News, July 21st

Armed man seizes bus, holds 10 people hostage in Ukraine

An armed man seized a long-distance bus and took people in it hostage in northwestern Ukraine on Tuesday launching an hours-long standoff with police, Ukrainian authorities said.

About 10 people are currently being held hostage, Ukraine’s Security Service said in a Facebook statement. Police earlier had put the number at 20. It was unclear how many people had been on board to start with, and whether any escaped.

Police sealed off the center of Lutsk, a city 400 kilometers (250 miles) west of the capital Kyiv. The assailant is armed and carrying explosives, police said. They said he threw a hand grenade that failed to explode at officers and shot at them at least twice during the still-ongoing siege.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said negotiations with the man are currently underway. “We’re doing everything to free the hostages,” Zelenskiy told reporters.

The man called the police himself at 9:25 a.m. (0625 GMT) after taking control of the bus and introduced himself as Maksim Plokhoy, Deputy Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko said on Facebook.

In a Telegram account reportedly belonging to him, Plokhoy apparently admitted to taking people on the bus hostage, said that “the state has always been and always is the first terrorist” and demanded that top Ukrainian officials release statements on their social media pages calling themselves terrorists.

According to Gerashchenko, police have identified the man as Maksim Krivosh, a 44-year-old Ukrainian born in Russia. Krivosh had allegedly been convicted twice on a wide range of charges — robbery, fraud, illegal arms handling — and spent a total of 10 years behind bars.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov traveled to Lutsk to supervise operations.

Ukrainian media reported that gunshots were regularly heard at the scene. It wasn’t immediately clear whether anyone has been injured. According to reports, Krivosh tried to reach out to journalists through hostages and their phones, demanding that they spread the word about his demands and get more reporters to arrive to the scene.

Zelenskiy said earlier on Tuesday he is personally monitoring the situation.

Armed man takes ‘around 20’ hostages on bus in Ukraine

An armed man carrying explosives has taken around 20 passengers hostage on a bus in the western Ukrainian city of Lutsk, police said Tuesday.

The head of the local police service said shots were heard at the scene, but no injuries have been reported so far.

Law enforcement has cordoned off the center of Lutsk, a city in western Ukraine some 400 kilometers (250 miles) from the capital Kiev and advised residents not to leave their homes or places of work.

BRICS bank lends 1 bln USD loan to Brazil to mitigate COVID-19 impact

The New Development Bank (NDB) will lend Brazil 1 billion U.S. dollars to neutralize the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing total loans to Brazil to 4 billion dollars, the institution said on Monday.

The funds will be given to the Brazilian government’s emergency aid payment program, designed to help millions of low-income people.

“NDB financing is an important tool for the Brazilian government to ensure a robust fiscal response to fight the pandemic and allow priority investments to be made, thus supporting the economic recovery,” the NDB said in a statement.

The NDB was established by Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa to mobilize resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in the five countries and other emerging economies and developing countries.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg donates funds to fight Amazon COVID-19 spread

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has said she will donate 100,000 euros ($114,000) to help tackle the spread of the coronavirus in the Amazon rainforest.

Thunberg announced on Twitter on Monday that the funds will be given to SOS Amazonia, a campaign led by climate protest group Fridays For Future Brazil, the BBC reported.

It will be the first donation to come from a $1.14 million windfall Thunberg received for being awarded the Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity.

The Swedish teenager said she was “extremely honored” to receive the award.

All of the prize money would be “donated, through my foundation, to different organizations and projects who are working to help people on the front line, affected by the climate crisis and ecological crisis”, Thunberg said.

The activist’s announcement comes after one of the best-known indigenous defenders of the Amazon rainforest died last month due to the coronavirus in Brazil, where the disease continues its rapid spread.

Paulinho Paiakan, chief of the Kayapo people, as one of the most important indigenous voices during Brazil’s return to democracy in the 1980s and helped lead the campaign for the creation of large indigenous reserves in the Amazon, the BBC reported.

Across Brazil’s Amazon region, more than 280 indigenous people have died with coronavirus, according to the Brazilian Indigenous Peoples’ Association (Apib).

There are special concerns about the outbreak in the area, where hospitals are underfunded and access to remote areas is difficult.

Para, home to tens of thousands of indigenous people, has become one of the hardest-hit states in the country.

Brazil currently accounts for the world’s second highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths at 2,118,646 and 80,120, respectively.

Coronavirus-sceptic President Jair Bolsonaro tested positive for the virus for a second time last week.

Cuba flattens the COVID-19 curve

Yesterday, the United States surpassed 140,000 COVID-19 deaths. More than 3.7 million people in the U.S. are known to have fallen ill, by far the largest number of cases in the world.

