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COVID variants, found in UK and South Africa, travel the world

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said a variant of the coronavirus, which could be up to 70% more transmissible, is spreading rapidly in Britain. A separate variant, first found in South Africa, is also causing concern, writes Nick Macfie.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says there is not enough information to determine whether the new variants could undermine vaccines being rolled out internationally.

The following countries are among those that have reported variants of the novel coronavirus, first identified in China a year ago, among their populations.

* SWITZERLAND has documented five cases of the variant from Britain and two cases of the South African mutation, a health ministry official said on Tuesday, adding he anticipates more cases will emerge.

* DENMARK has identified 33 infections with the variant spreading in Britain, authorities said on 24 December.

* FRANCE, with the highest number of coronavirus cases in the European Union, recorded its first case of a variant in a Frenchman arriving back from London.

* INDIA has found six cases of a variant of the coronavirus on a flight from Britain and will likely extend a flight ban to guard against it, officials said on Tuesday.

* JAPAN on Monday (28 December) detected the variant found in South Africa, the government said, the first such discovery in a nation that has already identified more than a dozen cases of the variant spreading in Britain.

* SOUTH KOREA said the variant found in Britain was found in three people who had entered South Korea from London on 22 December. Officials vowed to speed up vaccinations.

* NORWAY said the variant circulating in Britain had been detected in two people who arrived from the United Kingdom earlier in December.

* AUSTRALIA said two travellers from the United Kingdom were carrying the variant found in Britain.

* JORDAN has detected its first two cases of the variant spreading in Britain. The kingdom last week banned flights to and from Britain until 3 January.

* GERMANY said the variant from Britain had been found in a passenger flying to Frankfurt from London on 20 December. It seems to have been present in Germany since November, the Die Welt daily reported on Monday (28 December).

* ITALY detected a patient infected with the variant found in Britain, the health ministry said on 20 December.

* The variant linked to Britain has been detected on the island of Madeira in PORTUGAL, the regional civil protection authority said.

* Health officials in FINLAND said the variant circulating in Britain has been detected in two people, while the variant spreading in South Africa has been detected in one other person.

* SWEDEN said the variant circulating in Britain had been detected after a traveller from Britain fell ill on arrival and tested positive.

* Officials in CANADA said that two confirmed cases of the variant detected in the United Kingdom had appeared in the Canadian province of Ontario.

* IRELAND on Christmas Day confirmed the presence of the British variant and said further testing would establish how far it has spread.

* LEBANON detected its first case of a variant of the coronavirus on a flight arriving from London.

* UNITED ARAB EMIRATES discovered a “limited number” of cases of people infected with a new variant, a government official said on Tuesday (29 December). He said those affected had travelled from abroad, without specifying from where or the number of cases.

* SINGAPORE confirmed its first case of the variant found in Britain, the patient arriving from Britain on 6 December, while 11 others who were already in quarantine had returned preliminarily positive results for the new strain.

* ISRAEL detected four cases of the coronavirus emerging in Britain. Three of the cases were returnees from England.

* The variant spreading in Britain appears to have infected two students who returned to HONG KONG from the UK, the Department of Health said last week.

* PAKISTAN health officials said on Tuesday the variant found in Britain had been detected in the southern province of Sindh.

* And yet another variant of the coronavirus may have emerged in NIGERIA, the head of Africa’s disease control body said, cautioning that more investigation was needed.

Central African Republic (CAR)

Tensions in Central Africa: Forcible recruitment, killings and looting among rebels' confessions

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Rebels who attacked the capital of the Central African Republic do not understand what they are fighting for. Central African Republic television showed footage of an interrogation of one of the rebels captured during the attack on Bangui, who said that opponents of the current CAR authorities keep rank-and-file fighters in the dark about their plans and objectives.

'They do not understand what they are doing'

"After the gendarmerie questioned some of the rebels arrested in the attempted attack on the capital Bangui, one of the detainees said they were forcibly recruited into armed groups, did not know what they were doing, and according to the detainees, they belonged to the 3R group operating in the Nana-Grébizi area," Bangui-24 reported.

The Central African media point out that according to those arrested, the rebels follow the orders of their commanders without understanding the objectives and consequences, and they have not been told that they will fight against the Government of the Central African Republic.

This description of the situation from a direct participant in the fighting against the central government shows that the current escalation of tensions in CAR is largely artificial.

Since December 2020, the Central African Republic has witnessed an escalating confrontation between opposition fighters and the government of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra.

On the eve of the presidential elections scheduled for December 27, a number of militias declared their unification in the "Coalition of Patriots for Change" (CPC) and tried to raise an uprising and even seized several settlements. The authorities of the CAR and the UN said that former president François Bozizé, whom the judicial authorities of the CAR removed from the elections, was behind the revolt

Bozizé, who had come to power in 2003 in a coup d'état, was previously accused of genocide and is under UN sanctions. The opposition "Coalition of Democratic Opposition" COD-2020, from which Bozizé had been previously nominated for the presidency, called for the elections to be postponed.

