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Australia gets backing of 116 countries to investigate COVID-19’s cause – FM



…As Macron and Merkel join forces on EU COVID-19 response***

The alliance of countries that have responded to Australia’s call to launch an independent investigation into what had caused the COVID-19 pandemic has grown to 116, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Monday.

Payne first called for a global investigation into the pandemic’s onset late in April, after Australian Interior Minister Peter Dutton urged China to release information about the novel coronavirus.

“I think what it illustrates is a broad view that given the experience of COVID-19 – more than 300,000 deaths, millions of millions of people around the world losing their jobs, including here.

“The job lose is the impact on economies from one corner of the globe to the other – that there is a strong view that it is appropriate to engage in a review of what has happened in the pandemic.

“The impact it has had, to ensure that we learn those lessons so that it does not happen again,” Payne said at a news conference.

In particular, a group of 54 African countries has joined the motion which has already been backed by 62 countries, including the EU member states, the UK, Russia, Japan, India, Indonesia, and Canada, among others.

Payne said a discussion into the matter would continue at the virtual World Health Assembly meeting, scheduled to take place later on Monday.

China first informed the World Health Organisation about an outbreak of an unknown disease in Wuhan, the capital city of its central Hubei province, in late December.

The pathogen was soon confirmed to be a novel strain of coronavirus with a human to human transmission, and the disease that it causes was officially named COVID-19.

On March 11, the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

Also read:  Global coronavirus death toll exceeds 300,000 – Reuters tally

In a related development, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron are to launch a joint initiative for a European response to Covid-19 later on Monday, the Elysee Palace has said.

The Elysee did not give any further details about the nature of the initiative, but France and Germany have so far taken sharply different views on a potential European recovery plan.

France, Spain and Italy have been pushing for a major fund to provide grants and loans to restart the economies of the bloc’s worst-hit countries – with Italy and Spain those that have suffered most.

Germany and the Netherlands have been more skeptical.

Merkel and Macron would be holding talks by videoconference at 3:30 pm (1330 GMT) followed by a joint press conference at 5 pm, the Elysee said.

The European Commission currently has the task of drawing up a compromise that can garner the consent of all 27 EU member states, set to be made public next Wednesday.

The full details are not yet known, but commission President Ursula von der Leyen has made clear it will be anchored within the next long-term EU budget, starting 2021.

The package is to be worth considerably larger than a 320-billion-euro (346 billion dollars) figure that circulated in recent days, according to a commission official familiar with the talks, and involves a large proportion of grants.

EU officials have previously spoken of an instrument worth at least 1 trillion euros.

EU countries already agreed on a half-trillion package of short-term crisis loan instruments.

The first credit lines worth 240 billion euros from the eurozone bailout went live on Friday.



Sputnik with additional reports from dpa


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U.S. strikes 2 targets in Syria in response to ‘continued attacks’



The U.S. military struck two facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran-affiliated groups in response to “continued attacks” against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon said on Sunday.

The strikes were conducted against a training facility in Abu Kamal and a safe house in Mayadin in the eastern governorate of Deir Ezzor, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a brief statement.

The U.S. struck similar targets in eastern Syria in October and earlier in November.

Pro-Iranian militias have intensified their attacks on U.S. military bases in Syria and Iraq in recent weeks as a response to the Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

The security situation in the entire region has been particularly tense since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants staged deadly attacks in southern Israel.

Israel is responding with an overwhelming air and ground offensive in Gaza.

As a deterrent, the U.S. has moved more weapons systems, warships and air squadrons to the Eastern Mediterranean, and is deploying several hundred troops to the Middle East to support US units there.

U.S. President Joe Biden had ordered Sunday’s action to make it clear that the U.S. was defending itself, its personnel, and its interests, Austin stressed.

The U.S. is prepared to take further necessary measures to protect its own people and interests.

  • dpa
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Russia writes off $23bn debt for Africa – Putin



Russia sends almost 12m tons of grain to Africa says Putin

…Pledges additional $90 million***

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, says the Russian Government has written off $23 billion debt burden of African countries.

Putin spoke at the plenary session of the ongoing second Russia–Africa Summit 2023 held from July 27 to July 28.

He said Moscow would allocate an additional $90 million for these purposes.

Putin said Russia was advocating the expansion of representation of African countries in the UN Security Council and other UN structures.

“Russia and Africa strive to develop cooperation in all areas and strengthen ‘honest, open, constructive’ partnership.

“Russia will also assist in opening new African embassies and consulates in Russia,” he said.

According to him, the reopening of embassies in Burkina Faso and Equatorial Guinea is going as planned.

He said sovereignty was “not a one-time achieved state,” and it must be constantly protected.

Putin also offered assistance to Africa in countering threats such as terrorism, piracy, and transnational crimes adding that it would continue to train personnel from African countries.

He assured that Russian businesses have a lot to offer partners from Africa.

Putin said transition to national currencies and the establishment of transport and logistics chains would contribute to the increase in mutual trade turnover.

“Russia is ready to provide trade preferences to Africa, support the creation of modern production sectors, agricultural sector, and provide assistance through relevant international structures and agencies.

“Russia will always be a responsible international supplier of agricultural products,” he said.

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U.S. Coastguard Finds ‘debris field’ Near Missing Vessel



A “debris field” has been discovered within the search area for the missing Titan submersible, the U.S. Coastguard (USCG) said on Thursday.

The agency said a remotely-operated vehicle made the discovery near the wreckage of the Titanic on Thursday.

The hunt for the missing deep-sea vessel is still an “active search and rescue” mission after it lost communication on Sunday.

The vessel was about 700 kilometres south of St John’s, Newfoundland, during a voyage to the Titanic shipwreck off the coast of Canada.

Coastguard officials said they were “evaluating the information” following Thursday’s debris discovery.

A press conference will be held at the Coastguard base in Boston to “discuss the findings” at 8pm (1900 GMT).

Rear Admiral John Mauger, the first Coastguard district commander, and Captain Jamie Frederick, first Coastguard district response coordinator, will lead the press conference.

Founding member of the Board of Trustees of The Explorers Club, Hamish Harding, was on board the undersea craft, alongside UK-based businessman Shahzada Dawood, his son Suleman Dawood, and OceanGate’s chief executive and founder Stockton Rush, as well as French submersible pilot Paul-Henri Nargeolet.

The USCG said the ROV that made the discovery was from the Canadian Horizon Arctic ship – with the debris being found on the sea floor near the Titanic wreckage.

Assistance from the Royal Air Force (RAF) is due to arrive in St John’s on Thursday after it confirmed a request was received overnight for help with the movement of additional commercial equipment.

Two RAF planes, a C-17 Globemaster and A400 Atlas, departed RAF Lossiemouth in north-east Scotland on Thursday.

A British submariner and equipment from a UK firm have been sent to help the search at the request of the U.S. Coastguard, Downing Street said.

Royal Navy submariner Lieutenant Commander Richard Kantharia, who was on exchange with the U.S. Navy, has been seconded to the search and rescue team.

OceanGate Expeditions estimated the oxygen supply on the 6.7 metre-long vessel would last 96 hours, giving rescuers a deadline of around midday on Thursday.

Experts said the chances of finding the sub and rescuing those inside were diminishing.

Former Royal Navy submarine captain Ryan Ramsey told the PA news agency: “The outlook is bleak, that’s the only word for it as this tragic event unfolds and almost the closing stages of where this changes from rescue to a salvage mission.”

The Titan is believed to be about 900 miles east and 400 miles south of Newfoundland.

It is not known how deep the vessel is, with the seabed being around 3,800 metres from the surface. 

– dpa

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