia brokered a ceasefire.

A simmering border dispute between the two has since flared up, with both sides accusing each other of separate incursions into each others’ territory in recent months, highlighting the fragility of the ceasefire.

Reuters

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Russia ready to help Tajikistan amid Afghanistan crisis

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Russia ready to help Tajikistan amid Afghanistan crisis

US MILITARY

Russia is ready to provide its ally Tajikistan with any assistance needed amid a worsening conflict in neighbouring Afghanistan, the TASS news agency cited Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying on Wednesday.

Shoigu said the additional supply of Russian arms to Tajikistan had already been arranged and that Russia was continuing to train Tajik military personnel, against the backdrop of a U.S.-led troop withdrawal after a 20-year intervention.

Reuters

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Antony Blinken

Blinken’s India visit puts human rights, China on table

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Blinken’s India visit puts human rights, China on table

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet his Indian counterpart and other officials on Wednesday before heading to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as they seek to deepen their cooperation and iron out differences.

Blinken, in his first visit to the country since joining US President Joe Biden’s administration, is expected to discuss supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, the security situation in Afghanistan as well as India’s human rights record on Wednesday.

Speaking to a group of civil society leaders at a New Delhi hotel, Blinken said that the relationship between the United States and India was “one of the most important in the world”. “The Indian people and the American people believe in human dignity and equality of opportunity, the rule of law, fundamental freedoms including freedom of religion and belief … these are the fundamental tenets of democracies like ours,” he said.

Attendees included religious leaders such as Geshe Dorji Damdul of New Delhi’s Tibet House, a cultural centre of the Dalai Lama.

In his New Delhi meetings, Blinken is expected to raise India’s human rights record as well as a recent religion-based citizenship law widely seen as discriminatory towards Muslims.

Ahead of Blinken’s visit, India’s foreign ministry said the country was proud of its pluralistic traditions and happy to discuss the issue with the top US diplomat.

Modi’s government has faced allegations it has suppressed dissent, pursued divisive policies to appeal to its Hindu nationalist base and alienated Muslims, the country’s biggest minority.

Blinken is scheduled to have talks with the Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar later on Wednesday to discuss regional and global issues of mutual interest – including recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indo-Pacific region, Afghanistan and cooperation at the UN, the foreign ministry said.

Both sides will discuss the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is rapidly expanding the territory it controls in the wake of a US troop withdrawal.

Despite the Taliban’s stated aim of overthrowing the Afghan government, US President Joe Biden has announced that his administration will end its Afghanistan mission on August 31, after almost 20 years.

The New Delhi talks are expected to lay the groundwork for a summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – comprising Australia, India, Japan and the US – later this year, Indian media reported.

The grouping is seen as a regional bulwark against Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region.

After wrapping up his meetings in New Delhi, Blinken will travel to Kuwait late on Wednesday.

Aljazeera

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