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Illinois Rep Adam Kinzinger demands Matt Gaetz’s resignation
Americas

Illinois Rep Adam Kinzinger demands Matt Gaetz’s resignation

Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger has called for Rep. Matt Gaetz’s resignation in the wake of an ongoing federal investigation into sex trafficking allegations against the Florida congressman.

“Matt Gaetz needs to resign,” Kinzinger wrote on his Twitter on Thursday night, becoming the first congressional Republican to demand Gaetz’s resignation on a public platform.

With the tweet, Kinzinger also linked a news report about details regarding the allegations of sex trafficking against the Florida Representative.

The article said that Gaetz paid money to an alleged sex trafficker, named Joel Greenberg. As per reports, Greenberg, who is a former Seminole County tax collector, has been slapped with more than 30 criminal charges, including wire fraud, stalking, and sex trafficking, in a federal court of Florida.

On Thursday, his lawyer Fritz Scheller and federal prosecutors told the court that Greenberg is likely to plead guilty in the case that led the Justice Department to investigate sex trafficking allegations against Rep. Gaetz.

Meanwhile, Gaetz has repeatedly denied the allegations of sexual misconduct, even as no charges have been filed against him so far. Speaking to Fox News, Gaetz claimed that he was the “victim of an elaborate extortion scheme”. On Monday, Gaetz wrote an op-ed in the Washington Examiner, addressing the allegations against him.

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“First, I have never, ever paid for sex. And second, I, as an adult man, have not slept with a 17-year-old,” he wrote in the op-ed, targeting the Justice Department.

The Florida Republican has also vowed not to resign, as federal investigators continue to probe the case.

“I am a representative in Congress, not a monk, and certainly not a criminal,” wrote Gaetz, a close ally of former US President Donald Trump.

Reportedly, the Justice Department is also investigating the connection between Gaetz and Greenberg along with other associates in the sex trafficking case. Sources have stated that the investigators are probing Gaetz’s trip to the Bahamas and whether women were given money to travel to the Caribbean country for sexual activity with the Florida congressman and other officials.

Responding to the development, a spokesperson for Gaetz denied the allegation and said that the Gaetz had ever paid for sex.

“What began with blaring headlines about ‘sex trafficking’ has now turned into a general fishing exercise about vacations and consensual relationships with adults,” the spokesperson added.

Earlier, former Rep. Katie Hill called for Rep. Gaetz’s resignation, if the claims of sexual misconduct against him proved to be true after the investigation.

South America in tight ropes of Covid-19 spikes as contagious Brazil variant goes on rampage
Americas

South America in tight ropes of Covid-19 spikes as contagious Brazil variant goes on rampage

The reports released by health authorities in South America on Monday show many nations across the continent in tight ropes of Covid-19 Pandemic with huge spikes of new cases. Brazil is the worst hit country in South America with total Covid-19 cases crossing 13 million mark. Furthermore, Paraguay and Uruguay too have registered record number of new daily Covid-19 cases. The experts have called Brazil variant of coronavirus to be the main attributing factor for the surge in South America. The variant is being described to be at least twice as more transmissible than the original coronavirus strain.

Fiocruz, the public health institute in Brazil has so far detected 92 variants of Coronavirus in Brazil. It is to be noted that this is not unusual as mutating is prime property of all viruses. The cause of concern is that Brazil variant or P.1 is exponentially more contagious than the original virus. The mutations in this variant are on the spike protein, the part through which virus attaches to the human cell. This makes the said variant more contagious.

Due to limited genetic sequencing in the region, it is difficult to maintain how widespread the variant is. But the fact that Brazil shares borders with 10 other nations, intensifies the possibility that the variant has been spread exponentially in the continent and beyond.

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Peru’s health minister has reported that almost all cases reported in the country are of Brazil variant. Similar is the case in Paraguay, Bolivia, Venezuela and Argentina. Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro has blamed recent spike in new cases and death tally in country to spread of the Brazil variant. On the other hand, Uruguay and Chile are having a rampant vaccination drive, leading to comparatively slower spread of Brazil variant and slower surge in cases.

Director of Pan-American Health Organization, Carissa Etienne has warned the rapidly developing situation as “an active public health emergency”.

