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Showing posts with label INTERNATIONAL NEWS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label INTERNATIONAL NEWS. Show all posts

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

A year on, Beirut port blast survivors still waiting for justice

 

Lebanon’s political elite has been accused of corruption and mismanagement that led to August 4, 2020 explosion in which more than 214 people died.

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Banners reading "here starts your end and our beginning" and "hostages of a murderous state" hang on a building damaged during last year's Beirut port blast in Beirut, Lebanon on August 4, 2021. (Reuters)

After the massive explosion at Beirut’s port a year ago, only a small part of Ibrahim Hoteit’s younger brother has been identified: his scalp. Hoteit buried his brother, a large man, a firefighter, a martial arts champion, in a container the size of a shoebox.

Since then, Hoteit has sold his business, a perfume and accessories shop. He sleeps only a few hours a night. Black circles ring his eyes.

One thing drives him now: winning justice for the victims of the August 4, 2020, explosion that killed 218 people and punishing Lebanon’s political elite, blamed for causing the disaster through their corruption and mismanagement.

“I don’t see a minister or president or parliament speaker. I am seeing the person who killed my brother and others with him,” said Hoteit, who says he gets anonymous threats. “This is what gives me strength. I see that I have nothing to lose.”

 

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Hoteit and his wife, Hanan, have built an association of more than 100 families of those killed. They are waging a campaign of protests and rallies trying to shame, pressure and force politicians to allow the truth to come out.

A year later, critics say the political leadership has succeeded in stonewalling the judicial investigation into the explosion.

President Michel Aoun has said no one will have political cover if they are found negligent or guilty, but has not addressed accusations that officials are obstructing the investigation.

Hoteit and other families say they are up against not just a government but the political system that has ruled Lebanon for more than 30 years. It’s a system that protects itself so intensely it seems invulnerable, even as many Lebanese say it has led the country into ruin, pointing to both the explosion and a financial meltdown that is one of the world’s worst in the past 150 years.

Even the current caretaker premier, Hassan Diab, has acknowledged this, saying weeks after the explosion that corruption in Lebanon “is bigger than the state”.


Portraits of victims 

Black and white portraits of each of the blast’s victims, commissioned by Hoteit’s group, hang from the walls of a central square near the port. Painted on a wall opposite the still mangled port, a large slogan declares “my government did this”.

The blast was preceded by a fire that broke out at the port, and hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a hangar along with other highly combustible materials exploded.

It was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history. Along with the dead, thousands were injured. Some 300,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.

It soon emerged in documents that the ammonium nitrate had been stored improperly at the port since 2014 and that multiple high-level officials over the years knew of its presence and did nothing.

But a year after the government launched a judicial investigation, nearly everything else remains unknown, from who ordered the shipment to why officials ignored repeated internal warnings of the danger.

Multiple government agencies have a role at the port, but all of them have said the ammonium nitrate was not their responsibility.

Hoteit’s brother Tharwat was among the group of firefighters who rushed to battle the initial blaze. All were killed.

Hoteit and his wife spent the next 12 days searching through hospitals for his brother. It was harrowing. They turned over bodies to see their faces. Doctors notified them when they identified Tharwat’s remains.

Along the way, they met other families on the same grisly search.

Hoteit and Hanan saw one man carrying his dead son’s hand in a plastic sack. The families continued to communicate, first through a WhatsApp group, trading stories of their loved ones.

Then they organized to fight.

 


Symbol of  justice 

With his black T-shirt, jeans and hair slicked back, Hoteit has become synonymous with calls for justice. The 51-year-old-father of three is unforgiving, determined and a clear-eyed strategist.

He coordinates with local groups to document and archive every piece of information on the blast. He has met with several of the politicians he has led protests against, as well as repeatedly with investigators.

At first, the group held vigils outside the port on the 4th of every month. But as the investigation stalled, the group changed tactics, targeting specific officials with protests.

At a protest last month, hundreds carried empty coffins outside the acting interior minister’s home.

At first, Hoteit tried to keep the group orderly, while Hanan and others shouted angrily at the minister inside. The protest got tense as numbers swelled and the minister never came out to talk to them. Protesters tried to make their way through the gates.

Police fired tear gas and pushed them back.

 


Stalled investigation 

The biggest challenge has been trying to ensure the investigation moves forward.

The first lead investigator was Fadi Sawwan, a former military judge. When the families felt he was dragging his feet, citing coronavirus restrictions, they protested outside his home.

When he did act, they couldn’t protect him.

Sawwan named three former government ministers and Diab, the caretaker prime minister, to be charged with negligence leading to death. Diab has dismissed the allegations as “diabolical”. The political class united and won Sawwan’s removal by court order in February.

That’s when the families staged their first angry rally, burning tires, blocking roads and warning they may storm the Justice Ministry. A replacement for Sawwan was swiftly named: Tarek Bitar, a younger judge with no clear political affiliations.

Bitar cast a wider net, pursuing even senior military, intelligence and security officers. In February, he asked the government and parliament to lift immunity from the heads of two main security agencies and two lawmaker s so he could question them.

The families were elated.

But the political elite again closed ranks. Lawmakers and government officials refused to lift immunity. The interior minister said his legal department advised against it, reportedly because the security agency in question was not responsible for the shipment.

So the families took aim at parliament members and officials they accuse of burying the truth. In TV ads and social media posts, they branded those who opposed lifting immunity as “the ammonium nitrate lawmakers.”

Political elite

The same group of politicians has run Lebanon since its long civil war ended in 1990.

They head the same sectarian-rooted factions that fought the conflict. They have divvied government offices up among themselves, and their patronage system has fomented widespread corruption.

Dozens of political assassinations have never been properly investigated. Corruption has gone unpunished despite widespread documentation.

Impunity is entrenched in the system. Though rivals, the factions close ranks to prevent accountability.

That impunity translated into stunning callousness by politicians in the wake of the explosion.

