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Israel shot down drone on Golan Heights overnight – military

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Israel’s military said on Friday it had shot down a drone overnight that crossed into Israeli airspace near Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights. The strategic plateau is at the frontier with Syria.

The army said the incident was not connected to the triggering of sirens later in the day by a false alarm regarding a drone infiltration, Reuters reports.

Israel has been on high alert as tensions have escalated with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Earlier in the week Israeli aircraft attacked targets in Syria.

Most of the Golan Heights were captured by Israel from Syria in a war in 1967.

Belgian court rejects Spain’s demand to have ex-Catalan minister extradited

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A court in Belgium on Friday rejected Spain’s demand to have a former high-ranking politician from the region of Catalonia extradited. The Brussels prosecutor’s office said the court had decided not to enforce the European arrest warrant for former Catalan Culture Minister Lluis Puig on the grounds that “the Spanish authorities who issued the warrant are not competent to do so,” AP reports.

Puig’s lawyers had argued that Spain’s Supreme Court does not have the jurisdiction to judge him and that only a Catalan court is competent to do so.

The move is seen as yet another setback for Madrid’s efforts to try several officials in exile over their alleged roles in an independence referendum that Spain sees as illegal.

Puig has been living in exile in Belgium since he, former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, and a number of their associates fled to Belgium in October 2017, fearing arrest over the holding of an independence referendum that the Spanish government had banned.

Police remove tent camps in Bulgaria as anti-govt protesters vow to stay

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Bulgarian police on Friday removed dozens of tent camps that had blocked key city intersections across the country amid continuing anti-government protests.

Police said they cleared away tents in the capital of Sofia during the early morning hours and briefly detained 12 people. Police Commissioner Toni Todorov said authorities respect and guarantee the rights of citizens to protest peacefully but that such activity can not violate the rights of other Bulgarians.

The protesters vowed to erect even more road blockades, AP reports. The mostly young demonstrators accuse those in power of refusing to fight corruption and suppressing freedom of speech.

Norwegian govt urges citizens to avoid travel abroad to limit virus spread

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Norwegians should avoid all travel abroad, even to countries with few Covid-19 cases, Health Minister Bent Hoie said on Friday. “There is still little contamination in Norway but we see increased contamination in countries that used to have control over their situations,” Bent Hoie told reporters in Oslo.

While not a member of the European Union, Norway belongs to the passport-free Schengen travel area. It had some of the strictest travel restrictions in Europe in the early phase of the pandemic before gradually lifting them from June.

In another move, bars and restaurants may no longer serve alcohol after midnight, Hoie said. Authorities would also issue fresh recommendations on wearing face masks on August 14, Reuters reports. Norway and other Nordic countries, unlike many other European nations, are not currently mandating masks in public spaces.

UK’s Gove says progress has been made on Brexit talks, believes EU trade deal can be done

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Britain’s top minister overseeing the post-Brexit talks said on Friday that progress had been made with the European Union, and that he thinks the two sides will clinch a free trade agreement.

“All the evidence is that we are making progress with the EU,” Michael Gove told reporters in Northern Ireland. “I believe that there will be a successful negotiated outcome.”

The tone of the comments from Gove was distinctly more positive than in recent months, Reuters said. In late May, Gove was demanding that the EU break the impasse in talks.

Brussels is willing to compromise by softening its demand that Britain heed EU rules on state aid in the future, diplomatic sources said earlier this month.

Turkey restarts drilling in E. Mediterranean as energy exploration dispute with Greece continues

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President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey has resumed drilling operations in the eastern Mediterranean as Greece had not kept its promises regarding energy exploration in the region, Reuters reports. Erdogan was speaking to reporters after Friday prayers at the Hagia Sophia mosque.

NATO allies Turkey and Greece have long been at loggerheads over overlapping claims for hydrocarbon resources and tensions have flared up between them again.

In late July, Ankara said it could pause energy-exploration operations in the eastern Mediterranean Sea for a while, pending talks with Greece.

Poland rules out new nationwide lockdown despite virus spike

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Poland reported 809 coronavirus cases on Friday, the sixth record daily rise in two weeks. However, Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin ruled out a new nationwide lockdown.

