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Pope urges US to protect democracy and shun violence after mob attack

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Pope Francis (pictured) urged Americans on Sunday (10 January) to shun violence, seek reconciliation and protect democratic values, following the mob attack on the US Capitol building by supporters of President Donald Trump that left five people dead,writes .

“I repeat that violence is self-destructive, always. Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost,” the pope said in his Sunday address.

It was the second time in as many days that the pope, who visited the United States in 2015 when Barrack Obama was president, spoke out on the violence in the Washington DC.

Dozens of people have been charged following the storming of the Capitol on Wednesday, with the FBI asking the public to help identify participants, given the proliferation of images of the riots on the internet. The five people who died included a police officer.

“I appeal to the authorities of the country and to the entire population to maintain a lofty sense of responsibility in order to calm things down, promote national reconciliation and protect democratic values that are rooted in American society,” Francis said.

He said he wanted to send “an affectionate greeting” to all Americans whose country had been “shaken by the recent siege on Congress”.

Francis also said he was praying for those who died and that all Americans would “keep alive a culture of encounter, a culture of caring, as the master way to build together the common good”.

In advance excerpts on Saturday (9 January) of a television interview to be aired on Sunday night, Francis said it was important to understand what had gone wrong and to learn from it.

“(Fringe) groups that are not well inserted into society sooner or later will commit this sort of violence,” he said in the television interview.

Francis has had a rocky relationship with Trump, who visited the Vatican in 2017, disagreeing with him on a spate of issues, including immigration and climate change.

Brexit

Scottish government comment on efforts to stay in Erasmus

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Minsters have welcomed the support of around 150 MEPs who have asked the European Commission to explore how Scotland could continue to take part in the popular Erasmus exchange programme. The move comes a week after Further and Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead held productive talks with Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel to explore the idea. Until last year, over 2,000 Scottish students, staff and learners took part in the scheme annually, with Scotland attracting proportionally more Erasmus participants from across Europe - and sending more in the other direction - than any other country in the UK.

Lochhead said: “Losing Erasmus is huge blow for the thousands of Scottish students, community groups and adult learners - from all demographic backgrounds - who can no longer live, study or work in Europe.“It also closes the door for people to come to Scotland on Erasmus to experience our country and culture and it is heartening to see that loss of opportunity recognised by the 145 MEPs from across Europe who want Scotland’s place in Erasmus to continue. I am grateful to Terry Reintke and other MEPs for their efforts and thank them for extending the hand of friendship and solidarity to Scotland’s young people. I sincerely hope we can succeed.

“I have already had a virtual meeting with Commissioner Gabriel. We agreed that withdrawing from Erasmus is highly regrettable and we will continue to explore with the EU how to maximize Scotland’s continued engagement with the programme. I have also spoken with my Welsh Government counterpart and agreed to keep in close contact.”

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EU

Leaders agree on new ‘dark red’ zones for high-risk COVID areas

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At a special meeting of European heads of government, to discuss the rise of infection rates across Europe and the emergence of new, more contagious variants, leaders agreed that the situation warranted the utmost caution and agreed on a new category of ‘dark red zone’ for high-risk areas.

The new category would indicate that the virus was circulating at a very high level. People traveling from dark red areas could be required to do a test before departure, as well as to undergo quarantine after arrival. Non-essential travel in or out of these areas would be strongly discouraged.

The EU has underlined that it is anxious to keep the single market functioning especially concerning the movement of essential workers and goods, von der Leyen described this as of the “utmost importance”. 

The approval of vaccinations and the start of roll-out is encouraging but it is understood that further vigilance is needed. Some states which are more dependent on tourism called for the use of vaccination certificates as a way to open up travel. The leaders debated the use a common approach and agreed that the vaccination document should be seen as a medical document, rather than a travel document - at this stage. Von der Leyen said: “We will discuss the suitability of a common approach to certification.”

Member states agreed to a Council recommendation setting a common framework for the use of rapid antigen tests and the mutual recognition of COVID-19 test results across the EU. The mutual recognition of test results for SARS-CoV2 infection carried by certified health bodies should help facilitate cross-border movement and cross-border contact tracing.

The common list of appropriate COVID-19 rapid antigen tests should be flexible enough for addition, or removal, of those tests whose efficacy is impacted by COVID-19 mutations.

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Economy

Lagarde calls for swift ratification of Next Generation EU

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Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank, shared the conclusions of the monthly Euro Governing Council. The Council has decided to reconfirm its “very accommodative” monetary policy stance. Lagarde said that the renewed surge in COVID had disrupted economic activity, particularly for services. 

Lagarde underlined the importance of the Next Generation EU package and stressed that it should become operational without delay. She called on member states to ratify it as quickly as possible.  

The interest rate on the main refinancing operations and the interest rates on the marginal lending facility and the deposit facility will remain unchanged at 0.00%, 0.25% and -0.50% respectively. The Governing Council expects the key ECB interest rates to remain at their present or lower levels.

The Governing Council will continue the purchases under the pandemic emergency purchase programme (PEPP) with a total envelope of €1,850 billion. The Governing Council will conduct net asset purchases under the PEPP until at least the end of March 2022 and, in any case, until it judges that the coronavirus crisis phase is over. It will also continue to reinvest the principal payments from maturing securities purchased under the PEPP until at least the end of 2023. In any case, the future roll-off of the PEPP portfolio will be managed to avoid interference with the appropriate monetary policy stance.

Third, net purchases under the asset purchase programme (APP) will continue at a monthly pace of €20 billion. The Governing Council continues to expect monthly net asset purchases under the APP to run for as long as necessary to reinforce the accommodative impact of its policy rates, and to end shortly before it starts raising the key ECB interest rates.

The Governing Council also intends to continue reinvesting, in full, the principal payments from maturing securities purchased under the APP for an extended period of time past the date when it starts raising the key ECB interest rates, and in any case for as long as necessary to maintain favourable liquidity conditions and an ample degree of monetary accommodation.

Finally, the Governing Council will continue to provide ample liquidity through its refinancing operations. In particular, the third series of targeted longer-term refinancing operations (TLTRO III) remains an attractive source of funding for banks, supporting bank lending to firms and households.

The Governing Council continues to stand ready to adjust all of its instruments, as appropriate, to ensure that inflation moves towards its aim in a sustained manner, in line with its commitment to symmetry.

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