Spain Orders New Lockdown Measures on Madrid After COVID-19 Cases Spike

The Spanish government has issued limited lockdown orders on Madrid as the country experiences a new surge of coronavirus cases.The capital city’s 3 million residents will not be allowed to venture from their homes except to go to work, school, shopping or for medical care.  All bars and restaurants will be forced to close earlier than normal and reduce their seating capacity by 50%.The new restrictions were approved during a meeting Wednesday between the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and the heads of Spain’s various autonomous regions. Health Minister Salvador Illa told reporters the restrictions will apply to municipalities with at least 100,000 inhabitants each, which would also affect nine municipalities surrounding the Spanish capital.Europe is experiencing a steady rise of new COVID-19 infections, with Spain leading the way with about 300 infections per 100,000 inhabitants. But the rate is more than double in the Madrid region, which stands at more than 780 infections per 100,000.“Madrid’s health is Spain’s health,” Health Minister Illa said.But the new restrictions have been denounced by Madrid’s right-wing regional government, with regional health minister Enrique Ruiz Escudero accusing the national Socialist-led government of interfering in the region’s handling of the pandemic. Madrid’s regional government rejected the new restrictions during Wednesday’s meeting, along with Catalonia and three other conservative-ruled regions.Meanwhile, two of the world’s biggest airlines, U.S. carriers American and United, say they will begin furloughing a combined 32,000 workers on Thursday due to a lack of more emergency aid from the federal government. The U.S. airline industry had received $25 billion in payroll support in March during the first days of the pandemic, as domestic and international travel ground to a halt.The furloughs by American and United come on the same week U.S. entertainment giant Disney announced it will lay off 28,000 workers, the majority of them at the company’s theme parks in Florida and California.The U.S. National Football League said Wednesday that Sunday’s scheduled game between the Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers will be delayed until either Monday or Tuesday due to an outbreak of COVID-19 cases within the Titans’ franchise.Three players and five nonplayer personnel tested positive for the virus after the team played the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis on Sunday, prompting the Titans to shut down its practice facilities in Nashville. A fourth player tested positive Wednesday. The Titans are the first NFL franchise with a COVID-19 outbreak since the beginning of the season in early September.

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Navalny Tells Magazine Putin Was Behind Poisoning

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has told a German magazine that Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind his poisoning.In excerpts of his comments released Thursday by Der Spiegel, Navalny said, “I don’t have any other versions of how the crime was committed.”The Kremlin has denied any involvement.Navalny fell ill on an August 20 flight and was initially hospitalized in the Siberian city of Omsk.Russian doctors said they found no trace of poisoning, but after Navalny was transferred to a hospital in Germany, tests there showed he was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok, originally developed by the former Soviet Union. Subsequent tests by French and Swedish laboratories confirmed that result.The same type of nerve agent was used in a 2018 attack against a former spy in Britain.Navalny is a frequent critic of Putin and told Der Spiegel he plans to return to Russia.“My job now is to remain the guy who isn’t scared,” he told the magazine. “And I’m not scared.”Navalny spent 32 days in the hospital, and his German doctors have said he could make a full recovery.  

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US Held Back on Belarus Sanctions, Hoping for Joint Move With EU

The United States has held off on joining Britain and Canada in imposing sanctions on Belarus in hopes the European Union can overcome an internal dispute, paving the way to coordinated U.S. and EU sanctions, four sources said on Wednesday.The EU had vowed in August to impose sanctions on Belarus for alleged fraud in its August 9 election and for human rights abuses since, but Cyprus, one of its smallest members, has prevented this.Cyprus has maintained it will not agree to the Belarusian sanctions unless the EU also puts sanctions on Turkey because of a separate dispute over Turkish drilling for oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean.Six sources told Reuters last week that Britain, Canada and the United States planned to impose sanctions on individual Belarusians in a coordinated move. Only London and Ottawa followed suit on Tuesday.Speaking on condition of anonymity, three sources on Wednesday said Washington refrained because it believed the EU might achieve consensus at this week’s European Council meeting.One source in Washington familiar with the matter told Reuters that a U.S. package, including human rights sanctions, was essentially ready, but the timing of any announcement was uncertain.The sanctions aim to impose consequences for the disputed election, which the opposition says was stolen, and for the treatment of protesters in Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko has ruled for 26 years.More than 12,000 people have been arrested since Lukashenko, who denies electoral fraud, was named the election’s landslide winner. Major opposition figures are either in jail or in exile.A Cyprus source said there was a “political agreement” on Turkish sanctions at an informal EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Berlin in August and Cyprus remained ready to implement it though it was not clear precisely what the source meant.”It’s not a question of softening or hardening of [Cyprus’] position,” the source said.After the meeting, Germany’s foreign ministry said ministers agreed on their “solidarity with Greece and Cyprus” but stressed that constructive dialog with Turkey was vital to resolve “contentious issues in the eastern Mediterranean.”The embassy of Cyprus in Washington, the White House and the State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