The Trump administration’s monumentally criminal refusal to wage effective war on the virus has caused needless suffering for millions. Tens of millions of people are being driven to economic ruin, with unemployment, no health care, and mass evictions looming.

But the pandemic’s disastrous results in the U.S. were not inevitable.

Today, July 20, 13 of Cuba’s 15 provinces — minus Havana and nearby Mayabeque — will move to the third phase of reopening. In the last 28 days, two full incubation periods, the 13 provinces plus the Isle of Youth have had zero incidence of COVID.

Phase three means that all commercial and productive activity can resume, with food establishments, stores, and services able to open. Masks are still required in public, and mass events like the Carnivals that normally take place in July in Cuba are suspended.

Although Havana is still in phase one, the incidence of new COVID cases is extremely low. There was only one new positive case in all of Cuba yesterday. There has been a total of 2,446 positive cases since COVID-19 first appeared in the island, with 87 people who have died. Cuba’s population is 11.2 million.

The government and people are guided by the conviction that the people’s health is the priority. The famous billboard at the entrance of Calixto García hospital in Havana cites Che Guevara: “The life of one human being is worth a million times more than all the properties of the richest man in the world.”

As the pandemic became known, swift action by the Cuban government prevented a widespread outbreak. The first cases appeared in two tourists who arrived in March from Italy, where the illness was already raging. Soon other cases presented in tourists from Mexico and Germany, and Cubans returning from abroad.

To protect the population, the Cuban government stopped the influx of tourists, a hard hit to the economy, but an essential measure to protect the population. Tourism is a major source of hard currency for the country and income for Cubans in tourism, hotels, restaurants, room rentals, artisanry, and taxis. All public transportation of buses and taxis was stopped to minimize close contact and infection.

Cuba is organized in each neighborhood block and residential building, in the Committees in Defense of the Revolution. The country’s Civil Defense has a key role as well. No one is left alone or unaccounted for.

When any person tests positive, contact tracing is conducted immediately and there is careful monitoring for any change in health. Granma daily newspaper lists the cases of persons, without identification, who test positive along with their health status. It is a way to inform the public that there is COVID incidence and to maintain caution. One example:

“Cuban citizen of 40 years, resident of Cerro municipality, Havana province. Was in contact with a confirmed case. There are 11 contacts being monitored.”

Unlike White House lies and its quack “science” that have misled many people to disbelieve the seriousness of COVID-19, Cuba’s citizens are given daily updates on TV, radio and by newspaper by doctors, epidemiologists, and political leaders. Dr. Francisco Durán, national director of Epidemiology in the Ministry of Health, is a popular and respected figure with his 11 a.m. press conferences on the latest statistics.

Adherence to social distancing, complying with national health directives, and using masks, the population cooperates because of a strong sentiment of social responsibility and respect for science.

Wearing a mask is not seen as denying one’s “freedom” but a logical way of minimizing spread. This attitude did not arise with COVID. It is a longstanding culture in the Cuban people of the collective body and trust in the Revolution and its institutions.

The government, the Communist Party of Cuba, the mass organizations of women, workers, farmers, students, and youth, the Committees in Defense of the Revolution, and the military, all are engaged in this fight.

Fundamental to Cuba’s ability to weather the storm is its socialist system. Evictions, inability to pay rent, foreclosures, these are not the experience of Cubans, unlike the day-to-day struggle for people in the U.S.

Almost all Cubans own a home, thanks to the urban-housing revolutionary laws of the early 1960s. For those who rent, rent is limited to 10 percent of one household member’s income. Landlordism is not a phenomenon in Cuba.

Another benefit is Cuba’s free, universal, and accessible health care system. No one pays anything to be treated by a doctor or to be hospitalized, no matter the duration nor the procedure. There are no parasitic insurance companies granting only partial coverage or denying it outright. The health care system includes family doctors and nurses who live in the neighborhoods, as the first level of care, accessible 24 hours.

Cuba has 95,000 doctors and 85,000 nurses, one of the highest rates per capita in the world.

And Cuba’s medical solidarity with the peoples of the world is well known. Organized as the renowned Henry Reeve International Brigades, Cuba’s doctors and nurses have volunteered in 70 countries with the primary mission of combating COVID-19.

From Italy to Gambia, Azerbaijan, Togo, Guinea Bissau, Andorra, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Antigua and Barbuda, Kuwait and much more, Cuban doctors and nurses have come to the aid of countries that need their vital experience in international missions.

The brigades were inaugurated in 2005 soon after George W. Bush refused Cuba’s offer to send 1,000 doctors to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. Cuban President Fidel Castro then proposed a special brigade of Cuban medical workers to assist in emergencies worldwide. He named it the Henry Reeve International Brigade, after the young Union Army soldier in the U.S. Civil War who volunteered to join Cuba’s 1868 war of independence. Reeve died in battle in 1876. The Brigades have received high accolades for their life-saving feats and are nominated this year for the Nobel Peace Prize, with widespread international support.

