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Democrats demand Facebook, Twitter & YouTube change algorithms to stop ‘polluting minds of American


Democrats in the US Congress have urged major social media platforms to eliminate algorithms and recommendations that breed extremism and undermine the sense of “objective reality.”

Representatives Anna Eshoo and Tom Malinowski wrote letters demanding change to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. A similar letter was sent to the CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, and Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of YouTube, which is owned by Google.

“For years, social media companies have allowed harmful disinformation to spread through their platforms, polluting the minds of the American people,” Eshoo tweeted.

The lawmakers argued that social media platforms allow content which reinforces “existing political biases, especially those rooted in anger, anxiety, and fear.” They said the algorithms used by Big Tech “undermine our shared sense of objective reality” and “facilitate connections between extremist users,” which lead to violence in real life, like the storming of the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 6.

Twitter was urged to “immediately make permanent changes to limit the spread of misinformation and other forms of harmful content.” Facebook and YouTube were similarly asked to tweak their recommendation systems in order not to promote “dangerous conspiracy theories” among users.

The Democrats and many in the media accused former President Donald Trump of inciting the crowd of his supporters to seize the Capitol in hopes of overturning the results of the 2020 presidential election.

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Major online platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, promptly banned Trump and cracked down on some of his vocal supporters.

Moreover, Apple and Google kicked Parler, an ‘alternative’ social media platform popular with conservatives, from their app stores. Amazon then cut the company off its web-hosting service, forcing it to go offline.

Trump’s critics have insisted that the crackdown is necessary to prevent violence and the spread of falsehoods. Conservatives, meanwhile, called Big Tech’s policies “Orwellian,” and argued that they amount to political censorship.

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January 22nd 2021, 7:24 am

‘We’re having a right laugh’: From TikTok sea shanties to Man City’s Twitter, the football lads meme


When four friends took a photo after a train trip between two English cities on a drunken day out, the idea of the snap ending up on a Manchester City team news announcement to millions of fans, it is fair to say, seemed remote.

In a symbol of just how huge the viral photo sensation had become on social media, Premier League giants City reworked parts of it when they revealed their team to play Crystal Palace last week, joining in with the fun as part of a frantic, thrilling explosion of fame for the unwitting men involved.

England defender Kyle Walker, 2018 World Cup star John Stones and Brazil goalkeeper Ederson had their heads superimposed in honor of the picture, which first took off last June when it was viewed as a quintessential portrait of modern English "lads".

While Champions League contenders City are by far the most high-profile team to have highlighted the image to date, dozens of clubs and thousands of fans have reinterpreted the work - often including famous faces to produce a rich seam of jokes.

Premier League managers Steve Bruce, Sam Allardyce, Sean Dyche and Roy Hodgson featured in one version, and the photo has gone beyond football to feature UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other leading political figures looking unusually muscular and preened.

Connor Humpage, Kevin Rooney, Jamie Phillips and Alex Lacey are the pals in the picture. "Who would have known what a sh*t storm this photo would cause?" asked Humpage, who runs his own tattoo business and was one of the quartet traveling between Coventry and Birmingham.

"It’s been a rough year for me personally, but I’m so f*cking happy right now."

The disbelieving group have appeared on national TV and radio in the UK this week, winning praise from the likes of loudmouth interviewer Piers Morgan.

For Lacey, there has been a sense of relief after he was targeted by trolls when the image initially surfaced, including prank calls to his work telephone number and comments left on his mother's social media accounts.

"We're having a right laugh and loving the ride we are on," he said. "However, it wasn’t always fun and games.

"It got out of hand last year - for me especially - and some of the abuse and trolling wasn’t OK, judging a book by its cover. I'm happy to be through all that and excited for the future."

Phillips said he hoped the interview with Morgan, which was seen by millions, had "opened some eyes to how words can affect people."

"The meme has taken us on a rollercoaster," he admitted. "I'm loving the ride but people need to be aware of what they say to others on the internet and be kind."

As well as an animated version of the picture being used as part of the "sea shanty" trend on social media platform TikTok, one of the most popular versions of the meme has featured the friends debating various sporting contests, including a potential rematch between UFC rivals Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor.

"Yes, Conor smashes Khabib in a rematch," said Rooney, playing along as he published an illustrated version of the snap.

"Yes, Logan Paul does Anthony Joshua within three rounds. Yes, [Manchester United midfielder Scott] McTominay is a better Paul Scholes. And yes, Bozza [Johnson], we want our gyms back [open after lockdown]."

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January 22nd 2021, 7:24 am

Eurozone business activity slows as stricter lockdowns take heavy toll on service sector


Business activity in the eurozone fell to a two-month low in January, preliminary data revealed on Friday shows, as tougher coronavirus-related lockdowns come into effect to stop the spread of new Covid-19 strains.

HS Markit’s final Composite Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), which is considered a good gauge of economic health and combines both manufacturing and services, declined to 47.5 in January, versus 49.1 in December. PMI above the 50 level separates growth from contraction.

“Tighter COVID19 restrictions took a further toll on businesses in January,” Chris Williamson, the chief business economist at IHS Markit, said in a statement, adding that a double-dip recession for the region is looking “increasingly inevitable.”

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“Output fell at an increased rate, led by worsening conditions in the service sector and a weakening of manufacturing growth to the lowest seen so far in the sector’s seven-month recovery,” the report says.

Earlier this week, President of the European Central Bank Christine Lagarde acknowledged that the growing number of cases and new pandemic-related lockdowns across the region are disrupting economic activity, posing “serious risks” to the eurozone economy.

“Activity in the manufacturing sector continues to hold up well, but services sector activity is being severely curbed, albeit to a lesser degree than during the first wave of the pandemic in early 2020,” Lagarde said during a press conference after the ECB meeting.

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She also expressed concern over the slow vaccination roll-out across the EU amid the new Covid-19 strains. The regulator decided to keep interest rates and its wider stimulus programs unchanged after releasing additional support in December.

“In this environment ample monetary stimulus remains essential,” Lagarde said.

According to the ECB outlook, the eurozone’s GDP will grow 3.9 percent in 2021, and 2.1 percent in the next year. This is after a significant drop of 7.3 percent last year. The regulator added that the numbers are highly dependent on the outcome of the pandemic.

For more stories on economy & finance visit RT's business section

January 22nd 2021, 7:07 am

Special Crown Office unit to investigate hundreds of deaths in Scottish care homes


A special unit within the Crown Office is set to investigate the circumstances surrounding coronavirus-linked deaths in 474 Scottish care homes to decide whether to hold a fatal accident inquiry or launch a prosecution.

The Covid-19 Deaths Investigation Team was established in May by Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC, after the Crown Office said that all confirmed or suspected coronavirus-related deaths in care home should have been reported to the relevant authorities.

So far, the CDIT has received 3,385 reports of deaths related to the virus as part of its probe known as Operation Koper, with the vast majority linked to individuals who are living in care homes. This figure compares to the total of 1,553 reports of Covid-19 fatalities in care homes that had been received by the end of December.

The chief executive of Scottish Care, Donald Macaskill, criticised the specific focus on the care home industry, saying the investigation was “wholly disproportionate [and] causing irreparable damage.”

In the middle of a pandemic, and with dozens of care homes fighting active outbreaks, this has added to a real sense of exhaustion, dismay and disappointment.

The Crown Office has defended its decision to proceed with the investigation, arguing that it is simply dealing with the reports it has received and ensuring that “all necessary and appropriate investigations are undertaken, and that each investigation progresses as expediently as it can.”

Scotland has reported 168,219 Covid-19 infections and 7,448 deaths related to the virus since the start of the pandemic, with 38 percent of fatalities having occurred in care homes, compared with 55 percent in hospitals and six percent at home.

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January 22nd 2021, 7:07 am

‘A coup conducted by the West': Russian parents association boss asks government to ban TikTok over


The head of Russia's Association of Parents’ Committees and Communities has called on the government to ban TikTok, the Chinese video-sharing platform. Olga Letkova claims the app is being used to incite children to riot.

Her comments came after Russian state regulator Roskomnadzor demanded that the company stop distributing videos that encourage minors to participate in illegal protests. Supporters of jailed opposition figure Alexey Navalny are planning marches for Saturday, in order to demand his release from prison. One tactic being used to encourage participation is through short videos on social media.

Letkova told Russian online publication Snob that TikTok's tolerance of calls for children to go out and protest amounts to illegal “interference in our private lives.”

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“As parents, we cannot allow it to happen because it is dangerous for our children to participate,” she said. “We will figure out for ourselves in our own country. We do not need instruction from abroad.”

Letkova also spoke to the website Podyom, a Moscow-based news site. The association head asserted that foreign social networks are looking to “manipulate” Russian children, “just like in Ukraine and Belarus.”

“If social networks give children instructions on how to behave, it is obvious that this is an attempt at a coup, conducted by the West,” she said. “Yes, we have problems, but we will solve them ourselves. Don't tell our children to go out on the streets.”

“On behalf of the Association of Parents' Committees and Communities, I am asking the authorities to ban TikTok and similar networks.”

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On Monday, after he was sentenced to 30 days in pre-trial detention, Navalny called for his followers to protest against his arraignment. In the days since, TikTok has been flooded with calls to engage in street protest. The Moscow government has refused to authorize the march, citing Covid-19 safety.

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January 22nd 2021, 7:07 am

‘Travel will continue for the rich’: Brits blast reports that they may have to pay for mandatory hot


The UK government is considering mandatory hotel quarantines for people returning from overseas, according to reports. Many Brits, however, were not too keen on the idea.

In a report on Friday, the Times – citing an unnamed government source – revealed that the government is considering a mandatory quarantine, which would force returning Britons to stay in a specially chosen hotel for ten days with security guards and other anti-Covid-19 measures. They would then be made to personally foot the bill for their post-travel quarantine stay, instead of British taxpayers.

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The source told the Times, “Even if people said they were going to quarantine at home, there would be a risk of them spreading the virus after leaving the airport.”

Brits on social media had many things to say about the proposal, but few of them were positive.

“Travel will continue for the rich,” declared writer Laura Dodsworth, pointing out that the only people who will be able to afford such a quarantine – and thus the ability to travel – are those with enough money to pay for the extra ten days in a hotel.

It wasn’t just holiday-starved tweeters who vented their concerns, however.

Paul Charles, CEO of travel PR firm the PC Agency, tweeted that he was “deeply concerned” about the report and warned that the “airline sector would die” if such a plan was implemented, while World Travel and Tourism Council President Gloria Guevara told the Times it would be “yet another crushing blow to the ailing UK travel and tourism sector.”

Sports journalist Sam Street expressed his concern that it would be “for the long term.”

“If a blanket ban/hotel quarantine is judged the best way to prevent mutant strains entering the UK then there will never be any justification for removing it,” Street wrote.

Many Covid-concerned social media users also questioned why the UK hadn’t announced such a measure months ago at the beginning of the pandemic.

“If the UK (And others) had done this a year ago, like Vietnam and Taiwan did, or even 10 months ago – then it would not be in the situation it is today,” claimed one user, while another asked, “Why has it taken a year to get to this point? Incompetence seems the only possible answer.”

Others were frustrated about Brits traveling abroad at all during the pandemic, with one branding it “grossly irresponsible.”

The concept of a mandatory hotel quarantine is not new. Australia has had a similar policy in place throughout most of the pandemic. The New South Wales government website says that solo returning travellers will be charged $3,000, with additional fees for each adult and $500 for each child under 18, with toddlers staying for free.

It was also revealed this week that the UK government had considered and rejected a proposal for electronically tagging arrivals to ensure that they would abide by quarantine procedures.

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January 22nd 2021, 6:55 am

WATCH: Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier hit the scale at the UFC 257 official weigh-ins (VIDEO)


Watch live as the fighters take to the scale on "UFC Fight Island" as Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier, Michael Chandler and Dan Hooker take the scale ahead of their huge lightweight bouts at UFC 257 in Abu Dhabi

Before the fighters throw leather and do battle inside the octagon on fight night at UFC 257, they each face another battle as they cut the last few pounds before stepping onto the scale to make weight ahead of their respective bouts.

The fight card features a pair of pivotal bouts for the UFC lightweight division, with former two-division champion Conor McGregor taking on former interim lightweight champ Dustin Poirier in the main event, while former three-time Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler facing New Zealand's dangerous contender Dan Hooker in the co-main event.

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All four fighters are contractually obliged to tip the scale no heavier than 156 pounds for their matchups, and all eyes will be on the four men when they take to the scale during Friday's official weigh-in session in Abu Dhabi.

The entire fight card will be in attendance, with the fighters allowed a two-hour window to make their final adjustments before stepping out in front of the media cameras and stepping up onto the official scale to register their official weight ahead of their respective matchups.


Main Card

Preliminary Card

Early Prelims

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January 22nd 2021, 6:55 am

Modi praises India’s ‘self-reliance’ in Covid-19 vaccine production as the country administers milli


The Indian prime minister has talked up his country’s capacity to overcome the coronavirus pandemic using indigenous vaccines and those manufactured in the world’s second most populous nation.

Speaking on Friday to Covid-19 vaccine beneficiaries and vaccinators in Varanasi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised the country’s resolve against Covid-19 and its capacity to develop indigenous vaccines to change the course of the pandemic. 

“The biggest vaccination programme in the world is going on in our country. Today, the nation has the will power to manufacture its own vaccine – not one but two Made in India vaccines. Vaccines are reaching every corner of the country. India is absolutely self-reliant in this regard,” Modi said.

The prime minister added that India is also providing Covid-19 vaccines to several countries as well, including Brazil, Morocco, and the Seychelles. 

India is the world’s largest vaccine producer, manufacturing around 60 percent of the world’s vaccine supply. The nation is taking the lead in production of Covid-19 vaccines too, manufacturing both AstraZeneca’s jab and a homegrown vaccine, Covaxin, made by pharma company Bharat Biotech, both of which have been approved for use in India. 

Only Covishield, the local name for AstraZeneca’s jab, has been exported from India so far, some as gifts. 

Modi continued to emphasize that the vaccines being offered to the Indian people are perfectly safe and effective, noting some hesitancy among the population to get inoculated. 

“Earlier, there was pressure on me about when the vaccine will come. I said that it is not political people to decide on it and the decision rests with scientists. The vaccines have now come out after thorough research by our scientists,” he stated. 

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Five killed as fire breaks out at world's biggest vaccine manufacturer in India (VIDEO)

On Thursday, the country administered its millionth Covid-19 vaccine, with early inoculations giving preference to healthcare workers. 

There was widespread concern on Thursday after a fire ripped through a production facility belonging to the world’s largest vaccine maker, the Serum Institute of India (SII), killing five. 

It was later confirmed that production of Covishield was unaffected.

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January 22nd 2021, 6:55 am

We’re in a PERFECT STORM for gold prices edging higher, financial editor tells Boom Bust


US President Joe Biden’s Treasury secretary pick, Janet Yellen, said on Tuesday that the new administration would focus on winning quick passage for the recently revealed $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan.

Sean Hyman of the Logical Investor offers his insight on how the markets are faring amid hopes of the major stimulus.

“I think we are in the perfect storm in the favor of gold and precious metals. In fact, I’m even more bullish on silver and platinum than even gold,” he says.

According to Hyman, “there are all kinds of reasons why gold and metals should prosper.” He points to the upcoming stimulus and Yellen saying “go big,” as well as the US’ high debt, low interest rates, a falling dollar, and an overvalued bubble-like stock market.

Hyman says that a $2,500 gold price is “easily obtainable” in the near term, and maybe even $3,000.

For more stories on economy & finance visit RT's business section

January 22nd 2021, 6:55 am

BBC blasted for spending £1 MILLION in THREE YEARS on equal pay and discrimination legal fights


The BBC has come under fire after admitting that it spent more than £1 million in the last three and a half years fighting legal battles over equal pay and discrimination cases brought by its own employees.

The publicly-funded media organisation has defended its decision to, so far, spend £1,121,652 on legal bills as part of its commitment to being a “truly inclusive employer” due to the complex nature of equal opportunity cases, arguing they required qualified professionals to manage them and address the concerns raised.

“While we aim to manage costs efficiently and proportionately, the complexities of these cases mean they need to be managed by qualified professionals, not least to ensure fairness,” a BBC spokesperson said in a statement.

While the BBC has refused to say how much exactly it spent on the in-house lawyers dealing with these cases over the past three and a half years, in a letter to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee, it did estimate that its legal team spent 2,688 hours working on these tribunals, suggesting that the figure was around £417 an hour.  

The chair of the DCMS Committee, Conservative MP Julian Knight, has written a letter to the broadcaster, denouncing the sizeable payments as “unbelievable,” arguing that money that could have been spent on programming, reducing the cost of the licence fee or providing over-75s with free access to its services.

It is unbelievable that the BBC has spent more than £1 million of licence fee payers’ money fighting claims brought by its own staff about equal pay and race discrimination.

The figures that have been revealed, only following a direct request from the DCMS Committee, do not include current tribunal costs, so the overall total could rise further as future cases are settled or go to court.

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January 22nd 2021, 6:55 am

Chinese authorities find Covid-19 cluster at major chicken processing plant in Harbin as Beijing int


A new cluster of Covid-19 has been detected in Harbin, in northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, with authorities registering 10 symptomatic Covid-19 cases and 31 asymptomatic infections.

On Friday, authorities in China said that they had identified a new cluster of Covid-19 related to a local meat-processing company run by Thai conglomerate Charoen Pokphand, in Harbin, China. 

Official said that 10 symptomatic Covid-19 cases and 31 asymptomatic infections were detected during mass-scale coronavirus testing. Authorities stated that emergency measures had been taken to control the outbreak, adding that tests were also being carried out on product samples. 

Samples taken from inside the slaughterhouse, a cold storage area and the outside of product packaging area, including a corridor, returned positive results for the virus. A total of 1,650 samples from the company’s food factory were collected as of Thursday. 

Local authorities say they have removed all the company’s products from sale. However, none of the 43,712 samples of the firm’s products have returned a positive result. 

News of the outbreak has been trending on the social media platform Weibo, with some users urging others not to eat products produced by the Thai conglomerate. 

Meatpacking workers in Europe, the US, and Brazil were also hard hit by the virus in 2020, with thousands of workers infected with Covid-19. 

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Covid has re-emerged in China in recent weeks, with some authorities adopting new curbs despite a dearth of cases in the area. Beijing has also encouraged people not to travel during the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday, a period when millions of urban dwellers typically return to their villages to celebrate. 

On Friday, China’s most populous city, Shanghai, reported six new Covid-19 cases, the first outbreak since November, prompting two hospitals to go into lockdown after they were linked to the new infections. 

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January 22nd 2021, 6:55 am

Cold chain strikes again: 1,900 doses of Moderna vaccine go poof in Boston after cleaner reportedly


A Boston cleaner is reported to have accidentally ruined 1,900 doses of Moderna Covid-19 vaccine by unplugging a freezer. It’s the latest case highlighting how logistical problems can seriously undermine immunization efforts.

The incident happened at the VA Boston Pharmacy in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. Staff discovered on Tuesday that a freezer storing the vaccine failed overnight, compromising it, a spokesman for the VA Boston Healthcare System said on Thursday.

“The plug was found loose after a contractor accidentally removed it while cleaning,” the statement said as cited by the Boston Globe, adding that an investigation was continuing into how the cleaner managed to get inside the secure room where the freezer was installed without tripping the alarm.

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Covid-19 vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, which were approved for emergency use in the US by the FDA last month, both use a novel technique for triggering an immune response. They contain messenger RNA, or mRNA, to trick a recipient’s cells into producing a particular virus protein, and teach the immune system to detect it and defeat the real coronavirus if it enters the body later.

The downside is that mRNA is extremely unstable, so both vaccines need to be kept at extremely low temperatures for long-term storage. A regular freezer can be used to keep the vaccines for a few weeks after delivery, but producers and doctors want to keep things safe and accept no leeway for cold chain incidents like the one in Boston.

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Nearly 900 Moderna vaccine doses WASTED by Ohio provider, health department suspends future allocations

Officials in Maine and Michigan this week announced that over 16,000 vaccine doses in total were spoiled due to improper temperature during transportation. Almost a thousand doses were wasted in Ohio due to unsuitable storage conditions at several facilities.

Blunders with supply, distribution, and storage are not the only problems the US has had with its Covid-19 vaccination effort. There are also issues with public mistrust. In Boston, less than half of the population is prepared to take the shot, according to focus groups and surveys conducted by the Boston Public Health Commission last month.

In Wisconsin, a self-described “conspiracy theorist” pharmacist destroyed over 500 doses of the vaccine last month due to the belief that it somehow alters people’s DNA.

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January 22nd 2021, 5:52 am

Russian Education Ministry advises parents to protect children against jailed opposition figure Nava


Young people attracted by calls for civil unrest from opposition activists could be putting themselves in harm’s way, say Russian officials, telling parents to get their kids to watch a movie instead.

The Ministry of Education in Moscow posted the stark warning to its page on the VKontakte social network on Thursday. Responsible for the protection of young people, the authorities noted that “in the last few days, calls for children to go on so-called ‘marches’ [on Saturday] have begun to appear in droves in various forums.”

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“We are all aware of children’s curiosity, love of harmless pranks and showing off, but in the hands of unscrupulous adults, all this can involve a young person in illegal actions and drag them into a very bad situation,” the officials said. “Be as vigilant as possible, take an interest in your children’s plans and protect them from the dangers of these ‘outings.’ Spend the day together!”

Anti-corruption campaigner Alexey Navalny, who was jailed last weekend after returning to Russia from Germany, had supported plans for wide-scale demonstrations in around 65 cities to protest his arrest. While it is not yet clear how many people might actually attend these gatherings, the Ministry claims there are activities far better suited to young people than political marches.

In a list of activities parents could consider doing with their children to avoid them falling off the radar and into trouble, the education chiefs suggest “watching your favorite movies, taking a walk in the park, sledding, playing board games and cooking together with the whole family.”

Several of Navalny’s allies have been arrested this week for allegedly planning illegal protests on Saturday. Prominent activists Lyubov Sobol and Kira Yarmysh, both of whom work at Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, were detained.

Police across the country have urged people to stay home rather than participate in the unauthorized gatherings. Mass events have been banned in many regions over public health concerns during the Covid-19 pandemic. In Ekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth most populous city, schoolchildren will be forced to attend an extra day of school online on Saturday, ensuring that they are studying rather than out protesting. Those that cannot dial in will have to present a note from a parent.

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Navalny has been jailed for 30 days after allegedly breaching the terms of a three-and-a-half year sentence, suspended for five years, when he lost contact with prison service authorities last autumn. The Moscow protest leader was transferred to Berlin’s Charite hospital in a comatose state after what his supporters say was a state-sponsored assassination attempt with the nerve agent Novichok. The Kremlin has ridiculed these claims, with President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, telling reporters that Navalny has a “persecution complex” and allegedly compares himself to Jesus.

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January 22nd 2021, 5:52 am

‘I‘d love to taste hot sauce’: Conor McGregor tells UFC 257 foe Poirier to bring bottle and warns he


Dustin Poirier has revealed that UFC 257 foe Conor McGregor will "help a lot of people" after offering to support his foundation, while the mutual admirers plan to trade whiskey and hot sauce after their much-anticipated rematch.

Returning superstar McGregor spoke excitedly about the Louisiana-style hot sauce which takes Poirier's name, adding that he had been "impressed" by the progress the American had made since losing to him in little more than a minute in 2014.

Despite that praise, McGregor admitted that he did not expect to be tested by Poirier as he seeks a challenge that can take him further than Donald Cerrone did a year ago, when his victory took 40 seconds.

"You've got the hot sauce?" McGregor asked Poirier in a jovial exchange between the pair who will clash on "Fight Island" in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

"I'd love to taste the hot sauce. I've got to taste it first, though. I don't put my name to something unless it's proper, the finest."