A number of media outlets cited the alleged lack of dialogue in CAR society as the reason for the uprising.  However, the fighters' confessions are more likely to show that they were simply used. They did not feel disadvantaged or seek any kind of dialogue at all.

"It follows that the people of the Central African Republic are being recruited and manipulated by the warlords not because of a lack of dialogue, but because of the interests of those who will benefit from the conflict in the future," Bangui Matin said.

The real face of the 'opposition' in the CAR

The situation in the Central African Republic is still very difficult. A few days ago the world media reported about another attempt of the militants to storm the capital. However, so far it and most of the territory of the country are under the control of the government troops. They are supported by the UN peacekeepers (MINUSCA) and the Rwandan troops, who arrived at the call of the Central African government. Russian instructors were also present in the country to train the CAR troops. However, AFP says that Moscow allegedly plans to withdraw the 300 specialists who arrived in CAR on the eve of the December 27 elections.

The current president of the CAR is in fact the first head of state in 20 years to be elected by direct popular vote in compliance with all necessary procedures. According to the Central Electoral Commission of the Central African Republic, he received 53.9% of the vote in the December elections and thus won already in the first round.

But this victory in a democratic election is yet to be defended by President Touadéra in the face of armed blackmail by bandits.

According to a young man shown on CAR television, he was recruited by the guerrillas at a very young age near the town of Kaga-Bandoro. This is further evidence of the use of child soldiers in African conflicts and a stain on the reputation of ex-President Bozizé, who does not shy away from collaborating with groups who allow themselves to do so.

According to a militant interrogated by the CAR gendarmerie, in his region the 3Rs were originally made up of members of the Peuhl (Fulani) ethnic group, a cross-border people living in most of West Africa and the Sahel. Although the Fulani fighters were initially supposed to defend their settlements, they quickly switched to looting villages and other illegal activities. The militant also said that his group had been active for years in the areas of Dékoa, Sibut, and Kaga.

As Bangui Matin notes, the actions of the group to which the militant, questioned the day before by the CAR gendarmerie, belonged took place in the places where Russian journalists Orkhan Dzhemal, Alexander Rastorguev and Kirill Radchenko were killed in 2018.

" These armed elements could be involved in the case of the assassination of the Russian journalists killed on the Sibut-Dekoa axis," notes Bangui Matin.

According to the official version of the Russian investigation, the journalists were killed during an attempted robbery.  Western media connects the murder of journalists with their investigation of Russian PMCs activity in the CAR. The same is stated by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a critic of Putin's regime and former head of Yukos oil company. Also in Russia, there was a version put forward about the involvement of French intelligence and Khodorkovsky himself in the killing of journalists.

On the eve of the attack, the army of the Central African Republic liberated the outskirts of the town of Sibut, where the journalists had been killed.

The 3R group is responsible for numerous murders and robberies. In particular, they killed 46 unarmed civilians in the Ouham-Pendé prefecture in 2019. The group's head, Sidiki Abbas, is under UN and U.S. sanctions

The CAR has remained a dangerous country for foreigners for years. Back in 2014, the murder of French photojournalist Camille Lepage shocked the journalistic community. Above all, however, it is the population of the republic that mostly suffers from the ongoing civil war. No one can even count the number of killed civilians. Thousands have died in a war that has been raging for 10 years with only minor breaks between factions and the central government. The chances of restoring order came under President Touadéra, and his election is a chance that change in the CAR will take place peacefully and democratically, and that the blackmailing of the militants will no longer influence the country's politics.

Resolute action against the militants by the CAR army is so far the only way to avoid another slide into chaos. However, there are obviously internal and external forces interested in the opposite. They are the ones behind the actions of the militants, who have gone from looting and killing to trying to take over the capital. If the Central African Republic can meet this challenge, the country will have a chance for sovereign and democratic development.

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The world community opposes the disruption of elections in the Central African Republic

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The media are reporting about another outbreak of violence in the Central African Republic. A coalition of militants from various rebel groups is trying to disrupt elections scheduled for December 27.  Democracy may fall victim to provocations and disinformation attempts, writes Candice Musungayi.

The failed attempts

On Saturday, 19 December, several armed groups in the Central African Republic (CAR) announced the creation of the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC). Following this, a number of media and social networks reported that the armed groups were advancing towards the capital of Bangui.

However, as it turned out, the reports on the rebels' success were exaggerated. MINUSCA UN peacekeeping spokesman Vladimir Monteiro said Sunday that "the situation is under control."

https://www.france24.com/en/africa/20201220-un-peacekeepers-say-rebel-push-in-central-african-republic-under-

CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra visited CAR Armed Forces troops on the front lines the night before and wished them a Merry Christmas.

https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=10225154749832818&id=1142010085

The capital and much of the CAR remain under the control of the authorities.  Moreover, on December 23, the UN announced that the town of Bambari, which had been taken under rebel control the day before, had been returned to the control of UN forces and CAR government troops.