Biden’s first press briefing invites backlash from Republicans and media for avoiding certain key topics
Americas

Biden’s first press briefing invites backlash from Republicans and media for avoiding certain key topics

On Thursday, US president Joe Biden held his first press conference where he interacted with about 10 reporters. During his briefing he touched upon the key domestic and foreign policy issues ranging from battling COVID19 pandemic, migration, challenges posed by China, and Russia to taking a call over troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

After his brief address to the media personnels, the 46th US president opened the forum for questions. To one of the questions over restrictions imposed on voting by the Republicans, Biden responded saying, “What I’m worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is. It is sick.”

Besides, while slamming the state of human rights affairs in China, the 65-year-old leader also took a jab at his predecessor, Donald Trump. He said, “I made it clear that no American president — at least one did — but no American president ever backed down from speaking out of what’s happening with the Uyghurs, what’s happening in Hong Kong. That’s who we are. The moment a president walks away from that, as the last one did, is the moment we began to lose our legitimacy around the world.”

When asked about the recent test-fired missiles launched by North Korea, Biden said the US administration was making an effort to get it touch with its allies and partners to explore an apt solution to the issue. But he also stressed that that the peninsular nation might have to face the consequences if it “choose to escalate”. He said, “We will respond accordingly.”

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Observing the US leader’s first formal briefing, Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations said, “The dominant narrative from the right-wing industrial complex is that Biden is senile and being manipulated by shadowy leftists. It’s a charge so crazy it doesn’t deserve refutation. But Biden’s crisp press conference shows he is fully in command of the issues.”

Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary during the George W. Bush administration, equated the President’s briefing to a “study guide”. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham also took a swipe at Biden’s news conference, calling it “hard to watch”. He said, “He does not have the situational awareness because he doesn’t understand the problem.” Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, also expressed her disappointment towards the reporters for not asking the administration enough questions about various key topics. She said, “Their failure to ask about the pandemic, the recession, anti-Asian violence, climate change or even infrastructure (Biden had to bring it up himself) was nothing short of irresponsible. They pleaded for a news conference and then showed themselves to be unserious.”

AstraZeneca vaccine 76% effective, new study reveals
Americas

AstraZeneca vaccine 76% effective, new study reveals

AstraZeneca said its vaccine for the coronavirus was effective by 76 percent, findings as per the latest analysis of its trial in the United States. 

It is pertinent to mention that these findings are lower than the ones announced earlier this week that were criticized for using information that was outdated.

US health officials had admonished the drugmakers for not using the latest information in a report that said that the vaccine was 79% effective.

The latest data relies on 190 cases of COVID-19 among 32,400 participants in the U.S, Peru, and Chile. The data used in the earlier report was based upon 141 infections until February 17.

AstraZeneca said in a statement that “the primary analysis is consistent with the previous interim analysis, and asserts that the vaccine is highly effective in adults”.

The drugmaker said it plans to seek US authorization for the vaccine and the latest data had been kept in front of the Data Safety Monitoring Board, an independent trial oversight committee.

AstraZeneca said that the shot, developed with the help of Oxford University, was 100 percent effective in critical forms of the disease. It reiterated that the vaccine showed 85 percent effectiveness in adults aged 65 years and older.

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The updated 76 percent rate is compared with the rates of about 95 percent efficacy of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, but they require careful storage and cautious handling and are also more expensive.

The company added that the vaccine efficacy in people aged 65 and over was 85 percent, but the sample size used was not mentioned and the statistical range used to assert this figure makes it slightly less meaningful.

AstraZeneca was a frontrunner in the race to develop a vaccine against the pandemic and was favored heavily by the United States, which placed orders of over 300 million doses. However, a series of mistakes on its part eroded US agencies’ confidence

Winter hit Texas, gets a visit from President Biden as state Senator Ted Cruz enjoys in Florida sun
Americas

Winter hit Texas, gets a visit from President Biden as state Senator Ted Cruz enjoys in Florida sun

President Joe Biden and his wife, First Lady Jill Biden, made their visit to distraught and winter disaster-hit the state of Texas on Friday, February 26. The political divide and irony in the United States became even more evident as Ted Cruz, state’s Republican Senator was basking in Florida’s warm sun and joked about his recent trip to Mexico. 

On Friday, Biden’s visit to Houston was his first empathetic trip to a tragedy struck region, the centerpiece of his presidential campaign. Severe winter weather that hit Texas led to severe power outages, water pipes burst and halted lives, leading to the death of 40 people across the state that is not used to such extreme weather. At this time of crisis, Senator Ted Cruz went for a family trip to Cancun, Mexico that caused country-wide ridicule and criticism, for a fact that he should have been with Texans who had voted for him. Cruz had to cut short the trip and returned a day after, making excuses, but the damage had been done. 