Poland sees no need for new curbs aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus, despite the number of daily cases hitting record highs, Deputy Health Minister Janusz Cieszynski said on Friday.

The previous day, the government imposed stricter rules on a number of Polish counties, including compulsory wearing of face masks outside the home, Reuters reports.

According to the Health Ministry, most of the cases were in and around big cities including the capital Warsaw, Katowice and Krakow.

N. Korean leader orders officials to provide food & shelter for hundreds of families after floods

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Kim Jong-un has ordered North Korean officials to provide food and shelter for hundreds of families who lost their homes in floods, the KCNA state news agency said on Friday.

Heavy rain across the Korean peninsula has brought flooding to both North and South Korea in recent days. Concern is growing about damage to North Korean crops and its potential impact on food supplies, Reuters reports.

Kim made the remarks while inspecting a flood-hit part of North Hwanghae Province, on the border of South Korea. Torrential rain for several days has inundated more than 730 single-story houses, destroying 179 of them, and flooded rice-growing land, according to KCNA. There were no reports of casualties.

South Korea on Thursday donated $10 million to the UN World Food Program for its efforts to help North Korean children and women. Parts of South Korea have seen more than 40 consecutive days of rain, the longest monsoon since 2013, and more is expected across the peninsula.

Afghanistan’s grand assembly gathers to discuss Kabul-Taliban peace deal

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Thousands of Afghan elders, community leaders and politicians gathered on Friday to debate government efforts to make peace with the Taliban. The fate of 400 hardcore Taliban prisoners, whose release could clear the way for talks, is on the agenda.

Some 3,200 people have been invited to the grand assembly, a loya jirga, in Kabul amid tight security, to debate for at least three days and then advise the government on whether the prisoners should be freed.

As part of a February pact between the US and the Taliban allowing for the withdrawal of US troops, it was agreed that some 5,000 Taliban prisoners should be released from Afghan jails as a condition for talks between the militants and the US-backed government.

The government has released all but some 400 militants it says have been convicted of the worst crimes, Reuters reports.

US arms sales to Taiwan violate ‘one China’ principle, Beijing says after drone report

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The United States should stop arms sales to Taiwan to avoid affecting bilateral relations, China’s Foreign Ministry has said. The US arms sales seriously violate the “one China” principle, Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing on Friday.

Washington is negotiating the sale of at least four sophisticated aerial drones to Taiwan, as previously reported by Reuters.

The Sea Guardian surveillance drones have a range of 6,000 nautical miles (11,100 km), far greater than the 160-mile range of Taiwan’s current fleet of drones.

The sale of the unmanned aerial vehicles has been tacitly authorized by the State Department, according to sources. However, it is not clear whether US officials have approved exporting the drones with weapons attached.

Norway halts reopening, reimposes 10-day quarantine for 3 European states

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Norway is halting its planned easing of coronavirus restrictions and will likely reimpose others to prevent a full lockdown of society, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on Thursday. “We need to slow down now to avoid a full stop down the road,” Solberg told reporters.

Earlier, Norway said it will reimpose a 10-day quarantine from Saturday for all travelers from France, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, due to the rising number of coronavirus cases in those countries.

Norway will also reimpose quarantine for people traveling from Monaco and from certain regions in neighboring Sweden, while lifting quarantine obligations for other regions, Reuters said. Authorities in Oslo are also discussing whether to update guidelines on the wearing of face masks in crowded spaces.

Greece & Egypt sign deal on exclusive economic zone amid tensions with Turkey

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Egypt and Greece signed an agreement on Thursday, designating an exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean between the two countries, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said. The area contains promising oil and gas reserves.

Shoukry made the announcement after meeting his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias in Cairo, Reuters reports. The agreement is within the framework of international law and contributes to security and stability in the region, Dendias said.

Cairo and Athens are at odds with Turkey, which last year angered the two states by signing a maritime delimitation agreement with the internationally recognized Libyan government. The move escalated disputes over potential offshore gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.

Austria’s Foreign Ministry warns against travel to Spain except Balearic & Canary islands

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Austria’s Foreign Ministry has warned against trips to Spain except for the Balearic and Canary Islands. The measure will take effect from Monday, and people returning to Austria will be required to present a negative test for coronavirus.