No one deployed security around a city thrown into chaos. No authority took charge of the crime scene or search and rescue. No politician visited damaged areas. No state agency offered aid or shelter to those left homeless, and none cleaned up the rubble, all was left to volunteers.

The state never offered an apology or condolences to families. Even declaring August 4 a National Day of Mourning took months of pressure.

“The state didn’t care for anything at all. If we didn’t follow up on everything big and small, nothing would happen,” Hoteit said, speaking at his home in the mainly Shiite southern Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh.

Like many Lebanese, Hoteit had long been resigned to the system. It was dictated by fate and geopolitics, he felt.

He can abide it no more.

“If the judiciary doesn’t give us our right, I will take vengeance for my brother with my own hands.”

Source: AP

 

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NATO donates military supplies worth millions to Afghanistan on its way out

 

NATO has given supplies worth $72 million so far this year to the Afghan government to help in its fight against the Taliban.

An Afghan policeman stands guard inside the Bagram US air base after all US and NATO troops left, some 70 km north of Kabul.
An Afghan policeman stands guard inside the Bagram US air base after all US and NATO troops left, some 70 km north of Kabul. (Wakil Kohsar / AFP)

NATO is donating millions of dollars' worth of military equipment to Afghanistan as its forces leave the country.

"As we withdraw our forces from the country, we will continue to support Afghanistan, including with equipment to help the Afghan forces better provide for their own security," NATO spokesman Dylan White said in a statement on Tuesday.

So far this year, NATO said, it has given supplies worth $72 million (62 million euros) to the Afghan government to help in its fight against the Taliban.

The armed group has seized many rural regions since US-led forces started pulling out in May.

   

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The equipment includes specialist bomb-defusing devices, body armour, combat simulators, firefighting trucks and medical supplies that will go to "treat wounded soldiers on the battlefield," the alliance said.

The announcement came as the 200,000 residents of Lashkar Gah, the main city in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, were being urged to evacuate under a withering Taliban offensive.

At least 40 civilians have been killed there since the weekend, according to the United Nations.

'Lion's share of power'

On Tuesday, US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said the Taliban are demanding in US-backed peace talks “the lion’s share of power” in any political settlement.

 

"At this point, they are demanding that they take the lion's share of power in the next government given the military situation as they see it," Khalilzad told the Aspen Security Forum in an online conference.

Khalilzad repeated Washington's call for a negotiated peace accord, saying that the last 40 years of conflict in Afghanistan "has no legitimacy any more".

"It's just a struggle for a balance of power, dispensation of power between various factions," he continued.

Fighting continues

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US warplanes have stepped up air strikes across the country in recent days to try to slow the Taliban's advances.

But the last of the US forces are set to leave this month, ending America's longest war.

 

They are withdrawing under orders from US President Joe Biden, who has said his country has done all it can in Afghanistan after invading two decades ago to wipe out Al Qaeda fighters held responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

NATO allies are withdrawing their forces at the same time, although the alliance chief, Jens Stoltenberg, has vowed continued support in terms of financing and training outside of Afghanistan.

Source: AFP
 

 

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US envoy: Afghan Taliban seeks 'lion's share of power' in stalemated talks

 

"At this point, they (the Taliban) are demanding that they take the lion's share of power in the next government, given the military situation as they see it," says special US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in bleak assessment of Doha peace process.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Taliban co-founder, and Zalmay Khalilzad, US special envoy on Afghanistan, shake hands after signing a deal in Doha, Qatar on February 29, 2020.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Taliban co-founder, and Zalmay Khalilzad, US special envoy on Afghanistan, shake hands after signing a deal in Doha, Qatar on February 29, 2020. (Reuters Archive)

The Taliban and the Kabul government are far apart in US-backed talks on bringing peace to Afghanistan, with the insurgents demanding "the lion's share of power" in any new government, the special US envoy said.

Afghan-born veteran US diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad's bleak assessment of the peace process coincides on Tuesday with Taliban advances on provincial capitals that have uprooted tens of thousands of civilians as the US troop pullout nears completion after 20 years of war.

"At this point, they (the Taliban) are demanding that they take the lion's share of power in the next government given the military situation as they see it," Khalilzad told the Aspen Security Forum in an online conference.


Taliban could become 'international pariahs'

The deadlocked negotiations in Doha were the subject of a telephone call on Tuesday between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, with them agreeing on the need accelerate talks, the US State Department said.

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Blinken and Ghani also "condemned the ongoing Taliban attacks and displacement of the civilian population," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

The Taliban's rapid advances have fuelled fears that the insurgents aim to re-establish by force their harsh brand of Islamist rule ended by the 2001 US-led invasion, including the repression of women and the independent media.

The insurgents say they want a peace deal.

 

Kabul blast 

A car bomb blast followed by sporadic gunfire hit Kabul on Tuesday near the heavily fortified "Green Zone," leaving three civilians and three attackers dead.

Khalilzad was the architect of the US-Taliban deal for a US troop pullout reached in February 2020.

In his rare public assessment of the Doha talks started under that deal, Khalilzad said peace can only be reached through a ceasefire and negotiations that would establish a transitional government.

Ghani's administration says the talks should focus on "bringing the Taliban into the current government," he said.

The Taliban contends that Ghani's government "is the result of military occupation" and they want an agreement on a transitional government and constitution, Khalilzad continued.

"They are far apart," he said. "They are trying to affect each other's calculus and the terms by what they are doing on the battlefield."

Khalilzad said that 40 years of continuous conflict "has no legitimacy any more."

"It's a struggle for a balance of power, dispensation of power between various factions, and no Afghans, especially civilian Afghans, should die because of that," he added in remarks that risked angering the US-backed Ghani government.

 

US says civil war one of many concerns

Meanwhile, the United States said on Tuesday that one of many concerns about Afghanistan is that it could spiral into civil war.

Since the United States announced plans in April to withdraw its troops with no conditions by September 11 after nearly 20 years of conflict, violence has escalated throughout the country as the Taliban seeks more territory.

Peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators started last year in the Qatari capital of Doha, but have not made any substantive progress.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the Taliban saw "the utility of a negotiated solution, they are engaged in Doha."

"If they seek to contravene what they have said, then they will be an international pariah ... and the concern on the part of all of us, one of the many concerns is that the result will be civil war," Price told reporters.

Source: Reuters
 
 

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Death toll rises in coordinated Kabul attack targeting minister, facilities

 

Multiple explosions and a gunfight in the Afghan capital’s heavily secured Green Zone killed at least eight and wounded 23.

An Afghan security personnel inspects inside a building at the site of a car bomb explosion in Kabul on August 4, 2021. 
 
An Afghan security personnel inspects inside a building at the site of a car bomb explosion in Kabul on August 4, 2021. (Wakil Kohar / AFP)

Powerful explosions rocked Afghanistan's capital Kabul in an attack that apparently targeted the country's acting defence minister and government buildings.

The explosions left at least eight dead, including three attackers, and at least 23 people were wounded, a health official said on Wednesday.

Several smaller explosions could be heard as well as small arms fire. 

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks and warned of more attacks on government officials.

It comes as the insurgents press on with a campaign to capture major cities across Afghanistan, after gaining control of much of the rural parts in recent months.

Interior Ministry spokesman Mirwais Stanekzai said the first blast injured at least 20 people in the upscale Sherpur neighbourhood, which is in a deeply secure section of the capital known as the green zone. 

It is home to several senior government officials.

Just hours later on Wednesday morning, roadside bombs targeted multiple government buildings, including National Directorate of Security, Defence Ministry and Ministry of Martyrs and Disabled.

At least two civilians and a security official were injured, police said.

No group has claimed responsibility.

 

 

 

Stanekzai said it appeared the guesthouse of acting Defence Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi was targeted. 

His Jamiat-e-Islami party was told the minister was not in the guesthouse and his family had been safely evacuated.

A party leader and former vice president, Younus Qanooni, reassured the party in a message shared on social media that the minister and his family were safe.

The Defence Ministry released a video in which Mohammadi says that his guards had been wounded in a suicide attack. "I assure my beloved countrymen that such attacks cannot have any impact on my willingness to defend my countrymen and my country,” he says.

Details of the attack were sketchy even as it ended, but gunmen appeared to have entered the area after the explosion. Stanekzai said all four attackers were eventually killed by security personnel and a cleanup operation was conducted by police. All roads leading to the minister's house and guesthouse were closed, he said.

 

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Hundreds of residents in the area were moved to safety, said Ferdaws Faramarz, spokesman for the Kabul police chief. He said security personnel had also carried out house-to-house searches.

The wounded were taken to hospitals in the capital, said Health Ministry spokesman Dastgir Nazari.

 

US condemns attack

The US State Department condemned the bombing.

“I’m not in a position to attribute it officially just yet, but, of course, it does bear all the hallmarks of the spate of Taliban attacks that we have seen in recent weeks," spokesman Ned Price said in Washington. 

"We unequivocally condemn the bombing and we continue to stand by our Afghan partners. I think the broader point in all of this is that there is broad international consensus that there is no military solution to the conflict and that is why we’re looking at ways and means by which we can help it celebrate the peace negotiations that are ongoing.”

The escalation of fighting in Afghanistan comes as most US and NATO troops have now withdrawn from the country. 

US President Joe Biden announced in mid-April he would end Afghanistan’s “forever war”, 20 years after US-led forces invaded the country in the wake of 9/11, with the stated aim to prevent it from becoming a base for further terror attacks. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies

 

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Tuesday, 3 August 2021

New Zealand government formally apologizes for historic racist policing

  New Zealand government formally apologizes for historic racist policing

 


New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gave a formal apology Sunday to Pacific peoples over historic racist policing.

The apology concerned the Dawn Raids, a government initiative to deport persons for immigration offenses during the 1970s. Ardern drew attention to how the Dawn Raids involved physical removal of persons targeted by the raids and verbal mistreatment.

The policing disproportionately targeted Pacific peoples. In 1986, the country’s Race Relations Conciliator investigated the Dawn Raids. The Conciliator found that 86 percent of the prosecutions related to the Dawn Raids prosecuted Pacific peoples despite Pacific peoples comprising only approximately 33 percent of persons whose permits had expired.

Ardern noted, “[t]here were no reported raids on any homes of people who were not Pacific; no raids or random stops were exacted towards European people.”

Ardern acknowledged the Dawn Raids were not mere enforcement of immigration laws. She acknowledged they “went well beyond that.” They were discriminatory, they involved heavy racial profiling, and they made “[w]hole communities felt targeted and [terrorized].”

In the apology, Ardern noted New Zealand’s expectation that human rights are respected. However, she said that in the case of the Dawn Raids, these expectations were not met. The country’s current laws explicitly prohibit discrimination, particularly by virtue of the Human Rights Act 1993.

The impact of the Dawn Raids on Pacific communities has included deep cultural trauma which has continued over the decades. The government had not apologized to Pacific peoples prior to Sunday’s apology.

Ardern said:

The Government expresses its sorrow, remorse, and regret that the Dawn Raids and random police checks occurred and that these actions were ever considered appropriate. … We also [apologize] for the impact that these events have had on other peoples, such as Māori and other ethnic communities, who were unfairly targeted and impacted by the random Police checks of the time.

In addition to the apology, Ardern announced the government will provide millions in scholarship money to Pacific communities. The government will also provide schools with educational resources about the Dawn Raids and work with Pacific artists and historians to put together a historical record of account concerning the Dawn Raids.

SOURCE ; .jurist.org/ 

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Canada dispatches: Alberta lifting of COVID restrictions prompts public protests

  Canada dispatches: Alberta lifting of COVID restrictions prompts public protests

 

[Ian Profiri is JURIST’s Staff Correspondent for Canada, joining JURIST’s existing teams of correspondents already filing from India and Myanmar. He files this dispatch from Calgary.]

Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw made a series of announcements last week regarding the western Canadian province’s COVID-19 strategy.

On July 29, the Alberta government rescinded mandatory isolation periods for those that have come into contact with an individual who is known to have COVID-19.

Starting Aug 16, isolation periods following a positive test result will no longer be mandatory, and support for hotel isolation upon entering Canada will no longer be available.

Alberta will become the only jurisdiction in the developed world not to have mandatory isolation periods for those known to be infected with the virus.

Opposition to the move has been swift. Protests occurred in Edmonton and Calgary. Doctors and nurses vented their frustration over the lifting of the restrictions and the general lack of support over the course of the pandemic on social media. Medical experts in Ontario and Manitoba voiced concerns over Alberta’s decision, recommending that their provinces decline to follow Alberta’s lead and emphasized that provinces need to have a coordinated approach to ensure further disasters don’t occur. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi called lifting the restrictions “the height of insanity.”

Alberta’s health minister Tyler Shandro of the United Conservative Party (UCP) defended the decision, telling a crowd on Thursday that the “other provinces know this will be the inevitable next step” and that the “data shows that what the vaccines are doing is making it less infectious and less deadly.”

The head of the Alberta Medical Association (AMA), Dr. Paul Boucher, stated in an open letter that the pace of opening needs to be “less precipitous” and that he understood the concerns that the incredible work-load medical staff have endured over the pandemic will “no doubt increase.” Boucher said their members’ concerns have been heard but not addressed by the UCP.

The data on the spread of COVID appears to favour the detractors. Alberta currently has the highest rate of infection in Canada, as well as the highest number of active cases despite a comparably smaller population. Alberta also has the lowest vaccination rate of any province, coming in at only 55 percent fully vaccinated according to data compiled by the CBC as of July 15. This is alarming considering the threat of the Delta variant, which appears to spread “like chicken pox” and is likely the main cause of deaths among unvaccinated populations where Delta has taken hold.

Comparable jurisdictions to Alberta include Florida, which currently sits at 57 percent vaccinated. The state famously flouts US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for controlling the spread of COVID, emphasized by a recent executive order from Governor RonDeSantis that bans school districts from requiring students to wear masks. Florida now has some of the highest transmission and infection rates in the US; the fear is that Alberta will head in the same direction.

As if to demonstrate the effectiveness of medical recommendations for controlling the spread, Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta’s two major cities, took alternate routes regarding festivals over the summer. Calgary permitted its annual Calgary Stampede, a massive festival orientated around a rodeo, live music, and a carnival, as well as the Calgary Folk Music Festival; while Edmonton canceled plans for their large annual festivities. Edmonton currently has 301 cases; Calgary has 990.

Hinshaw’s announcement is another in a long line of what some believe to be a purposeful attempt to overwhelm Alberta’s public healthcare system to coerce privatization.

Premier Jason Kenny famously pledged to “maintain or increase health spending” and “maintain a universally accessible, publicly funded health care system” during the 2019 provincial elections. However, since winning the election, the UCP outsourced medical-related jobs, cutting at least 11,000 public employees; initially froze the wages of nurses and doctors, then proposed wage cuts; and continued to promote the installment of private clinics for specialized surgeries at the expense of the public system.

The actions of the UCP government initially prompted “wildcat” strikes; but recently (in combination of the toll of Covid and anti-vaccination protesters) doctors, nurses, and other critical medical staff have left Alberta en masse. Those that have publicly voiced their reasoning directly cite UCP actions for their departure.

Like all good democracies, the reason for Hinshaw’s announcement may be related to the polls. Recent polling shows the opposition Alberta New Democrat Party (ABNDP) consistently ahead of the UCP by wide margins, while the revamped Wildrose Independence Party (WIP) continues to gain ground.

The UCP lost a lot of support over the pandemic as it tried to appeal to both progressive idealists that favored the implementation of further restrictions in an attempt to “circuit-break” the spread, and libertarian idealists that sought to remove all restrictions in the name of Section 2 of the Charter and Albertan’s “Fundamental Freedoms.” The UCP bled support to both the ABNDP and WIP, who each took the opposing views, as the balancing act continued.

Anti-lockdown protesters routinely voiced their concerns over government over-reach and the negative effect the lockdown measures have on small businesses. The protests culminated in a clash between protesters and RCMP at GraceLife Church after Alberta Health Services barricaded the building in response to continued gatherings in violation of, what was then, Covid response protocols. The soon-to-be enacted measures align with what the anti-lockdown protesters have been asking for; the UCP appears to have chosen a side.

As of today, pleas and anger continue to be directed at Hinshaw and the UCP caucus over the announcement, but neither has shown any interest in backing down from the decision.

SOURCE ;  /www.jurist.org

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Amazon fined €746M for breaching EU data protection laws

Amazon fined €746M for breaching EU data protection laws 

 

 

Amazon disclosed Friday that it had been fined €746 million by the Luxembourg National Commission for Data Protection (CNPD) because Amazon’s processing of personal data did not comply with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The GDPR regulates data protection and privacy in the EU and the European Economic Area. It was passed in 2016 and implemented in May 2018. It levies fines, which are intended to be harsh, against those who violate its privacy and security standards.

Amazon disclosed the €746 million fine Friday in a US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing. This is the largest fine that has ever been issued, although regulators are allowed to issue fines up to four percent of a company’s revenue.

The fine was actually issued on July 16, and the CNPD ordered Amazon to revise some of its business practices. Amazon noted these only as “corresponding practice revisions,” without disclosing which business practices it was ordered to revise.

In the filing, Amazon asserted that it intends to appeal the ruling, writing: “We believe the CNPD’s decision to be without merit and intend to defend ourselves vigorously in this matter.” An Amazon spokesperson said that there was no data breach, nor had any customer data been exposed to third parties.