"The armed groups have been pushed back into the bush," Abdoulaziz Fall, spokesperson for the UN Mission in the Central African Republic declared.

The aim to disrupt elections

Bambari is located 380 km north-east from the capital of the Central African Republic and its capture by rebels would not have seriously affected the situation in the country. It has been seized by militants more than once before. In January 2019 it was the scene of Operation BEKPA 2 by the UN peacekeepers against UPC (Union for Peace in the Central African Republic) rebels. Nevertheless, there have been notable attempts in some media outlets to inflate the significance of the recent militant outbursts.

In particular, Africanews notes that militants have allegedly seized the "key city" and published an expert's opinion on the need to negotiate with the militants.

In reality, the scale of the fighting is greatly exaggerated, although there are battles.

Most likely, the opposition groups in CAR, allied with the militants who have been terrorizing the country for years, are trying to inflate their own very modest successes in order to disrupt the upcoming elections. The goal is to whip up a media environment and create the appearance of instability in order to disrupt the upcoming electoral process.

The Coalition of Democratic Opposition (COD-2020) suggested postponing the general elections scheduled for December 27. The coalition was previously led by former president François Bozizé, whom the African government accuses of running a militia. Bozizé is under UN sanctions and has previously been accused in the CAR of "crimes against humanity and incitement of genocide.

Bozizé has also been accused of organizing militant attacks by MINUSCA.

Elections as a step towards stability

The situation in the CAR began to degrade after the country's Constitutional Court on December 3 withdrew Bozizé’s candidacy from elections. On December 4, Socrates Bozizé, the youngest son of the ex-president, was arrested in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to local media, the reason for his detention was his recruitment of mercenaries.

It is not difficult to suppose that the politician, who is under UN sanctions, is trying to return to power and prevent the elections, in which he was refused to participate.

However, the world community is now unanimously in favor of holding democratic elections before the end of the year. The G5+ group: France, Russia, the U.S., the EU and the World Bank have called on Bozizé and allied armed groups to lay down their arms, calling for elections to be held as scheduled.

UN Special Representative of the Secretary General in the CAR, Mankeur Ndiaye, said that if elections are not held, the country risks "entering a period of uncontrollable instability".

At the same time, he assured that the UN will take all necessary measures to ensure the integrity of elections and “all the conditions are met for the elections to be held”.

The UN troops in the CAR have been mobilized. Additional peacekeepers have been deployed to the north-west of Bangui. "The Portuguese Contingent has taken up positions on different axes in Bossembele, blocking any advance southward by armed groups," MINUSCA informs. The UN command says the measures taken are enough to "halt any progress towards Bangui or the control of strategic cities”. Integrated Election Security Plan is to be implemented by UNMISCA and the Defence and Security Forces of CAR.

The CAR also requested support from Rwanda and Russia to secure the elections.

Taking into account the positive experience of peacekeepers in confronting militants, there are all conditions for holding democratic elections in CAR. Security measures are being taken, and the country's authorities and the world community have not succumbed to armed blackmail by the militants.

In order to ensure order, peace and the movement of the Central African Republic toward democracy, it is crucial to hold elections in CAR despite the threats. It is now the task of the entire international community and all responsible external players in the CAR. Otherwise, militant groups will feel they can blackmail the authorities further, which will result in the collapse of the existing state apparatus and another civil war and genocide, as the world has already seen in 2004-2007 and 2012-2016

In this case, the credibility of democratic institutions in a country that cannot recover from the wounds of civil war will be completely undermined.

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European Union and African Union sign partnership to scale up preparedness for health emergencies

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The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) launched a new partnership initiative to strengthen the capacity of Africa CDC to prepare for and respond to public health threats. The four-year project ‘EU for health security in Africa: ECDC for Africa CDC' will also facilitate harmonised surveillance and disease intelligence, and support the implementation of the public health workforce strategy of Africa CDC. Funded by the EU, the project includes a contribution agreement with ECDC of €9 million and a complementary grant to Africa CDC of €1m to cover staffing costs.

Promoting Our European Way of Life Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has shown more clearly than ever that health security – a longstanding objective in the co-operation between the African Union and the European Union – must remain a global priority. The new partnership between the European Centre of Disease Prevention and Control and the Africa CDC is a crucial step to achieve this common goal. We are acting now, together, to end this crisis and be prepared for future outbreaks. Our AU-EU Commission-to-Commission meeting in February was instrumental in reinforcing the prospects of our cooperation that is now bearing fruit.”

International Partnerships Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen said: “The COVID-19 pandemic shows how crucial it is to invest in health systems to ensure they are prepared to deal with such crisis. The EU supports the continental leadership and coordination of the African Union in responding to the ongoing pandemic, and together we are helping partner countries to strengthen their capacities to prevent, detect and respond to health threats.”

More information is available in the press release. For more details, consult the dedicated websites on The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and on the The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

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