Poirier promised he had a bottle of the fiery condiment, which trades for $12 a pop, ready. "You'll taste it on Sunday morning and then I'll give you a bottle," he pledged, before explaining that McGregor would be backing his charity.

"McGregor Sports Entertainment did reach out to my team foundation. We have huge plans for that. You're going to help a lot of people with that."

Pleasantries and his inexhaustible willingness to plug his whiskey brand aside, McGregor assured a rapt press conference that he believed he could "hit and possibly hurt" Poirier from the off again and "get him out of there early".

"He's put in the hard work," he observed. "I've been impressed, I think the whole business has been impressed.

"After that loss many, many years ago he rose up, became champion, he's given so much back.

"That fire is there and there's no denying that it's going to be a good clash, a fire-filled bout, but the respect is admirable for this man, for me.

"I have a million shots. I have so many weapons in my arsenal, all fine-tuned. I'm in a phenomenal place.

"I keep showing up here. Someone's going to be able to stay with me and I hope it's this Saturday night.

"Do I think so? I do not. I am in some shape here and I am coming to put on a masterpiece, so I'm excited."

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January 22nd 2021, 5:39 am

Daniel Cormier talks Russian UFC champ Khabib Nurmagomedov’s potential return: ‘It will take somethi


Longtime teammate and training partner Daniel Cormier is uniquely placed to discuss Khabib Nurmagomedov's mindset as he mulls over a potential return, but he admitted he isn't worried whether his friend decides to return or not.

Cormier is working on commentary duties this weekend at UFC 257 in Abu Dhabi as Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier meet in the blockbuster main event.

But while the attention of that fight, as well as the co-main bout between fellow lightweight contenders Dan Hooker and Michael Chandler, is gathering plenty of attention, the underlying storyline is whether one of the four men in action can do something special enough to entice Khabib out of retirement in a bid to take his stellar career to 30-0.

Speaking to the press during a media session this week, Cormier shared his take on Khabib's situation and, perhaps surprisingly, admitted that he didn't look to steer his friend toward any particular outcome.

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"For Khabib, it has to be something (that excites him) competitively," he explained.

"His financial position is so different, I don't think it's just going to be money any more. I think when you get to a certain point in your life... Money's great, obviously, but he lives in the mountains in Dagestan, Russia. How much do you really need?! I figure you don't need all that much.

"He's a smart guy, he's got a lot of different ventures outside of the octagon. So, something competitive that makes him go 'Wow! This makes me want to put everything else aside and get back to work and prepare for a fight.'

"Because that's what it takes. You don't just go to a fight. Everything else is on hold as you prepare. And for a guy like Khabib, who has so many irons in the fire, it will take something that excites him to get him back into training camp."

Cormier revealed that Khabib had directly asked him to give him his advice on what to do next, and admitted that he batted back the request by saying he'd back him, regardless of his decision.

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"He actually asked me the other day. He actually asked me," he revealed.

"He said, 'What do you want? What do you want me to do?' and I was like, 'I don't really care.'

"'You fight, I'll support you. I'll help you prepare, we always have. If you don't, we'll still talk and we'll still see each other when Umar fights, and Islam fights.' It just really doesn't matter to me.

"I have no vested interest in him fighting. Granted, as a fan of the sport, you want him to fight. As an organization, you want him to fight... but for me personally, as a friend, I really don't care. And I guess I don't know if he thought that was going to be the answer.

"I was saying, 'As a fan, people want you to fight. But ultimately it's your decision.' I gain nothing. No money. He ain't gonna pay me! For all of the wrestling practices, he's given me not one red cent! So ultimately, I'm getting no money out of this."

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While Cormier admitted he was fine with Khabib's decision regardless of whether he opts to return or remain retired, he did say that he loves watching his friend fight, and hinted that the current landscape in the UFC lightweight division – with a host of new challengers waiting for him, as well as a potential blockbuster rematch with McGregor – may just encourage him to come back.

"I get to see my buddy do something I know he loves to do. He loves to compete and he's the best at it," Cormier said.

"And, when you look at the matchups, why would he not (want to continue), because he's so much better than everybody else.

"So it has to be something that makes him believe, 'This is going to be much tougher for me. This is something I'm going to have to really prepare for if I want to continue to dominate the way that I do.'"

January 22nd 2021, 5:39 am

In defiance of Brussels, Moscow & Budapest sign deal making Hungary first EU country to get Russia’s


Shortly after becoming the first EU country to approve Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, Hungary has agreed on a three-stage supply deal with Moscow. Budapest will receive its first delivery of doses in February.

The contract between the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and the government in Budapest was made on Friday, in a meeting between Russian Minister of Health Mikhail Murashko and Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó.

According to Murashko, Hungarian experts visited the Gamaleya Institute, where the formula was invented, and conducted a thorough examination of vaccine production sites. The scientists also had the opportunity to review clinical trial results.

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"Many countries today approve the use of the Russian Sputnik V, and we are actively cooperating with the World Health Organization," Murashko told the press.

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In response, Szijjártó called the announcement of the agreement "a great honor," assuring Hungary's citizens that experts from the country's own National Institute of Pharmacology and Food Safety reviewed the entire process themselves.

On Thursday, it was revealed that Budapest had approved Sputnik V for emergency use, despite it not yet being deemed safe by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). On January 8, Hungarian President Victor Orban complained that the European Union was being too slow to make any decisions, putting citizens' lives at risk.

"Unfortunately, the EU purchases vaccines very slowly, so Hungary continues negotiations with Israel, Russia, and China," Orban said. Two weeks later, his country approved Sputnik V for use.

In late December, US-state media RFE/RL reported that Hungary wouldn’t take Russia’s vaccine.

Hungary's decision to register the vaccine followed in the footsteps of Turkmenistan, Paraguay, Algeria, and Bolivia, all of which also opted to do so in January. Thursday also saw the United Arab Emirates approve the jab, citing "the results of its effectiveness."

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January 22nd 2021, 5:39 am

Poland threatens Pfizer with legal action after Covid-19 vaccine delay as Italy’s government backs a


The Polish government has warned it will take legal action against drugmaker Pfizer, after the company only delivered half the expected doses of Covid-19 vaccine this week, jeopardizing the country’s inoculation program.

Speaking on Friday, spokesman Piotr Muller told public broadcaster Polskie Radio Program 1 that the government was considering legal action against Pfizer unless the company remedied its shortcomings. 

“I think that such a decision (on legal action) could be made next month if these supplies are not completed in accordance with the manufacturer’s declaration,” Muller said.

On Monday, Poland received 176,000 doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, approximately half of what was expected.

On Thursday, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said the undelivered doses would be covered from mid-February.

“At the moment, we have a situation where the manufacturer declares... that these differences will be covered,” Muller said, adding “if this is not the case then of course legal measures will have to be considered.”

Last Friday, Pfizer informed the European Union that it would temporarily reduce its deliveries of the Covid-19 vaccine as the company made upgrades to its plant in the Belgian town of Puurs. 

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The German and Italian governments have also expressed discontent with the pharmaceutical company’s decision.

On Wednesday, Italian Regional Affairs Minister Francesco Boccia said that the government was considering legal action against the pharma giant after the delays dented Italy’s ability to keep to its inoculation schedule. 

The country’s vaccine czar, Domenico Arcuri, said that regional governors had “unanimously” backed a move to take civil or criminal action, where possible.

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January 22nd 2021, 5:08 am

Hungary to build plant for manufacturing own vaccine, says PM Orban, after criticizing EU immunizati


Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said the country needs a new facility to ensure steady domestic vaccine production and to manufacture its own Covid-19 jab.

Orban argued that “a serious country” cannot rely on getting vaccines and other vital medical supplies from abroad alone.

The government has ordered the construction of a vaccine plant in Debrecen, which will be large enough that, if our scientists develop a vaccine, we could produce it in large quantities.

The University of Debrecen (UD) signed an agreement with the country's chief medical agency to work on the creation of a National Vaccine Plant, which would ensure a stable vaccine supply.

Human Resources Minister Miklos Kasler said the initiative will “re-launch vaccine production” in Hungary and will serve as a hub for vaccine research.

The country's chief medical officer, Cecilia Muller, reported earlier this month that UD has been developing a Covid-19 vaccine, whose mechanism is similar to the influenza vaccine.

“Obviously I can’t state the exact date in advance, but I hope that we will be able to produce this vaccine soon,” she said.

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Hungarian officials have repeatedly voiced dissatisfaction with the pace of the rollout of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by Brussels, pointing out that the vaccination rate in the EU is smaller compared to places like Britain, the US, and Israel.

On Thursday, Budapest approved the Russian-made Sputnik V and the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca for emergency use. 

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January 22nd 2021, 5:08 am

Russia slashes its foreign debt by $21.3 billion in 2020


Russia’s foreign debt dropped $21.3 billion and totaled $470.1 billion as of January 1, according to the latest data revealed by the central bank.

“Decreases in debt liabilities to non-residents were observed for all sectors of the economy, of which the most noticeable decline was registered for other sectors under credits,” the regulator said.       

The decline reportedly amounts to 4.33 percent compared to the beginning of last year. The central bank added that the country’s debt grew 1.39 percent during October-December 2020 versus the previous quarter.

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Russia’s foreign exchange reserves saw a week-over-week decline by 1.2 percent, or seven billion dollars, as of January 15, 2020, and totaled $590.4 billion.

According to the regulator, the drop came as a result of a decline in gold prices along with the negative revaluation of exchange rates.

The nation’s international reserves are highly liquid foreign assets comprising stocks of monetary gold, foreign currencies, and special drawing right assets, which are at the disposal of the Central Bank of Russia and the government.

The assets have been steadily growing over recent years and have exceeded the half-trillion-dollar target set by the regulator. Russian forex reserves totaled $593.6 billion at the end of last year.

For more stories on economy & finance visit RT's business section

January 22nd 2021, 4:52 am

Oil prices slide amid concerns flare-up in China Covid cases could weaken fuel demand


The price of crude dropped on Friday, receding from the 11-month highs hit last week. Experts say the new coronavirus restrictions in China could curb fuel demand for the world’s biggest oil importer.

International benchmark Brent slid over one percent to $55.49 a barrel, while US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) was trading down 1.2 percent at $52.48 a barrel as of 07:57 GMT.

The recovering fuel demand in China propped up the oil market late last year. “Indeed, investors are struggling to see through short-term pain for long-term gain heading into the weekend, as Covid case counts in China are the most significant demand concern for traders,” Axi Chief Market Strategist Stephen Innes said in a note seen by Reuters.

Beijing launched mass Covid-19 testing in some areas on Friday, while Shanghai was testing all hospital staff after reporting its first locally transmitted cases in two months on Thursday. The authorities are now urging people not to travel during the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday.

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According to consultancy FGE, the seasonal boost to China’s gasoline demand typically seen during the New Year holidays will be moderated by the tightened restrictions this year.

“We now have some data on vaccine rollouts, which show that acceptability is a bit on the low side, so pace of implementation may be slow... There may well be a bearish momentum developing (in oil markets),” said Sukrit Vijayakar, director of energy consultancy Trifecta.

The US Energy Information Administration is expected to report official oil inventory data on Friday, after industry data showed a surprise 2.6 million barrel increase in US crude inventories last week, compared with analysts’ forecasts for a 1.2 million barrel draw.

For more stories on economy & finance visit RT's business section

January 22nd 2021, 4:21 am

US shocked after National Guardsmen kicked out of Capitol Building and forced to lodge at parking lo


The US Capitol Police are in hot water again, after ordering National Guardsmen protecting the Capitol in Washington, DC to leave and find accommodation elsewhere. The decision was overturned hours later amid a public outcry.

Almost 26,000 National Guard troops were flown and bussed to the US capital from all around the country after the January 6 riot. The unprecedented military surge made Washington, DC look like a US-occupied foreign city such as Fallujah, according to some commenters. Joe Biden’s inauguration day came and passed without any public disturbances.

The special security event announced by the US Secret Service for the inauguration ceremony ended at noon on Thursday. Somebody in the US Capitol Police then seemingly decided it was high time for National Guard troops to vacate the Capitol Building, where they had been quartered for two weeks.

Hundreds of Guardsmen were suddenly expelled and forced to look for a new place to sleep – including in the nearby congressional parking garages. The troops there suffered from shortages of restrooms and sockets to charge devices, plus exhaust fumes, overcrowding, and other issues. Understandably, the eviction left many of them with a feeling of humiliation and betrayal.

“It’s f**ked up because it just shows how politicians really feel about the National Guard,” one of them told Task & Purpose. “Leaving our families for the last two weeks to come down here … it’s certainly important and historic, but the day after inauguration you kick us literally to the curb? Come on, man.”

“The next time DC calls, we will let it go to voicemail,” a soldier interviewed by Military Times joked.

Images of soldiers napping on the ground in a parking lot unleashed a wave of public fury. Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle offered the Guardsmen their offices as lodging.

Congressman Madison Cawthorn visited the troops with some pizzas and an assurance that no soldier will sleep on a garage floor as long as he has something to say about it.

Other politicians seized the opportunity for some partisan bickering as they blamed the other side for the mistreatment of the troops.

Hours after the story was first broken by Politico – and seemingly with quite a few phone calls involved – the Capitol Police apologized to the Guardsmen and allowed them back into the Capitol Building.

“Because of the MASSIVE backlash over this, we are now being allowed back into the Senate building,” a soldier told Military Times. “We’re going to make a big show of marching back into the building.”

It remains unclear why the troops were kicked out from the Capitol in the first place, the incident has exposed the Capitol Police to fresh criticism. The force is already under fire due its failure to anticipate the Capitol riot and dispatch enough troops to prevent Donald Trump’s supporters from breaking into the national legislature. Chief Steven Sund resigned after the January 6 fiasco.

The scandal comes as the National Guard pulls back its troops from Washington following the inauguration surge. Thousands have already left, though the Guard expects it may take up to 10 days to complete the drawdown. Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that his state’s troops will be returning home on Thursday night, though it was not clear if the order was scheduled or a response to the garage situation.

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January 22nd 2021, 4:09 am

UK minister warns more ‘draconian’ steps maybe be necessary to tackle Covid-19, hinting that police


The British environment minister has warned that additional measures may be necessary to combat lockdown fatigue and those guilty of repeatedly breaking Covid-19 restrictions as the government dismisses relaxing rules.

Speaking on Friday, Environment Secretary George Eustice said the government wants to be “straight” with people, adding that the current lockdown measures won’t be reduced until case numbers start to fall and all vulnerable groups have received a vaccine. 

Eustice was asked whether there was any truth to reports that police could be given access to health data to crack down on quarantine breaches.

“Generally, with this whole pandemic, we’ve had to take some quite extraordinary steps, very draconian steps, that are a big infringement on people’s liberty,” the minister responded.

“And yes, that does mean that we have to intervene in quite a draconian way and issue penalties, and we make no apology for doing that.”

Eustice further highlighted the gravity of the situation, adding that other measures were “under review,” including completely closing the borders to foreign visitors.

“None of us want these restrictions to stay in place a moment longer, but we are in a very serious position... there is pressure on the NHS and we need everyone to play their part, to abide by the restrictions to limit the spread of this virus.” 

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Lockdowns are currently in place across the UK after a highly contagious strain of Covid-19 was found to be responsible for increasing infection rates. 

Ministers have repeated that measures could be introduced if the country hits its inoculation targets. On Thursday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock rejoiced as the health services administered their five millionth vaccine.

Britain hopes to vaccinate 15 million people by mid-February.

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January 22nd 2021, 4:09 am

Russia to supply Myanmar with Pantsir-S1 air defense systems & reconnaissance drones


Russia will supply Myanmar with Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft missile and gun systems, Orlan-10E surveillance drones and radars. The deal was signed during Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu’s visit to the country.

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu arrived in Myanmar for his first foreign trip of 2021 on Thursday to discuss military cooperation between the states. The southeast Asian country is one of Russia’s traditional partners in the arms trade.

“We view today’s talks as an opportunity to further our cooperation, especially in the military field,” Shoigu said as he met with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces. The two previously spoke via video link in November.

“Regardless of the restrictions these difficult times have brought us, we hope to deepen the relations between our defense agencies,” Shoigu said, adding that Moscow is ready for “substantial” discussions.

Hlaing thanked Shoigu for the visit. “Just like a loyal friend, Russia has always supported Myanmar in difficult moments, especially in the last four years,” the general was quoted by Russian media as saying.

Apart from the supply deal, the two countries signed an agreement on flight safety cooperation.

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu in Myanmar, January 2021. © Russian Defense Ministry

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Aleksandr Fomin told RT before Shoigu’s trip that the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, plays “a key role in maintaining peace and security in the region.” He said that the countries’ militaries continue to work together despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

Myanmar is a traditional buyer of Russian arms, and participated in a joint drill with Russia last year. Since the early 2000s, Myanmar has bought Russian-made MiG-29 jet fighters, as well as helicopters, air defense missile systems, artillery, and radars. The countries also currently have a contract on six Su-30 warplanes.

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January 22nd 2021, 3:39 am

India hopes to import more Iranian, Venezuelan crude under Biden


India hopes it could diversify its oil suppliers under the new US Administration that could relax restrictions on oil exports from Iran and Venezuela, India’s Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan told Bloomberg TV in an interview.

“Some geopolitical changes are there,” Pradhan told Bloomberg, referring to expected policies from US President Joe Biden.

The Indian minister reiterated his remarks from last month when he said that the world’s third-largest oil importer would like to have more opportunities to work for diversifying its sources of crude, including by resuming oil imports from Venezuela and Iran under President Biden.

The Trump Administration had stepped up sanctions against Iran and Venezuela since 2018, looking to cut off oil sales from the two countries.

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President Biden, however, has pledged to offer Tehran a path back to diplomacy and a return to the nuclear deal. That is, if Iran returns to full compliance with that agreement, hammered out while Biden was President Obama’s vice president.

After the sanctions on Iran and Venezuela’s oil exports were tightened in 2019 to include anyone dealing with crude from those two producers, India stopped importing oil from Iran in May 2019 and has significantly cut purchases from Venezuela.

Reliance Industries, the largest refinery owner in India and the world, stopped buying Venezuelan crude oil in June last year. Reliance Industries is not alone in shunning Venezuelan oil, fearing repercussions from Washington. India’s second-largest refiner, Nayara Energy, has also stopped buying Venezuelan crude, switching to Canadian, Kuwaiti, and Ecuadorian oil, according to Bloomberg shipping data.

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Earlier this week, India’s Pradhan criticized OPEC and its de facto leader Saudi Arabia for looking to tighten the market, diminishing export volumes and driving prices for oil importers higher.

The surprise changes in the OPEC+ group policies make planning more difficult for oil-importing nations, Pradhan told Bloomberg.

India, for one, depends on imports for over 80 percent of its oil consumption.

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January 22nd 2021, 2:51 am

Google threatens to REMOVE search engine in Australia if legislators force it to share profits with


Australians could soon be deprived of Google’s ubiquitous search engine, with the web behemoth threatening to cut off service should lawmakers pass a hot-button measure forcing tech firms to cough up revenue to media outlets.

As Australian legislators continue to debate the controversial law – which would compel internet platforms to hand over a cut of revenues to press agencies for sharing their content – Google stepped into the fray on Friday, insisting the move would make its operations unfeasible in the country.

“The code’s arbitration model with bias criteria presents unmanageable financial and operational risk for Google,” Mel Silva, managing director for Google’s Australia and New Zealand branches, told a senate committee.

If this version of the code were to become law, it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia.

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The law was drafted last July following a lengthy probe by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which found that the bulk of the country’s news sector depends on Google and Facebook for traffic, but has little influence over the massive tech firms. While ACCC investigation found the two platforms derive little ad revenue from news content, it said that more than one-third of Facebook users in the country use the website to access news, suggesting that press agencies and web platforms work out a ‘fair price’ for hosting news.

While the measure has found some support among Australians, Washington this week called on Canberra to reconsider the law, which would likely have most impact on US-based firms Google and Facebook, proposing a “voluntary” media code in its place.

Facebook, for its part, has also criticized the law, arguing that it already sends vast amounts of traffic to Australian media outlets – “2.3 billion clicks… at no charge,” between January and May 2020, the company claimed – and that further payment should not be required.

Google’s threat to blackout its search engine followed previous warnings that “all options” were on the table for its response to the proposed law. Silva’s statement also came days after Google acknowledged it was running “experiments” with its algorithm, excluding a number of Australian outlets from its search results. Though Google said the tests were meant to “measure the impacts of news businesses and Google search on each other,” a spokesman for the parent company of the Sydney Morning Herald said the move was a power play, intended to prove “how easily they can make Australian news providers who fall out of their favor effectively disappear from the internet.”

On Thursday, Google struck a deal with French publishers similar to the one under consideration in Australia, in which it agreed to pay media agencies for recycling their content despite a months-long lobbying effort against the arrangement.

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January 22nd 2021, 12:38 am

Americans’ trust in mainstream media has never been lower – but journalists insist it’s the audience


Fewer than half of Americans trust mainstream media, according to PR firm Edelman’s annual “trust barometer.” But rather than attempt to repair the relationship, media outlets blame their audience’s poor ‘information hygiene.’

Long headed for collapse, Americans’ trust in the media establishment hit an all time low in 2021, falling three points overall to just 46 percent, according to Edelman’s most recent annual survey. The figure marks the first time Americans’ trust of journalism sank below the 50 percent mark.

Americans’ trust in social media also hit rock bottom, clocking in at a miserable 27 percent, according to Edelman’s annual “trust barometer.” Globally, people’s faith in social media wasn’t much better, with just 35 percent of users deeming it a trustworthy source for “general news and information.”

Survey respondents did not hesitate to expound on their dim view of the journalistic profession, either – 56 percent of Americans agreed the media was “purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations,” while 58 percent agreed most outlets were “more concerned with with supporting an ideology or political position than informing the public.”

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, breaking the numbers up by political party revealed a sharp contrast between Biden and Trump voters, with only 18 percent of the latter crowd deeming the media trustworthy in the wake of November’s presidential election. Even among Democrats, however, only 57 percent deemed the media trustworthy.

Conservatives, including the offspring of former president Donald Trump, took to social media to roll their eyes at what for them was stating the obvious. Most establishment outlets had after all been gushing about President Joe Biden's inauguration in truly outrageous terms, comparing his inaugural speech to that of JFK and waxing poetic about Vice President Kamala Harris' hair.

Others brought up dubious connections to “independent” media – including Edelman itself – suggesting the trust crisis had less to do with the media losing its touch than it did with Americans becoming more savvy regarding their manipulation.

The only group trusted by a majority of Americans out of Government, Media, NGOs, and Business in 2021 was, ironically, Big Business – even though corporations largely pull the strings of the media, politics, and the other institutions so many Americans seem to agree are not trustworthy.

Axios and other opportunistic journalists reading Edelman’s 2021 report have called for these CEOs to “visibly embrace the news media” in order to burnish the media’s public image.

“Now it’s time for [CEOs] to use the trust they’ve built up to help rebuild our civic infrastructure,” Axios concluded, specifically referring to outreach to Trump voters, whose trust in CEOs (61 percent) runs 40 points higher than their trust in the media. However, given conservatives’ unabashed loathing for mainstream media, the plan could backfire and drag corporations down a few notches in the MAGA crowd’s estimation.

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Even while admitting that media distrust was a global issue rather than “a function of Donald Trump’s war on ‘fake news,’” Axios appeared to blame its audience for their refusal to put their faith in the Fourth Estate, posting a series of links tipping worried journalists off on why their propaganda might be missing the mark. Clutching pearls on topics from the Covid-19 pandemic and “vaccine hesitancy” to the US election scandals, the overarching message was simple – don't confuse your audience with opinions other than the one you want them to have.

