PolEU, Author at POLSKA УКРАЇНА

Czech PM Demands Health Minister Resign for Violating COVID-19 Restrictions

A political standoff is brewing in the Czech Republic where the health minister has refused to resign after pictures were published of him eating in a Prague restaurant closed under COVID-19 regulations.
 
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis Friday called on Health Minister Roman Prymula to resign after the tabloid Blesk published pictures of Prymula leaving a restaurant late at night and entering a car without a face mask. Both acts appear to violate Health Ministry restrictions on restaurants and mask requirements in most places, including chauffeured cars.
 
But later Friday, Prymula told reporters he did not break any rules and refused to step down. He said he had been invited to the restaurant for meeting with a hospital director and entered the restaurant through a private entrance and wore a mask once he was in his car.
 
Bars and restaurants in the Czech Republic are closed under current regulations designed to at least slow the spread of the virus. Schools, theaters, cinemas, zoos and many other locations are also closed and professional sports competitions have been stopped.
 
The health minister said the prime minster does have the option to fire him. Babis was scheduled to meet with Czech President Milos Zeman, who approves ministerial changes, later Friday to discuss the matter.
 
The controversy comes as the nation is battling the worst resurgence of COVID-19 in Europe. As of Friday, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control reports over the past two weeks, the Czech Republic has led the continent with 1,148 cases per 100,000 people. 

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Pompeo Urges Azerbaijani, Armenian FMs to End Violence in Nagorno-Karabakh

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is calling on the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan to “end the violence and protect civilians” after nearly a month of intense fighting in the breakaway mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
 
The State Department issued the statement after Pompeo met separately with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov and Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan in Washington on Friday.
 
“The secretary also stressed the importance of the sides entering substantive negotiations under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs to resolve the conflict based on the Helsinki Final Act principles of the non-use or threat of force, territorial integrity, and the equal rights and self-determination of peoples,” said State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus.
 
Mnatsakanyan told VOA the talks were “very good,” as he left the State Department Friday. When asked about a timeline for a cease-fire, he said “we [will] keep working on that.”
 
A group of some two dozen demonstrators, mostly Armenians, were gathered outside the State Department Friday.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline.Download File360p | 7 MB480p | 10 MB540p | 14 MB720p | 34 MB1080p | 58 MBOriginal | 60 MB Embed” />Copy Download AudioThe meeting in Washington was arranged after two failed Russian attempts to broker a cease-fire in the worst outbreak of fighting over the region in more than a quarter-century.
 
Pompeo has joined other global leaders in pushing for an end to the fighting over the disputed territory. But Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Wednesday he sees no possibility of a diplomatic solution at this stage of the conflict.
 
For his part, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has said Armenian forces must withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh to end the fighting, which Russian President Vladimir said may have killed about 5,000 people since the violence erupted.
 
Also Wednesday, Turkey said it will not hesitate to send troops and provide military support to help Azerbaijan if such a request is made. Pompeo has called on other countries not to provide “fuel” for the conflict.
 
Shortly before the meetings in Washington began, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he hoped to collaborate with Russia to resolve the conflict.
 Aram Avetisyan of VOA’s Armenian Service contributed reporting. 

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Pompeo Meets With Azerbaijani, Armenian FMs in Bid to Help End Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met in Washington Friday with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia in a bid to help end nearly a month of intense fighting in the breakaway mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
 
Pompeo invited Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov and Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan to meet with him separately at the State Department and said earlier this week he is anxious to hear what they are seeing on the ground.
 
The meeting in Washington was arranged after two failed Russian attempts to broker a cease-fire in the worst outbreak of fighting over the region in more than a quarter-century.
 
Pompeo has joined other global leaders in pushing for an end to the fighting over the disputed territory. But Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Wednesday he sees no possibility of a diplomatic solution at this stage of the conflict.  
 
For his part, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has said Armenian forces must withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh to end the fighting, which Russian President Vladimir said may have killed about 5,000 people since the violence erupted.  
 
Also Wednesday, Turkey said it will not hesitate to send troops and provide military support to help Azerbaijan if such a request is made. Pompeo has called on other countries not to provide “fuel” for the conflict.  
 
Shortly before the meetings in Washington began, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he hoped to collaborate with Russia to resolve the conflict.
 

