⊂ UNITED KINGDOM ⊃
Boris Johnson urges calm as Belfast protesters hijack bus, attack police: A bus has been hijacked and set on fire in Belfast as violence esaclated on the sixth consecutive night of unrest on the streets of Northern Ireland. The attack was one of the several incidents on Wednesday evening on the peace line street that links the loyalist Shankill Road with the nationalist Springfield Road. Stones were thrown at officers and a press photographer was assaulted as crowds gathered in the area, while petrol bombs were thrown from both sides of the peace line’s dividing wall. The violence comes amid growing frustration among many in the pro-British unionist community at new trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK that resulted from Britain’s exit from the EU. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was deeply concerned by the scenes. „The way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence or criminality,“ he said. The leaders of Northern Ireland’s largest political parties Sinn Fein and the DUP both condemned the violence. The (DUP) also pointed to a decision by police not to prosecute Irish nationalists Sinn Fein for a large funeral last year that broke Covid regulations. Sinn Fein in turn have blamed the DUP for stoking tensions with their staunch opposition to the new trading arrangements and their call in recent days for the region’s police chief to step down.
independent.co.uk, bbc.com, reuters.com
London mayoral race 2021: Labour is calling for an investigation after Prime Minister Boris Johnson accused Sadiq Khan of leaving a „black hole“ in Transport for London’s (TfL’s) funding during a Downing Street press briefing. Johnson accused the mayor of London of „blowing“ TfL’s finances with an irresponsible fares policy, claims that have been rejected by the Labour incumbent. Labour has written to the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to investigate if Johnson broke the ministerial code. During the pre-election purdah for the London mayoral election on 6 May, the government is required to limit announcements that might influence the outcome of an election. In a letter to the cabinet secretary, Simon Case, Labour’s deputy leader accused Johnson of breaching the ministerial code in what she called a “political attack” on her party’s candidate.
Salmond accused of spinning Russian propaganda: Former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond has been accused of being an apologist for Vladimir Putin’s Russian regime after he refused to say whether Moscow was to blame for the Salisbury poisonings in 2018. Salmond was asked three times during a BBC Scotland interview whether Russia was behind the Novichok poisoning attacks on Sergei and Yulia Skripal, and each time refused to give a yes or no answer. Suggesting instead it remained unclear who was to blame, he said: “Evidence came forward and was contested, that I said should go to the international tribunals and courts. I said that at the time. I think the evidence came forward and people can see it for what it is.”
Hong Kong citizens to be given support to come to UK: Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong citizens expected to move to the UK under a new visa scheme will be helped to access housing, schools and jobs, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has said. Around 27,000 applications have been made for visas brought in after Beijing imposed a national security law in the former British colony. The visas give Hong Kong citizens the right to live in the UK for five years. Jenrick told the BBC ministers wanted to provide necessary help. That meant local councils being there to provide them with housing and the benefit system standing behind them, he added.
Unite union faces questions over £98m hotel scheme bbc.com
Momentum to push for Keir Starmer to support proportional representation independent.co.uk
Oxfam: UK halts funding over new sexual exploitation claims bbc.com
⊂ POLITJOBS UNITED KINGDOM ⊃
⊂ EUROPE ⊃
EMA says blood clot is very rare AstraZeneca side effect: The European Medicines Agency (EMA) on Wednesday said blood-clotting should be listed as a „very rare“ side effect of taking the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. But the EU regulator said the benefits of taking the jab continued to outweigh the risks. The EMA said it had received reports of 169 cases of a rare brain blood clot in people who took the vaccine, compared to the 34 million doses of the shot administered in the European Economic Area. EMA director Emer Cooke said there was no clear risk profile found when the safety committee looked at the age and sex of people reporting these rare adverse reactions, even though a statement published by EMA earlier made clear most of the cases reported „occurred in women under 60 years of age within 2 weeks of vaccination.“ A World Health Organisation (WHO) official on Tuesday said that the vaccine is safe and effective, and that the risk-benefit balance remains largely positive. Under-30s in the UK are to be offered an alternative Covid vaccine to the AstraZeneca jab due to the evidence linking it to rare blood clots.
