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Brexit: EU, UK finally clinch ‘historic’ trade deal

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The United Kingdom and the European Union have agreed to a post-Brexit free trade deal, sealing the UK’s exit from the bloc, the UK government and EU announced on Thursday.

EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said at a press conference on Thursday that: “It was a long and winding road, but we have a good deal to show for it.”

The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted an image of himself in front of a British flag with his thumbs up. The picture was accompanied by the text: “The deal is done.”

The deal is “the biggest bilateral trade deal signed by either side, covering trade worth €747 billion (£668 billion, $909 billion) in 2019,” according to a British source.

The deal concludes talks on future terms of trade and competition that took place during the 11-month transition period that began when Britain formally left the EU on January 31.

By reaching a deal, the EU and UK have avoided resorting to potentially damaging World Trade Organization trading terms.

What do we know about the deal?

The text of the deal, said to be some 2,000 pages long, has yet to be released. However, leaders referred to various aspects of the deal in Thursday’s press conference.

Britain claimed the deal protected its goals of regaining control of its money, borders, laws and fishing waters. Following the end of the transition period, the UK will no longer be under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

Von der Leyen said it protects the EU’s single market and contains safeguards to ensure Britain does not unfairly undercut the bloc’s standards.

What about EU fishing rights?

On the key sticking point of fisheries, the EU is giving up a quarter of the quota it catches in UK waters. This is far less than the 80% Britain initially demanded. The system will be in place for 5.5 years, after which the quotas will be reassessed.

UK government would support fishing communities with £100 million (€111 million, $135 million) investment boost to modernize fishing industries. “We will be able to catch and eat prodigious amounts of fish,” Johnson said.

The French politician and chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said that the EU “will be alongside European fishermen to support them,” and promised that the deal provides ” a basis for reciprocal access to water and resources, with a new distribution of quotas and fishing opportunities.”

What was agreed on trade?

Barnier said that: “there will be some real changes ahead from January 1 for a lot of citizens and a lot of businesses. That is the consequence of Brexit.”

There will be free trade without tariffs between the UK and the EU. A new set of rules named “the level playing field,” will “be the mark for the EU for all agreements regarding free trade,” Barnier told the press conference.

Which areas of cooperation are set to survive Brexit?

Von der Leyen said that the UK and the EU will continue cooperating on areas of mutual interest, naming climate, energy, security and intelligence and transport.

Johnson said that the deal protects police cooperation and shared intelligence. Both politicians, however, stayed notably vague on details. The UK prime minister said was “absolutely confident this is a deal that protects our police cooperation, that protects our ability to catch criminals and share intelligence across the European continent in a way that we have done for many years.”

It emerged the UK would no longer participate in the Erasmus program that enables EU university students to spend time at a different European university and practice language skills.

Johnson said the UK plans on replacing Erasmus with a Turing program, named after mathematician Alan Turing, where students will be able to spend time at universities around the world.

What did EU leaders say?

Von der Leyen said she felt “relief” after long and exhausting negotiations. She added that “parting is such sweet sorrow”  — a line from the Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet.

She quoted the American-British poet T.S Eliot: “What we call the beginning is often the end and to make an end is to make a beginning.”

“It is time to leave Brexit behind, our future is made in Europe,” she said in closing.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator said “the clock is no longer ticking” — a reversal of his warning in August after a round of trade talks left the two sides exasperated.

He said he regrets that the agreement reached on free movement was not a reflection of historically close ties.

What did the UK say?

Johnson called the deal “a jumbo, Canada-style free trade deal.”

He recast Britain as “an independent coastal state.”

“We’ve taken back control of our laws and our destiny,” said Johnson, adding that the UK would now be”unfettered.”

He said the EU was “a very noble enterprise” but that the UK had always had a difficult relationship with the bloc.

Under the new deal, the UK had now become the EU’s “flying buttress,” an architectural metaphor to describe a structure of stone, built against a wall to strengthen or support it.

“This deal expresses what the people of the country wanted in 2016,” he added.

On trade and business, Johnson said: “It will not be a bad thing” for the EU to have “a prosperous dynamic and contented UK on your doorstep.”

Johnson dismissed a reporter’s question about the UK following the EU rules on tax, worker’s rights and tariffs, and on London accepting the “level playing field” with the EU that it had long resisted.

Merkel and Macron react

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said reaching the deal was of “historic importance” and that she was “very confident” it was a good outcome.

French President Emmanuel Macron thanked Barnier in a tweet for “his tenacity and commitment to defending the interests of Europeans.”

“European solidarity has shown its strength,” he added.

What happens next?

The next step for Britain is a parliamentary debate and vote on implementing the trade deal. This will take place on December 30.