However, Americans’ own distrust in the majority of their institutions does not bode well for the US’ “brand,” Edelman’s survey revealed. Other countries have apparently been paying attention, as trust in companies headquartered in the US fell four points to what was reportedly an all-time low of 51 percent.

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January 21st 2021, 11:07 pm

Dallas County scraps effort to focus vaccine rollout on ‘vulnerable’ black & Latino communities unde


Dallas County, Texas has jettisoned a plan to prioritize its most “vulnerable” neighborhoods in its Covid-19 vaccination drive after the state health department fought the idea, threatening to cut back its supply of the jab.

Though county officials voted earlier this week to focus the vaccine rollout on 11 of the most at-risk ZIP codes of Dallas, namely in black and Latino communities, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) intervened to stop the move, calling it “not acceptable.”

“While we ask hub providers to ensure [the] vaccine reaches the hardest hit areas and populations, solely vaccinating people who live in those areas is not in line with the agreement to be a hub provider,” DSHS associate commissioner Imelda Garcia wrote to county health officials in a letter obtained by the Texas Tribune. 

If Dallas County is unable to meet these expectations, we will be forced to reduce the weekly vaccine allocation to Dallas County Health and Human Services and no longer consider it a hub provider.

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Health department spokesman Chris Van Deusen also noted that, under the vaccine distribution deal reached between state and local governments, “All hub providers agreed to vaccinate people without regard to where they live,” adding that although “we directed them to ensure they are vaccinating people in the hardest hit areas and populations,” the county “cannot do that to the exclusion of literally everyone else.”

Under pressure from the state, Dallas County leaders agreed to abandon the targeted vaccination plan during an emergency meeting late on Wednesday, with county judge Clay Jenkins convincing officials to scrap the idea to ensure Dallas obtains its next shipment of shots.

“I'm not willing to risk the vaccine for tens of thousands of people over the next few weeks because you guess that your order is good enough to satisfy the state,” Jenkins told Commissioner J.J. Koch at the contentious meeting.

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While the county government is responsible for only one-tenth of vaccine distribution in Dallas, with the vast majority tasked to hospitals and other health facilities, officials aimed to emphasize their efforts in neighborhoods south of Dallas’ Interstate 30, which divides the county along racial and socio-economic lines, according to the Dallas Morning News. The plan was further spurred on after Dallas released vaccination data broken down by ZIP code, finding that the bulk of the shots were distributed in more affluent neighborhoods. 

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that Texas has distributed some 2.5 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine, while 1.4 million shots have been administered so far. The state as a whole has reported in excess of 2.2 million infections since its outbreak began and nearly 33,000 deaths, ranking it number-two nationwide for its cumulative case and fatality counts, behind only California.

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January 21st 2021, 11:07 pm

Twitter rejected pleas to remove child porn from platform because it didn’t ‘violate policies,’ laws


A new lawsuit has accused Twitter of turning a blind eye to child pornography on its platform, claiming that it snubbed repeat requests from an underage sex trafficking victim to remove explicit images obtained through blackmail.

The suit, filed by the teenage victim and his mother in the Northern District of California on Wednesday, argues that Twitter refused to pull the sexually graphic videos on the grounds that they did not violate its policies, allowing them to rack up well over 150,000 views.

The plaintiff in the case – identified only as “John Doe” in court records – says he was just 13 when he was manipulated into sharing nude images of himself with a Snapchat user he believed to be a 16-year-old classmate. After he did so, “the correspondence changed to blackmail,” the lawsuit claims, adding that the perpetrators threatened to share the photos with the victim’s “parents, coach, pastor, and others in his community” if he did not send additional material. He complied with the traffickers’ demands, sending sexually explicit videos of himself, some of which included another minor.

At some point in 2019, a “compilation video” featuring the footage extorted from John Doe surfaced on Twitter through at least two accounts, eventually making their way to the victim in January 2020 after “he learned from his classmates that [the] videos of him and another minor were on Twitter and that many students in the school had viewed them.”

Due to the circulation of these videos, he faced teasing, harassment, vicious bullying, and became suicidal.

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Immediately, the victim – who by this time was 16-years-old – informed his parents of the situation, prompting his mother, named as “Jane Doe” in the suit, to take up the issue with school officials, local police and with Twitter directly. That followed at least one previous complaint from a concerned Twitter user in late 2019, who reported one of the accounts that shared footage of the victim. The company took no action and the videos remained live.

By January 21, the plaintiff filed his own complaint with Twitter, telling the platform “These videos were taken from harassment and being threatened. It is now spreading around school and we need them taken down as we are both minors and we have a police report for the situation.” At the request of Twitter, he provided a photo of his driver’s license to confirm his identity.

Jane Doe also filed two additional complaints with the company one day later, to which Twitter replied with identical automated messages promising to review the content in question.

After a full week without a response from the company, despite repeat attempts by the victim’s mother beyond her initial complaints, Twitter finally replied on January 28, stating that it found no problems with the sexually explicit videos and would do nothing to have them removed.

“Thanks for reaching out. We’ve reviewed the content, and didn't find a violation of our policies, so no action will be taken at this time,” Twitter said, while insisting without a hint of irony that “your safety is the most important thing.”

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The victim replied on the same day, outraged over the platform’s inaction, asking “What do you mean you don’t see a problem?”

We both are minors right now and were minors at the time these videos were taken. We both were 13 years of age. We were baited, harassed, and threatened to take these videos that are now being posted without our permission. We did not authorize these videos AT ALL and they need to be taken down.

While the company ignored John Doe’s final plea, within a few days his family “was able to connect with an agent of the US Department of Homeland Security” through a mutual contact, according to the suit.

“The federal agent also initiated contact with Twitter and at the request of the US federal government, the [explicit content] was finally removed from Twitter on or about January 30, 2020,” the lawsuit continues, adding that the offending accounts were also banned.

Twitter has come under fire in the past for its handling of child pornography, with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection finding in a review last year that the platform makes it “extremely difficult” to report such content, forcing users to locate a form separate from its “easily-accessible report function” found on every tweet.

As of March 2019, Twitter claims to enforce a “zero-tolerance child sexual exploitation policy,” and in its communications with John Doe and his mother said it forwards all reports of such material to the National Center Missing and Exploited Children. However, despite aggressive efforts by the victim to have images of himself removed from the platform, the company only did so after being contacted by the US federal government, failing to relay John Doe’s case to the Center until that point. 

The company’s apparently lax stance on child pornography comes in stark contrast to its forceful policing of political content it deems “hateful” or to spread “misinformation,” regularly purging thousands of posts and users – among them even former president Donald Trump – over technical policy violations.

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January 21st 2021, 9:05 pm

‘We are absolutely not starting from scratch!’ Fauci BUSTS ‘source-based’ CNN report on Covid-19 vac


Despite a CNN report claiming there was no Covid-19 distribution plan in place for Joe Biden’s administration, Dr. Anthony Fauci contradicted the claim during a White House briefing.

“Biden inherited a nonexistent coronavirus distribution plan and must ‘start from scratch,’ sources say,” CNN reported on Thursday. 

The report was already earning pushback on social media as it didn’t seem to align with reality since before Biden took office, tens of millions of Americans had been vaccinated and distribution was ongoing.

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According to CNN, however, there was no plan in place and the Trump administration was nothing short of a disaster when it came to getting vaccine doses out.

“There is nothing for us to rework. We are going to have to build everything from scratch,” one ‘source’ said in the report. Another one of these ‘sources’ claimed the lack of a plan in place was just further affirmation of “complete incompetence.”

The report appeared to be shot down by Fauci during a Thursday press briefing when he directly contradicted the ‘sources.’ Asked if the Biden administration really was “starting from scratch,” Fauci said, “We certainly are not starting from scratch because there is activity going on in the distribution.”

He went on to praise Biden and say he is “amplifying” efforts to get the vaccine distributed.

Considering the contrast between Fauci’s words and CNN’s report, many were left wondering: who exactly are CNN’s reliable sources?

“It seems like either this reporting from @CNN or Dr. Fauci is wrong, and I can only envision an incentive for one of these two to play fast-and-loose with the truth at this point,” journalist Drew Holden tweeted.

“Fauci just contradicted the CNN report saying no, the Biden administration is not starting from scratch on vaccines. So I expect CNN to retract or fix their report. Unless Fauci is lying?” asked writer Stephen Miller.

Goaded by media reporters to mainly discuss the benefits of working with the Biden administration over Trump’s, Fauci did fit in digs at the former president, whom he publicly feuded with on multiple occasions.

“One of new things in this administration is if you don't know the answer, don't guess. Just say you don't know the answer,” he said at one point, claiming the Biden administration would be “transparent” and not devolve to “pointing fingers.”

During Thursday’s briefing Fauci also said a “degree of normality” can be reached by the fall in the US if 70 to 85 percent of people are vaccinated.

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January 21st 2021, 8:34 pm

Several of Navalny’s top associates detained in Russia for organizing unauthorized protests


A group of close associates of the Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny, including his representative Kira Yarmysh and activist Lyubov Sobol, have been detained in Moscow ahead of illegal protests planned for this weekend.

All of the detained work for Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK). Sobol, the organization’s lawyer, was detained as she was travelling in a car with her own lawyer, Vladimir Voronin, who wrote about the incident on social media.

According to Voronin, the activist spent several hours at a police station where she was charged with repeated violation of rally organization rules. That is a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine, community service, or up to 15 days in jail.

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Sobol herself tweeted she was home by nightfall, calling the law enforcement action a “travesty of justice” aimed at “intimidating” her and her colleagues.

Moscow police also detained Navalny’s representative Kira Yarmysh, FBK employee Georgy Alburov and another FBK lawyer and a Belarusian citizen, Vladlen Los.

Alburov also said on Twitter that he was charged with violation of rally organization rules. Los, meanwhile, said in a series of posts that he was charged with resisting the demands of a law enforcement officer and was ordered to leave Russia before January 25, along with a ban of entering Russian territory for two and a half years.

Russian police have not commented on the detentions so far. The arrests were made ahead of marches that are being arranged by Navalny’s supporters. The opposition figure was arrested on January 17 upon his return to Russia from Germany, where he spent almost six months while being treated for alleged 'novichok' poisoning.

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Navalny, who has since been jailed for 30 days, currently faces charges stemming from violating the terms of his probation related to a previous criminal case. Russian officials say he cut all contacts with the prison service as he lived in Germany following his recovery, breaking the terms of a three-and-a-half-year suspended sentence he had been handed after being found guilty of embezzling 30 million rubles ($400,000) from two companies, including the French cosmetics firm Yves Rocher.

His supporters, however, maintain that the case against him is politically motivated and have called on people to take to the streets to demand his “immediate” release. The authorities say such rallies would be illegal under the existing regulations.

Moscow has demanded that the popular video-sharing app TikTok stop distributing videos that encourage minors to participate in such protests. Detentions of Navalny’s associates might also be related to them sharing similar calls on social media. Sobol and Yarmysh in particular posted short video clips calling on their supporters to hit the streets on Saturday.

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January 21st 2021, 8:34 pm

Japan ‘privately’ agrees to cancel Tokyo Olympics due to coronavirus – reports


The Japanese government “privately” concluded that the Tokyo Olympics, rescheduled from 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, will have to be canceled altogether, The Times reported citing sources inside the ruling coalition.

Tokyo is reportedly trying to find a “face-saving way” of announcing the cancelation that would leave open the possibility of hosting the Olympics in 2032 or some later date.

“No one wants to be the first to say so but the consensus is that it’s too difficult,” Times quoted their unnamed source. “Personally, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

While both the International Olympic Committee and the Japanese government have maintained that the games will take place in July and August as scheduled, the “global winter wave” of infections is pushing them in the other direction, according to the paper.

“We will have full anti-infection measures in place and proceed with preparation and with a determination to achieve the Games that can deliver hope and courage throughout the world,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told the Japanese parliament this week. However, polls show 80 of the Japanese are opposed.

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Japan has spent at least $25 billion on preparations, 75 percent of which was taxpayer money. The 2024 games are supposed to take place in Paris, and the 2028 in Los Angeles, with the Times speculating that Tokyo is hoping to be awarded the 2032 games “out of sympathy.” The IOC will need to make that determination by 2025.

If confirmed, this would be the first peacetime Olympic cancelation since the modern games were established in 1896. The 1916, 1940 and 1944 games were canceled on account of world wars.

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January 21st 2021, 8:04 pm

‘QAnon’ Congresswoman files articles of impeachment against US President Joe Biden as ‘unfit’ and ‘t


A Republican member of the US House of Representatives has filed articles of impeachment against the freshly inaugurated President Joe Biden, underscoring how the whole process has become politically weaponized.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia), elected to her first term in November, accused Biden of being “unfit to hold the office” and a “lengthy and disturbing” pattern of “abuse of power” while he was Barack Obama’s vice president, citing his threats to the Ukrainian government and his son Hunter Biden’s shady business deals overseas among the examples.

In a statement on Thursday, Greene said Biden has shown he would do “whatever it takes” to bail out his son and “line his family’s pockets with cash from corrupt foreign energy companies.”

“President Biden residing in the White House is a threat to national security and he must be immediately impeached,” she added. In filing the articles, the Georgia congresswoman kept the promise she made a week ago, to impeach Biden on his first full day in office.

The motion is extremely unlikely to succeed. Republicans are a minority in the House of Representatives, and Greene herself hardly speaks for the party as a whole. She has also been under relentless media attack for months as a conspiracy theorist, from “QAnon” to the mass shootings in Sandy Hook and Parkland as “false flags.” 

Her motion to impeach Biden, however, shows that the impeachment process – originally intended for extreme circumstances when US presidents had to be removed for “high crimes and misdemeanors” such as treason – have become a political weapon. 

Congressman Al Green (D-Texas) actually filed articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump three times over the first two years of his term, which were voted down in the House. It wasn’t until late 2019 that the Democrat-dominated House voted – along partisan lines – to impeach Trump, claiming that him bringing up Biden’s publicly made admission about browbeating Ukraine into firing a corruption prosecutor amounted to soliciting foreign election interference. The Senate acquitted him in January 2020.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) dispensed with even a pretense of an investigation last week, when she held a vote to impeach Trump a second time. Pelosi accused Trump of “inciting insurrection” at the Capitol on January 6, when some of the president’s supporters disrupted the joint session of Congress that sought to certify Biden’s election victory. 

The incident, which Trump and the entire Republican party have condemned and disavowed, has been held up as the same thing as the 1861 “rebellion” of eleven states that tried to set up the Confederacy. The evenly divided Senate – with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaker – is now reportedly negotiating the terms of Trump’s trial sometime next month, even though he is no longer in office.

When someone pointed out that Democrats have filed impeachment articles against every Republican US president since Dwight Eisenhower, the internet “fact-checkers” quickly labeled it “mostly false” because there had been no move to impeach Gerald Ford. 

“While a handful of Democratic lawmakers have introduced articles of impeachment against five of the last six Republican presidents, in most cases these efforts weren’t taken seriously by the party at large,” Snopes declared in September 2019, as if proving a point.

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January 21st 2021, 7:35 pm

‘With lives at stake, politics must be forgotten’: Sputnik V sponsor warns demonizing Russian vaccin


Saving human lives amid the raging global pandemic is much more important than following political considerations, Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund that sponsored Sputnik V vaccine development, told RT.

“We are strongly against the politicization of the vaccine,” said Dmitriev, adding that when it comes to health and the very life of many people, “one should forget about politics or any attempts to ‘contain’ Russia.”

In its international dealings related to Russia’s pioneering Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine, RDIF is simply guided by the principle of helping those in need and is ready to work with anyone willing to do so, the CEO said.

We call for abandoning politics and focusing on saving human lives.

Dmitriev said that his agency has filed a request for the vaccine’s approval with the EU regulator, despite the initial reluctance of Brussels to cooperate with Moscow in this field. By the time the EU makes a decision on the issue, the Russian vaccine might be authorized for use in up to 25 nations around the world, he said.

The UAE and Hungary have been the most recent additions to the list of countries that have approved the Russian jab for domestic use. Russia is quite open when it comes to testing and producing its vaccine abroad, Dmitriev notes.

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In the UAE, the authorization was issued following domestic clinical trials that involved volunteers from various ethnic groups. The testing “demonstrated that Sputnik V is highly effective in protecting people with various ethnic backgrounds,” Dmitriev explained, adding that the vaccine has shown over 90 percent efficacy in the UAE trials.

“We will save lives and restore economies not just in UAE but in other Middle Eastern nations too,” Dmitriev said, adding that his agency is currently in “active talks” with Saudi Arabia about potential testing of a joint vaccine with AstraZeneca there.

The RDIF is also actively cooperating with the Palestinian Authority and is about to deliver the first vaccine batch there, Dmitriev added. Most Russian-developed jabs that will be delivered to foreign nations will be produced abroad, Dmitriev said, adding that Russia strives for genuine partnership with other countries in the field of vaccine manufacturing.

The vaccine is being produced in “India, South Korea, Brazil and China” among others, he said, adding that these nations will play significant roles in the vaccine global supply chains.

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So far, the pioneering Russian vaccine has been registered in Algeria, Bolivia, Venezuela, Serbia and Argentina, where vaccination campaigns are already underway. Argentinian President Alberto Fernández personally received a dose of Sputnik V on Thursday.

Sputnik V became the first officially registered vaccine against Covid-19 in the world in August 2020, a move that has sparked fierce criticism in the West despite the glowing results of the third, mass-scale phase of trials that followed. The vaccine has shown overall efficacy of 91.4 percent, as well as 100 percent efficacy in preventing severe cases of disease during the final stage of trials conducted in Russia.

A recent study carried out by one of the Russian vaccine manufacturers demonstrated that Sputnik V could also be effectively stored at temperatures between two and eight degrees Celsius, as opposed to -18 degrees initially declared to be the required storage temperature, or the -70 degrees required by the Pfizer/BioNTech shots. The development was welcomed by the Russian officials, who said it would make the vaccine more easily accessible both in Russia and abroad.

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January 21st 2021, 6:49 pm

Biden aims at 5-year extension of New START nuclear treaty… while seeking to demonize Russia for ‘ha


US President Joe Biden will seek to prolong the New START treaty with Russia by five years, his press secretary said, as one of the last major arms control deals between the two nations is set to expire in early February.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed on Thursday that Biden would look to negotiate an extension of the deal before it sunsets on February 5.

“The president has long been clear that the New START treaty is in the national security interest of the United States, and this extension makes even more sense when the relations with Russia is adversarial, as it is at this time,” Psaki told reporters, calling the arms pact an “anchor of strategic stability” between the two countries.

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However, Psaki added that Biden would also pursue an intelligence assessment of what she dubbed “reckless and adversarial actions” by Moscow, citing alleged “bounties” paid to Afghan fighters, which have been repeatedly dismissed by the Pentagon, among other things.

“Even as we work with Russia to advance US interests, so, too, we work to hold Russia to account for its reckless and adversarial actions,” she said.

And to this end the president is also issuing a tasking to the intelligence community for its full assessment of the Solar Winds cyber breach, Russian interference in the 2020 election, its use of chemical weapons against opposition leader Alexey Navalny and the alleged bounties on US soldiers in Afghanistan.

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January 21st 2021, 5:50 pm

In non-binding resolution, EU parliament calls for new anti-Russia sanctions that would stop Nord St


An EU parliament resolution, backed by 581 MEPs out of 675 present, directs members to ramp up sanctions against Russia to stop the Nord Stream 2 project “once and for all,” linking it to opposition figure Alexey Navalny’s arrest.

The EU member states should take “an active stance” on Navalny’s 30-day arrest in Russia. This is according to a non-binding resolution adopted on Thursday, with 581 votes in favor, 50 against and 44 abstentions.

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The list of “significantly tighter” restrictions the European nations are encouraged to impose against Moscow includes personal sanctions against anyone involved “in the decision to arrest and imprison” the opposition figure, who returned to Russia on January 17 following an almost six-month-long treatment in Germany after an apparent poisoning during a trip to Siberia.

The resolution went further, suggesting EU states should target Russian “oligarchs,” members of President Vladimir Putin’s “inner circle” and “Russian media propagandists” as well. “Additional restrictive measures could also be taken under the new EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime,” a statement published by the EU parliament says.

Another step suggested by the MEPs is putting a stop to the Russian gas pipeline project Nord Stream 2 “once and for all.” The multinational project, which would deliver Russian gas to Europe and particularly to Germany, is currently under construction despite fierce opposition from Washington, which calls it a threat to America’s and Europe’s security interests.

Now, a day after new US President Joe Biden has been sworn into office, the EU parliament resolution calls on the bloc’s member states to “immediately stop the completion of the controversial pipeline.” It would be an ideal moment to “strengthen transatlantic unity in protecting democracy and fundamental values against authoritarian regimes,” the text asserts.

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Several European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have repeatedly criticized the US pressure, arguing that Washington is interfering in Europe’s internal affairs to advance its own interests, namely to sell its own liquefied natural gas.

Earlier this week, Russian energy giant Gazprom informed Nord Stream 2 investors that the project could be suspended, even cancelled, after the US told Germany it was imposing new measures based on the CAATSA law (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act).

Berlin said it could tax American gas imports in response to Washington’s move.

As for the “immediate release” of Navalny – another demand put forward by the EU parliament – it is unlikely to have any effect, since Moscow has already said it would not heed outside calls for the opposition figure’s release.

Navalny is currently accused of violating the terms of a suspended sentence. The opposition figure is facing charges over violation of probation terms related to a previous criminal case. In 2014, he received a three-and-a-half-year sentence, suspended for five years, for embezzling 30 million rubles ($400,000) from two companies, including French cosmetics brand Yves Rocher.

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His sentence was then extended for another year and was due to expire in late December 2020 but he missed a scheduled check-in with a probation office in Russia while he was in Germany earlier the same month. The Russian penal service then demanded his arrest, arguing the move was deliberate as Navalny’s medical papers from Germany showed he had already recovered by that time.

Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s official spokesman, said earlier that the case is a matter for the Russian prison service and does not require any special intervention from the government.

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January 21st 2021, 5:50 pm

Conservatives cry ‘bigotry!’ as Dems call for Parler to be PROBED BY FBI for role in US Capitol riot


House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney is requesting the FBI investigate social media platform Parler as a “potential facilitator” of the US Capitol riot earlier this month.

In a letter sent to the FBI on Thursday, Maloney (D-New York) also questioned whether Parler, which was primarily used by conservatives, is a “potential conduit for foreign governments who may be financing civil unrest in the United States.”

According to Maloney, “Parler houses additional evidence critical to investigations of the attack on the Capitol,” noting threatening messages were posted on the platform by Donald Trump supporters, some of whom may have been involved in the January 6 protest at the Capitol, which resulted in five deaths.

The Democrat congresswoman also claims Russia could potentially have ties to the site and is using it to sow discord in the US. Her evidence of this, however, has been mocked by critics of the potential investigation. Maloney cites the company’s founder, John Matze, being married to a Russian and a traveller to that country, to give weight to her claims.

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“The company was founded by John Matze shortly after he traveled to Russia with his wife, who is Russian and whose family reportedly has ties to the Russian government,” she wrote, also noting the site used the cyber protection services of a Russian company, DDoS-Guard, after “being denied services by Amazon Web Services.”

Maloney says the House Oversight Committee will conduct its own investigation and she is requesting a meeting with FBI officials to discuss the potential “robust review.”

Many conservatives flocked to Parler last year, citing concerns of political bias on social media platforms like Twitter, but the company has struggled in the wake of the Capitol riot, with their app getting removed from Google Play and the Apple App Store. Amazon Web Services has also severed ties with the company. A federal judge rejected a lawsuit brought forth by Parler to have those services restored with Amazon.

Parler is currently being hosted by Epik, an American company which also hosts server traffic for Gab and 8chan.  

Conservatives have blasted Maloney’s accusations and such a potential investigation as “bigotry” against conservatives.