Sadly, an example of Cuban doctors’ absence is Bolivia. After the November 2019 right-wing coup ousted President Evo Morales, Cuba’s more than 650 doctors and health technicians were ordered to leave by the new dictatorship. Now, with a nonexistent health system for Bolivia’s poor, there are reports of up to 20 to 40 bodies daily in the streets of people who died due to the coronavirus.

In Cuba, the infection rate is 0.71 per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with about 29 per 100,000 for the United States, according to John’s Hopkins University.

In Cuba at least 80 percent of the patients who reach critical stage recover, because of the combined use of two medications. One is Heberon. Known by its commercial name, it is an anti-viral Interferon called Alfa 2B Human Recombinant. The other is a medicine called Itolizumab, that was developed in Cuba to treat lymphomas and leukemia. Together the two medications are very effective. Cuba just announced that India will mass produce it for use in that country. Like much of the industrial world, Cuba’s scientists and researchers are working hard to improve treatments and develop a vaccine. But unlike the capitalist pharmaceutical industry, the medicines Cuba produces is for health, not profit.

One could have thought with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that humanitarian concerns would guide all governments to work together to overcome a worldwide pandemic.

Not the case with the U.S. government, in fact the opposite. The U.S. economic blockade has actually become more severe, denying Cuba the right to obtain medications and supplies, not only from the U.S. but other countries as well. When China flew planeloads of PPE and ventilators to 50 countries, its shipment to Cuba was blocked because Washington threatened sanctions on the carrier. In a double attack on both Venezuela and Cuba, oil shipments to Cuba are blocked as well.

Cuba has not escaped the hardships of the world economic crisis that has severely impacted every country. But amidst a pandemic that has ravaged the world, Cuba’s socialism is proving superior to anything that the richest country in the world can claim. There is no comparison.

The U.S. media also exercises a blockade with its self-censorship of Cuba’s remarkable work combating the virus. Imagine if the people of the United States knew of Cuba’s achievement against COVID-19, where the people experience infinitesimal cases of illness and death compared to our own country. So many lives have been needlessly lost in the United States, and families and society suffer the consequences.

Cuban President Díaz-Canel spoke on July 18 to publicly announce new economic measures to overcome the economic challenges. Details will be revealed to the public soon. Of Cuba’s struggle in the face of the pandemic, he said:

“Despite the lack of resources, we managed to control the pandemic and, although we regret the loss of 87 lives, which is minimal compared to what is happening in the world, we are consoled and encouraged that no child, no doctor or health care worker died; that our Health System did not collapse; that the Government supported the coordinated action of the Cuban Health System and our scientists with indisputable results; that our medical protocols saved more lives than those implemented elsewhere; that we maintain transparent and systematic communication with the population and that we have supported dozens of countries with our medical brigades, gaining the respect and admiration of the world.

“The Revolution, in its historical evolution, has constantly and invariably proven its vocation for social justice, and no one can doubt that. No one is abandoned in our country. That is how it has been, that is how it is and will always be. We owe ourselves to the people to whom we belong, we respect and love them, and we work for their well-being.

“Under this premise, which gives meaning to our lives, we have considered how to face the new situation imposed by the post-COVID-19 world, not only to resist but to advance and strengthen ourselves.”

French Finance Minister: EU summit deal marks birth of a new Europe

The European Union’s deal on a massive, economic stimulus plan marks the birth of a new Europe, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told France Info radio on Tuesday (July 21).

Le Maire said the deal would result in a Europe with greater solidarity among member nations, more environmentally friendly policies, and a stronger Franco-German relationship at its core.

European Union leaders reached an “historic” deal on a massive stimulus plan for their coronavirus-hit economies at a pre-dawn meeting on Tuesday after a fractious summit that lasted almost five days.

An unprecedented EUR1.82 trillion (about US$2.1 trillion) deal was finally announced to confront the worst recession in the EU’s history.

President of the European Council Charles Michel said the agreement “shows our belief in our common future,” while European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hailed the deal as a signal that “Europe is able to act.

Gunman armed with explosives holding passengers hostage on Ukraine bus: local police

A gunman carrying explosives has taken between 10 and 20 people hostage on a bus in northwestern Ukraine, authorities said on Tuesday.

It’s not immediately clear whether anyone has been injured. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is personally monitoring the situation in the city of Lutsk, said that the gunman took control of the bus at 9:25 a.m. local time.

“Gunshots have been heard, the bus is damaged,” Zelenskiy said in a Facebook statement. He added that authorities are attempting to resolve the situation without casualties.