The UK’s Labour party, the main opposition force in the UK parliament, is expected to endorse the deal. Labour leader Keir Starmer said it was in the national interest to do so given given the massive disruption likely to be caused by no deal.

The European Parliament will also “analyze the agreement in detail” before deciding whether to approve it in the new year, European Parliament head David Sassoli said in a statement.

 

Read from source: https://www.dw.com/en/brexit-eu-uk-finally-clinch-historic-trade-deal/a-56049364

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Health

China to test thousands of Wuhan blood samples in Covid-19 probe

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CNNChina is preparing to test tens of thousands of blood bank samples from the city of Wuhan as part of a probe into the origins of Covid-19, according to a Chinese official. The move comes amid increasing calls for transparency over the emergence of the virus.

The store of up to 200,000 samples, including those from the closing months of 2019 were pinpointed in February this year by the World Health Organization’s panel of investigators as a possible source of key information that could help determine when and where the virus first crossed into humans.
The samples are kept in the Wuhan Blood Center, and are thought to span 2019, providing real-time tissue samples from a wide swathe of the population in the Chinese city where SARS-CoV-2 is thought to have first infected humans.
The blood bank samples have been retained for two years, Chinese officials have said, in case they are needed as evidence in any lawsuits related to the blood donations they are from.
That two-year waiting period will soon expire for the key months of October and November 2019, when most experts think the virus could first have infected humans. An official from China’s National Health Commission, told CNN preparation for testing is currently underway, and confirmed testing would happen once the two-year limit was reached.
“This provides the closest in the world we’ve seen of real time samples to help us understand the timing of the outbreak event,” said Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.
They “absolutely will contain vital clues,” said Maureen Miller, associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University. She urged China to permit foreign experts to observe the process. “No one will believe any results that China reports unless there are qualified observers at the very least,” she said.
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The head of the Chinese team working on the WHO investigation, Liang Wannian, first said in a July news conference that China would test the samples, adding once the Chinese experts “have the results, they will deliver them to both the Chinese and foreign expert teams.”
Liang said the samples came from the opening tube of a donor blood pouch, sealed shut and then stored, and Chinese experts had “made several assessments and evaluations on the testing methods and action plan, which will be implemented after the expiry” of the two-year limit.
The samples, if stored correctly, could contain crucial signs of the first antibodies made by humans against the disease, experts said.
Liang said in July that while the first reported case was in Wuhan on December 8, “our research and the previous related research papers of Chinese scientists fully suggest … December 8 is probably not the primary case. There might be other cases that occurred before.”
Dr. William Schaffner, from the Vanderbilt University Department of Medicine’s infectious disease division, said the samples presented a “fascinating opportunity. You would like to go back to find out exactly during which months this this virus started to leave fingerprints in the human population in China.”
The samples might even indicate who was first infected, where, and their age and occupation, Miller added.
“It is common practice to de-identify the samples,” she said. “So you could strip it down to basic demographics, age, gender neighborhood where they lived. All of those data will be available.”
Schaffner suggested the samples could be brought to Geneva, or another neutral destination, to permit WHO experts to take part in the testing.
He said two possible issues with the samples could be “the integrity of the blood samples — ensuring they had not been recently created,” but also how representative of the population as a whole the blood donors were. Miller said many samples would most likely have been taken from healthy individuals “so they’ll represent asymptomatic cases. And as we’ve learned over the course of the pandemic, asymptomatic cases fuel the pandemic.”
Huang said it was unclear to “what extent the outside world would trust the findings as credible or convincing,” and the testing marked an opportunity for China to “tell the world that they are serious about depoliticizing the origins probe.”
How China pushes conspiracy theory on Covid-19 origin 04:04
The Biden administration conducted a 90-day review of the intelligence over how the virus originated, yet an unclassified report had officials still considering both natural transmission from animal to humans and a lab leak as plausible theories, yet unable to determine which was the more likely.
President Joe Biden, on receiving a classified version of the report, said: “Critical information about the origins of this pandemic exists in the People’s Republic of China, yet from the beginning, government officials in China have worked to prevent international investigators and members of the global public health community from accessing it.”
China has insisted it has been transparent and helpful to the WHO probe, and in its most recent statement about the theory the virus leaked from a laboratory, pointed toward unproven claims about Fort Detrick, US laboratory in Maryland, and the need to examine its recent past

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Benjamin Netanyahu calls to block Israel’s newly formed coalition

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Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu has lashed out at a newly agreed coalition which looks set to remove him from power after 12 years as prime minister.

Mr Netanyahu called on right-wing members of parliament to block the coalition from taking office.

Eight opposition parties reached an agreement to work together to form a new government late on Wednesday.

But the group, from across Israel’s political spectrum, still needs parliamentary backing to take office.

No date has so far been set for such a vote in the Knesset (parliament). But it is expected to take place next week at the latest, and there is still a chance this newly formed coalition could be upended by defections.