“Dems ordered Silicon Valley monopolies to remove Parler. They obtained. That forced Parler to use a Russian company for hosting,” journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted, referencing Maloney’s accusations of Russian ties. He went on to criticize Matze’s wife being used as proof of the alleged connection.

Matze told Fox News this week that he is “confident” Parler will be “back up” by the end of the month.

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January 21st 2021, 5:50 pm

Not required to host ‘incendiary speech’: Judge REJECTS Parler’s lawsuit to restore Amazon service


Social media platform Parler is facing more bad news as a federal judge has rejected a lawsuit from the company seeking to have Amazon restore hosting services following ties being severed after the US Capitol riot.

US District Judge Barbara Rothstein has sided with Amazon in the dispute, saying it is within the company’s right to suspend hosting services to the social media platform, which had become relatively popular with conservatives and Donald Trump supporters for its hands-off approach to moderating content.

"The Court rejects any suggestion that the public interest favors requiring AWS [Amazon Web Services] to host the incendiary speech that the record shows some of Parler's users have engaged in. At this stage, on the showing made thus far, neither the public interest nor the balance of equities favors granting an injunction in this case," Rothstein wrote. 

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Parler argued in its lawsuit that Amazon, one of many companies to sever ties with the social media platform following the protest at the Capitol on January 6, that Amazon’s decision was based on “political animus” and was meant to benefit competitor Twitter, which many users left in favor of Parler, citing political bias concerns.

Amazon argued that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects internet companies from being sued over what users post, allows companies the legal right to reject hosting certain content. 

"That is precisely what AWS did here: removed access to content it considered 'excessively violent' and 'harassing,'" attorneys for the company wrote in a submission to the court. 

Amazon, which suspended services to the company on January 10 following Google Play and Apple doing the same, argued Parler had received multiple warnings about content posted to their site, including violent threats from users against public officials, but refused to remove the posts in question. 

Parler CEO John Matze has called the suspension of his platform by multiple companies “shocking” and support for the bans “disgusting.” He also said he has received death threats and was forced to leave his home following critics’ linking Parler to events at the Capitol.

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"People are threatening my life," he told Fox News this month. "I can't go home tonight. So this is really a lot, you know. This is not just our civil liberties. [Big Tech] can shut down a billion-dollar company, half-a-billion dollar company overnight."

On top of the company’s lawsuit being rejected, Thursday also held the bad news of the House Oversight Committee’s chairwoman calling for the FBI to investigate Parler’s role in the US Capitol riot. She also alleged, though presented no proof, that the social media platform has ties to Russia, claiming that it’s using it to sow division in the US.

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January 21st 2021, 5:50 pm

‘More died than in all of WW2!’ Biden wants all Americans masked up & travelers quarantined, predict


President Joe Biden has painted a grim picture of what’s in store for the US as the pandemic continues, enacting travel restrictions and suggesting half a million Americans will have died with the virus by the end of next month.

Flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and corona czar Anthony Fauci, Biden gave his first Covid-19 briefing on Thursday, offsetting his initial message of doom and gloom by insisting that “help is on the way.”

“Things are going to continue to get worse before they get better,” Biden said, explaining that “we didn’t get into this mess overnight, and it’s going to take months for us to turn things around.”

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International travelers arriving in the US will not only have to be tested for the virus before embarking on their journey, but must quarantine upon arrival, Biden said.

He also announced an “executive action” mandating masks for interstate travel – a requirement that is already in place – and referred to Wednesday’s executive order mandating masks on federal property.

The president declared the launch of a “full-scale wartime effort” to manufacture medical supplies, juxtaposing the 400,000 Americans who have died with Covid-19 to the country’s World War II death toll. Up to 420,000 Americans died during the war, part of the global death toll of some 75 million people, including estimated 27 million military and civilian deaths in the Soviet Union.

At one point during the Thursday briefing, the president attempted to reassure Americans by dangling Fauci in front of them, insisting that unlike his predecessor’s administration, “science and public health experts will speak directly to you” while working “free from political interference” and admitting when mistakes are made.

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While the science behind mandatory face coverings remains a somewhat contested issue and nations around the world have been picking varying approaches of their application, Biden has made the mask-wearing a central part of his administration’s fight against the novel coronavirus.

Ironically, hours after issuing his mask mandate on Wednesday, Biden and his family were photographed at the Lincoln Memorial without a mask in sight, raising a number of eyebrows. He was also not wearing a mask during Thursday’s press conference. Neither was the White House press secretary Jen Psaki at her own briefing shortly afterward.

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January 21st 2021, 5:50 pm

US to resume WHO funding under Biden, UN agency chief hails move as a 'good day for global health'


The US has announced it will resume funding the World Health Organization (WHO), months after former President Donald Trump withdrew the country’s membership, and has also earmarked $1.9 trillion to fight Covid-19 domestically.

On his first day in office, new US President Joe Biden said he would reverse his predecessor’s decision to pull the $400 million in annual funding the US paid the WHO, as the UN health agency’s largest contributor.

“I am honored to announce that the United States will remain a member of the World Health Organization,” the president’s chief medical adviser on Covid, Anthony Fauci, told a virtual WHO panel on Thursday.

The agency’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was a “good day for WHO and a good day for global health”.

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Biden’s administration has also expressed its intention to join the COVAX Facility, a global project to distribute vaccines fairly, including in the poorest countries.

The new president earlier set a target of vaccinating 100 million people against Covid-19 in the next 100 days. The US has already posted 400,000 deaths from the virus, the worst toll in the world from the pandemic.

The UN agency was itself recently criticized by a WHO independent panel over its inadequate global alert system, as well as for not acting on several previous recommendations, including that the agency should shake up its financing system.

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January 21st 2021, 3:50 pm

Biden’s Homeland Security orders 100-day ‘pause’ on deportations, citing ‘priorities’ on Mexican bor


The Biden administration is halting nearly all deportations of illegal aliens, citing limited resources and the need to protect public health and safety, as thousands of migrants from Central America approach the US-Mexico border.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been ordered to implement “a 100-day pause on certain removals to enable focusing the Department’s resources where they are most needed,” starting no later than January 22, according to a memo from acting Homeland Security Secretary David Pekoske sent out on Thursday.

“Due to limited resources, DHS cannot respond to all immigration violations or remove all persons unlawfully in the United States,” Pekoske told the acting department executives, adding that they “must implement civil immigration enforcement based on sensible priorities and changing circumstances.”

Pekoske actually cited the Covid-19 pandemic as “unique circumstances” facing the country, and said the DHS must “surge resources” to the border with Mexico to ensure “safe, legal and orderly processing” and “rebuild fair and effective asylum procedures that respect human rights and due process.”

The DHS and ICE will prioritize “threats to national security, public safety, and border security,” meaning individuals suspected of terrorism, convicted of “aggravated felony” and those who illegally crossed on or after November 1, 2020, Pekoske specified.  

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Biden signs flurry of executive orders, starting with mask mandate, Paris Climate Agreement & Keystone XL ban

The new guidance is in line with executive orders signed by the newly sworn-in President Joe Biden on Wednesday, ordering the DHS to change ICE enforcement “in line with our values and priorities.” 

Biden has already ordered the end to his predecessor Donald Trump’s emergency declaration that enabled the construction of a border wall with Mexico and repealed the policy of keeping asylum-seekers in Mexico until their claim can be processed.

Seeking to reverse Trump’s immigration policies, Biden has already lifted the travel ban on a dozen countries and reinforced the Obama-era program protecting children of illegal immigrants from deportation. He has also proposed a law that would give a path to citizenship to at least 11 million people currently in the US illegally.

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Meanwhile, a “caravan” of several thousand people has departed Honduras and is making its way through Guatemala to Mexico, hoping to reach the US. Some of its members have told reporters they believe the new US president has promised to give them “a better life.” 

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January 21st 2021, 3:50 pm

‘Forgetting it is not how you unify’: Pelosi ‘not worried’ about Trump trial contradicting Biden’s c


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has confirmed that the second impeachment of Donald Trump could “soon” be moving to its next stage, claiming that the trial is consistent with Joe Biden’s message of unity and won’t create more division.

Speaking on Thursday, Pelosi (D-California) said she will be sending the article of impeachment against Trump previously passed by the House over to the Senate “soon.”

Asked whether such an act would undercut Biden’s repeated calls for unity amidst sharp political divisions in the country, Pelosi said she’s “not worried.”

“The fact is the President of the United States committed an act of incitement of insurrection,” she said at a news conference at the Capitol. “I don’t think it’s very unifying to say, oh, let’s just forget it and move on. That’s not how you unify.”

In his inaugural address to the nation, Biden repeatedly called on unifying the country and letting go of political divisions. Critics have called for impeachment proceedings to be dropped, arguing they will only divide the nation further, especially with Trump no longer in the White House.

Pelosi believes, however, that the “damage” done to the Capitol on January 6 “must be addressed.” 

The Democrat leader said Trump not holding office any longer should not play into the decision to impeach him because not being president does not give him a “get out of jail free card.”

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“Just because he's now gone – thank God – you don't say to a president: Do whatever you want in the last months of your administration, you're going to get a get out of jail card free because people think we should make nice and forget that people died here on January 6,” she said.

Pelosi did not provide a specific timeframe for when the article of impeachment would be sent to the Senate, but says the now Democrat-controlled chamber is preparing for a trial and is “ready.”

“It will be soon, I don’t think it will be long,” she said. “But we must do it.”

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January 21st 2021, 3:05 pm

UK partygoers to be fined up to £6,400 as government clamps down on Covid rule-breakers


In a bid to stem the ongoing spread of coronavirus, revellers will be slapped with £800 fines if they attend house parties with more than 15 people present during lockdown, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel announced on Thursday.

The fines will double for repeat offences, up to a maximum of £6,400, and the organisers of events will continue to be fined £10,000, as per the current restrictions, in what Patel called a “crackdown on those most serious cases of rule-breaking”.

The home secretary was joined by the Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Martin Hewitt, who said that, from late August to January 17, some 250 fixed penalty notices had been issued in England for people organising large gatherings.

“I make no apology for those fines, which are being given in the most serious cases where those organising the gatherings are selfishly putting lives at risk,” Hewitt said.

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He also outlined some recent incidents as examples of serious breaches, including house parties, which he said were “dangerous, irresponsible and totally unacceptable.”

Hewitt said three officers were recently injured, with one requiring hospital treatment, as they responded to a house party of more than 40 people on Brick Lane in London, where drugs were found. Fines were issued and arrests made.

Another officer was injured while responding to a recent party in Hertfordshire attended by 150 people, which was busted when neighbours contacted police after seeing an unusual number of cars in the street.

Another officer in Bournemouth who was policing an anti-lockdown protest contracted Covid-19 and was admitted to hospital, while other officers have been spat on in recent weeks, including one who also contracted the virus.

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From April to September, some 1,688 offences have been charged relating to assaults on emergency workers, according to new figures released by the Crown Prosecution Service on Thursday.

Dr Vin Diwakar, the NHS England Medical Director for London, who also spoke alongside Patel at Thursday’s briefing, said it is “far too early” to think about lifting the lockdown, although he added that the current measures do appear to be “having an impact.”

He also said that doctors had asked him to deliver a message to the country to “follow the rules, stay at home, help us to save lives.”

On Thursday, the UK posted a further 37,892 new Covid-19 infections and 1,290 deaths within 28 days of positive test, meaning almost 95,000 people in the country have died from the virus.

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January 21st 2021, 3:05 pm

Make or break: Conor McGregor may have to dance to Khabib Nurmagomedov’s tune if he is to rematch th


Conor McGregor has fervently sought a rematch with heated rival Khabib Nurmagomedov. But as the Russian champion demands something "spectacular" this weekend to tempt him out of retirement, McGregor faces a make-or-break moment.

For a fighter who self-declares as "Mystic Mac", one suspects that Conor McGregor doesn't appreciate it when his soothsaying predictions are off the mark. 

His 2018 title challenge against Khabib Nurmagomedov, a fight borne out of a heated personal rivalry and criminal mischief charges inside a Brooklyn parking lot, certainly didn't go to script.

McGregor, as is his wont, predicted that his infamous left hand would deliver to Khabib the same result as many before him: unconsciousness, or at the very least an inability to continue.

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In reality, it was the Irishman who was dropped by a Khabib overhand and summarily submitted in the fourth round. The pre-fight rancor was more than matched by the actions of Nurmagomedov and members of his team, marking the UFC 229 main event as one of the most notorious in the company's more than quarter-century history.

While the incident initially left a bad taste in the mouth of UFC president Dana White, that was quickly replaced by the promise of filthy lucre. There is no bigger fight possible in mixed martial arts than a McGregor-Khahib rematch, and everyone involved knows it.

Khabib, though, seems happy to only vaguely address the issue of his future. Still technically retired, Dana White quoted him as saying he could be convinced to return if someone in this weekend's lightweight fights puts on a "spectacular" performance.

It was a move that some say was directed mostly at McGregor - a sort of "You want this? Prove it" kind of gesture.

Perhaps the trump card up Khabib's sleeve is that he has cast himself in a position of being the prize. McGregor, along with the three other fighters involved in this weekend's main and co-main events, aren't just fighting for the sake of competition. Nor will it be solely for their fight purses.

In McGregor's case, the opportunity to rematch Nurmagomedov is far more attractive than the fight purse he will receive for his efforts this Saturday.

He has made his money, the Forbes Rich List assures us of that. He has set his legacy, as reflected by his pay-per-view numbers.

Instead, the Dubliner is motivated by good old-fashioned revenge - the same overwhelming emotion he had when he demanded that the UFC "run it back" after he surprisingly lost to Nate Diaz in early 2016. 

Some months later, McGregor won the sequel.

That is why this weekend's fight against Dustin Poirier is so important for McGregor. He has promised that it may be possible to defeat the dangerous Poirier in just 60 seconds, but has also suggested that he would welcome a long, drawn-out "war" between the two men.

It remains to be seen which of these two options Khabib might potentially prefer, but it is interesting to see the impact that even a retired Khabib Nurmagomedov can have on the summit of the UFC's lightweight frame. 

If he wants the rematch, McGregor may have to dance to Khabib's tune - and when have we ever said anything like that about the fighter best known for calling his own shots?

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January 21st 2021, 3:05 pm

'If Pogba says shut up, close your mouth, it's end of discussion': Kanchelskis on MUFC midfielder &


Man United legend Andrei Kanchelskis believes Paul Pogba should tell agent Mino Raiola to "shut up" if he is happy at the club, insisting it is the in-form midfielder's responsibility to categorically express his wishes.

READ MORE: 'If Liverpool were top of the Premier League, Klopp wouldn't speak about penalties!' Man United legend Kanchelskis to RT

Dutch-Italian super agent Raiola has consistently been a thorn in United's side having often hinted at Pogba's alleged desire for a move away from Old Trafford, and voicing his own intentions to broker a move to either Real Madrid or PSG for his client, having said in December the Frenchman's time is "over" at his current club.

Paul Pogba is enjoying some fine form for Manchester United recently after years of sub-par performances - Reuters

Pogba is currently enjoying a rich vein of form during an extended run in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's first team, having scored the winning goals in each of the Reds' last two Premier League wins against Burnley and Fulham and is apparently content with his football.

Kanchelskis, speaking on 'Down the Line' on RT Sport, insists the World Cup-winning midfielder, believes that if Pogba is happy, he must himself take responsibility and tell Raiola in no uncertain terms his intentions to those who represent him to avoid unwanted headlines.

"This is a decision for him, for Pogba. If he says 'listen shut up' or 'go away, close your mouth ok I [would] like to stay in Manchester' it's finish, close, finish discussion. This is a decision for Pogba. If he says 'I'm happy, thank you very much' - ok, no problem," Kanchelskis said.

"It's good for him and also for Man United you know. Three points, he scores the goal. What I'm saying is Pogba always speaks about Pogba. In any papers: 'Pogba is not happy, Pogba is angry' blah blah blah. Ok, if you don't like Man United please go, why?

"I never say he's a bad player. He's a good player. Good player, but too much speaking in the papers. I don't know what's maybe agent speaking about him. Maybe him. If [he doesn't] like then ok open the door go away. No problem.

"What am I saying? I'm not saying Pogba is a bad player. I'm saying he's a good player. But I'm seeing always in the headlines 'Pogba, Pogba, Pogba'. Happy, worrying, angry.

READ MORE: 'If Liverpool were top of the Premier League, Klopp wouldn't speak about penalties!' Man United legend Kanchelskis to RT

"This is a decision for him. If he's happy, if he's enjoying his time at Man United, why move? Maybe agent is always speaking about 'move, move, move' because the agent needs the money. If you sell, it's good money for the agent. Maybe, I don't know. This is a decision for Pogba," the 1991 European Super Cup winner added.

Kanchelskis' exit from Manchester United after four years was tainted by his own trouble with agents, with the Russian international leaving after talks between his own agent and United officials broke down amid rumors of attempted bribery and alleged threats.

The 51-year-old has expressed concern at taking heed of Raiola's advice, who has been something of a thorn in the side of United fans, dating back to the Frenchman's days coming through the Old Trafford ranks, and negotiated his move away from the club to Juventus for less than £1million in 2012. 

When quizzed during a talk last year as to why the highly-touted youngster had been allowed to leave for next to nothing, then-manager Sir Alex Ferguson opened up about the event and singled out Raiola as the problem, labelling him a "shitbag", something that Kanchelskis admits sounds familiar. 

"Not only Sir Alex Ferguson say it about this agent, you know. Too many people say it about him," he said. "Football people, you know. Because they say it's a bad agent. I agree. I agree because too many time you hear it about this agent, bad story. I agree with Sir Alex Ferguson."

January 21st 2021, 3:05 pm

Greenwald & the ‘Squad’ agree: Neoliberal thought police have set their sights on ‘domestic extremis


The neoliberal centrist establishment is eager to turn the deadly machinery of the War on Terror against American citizens, journalists and even some lawmakers have observed, warning civil liberties may not survive.

Former CIA director John Brennan hinted that the Biden administration was poised to declare war on American dissidents, praising the incoming team for “moving in a laser-like fashion” to rout out what he referred to as “an unholy alliance of religious extremists, authoritarians, fascists, bigots, racists, nativists, even libertarians” in an MSNBC appearance on Wednesday. 

Journalist Glenn Greenwald urged Americans not to take such a threat lightly, explaining that the former spy chief was “defining the insurgency as anyone who has an ideology other than neoliberalism – the ruling class view that is about to congeal and merge with the power of the state” and unleashing the full force of the American military apparatus previously leveled against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) domestically.

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There is literally nothing that could be more dangerous,” Greenwald told FoxNews host Tucker Carlson on Wednesday, reminding him that “the first war [on terror] ended up eroding not just civil liberties elsewhere but here at home as well” and that the program taking shape was “designed to essentially criminalize any oppositional ideology to the ruling class.

A bill introduced by House intelligence committee chair Adam Schiff “would take existing War on Terror legislation and simply amend it to say we can now do that within the US,” the former Intercept journalist added. Combined with previous legislation, including former president Barack Obama’s infamous 2012 National Defense Authorization Act which allowed the military to indefinitely detain American citizens suspected of terrorism without a trial, and that same president’s self-appointed right to act as judge, jury and executioner condemning American citizens to death without a trial, such a bill would free the Pentagon’s hands even more.

Not all Democratic lawmakers are banging the drum for criminalizing dissent at home, however. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) and nine colleagues broke with their party leadership on Tuesday, penning a letter to senior congressional figures demanding they “resist the erosion of our civil liberties and Constitutional freedoms, however well-intentioned proposed security reforms may be,” and refrain from passing a raft of domestic terror legislation.

The national security and surveillance powers of the US government are already too broad, undefined, and unaccountable to the people,” the letter continues, warning that “to further degrade those rights and liberties in reaction to this attack would undermine our democracy at a time when we must join together to defend it with all our collective might.”  

The group of lawmakers specifically called out attempts to weaponize the Trump supporters’ raid on the Capitol earlier this month, predicting the demonstration –  which left five people dead, including a Capitol police officer and a female Air Force veteran – would be used to justify eviscerating civil liberties and criminalize protesting. The letter name-dropped past US dalliances with totalitarianism, from the House Un-American Activities Committee to the FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO and the original Patriot Act.

Certainly the Capitol raid has been held up to justify a severe crackdown on supporters of the former president. Students at Harvard University have even petitioned to revoke the degrees of graduates who worked in the Trump administration, building on the threats of the (unaffiliated, except in spirit) “Trump Accountability Project.” The latter was unveiled last month with the aim of ensuring Trump administration employees would be unable to get jobs in the future.

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On Tuesday, writer Don Winslow even called on his fellow Trump-haters to form an “army of citizen detectives” to monitor the behavior of Trump supporters –  whom he denounced as “radical extreme conservatives, also known as domestic terrorists” – and report it to the authorities. 

In line with Brennan’s comparison of MAGA types to terrorists, he creepily likened the mission of these “citizen detectives” to that of the “CIA analyst working on a computer thousands of miles away” who pinpointed the location of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. 

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January 21st 2021, 1:33 pm

‘If Biden wanted unity, he’d lynch Pence’: NYT writer claims controversial tweet was not a call for


New York Times opinion writer Will Wilkinson raised red flags on social media after appearing to call for Mike Pence to be lynched. He is now claiming the “error in judgement” was just “sharp sarcasm.”

In Wednesday-evening tweets responding to criticism of President Joe Biden from conservatives, Wilkinson wrote, “‘Aha! Biden proposes policies I dislike. HIS CALL FOR UNITY IS A LIE!’ is all the forlorn conservative mind can seem to muster. Sad.”

In a follow-up tweet that received extensive pushback, Wilkinson added, “If Biden really wanted unity, he’d lynch Mike Pence.”

The tweets were deleted, though screenshots still did the rounds on Twitter. Yet Wilkinson’s account received no action from the social media giant, despite what many interpreted as a call for violence. The platform previously suspended Donald Trump’s account in the wake of the US Capitol riot, claiming his tweets could be interpreted as calls for violence.

Critics called for Wilkinson to face suspension similarly, after his “lynch” comment.

Wilkinson apologized in a lengthy thread on Thursday, calling his tweet “sharp sarcasm” and an “error in judgement,” and claiming he was not calling for violence, as many had accused him of doing.

“Last night I made an error of judgment and tweeted this. It was sharp sarcasm, but looked like a call for violence. That’s always wrong, even as a joke. It was especially wrong at a moment when unity and peace are so critical. I’m deeply sorry and vow not to repeat the mistake,” the writer tweeted. 

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In follow-up messages, Wilkinson turned his attention to conservatives and blasted Biden’s “right-wing critics” for accusing the president of “insincerity” in his repeated calls for unity. 

“My ill-advised tweet was meant as a tart way to drive home the exasperating bad faith of those whose own divisive rhetoric and repetition of lies about election fraud facilitated the mob attack on the Capitol, where pro-Trump rioters built a noose and called for Pence’s head,” he tweeted. 

He argued his “lynch” tweet was meant to highlight the right’s unwillingness to go along with “national unification.”

According to Wilkinson, given the fact that some violent protesters at the Capitol reportedly wanted to kidnap Pence, “there can be no national unification except on right-wing terms.” This suggests the “absurd conclusion” that, “if Biden really took unity seriously, he’d endorse the mob violence of January 6,” he wrote.

As well as contributing to the New York Times, Wilkinson is the vice president of policy at the Niskanen Center. A think tank that has called for Trump to be “convicted” by the Senate and barred from holding future political office, it has argued that members of Congress “who vouched for the president’s lies about election fraud must also be sanctioned for their role.”

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January 21st 2021, 1:33 pm

‘Very high risk’: ECDC urges tougher Covid-19 measures amid mutant strains from UK, Brazil, and Sout


The Covid-19 strains from the UK, Brazil and South Africa pose a very high risk due to their increased transmissibility and must be stamped out with tougher health measures, the EU’s infectious diseases agency has said.