President Biden showcased his biggest quality of empathy and care as he made his first stop at emergency operations centre where he received situation briefing from Bob Fenton, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) acting administrator, along with state and local emergency officials. 

President Biden thanked all the workers for carrying out “God’s work” at the time of crisis. President was joined by First Lady Jill Biden at their next stop food bank. 

Speaking at FEMA’s vaccination center, President said, “We’re not here today as Democrats or Republicans. We’re here today as Americans … When a crisis hits our states, like the one that hit Texas … it’s our fellow Americans who are hurting and it’s our job to help everyone in need. Look out for one another. Leave nobody behind.”

While Biden was accompanied by Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Senator John Cornyn, both of who are Republicans, another Republican Senator from Texas Ted Cruz was missing. Cruz was very conveniently enjoying in warm Orlando, Florida, busy gathering applauds from the biggest conservative meeting where former President Donald Trump will speak on Sunday. 

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Meanwhile, Texas is still grappling to come back on track after a disastrous winter weather spell. President Biden has yet again shown what a dedicated leader acts like.

Biden’s ‘Buy America’ policy affects US trade ties, Beijing hints at the possibility of new Cold War
Asia Pacific Focus

Biden’s ‘Buy America’ policy affects US trade ties, Beijing hints at the possibility of new Cold War

On Monday, US president Joe Biden signed a new executive order to focus on enhancing the US manufacturing and industrial sector. The Democratic president signed the executive order to promote the country’s long-standing ‘buy America’ policy. Biden used it to eliminate legal loopholes that limit the federal agencies in providing a favorable push to “Made in America” products. Biden’s order stands in line with his predecessor Donald Trump’s ‘America first’ policy.

While emphasizing about the existing ‘Buy American Act of 1933’, Biden said that the new order would make federal agencies to prioritize buying goods produced on US soil, but “these preferences have not always been implemented consistently or effectively”.

An official from the Biden administration said, “The dollars the federal government spends… are a powerful tool to support American workers and manufacturers. Contracting alone accounts for nearly $600 billion in federal spending.”

“I don’t buy for one second that the vitality of American manufacturing is a thing of the past,” Biden told reporters before signing the order. “American manufacturing was the arsenal of democracy in World War II and it must be part of the engine of American prosperity now.” But Biden’s vision for American domestic industry sparked conflict with one of its biggest trade rival, China.

Chinese Premier Xi Jinping called out against Biden’s protectionist policies and warned against the emergence of a new ‘cold war’, if the trend continues. Speaking at the World Economic Forum event, Xi said that nations should adopt a multilateral approach to combat the ongoing economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, instead of promoting reverse globalization, and favoring “decoupling and seclusion”.

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Though Xi avoided directly mentioning US or Biden’s executive order his words made it clear that his nation would not adhere to the dictates of the new administration in Washington. “To build small circles or start a new cold war, to reject, threaten or intimidate others, to wilfully impose decoupling, supply disruption or sanctions, and to create isolation or estrangement will only push the world into division and even confrontation” Xi said.

Xi added, “No global problem can be solved by any one country alone. There must be global action, global response, and global cooperation.” Besides, the Chinese President proposed the creation of an open world economy, which would “uphold the multilateral trading regime, discard discriminatory and exclusionary standards, rules and systems, and takedown barriers to trade, investment, and technological exchanges.”

The Chinese leader also condemned the bully behavior employed by one nation to take advantage of others, hinting at US formidable purchasing power. He said, “State-to-state relations should be coordinated and regulated through proper institutions and rules. The strong should not bully the weak. Decisions should not be made by simply showing off strong muscles or waving a big fist”.

EU-China agreement invites criticism for its hasty giveaway and overlooking Beijing’s human rights record
Asia Pacific Focus

EU-China agreement invites criticism for its hasty giveaway and overlooking Beijing’s human rights record

Members of European Parliament MEPs criticized the EU-China Comprehensive Investment Agreement (CIA) and the hurried manner in which it got formalized. Many slammed German chancellor, Angela Merkel, for her determination to secure the deal, overlooking not only Beijing’s questionable human rights record but also risking the EU’s ties with Washington. The agreement was seen by US and UK officials as nothing less than a geopolitical blunder. The Union pressed for the deal to be finalized by the end of 2020.