SOURCE ; .jurist.org

 

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UK MPs report shocking and dangerous conditions in immigration detention facility

 UK MPs report shocking and dangerous conditions in immigration detention facility 

The Chairwoman of UK Home Affairs Committee (“the Committee”), Yvette Cooper, wrote a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel on Wednesday raising “serious concerns about the shocking conditions the Committee observed” during its visit to an immigration detention facility in Kent the previous day.

The letter was made public on Friday and noted cramped and overcrowded conditions with people lying on a thin mattress on the floor in a small waiting room due to lack of available seats. According to the Committee’s observations, as many as 56 people were packed into the waiting room that included “many women with babies and very young children alongside significant numbers of teenage and young adult men.” Cooper also noted that individuals are being held in the room for 12-24 hours longer than the maximum permissible duration.

Describing the conditions at the Kent facility as shocking and dangerous, Cooper stated:

In addition to overcrowding and the length of stays, the Committee was very concerned about the clear risk of a Covid-19 outbreak. The holding room, in which some people are waiting for up to 48 hours, has no ventilation, no social distancing and face masks are not worn. We assume that most people are not vaccinated. Given how closely people are packed together we have grave concerns about how easy it would be if only one staff member or asylum seeker had Covid-19 to spread rapidly to everyone in the room. The Committee did not observe any Covid-19 mitigation measures and, with the current levels of overcrowding, could not see how the facility could be Covid safe.

Cooper also reported the Committee’s observations of the Atrium–described as “essentially an office space with a large central room and several adjoining offices.” Pointing to the Permanent Secretary’s confirmation to the Committee that one of the individuals held in the office space for over 10 days was an unaccompanied child who was “sleeping on a sofa in an office, as the only available separate sleeping accommodation,” Cooper stated that “this kind of accommodation for days on end is completely inappropriate” for children.

In her letter, Cooper further noted that the Home Office had been informed of these concerns previously in September 2020 when the Chief Inspector of Prisons (“the Inspector”) found the conditions at the Kent Intake Unit (KIU), Frontier House, and Tug Haven unacceptable “and very similar to those which we encountered [at KIU] yesterday.” According to Cooper, the Inspector made a series of recommendations that included contingency planning for accommodating varying number of migrant arrivals.

Stating that the Committee “saw no sign that any of these recommendations had been taken up at the KIU nearly a year after they were made,” Cooper requested the Home Office and Secretary to confirm whether any risk assessment protocols were completed on the holding facilities, any public health advice was sought on keeping people in crowded rooms without ventilation for several days, and whether any contingency planning has taken place since September 2020 to ensure “appropriate safe capacity” consistent with the Inspectorate Report.

Additionally, Cooper requested clarification on the Home Office’s expectation regarding availability of appropriate and safe accommodation for unaccompanied minors in the next 14 days “following the ‘soft launch’ of the new National Transfer Scheme on 26 July,” and confirmation on whether Public Health England has made any assessment of the Covid-19 risk of holding a large number of individuals for up to 48 hours in KIU and Frontier House facilities and whether the Home Office will now limit the number of occupants and length of stay for service users in KIU and Frontier House.

Cooper requested a response by Tuesday August 3, but a Home Office Spokesperson responded Friday stating that while it takes the welfare of migrants seriously, it is under pressure from “unacceptable numbers of people” entering the country illegally. The Home Office further assured that it will take steps to tackle the problem through enforcement of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which “will protect lives and break this cycle of illegal crossings.”

 SOURCE ' .jurist.org

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EU imposes sanctions on eight Nicaraguan individuals

 EU imposes sanctions on eight Nicaraguan individuals 

 

The European Council (“the Council”) on Monday imposed sanctions on eight Nicaraguan individuals, including Vice President Rosario Murillo, for serious human rights violations and actions that “undermined democracy or the rule of law.” Murillo also happens to be Nicaragua’s First Lady.

Noting that its previous calls to the Nicaraguan government to abide by its own Constitution and commitments, comply with international human rights laws and standards, and open meaningful dialogue with the opposition on electoral reforms have failed, the Council stated:

The political situation in Nicaragua has further deteriorated in recent months. The political use of the judicial system, the exclusion of candidates from the elections and the arbitrary delisting of opposition parties are contrary to basic democratic principles and constitute a serious violation of the rights of the Nicaraguan people…The detention of a seventh potential presidential candidate last weekend sadly illustrates the magnitude of the repression in Nicaragua and projects a grim picture for the upcoming elections…Today’s additional sanctions demonstrate that the EU continues standing ready to use all its instruments to support a democratic, peaceful, and negotiated solution to the political crisis in Nicaragua.

The Council first began imposing sanctions on Nicaragua in October 2019, after repeatedly expressing its concerns about the deteriorating political and social situation in the country since April 2018 and firmly condemning the repression of political opponents, demonstrators, independent media and general civilians.

The number of individuals sanctioned from the country has now risen to 14. Effectively, sanctioned individuals will have their assets frozen while EU citizens and companies are prohibited from providing them access to funds. The sanctioned individuals are also subject to a travel ban that prohibits them from entering or traveling through EU territories.

 SOURCE ; .jurist.org/

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Federal judge authorizes IRS tax evasion inquiry involving offshore legal services

Federal judge authorizes IRS tax evasion inquiry involving offshore legal services 

 

 

A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York on Thursday granted an order authorizing the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to issue summonses demanding couriers and financial institutions produce information about US taxpayers who may have used the services of Panama Offshore Legal Services (POLS) and its affiliates (POLS group) to evade federal income taxes.

The court granted the IRS permission to serve “John Doe” summonses on 10 entities including Federal Express Corporation and its affiliates, DHL Express, UPS, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, The Clearing House Payments Company LLC, HSBC Bank USA, Citibank NA, Wells Fargo Bank NA, and Bank of America NA.