The transmissibility of the three variants will likely push infection rates higher, leading to more hospitalizations and “death rates across all age groups,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in a statement on Thursday.

“The overall risk associated with the introduction and community spread of variants of concern is therefore assessed as being high/very high,” it said.

The ECDC urged member states to adopt tougher health measures to contain the spread of mutant strains, and to strengthen case detection and contact tracing.

Rather than relax restrictions such as lockdowns, governments should “be ready to enforce even stricter measures,” it said, recommending that “non-essential travel should be avoided.”

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Across Europe this week, governments have tightened the screws on public health measures designed to stem the spread of coronavirus.

The Netherlands has introduced curfews and travel bans, Germany has extended its lockdown, Portugal has closed schools, and the French government is facing calls from doctors to toughen measures that will alleviate the pressure on hospitals.

On Wednesday, Portugal had the world’s highest seven-day-average incidence rate of new infections per 100,000 people, with the Portuguese prime minister warning of the “extreme seriousness” of the national situation at this point in the pandemic.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also warned of the prevalence of new variants, saying on Thursday that, although infections are decreasing, “the virus is still very dangerous,” and countries must work together, because, “epidemiologically, the EU is one region.”

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January 21st 2021, 1:18 pm

President of Argentina inoculated with Sputnik V, praises creators of Russian coronavirus vaccine


President Alberto Fernández became the second person over 60 in Argentina to be administered the Russian-developed Sputnik V vaccine against Covid-19, thanking its developer and urging his compatriots to follow his example.

Fernández, 61, received his shot at the Posadas Hospital in Buenos Aires on Thursday, after the National Administration for Medication, Food and Medical Technology recommended that people aged 60 and over be vaccinated.

“Today I received the Sputnik V vaccine,” the president said on Twitter. “I thank the Gamaleya Institute for its scientific work, those who worked so that it reaches us, and all the health personnel of our country for their enormous commitment.”

“Getting vaccinated will make us immune to the coronavirus. Let’s do it,” the president added.

Sputnik V was developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, in Moscow, under the patronage of the Russian Direct Investment Fund. It is the first vaccine against the coronavirus to be used in Argentina.

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Russia sent some 300,000 doses to Argentina in late December, and more than 240,000 people have been vaccinated so far, according to data from the Ministry of Health in Buenos Aires.

Fernández is not the first Argentinian over 60 to get the jab, however. That honor went to Daniel Gollán, the 65-year-old health minister for the Buenos Aires province, who was vaccinated in La Plata on Wednesday.

Sputnik V uses two different adenovirus vectors to trigger the production of antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which need to be administered within 21 days. Immunity is achieved about a week after the second dose. The latest data shows the efficacy of the Sputnik V vaccine to be 91.4 percent.

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January 21st 2021, 1:18 pm

Follow the leader: Ice queen Alina Zagitova edges past Evgenia Medvedeva to become Russia’s most pop


The long-standing rivalry between Russia’s two figure skating champions, Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva, has stretched far beyond sport - and now the 18-year-old has edged ahead in a tight race for social media followers.

This week, reigning world and Olympic title holder Zagitova has achieved another feat outside of her sporting achievements, leaving behind her teammates - including Medvedeva - trailing as she became the most-followed Russian skater.

Zagitova has amassed 855,000 Instagram followers – 2,000 more than Medvedeva has on her page.

The two stars have been in the spotlight since 2018, when they first clashed for the European crown just months before the PyeongChang Olympics.

Back then, Medvedeva, who was still recovering from a foot injury, suffered a humiliating defeat by the first-year senior, who had the most technically complicated program at that time.

Their fierce battle for Olympic gold was one of the toughest ever, with both skaters pushing themselves to the limits and delivering immaculate performances in South Korea.

Less than a point separated the two stars in the final, with Medvdeva treating her second place as one of the most disappointing results of her career.

The two skating queens met again at the 2019 world championships, where Zagitova again got the upper hand, leaving Medvedeva, who’d changed coach, with a bronze medal.

The women’s rivalry became legendary and added spark to any figure skating tournament – at least until Zagitova decided to take a break from competition to concentrate on her TV career.

Despite not having competitive practice this season, the two rivals are set to face each other again at a team event in Moscow, where they will each captain a squad.

The competition is set to take place at the Megasport arena from February 5 to 7, and is expected to garner fervent public attention.

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January 21st 2021, 1:02 pm

‘We’ll get him’: Conor McGregor says UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomedov ‘should be stripped’ of title


Conor McGregor has hinted that his animosity towards Khabib Nurmagomedov has dissipated since their fractious feud in 2018, but says that the Russian champ should be stripped of his title if he doesn't agree to a rematch.

Ever since he tapped four times on Nurmagomedov's forearm to signal his submission in the culmination of a prolonged blood-feud between the two UFC superstars more than two years ago, McGregor has been plotting a path to revenge.

Those plans took a considerable blow last October when an emotional Khabib retired in the cage immediately following his title defence against the dangerous American brawler Justin Gaethje, leaving McGregor without a clear path to what he insists will be a redemptive second match with the undefeated Nurmagomedov. 

However, with Khabib's future still unresolved amid talks with UFC boss Dana White aimed at tempting him to return for one final octagon assignment in pursuit of what would be a landmark 30-0 career ledger, Nurmagomedov has inserted further doubt into any potential comeback.

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"I have so much to do that is planned… and fights are not in these plans," Khabib told Russian media this week on "Fight Island".

"This is what I have been doing all my life, and I will continue to train constantly as well. But if we talk about the fights, they are not part of my plans."

Speaking at Thursday's UFC 257 press conference, McGregor said that a decision must be made - either Khabib returns and fights him, or he steps away from the world title.

"We'll get him," McGregor said of the Russian champ. "I would make the case that that man is continuing to dodge this, the commitment of competing again.

"The title should be stripped. I'll be interested to hear what the excuse is after the fight but I predict a title strip."

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Despite the lucrative financial possibilities of a rematch, the aftershocks of their rivalry from all those years ago are still being felt.

The UFC took measures to ensure that the two lightweight standouts didn't cross paths in Abu Dhabi this week - although that plan came VERY close to failure - for fear of an impromptu brawl.

But McGregor says that as long as the two fight inside the cage once more, there will be no issues outside of it.

"All of those events were in 2018," he said. "It's now 2021. What I will say is, as long as we fight again, there'll be no issue. That's it. If he continues to run, I'm not sure. We'll see what happens."

UFC boss White was well-documented to have teased a concrete announcement on Nurmagomedov's future on last Saturday's UFC broadcast, but when the time came, that statement claimed Khabib is waiting to see something "spectacular" in the cage this weekend before making a definitive call.

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McGregor, though, asserts that this is a cop-out. "I don't really care. He did not say that - Dana said that," McGregor declared.

"Let's just get through the fight. There are plenty of challenges. It's a tough business and there are things that have gone on in his personal life.

"I don't wish him any harm. Like I said, it was in 2018, a lot of time has passed. The world knows this fight is not over, this war is not over.

"The sport needs it to happen, the people need it to happen. I'm not going to chase it if he doesn't want it.

"I'll keep my calm and move on, and that's what I'm doing. I'll show the world what's what over time and that's it."

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January 21st 2021, 12:51 pm

Lockdown extended in Portugal with schools to close for 15 days amid record spike in Covid-19 deaths


Portugal is to shut all schools and universities from Friday, its prime minister has said, as the more transmissible strain of Covid-19 first detected in the UK takes hold, putting the health service under enormous pressure.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa announced the new emergency measures in Lisbon on Thursday as coronavirus cases soared, pushing Portugal's national health system (SNS) to the verge of collapse.

Health officials announced a new record daily death toll for the country on Thursday, reporting 221 fatalities, along with a further 14,647 new cases – up from 10,455 the day before. To date, 9,686 people have died from the disease there since the start of the pandemic.

"We have a civic duty to reinforce our lockdown," Costa said, warning that the new variant could account for some 60 percent of new cases in the coming weeks.

It currently accounts for about 20 percent of cases, while last week, only roughly eight percent of infections were linked to the UK strain.

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"In the face of this new variant and the velocity of its transmission we must exercise caution and interrupt all school activities for the next 15 days," Costa said.

Last Friday, the Portuguese government imposed lockdown restrictions that included shutting all non-essential services, urging people to stay home, and limiting shopping hours, while creches, schools and universities had remained open.

Doctors working in Portugal's hospitals say they are exhausted and in despair dealing with the new caseloads. "The gravity of the situation is clear for everyone to see," Health Minister Marta Temido said on Wednesday night.

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January 21st 2021, 12:19 pm

‘Exposing itself to suspicion’: German opposition MPs bash Merkel government over refusal to disclos


MPs from Germany’s left-wing Die Linke party have accused the country’s government of acting suspiciously after it refused to answer most of their questions about legal assistance requested by Russia over the Navalny case.

In recent months, on multiple occasions, the Kremlin has demanded information from Germany about the alleged poisoning of Alexey Navalny. The opposition figure arrived in Berlin in a coma on August 22 and spent the next five months convalescing in the city. According to Moscow, its requests for details have been rejected, preventing a thorough investigation into the events surrounding the alleged attack.

A letter, written by parliamentarians Amira Mohamed Ali and Dr. Dietmar Bartsch on behalf of the party’s entire Bundestag representation, asked the federal authorities for information on what exactly Russia had asked for and how Berlin had responded. The questions came after Moscow accused the Germans of failing to fulfill their obligations under the 1959 European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters.

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The government revealed that Russia had requested legal assistance on four separate occasions, but “essentially did not reply,” according to MPs Gregor Gysi and Alexander Neu. Ten out of a total of 16 questions were answered with “no comment.”

The answer received by the left-wing politicians cited the need to protect “state secrets” and “cooperation with foreign partners,” noting that these aspects are more important than keeping elected officials in the loop.

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“Disclosure of the information requested would be particularly detrimental to the welfare of the state because there is a risk that details will become known that are particularly worthy of protection in the context of cooperation with foreign partners,” the government noted, pointing to the fact that the MPs’ right to ask questions is limited by interests deemed to be constitutionally protected.

“[By refusing to answer], the federal government exposes itself to suspicion,” Gysi and Neu wrote, highlighting that the government has no obligation to protect Russian state secrets. “What are Germany’s state secrets regarding the government's handling of Russia's requests for legal assistance? … The failure of the Federal Government to answer these questions is neither constitutional nor democratic.”

On Monday, Gysi condemned the imprisonment of Navalny, noting his hope that the anti-corruption activist would be released.

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January 21st 2021, 12:01 pm

‘Did Antifa blow through there?’ TIME cover depicts Biden's first day in Oval Office ransacked by Tr


TIME magazine made its view of Joe Biden’s presidency clear with a new front cover depicting the president’s “day one” in an Oval Office that’s been vandalized as he looks out at a country on fire.

The image shows papers stacked and strewn about on the floor, a disconnected phone, and spray-paint vandalism across the room as Biden stoically looks out a window to see nothing but flames. On Twitter, the image also comes with the sound effect of the disconnected phone. Why the stoic Biden would not turn around and simply hang the phone up in case he gets a call is unclear.

“Is the Oval Office in Seattle? Did BLM-ANTIFA blow through there?” author Derek Hunter tweeted in reaction to Thursday’s cover, referencing left-wing protests by Antifa and Black Lives Matter that have turned to violence and attacks on businesses. 

“Good luck being United when the mainstream media acts like a bunch of toddlers,” journalist Trish Regan wrote.

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Others called the image out for flying in the face of Biden’s repeated calls for “unity” and showing a deep-seated bias in coverage, only one day into the Democrat’s term.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have received glowing coverage from TIME before, with the two being named the magazine’s joint ‘Person of the Year’ in 2020.

In their latest cover story, writer Charlotte Atler opines about Biden leading a “country divided between Americans who believe in facts and Americans who distrust them. Between those who want a multicultural Republic and those who seek to disenfranchise nonwhite votes.”

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January 21st 2021, 12:01 pm

Dutch prosecutor on MH17 team testifies how he plotted arrest & extradition of innocent man to Argen


Dutch public prosecutor Ward Ferdinandusse has recently told a court how he concocted a plan to extradite a man to Argentina, where he spent eight years in prison before being acquitted. Ferdinandusse now co-leads the MH17 probe.

Ferdinandusse told a Rotterdam court that the Dutch had “initiated” an investigation into Julio Poch, a Dutch-Argentinian pilot with the country’s Transavia airline, in 2008.

The accusations against Poch stem from the remarks he supposedly made at a dinner in Bali, Indonesia, in 2003. Several co-workers claimed the former Argentinian naval aviator defended the so-called ‘death flights’ – the extrajudicial killings carried out by the Argentinian military junta in the 1970s and 1980s, during which dissidents were drugged and thrown out of planes into Rio de la Plata river and the Atlantic Ocean. “We threw them into the sea,” a drunk Poch was described as saying.

Three years later, one of Poch’s colleagues reported him to the Dutch police and the prosecutor’s office. According to Dutch news outlet RTL Nieuws, that person was not present at the dinner at which Poch had allegedly made the remarks about ‘death flights’.

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Ferdinandusse said the Argentinians were keen on investigating Poch as well, because Buenos Aires was actively seeking out people responsible for human rights abuses during the junta days.

The prosecutor, who, at the time, had just recently earned criminal-law credentials, went on a trip to Argentina in May 2008, where the Dutch were given a tour of former torture cells used by the junta. An investigative judge from Argentina visited the Netherlands the same year.

The investigators had only one problem: the existing 19th-century bilateral extradition treaty did not allow the Dutch to extradite its own citizens. So Fernandusse devised a plan to apprehend Poch elsewhere.

“I informed the Argentinians that we could cooperate in the arrest of Poch in another country. I pointed out that the Argentinians could ask for Poch’s movements, as per a request for legal assistance,” he said.

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Ferdinandusse added that there were disagreements about whether the Dutch should share its own citizens’ travel data with Buenos Aires, so he had to write a note to ultimately convince superiors to greenlight cooperation with the Argentinians.

In 2009, Poch was arrested at Valencia Airport, Spain as he was traveling with his family and was about to make his final flight for Transavia.

Dutch Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhaus confirmed last year that the idea to tip off the Argentinians that Poch would be flying to Spain came from an unnamed public prosecution department worker.

The pilot maintained his innocence and insisted his words on ‘death flights’ had been misinterpreted. Nevertheless, Poch was sent to Argentina, where he spent eight years behind bars awaiting trial. He was finally acquitted by an Argentinian court in 2017 for lack of evidence. He has since returned to the Netherlands and is suing the Dutch government for damages.

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Ferdinandusse later became one of the three public prosecutors in the case surrounding the Malaysia Airlines MH17 flight, which was shot down in Eastern Ukraine in 2014 amid a civil war there. All 298 people on board died.

The Dutch prosecutors subsequently accused four rebel commanders, who were fighting against the central government in Kiev, of downing the aircraft with a Buk air defense missile system that they had allegedly obtained from Russia.The suspects denied any involvement in the plane crash and refused to travel to the Netherlands for questioning.

Last year, Russia said it was “impossible” to continue MH17 consultations with the Netherlands and Australia, as they sought only to blame Moscow, ignoring contrary evidence. Moscow insisted that the probe ignored a large batch of data on the crash that Russia was eager to provide, instead relying largely on the evidence from Ukraine, and on ‘open-source’ information such as clips of purported evidence posted on social media.

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January 21st 2021, 11:19 am

Czech point: Cristiano Ronaldo has NOT scored the most goals by any player, say experts backing foot


Cristiano Ronaldo has followed in the footsteps of Lionel Messi by becoming embroiled in a row over feats of net-busting, with the Czech FA wading into the argument by making a lengthy statement about one of their national heroes.

An almost inevitable debate broke out after some celebrated Ronaldo as the all-time top scorer in football history on Wednesday night, when he netted the 760th goal of his astonishing career to put Juventus on their way to Italian Super Cup glory.

Although some records put Czech legend Josef Bican's total at 759, the country's football association has now launched a staunch public counter-claim by arguing that one of their greatest ever players scored 821 times in his remarkable run.

"The History and Statistics committee of the Czech FA counted all the goals scored by the legendary Josef Bican," began a tweet by the Czech Football Federation, which released an in-depth statement outlining why Ronaldo is yet to reach his latest landmark.

"We can declare he scored 821 goals in official matches. Goals from matches in the first and second leagues, national cups, the Central European Cup and national team selections are included."

The saga is reminiscent of the furore that surrounded Ronaldo and his chief rival, Messi, when they were widely accepted to have recently broken Pele's records at club and individual levels.

Pele himself appeared to claim that he had scored well over 1,000 goals, resulting in a prolonged round of mockery as fans joked that the fanciful total included goals scored outside of official competitions, including in his back garden and on computer game FIFA.

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Ronaldo himself has occasionally been accused of using international friendlies against minnows to pad his goals record, with his critics pointing to those efforts against weaker opposition as a means to argue that Messi is the better of the two modern greats.

Czech bosses appeared to nod to that debate when they elaborated: "On the contrary, friendly matches are not included in the statistics, with the exception of the national team.

"It can be stated with full seriousness that this is a number that corresponds to the current state of the possibility of verifying all data, so it is the most accurate number possible."

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Santos, the club side that Pele spent most of his career at, put Pele's total at 1,091 - a total that it would be almost impossible to envisage Ronaldo eclipsing.

Should he continue at his current rate of around a goal a game, Ronaldo could be expected to score the required 62 goals that would satisfy the Czech record books within two years.

The superstar striker made no public mention of the record on Thursday, although he did salute another man who has routinely broken footballing records - thanking veteran Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whose accolades include the most appearances by a player in the Italian Serie A.

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January 21st 2021, 11:19 am

‘Failure not an option’, US climate envoy Kerry says, as he pushes to phase out coal FIVE times fast


America’s new climate envoy John Kerry has called for countries to phase out coal five times faster than they have been, and to speed up the transfer to renewable energy in order to hit net zero global carbon emissions by 2050.

After officially taking up his role on Wednesday, Kerry posted on Twitter to express his intention to get to work ahead of the COP26 Climate Change Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, later this year. 

Speaking at an online event on Thursday, Kerry outlined some key climate change issues and concerns for meeting existing emissions targets, which he said will require the phasing out of coal at a faster rate and the rapid speeding up of the transfer to renewable sources of energy. Raising the stakes for a new collective international agreement, Kerry declared that “failure at the COP in Glasgow is not an option” if the world is to successfully achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, as previously planned.

In order to meet the targets, Kerry is set to propose a radical transformation of both the American economy and the global system to tackle companies that contribute to pollution and the negative effects of climate change.

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His comments come hours after newly inaugurated President Joe Biden signed an executive order to reverse the Trump administration’s actions and re-admit the US to the Paris Climate Agreement, in a bid to set “a floor, not a ceiling, for our climate leadership.”

Kerry, who served as secretary of state under Barack Obama, has been a vocal advocate for taking stronger action against climate change for years, as well as being America’s representative in 2016 at the Paris Climate Conference and signing the agreement on behalf of the US.

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January 21st 2021, 11:19 am

Salvation on Epiphany: Naked jogger filmed streaking in snowy Russian city saved from frostbite by b


Footage of a naked man dashing through the streets of one of Russia’s largest cities has gone viral, with local media reporting that what was first thought to be a chilly stunt turned out to be a mental health crisis.

A motorist in the Ural city of Ekaterinburg, which has this week seen temperatures plummet to around -20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) captured the footage when the nude jogger ran out in front of them.

The local E1 news outlet reported that a group of girls had been on their way to mark the festival of Epiphany, in which Orthodox Christians throw themselves into frosty water to mark Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan. One, who did not wish to be named, told reporters that they “at first thought it was a joke… then we realized something was wrong with the guy. It’s so frosty, and he kept running, ran out right in front of our car.”

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The group apparently intervened when it became clear that the man was suffering from the effects of the cold, putting him in the car and providing towels to keep him warm. They then took him to an address he had given for his parents, who the girl says later confirmed that he hadn’t caught frostbite, and had been sent for psychiatric care.

She regretted how widely the video had been shared online, saying that she had only forwarded it on to a friend, who then circulated it more widely.

Another Ekaterinburg native previously made headlines for running with less than typical attire. Known affectionately as ‘Tarzan,’ Sergei Zobnin gained a reputation for jogging around the city barefoot, and running in shorts and a T-shirt, even in the winter. After he was found to have died in 2019, local media launched an appeal for any relatives who could arrange a funeral for the popular and eccentric local celebrity.

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January 21st 2021, 11:19 am

Politicians among 48 arrested in huge Italian bust on ‘Ndrangheta mafia, hundreds of millions in cas


Anti-mafia police carried out sweeping early-morning raids against Italy’s most powerful mafia, the ‘Ndrangheta, on Thursday, arresting 48 people and placing the leader of a political party under investigation.

Officers from the Direzione Investigativa AntiMafia (DIA) immediately jailed 13 people, while 35 were placed under house arrest, with multiple politicians, low-level mob bosses and businessmen among those detained, according to local media.

The crackdown on the organized crime syndicate, based in Calabria, southern Italy, primarily targeted the economic arm of its operations, which prosecutors said had been exposed in its money-laundering and attempts to buy political influence.

“This investigation makes clear what we have been saying for decades. The ‘Ndrangheta shoots less and has more and more ties with business and politics,” prosecutor Nicola Gratteri, told reporters.

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As part of the mafia crackdown, police have opened an investigation into Lorenzo Cesa, head of the small Christian Union of the Centre political party, over his alleged procurement of contracts for the mafia in return for favors.

DIA officers raided the former MEP’s house in Rome at dawn on Thursday, according to la Repubblica. The politician has resigned as head of the centrist party with immediate effect, saying he had been advised that the investigation relates to events dating back to 2017.

Gratteri said that a local head honcho of the ‘Ndrangheta was also among the arrests, claiming that police raids on the suspect’s house had uncovered “hundreds of millions in cash which they have not yet finished counting, dozens of Rolexes and luxury cars.”

The operation follows the opening of a “maxi trial” of 355 suspected mobsters and their associates, which began in Calabria last week and is the country’s largest mafia trial for at least 30 years.

With a reported 6,000 members in Calabria, and more in other countries, the ‘Ndrangheta has superseded Sicily's Cosa Nostra mafia as Italy’s most powerful criminal group, and one of the most influential in the world.

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January 21st 2021, 11:19 am

France has become 'a nation of 66 million prosecutors,' says Macron, rejecting criticism of governme


French President Emmanuel Macron has defended his government and its response to the Covid-19 pandemic, saying that he laments France's "incessant hunt for errors," adding that such criticism is counterproductive during a crisis.

Speaking on Thursday, Macron took a swipe at his critics, saying France had become "a nation of 66 million prosecutors" constantly on the lookout for mistakes and government failings during the pandemic.

"And I say this because what goes with French mistrust is also this kind of incessant hunt for error. That is to say, we have become a nation of 66 million prosecutors. It is not the way we face the crisis or move forward," the president said.

Macron said that those who hunt for errors in others' work are the same people who do not push themselves, but instead do the same thing every day.

"We need to have women and men who push themselves, who have the capacity to invent what is not yet there and to make mistakes in order to be able to correct as quickly as possible and improve. That makes a great nation," he asserted, adding that "we learn the most from our mistakes."

Macron was speaking during the announcement of a national investment plan in quantum technology. 

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The president's remarks have already come under fire from the opposition. Some state that the criticism of the government is fair, particularly in relation to the slow start of the country's Covid vaccination program, while others chided him for berating the French people. 

"Virus or not, there is at least one thing that does not change, it is the propensity of Emmanuel Macron to vilify the French all the time!" tweeted right-wing Rassemblement National leader, Marine Le Pen.