The measures are the latest blow to Spain’s tourism-dependent economy. Britain, Germany and Switzerland recently warned their citizens against summer holidays on Spanish beaches or at least in certain regions of the country.

New coronavirus cases in Spain have started rising again and hit a post-lockdown record of 1,772 new infections on Wednesday, Reuters reports.

The Austrian government has already imposed tight testing requirements for arrivals from the Balkans after it saw an increase in cases among people returning from the region.

Poland’s President Duda sworn in as most opposition MPs stay away

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Poland’s conservative President Andrzej Duda was sworn in for a second five-year term before parliament members on Thursday. Most opposition parliamentarians and former presidents and prime ministers did not attend.

Duda is being criticized for what some say was disregard for the constitution during his first term, and his almost total acceptance of the ruling right-wing party’s policies that have put Poland at odds with European Union leaders, AP said.

Duda has been a close ally of the ruling right-wing coalition of the Law and Justice party and two small partner parties.

He won 51.03 percent of votes in the July 12 election runoff while his challenger, liberal Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, received 48.97 percent.

US imposes sanctions on individuals & company ‘contributing to instability in Libya’

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Washington on Thursday imposed sanctions on three individuals and a Malta-based company, accusing them of acting as a network of smugglers and of contributing to instability in Libya.

The US Treasury Department said in a statement it blacklisted Faysal al-Wadi, accusing the Libyan national of having smuggled drugs and Libyan fuel into Malta. Also blacklisted were two associates, Malta-based company Alwefaq Ltd, and the vessel Maraya, which the Treasury said Wadi had used in his alleged smuggling operations.

The Treasury also said that “competition for control of smuggling routes, oil facilities, and transport nodes is a key driver of conflict in Libya and deprives the Libyan people of economic resources.” Thursday’s action freezes any US assets of those blacklisted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.

“Faysal al-Wadi and his associates have smuggled fuel from Libya and used Libya as a transit zone to smuggle illicit drugs,” Reuters reported Deputy Treasury Secretary Justin Muzinich as saying.

Switzerland widens list of Covid-19 risk countries to all outside Schengen area, with exceptions

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Swiss authorities have amended their list of countries that pose a risk from high rates of coronavirus infection to all outside Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone, barring some exceptions.

The exceptions include Australia, Ireland, Japan, Canada, South Korea and New Zealand, the government said on Thursday.

The move, which aims to curb the spread of the coronavirus, takes effect on Saturday. It tightens a list that was expanded only on Wednesday, when mainland Spain was added.

Switzerland’s health minister said that new country-wide measures to check the recent spike in coronavirus cases are unlikely at present, Reuters reported.

China ‘to take countermeasures’ as Taiwan prepares for US official’s visit

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Beijing on Thursday threatened to take countermeasures over a trip to Taiwan by US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar. The island is gearing up for its highest-level US official visit in four decades.

The visit, which begins on Sunday, adds to tensions between Beijing and Washington as China calls Taiwan the most sensitive and important issue in its bilateral ties.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in Beijing that any attempt to deny or challenge the “One China” principle, which states that Taiwan is part of China, would end in failure, Reuters reports. “China will take strong countermeasures in response to the US behavior,” Wang said, referring to Azar’s visit.

Last month, China said it would impose sanctions on Lockheed Martin for its involvement in US arms sales to Taiwan.

Lebanon’s Druze leader demands international investigation into Beirut port blast

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The leading Druze politician in Lebanon, Walid Jumblatt, called on Thursday for an international probe into the Beirut port explosion. Jumblatt said he had “no trust” in the government to find out the truth about it.

Jumblatt’s party has lawmakers in parliament but is not in the current cabinet, which took office in January with backing from the Hezbollah movement and its allies. If not for the help of foreign states and the Arab region, “Lebanon would disappear,” he said, calling for “a government of neutrality.”

France’s President Emmanuel Macron told angry Lebanese crowds in downtown Beirut on Thursday that French aid would not go to “corrupt hands” and he would seek a new deal with political authorities, Reuters reports. Macron was the first foreign leader to visit the Lebanese capital since the explosion on Tuesday.

Number of US nationals ‘were detained’ in Belarus ahead of election – President Lukashenko

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President Aleksandr Lukashenko was quoted as saying on Thursday that Belarus had detained a number of people who possessed US passports and were married to US women ahead of the country’s presidential elections to be held on August 9. Lukashenko provided no further details of the detainees. The US embassy has not immediately commented on the statement.