At this time, there is no allegation that any of these financial institutions or couriers have engaged in any wrongdoing, and the summonses will only be used to compel them to produce information to help identify US taxpayers who have used POLS group’s services, along with other documents relating to POLS group’s business concerns.

Specifically, the order authorizes the IRS to trace courier deliveries and electronic fund transfers (EFTs) of the POLS group to identify its US taxpayer clients that have used POLS group services to “create or control foreign assets and entities” to escape their US federal tax obligations.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) Tax Division and the IRS released a joint statement on the investigation:

This action underscores our Office’s commitment to hold accountable those who use offshore service providers to avoid U.S. taxes. In issuing these John Doe summonses, we continue our joint efforts with the IRS to investigate tax evaders who use foreign financial accounts and sham foreign entities to hide their assets. … These court-ordered summonses should put on notice every individual and business seeking to avoid paying their fair share of taxes by hiding assets in offshore accounts and companies. These records will empower the IRS and the Department of Justice to find those attempting to skirt their tax obligations and ensure their compliance with the U.S. tax laws.

According to the DOJ, POLS is a Panamanian law firm that offers services with respect to organizing entities and creating offshore financial accounts to help conceal assets and avoid taxes. The DOJ states that POLS also openly advertises services, including to US-based clients, offering to conceal ownership of offshore entities and accounts.

The IRS has identified at least one US taxpayer who used POLS’s services to create an undisclosed offshore entity and account in Panama through the IRS’s Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP). The OVDP was an IRS initiative encouraging taxpayers to disclose offshore entities or accounts now rather than risk detection by the IRS and possible criminal prosecution. In exchange for such disclosure, the OVDP imposes a one time penalty. The OVDP was introduced in 2012 and was terminated in September 2018.

 SOURCE ; .jurist.org

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Battle against wildfires in Turkey's drought-hit areas continues

 

At least eight people have died as efforts continue to put out forest fires across several parts of the country. Around 10,000 people evacuated in Mugla province.

Firefighters and volunteers try to extinguish a wildfire near Marmaris, Turkey
Firefighters and volunteers try to extinguish a wildfire near Marmaris, Turkey (Umit Bektas / Reuters)

Firefighters using planes and helicopters, joined by locals with buckets of water, continue to battle wildfires that have been raging for a sixth day near southern coastal resorts in Turkey.

Many villagers in fire-hit areas have lost their homes and farm animals and have had trouble breathing amid the heavy smoke.

Overall, some 10,000 people have been evacuated in Mugla province alone, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Monday.

Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said crews were still tackling seven fires in the coastal provinces of Antalya and Mugla that are popular tourist areas.

Other active fires were in Isparta, 380 kilometres (236 miles) northeast, and in Denizli province in southwest Turkey.

Another fire in Tunceli, in southeast Turkey, was contained on Monday, the minister said. In all, 129 fires that broke out in over 30 provinces since Wednesday have been extinguished.

“We are going through days when the heat is above 40 C (104 degrees Fahrenheit), where the winds are strong and humidity is extremely low,” Pakdemirli said. “We are struggling under such difficult conditions.”

Meteorology maps show areas affected by fires have suffered severe drought in recent months.

Earlier, Turkey's communications director Fahrettin Altun said that all the means of the state have been mobilised to combat the blazes, which have been plaguing the country since Wednesday.

 


Blazes broke out in at least 35 provinces, including several on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, killing at least eight people.

As many as 271 other people have been affected, according to the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD).

The efforts to extinguish the forest fire in the Bodrum district of Muğla were caught on camera by the Anadolu Agency team.
The efforts to extinguish the forest fire in the Bodrum district of Muğla were caught on camera by the Anadolu Agency team. (AA)

Turkish authorities are maintaining tireless efforts to put out the fires through both aerial and ground operations. 

Firefighters, including a group of 100 Azerbaijani firemen, are at work along with locals.

Tourists have been evacuated from beaches in southwestern Turkey, where raging wildfires are threatening hotels and homes. 

Turkey's health minister, Fahrettin Koca, said at least 27 people affected by the fires were still being treated in hospitals while hundreds of others had been treated and released.

Soylu, the interior minister, said authorities were investigating the cause of the fires, including human “carelessness” and possible sabotage by the PKK terrorist organisation.

He said one person was detained over allegations that he may have been paid by the group to start a fire.

Experts however, mostly point to climate change as being behind the fires, along with accidents caused by people. Erdogan has said one of the fires was started by children.

A heat wave across southern Europe, fed by hot air from North Africa, has led to wildfires across the Mediterranean, including in Italy and Greece, where people had to be evacuated by sea to escape the flames.

 

 

 

Many countries have offered help 

Locals as well as support teams from Russia, Ukraine, Iran and Azerbaijan were deployed to help firefighters. 

The Turkish government pledged to rebuild damaged homes and compensate for losses in areas affected by the fires.

The minister of forestry and agriculture, Bekir Pakdemirli, said at least 13 planes, 45 helicopters, drones, and 828 fire-fighting vehicles were involved in firefighting efforts.

The EU said it had helped mobilise three fire-fighting planes on Sunday, one from Croatia and two from Spain, after Turkey activated a disaster response scheme to request help from other European countries. 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu thanked Brussels on Monday for sending the water bombers.

The European Union said it "stands in full solidarity with Turkey at this very difficult time" – a message designed to show goodwill after more than a year of heated disputes.

 

 

Azerbaijan dispatches team 

Azerbaijan dispatched another firefighting team early on Monday.

The support team arrived at Turkey's border with Georgia and entered the country through the northeastern province of Artvin.

A team from Azerbaijan entered Turkey to support the fight against forest fires.
A team from Azerbaijan entered Turkey to support the fight against forest fires. (AA)

Consisting of 53 vehicles including 41 fire trucks and 220 personnel, the team was received by excited Turkish citizens who showed their appreciation for the Azerbaijani and Turkish flags.

 

After a fuel delivery, the team moved on towards the areas suffering from massive fires.

