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Luke Letlow: Newly-elected US lawmaker, 41, dies from Covid


A recently elected US lawmaker has died from Covid-19 – the first member of the US Congress to die from the disease. Republican Luke Letlow, 41, had been elected as Representative for Louisiana’s 5th district and was due to be sworn in on Sunday. He announced on 18 December that he had tested positive for coronavirus and was admitted to hospital soon afterwards. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards ordered flags to be flown at half-mast on the day of Letlow’s funeral. “It is with heavy hearts that @FirstLadyOfLA and I offer our condolences to Congressman-elect Luke Letlow’s family on his passing after a battle with Covid-19,” Mr Edwards tweeted.

“I am heartbroken that he will not be able to serve our people as a US Representative, but I am even more devastated for his loving family.” Letlow is survived by his wife, Julia Barnhill Letlow, and their two young children.(BBC)…[+]

Norway landslide: Houses buried in Gjerdrum village near Oslo


A landslide in a Norwegian village has injured 10 people, left 12 people unaccounted for and buried houses under dark mud. About 700 people have been evacuated from the village of Gjerdrum, which lies some 25km (15 miles) north-east of the capital, Oslo. One person was seriously hurt, reports say. PM Erna Solberg said the situation was still so unstable that only rescues by helicopter could be carried out. “It’s a dramatic experience to be here,” she told reporters at the scene. On social media she said: “It hurts to see how the forces of nature have ravaged Gjerdrum” and added: “My thoughts go to everyone affected by the landslide.”

The landslide began during the early hours of Wednesday, with residents calling emergency services and telling them that their houses were moving, police said. Of those still missing, police said in a statement: “We don’t know if these people are in the landslide area, if they are away on holiday or in another way unable to contact police.” The local municipality warned that up to 1,500 people could need to leave the region because of concerns about the condition of the ground.(BBC)…[+]

Coronavirus: Senate wrangles over boosting help for Americans

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The US Senate is set to discuss boosting one-off payments for Americans hit by the coronavirus downturn. But Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, appeared to tie the issue to other unrelated proposals on legal immunity for tech companies and electoral fraud. Mr Trump, Democrats and some Republicans want the payments boosted from $600 (£441) to $2,000. However, there is concern the latest wrangling could scupper any increase. Americans are to begin receiving $600 dollars each under a $900bn-coronavirus stimulus package signed into law on Sunday. But President Trump, Democrats and a growing number of Republicans say that is not enough.

“Unless Republicans have a death wish, and it is also the right thing to do, they must approve the $2,000 payments ASAP,” Mr Trump tweeted on Tuesday.  From the left of the Democratic Party, former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is among those supporting a boost. “The working class of this country today faces more economic desperation than at any time since the Great Depression of the 1930s,” he said. Republicans also have an eye on two key Senate run-off elections in Georgia next week, which will determine which of the main parties controls the Senate. The two Republican candidates have come out in favour of increasing the payments.(BBC)…[+]

Pierre Cardin: French fashion giant dies aged 98

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Legendary designer Pierre Cardin, whose futuristic and stylish designs helped revolutionise fashion in the 1950s and 60s, has died at the age of 98. The French fashion giant’s career spanned more than 70 years, and his modern style helped usher in the post-war “golden age” of couture. He also broke ground by bringing designer styles to the masses with some of the first ready-to-wear collections. A business pioneer, he also licensed his name for a wide range of products. Obituary: Pierre CardinBBC Culture: The influences of 60s space-age fashions

He died in hospital in Neuilly, near Paris, his family told the AFP news agency. “It is a day of great sadness for all our family. Pierre Cardin is no more,” they said in a statement. “We are all proud of his tenacious ambition and the daring he has shown throughout his life.”(BBC)…[+]

UK shares jump as markets react to Brexit deal

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UK stock markets have jumped in their first trading session after the Christmas break. It was investors’ first chance to react to the Brexit trade deal with the EU, since markets closed early on Christmas Eve, hours before the outcome emerged. The FTSE 100 and 250 indexes were both up more than 2.1% by lunchtime.