The president said that “quite a lot of people have been detained who were going to destabilize the situation in the country ahead of elections,” Belta news agency reported.

The campaign manager of Belarus’ leading opposition candidate was briefly detained on Thursday, her office said. Maria Moroz was detained by the Interior Ministry after visiting the Lithuanian embassy in Minsk, a spokeswoman for presidential hopeful Svetlana Tikhanovskaya told AFP, then quickly announced that she had been freed.

The ministry said that Moroz had been “invited for a conversation” and denied she had been arrested.

India’s govt appoints former telecoms minister in charge of Kashmir

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The federal government in India on Thursday named a former telecoms minister to lead the disputed region of Kashmir. Manoj Sinha, a leader in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party, will replace career bureaucrat GC Murmu as lieutenant governor of Jammu and Kashmir.

New Delhi hopes to accelerate economic development and end years of strife in the territory. The appointment came a day after the first anniversary of the revocation of Kashmir’s constitutional autonomy passed off without any street protests amid heavy deployment of police and restrictions on public movement, Reuters said.

Last August, Modi’s government removed the special privileges accorded to Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, took away its statehood and split it into two federally administered territories by carving up Buddhist-dominated Ladakh.

Australia’s Melbourne enters new 6-week coronavirus lockdown

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Melbourne began the first day of a six-week total lockdown on Thursday. The second-biggest city in Australia is closing most shops and businesses.

Shops were shut and streets were deserted in the city of about five million people, the capital of Victoria state, which reported 471 new coronavirus cases and eight deaths in one 24 hour period.

Australia has now recorded about 20,000 Covid-19 cases and 255 fatalities, Reuters reports.

New South Wales reported 12 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, taking the national tally to 483. There were no cases reported in other states and territories.

Beijing is ‘firmly opposed’ to US action to block Chinese apps

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Beijing said on Thursday it was firmly opposed to the US government’s action to block Chinese apps. China’s Foreign Ministry said that the move went against market principles and had no factual basis.

China also urged the United States “to correct its mistake,” ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters.

The Trump administration said earlier it was stepping up efforts to purge “untrusted” Chinese apps from US digital networks. It described the Chinese-owned short-video app TikTok and messenger app WeChat as “significant threats,” Reuters reported.

Cyprus ready to help EU ‘fill E. Mediterranean power vacuum’ amid alleged US disengagement

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The European Union must do more to fill a power void in the eastern Mediterranean brought on by a perceived US disengagement from the region, Cyprus’ foreign minister said on Wednesday. The island nation is ready to host an EU task force to achieve that goal, AP quoted Nikos Christodoulides as saying.

The EU has so far failed to use its ample “soft power” to position itself as the leading player in a region fraught with problems such as terrorism and illegal immigration, the minister said.

The bloc should pursue a more muscular policy, with a larger military footprint in the region, the diplomat noted, lauding France for supporting this line. French President Emmanuel Macron is organizing a summit of the EU’s seven Mediterranean nations on September 10 to discuss developments in the eastern Mediterranean.

Cyprus can act as a base of operations for the EU’s humanitarian and other missions. The island is 180km (120 miles) away from Lebanon and could serve as the EU’s hub for delivering assistance in the wake of Tuesday’s deadly blast in Beirut, Christodoulides also said.

Israeli military sets up coronavirus task force ‘to cut chain of infection’

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The Israeli military said on Wednesday it was establishing a coronavirus task force aimed at cutting the chain of infection in the country. The new force will begin operating next week and will connect all the different bodies under one umbrella.

The unit, headed by a brigadier general, will operate a sampling center, a quarantine center, recovery hotels, an evaluation complex, and an epidemiological investigations center, AP reports.

The Defense Ministry has long advocated utilizing the military’s vast infrastructure and resources to combat the spread of the virus but has been rebuffed until now because of inter-government squabbling.

Russia & US should play leading role in nuclear disarmament, not China – Beijing’s ambassador

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A leading role in the nuclear disarmament should be played by Moscow and Washington, but not Beijing, because China’s nuclear arsenal is noticeably smaller, according to Chinese Ambassador to US Cui Tiankai.