"We have come here with experienced colleagues to extinguish the fires," said the chief of the team, Colonel Nazar Bagisov.

"We stand with brotherly Turkey, and we will do so under all circumstances," he added.

Turkish authorities are maintaining tireless efforts to put out the fires through both aerial and ground operations. Firefighters, including a group of 100 Azerbaijani firemen, have also been working along with locals to fight the blazes.


Source: TRTWorld and agencies 

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One year on, Beirut blast victims await justice

 

The domestic investigation has yet to determine what triggered the blast, where the chemicals originated from or why they were left unattended for six years.

It has been a year since a monster explosion disfigured Beirut but a local probe has yet to yield significant arrests or even identify a culprit, with politicians widely accused of stalling progress.

The explosion on August 4 last year at the Beirut port killed more than 200 people. It destroyed swathes of the capital and devastated the city's dockside harbour, where the initial fire had broken out, which was felt as far as Cyprus island.

One of history’s largest non-nuclear explosions was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate fertiliser haphazardly stocked in the port warehouse since 2014

The tragedy struck as Lebanon was mired in its worst economic crisis in decades, with its currency plummeting, massive layoffs and drastic banking restrictions.

The domestic investigation has yet to determine what triggered the blast, where the chemicals originated from or why they were left unattended for six years.

In a country where even high-profile assassinations and bombings go unpunished, many fear that a domestic blast probe will also fail to hold anyone to account. 

Nearly a year later, no top officials have been questioned over the disaster, angering many Lebanese.

Officials in government, parliament and the country's top security agencies have so far dodged questioning by referencing so-called "immunity" clauses in the constitution. 

A probe into the port blast led by judge Tarek Bitar has been hindered over the past month as requests sent by parliament and the government to lift immunity and enable questioning of several top officials were either declined or stalled.

Recently, Lebanon's influential parliament speaker Nabih Berri said the legislature is ready to lift the immunity of its members in order to allow for questioning over the blast. 

"The priority of parliament was and will continue to be complete cooperation with the judiciary," Berri said in a statement after a meeting with the Future Movement, parliament's main Sunni bloc.

A demonstrator carries a national flag along a blocked road, during a protest against the fall in Lebanese pound currency and mounting economic hardships, near the Central Bank building, in Beirut, Lebanon March 16, 2021.
A demonstrator carries a national flag along a blocked road, during a protest against the fall in Lebanese pound currency and mounting economic hardships, near the Central Bank building, in Beirut, Lebanon March 16, 2021. (Reuters Archive)

According to lawyer Youssef Lahoud who represents hundreds of blast victims, the officials are “simply trying to evade justice”. 

Despite obstacles, Tarek Bitar, the judge leading the investigation, has completed more than 75 percent of the case. The investigator has so far identified who is responsible for shipping the ammonium nitrate to Beirut and who decided on chemicals to be stored at the port. 

But the key questions remain unanswered as to what sparked the explosion and the huge network that brought the shipment into Lebanon. 

The shipment  

The ammonium nitrate arrived in Beirut in 2013 onboard the Rhosus, a Moldovan-flagged ship sailing from Georgia to Mozambique. 

The vessel was seized by authorities after a company filed a lawsuit against its owner over a debt dispute. In 2014, port authorities unloaded the shipment and stored it in a derelict warehouse with cracked walls. 

A Mozambican factory, Fabrica de Explosivos de Mocambique,  confirmed it had ordered and never received the ammonium nitrate.

Judge Bitar has identified key protagonists like the owner of the company that shipped the ammonium nitrate and a bank in Mozambique that funded the shipment. But the investigation has not concluded yet. 

The investigation is also looking into reports alleging that three Syrian businessmen holding Russian citizenship had been involved in purchasing the chemicals. 

Lebanese President Michel Aoun, left, meets with Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, at the presidential palace in Beirut, Lebanon on July 14, 2021. Hariri said on July 15 that he is stepping down, nine months after he was named to the post by the parliament, citing key differences with Aoun.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun, left, meets with Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, at the presidential palace in Beirut, Lebanon on July 14, 2021. Hariri said on July 15 that he is stepping down, nine months after he was named to the post by the parliament, citing key differences with Aoun. (Dalati Nohra / Lebanese Official Government via AP)

 “Ali Baba's cave”

Port authorities, security officials and political leaders, including then-premier Hassan Diab and President Michel Aoun, knew the chemicals were being stored at the port, and that it would cause a huge explosion. 

The first judge tasked with investigating the blast, Fadi Sawan, issued charges of negligence against Diab and three former ministers in December. He was removed for his trouble. 

Bitar picked up where Sawan left off. He summoned Diab and demanded parliament lift the immunity of former finance minister Ali Hasan Khalil, former public works minister Ghazi Zaiter and former interior minister Nohad Machnouk. 

Bitar has also asked for permission to investigate State Security chief Tony Saliba and the head of the General Security agency, Abbas Ibrahim.

Documents and witness testimonies suggest they were "all aware of the ammonium nitrate shipment and its dangers".But the country's reviled political class has closed ranks to stall the investigation.

"Every time the lead investigator tries to summon or investigate one of them, they turn to immunity for cover," Karlen Hitti Karam.

The young woman's husband, brother and cousin were among the firefighters killed in the blast. 

"It's like Lebanon is Ali Baba's cave, and not an actual state," she said.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies
 
 

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The role of the UAE and Saudi Arabia in the Pegasus spyware saga

 

NSO Group’s surveillance software has been at the heart of Abu Dhabi and Riyadh’s digital crackdown on dissent at home and abroad.

Last month’s revelations into the reach of the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware shone a light on how the software was used by governments to unlawfully infiltrate the devices of hundreds of journalists, activists, and lawyers around the world since 2016.