dw.com, cnn.com, bbc.com
Von der Leyen snubbed in chair gaffe at EU-Erdogan talks: Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s meeting on Tuesday with the European Union’s two presidents has raised eyebrows. After EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council chief Charles Michel were led in a room for discussions with Erdogan, TV images showed that only two chairs had been laid out in front of the EU and the Turkish flags for the three leaders. Michel and Erdogan took the chairs as von der Leyen stood looking at both men, expressing her astonishment with a “ehm” and a gesture of disappointment. Von der Leyen eventually sat on a sofa, away from her male counterparts. On Wednesday, her spokesperson made clear the Commission president’s feelings over the issue, noting that the incident had sharpened her focus on the issue of equal rights during the discussions that followed. “She decided to proceed nevertheless, prioritising substance over protocol, but nevertheless let me stress that the president expects that the institution that she represents to be treated with the required protocol, and she has therefore asked her team to take all appropriate contacts in order to ensure that such an incident does not occur in the future,” the spokesperson said. Former EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker played down the significance of the Turkish snub to his successor, telling „Politico“ that when he travelled with the European Council presidents during his time at the helm of the Commission, it was “clear for everyone that, from a protocol point of view, the president of the Council is No. 1, and the president of the Commission is No. 2.”
theguardian.com, cnn.com, apnews.com, politico.eu
China wants to expand cooperation with the EU: In a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, China’s President Xi Jinping expressed his hope for an expansion of cooperation with Germany and the EU. Xi told Merkel on Wednesday that he saw various challenges in relations between China and the EU and hoped the EU could “independently” make correct judgements, a Chinese government statement said. The statement quoted Xi as saying during a phone call that the EU and China should respect each other and “eliminate interference”, adding that China is willing to work with the global community to promote fair and reasonable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines and opposes vaccine nationalism. German government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said Merkel and Xi had discussed international efforts to produce and distribute Covid vaccines, deepen economic cooperation and steps to protect the climate and biodiversity.
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Germany calls for Navalny to be freed: The health of imprisoned Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny is deteriorating and he is beginning to lose sensation in his legs and hands, his lawyer says. Navalny, who is in a penal colony serving a sentence for embezzlement, had been diagnosed with two spinal hernias. Last week, Navalny started a hunger strike to demand proper treatment for acute back and leg pain. The White House said reports that his health was worsening were disturbing. Germany’s Foreign Ministry called for Navalny’s release from „unlawful“ detention. In the meantime, Russia has accused NATO of being “hysterical” in the Ukraine conflict and has called on the military alliance to end its “campaign of aggression.”
bbc.com, dw.com, tagesspiegel.de
Iran ship said to be Red Sea troop base off Yemen attacked: An Iranian ship believed to be a base for the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and anchored for years in the Red Sea off Yemen has been attacked, Tehran acknowledged Wednesday. Iran’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the attack on the MV Saviz, suspected to have been carried out by Israel — though Tehran did not immediately blame its regional archenemy. A „New York Times“ story quoted an anonymous US official telling the newspaper that Israel informed America it carried out an attack Tuesday morning on the vessel. Israeli officials declined to comment about the assault when reached by The Associated Press.
Myanmar security forces attack town that resisted with arms: Security forces on Wednesday stormed a town in northwestern Myanmar where some residents had used homemade hunting rifles to resist the military’s February seizure of power, killing at least 11 civilians and injuring many others, local news reports said. Daily protests against military rule continued Wednesday in other cities and towns, including Mogok in central Myanmar, and Bago, northeast of Yangon, where social media posts said security forces fired live ammunition at demonstrators. The Irrawaddy news site reported two deaths in Bago. Myanmar’s ambassador to London told Reuters he was locked out of the embassy on Wednesday, with sources saying his deputy had shut him out of the building and taken charge on behalf of the military.