Left-wing La France Insoumise politician Adrien Quatennens also criticized the president's remarks, tweeting that Macron "really has a serious problem with democracy."

Two investigations are currently underway into France's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, looking at whether the public officials who oversaw the response committed offenses including manslaughter and endangering lives.

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January 21st 2021, 11:19 am

As reliance on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft ends, NASA set to reduce cooperation with Moscow’s Roscosmo


Since the launch of the International Space Station in 1998, Roscosmos and NASA have worked together to service the most famous man-made satellite. Now, the latter is considering reducing its representation in Russia.

That’s according to news agency RIA Novosti, citing a source in the rocket and space industry.

As things stand, NASA has employees stationed in Russia’s Cosmonaut Training Center near Moscow, as well at the Mission Control Center and the Institute of Biomedical Problems.

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According to RIA’s source, the majority of cuts are expected at the Cosmonaut Training Center, due to the “termination of regular flights of American astronauts on Russian Soyuz spacecraft.” From 2011 to 2020, the US was reliant on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft as the only means for Americans to reach the International Space Station (ISS). Last year, Elon Musk’s SpaceX Crew Dragon allowed the US to find its own way to the satellite, meaning NASA is no longer dependent on Soyuz.

The Cosmonaut Training Center is located in Star City and is home to much of Russia’s space-focused military research. The cuts are unlikely to affect the US’ presence in the ISS Mission Control Center.

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Officially, Roscosmos is yet to receive notification of NASA’s intent to reduce its personnel stationed in the country.

Earlier this week, it was revealed that Russian astronauts on the ISS were helped out by their American counterparts after their food store ran low. Following the postponement of a planned shipment, NASA offered up its rations.

Last year, Roscosmos indicated that it may launch its own orbital station after 2024. The ISS is expected to operate until 2030, but Moscow believes that it is deteriorating faster than expected and may need to be replaced much sooner.

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January 21st 2021, 11:19 am

Inauguration’s most ‘enduring image’? To deluge of mockery, Atlantic journo says it was Kamala Harri


Atlantic writer Edward Isaac-Dovere is the latest mainstream-media journalist to be lambasted on social media for his fulsome praise of the Joe Biden/Kamala Harris inauguration, after gushing on Twitter over Harris’s hair.

For Isaac-Dovere, the “enduring image of the day” was simple: Vice President Harris’s “hair blowing in the wind as she took the oath.”

“No one with longer hair (in other words: a woman) has ever taken the oath of office outside at the Capitol before, because she’s the first woman to ever do it,” he tweeted.

The oh-so-serious tweet has been mocked by critics, with some bemoaning the direction in which the media is likely to be headed during the Biden years.

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“I love how he hammers home the point at the end because we are all too stupid to get where he was going with it,” the Washington Examiner’s Becket Adams tweeted.

“Have we fact checked this against the founding fathers? George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr come to mind as contenders,” Bloomberg’s Karl Smith added

“[Four] more years of this,” Tablet Magazine associate editor Noam Blum wrote. 

Isaac-Dovere is far from the only mainstream-media journalist to turn heads with his idolization of the new administration. New York Times editor Lauren Wolfe deactivated her Twitter account after sharing that she “had chills” when Biden’s plane landed in DC on inauguration day. The response was excoriating.

Meanwhile, CNN’s head of strategic communications, Matt Dornic, gushed how Team Biden “truly understands optics,” adding that “these images will inspire our friends and shake our foes” and accompanying his tweet... with a photo of a fireworks display in Washington, DC.

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January 21st 2021, 11:19 am

Covid lockdowns leave one third of US small businesses (& almost HALF minority-owned businesses) una


A third of American small business owners were unable to pay rent this month, a recent survey has found. Women and minority-owned businesses were hit particularly hard, and more sectors than ever are coming up short.

Fully one third of American small business owners were unable to pay rent for January, according to the survey published on Wednesday by Alignable showing the devastating economic impact of Covid-19 pandemic shutdowns has yet to be fully realized.

The financial strife wasn’t evenly distributed – almost half of minority small business owners were unable to pay, and 35 percent of women small business owners couldn’t make ends meet. 

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Worst hit among the 10 sectors tracked by the survey were restaurants and bars – a whopping 57 percent of which failed to make rent for January. Yoga studios, retail stores, massage and beauty salons, and gyms were among the other markets most severely hit. The economic fallout has broadened significantly since November, when only beauty salons, restaurants and bars had a rent delinquency rate of over 40 percent.

A September report by crowdsourced business directory Yelp found New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Dallas had experienced the most permanent closures, with all but Dallas located in states with unusually strict pandemic policies. Alignable’s survey found businesses in New Jersey, Georgia, and Maryland were the least likely to be able to pay their January rent.

Alignable has been tracking the economic impact of pandemic shutdowns since March and noted that January’s numbers – obtained by a survey of 10,325 small business owners earlier this month – are the worst since the outbreak began. Even more alarmingly, most business owners don’t expect to see real economic recovery until May at the earliest. Nearly half reported that Covid-19 was “really impacting [their] business,” with just 18 percent stating they were either unaffected or that the worst had passed. 

Of those restaurants and bars that closed their doors at some point during the pandemic, over three out of five surveyed in September expected they would be unable to reopen at all. Of those still in operation, many are placing their hopes with Covid-19 vaccine distribution to increase customers’ confidence and bring them out of their homes – even though the vaccine manufacturers have acknowledged their clinical studies were not designed to evaluate whether their jabs can slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Newly-inaugurated President Joe Biden has nevertheless promised to vaccinate 100 million Americans in his first 100 days in office.

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Over 400,000 Americans have died with Covid-19 since the outbreak began, according to statistics collected by Johns Hopkins University. The World Health Organization recently revised its criteria for diagnosing coronavirus cases, however, acknowledging that the most popular testing method was being used incorrectly and could have caused a raft of false positives.

The Biden administration has already unveiled a $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” aimed at propping up state governments and small businesses as well as strengthening the safety net in order to ensure those driven out of work by the shutdowns are not also driven out of their homes. 

However, with so many businesses already closed for good after 10 months of shutdowns and other virus-related restrictions, some critics have pointed to the plan as too little, too late.

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January 21st 2021, 11:19 am

Merkel threatens to close Germany's borders unless Europe finds common ground in Covid-19 fight


German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the European Union must find common ground in fighting coronavirus and stopping the spread of new strains that have already swept through the UK and Ireland recently.

On Tuesday, Merkel warned that Germany could close its borders unless neighboring states acted together.

We need to make sure that everyone around us is doing the same. Otherwise we have to look at measures such as entry restrictions.

"The EU is one area," Merkel said in Berlin on Thursday morning, hours before she was scheduled to join a video summit of EU leaders focused on Covid-19.

The chancellor warned about the dangers from the spread of the new mutant virus and that they need to be "taken very seriously."

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"We act out of precaution for our country," Merkel said, adding that everything is now about getting the getting the pandemic under control.

EU leaders are to consider whether to approve vaccine passports, which would allow for inoculated people to travel more freely, and whether to apply travel restrictions.

Merkel said Germany is at a difficult stage of the pandemic.

"On the one hand, the number of daily infections is gradually going down," she told a press conference. "But the virus is still very dangerous. We have a shockingly high death count, more than 1,000 people today."

On Wednesday, Germany extended its national lockdown until February 14 and brought in new rules making it mandatory to wear medical-grade masks in shops and on public transport.

So far, Germany has recorded 50,010 deaths and 2.1 million cases of coronavirus.

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January 21st 2021, 11:19 am

Africa's Covid-19 fatality rate now higher than global average, says continent's disease control chi


The head of Africa's disease control agency has warned that the continent's fatality rate from Covid-19 has risen above the global average, adding that this is a very "worrying" development.

Africa's Covid-19 case fatality rate has risen to 2.5 percent, while the global average is 2.2 percent, Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) head John Nkengasong told reporters on Thursday.

"The case fatality rate is beginning to be very worrying and concerning for all of us," he said, but did not elaborate on the factors involved.

Nkengasong said that there are now more than 21 countries on the continent with a case fatality rate above three percent, including Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan.

Last year, some disease experts suggested Africa had a lower fatality rate than other parts of the world due to a more youthful population, while others cautioned that lower testing rates could be masking the bigger picture of the Covid-19 outbreak across the continent. 

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The reported data to date suggests the continent has been less afflicted by Covid-19 than other parts of the world. As of Thursday, Africa has recorded 3.3 million coronavirus infections and 81,000 deaths, the CDC said.

Of the 207,000 new cases registered on the continent in the past week, 100,000 of them had been recorded in South Africa alone, Nkengasong added.

South Africa has been by far the worst-affected country on the continent from Covid – one reason being the recent emergence of a more transmittable variant of the virus.

The CDC has repeatedly warned that African countries are not receiving much-needed access to vaccines. On Monday, World Health Organization chair Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reiterated this complaint, noting that "the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure" over unequal access to coronavirus inoculations and the "prospects for equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines are at serious risk." 

Many countries in Africa are unlikely to receive vaccine doses until much later in 2021 or 2022, with only Egypt and the Seychelles starting to roll out the vaccine so far. 

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January 21st 2021, 10:01 am

‘It’s weird that I was alive’: Ex-NHL star Tommy Salo handed prison sentence for crashing car while


Former NHL star and Swedish national goaltender Tommy Salo has found himself in hot water after receiving a two-month prison sentence for driving under the influence of alcohol.

The verdict was delivered on Wednesday by Västeras District Court in Sweden after the star was found guilty following a car accident last August.

The former hockey champion, who helped Team Sweden to clinch the 1994 Olympic gold in Lillehammer, collided with the center railing on a highway between Strömstad and Surahammar.

According to witnesses, his path went wobbly between road lines at a relatively low speed before he crashed his car into the boundaries.

Police were called to the scene and obliged the hockey legend to take a blood test that showed 3.06 per milliliter of alcohol - a level that sharply exceeded the approved limit of 1.0 per milliliter.

Pro mille is pro mille, I cannot say anything about that. I cannot question the per-milliliter content. It's weird that I was alive”,  Salo said in court.

The much-loved star rejected a police investigation report that claimed he might have stopped several times to drink alcohol while making his car journey.

That is not true," he insisted. "I had drunk quite a lot for two days on the West Coast and drank the night before, then I went home earlier than planned.

"There was a lot of alcohol. I try to tell what I remember. I do not remember why I had stopped the car, but my opinion is that I had just stopped.

I do not remember anything directly from the journey or the speed. What I do know is that it was nice summer weather and I talked a lot on the phone."

Salo is expected to appeal in the hope of a more lenient verdict. He had no criminal background prior to the case.

The 49-year-old is a widely celebrated goalie who, along with winning Olympic gold, also has seven medals from IIHF world championships.

He spent ten seasons in the NHL, where he performed for the New York Islanders, Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche.

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January 21st 2021, 10:01 am

UK health minister defends Covid-19 delayed-dose vaccine strategy despite lingering doubts over effi


Health Secretary Matt Hancock has defended the UK government’s strategy for the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, citing data that he said supported a 12-week dosing schedule rather than the recommended 21-day interval.

“Around 89 percent efficacy comes from between days 14 and days 21 after the first dose,” he told MPs in parliament on Thursday.

Hancock said the government is measuring the efficacy for those who’ve been vaccinated and promised to publish the relevant data as soon as it is “clinically valid.”

However, questions remain over the UK’s adapted strategy of spacing the two doses required some 12 weeks apart for both the Pfizer jab and the vaccine developed by Oxford University/AstraZeneca.

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The 12-week intervals are backed by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, but go against the recommendations of Pfizer, due to the vaccine’s efficacy of up to 95 percent being calculated only when doses are given 21 days apart.

A new study published on Wednesday, but yet to be peer reviewed, has also found that the government’s strategy of vaccinating as many people as quickly as possible with both vaccines may not be enough to reach so-called “herd immunity.”

Researchers from the University of East Anglia found that herd immunity may only be possible if the government vaccinated nearly everyone with the Pfizer jab, as its 95 percent efficacy rating is significantly higher than the 70 percent of the Oxford jab.

The researchers’ initial analysis suggested that reducing the ‘R’ value of the infection rate below 1.0 would only require 69 percent of the population to be vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine, whereas that figure would need to be 93 percent with the Oxford jab.

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When taking into account the apparently more infectious UK variant of Covid-19 called B.1.1.7, their analysis suggested that even vaccinating the entire population with the Oxford vaccine would only take the R number down to 1.325.

By contrast, the more effective Pfizer jab would only need 82 percent of people to be vaccinated in order to control the spread of the new variant.

It comes as the UK posted a record 1,820 new Covid-19 deaths on Wednesday, taking the total number of those to have died from the virus within 28 days of a positive test to 93,290.

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January 21st 2021, 10:01 am

Bitcoin sell-off wipes out $100 billion from crypto market in just two days


The total market value of all cryptocurrencies has lost about $100 billion over the past 48 hours, after the world’s top digital asset, bitcoin, slumped around 10 percent as crypto fever cooled off.

Bitcoin was trading at $31,375 per token at 14:40 GMT, having lost nearly 10 percent day to day, according to The world’s number-one cryptocurrency has dropped almost 18 percent over the past week.

Bitcoin has seen a wild rally in recent weeks, briefly hitting $41,940 earlier this month before its recent sharp drop.

The second-biggest cryptocurrency by market value, ether, was also down around 10 percent over the past 48 hours. It was trading at $1,238.49, after hitting an all-time high of $1,439 on Tuesday.

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The plunge in major digital assets evoked an enormous drop in the market value of all cryptocurrencies from about $1.06 trillion to under $920 billion.

Despite the latest drop, bitcoin has still been up over 150 percent in the past three months. Experts tied its rally to a number of factors, including growing interest from large institutional investors. Bitcoin’s recent price surge was also boosted by massive investor outflow from gold, which is commonly the preferred inflation hedge for traders.

For more stories on economy & finance visit RT's business section

January 21st 2021, 10:01 am

Conservatives ‘mourn’ Americans who’ve died of Covid during Biden’s presidency so far, mimicking Dem


Republicans took to social media on President Joe Biden’s first day in office to point out the number of Americans who have thus far died during his presidency – a response to Democrats who blamed Trump for coronavirus deaths.

According to the New York Times, at least 215 Americans died of Covid-19 on January 20 – Biden’s first half-day in the White House – while the Atlantic’s Covid Tracking Project put the number at a much higher 4,409 deaths. Conservatives decided to capitalize on the figures with tongue-in-cheek jeers at Democrats, some of whom argued that former President Donald Trump was personally responsible for the 400,000 American coronavirus deaths.

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“Nearly 8,000 people have died in America today from Covid under Joe Biden’s leadership. This is just terrible,” tweeted right-wing commentator Jon Miller, receiving over 100,000 likes.

“BREAKING: Over 100 people have died so far today from COVID-19 due to President Biden’s mishandling of the virus,” declared conservative Jeremy Kappell, earning nearly 50,000 likes, while others, including radio host Larry Elder, made similar statements.

Coronavirus deaths were a big theme during Biden’s Wednesday inauguration, where he held a memorial for the 400,000 Americans who have lost their lives to Covid-19 so far.

“To heal, we must remember,” the president said during the memorial. “It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that's how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation.”

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January 21st 2021, 10:01 am

After drawn out case, ECHR rejects Georgia’s claims of Russian Human Rights violations during 2008 w


After 12 years of legal proceedings, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Russia cannot be held responsible for incidents that occurred during the 2008 war in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, rejecting Georgia's claims.

On the night of August 7, 2008, Georgian forces started shelling the breakaway region of South Ossetia, where Russian peacekeepers were stationed. In response, the Russian military entered the area.

Meanwhile, another breakaway region of Abkhazia announced a mobilization, fearing a renewal of fighting with Georgia. After five days, then-President Dmitry Medvedev announced that the operation had been completed.

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In the years since, Georgia has accused Russia of various human rights breaches during the fight. On Thursday, the ECHR ruled that the case is outside its jurisdiction, and rejected Tbilisi's claims that Russian troops entered the region before the Georgian military attacked Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia.

"The ECHR did not find a single case of violation of civilian rights by Russian servicemen during the events of August 2008," said Mikhail Galperin, Russia's representative at the Court.

However, a statement from the Russian Ministry of Justice also revealed that Moscow does not agree with all the ECHR's conclusions, including the decision that Russia is responsible for events in the region after August 12, when the war concluded. According to the ministry, blame has been attached to Russia despite no evidence of its servicemen's direct involvement.

According to the ECHR judgment, after the war had concluded, there were serious abuses, including the killing of civilians and the torching and looting of houses. The Court recognized these acts as "inhuman and degrading treatment."

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"Though some witness statements indicated that at times Russian troops had intervened to stop abuses being committed against civilians, in many cases Russian troops had been passively present during scenes of looting," the judgment said. "This could be deemed to be 'official tolerance' by the Russian authorities."

"Even though the direct involvement of the Russian forces had not been clearly demonstrated, the fact that the Georgian civilians fell within the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation meant that the latter had also been responsible for the actions of the South Ossetian authorities," it concluded. 

The Court was also of the opinion that Moscow is responsible for the poor treatment of prisoners of war detained in South Ossetia, ruling that it falls "within the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation."

Russia was also blamed by the ECHR for refusing to allow the return of many ethnic Georgians to their homes. While the Court notes that the decision was made by the South Ossetian and Abkhazian authorities, it states that Russia had "effective control" over the regions.

Last year, Medvedev revealed that he has no regrets about getting involved in the war, asserting that the region would have turned into a "powder keg" without Moscow's intervention.

"I made a difficult, but the only possible decision – to stand in defense of Abkhazia and South Ossetia," he wrote.

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January 21st 2021, 9:13 am

Brexit to blame for disruption of food supply in N. Ireland, says Irish FM, amid reports of ‘bare’ s


Problems with food supply into Northern Ireland from Great Britain are “clearly a Brexit issue”, Ireland’s foreign affairs minister has said, amid reports of food shortages and “bare” supermarket shelves.

Speaking to ITV on Wednesday, Simon Coveney said the shortages were “part of the reality” of the UK leaving the EU. “Let’s not pretend Brexit doesn’t force that kind of change,” he added.

UK International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, who also took part in the program, agreed with Coveney, admitting that Brexit had contributed to food shortages in supermarkets in Northern Ireland. She still defended the situation, however, saying that “a period of adjustment” was always expected and adding that the supermarket shelves “were being stocked.”

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Some disappointed shoppers in Northern Ireland have been taking to Twitter in recent days, reporting empty shelves in supermarkets, while others vented their anger at the Brexit situation in general.

One of Britain’s largest supermarket chains, Tesco, said last week that deliveries of goods to Northern Ireland, including ready meals and fresh fruit, were experiencing disruptions due to Brexit. 

A supermarket shopper in Tescos stares at a near empty freezer cabinet on January 14, 2021 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. © Getty Images / Charles McQuillan

Despite being part of the UK, Northern Ireland has remained in the EU single market post-Brexit. The ‘Irish Sea Border’ between the two now means all commercial goods brought into Northern Ireland from Great Britain needs a customs declaration. Trade is now regulated by the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol and requires health certifications on animal-based foods. Tariffs have also been introduced on some goods considered “at risk” of moving into the European Union (ie, crossing the land border into the Republic of Ireland).

Currently a number of grace periods lasting for up to six months are in operation before the protocol comes into full force. Among other measures, the grace periods reduce the number of veterinary health certificates required on animal-based food products.

Yet, with supply problems apparently already beginning despite the grace period, many fear the situation is only going to get worse.

Some British politicians have recently tried to play down the influence of Brexit on food supply disruption in Northern Ireland.

On Tuesday, British Conservative Party politician who serves as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis said that the food supply disruption there is down to coronavirus and has “nothing to do with the Protocol.” 

His comments prompted a withering response from Northern Ireland’s Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots, who called him “the emperor with no clothes – but instead of a small boy pointing out he's naked, the whole crowd is pointing it out.”

Irish FM Coveney also dismissed Lewis’ claim on Wednesday, saying “The supermarket shelves were full before Christmas and there are some issues now in terms of supply chains, and so that’s clearly a Brexit issue.”

The fact that Northern Ireland has remained in the EU’s single market is seen by some as an indication that the North is moving further away from the UK and taking a step towards reunifying with the Republic to the south, 100 years after it was partitioned.

That sentiment was echoed by former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, who said this week that Northern Ireland was “heading for the exit door” from the UK. Writing in the London Evening Standard, he said that the majority of the English public “will not care” if Northern Ireland exits the UK to create a united Ireland. He blamed Brexit for “unleashing” English nationalism and making the future of the United Kingdom a major political problem for years to come.

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January 21st 2021, 9:01 am

‘Straight bullsh*t’: Fans blast NHL as Alex Ovechkin is one of four Russian aces punished alongside


Fans have questioned the NHL's decision after hockey star Alexander Ovechkin and three of his countrymen at Washington were placed on the NHL's Covid-19 protocol list, earning a $100,000 fine for a reported breach in a hotel room.

Ovechkin, who is chasing NHL legend Wayne Gretzky's goals record, joined fellow center Evgeny Kuznetsov, defenseman Dmitry Orlov and goaltender Ilya Samsonov on the league's sanctions list.

The compatriots are believed to have gathered in one hotel room in a violation of Covid-19 restrictions requiring all players to stay alone in a single room, with no guests allowed except for hotel staff.

The players have been sanctioned by the league for “social interactions among team members who were in close contact and who were not wearing face coverings."

This is the first time the Capitals players appeared on the league’s protocol list this season, which includes those who test positive, have a potential exposure or face quarantine requirements.

"Our training staff has worked extremely hard to create a safe environment for our players and staff to be able to compete this season," the Capitals said in a statement.

"We are disappointed by our players' choice to interact in their hotel room and outside of team approved areas.

"We accept the NHL's decision and once again will reiterate the Covid-19 protocols in place to make sure the players are in full compliance moving forward."

Ovechkin released his own statement. "I regret my choice to spend time together with my teammates in our hotel room and away from the locker room areas," he said. "I will learn from this experience."

The players' inclusion on the list means that the Russian quartet will not be allowed to train with the rest of their teammates, although it remains unclear whether they will be allowed to play Washington's next game against the Buffalo Sabres which is scheduled for Friday.

Many fans were confused by the ruling. "OK, so they can hug and high-five after a goal, practice, sit next to each other on a bench and so on," observed one. "Such total insanity bullsh*t."

Another claimed: "They didn't have someone come and visit them, and are just as likely to spread it - if not more likely, based on studies about the spread in hockey arenas in general - to teammates during the game.

"They shouldn't break the rules, obviously, but it's a really dumb rule."

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January 21st 2021, 9:01 am

Russian MMA icon Fedor Emelianenko ‘hospitalized due to Covid-19 infection’ - reports


Former PRIDE heavyweight champion and Russian mixed martial arts pioneer Fedor Emelianenko has been admitted to a Moscow hospital which specializes in treating patients suffering from coronavirus, according to local reports.

Emelianenko, 44, is being treated at Clinical Hospital No. 52 in the Russian capital. News of Emelianenko's admission to the medical facility was reported by RIA Novosti citing information given to them by the medical institution.

Specific details as to Emelianenko's condition have not yet been made public.

Emelianenko is known to mixed martial arts fans as one of the most dominant heavyweight fighters in the sport's history due to an unmatched run through Japanese promotion PRIDE which saw him capture their heavyweight crown and remain undefeated as he rampaged through the division, taking down fighters such as Mirko Cro Cop, Mark Coleman and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira along the way.

The Russian great has most recently been a member of the Bellator roster and was last in action in December 2019, when he defeated fellow PRIDE alumnus Quinton Jackson by first-round stoppage. He came up short in his prior fight against Ryan Bader in a bid to capture the promotion's heavyweight title. 

Emelianeko's run in MMA is notable for him having never set foot in the UFC octagon throughout his two-decade fighting career, though UFC boss Dana White did attempt to engineer a fight between Fedor and former UFC champion Brock Lesnar in 2012 before negotiations between all three parties broke down.