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French Court Rules to Extradite Alleged Rwanda Genocide Financier to UN Court

A top French appeals court has refused to block the extradition of the alleged financier of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide to a United Nations tribunal. The decision by France’s Court of Cassation is a blow to Felicien Kabuga, 84, who was arrested at his Paris-area apartment in May after a quarter-century on the run.  Kabuga’s lawyers had appealed an earlier ruling that he should stand trial at a U.N. court based in Arusha, Tanzania. They said his health was poor and raised fears the U.N. court would be biased against him.  FILE – Felicien Kabuga, a fugitive wanted over the 1994 Rwandan genocide, who was arrested in a Paris suburb on May 16, 2020, is seen in this handout photo released by the Mecanisme pour les Tribunaux penaux internationaux.But the Court of Cassation said it saw no legal or medical obstacle to Kabuga’s transfer to Arusha.   Etienne Nsanzimana, president of Rwandan genocide survivors’ support group Ibuka France, hailed the ruling. Now, he said, it was time international justice played its role and ended the years of impunity Kabuga had enjoyed.  Once one of Rwanda’s richest men, Kabuga is accused of bankrolling militia groups responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. He reportedly founded and was heavily involved in Radio Television Mille Collines, whose incendiary broadcasts fanned ethnic hatred.  More than two decades ago, Kabuga was indicted by the U.N. Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda, or ICTR, on seven counts, including genocide. He denies all the charges as “lies.” Kabuga is to be tried at the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, which took over from the ICTR after it closed in 2013. Rwanda said it wanted to have him tried in its own courts.  
 

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British PM Receives Rare Rebuke in House of Commons

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson received a rare reprimand Wednesday by the speaker of the House of Commons for treating lawmakers with contempt by rushing through far-reaching COVID-19 restrictions without proper review by lawmakers.Just before the prime minister’s weekly “question time” with members of Parliament, Lindsay Hoyle, speaker of the House of Commons, admonished Johnson for making rules in a “totally unsatisfactory” way.Hoyle said that several of the COVID-19-related measures were published and brought before Parliament only hours before they were to take effect, and some after the fact. The speaker said the actions showed total disregard for the House of Commons and called on Johnson and his government to prepare measures more quickly.The speaker did hold back a rebellion within Johnson’s own Conservative Party, where more than 50 members had threatened to join an opposition-led measure demanding more say over future rules to stop the spread of the virus and accusing ministers of governing “by decree.”But they were denied a chance to vote on the proposal after the speaker ruled there was not enough time for a proper debate.Later Wednesday, during a news briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic, Johnson said the government would not hesitate to put even stricter pandemic restrictions in place if evidence supported such a move.Britain reported 7,143 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the highest one-day figure to date for the country, which has the highest official death toll in Europe.Areas of Britain, particularly in the northeast where a second wave of COVID-19 infections is surging, are faced with local restrictions designed to slow its spread. Britain has reported more than 42,233 deaths from the virus, the world’s fifth-highest total.

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Pompeo Calls on Vatican to Reconsider Deal With Beijing

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed to advocate for persecuted religious minorities in China while calling on the Vatican to reconsider renewing a deal with Beijing.”Nowhere is religious freedom under assault more than it is inside of China today,” Pompeo said Wednesday in Rome, Italy. ”Nor of course have Catholics been spared this wave of repression.”   Pompeo’s latest remarks come as the Vatican and China are negotiating to renew a controversial 2018 agreement on the nomination of bishops. The terms of that deal have not been publicly revealed.   U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich greet Cardinal Raymond Burke, right, during a symposium in Rome, Sept. 30, 2020.While admitting nation-states’ efforts to protect religious freedom are “constrained by the realities of world politics,” Pompeo made a subtle appeal to the Vatican to reverse the planned renewal under way.   “The Church is in a different position. Earthly considerations shouldn’t discourage principled stances based on eternal truths.”  Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See hosted a symposium on “Advancing and Defending International Religious Freedom through Diplomacy.” Holy See Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and Holy See Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Paul Gallagher also participated.  A senior State Department official confirmed the top U.S. diplomat is not scheduled to have an audience with Pope Francis during this visit.     Pompeo met with the pontiff last October.    State Department: Pompeo, Pope Francis Urge Religious Freedom in Mideast, ElsewhereSecretary of state, whose trip to Italy, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Greece has been overshadowed by an impeachment inquiry at home targeting President Donald Trump, met the pope for about a half an hourThe Pope’s office reportedly told American diplomats he would not personally receive Pompeo due to concerns of being seen as influencing the November U.S. election.  The U.S. secretary of state also met Wednesday with the Italian foreign minister. 
 