But banking shares tumbled across Europe as worries persisted about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the global economy. Banks accounted for four of the five biggest fallers on the FTSE 100, with worst-hit Lloyds suffering a near-4% drop. One analyst, Shanti Keleman from Brown Shipley, put the falling UK bank shares down to “no agreement on financial services equivalency in the Brexit deal”. However, Simon French of Panmure Gordon pointed out that trading was thin even by the usual standards of this time of year. “The usual market narratives are even shakier than normal,” he added.(BBC)…[+]

Covid: Sydney beach party sparks ‘backpacker’ deportation threat


Australia’s immigration minister has said that backpackers and other foreign visitors caught flouting public health restrictions could be deported. Alex Hawke said he was shocked by scenes from Sydney’s Bronte Beach on Christmas Day. Videos of the gathering shared on social media showed hordes of young revellers singing and dancing in breach of coronavirus regulations. Some eyewitnesses said many of those present were British. Sydney is battling a new outbreak after months of no local cases. The virus’s re-appearance a week before Christmas sparked a swift re-introduction of restrictions in the city, including clampdowns on holiday gatherings and a lockdown of the worst-affected region, the Northern Beaches.(BBC)…[+]

Loujain al-Hathloul: Saudi woman activist jailed for five years


A prominent Saudi female activist, who campaigned for women’s right to drive, has been sentenced to more than five years in prison. Loujain al-Hathloul, 31, has already been in a maximum security prison for two and a half years. She and other activists were detained in 2018 on charges including contacts with organisations hostile to Saudi Arabia.

International human rights groups have repeatedly called for her release. But on Monday, the country’s Specialised Criminal Court, which was set up to try terrorism cases, convicted her of various charges including trying to harm national security and advance a foreign agenda. It sentenced her to five years and eight months in prison. Two years and ten months of the sentence are said to have been suspended. She and her family have denied all charges. They have also said that she has been tortured in jail – accusations the court dismissed.(BBC)…[+]

Atlantic discovery: 12 new species ‘hiding in the deep’


Almost five years of studying the deep Atlantic in unprecedented detail has revealed 12 species new to science. The sea mosses, molluscs and corals had eluded discovery because the sea floor is so unexplored, scientists say. Researchers warn that the newly discovered animals could already be under threat from climate change. Carbon dioxide absorbed by the ocean is making it more acidic, causing coral skeletons in particular to corrode.The scientists involved stressed it was “not too late to protect these special species” and the important habitats they occupied.(BBC)…[+]

Brexit: EU ambassadors approve EU-UK trade deal

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Ambassadors from the 27 EU member states have unanimously approved the EU-UK post-Brexit trade deal, paving the way for it to take effect. The deal is likely to become law on 1 January, as the UK Parliament is expected to approve it on Wednesday. Under EU rules it can take effect provisionally, though the European Parliament will vote on it in January.

The deal sets the framework for trade once the UK leaves the EU single market and customs union in four days’ time.

The deal, which ended nine months of negotiations, will be approved by all 27 EU governments in writing at 15:00 (14:00 GMT) on Tuesday, the German EU presidency said. They have had three days to analyse the details of the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement, since its publication. But most of the 1,246-page document had already been seen by member states in previous weeks. The deal ends nearly 50 years of UK membership of the bloc, covering a vast array of policies besides those governing common trade rules.(BBC)…[+]

Lockerbie bombing: Alleged bomb-maker charged on 32nd anniversary of attack


The US has announced charges against a Libyan suspected of making the bomb that blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Abu Agila Mohammad Masud has been charged with terrorism-related crimes, Attorney General William Barr said on Monday, 32 years on from the atrocity. The deadly bomb attack on the Boeing 747 killed 270 people, including 190 American citizens. Prosecutors will seek the extradition of Mr Masud to stand trial in the US.

The US claims Mr Masud is an ex-Libyan intelligence operative. He allegedly carried out the attack on the orders of late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The bombing of the London to New York flight remains the deadliest terrorist incident ever to have taken place in the UK, and the second deadliest air attack in US history. Eleven people on the ground in Scotland were also killed. The victims included 35 study abroad US students who were returning home for Christmas.(BBC)…[+]