In addition to his numerous world titles in mixed martial arts, Emelianenko is also a nine-time Russian champion in combat sambo. 

Since last March, more than 3.6 million coronavirus infections have been reported in Russia, with more than 66,000 deaths recorded. More than 20,000 new cases were identified on Wednesday. 

The virus has ravaged global sport for several months now and has previously impacted the top level of Russian MMA as Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, father and mentor to Russian champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, passed away in July due to complications from a Covid-19 infection.

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January 21st 2021, 8:15 am

France’s main Muslim organization slams three Islamic groups for not signing up to anti-extremism ch


The President of the French Council of the Muslin Faith (CFCM) has criticized three Islamic groups in the country over their decision to refuse to sign up to an anti-extremism charter proposed by President Emmanuel Macron.

The Faith and Practice movement, Committee for Coordination of Turkish Muslims in France (CCMTF) and Milli Gorus Islamic Confederation (CMIG) jointly announced on Wednesday evening that they will not sign the charter that has been proposed, in the wake of Islamic terrorist attacks across Europe during 2020.

“[These groups] risk being held responsible for this situation of division,” Mohamed Moussaoui, President of the CFCM said in a statement, calling their actions “repetitive” and describing how they are unlikely to “provide reassurance” that the Muslim religion should not be feared.

The three organizations reportedly refused to sign the charter over their concern about the way that it defines foreign interference in religion and the Islamic faith. 

Explaining their refusal, the groups claimed that they fear “certain passages and formulations in the text submitted are likely to weaken the bonds of trust between the Muslims of France and the nation.”

Some statements are prejudicial to the honour of Muslims, with an accusatory and marginalising tone.

The CFCM is comprised of nine groups but, so far, only five have agreed to sign the charter and work with the French government to address concerns in the country about radicalization and religious extremism.

President Macron proposed the charter towards the end of 2020, as well as implementing a crackdown on mosques and organizations that push extremism, after a teacher was beheaded by an Islamic extremist over a lesson where he showed pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed as part of a discussion on free speech.

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January 21st 2021, 8:15 am

Hungary becomes first EU state to approve Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine against Covid-19, as UAE also g


Two more nations revealed on Thursday that they have granted approval for the use of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, with Hungarian Minister Gergely Gulyas saying his country had become the first EU member to sign off on the formula.

Developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, Sputnik V was not originally among those listed for procurement in Brussels, and is still under consideration by the bloc’s central regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA). While Hungary has already received doses as part of clinical trials, Gulyas, who has led much of the country’s coronavirus response, told journalists on Thursday that he hoped a “larger quantity” of the jab would soon be secured.

In a statement posted on Sputnik V’s website, Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which funded the development of the jab, welcomed the decision, saying “Hungary is the first EU country to realize all the advantages of the Sputnik V vaccine and authorize its use. This decision is very important as it demonstrates that the vaccine's safety and efficacy of over 90 percent are highly regarded by our partners in Hungary.”

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The day before, in an interview with state TV channel, Mátyás Szentiványi, director general of Hungary's National Institute of Pharmacy and Nutrition, confirmed that the body “has given authorization for use in Hungarian territory.” He added that the decision would apply for six months, and can then be extended. However, it required final sign-off from the country’s National Center for Public Health before being cleared for use.

Hungary had previously risked a potential confrontation with the EU over its interest in the vaccine, securing vials for research and analysis outside of the bloc’s collective plans. Eric Mamer, a representative of the European Commission, told journalists that there was “no question” that any vaccine made available in any member country would first have to be approved by its own centralized regulator. “We are not in negotiations with either Russian or Chinese companies,” Mamer said. “That is the European vaccine strategy. All member states have signed up to this process.” However, earlier this week, the EMA was reported to now be considering the formula and it is expected that Budapest will wait for authorization, potentially as early as January 29, before injections begin. Another jab, made by the UK’s AstraZeneca, has also been approved on a similar basis.

It had previously been reported by a number of government-funded Western media outlets that Hungary had decided against procuring the Russian-made vaccine. RFERL, the American state-run broadcaster, reported on comments from Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Chief of Staff in December, saying that the country “won’t use Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, despite bilateral co-operation.” However, in an interview with Budapest-based Kossuth Radio in January, Orban praised the formula and said he was “not happy with the pace” of the EU schemes to get access to vaccines against Covid-19.

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Earlier this week, Moscow denied similar claims that the formula had been rejected by Brazil’s drugs watchdog. The Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency (Anvisa) announced on Saturday that it had returned a request for the emergency use of Sputnik V to the applicant, a third party company, saying that paperwork submitted by the firm did not meet the “minimum requirements for submission and analysis.” While some news outlets reported this as a snub for the vaccine, the Russian Direct Investment Fund said that the necessary additional paperwork “will be provided shortly.”

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At the same time, the team behind Sputnik V announced that the UAE had also joined the list of countries that have approved the jab for emergency use. In a statement, the Ministry of Health and Prevention for the country in the Arabian  peninsula said that “the decision comes as part of the UAE's comprehensive and integrated efforts to ensure increased prevention levels against the virus and to safeguard the health of the country's citizens and residents.” It had previously hosted Phase-three trials of the jab and said “study results have demonstrated the effectiveness of the vaccine in triggering a strong antibody response against the virus.”

In an additional statement, Dmitriev said that “the UAE is one of Russia’s key partners in the Middle East… the decision to include Sputnik V in [the] national vaccine portfolio is an important step towards protecting the population with one of the best vaccines against coronavirus in the world.”

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January 21st 2021, 8:15 am

UK reaches 5 million Covid-19 vaccinations mark, but infection rates up from December


The British health secretary has congratulated his colleagues in the National Health Service as the country reached a positive milestone in the battle against Covid-19, but the virus is continuing to spread rapidly across the UK.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock rejoiced on Thursday as the country administered its five-millionth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, with 4.6 million people having now received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca jab. 

“This is a huge leap, and one in which we can all take pride. This ongoing expansion will help us to protect even more of the vulnerable even more quickly,” Hancock told Sky News.

The health secretary noted that new sites, including a cinema, mosque, and cricket club will become vaccination hubs this week.

“Let’s all take comfort in the fact that we’re giving 200 vaccinations a minute, but in the meantime, everyone, everyone must follow the rules to protect the NHS and save lives, and we can do that safe in the knowledge that the tide will turn and that, with science, we will prevail,” Hancock said.

The health secretary added that local data on the vaccine programme would be published on Thursday.

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The UK remains one of the countries in Europe most afflicted with Covid-19, as a highly contagious strain of the virus spreads throughout the country. 

A study by Imperial College London, published on Thursday, suggested the most recent lockdown had not been effective in reducing infections. Covid test results from 143,000 people indicate that 1.58 percent of Britons had the virus in early January, up from 0.91 percent in December, according to the REACT-1 (Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission) study. 

“During the initial 10 days of the third Covid-19 lockdown … prevalence of Covid-19 was very high, with no evidence of decline,” the study concluded.

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January 21st 2021, 8:15 am

Frank Lampard on the chopping block? Chelsea boss set for Roman Abramovich wrath unless results impr


Frank Lampard could be the next casualty to land on the Premier League managerial scrapheap amid reports that owner Roman Abramovich is considering a change as stuttering Chelsea continue to stagnate.

Further pressure was heaped upon Lampard by his side's 2-0 defeat to Leicester City this week, the team's fifth defeat in eight league games - a run which has left big-spending Chelsea rooted in eighth position in the English top flight.

The run of poor form has been compounded by the considerable spending spree overseen by Abramovich prior to the start of the current Premier League campaign, which saw Lampard bring in a host of top talent including highly-regarded German internationals Kai Havertz and Timo Werner. 

Neither have hit the ground running, leading to concerns that Abramovich may opt to cut his losses on novice manager Lampard and look to steady the Stamford Bridge ship by installing one of Europe's more experienced coaches. 

Lampard sprung to the defence of his "transitional" side following their defeat to Brendan Rodgers' Leicester, but admitted in his post-match interview that his future at the club at which he is the all-time top goalscorer is out of his control. 

Chelsea's outlay, including the additions of England defender Ben Chilwell, former Ajax creator Hakim Ziyech, Brazil captain Thiago Silva and ex-Rennes shot-stopper Edouard Mendy, saw the club part with more than $200 million during the summer transfer window. 

Chelsea's promising start to the campaign led to suggestions that the team could be realistic challengers for the Premier League title but the slump in performances appears to have ended talk of that possibility. 

Names being linked include former Juventus boss Max Allegri and Thomas Tuchel, the German who was recently replaced at Paris Saint-German by Mauricio Pochettino.

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However, Abramovich and Chelsea are only thought to be considering a change if they believe that a new boss could engineer improved performances from the club's galaxy of stars.

Lampard's fellow Premier League managers Ole Gunnar Solksjaer and Mikel Arteta have also endured prolonged periods of poor form during their tenures but recent evidence suggests that they have managed to reverse their fortunes - leading to suggestions that Lampard should be afforded similar time to turn things around.

Chelsea's upcoming games with Luton Town in the FA Cup and Wolves and Burnley in the Premier League are thought to be crucial for Lampard's future with the club, lest Abramovich decide to make a change at the top and install what would be his 13th manager since he purchased the club 18 years ago.

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January 21st 2021, 7:46 am

Mongolia’s PM resigns after mother and newborn weren’t given warm clothes during Covid-19 hospital t


Mongolia’s Prime Minister Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh has announced his resignation, after a woman who had just given birth wasn’t given warm clothes as she was being transferred for Covid-19 quarantine.

“Two days ago, a woman was transported to the National Center for Communicable Diseases in an irresponsible and inhumane manner,” the PM said on Thursday, apologizing for the incident. “I am a father. It was a heartbreaking experience for me as father and prime minister.”

Khurelsukh said he had been planning to work with “the whole team” in the cabinet, but that had become impossible after both the country’s deputy prime minister and health minister resigned on Wednesday. 

“Therefore, the Prime Minister should assume the responsibility upon himself and accept the demand from the public,” Khurelsukh said.

According to the Montsame news agency, on Tuesday, a television crew filmed a woman and her newborn baby being transferred from a maternity ward to an infectious diseases hospital where she would be quarantined.

The public was outraged that the woman was wearing only a hoody, sweatpants, and slippers as she was being transported in freezing weather to the ambulance by a medical worker in protective gear. The woman had been diagnosed with Covid-19 earlier that day.

The video quickly went viral, prompting people to stage a rally in the country’s capital Ulaanbaatar to demand that officials were held accountable for her treatment.

The hospital has apologized to the woman and her family.

Sparsely populated Mongolia has had only 1,584 cases of the coronavirus and two deaths. 

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January 21st 2021, 7:27 am

Knockout blow: Zidane raises a wry smile as Real Madrid suffer cup humiliation – then insists shock


Under-fire Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane told reporters to ask his players if they believed in him after their stunning cup exit to third-tier hosts, as the likes of Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema failed to prevent a huge upset.

Disbelieving fans turned on Zidane on social media after the Spanish giants crashed out of the Copa del Rey in dramatic fashion at numerically disadvantaged Alcoyano, who play in the Segunda Division B.

Supporters and experts had already been stunned by the underdogs' equalizer with 10 minutes of normal time remaining, only for the lowly home side - who were reduced to 10 men when they had a man sent off - to score the winner five minutes from the end of extra time.

Hazard, who has been massively underwhelming since arriving from Chelsea for a fee that could rise to $206 million, was introduced to no avail as a substitute, and top scorer Benzema also failed to find the net after coming off the bench.

Despite winning the Champions League three times as Madrid boss, Zidane has never come close to winning the domestic cup, leading to accusations that he does not treat the competition seriously.

The manner of the defeat, coming in a season when his side have lost to Shakhtar Donetsk twice in the Champions League and are four points off Liga leaders Atletico having played two games more, has intensified the pressure on the France legend.

Zidane was seen smiling as Alcoyano scored their second and defended his players afterwards. "I am the coach, the responsibility is mine and I am going to assume it," he responded.

"The players have tried. The responsibility is mine. It is difficult because we play against a Segunda B side and we have to win the game.

"It's not a shame, nothing like that. These are things that happen. We don't like to lose, we're not going to go crazy.

"We will think and we will continue working. I think the players believe in me, you have to ask them."

Madrid lost to Athletic Club in the Supercopa Espana last week and have won one of their last five matches.

"We worked, we tried," claimed Zidane. "Apart from the last games, we have played good games this season.

"Now we have to concentrate on the league and the Champions League. When you lose, things are always talked about.

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"I take responsibility and what will happen will happen. When we are on the field we try to win the game, but sometimes different things happen."

A trip to Alaves, who are a place and a point above the relegation zone, looks like an ideal opportunity to win a first away match in four when Madrid return to Liga action on Saturday.

"Think of it as the person who is currently managing Real Madrid," said one fan, encouraging others not to be swayed by Zidane's remarkable record of success at the club.

"If this continues, no-one deserves to stay as manager of the club - regardless of the name."

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January 21st 2021, 7:16 am

‘Get your act together’: Conor McGregor slams Novak Djokovic and whinging Australian Open tennis sta


UFC star Conor McGregor has issued furious criticism at Novak Djokovic and other tennis aces complaining about their quarantine requirements ahead of the Australian Open, telling the pampered players to "get their act together."

McGregor is days away from his return to the UFC octagon, where he will rematch former foe Dustin Poirier on "Fight Island" in Abu Dhabi.

The Dubliner has completed several periods of isolation in advance of being cleared to fight, and says that that top level sports stars shouldn't complain about their quarantine requirements - particularly ahead of a such a prestigious tournament.

World number one Novak Djokovic was among the players to petition authorities for a reduction of the mandated two-week period of isolation designed to inhibit the spread of Covid-19.

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The Serb also asked that players be allowed quarantine in private homes, and with access to tennis courts and their coaches.

Vanessa Sierra, the Instagram influencer girlfriend of Bernard Tomic, was also the target of social media rage after she released a vlog during her isolation alongside Tomic in which she complained, among other things, about having to wash her own hair.

McGregor isn't having any of it.

"I am surprised the tennis players would be kicking up," the Irishman said on Wednesday to Australian television.

"We have got to correct ourselves here, you know. There is a lot going on. There is a lot at risk. It is everyone’s duty here on this Earth to do what they can.

"To get to compete in such a prestigious tennis tournament or any tournament, a two-week lockdown prior - they should welcome that with open arms."

McGregor has been a vocal supporter of methods designed to curb the spread of the deadly virus since it emerged last year. Upon the first lockdown in his native country, he released a video message asking for patience and for his fans to obey the strict measures introduced by the government. 

He bought more than $1.2 million of medical equipment for Irish frontline health workers, ranging from personal protective equipment to ventilators.

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Ahead of his first fight since global sport was ravaged by Covid-19 last year, McGregor says that the complaining tennis players should realize the privileged position that they are in.

"I would urge the tennis players to get their act together and also embrace it and relish it and be happy they get to compete," he said.

"People can’t go to work and children can’t even go to school. Professional athletes are complaining about a bit of isolation? Come on, guys."

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January 21st 2021, 6:43 am

We’re all going to be trillionaires because US dollar has no bottom & bitcoin has no top – Max Keise


Hosts of the Keiser Report, Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert, look at the very large stimulus package the Biden Administration hopes to pass. The $1.9 trillion economic and healthcare relief plan was revealed last week.

This is said to be the largest economic response in US history, Stacy notes. “They are just throwing money while everybody is in lockdown an at home, the economy is in shambles, all the small businesses we think are closed, we have no more price signals,” she says. 

Max agrees, saying: “They’ve been arguing there won’t be inflation, now they are saying they will print some money.” He adds: “We are all going to be trillionaires because fiat has no bottom. The dollar has no bottom and bitcoin has no top. So contemplate this.”

For more stories on economy & finance visit RT's business section

January 21st 2021, 6:43 am

UK risks sparking diplomatic row after refusing to grant EU officials full diplomatic status


The UK has risked starting a row with the European Union, after refusing to grant full diplomatic status to João Vale de Almeida, the EU’s representative to the UK, as is traditionally granted to ambassadors.

The UK Foreign Office has refused to grant the status to the EU ambassador, which would extend to him privileges and immunities under the Vienna Convention, as it is hesitant to set a precedent of treating an international body like a nation state.

The decision could be seen as a post-Brexit snub, as it marks a stark contrast between the UK and the other 142 countries that have diplomatic relations with the bloc, where the EU has a representative that is treated in the same manner as other ambassadors.

While the EU has not publicly criticized the UK over the situation, its High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, has written to British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to express his “serious concerns”

The arrangements offered do not reflect the specific character of the EU, nor do they respond to the future relationship between the EU and the UK as an important third country.

If it is not resolved beforehand, the impasse between the EU and the UK is set to be raised at a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers on Monday, in the first such gathering of the political group since the Brexit transition period ended. 

The EU is concerned that, if the UK does not change its approach, countries that have a contentious relationship with the bloc could follow suit and change the way in which EU ambassadors are treated.

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office indicated that the current situation is subject to change, as discussions on the full future relationship between the UK and EU are still ongoing.

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January 21st 2021, 6:30 am

'Government becomes God': Jacobin's satirical cover literally idolizing Biden strikes nerve


The issue of Jacobin magazine covering the inauguration features a mock icon, complete with a halo around Biden's head, seraphim-like Clintons and angelic killer drones in the sky. Some don't seem to realize it is satire.

The cover for the winter edition of Jacobin, which was previewed hours after Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th US president, mercilessly mocks the US' habit of treating its politicians like celebrities. Taking the next logical step, it reimagines the new president as a messiah, borrowing imagery from traditional Christian iconography.

Biden's larger-than-life, bare-chested figure is shown surrounded by 'holy spirits' of Twitter and 'saints'. The latter include kneeling Democrat leaders in the US Congress, Dr. Anthony Fauci, fawning journalists and manager-class devotees eagerly consuming the 'holy scripture' from what is probably the latest Barack Obama memoir. The former president himself is shown as a six-winged seraphim bracketed by the likewise angelic Hillary and Bill Clinton, with the trio gazing benignly from the heavens. A crowd of mask-wearing suburban laymen on Earth celebrate Biden's ascension. A pair of Reaper drones complete the picture, providing a clear hint for the doubtful that the image should be taken with a grain of salt.

This wasn't enough for some commenters, however, who seem to be taking it as a genuine piece of idolatry rather than political commentary.

Describing Trump supporters as a cult has become a trope among his Democratic critics. Which seems ironic, considering how the very same crowd in the past four years tended to invest emotionally in whoever they hoped would end Trump's presidency. Special Counsel Robert Muller probably received the lion's share of the prayers, though figures like ex-FBI director James Comey or even Trump's fixer-turned-critic Michael Cohen basked in some limelight.

The Biden hagiography reached an ear-piercing pitch during the inauguration week. A CNN host saw a vision of the president-elect's arms embracing America in the lighting of the Lincoln memorial, while a New York Times editor confessed to experiencing chills upon Biden landing at Joint Base Andrews. One could be excused for seeing such accounts as quasi-religious.

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January 21st 2021, 6:13 am

‘Great cover, guys’: UK’s New Statesman magazine mocked for copying rival Spectator’s Biden-themed f


British liberal magazine the New Statesman has found itself under heavy scrutiny and the subject of mockery after ripping off a front cover – almost exactly – from conservative rival the Spectator.

The New Statesman unveiled its latest cover on Wednesday, showing a likeness of US President Joe Biden hunched over with a globe on his back. The image was captioned “Biden’s burden.”

While it drew some compliments, it wasn’t long before the Spectator’s deputy editor, Freddy Gray, pointed out on Twitter that it was a near-carbon copy of a December cover published by his own magazine.

“Great cover, guys. We did something, er, vaguely similar last year,” Gray commented, posting an image of the practically identical Spectator front page.

The Spectator’s original cover also portrayed a hunched-over Biden with the heavy weight of a globe on his back, and even had the same caption, “Biden’s burden.” The only difference between the two was that the Spectator’s illustration was in more of a caricature style and showed Biden wearing a blue tie instead of a red one.

“Love it!” weighed in Spectator Chairman Andrew Neil, jokingly.

Spectator readers also bombarded the New Statesman Twitter feed with comments, one calling the situation “comedy gold.”

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“Running out of ideas, are we?” asked one user, while another wrote, “I assumed that was the @spectator from last year, when I saw the picture. Still, imitation is the highest form of flattery.”

It’s not clear whether the copy was intentional and straightforward plagiarism, a subconscious mistake, or a total coincidence. The New Statesman has not commented publicly on the incident.

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January 21st 2021, 6:00 am

Re-Juve-nation? Record-chaser Cristiano Ronaldo admits Juventus needed confidence as cup win follows


Cristiano Ronaldo may have broken another record to become the top goal scorer in the history of football as Juventus won the Italian Super Cup, but the phenomenal striker accepts the club's title hopes are firmly in the balance.

Ronaldo struck with less than half an hour of the showpiece remaining to break the deadlock against Napoli, although Juve survived a scare when Lorenzo Insigne missed a penalty before Alvaro Morata scored with the last kick of the game to ensure boss Andrea Pirlo won his first trophy as a manager.

That goal alone could represent a cause of celebration for Ronaldo, as some statisticians say it puts him one goal ahead of five-time Ballon d'Or winner Josef Bican as the highest scorer of all time.

Official FIFA figures show that the Czech legend remains 45 goals ahead of Ronaldo, on 805, and there is an ongoing debate over Pele's questionable claim to have scored more than 1,000 goals - but Ronaldo is more concerned about his misfiring side's chances of failing to win the Italian Serie A for the first time since 2011.

There was an element of relief to the cup final win after Juventus lost 2-0 at Inter Milan on Sunday, leaving them languishing seven points behind their second-placed title rivals and a mammoth 10 points short of leaders AC Milan, on whom they have a game in hand.

A defeat at the San Siro is not necessarily an indication of demise, but the result brought an abrupt halt to a run of three league wins - including a much-needed 3-1 win at Milan - since a disastrous 3-0 home defeat against Fiorentina in their final game of 2020.

“We showed a different attitude to the bad performance against Inter," Ronaldo told RAI Sport after collecting his fourth trophy since he joined from Real Madrid in 2018.

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"That is the past, this is a very important trophy and we hope this can give the team more confidence going into the future.

“We are very happy with the win. It was difficult, especially as the pitch was terrible, but we got it done.

“Milan and Inter are very strong but I believe we have what it takes to win. It’s going to be very difficult, but I believe the Scudetto [Italian title] is still possible.”

Legendary Italy midfielder Pirlo, who has faced criticism in his first senior managerial role, said he felt "great joy" and described winning a cup as a coach as "different".

"I think [it is] even better than as a player, because I am leading such a great squad and at an historic club," he purred. "It’s wonderful.

“It’s rare that two teams play well in a final. The important thing is to win. When you play with this determination, then luck can go on your side.

“We wanted to prove that we are not the team seen against Inter, so when you play with this grit, determination and attitude, you draw luck your way.

“Since the start of the season we’ve been trying to play this fluid style of football, but unfortunately every week someone is missing, so it’s difficult for us to keep the same line-up with any regularity.

“After the game the other night, we didn’t deserve that much criticism considering all we’ve done this season - so I am glad they got this trophy tonight.”

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“[Scrutiny is] part of the game. It’s easy to build people up and knock them down. I’m used to it, though, as I had ups and downs in a very long playing career.

"I know there’s a solid club behind me, so I can focus and continue doing my work.

"It’s natural there is going to be criticism when you come from nowhere to lead Juventus, but the results will speak for me and the team.”

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January 21st 2021, 5:43 am

Sino-US relations need mine clearance, bridge construction, and road repair, says China


The Chinese foreign ministry has welcomed the emphasis on unity and healing in President Biden’s inauguration speech, but warned there is a considerable amount of work to be done to repair Sino-US relations.