“We are in full control of the situation. I know all the details,” Zelensky said in a later statement from his press service, according to Reuters. “I am talking with our specialists who are in Lutsk. Professionals are working, doing everything to free our hostages.”

Police identified the gunman as 44-year-old Maksym Kryvosh, a native from Russia, Reuters reported. They found social media posts purportedly written by Kryvosh demanding that senior Ukrainian officials publish statements saying that they were terrorists. He also threatened to detonate another bomb in a crowded area.

Kryvosh had been convicted twice before and served about 10 years in prison, deputy interior minister Anton Gerashchenko said.

The suspect reportedly called the police himself after taking control of the bus and introduced himself as Maksim Plokhoy, Gerashchenko said on Facebook. The deputy interior minister said there is a book online titled “Philosophy of a criminal” which was authored by Maksim Plokhoy and describes a man’s experience in prison. The word “plokhoy” translated from Russian means “bad.”

“For 15 years they’ve been correcting me, but I haven’t been corrected, on the contrary — I’ve become even more who I am,” one extract from the book said, according to Gerashchenko.

Police initially said in a video statement on Facebook that they also identified a Twitter account with that name, but did not find any specific demands, just messages displaying “general discontent about the system.”

Authorities sealed off the center of Lutsk, which is located in the Volyn region about 250 miles west of Kiev, the country’s capital. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov was also flying to the area.

Special Forces already made it to Lutsk and there are police officers at the scene “who are able to perform the task of neutralizing criminals,” the head of police in the Volyn region, Yuriy Kroshko, said, according to Euro News.

Photos showed armored vehicles in the street. A blue-and-white passenger bus was seen with a broken window and most of its curtains drawn. Police officers were seen lying on the ground behind a car next to the bus.

An eyewitness, Vitalik Troszyk, told Euronews he had heard “something like a gunshot” around 1:43 p.m. local time and that police was extending the security area, asking “people to keep their distance, go behind the houses.” Troszyk posted a video to Facebook that showed a police roadblock on Voli Avenue in Lutsk.

White House, Senate Republicans kick off crucial day of virus negotiations

White House officials and Senate Republicans face a critical day on Tuesday in the opening stages of coronavirus negotiations as they try to agree on key elements of a GOP proposal.

Trump administration officials will also meet with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the first bipartisan meeting to discuss the trillion dollar-plus package.

With enhanced unemployment benefits running out for millions of Americans at the end of July and the elections just over 100 days away, the two parties remain trillions of dollars apart on their funding priorities. The White House and Senate Republicans are divided as well, with GOP lawmakers resistant to President Donald Trump’s push for payroll tax cut.

In another break with the president, Senate Republicans also want billions more to support state testing efforts. They also are pushing for funds for personal protective equipment and to lay the groundwork for vaccine production.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows will meet with a trio of senior Senate Republicans — Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama, HELP Committee Chair Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri Tuesday morning, followed by lunch with the full Senate GOP Conference.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow is also expected to attend the lunch.

Pelosi laid out her timeline during a private caucus call with House Democrats Tuesday morning, saying the need for a bill is “imminent.” Pelosi didn’t draw any “red lines” on the caucus call, instead reiterating Democratic priorities including state and local aid and funding for frontline workers and the postal service.

The speaker said she spoke to Mnuchin Monday about “housekeeping and timetables and the rest.” The two are scheduled to meet in her office Tuesday afternoon along with Meadows and Schumer.

“We will begin our conversations today,” Pelosi said on the call, per Democratic sources. “It is my hope that we can resolve our differences and have a bill by the end of next week.”

The negotiations come as Congress is gearing up for a three-week sprint to August recess. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has made clear that any coronavirus package must include liability protections for businesses and schools against lawsuits due to coronavirus exposure. Senate Republicans also want to provide financial incentives for fully reopening schools.

The GOP proposal, which is expected to be released later this week, is also likely to include direct payments to individuals.

While both sides are expressing confidence Congress can reach a deal before lawmakers return home to campaign in August, Republicans and Democrats remain far apart on key issues, including the price tag. McConnell and administration officials want to keep the package at around $1 trillion, while Democrats are pushing for adoption of the House’s $3 trillion Heroes Act, which the lower chamber approved two months ago.

Republicans are dismissing the Democrats’ bill as nothing more than a liberal wish list.

Another sticking point will be whether to extend boosted unemployment insurance provisions. The March coronavirus package included a $600-a-week boost, which is set to expire in the coming days. Senate Republicans argue that the bolstered benefits provide workers a disincentive for returning to work and want to see the payments either scaled down or restricted based on income.

But Democrats are showing no signs of caving and some, including Schumer, are pushing to tie the unemployment insurance benefits to economic conditions.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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