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German Health Minister Predicts Vaccine by Early 2021

German Health Minister Jens Spahn says he expects a viable vaccine to be available to Germans by early next year and enough for “a large number of those want to be vaccinated” within six or seven months. In an interview published Friday in Germany’s Der Spiegel, Spahn — who tested positive for COVID-19 this week — said he expects there would be more than enough vaccine for the German population, and he would like to pass on any surplus to other nations that might need it. FILE – German Health Minister Jens Spahn receives an influenza injection at Charite hospital, during the coronavirus pandemic, in Berlin, Germany, Oct. 14, 2020. (Reuters)Spahn told the German media outlet that health care workers would be prioritized to be vaccinated first. But he said he would refer to the Standing Vaccinations Commission at Germany’s Robert Koch Institute for Health and Infectious Diseases for guidance. In another sign the German government is preparing for vaccine distribution, Germany’s Daily Bild also reported Friday the health ministry has asked the nation’s 16 state governors to identify potential vaccination centers by November 10. The report says the government is seeking to establish at total of 60 vaccination centers nationwide in order to effectively vaccinate the population. On Thursday, the Koch Institute chief Lothar Wieler warned the COVID-19 situation in Germany was “very serious,” as the nation set a record for daily infections with more than 11,000. 
 

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Britain to Deliberately Infect Volunteers With Coronavirus

Healthy volunteers will be deliberately infected with the coronavirus to try to speed up the development of a vaccine, under plans announced by the British government this week.  The trial will involve healthy volunteers ages 18 to 30. Most coronavirus vaccine trials involve giving volunteers the potential vaccine or a placebo and then waiting until enough of them have been exposed to the virus through their everyday lives. That can take months or years. Britain announced this week it plans to begin the so-called “human challenge” trials in May 2021 to speed up the development of vaccines.  Several young people have already volunteered, among them Danica Marcos, 22, a recent university graduate from London. “So many people [are] struggling right now. I want this pandemic to be over,” Marcos told The Associated Press. “Every day that goes on, more cases are going on, more people are dying. And if this vaccine trial could mean that this period of trauma for the whole world will be over sooner, I want to help. I want to be a part of that.” People walk past a display featuring health advice in the shopping district in central Sheffield, south Yorkshire, Oct. 21, 2020. (AFP)Alastair Fraser-Urqhart, 18, from Stoke-on-Trent said he wanted to contribute to a vaccine.  “Personally, I can’t let this opportunity to do something, to really do something, pass me by when I’m at such low risk than other people,” he said. The British government plans to invest over $43.4 million in the challenge trial. The World Health Organization said it could be significant. “There is a very long history of this for development of a number of vaccines that has been part of what has gone on with, say, the development of the cholera vaccines and the typhoid vaccines,” said Margaret Harris, a spokeswoman for WHO. Harris also expressed some concerns. “What is critical is that if people are considering this, it must be overseen by an ethics committee, and the volunteers must have full consent, and they must select the volunteers in order to minimize their risk. Because you will be challenging people with a virus that we do not have a treatment for,” Harris said. “So, you must ensure that everybody involved understands exactly what is at stake, must be selected to minimize the risk. The volunteer and you must ensure that informed consent is rigorous, that they really do understand all the risks.” FILE – A passenger in a car receives a novel coronavirus test at a drive-in COVID-19 testing facility set up at the Chessington World of Adventures Resort, in Chessington, southwest of London, Oct. 20, 2020. (AFP)Infections, hospitalizations and deaths from the new coronavirus are rising sharply in many countries around the world. A vaccine remains the best hope of any return to some kind of normality, said Dr. Sterghios Moschos, a microbiologist at the University of Northumbria, who spoke to VOA in a recent interview. “At this point in time, we don’t have a way of stopping transmission,” Moschos said. “And we don’t even have the financial capacity to give multiple antibody treatments, steroids, et cetera, like Donald Trump received, to everybody in the population that needs treatment. The cost is quite large for these kinds of treatments. We don’t have a vaccine. And therefore, as a result, we need to contain the spread of this virus. Not just manage it, contain it.” The initial aim of the British research team will be to discover the smallest amount of virus it takes to cause a COVID-19 infection, using controlled doses of the virus. If approved by regulators and an ethics committee, it is hoped the full challenge trial could begin in May 2021.  

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US Warns of More Election Meddling from Russia, Iran