In his first comments since the coalition was announced, Mr Netanyahu urged members of the Knesset “elected by votes from the right” to oppose the coalition.

In a post on Twitter, he criticised them as “left-wing” and “dangerous”. He has previously called the proposed new government the “fraud of the century”, saying it endangered the state and people of Israel.

Observers have already noted that Mr Netanyahu – who failed to form his own coalition despite his Likud party winning the most seats in the March vote – is likely to try to prevent the group getting the support it needs.

News of a fresh coalition emerged late on Wednesday, when Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, called President Reuven Rivlin to let him know that agreement had been reached.

He pledged to form a government which would “work in the service of all Israeli citizens… respect its opponents and do everything in its power to unite and connect all parts of Israeli society”.

However, Mr Lapid will not become prime minister immediately. Under a rotation arrangement, the head of the right-wing Yamina party, Naftali Bennett, would serve as prime minister first before handing over to Mr Lapid in August 2023.

The coalition members span the full spectrum of Israeli politics with little in common apart from their plan to replace Mr Netanyahu. For the first time in decades, the government will include an Israeli Arab party.

An image carried on Israeli media showed Mr Lapid, Mr Bennett and Mansour Abbas, leader of the Arab Islamist Raam party, signing the agreement, a deal many thought impossible.

The other five parties included in the agreement are:

  • Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) (centrist) – led by Benny Gantz (eight)
  • Israel Beiteinu (centre-right to right-wing nationalist) – led by Avigdor Lieberman (seven)
  • Labor (social-democratic) – led by Merav Michaeli (seven)
  • New Hope (centre-right to right-wing)- led by Gideon Sa’ar (six)
  • Meretz (left-wing, social-democratic) – led by Nitzan Horowitz (six)

If the coalition fails to win the support of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, there is a risk of a fifth election in two years. All eight parties were needed to secure the 61-seat majority.

Reaction to the agreement has been mixed. According to news agency AFP, other parties representing Israeli Arabs – who make up 20% of the population – have said they will oppose a government led by Mr Bennett, who rejects the concept of a Palestinian state.

Meanwhile, right-wing politicians have also voiced concerns. “The left is celebrating but it is a very sad day for the State of Israel,” Miki Zohar, a prominent Likud member wrote on Twitter, saying the right-wing parties in the coalition “should be ashamed”.

But elsewhere there was jubilation. Protesters who had been demanding Mr Netanyahu’s resignation danced in the street.

Some were just relieved at the prospect of an end to the political turmoil which has seen Israel hold four elections in just two years as politicians struggled to find someone to unite behind.

“I think that the political situation has been deadlocked for too long,” protester Zvi Yosef told Reuters news agency. “We have to try something new, even though it’s a little bit scary and there’s a lot of unknowns. But at the moment, I don’t see any other option.”

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-57340973

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Federation of African Journalists “dismayed” by UAE attempts to manipulate African Journalists

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Agencies – Federation of African Journalists accused UAE of “attempts” to manipulate the work of African Journalists. During a conference held this week, the federation issued an urgent resolution which attacked United Arab Emirates due to its efforts to affect the work of the federation and African journalists.

The press release said, “We, the delegates attending the African Journalists Leaders’ Conference from five regions of the African Continent, being held in Accra, Ghana, from 1st to 2nd June 2021, under the auspices of the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) and hosted by the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA)”

The press release announced a number of points stating:

“With dismay recent attempts by external elements from the United Arab Emirates who deliberately tried to manipulate journalists’ organisations in Africa to issue public statements or campaign against 2022 FIFA World Cup, that will be hosted by the State of Qatar.”said the statement

The organisation expressed serious concerns about how UAE is trying to push for political disputes and drag African journalists into activities beyond their primary interests, scope and mandate.

It also added that “Serious challenges facing journalists in Africa in covering adequately global events such as the World Cup.”

The federation rejected what it described as “despicable attempts”to use and manipulate African journalists and their organisations as tools to challenge the organisation of 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

It reiterated its full support of the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) to the position taken by the International Trade Unions Confederation (ITUC) about the labour rights situation in Qatar and note the unparalleled progress so far made.

It has also demanded that African jour alista have full access to 2022 FIFA 2022 World Cup so they inform African peoples about these global soccer events.

It has called upon the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and the qualifying National teams from Africa to be vigilant about these manipulative attempts and ensure Africa’s dignified and prominent participation in the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The statement made an appeal to CAF and FIFA to investigate and penalize the people and forces behind this unprecedented interference in global soccer events which has the potential to compromise African journalists reporting on the world’s biggest football event.

It also added that, “Mandate the Steering Committee of FAJ to develop a close working relationship with CAF to facilitate and advance the work and interests of African journalists.”

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