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Thorny Summit: Turkey, Belarus, China, Migration Among Questions Facing EU Leaders

Tough foreign policy issues, including tensions with Turkey, sanctions against Belarus and relations with China, will be up for discussion at a two-day European Union summit that starts Thursday.This end-of-month summit will be a test on whether the European Union can speak with one voice over thorny issues in its neighborhood and beyond.  The summit was delayed a week after Charles Michel, president of the 27-member European Council, was quarantined for possible coronavirus infection. He has since tested negative. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visit the archeological site of Aptera, on the Greek island of Crete, Sept. 29, 2020.“We strongly support dialogue between NATO allies Greece and Turkey and encourage them to resume discussion of these issues as soon as possible,” Pompeo said.  Reports and analysts suggest the EU is unlikely to impose sanctions against Ankara in the immediate future. Leaders of France and Turkey, whose relations have been particularly strained, recently talked for the first time in months.“Turkey is perhaps the most complex country for the EU to deal with, because it’s a member of NATO so it’s a partner,” Maillard said.Sebastien Maillard heads the Jacques Delors Institute, a Paris-based think-tank on Europe.“It’s also a country with whom we have strong economic links,” Maillard said.”And which is also a country we cooperate on migration…Turkey is also officially a country that wants to join the EU. That’s why it’s a very touchy and difficult issue. Especially in a country like Germany, which hosts a very important Turkish community.”EU leaders will also discuss ways to rebalance trade relations with China, another sticky relationship. The two sides met for a virtual summit earlier in September.Other key issues in the backdrop include the European Commission’s new migration and asylum pact that has sparked criticism from several eastern European countries, and the escalating violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. The EU has called for a swift de-escalation of violence there, and warned against outside interference.

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Britain, Canada Sanction Belarus’ Lukashenko, Top Officials

Britain and Canada have imposed sanctions on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, his son and other top officials for allegedly rigging the country’s presidential election and committing acts of violence against protesters.The sanctions are the first imposed by major Western powers against Belarusian government officials and subject them to an immediate travel ban and asset freeze.Lukashenko’s post-election crackdown has resulted in the arrest of more than 12,000 people who participated in mass demonstrations that erupted after he claimed victory in an election that opponents allege was stolen. Lukashenko has denied the election was fixed.British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab speaks at a press conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department, Sept. 16, 2020, in Washington.“Today the U.K. and Canada have sent a clear message by imposing sanctions against Alexander Lukashenko’s violent and fraudulent regime,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.“We don’t accept the results of the election,” the statement added. “We will hold those responsible for the thuggery deployed against the Belarusian people to account and we will stand up for our values of democracy and human rights.”In an interview with Reuters, Raab also mentioned Lukashenko ally Vladimir Putin, although the sanctions did not target the Russian president.Canadian Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs Francois-Philippe Champagne said, “Canada will not stand by silently as the government of Belarus continues to commit systematic human rights violations and shows no indication of being genuinely committed to finding a negotiated solution with opposition groups.”In addition to Lukashenko and his son, Viktor, who is his chief-of-staff, Britain’s sanctions target the interior minister and two deputy interior ministers. Canada has sanctioned Lukashenko and 10 others.Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya meets with French President Emmanuel Macron in Vilnius, Lithuania, Sept. 29, 2020.Earlier Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged European support for the people of Belarus after he met with opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.The talks took place in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, where Tsikhanouskaya fled after the August presidential election in Belarus sparked a political crisis.Many in Belarus reject the official results of the election that gave Lukashenko a sixth term in office, and thousands have protested in the weeks following the vote.The European Union said last week it does not recognize Lukashenko as president, and Macron has said he must step down.
 

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