Next Generation EU: France’s Le Maire says EU recovery plan is not on the right track politico.eu
Vaccine export: Australia escalates EU vaccine spat politico.eu
Turkey jails 22 ex-soldiers for life over 2016 coup bid france24.com
⊂ QUOTE OF THE DAY ⊃
„What we want to find is the commitment of member states, but even more: our ambition is that also companies and also trade unions and civil society commit themselves to these goals.“
Portugal’s Secretary of State for European affairs, Ana Paula Zacarias, reiterated on Tuesday that there is a prospect of moving “from principles to action” at the planned Social Summit of the European Union to be held next month in Porto.
⊂ COUNTRIES ⊃
Norway and Hungary ease restrictions, Poland extends lockdown: Norway hopes to gradually unwind many restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic by the end of June, but must see a decline in infection rates and hospitalisations before it does so, Prime Minister Erna Solberg told parliament on Wednesday. Solberg presented a four-step plan for easing Norway’s restrictions, and said the first three steps could be completed by the end of June, possibly removing many curbs on travel ahead of the summer holidays, unless new setbacks emerge. Hungary will start easing lockdown restrictions after inoculating more than a quarter of its population with at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Tuesday. Poland will extend its restrictions until 18 April, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said on Wednesday, as the health system struggles to cope with a third wave of infections.
reuters.com (Norway), euronews.com (Hungary), reuters.com (Poland)
Angela Merkel backs tougher Covid lockdown in Germany: On Wednesday, a German government spokeswoman said the chancellor was in favour of a short nationwide lockdown to help stem rising coronavirus figures. „Every call for a short, uniform lockdown is right,“ said spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer. „Also, a common nationwide approach would be important here.“ The differing rules across the country’s 16 states are not contributing to security and acceptance at the moment, she added. Merkel pressed regional leaders over a week ago to step up efforts to curb rapidly rising coronavirus infections, adding a thinly veiled threat that she would otherwise have to consider what steps could be taken on a nationwide basis. One option would be to amend the Infection Protection Act to stipulate what should happen under certain scenarios and which could enable the federal government to enforce a nationwide lockdown without getting approval of the 16 state premiers.
Czech PM names fourth health minister amid Sputnik vaccine strife: Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis on Wednesday installed his fourth health minister during the pandemic as a lagging vaccination campaign heightened pressure to use Russia’s Sputnik dose. Babis has gone back-and-forth on potentially buying the Sputnik V vaccine prior to EU approval. President Milos Zeman, who backs closer Russian and Chinese ties, had sought the sacking of Health Minister Jan Blatny for his opposition to Sputnik. Zeman reiterated his request to buy Russian and Chinese vaccines when he appointed new Health Minister Petr Arenberger on Wednesday at Babis’s request.
Berlusconi hospitalised again: Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been hospitalised for the second time in two weeks. The media tycoon has been in at the San Raffaele hospital in Milan since Tuesday afternoon for follow up tests after contracting coronavirus in September last year, according to a source in his political party Forza Italia. The former Italian PM’s hospitalisation this week was also announced at a hearing in Milan as part of the long-running sex scandal investigation into Berlusconi’s “bunga bunga” parties.
Norwegian Sea: Twelve crew rescued from cargo ship adrift in huge seas off Norway theguardian.com
Germany: US President Biden looks to appoint special envoy to kill Russia-Germany energy pipeline politico.com
Bulgaria: Prime Minister Borisov wants to prevent new elections spiegel.de
Italy: Here’s how Italian firms will vaccinate their employees against coronavirus forbes.com
Poland accused of abandoning domestic violence victims theguardian.com
⊂ POLITJOBS ⊃
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⊂ LAST BUT NOT LEAST ⊃
Covid worsened global human rights abuses, says Amnesty: The coronavirus disproportionately hit ethnic minorities, refugees and women, global rights group Amnesty International said in its annual report. Many governments also „weaponised“ the pandemic during the last year to further repress citizens‘ rights. In 2020, governments were required to showcase exceptional leadership to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, especially on disadvantaged groups. Amnesty International’s new Secretary General Agnes Callamard blasted governments for failing to take on that role. She called on leaders to reset and reboot to build a world grounded in equality, human rights, and humanity.