Speaking on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters she was hopeful relations between Beijing and Washington would improve, after she had watched President Joe Biden’s inauguration speech. 

“The past few years have been particularly difficult. I think, after experiencing some very difficult and extraordinary times, the people of China and the United States deserve a better future,” Hua stated.

The spokeswoman highlighted the challenges left by the departed Trump administration, and criticized the former US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

In the past few years, the Trump administration, especially Pompeo, has laid too many mines in Sino-US relations which need to be cleared, burned too many bridges which need reconstruction, and destroyed too many roads which are now in need of repair.

“As long as you make up your mind, everything is possible. I believe that with the joint efforts of both sides, the good angels in Sino-US relations will surely defeat the evil forces.” Hua added. 

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Speaking on Tuesday, Biden’s secretary of state pick, Antony Blinken, told Congress he supported Trump’s hardline stance on China, citing Beijing’s intention to become the dominant world power and undermine American interests. 

US-China relations have soured further over the past few months, with Washington intensifying its campaign against Chinese influence.

In recent months, the Trump administration had introduced numerous anti-China sanctions, blacklisted Chinese companies, and, in Beijing's opinion, meddled in its domestic interests in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang, and the South China Sea.

Blinken also said he agreed with Pompeo’s criticisms of Chinese treatment of minority citizens.

“Forcing men, women, and children into concentration camps, trying to in effect re-educate them to be adherents to the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party – all of that speaks to an effort to commit genocide,” Blinken stated.

China dismissed these accusations on Wednesday as “outrageous lies” and “poison.”

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January 21st 2021, 5:43 am

Russian political parties unite into new electoral bloc ahead of national vote later this year


Three opposition parties from across Russia’s political spectrum have announced that they will join forces, in a bid to win parliamentary seats at this Autumn’s legislative elections.

Sergey Mironov, of the left-of-center ‘Fair Russia’ party, told journalists on Wednesday that his group would be merging with the more populist ‘For Truth’ grouping and the socialist ‘Patriots of Russia’ faction.

In comments reported by the Interfax newswire, Mironov said that “after long negotiations that I have been conducting over the past two years, a decision has been made  in principle that there will soon be a merger of the three political parties.”

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Mironov’s party is, at present, the only one with elected representation in the State Duma, the Russian parliament’s lower house. With 23 deputies, it is the fourth largest grouping after the governing United Russia, the Communist Party and the right-wing LDPR. Both Fair Russia and the LDPR support the government as part of a confidence-and-supply agreement.

As the leader of the largest faction in the newly created entity, Mironov has said he will position himself as the bloc’s leader. “I hope my colleagues will support my candidacy, and  there will be two co-chairmen,” he said. “As for the name of the party, it will be a long one. It’s likely to sound something like "Fair Russia - For Truth.”

The politician presented the move as a win for left-wing politics in the country, insisting that “we are uniting and counting on the consolidation of all patriotic forces on the left in the run-up to the State Duma elections [later this year].” “Leftist ideas have a huge influence and great popularity in our country, and today we call for the unification of all leftist forces,” he added.

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Russia will head to the polls no later than September this year to vote on the composition of the Duma. In 2016, United Russia drew almost 55 percent of the vote, earning a super-majority in the lower house, with 343 out of 450 seats. Half of the available seats are drawn from a proportional representation system, while the remainder are elected to specific constituencies in a winner-takes-all race.

There has been speculation that a series of reforms could be introduced to rebalance the system in favor of more local representation, allocating a quarter of available seats to parties through proportional representation.

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January 21st 2021, 5:13 am

Fire breaks out at India's Serum Institute, world's biggest vaccine maker


A fire has broken out at a production facility belonging to the world’s largest vaccine producer, the Serum Institute of India. The company’s top brass have said Covid vaccine production isn’t impacted.


January 21st 2021, 5:13 am

Work-from-home option leaving big cities nearly empty, as RT’s Boom Bust discovers


San Francisco is now struggling with a mass exodus of tech workers due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with city leaders warning that this will have a severe economic impact.

RT’s Boom Bust discusses the issue with Jeffrey Tucker, Editorial Director for the American Institute for Economic Research to explore what the future of remote work could mean for the economy.

“The numerous researches that have been done since the pandemic lockdowns began shows that there’s been a decline year-over-year of apartment prices by about 25 percent,”  said Boom Bust co-host Ben Swann.

He added that tech workers continued moving away from such places as San Francisco, where the cost of living is ungodly and they don’t have to physically be in an office.

Jeffrey Tucker expects a huge and dramatic shift for the entire real-estate sector, as occupancy rates of commercial properties and residential properties in major cities are far lower.

“I’m expecting a dramatic deflationary pressure to hit all big cities, such as New York and Chicago,” the economist said. “A lot of properties as we continue to reopen the economy over 2021 are going to be bought by large businesses, conglomerates, probably, a lot of foreign companies.”

For more stories on economy & finance visit RT's business section

January 21st 2021, 5:13 am

Beijing tightens testing and quarantine rules in effort to curb risks from massive Chinese Lunar New


China will require fresh negative Covid-19 tests for people wishing to visit their home towns during the Lunar New Year celebrations. Officials fear that traditional holiday travel could undermine the fight against the virus.

The Lunar New Year travel phenomenon, when millions leave big cities for rural areas to spend time with parents and relatives, has been described as the biggest annual migration in the world.

Chinese authorities fear that unchecked mass movement can wipe out all the success in containing Covid-19.

The National Health Commission said on Wednesday that those wishing to visit their home towns and villages will have to submit a negative coronavirus test at least seven days before the trip. Once they arrive, they also have to quarantine for two weeks and get tested every seven days, while paying for the tests themselves.

Companies were urged to discourage employees from holiday travel with bonuses and gifts, and some cities will provide subsidies for migrant workers choosing to stay.

“Encouraging people to celebrate the holiday in cities where they work is expected to largely reduce population flows, which is of great significance for epidemic control,” a senior health official, Chen Yongjia, was quoted by Chinese media as saying. 

More than 20 provinces issued notices earlier this month, asking people to refrain from “unnecessary” travel. Localities across China have taken steps to limit family gatherings and enacted additional restrictions on activities in hotels and restaurants, as well as on weddings and funerals.

Overall, authorities are bracing for around 1.7 billion trips this holiday season, the Global Times reported.

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China was the first nation to be hit by a Covid-19 outbreak early last year. Beijing managed to largely contain the spread of the virus through strict lockdowns and a vigorous mass testing program.

However, clusters of infection have been popping up across the country, prompting new lockdowns.

Health officials recorded 144 new cases on Wednesday, which is the highest daily number of infections since March 1, 2020. According to the Global Times, there were nearly 760 locally-transmitted cases in China over the past week, and the number of people under “medical observation” was at its highest level since October.

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January 21st 2021, 5:13 am

Silk Road trade on track: Freight train sets off from China to Russia, drastically cutting travel ti


A special China-Europe freight train departed from Dongguan in South China’s Guangdong province to Russia on Wednesday. It will arrive in Moscow within 15 days, cutting the travel time by two-thirds compared with the sea route.

According to China Daily, the train is loaded with 50 containers of goods made by the Guangdong-based Midea Group company, a leading home-appliance manufacturer. It is the first export train used by a local home-appliance company since Guangdong opened its China-Europe freight service in 2015.

The special train service will improve the export of goods made in Guangdong to the European market amid the global Covid pandemic, said Sinotrans, the operator of the China-Europe freight service in Dongguan. The number of Sinotrans-operated China-Europe freight trains traveling from South China reached 686 last year, and comprised 61,324 standard containers worth about $3 billion.

Initiated in 2011, the China-Europe rail transport service is considered a significant part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to boost trade between China and other countries participating in the program. The ambitious multi-trillion-dollar initiative was announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013.

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More than 140 countries and international organizations have inked agreements on jointly building the project since then.

The BRI aims to boost connectivity and cooperation between East Asia, Europe, and East Africa. It is expected to significantly boost global trade, cutting trading costs by half for the countries involved, according to expert estimates.

According to the China State Railway Group, a record 12,400 freight-train trips between China and Europe were made in 2020. That’s up 50 percent on the previous year, the railway operator said.

For more stories on economy & finance visit RT's business section

January 21st 2021, 4:59 am

Double suicide bombing hits Baghdad, killing at least 13 and injuring around 25 others


The Iraqi government has confirmed social media reports of two suicide bombings in the country’s capital, with the explosions in central Baghdad killing at least 13 and injuring around 25 others.

Two explosions were heard in Tayaran Square, Baghdad by witnesses after suicide bombers are believed to have detonated explosive vests in the area's busy marketplace. 

In response to the attack, Iraq has deployed intense security measures and closed roads around the site of the attack, establishing a green zone while they evaluate the extent of the casualties and damage caused, according to state media.

While there are reportedly 13 confirmed fatalities and 25 injuries at the moment, that number is expected to rise, according to local police.

The country has been on high security alert since the beginning of this month over concerns of a potential attack, and local authorities have been conducting field inspections around Baghdad International Airport as part of an operation to find and disarm any unauthorized weapons. It's not clear if this incident is linked to that security threat.

So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombings. 

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January 21st 2021, 4:40 am

Schools will be the first to reopen, says UK education minister, but high rate of Covid infection me


The British education secretary has said schools will be given a two-week warning before reopening, but getting kids back into class is the government’s priority when lockdown is relaxed.

Speaking on Thursday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told Sky News he was “not able to exactly say” when pupils would return to class. 

Schools were the last to close. Schools will very much be the first to open.

The Education Secretary said the safety of the children and workforce was “at the heart” of the government’s strategy, adding that “teachers are no more vulnerable” than the national average.

“I think everyone across the country wants to see Britain exiting lockdown at the earliest possible stage. The evidence that we’ve been seeing is that it is having an impact,” Williamson said.

The education secretary defended the government’s move to shut schools for everyone except vulnerable pupils and children of key workers, among other U-turns the Department for Education has made during the pandemic.

Williamson also noted the need to react to the science, and claimed the government had to make swift decisions – “decisions we didn’t always think we’d have to make”. 

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Schools have been closed across the UK since early January in an effort to stem the spread of Covid-19. On Wednesday, England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jenny Harries, said schools may reopen region by region after the February half-term holiday. 

Despite infections reducing, case numbers remain worryingly high across the UK. On Wednesday, the health authorities recorded 38,905 new cases.

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January 21st 2021, 4:27 am

As Sputnik V rolls out & Covid-19 numbers fall, Moscow bucks European trend by lifting restrictions


Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin has announced the relaxation of some of the city’s Covid-19 restrictions, following a decline in recorded infection numbers since the turn of the year and a fall in cases requiring hospitalization.

Sobyanin explained that the welcome trend in Europe’s largest capital means he can partially lift what is already a much softer lockdown than those imposed in comparable conurbations across the continent. The lifting of measures will see the city’s colleges and children’s leisure facilities return to regular working hours, but university students will continue with remote learning. In the struggling arts and leisure sectors, theaters, cinemas, and concert halls have also been thrown a lifeline, with capacity increased from 25 percent to 50 percent.

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The announcement, which comes into force on Friday, also includes the reopening of museums and libraries, and allows mass entertainment and cultural events to resume, but at 50 percent capacity limit. There is, however, no easing up on nightlife, with clubs and bars still being forced to shut at 11pm. This, however, is a far more liberal arrangement than exists in places like London, Paris and Berlin, where the trade has been totally shutdown.

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The decision to ease restrictions comes after a significant decrease in the number of confirmed daily infections. On December 31, Moscow registered new 6,566 cases of Covid-19. Three weeks later, the city has seen this drop to between 2,000 and 4,000 per day. This has also led to a considerable reduction in hospitalizations, with the city now having more than 9,000 empty and available beds.

The mayor also noted how 220,000 Muscovites have already been vaccinated against the virus.

“These are the conditions which we have to live with, in the coming weeks,” Sobyanin wrote on his personal blog. “I sincerely hope that the improvement of the epidemiological situation will continue, and then we will be able to reduce the other still-remaining restrictions.”

Large-scale immunization began in the Russian capital in the first week of December, initially for at-risk groups, such as teachers, nurses, and those with pre-existing conditions. Week-by-week, the eligibility list has expanded to include more sections of society. On January 13, President Vladimir Putin announced the imminent start of nationwide mass vaccination.

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January 21st 2021, 4:10 am

Russian conscript who killed 8 fellow soldiers after ‘humiliating’ treatment at secret nuclear base


A military court has sentenced Ramil Shamsutdinov, a 22-year-old former conscript, to almost a quarter of a century behind bars for a shooting at an army base in Russia’s Far East that left eight dead and two seriously injured.

On Thursday, the Second Eastern District Military Court handed Shamsutdinov  a sentence of 24 and a half years in a maximum-security prison colony. He will also have to pay a fine of 9.8 million rubles ($130,000) by way of compensation to his victims and their families.

The attack, at a barracks in Gorny, Zabaykalsky Krai, a remote part of Russia located close to the border with Mongolia, took place in October last year. The base is home to a secretive unit charged with defending nuclear weapons installations. It was reported that, during a firearms training session, Shamsutdinov loaded a magazine into an AK-47 rifle and opened fire on fellow soldiers. A specialist anti-terror detachment present at the base responded to the gunshots within the space of two minutes, and the gunman quietly surrendered.

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Defense attorneys had asked for more lenient treatment from the court to reflect what they say was intense psychological pressure placed on the young conscript as part of the training. During the trial, they claimed he had been humiliated by officers, including being deprived of sleep and forced to clean the toilet under threat of it being “wiped with his face.” The treatment is alleged to been part of a wider culture of “hazing” new recruits in the Russian armed forces, in which most men serve at least a year between the ages of 18 and 27.

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However, while the jury acknowledged the need for some leniency, Shamsutdinov’s sentence is only six months shy of the 25 years requested by prosecutors. Relatives of the deceased had previously pushed for a much larger fine of 28 million rubles ($380,000) in compensation. Shamsutdinov’s lawyers called those demands “unfounded,” however, and noted that compensation had already been paid by the Ministry of Defense.

Ahead of the verdict on Wednesday, Shamsutdinov’s father spoke to the news site, saying he was unable to afford to travel to hear his son’s verdict in person. “He didn’t shoot those people on purpose,” he said. “He was in an emotional state … From his face, I can tell he’s not happy that he survived.” The case has opened a debate in Russia about the treatment of conscripts.

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January 21st 2021, 3:40 am

Merkel pushes for coordinated bans on UK arrivals to EU due to new variant of coronavirus – British


German Chancellor Angela Merkel has allegedly proposed that Brussels allows EU countries to shut their borders to UK travellers following the emergence of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus, a report claims.

EU nations would be “free to impose temporary bans on entry and on transporting passengers entering from [non-EU] countries with virus-variants areas,” the Times reported on Thursday, citing a draft proposal submitted to Brussels by Berlin.

According to the paper, the move is being wholly backed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and emphasizes “an urgent need to act in order to prevent or at least slow down the spread of worrying virus variants to and within the EU area.”

European countries were thrown into panic mode when a more contagious variant of the coronavirus was discovered in Britain late last year. More than 40 states quickly suspended flights from the UK in December.

The most dramatic situation had unfolded in the Port of Dover, where thousands of truck drivers became stranded on the French border just days before Christmas. The crisis was resolved after urgent talks between Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson and France’s President Emmanuel Macron.

Germany now reportedly seeks to avoid a possible repeat of the traffic chaos that occurred at Dover. The Times quoted Berlin’s proposal as saying that fellow EU nations must guarantee “cross-border transport of goods and supplies” when considering bans on arrivals from non-EU states.

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The measures seem to be in line with earlier recommendations by Brussels to take coordinated steps against the threat of the new variant of the virus in the UK. In December, EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders urged member states to “discourage non-essential travel between the UK and the EU.”

The report also comes as Covid-19 restrictions were tightened in the Netherlands, Austria and parts of Germany.

The UK was relaxing restrictions throughout the summer, but was forced to reverse its policy when the infection rate rapidly increased in autumn. England went into its third lockdown shortly after New Year, and all services in London were placed on emergency mode.

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January 21st 2021, 3:27 am

Saudi Arabia remained China’s top oil supplier in 2020


For most of last year, Saudi Arabia—the largest oil exporter in the world—and its key partner in the OPEC+ deal, Russia, were head-to-head in a very close race for the top spot as the biggest crude oil supplier to China.

In the end, Saudi Arabia edged past Russia, shipping on average 1.69 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil to China, according to data from China’s General Administration of Customs cited by Reuters.

Saudi oil exports to China grew by 1.9 percent year over year in 2020.

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Russia’s exports saw larger growth last year than the rise in Saudi exports, 7.6 percent compared to 2019. Yet, the total average volume of Russian oil sales to China stood at 1.67 million bpd, just around 20,000 bpd on average lower than the Saudi shipments, according to Reuters estimates of the Chinese customs data in tons.

This means that Saudi Arabia was the top supplier to China for a second year in a row, after clinching the top spot from Russia in 2019. In that year, Saudi Arabia significantly raised its crude sales to the world’s largest oil importer, boosting its exports to China by 47 percent and beating Russia for the top Chinese supplier spot for the first time in four years.

In 2020, Iraq was the third-biggest supplier of crude oil to China, while Brazil was fourth, capitalising on the buying binge of Chinese refiners in the spring and summer when oil prices were at multi-year lows. 

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Also of note in 2020, China more than tripled its crude oil imports from the United States to 394,000 bpd, after refiners accelerated US crude purchases in the latter part of the year as part of the US-China trade deal. Despite the higher US crude oil shipments, China’s total purchases of American energy products were just 38.7 percent of the $25.3 billion target in the deal, according to Reuters estimates.

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January 21st 2021, 2:24 am

Gloves are off for meme-makers as mittened Bernie becomes instant hit following inauguration ceremon


While mainstream media fawned over the fashion choices of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, it was undoubtedly the apparel worn by Bernie Sanders for the inauguration ceremony that warmed the hearts of the public most profoundly.

The Vermont senator came to witness President Biden's swearing-in ceremony dressed for cold weather in a winter coat and cozy mittens – a gift he received from a teacher a few years ago. Combined with a relaxed 'I'm just biding my time' posture as Sanders sat on a folding chair, his appearance made such good meme material that few could resist.

One of the most obvious places to superimpose the beloved senator, of course, was the office to which he'd aspired before being undercut by Biden and his centrist backers. Yes, Bernie fans, this could have happened in a different universe.

With a bit of time travel (or Photoshop) involved, the senator also seamlessly blended in with Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin during their meeting to draw the borders of the post-war world.

Some fictional universes could find a place for him too, memesmiths decided. After all, Bernie clearly knew that the winter was coming.

In the eyes of some, Sanders is a national treasure.

But he could also have a seat at the table of great superheroes of old, with a bit of inking and coloring applied.

There are tons and tons more mittened Bernie memes out there.

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January 21st 2021, 2:24 am

China ramps up iron ore imports from India by nearly 90% to meet growing demand


The world’s top steel producer, China, bought 44.8 million tons of iron ore from India last year, according to customs data. The 88 percent increase comes as Beijing diversifies from traditional suppliers like Australia.

Shipments from India were the highest in nine years, statistics showed. Australia and Brazil remained China’s top suppliers in 2020. Australian shipments rose seven percent to 713 million tons, while Brazilian supplies were up 3.5 percent at 235.7 million tons.

“The two countries’ rise could not fully meet China’s demand,” said Tang Chuanlin, an analyst with Citic Securities, as quoted by the South China Morning Post. “Mills had to buy from other countries,” he added.

China relies heavily on imported iron ore to fulfil more than two-thirds of its steel mills demand, which was boosted by Beijing’s stimulus for infrastructure. The country has churned out a record 1.05 billion tons of crude steel in 2020.

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According to Tang, last year Chinese steel firms were using more low-grade ore, like India’s, in an attempt to lower costs.

India’s Federation of Mineral Industries said it expected that purchases from China “will continue until March on strong demand,” but added it was too difficult to predict demand beyond then.

Spot prices of iron ore with 62 percent iron content for delivery to China soared 73 percent in 2020, while 58 percent iron ore skyrocketed 91 percent, according to SteelHome consultancy.

For more stories on economy & finance visit RT's business section

January 21st 2021, 2:24 am

So much for MAGApocalypse: Antifa rampage in Seattle & Portland follows Biden’s inauguration (VIDEOS


Left-wing rioters have gathered in Seattle and Portland to burn flags, break windows, and destroy property just hours after Democrat President Joe Biden was inaugurated. Their right-wing counterparts, however, were absent.

Groups of black-clad Antifa rioters took to the streets in Portland and Seattle, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake as they protested the inauguration of President Joe Biden along with their usual targets, law enforcement and racism.

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In Seattle, demonstrators set multiple American flags on fire as they blocked traffic and defaced property on Wednesday night.

Photos posted by the Seattle Police Department and others on the ground showed extensive graffiti and broken glass at several locations.

At least two of the rioters were arrested for property damage and assault.

Meanwhile, over 100 rioters descended on Portland, wreaking havoc and destroying property just a few hours after Biden’s inauguration ceremony. The so-called “J20 Protest” was advertised as an anti-Biden, anti-police event also aimed at supporting indigenous people’s rights, according to local ABC affiliate KATU. 

The group targeted the Democratic Party of Oregon building for special destruction, breaking windows, spray painting graffiti (including “anarchy” symbols and a “F**k Biden”), and overturning dumpsters. Some held signs with slogans including “We are ungovernable,” “A new world from the ashes,” and “We don’t want Biden – we want revenge.”

Portland police told local media they arrested eight people on charges including rioting, reckless burning, possession of a destructive device, and criminal mischief. There were at least two other post-inauguration protests scheduled for Wednesday.

Despite widespread hype about Trump supporters plotting to overtake state capitals on Wednesday, however, law enforcement agencies detailed to the Oregon Capitol building reportedly encountered more journalists than angry conservatives.

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January 21st 2021, 12:22 am

‘Let the Hunger Games begin’? Biden’s inauguration draws dystopian fiction comparisons as new presid


President Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony has triggered countless comparisons to ‘The Hunger Games,’ as viewers found eerie parallels to the sci-fi flick, whose dystopian themes are a far cry from the new POTUS’ “unity” message.

While pop star Lady Gaga helped to kick off Biden’s swearing-in on Wednesday afternoon with a performance of the national anthem, observers appeared more enthralled with her oversized broach. Netizens immediately likened the pin to the iconic ‘Mockingjay’ of Hunger Games fame – the symbol of the film’s fictitious rebellion against the despotic ‘Capitol.’

The uncanny resemblance was not lost on the film’s official Twitter handle, which joked “we’re missing one of our mockingjay pins, has anybody seen it?”

Though the singer earlier clarified that the pin is, in fact, a “dove carrying an olive branch,” that did little to stem the comparisons to the film – in which the ruling Capitol forces youths to fight to the death each year in a bloody battle royale, a punishment for a failed revolution by the movie’s 12 oppressed ‘districts.’

The similarities did not end with Gaga. During Biden’s inauguration address, he dubbed “unity” as the “beating heart” of American democracy, echoing a speech by the Hunger Games’ fictional President Coriolanus Snow, who dubbed the authoritarian Capitol the “beating heart” of the nation.

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“The districts are the body. The Capitol is the beating heart. Your hard work feeds us, and in return we feed and protect you. But if you resist the system and starve yourselves, it is you who will bleed,” Snow says in the third installment of the film series as a warning against rebellion – also referred to as the “dark days” in the movie, perhaps not far off from Biden’s prediction of a “dark winter” amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The ‘Hunger Games’ parallels were not the only time life imitated art during Wednesday’s inauguration event, with netizens also finding likeness to franchises from ‘Star Wars’ to ‘Game of Thrones.’

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January 20th 2021, 11:07 pm
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