The report, presenting the complete analysis of the agreement, called it the worst negotiated deal as it provided the EU with the minimum additional market access along with “next to no means” to force Chinese authorities for the eradication of forced labor. The report published by the Institut Montaigne highlighted that the European Commission oversold the deal, mainly due to persistent pressure from Merkel. 

The report’s author François Godement said that the agreement could spur tensions between the bloc and US over its differences with regard to China’s human rights situation. Washington strongly slammed Beijing’s treatment of its Muslim minority community, Uyghur. On Tuesday, the newly appointed secretary of state, Antony Blinken, told the Senate that US needed to toughen its stand against China as the communist nation was committing genocide in Xinjiang province. His statement hinted at US adoption of tough trade approach towards Beijing.

Europe still has some hope, as MEPs hold the right to ratify the agreement but it would take about a year’s time to do so. European Parliament, which is currently reviewing the agreement, would be passing a motion next week condemning the way the agreement was processed hurriedly, reducing the EU’s support towards global human rights.

With regard to the motion, Godement said that the EU would “regret the fact that the decision for a political conclusion of the comprehensive agreement on investment (CAI) has not reflected the European parliament’s requests in previous resolutions on Hong Kong for using investment negotiations as a leverage tool aiming at preserving Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, as well as its basic rights and freedoms”.

Godement objected to the deal on the basis that it permitted China “to build on Europe’s claims to have advanced its values while escaping enforcement and remedies on the issues that are at the heart of current public debates: environment and labor”.

He added: “Given China’s track record, it is impossible to rely on goodwill to implement commitments and unwise to believe that on key issues, a top-down political process between both parties can be substituted to legal arbitration… On WTO-plus issues, the deal fails to put a secure mechanism of implementation in place”.

German foreign ministry defends Thai King’s visa-free stay in Bavaria
Asia Pacific Focus

German foreign ministry defends Thai King’s visa-free stay in Bavaria

Despite objections raised by the German parliament over the visa-free stay of Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn, for months at stretch during the initial lockdown, the country’s foreign ministry said that he didn’t require a visa. For the past few years, Thailand’s monarch, along with his entourage, has been frequently visiting the country to stay in the southwestern state of Bavaria.

With regard to his frequent trips to the European nation, German government raised two key issues. One surrounding the nature of the Thai King’s visa and other if he was conducting the state affairs for his nation from Germany, which the German law prohibits.

In January, the ministry wrote a letter addressed to Wolfgang Schaeuble, president of the Bundestag, offering clarification over the matter. The foreign ministry stated that the Thai monarch did not need a visa when entering the country, and hence the German authorities could not control his visits or duration of his stay. Though its not clear if the Thai monarch was controlling his state from Germany or not.

In the letter, the ministry added that King Vajiralongkorn needed a visa till he was a crown prince but not after he became the head of state.

Reports claim that Thai King was living in Bavaria until October, and returned back to his kingdom to commemorate the fourth anniversary of his father’s death. His visit back home was met with rising protests against the Thai government, led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who was slammed for his pro-royalist tone and allowing the army to maintain its grip on power. Student-led demonstrations demanded Prayuth’s resignation and rejection of the new constitution which extended more power to the monarchy. The protestors called for reforms to curb the powers of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Student protestors even marched towards and carried demonstration outside the German embassy in Bangkok to press the European nation to conduct fair investigation into the king’s activities in Germany. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas then responded that the authorities would “permanently review the goings-on and act immediately if things are found that we perceive to breach the law.”

Contradicting the ministry’s claim, the parliamentary researchers submitted a document stating, “The granting of visa-free entry for the Thai king’s private visits in Germany cannot be justified through utilization and interpretation of the relevant laws… At best, one can assume the existence of a legal loophole.”

Sevim Dagdelen, the member of the Left Party and party’s representative on the Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee, was the one to push initiate the parliamentary researchers towards the issue, demanding clarification over Thai King’s stay in the country, even during the lockdown months when everything was shut down. “The Federal Government must stop pretending its hands are tied and start to use the immigration law’s leeway to stop the Thai king from continuing his despotic governing from Germany,” Dagdelen told media.