The investigation conducted by French NGO Forbidden Stories and its media partners obtained over 50,000 telephone numbers targeted globally by the Israeli malware on behalf of NSO clients in eleven countries, three of which were in the Gulf: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The disclosures further confirmed the nexus between Gulf states like the UAE and Saudi Arabia with Israel, and the spyware’s role in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi’s intensifying digital repression, where online criticism or opposition to the state is deemed illegal.

On July 28, the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) filed a complaint against the Israeli company for its responsibility in the harm committed to human rights activists in the Middle East.

“These revelations also come at a time when press freedom is threatened across the world, particularly in a context of intensifying crises due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” the complaint read, adding that the NSO Group’s sale of Pegasus to repressive governments “undermine[s] freedom of expression, freedom of the press and the secrecy of sources.”

The case was filed in France by lawyers William Bourdon and Vincent Brengarth.

“It’s essential, throughout the Arab world, to speak out for the great journalists and human rights activists who have been spied on, and bring perpetrators of these violations to justice,” they stated upon submitting the case to the French public prosecutor.

 

 

 

Victims of the Pegasus hacks include Ahmed Mansoor, an Emirati human rights activist currently serving a ten-year prison sentence in the UAE. Mansoor is believed to have been targeted in 2016 by the spyware prior to his arrest in March 2017.

In addition to Mansoor, the GCHR complaint mentions two other well-known Gulf human rights figures that were targeted using Pegasus: late Emirati activist Alaa al-Siddiq and Saudi’s Yahya al-Assiri.

Al-Siddiq was the executive director of ALQST, a nonprofit that works to defend human rights in the Gulf region and aid the release of political prisoners. She relocated to the UK to flee persecution, and tragically died in a car crash in the UK this June.

Al-Assiri, the founder of ALQST, is a human rights defender that also resettled in the UK.

Apart from those mentioned in the GCHR complaint, there have been several other confirmed targets in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh’s crosshairs.

 


Most notably, there were attempts to utilise the spyware after Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder to monitor his family and close associates, and even Turkish investigations – which included selecting the phone of Istanbul’s chief prosecutor Irfan Fidan and his wife Hanan Elatr for surveillance.

Khashoggi’s finance Hatice Cengiz’s phone was infected with Pegasus four days after his murder, as well as the journalist’s son Abdullah Khashoggi. Wadah Khanfar, a close friend of Khashoggi’s and the former director general of the Al Jazeera television network, was hacked.

London-based academic Madawi al-Rasheed, the co-founder of an opposition party made up of expatriate Saudi activists called the Saudi National Assembly, was also a victim of a hacking attempt in 2019, as was the party’s general secretary Yahya Asiri.

Writing on the revelations, al-Rasheed believes that Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE “have become a chorus of malicious powers aiming to stifle activism and the quest for democracy in the region.”

“Israel provides knowledge; the others provide funds,” she said, adding that the privatisation of Israel’s security apparatus was not only a threat to Palestinians, but all Gulf citizens.

It was revealed that Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, the runaway daughter of the ruler of Dubai, was captured in 2018 with the help of Pegasus spyware.

Nasser al-Khelaifi, Qatari president of French football club PSG and CEO of beIN Sports, was suspected of being hacked in 2018, at the height of the Gulf rift between Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt.

Over the course of the last two decades, the Gulf states have steadily invested in global surveillance technologies and weaponised them against their citizens.

In a joint action led by the MENA Surveillance Coalition, GCHR, Access Now protested “the scandalous targeting of hundreds of journalists and activists in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Algeria, Bahrain, UAE, Lebanon, Morocco, Turkey and Egypt – many who have long been the subject of surveillance, harassment, arrest, torture and assassination.”

The Pegasus leaks “refute the repeated groundless claims made by the NSO Group that its spyware is exclusively used to deter crime and terrorism,” the joint action added.

Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have denied the spying allegations.

The findings do not come as a surprise as many incidents had been reported on previously, including how Khashoggi and a close confidant of his Omar Abdulaziz had their phones monitored by Saudi intelligence using the spyware.

In December 2020, University of Toronto-based Citizen Lab disclosed that Saudi and Emirati authorities used Pegasus to hack 36 Al Jazeera journalists.

Source: TRT World
 
 

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Over 2,500 Qantas employees to be sent home without pay for two months

 

Qantas said the airline had gone from operating almost 100 percent of its usual domestic flying capacity in May to less than 40 percent in July due to lockdowns and travel restrictions.

A Qantas plane taking off from the Sydney International airport.
A Qantas plane taking off from the Sydney International airport. (Saeed Khan / AFP)

Australian airline Qantas announced Tuesday it will furlough 2,500 workers as coronavirus outbreaks and regional lockdowns pummel demand for flights.

Pilots, cabin crew and airport workers from Qantas and its low-cost affiliate Jetstar will be sent home without pay from mid-August for an estimated two months, the firm said.

"This is clearly the last thing we want to do, but we're now faced with an extended period of reduced flying and that means no work for a number of our people," CEO Alan Joyce said in a statement.

 

 

 

Qantas said the airline had gone from operating almost 100 percent of its usual domestic flying capacity in May to less than 40 percent in July due to coronavirus restrictions.

Most of the affected staff are based in New South Wales, a state that is largely cut off from the rest of the country and the world by travel restrictions.

A lockdown in the country's largest city, Sydney, is now in its sixth week and is likely to last for at least another month.

Qantas and Jetstar have already stood down thousands of international air crew since early 2020, with Australia's borders remaining closed to most overseas travellers.

The country's third-biggest city, Brisbane, is currently under stay-at-home orders while other states have only recently emerged from lockdowns.

Qantas said staff will be paid for two weeks before the change comes into effect.

"Based on current case numbers, it's reasonable to assume that Sydney's borders will be closed for at least another two months," Joyce said.

"We know it will take a few weeks once the outbreak is under control before other states open to New South Wales and normal travel can resume."

Qantas, which previously said it had seen an $8.1 billion plunge in revenue during 2020, embarked on a cost-cutting blitz last year that included grounding planes and restructuring.

Source: AFP
 
 

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