english news

Burning EU and other flags can now bring German jail term

flag burning

Germany has made public burning of the EU flag or that of another country punishable by up to three years in jail, classing it as a hate crime. The vote in the Bundestag (parliament) on Thursday makes defiling foreign flags equal to the crime of defiling the German flag.

The same applies for the EU anthem, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy theme. The move followed Social Democrat (SPD) complaints about protesters’ burning of the Israeli flag in Berlin in 2017. Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht, a member of the centre-left SPD, said “burning flags publicly has nothing to do with peaceful protests”. She said it stoked up “hatred, anger and aggression”, and hurt many people’s feelings.

The new law also applies to acts of defilement besides burning, such as publicly ripping a flag up. Public display of the Nazi swastika and other Nazi symbols is already banned in Germany. The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) has condemned the new law as “excessive interference in free speech and artistic expression“.(BBC)…[+]

WTO head steps down a year early as downturn looms

wto

The head of the World Trade Organization has said he will step down a year earlier than planned, at a crucial moment for the global economy. Roberto Azevedo’s surprise departure comes as the WTO faces the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and criticism from US President Donald Trump. Global trade has slumped and the world is braced for the worst downturn since the Great Depression.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump has accused the body of treating America unfairly. Mr Azevedo said his early departure as the WTO’s director-general was a “personal decision” that was in the best interests of the organisation. “The WTO may not be perfect, but it is indispensable all the same. It is what keeps us from a world where the law of the jungle prevails, at least as far as trade is concerned.”(BBC)…[+]

Fed warns of slow recovery without more virus relief

federal

Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell has warned that America faces a slow and painful economic recovery without additional government relief. The dark forecast from the head of the US central bank is a turnaround from early April, when he said he expected a robust rebound.

It comes as lawmakers debate additional spending to shield the US economy from coronavirus shutdowns. Mr Powell said further measures would be “costly but worth it”. Employers in the US cut more than 20 million jobs last month, sending the unemployment rate to 14.7%, with the many of the losses falling on poor and minority households.

Analysts expect the jobless rate to climb further in May, before starting to subside. Mr Powell said on Wednesday that unemployment levels are likely to to remain elevated – particularly compared to the 50-year lows the US labour market enjoyed as recently as February.(BBC)…[+]

France resists idea of US getting vaccine first

sanofi's

France has said it would be “unacceptable” for French drug giant Sanofi to prioritise the US market if it develops a Covid-19 vaccine. The government was reacting to remarks by Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson, who said “the US government has the right to the largest pre-order because it’s invested in taking the risk”.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said access for all was “non-negotiable”.  Many labs worldwide are involved in research to find a Covid-19 vaccine. Vaccines usually take years to develop. “For us, it would be unacceptable for there to be privileged access to such and such a country for financial reasons,” Deputy Finance Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher told France’s Sud Radio.

The prime minister later tweeted that a vaccine should be for the benefit of everyone worldwide. President Emmanuel Macron said that recent efforts proved that a vaccine should not be subject to market forces, the Elysée Palace said. He is due to meet top Sanofi officials next week.(BBC)…[+]

Children affected by rare Kawasaki-like disease

children

Scores of UK and US children have been affected by a rare inflammatory disease linked to coronavirus. In a tiny number of children it can cause serious complications, with some needing intensive care. Up to 100 children in the UK have been affected and studies suggest the same reaction is being seen in children elsewhere in Europe.

It is likely to be caused by a delayed immune response to the virus which looks like Kawasaki disease. In April, NHS doctors were told to look out for a rare but dangerous reaction in children. This was prompted by eight children becoming ill in London, including a 14-year-old who died.

They all had similar symptoms when they were admitted to Evelina London Children’s Hospital, including a high fever, rash, red eyes, swelling and general pain. Most of the children had no major lung or breathing problems, although seven were put on a ventilator to help improve heart and circulation issues.(BBC)…[+]

Australian man arrested in gay hate killing cold case

australian

Australian police have charged a man with the decades-old murder of a gay US student in Sydney. The body of Scott Johnson, 27, was found at the bottom of beach cliffs in 1988. Police ruled it a suicide. However, later inquiries concluded he had been killed in a hate crime. This also drew attention to other cases of homophobic killings around Sydney’s beaches in the 1980s. Scott Price, 49, was arrested at his Sydney home on Tuesday. He was refused bail and will face a court on Wednesday.

The New South Wales police chief said it was a “career highlight” to call Scott Johnson’s brother, Steve, who lives in the US, to inform him of the arrest. The police force has previously apologised to the family for not investigating the case properly in the 1980s and failing to protect the gay community. “While we have a long way to go in the legal process, it must be acknowledged that if it wasn’t for the determination of the Johnson family… we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Commissioner Mick Fuller said.(BBC)…[+]

Musk defies orders and reopens Tesla’s California plant

musk

Tesla has reopened its only US electric car plant in California, despite local orders against manufacturing. On Monday, the company’s chief executive Elon Musk tweeted that production had restarted and he would be “on the line with everyone else”.

US states and local governments are trying to determine the best way to open up after lockdown. Mr Musk previously vowed to move the firm’s headquarters out of California if the plant was not allowed to reopen.

He has been vocal about the lockdown orders in recent weeks. Mr Musk recently celebrated plans to relax restrictions across the country, writing on Twitter: “FREE AMERICA NOW”. He has also dismissed as “dumb” concerns about the coronavirus.(BBC)…[+]

Babies killed as gunmen storm maternity ward

babies

Two babies and 11 mothers and nurses have been killed in an attack on a hospital in the Afghan capital. Another 15 people, including a number of children, were injured when several gunmen attacked the Kabul hospital on Tuesday morning, officials said.

Part of the hospital is run by the international medical charity, Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), and some of those working there are foreigners. Meanwhile, in the east, an attack at a police funeral has killed at least 24. Dozens more were injured in that bomb blast and casualty numbers in both attacks could rise. It is not clear who carried out either attack. In Kabul, locals heard two blasts, then gunfire. One doctor who fled during the assault, which began at about 10:00 local time (05:30 GMT), told the BBC about 140 people were in the hospital when the gunmen began their attack. Afghan special forces have rescued 100 women and children, including three foreigners, an official told the BBC.(BBC)…[+]

France eases lockdown after eight weeks

france

France has cautiously begun to lift its lockdown, with millions back in work after eight weeks of restrictions.

Shops are reopening, many pupils are returning to primary schools, and people will not need travel certificates when they leave home. But some parts of the country – including the capital Paris – remain under tighter controls, with the country split into green and red zones. The government has faced criticism for howit has handled the crisis.

French President Emmanuel Macron won broad support for imposing restrictions on 17 March. But many have attacked the response since then. More than 26,000 people have died from Covid-19 in France since 1 March – one of the highest tolls in Europe.(BBC)…[+]

South Dakota Sioux refuse to take down ‘illegal’ checkpoints

s dakota

Sioux tribes in the US state of South Dakota are refusing to remove coronavirus checkpoints they set up on roads which pass through their land. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem wrote to several tribal leaders last week saying the checkpoints were illegal.

But the Sioux say they are the only way of making sure the virus does not enter their reservations. Their limited healthcare facilities would not be able to cope with an outbreak, they say. At present, people are only allowed to enter the reservations for essential business if they have not travelled from a Covid-19 hotspot. They must also complete a health questionnaire before doing so.(BBC)…[+]