Slamming foreign ministry’s coverup for the Thai’s travels and stays in German, Margarete Bause, the Greens’ spokesperson on human rights, said that the latest Bundestag’s presidential research document was less than a slap in the face for the German government. “The foreign ministry has for months been wiggling around the issue and uses any possible legal grey zone to avoid positioning itself clearly,” said Bause. “Especially in view of the increasingly harsh crackdown against the Thai opposition, it is irresponsible that the German government effectively grants the Thai king permanent special rights,” she added

Italy’s coalition government on edge, in danger of losing vote of confidence
Europe

Italy’s coalition government on edge, in danger of losing vote of confidence

Italian coalition government has been witnessing political crisis. The country’s prime minister Giuseppe Conte, who won vote of confidence in lower house on Monday, has been under a lot of pressure as the main test of his political prowess depends on the vote in the upper house, the Senate due on Tuesday. The Italy’s ruling government has been on the edge, since former prime minister Matteo Renzi withdrew the support of his party Italia Viva (Italy Alive) from the ruling coalition last week.

Conte‘s lower house win gave him a little hope, where the government escaped defeat by 321 to 259 votes. The coalition won by greater than expected margin, but the danger of losing power continue to loom until the result of the upper house would be out. In his speech, given at the lower house, Conte said that the country was at a precarious turn, when forming a new government would be too risky an affair. Conte said that the need of the hour was to stand together to fight the exiting battles against Covid-19 pandemic and crumbling economy. He added that Italy needed “a cohesive government,” with “an essential European mission, pursuing a clear choice of field against nationalist tendencies.”  

He said, “We risk losing touch with reality … All our energies should be focused on the urgent crisis facing the country,” referring to the pandemic onslaught. The country had been one of the worst impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, which claimed over 82,000 lives and reduced its economy to ruins. Amidst the global health tragedy, Conte defended his government’s efforts in dealing with the situation put forward by the unprecedented disease.

Conte’s center-left coalition government, at present include the left-wing populist Five Star Movement (MS5) and the center-left Democratic Party (PD) as its remaining allies after Renzi’s exit. Critics slammed former premier’s exit from the coalition government, triggering political crisis in the country at the juncture when nation was battling a major health disaster. Renzi orchestrated the resignation of two cabinet ministers and a junior minister following a disagreement with Conte over spending of EU fund as the nation is bound to receive €209 billion ($250 billion) as a recover fund from the bloc.

US-Canada initiate work towards policy alignment as Biden takes over US Presidency
Americas

US-Canada initiate work towards policy alignment as Biden takes over US Presidency

US-Canada initiate work: One of the closest allies in the American history, have initiated policy alignment discussions to prepare groundwork for the new presidential era. Joe Biden would be officially succeeding Donald Trump as the US next president on January 20. Interestingly, Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau was among the first few leaders who acknowledged Biden’s election win and congratulated him for the same. 

“It’s very much a tradition that the Canadian prime minister and the U.S. president meet very quickly to be able to talk about all the tremendous things that we can do together,” Trudeau said in an interview to Reuters on Thursday

The Canadian leader has been looking forward to the beginning of new era in the US political history with the end of Trump’s reign, who following his Canada visit in 2018 called Trudeau as “very dishonest and weak”. 

On the contrary, the Liberal Canadian Premier shared close ties with former Democratic President Barack Obama. In December 2016, after Trump’s election win, Biden, Obama’s vice-president, passed the progressive torch to Trudeau on a visit to Ottawa.

“The world’s going to spend a lot of time looking to you, Mr. Prime Minister, as we see more and more challenges to the liberal international order than any time since the end of World War Two,” Biden said.

It would be a golden period for US-Canada ties as Biden and Trudeau share common vision on various issues. Though the biggest hurdle between the two would be around Biden’s economic policy which is focused around “buy America” policy.

“I do think that he’s been pretty clear around some of the aspects of his economic policy that are a little more protectionist than we would want to see,” Ambassador Kirsten Hillman told Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

During his campaign, Biden committed to launch a $400 billion investment to promote US-made goods and said “when we spend taxpayer money, we should buy American products”.

Biden’s economic policy could be a bone of contention with one of the US largest trading partner, as Canadian economy is highly dependent on Washington, which imports about 75% of all Canadian goods exports.

“We are both focusing on, first and foremost, combating COVID, ensuring the safety and health of our citizens, respecting science…There’s a lot of alignment on climate policy…So, I mean, the list is long of policy coordination,” Hillman said.

Hillman added that both the leaders, share great camaraderie and common understanding over various issues. “So that is definitely going to be an asset”.

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