During the annual Aspen Security Forum, the envoy was asked whether China was interested in signing any arms control deals with the participation of Moscow and Washington.

“I think that there are now very important negotiations between the US and Russia concerning the existing treaties between those countries. And these treaties are extremely important for international strategic stability,” TASS quoted the diplomat as saying. “We hope those treaties would continue… We could have reasons to be optimistic, but I don’t know.”

The US and Russia have the largest nuclear arsenal, while China has a very small amount of nuclear weapons, according to the ambassador. He noted that one of his colleagues had earlier asked whether the US was ready to reduce its current nuclear stockpile to the size of the Chinese one as a precondition for launching the negotiations.

Netherlands’ Amsterdam & Rotterdam order people to wear masks in busy streets

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The two most populous cities in the Netherlands began ordering people to wear face masks in busy streets on Wednesday, amid rising coronavirus infection rates. Police in Rotterdam said a number of people opposed to the mask order staged a protest in the downtown area where masks became obligatory.

Amsterdam ordered masks to be worn in the red-light district and busy shopping streets and markets. Many visitors to the narrow lanes and canal-side roads of the neighborhood ignored the instructions, despite signs informing people of the new measure.

The mask orders came into force a day after the Dutch public health institute reported a near-doubling in confirmed infections in a week to 2,588, the AP news agency reports.

Poland may reopen schools in September despite coronavirus spike

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The Polish government intends to fully reopen schools on September 1, Education Minister Dariusz Piontkowski said on Wednesday, despite a recent renewed spike in coronavirus infections. Cases started rising after restrictions on public gatherings were eased. On Tuesday, authorities reported the fourth record daily increase in a week, with 680 new infections.

Poland, a nation of 38 million people, had recorded a total of 48,789 cases and 1,756 deaths as of Wednesday, Reuters reports.

“We want students to come back to normal education in schools from September,” Piontkowski said.

The ministry will impose strict hygiene and safety rules for schools, as well as criteria under which some schools could switch to online or a mix of online and in-class tuition in the event of of local infection spikes.

Thailand’s police say protest leaders violate coronavirus emergency law

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Thai police have summoned five organizers of student-led protests against the government, saying they had violated a coronavirus emergency decree that forbids large gatherings.

Among those called for questioning was human rights lawyer Anon Nampa, who on Monday had demanded reforms of Thailand’s powerful monarchy, a highly sensitive topic. However, police said on Wednesday that Anon, 35, was being summoned over an earlier protest in July that was held outside the army headquarters.

The organizers were “summoned for questioning and to hear the charge of breaching the emergency decree,” police lieutenant colonel Athich Donnanchai, deputy director of Nanglerng police, told Reuters.

Last month, the government said the emergency decree in place since March would only be used as a measure against the coronavirus and from August onwards said it would not be used to prevent political rallies.

Switzerland adds mainland Spain to states requiring 10-day coronavirus quarantine

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Swiss health authorities have added mainland Spain to its list of countries from which people arriving must enter a 10-day coronavirus quarantine.

Patrick Mathys, head of crisis management for the federal public health office, told reporters in Bern the move would take effect from Saturday. The measure excludes Spain’s Balearic and Canary Islands.

“For the first time we did not put an entire country on the list,” Mathys said on Wednesday. Russia, Azerbaijan and the United Arab Emirates were removed from the list, Reuters reports.

Japan’s holidaymakers should refrain from domestic travel – top doctors’ association

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Regional governments in Japan should act independently to contain a resurgence of coronavirus infections, and holidaymakers should refrain from domestic travel, the country’s top doctors’ association warned on Wednesday.

Japan Medical Association president Toshio Nakagawa cautioned against traveling around the country as the Obon ancestor-honoring holiday season begins. Local governments should decide for themselves whether to issue mandatory restrictions on business or travel, Nakagawa added.

The country imposed a nationwide state of emergency in April that was lifted for all regions in late May. But as cases increase in Tokyo and other pockets, policymakers have been hesitant to reinstate a nationwide emergency declaration, Reuters said.

Okinawa Prefecture in the south declared a state of emergency on Monday. Aichi Prefecture in central Japan was reported to be doing the same on Wednesday.