Russia and Iran are ramping up attacks on U.S. government networks and computer systems while also amplifying their disinformation campaigns, hoping to rattle the confidence of American voters with less than two weeks until the Nov. 3 presidential election.The warning Thursday from U.S. intelligence and election security officials came less than 24 hours after the director of national intelligence blamed Iran for launching the first sensational attack on the upcoming election, accusing Tehran of being behind thousands of spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters.Thursday’s advisories from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency suggested that the emails, as well as the ability of Russia and Iran to access voter registration information, were just the start of a larger campaign to undermine the U.S. elections.According to the FBI and CISA, the attacks from Russian began in September, targeting dozens of state and local government networks involved in activities ranging from aviation to education.The Russian cyber actor known as Beserk Bear “successfully compromised network infrastructure, and as of October 1, 2020, exfiltrated data from at least two victim servers,” the advisories said.The attackers also managed to obtain credentials that could allow them to move around in the networks, seeking out critical information that they could exploit at a later date, potentially to disrupt the upcoming presidential election.”There may be some risk to elections information housed on SLTT [state, local, tribal and territorial] government networks,” the statement added. “However, the FBI and CISA have no evidence to date that integrity of elections data has been compromised.”Officials refused to share additional details about the Russian exploits, or say which government servers had been compromised, but the independent cyber security firm Mandiant said the Russian behavior appeared to be geared toward the Nov. 3 vote.”Access to these systems could enable disruption or could be an end in itself, allowing the actor to seize on perceptions of election insecurity and undermine the democratic process,” Mandiant Senior Director of Analysis John Hultquist said in a statement.Hultquist added that while there had been at least one attack on an election-related target, “we have no information which suggests these actors are capable or even willing to alter votes.”But while the Russian cyber actors appear content, for the moment, to threaten U.S. election-related networks, the FBI and CISA warned Thursday that Iranian-linked actors appear to be in position to exploit current network vulnerabilities.“These actors have conducted a significant number of intrusions against U.S.-based networks since August 2019,” according to the new advisory, pointing to possible distributed denial of service (DDos) attacks, spear-phishing campaigns and website defacements.“These activities could render these systems temporarily inaccessible to the public or election officials, which could slow, but would not prevent, voting or the reporting of results,” the advisories said.It further warned that Iranian cyber actors have also been expanding their election-related disinformation efforts, “creating fictitious media sites and spoofing legitimate media sites to spread obtained U.S. voter-registration data, anti-American propaganda, and misinformation about voter suppression, voter fraud, and ballot fraud.”The warnings from U.S. security and intelligence officials represent a shift from the cautious, but seemingly more optimistic tone they sounded as recently as last month.”Russia continues to try to influence our elections, primarily through what we would call malign foreign influence … as opposed to what we saw in 2016 where there was also an effort to target election infrastructure,” FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers on the House Homeland Security Committee Sept. 17.#Election2020-“#Russia continues to try to influence our elections, primarily thru what we would call malign foreign influence” per @FBI’s Wray “As opposed to what we saw in 2016 where there was also an effort to target election infrastructure”— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) September 17, 2020But in an interview with Hearst Television two weeks ago, the top U.S. counterintelligence official suggested the threat landscape was changing, saying Russia, Iran and China were actively targeting U.S. election infrastructure.”We are very resilient, and we’ve been very successful in pushing back the majority of these efforts,” National Counterintelligence and Security Center William Evanina said.Evanina confirms to Hearst #Russia#China#Iran have actively targeted US election infrastructure, emails/servers for both the @realDonaldTrump & @JoeBiden campaigns”We are very resilient & we’ve been very successful in pushing back the majority of these efforts”— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) October 8, 2020In the wake of the Iranian email campaign, officials are warning American voters these campaigns by Russia and Iran, are just the start.“The intelligence shared [Wednesday], while alarming, is not surprising,” CISA Director Christopher Krebs said in a statement, adding that the number of actors seeking to meddle is likely to grow.”These are desperate attempts by our adversaries to intimidate or to undermine voter confidence, but Americans can rest assured: thousands of your fellow citizens stand ready to defend your vote, every single day” per @NSAGov’s Imbordino & @US_CYBERCOM’s BrigGen Hartman— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) October 22, 2020In the meantime, some current and former U.S. officials have expressed a sense of foreboding, noting Russia and Iran may not be done making use of the voter registration data they obtained, and which Iran used in its email campaign.“The reported Iranian acquisition of voter data should be a cause for concern,” said Norman Roule, a former senior U.S. intelligence official, who said Tehran’s efforts show its cyber and influence operations have evolved.“Whether or not this data was publicly available, its acquisition by Iranian actors engaged in these operations indicates that the material will form the basis for future targeting operations,” he said. “If our response becomes an internal debate with little focus on Iran, they will learn that these operations come at little cost.”Another current U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the matter, told VOA there is heightened concern about Tehran’s efforts, warning the Iranian regime appears to still be looking for payback following the drone strike in January that killed Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani.For now, state election officials are urging voters to remain calm and avoid falling for upsetting or sensational claims likely to pop up on social media, whether director by Iran, Russia or anyone else.“Be prepared for foreign efforts aimed at sowing division and undermining the legitimacy of the election,” a coalition of national and state officials said in a statement issued late Thursday. “Be prepared for attempts to confuse or misinform.”“The entire election community stands ready for the task ahead,” they added.NEW: @[email protected]@[email protected] on attacks vs #Election2020″We must remain steadfast…While this year has thrown unprecedented obstacles in our way, the entire election community stands ready for the task ahead & united in our goal to protect our democracy” pic.twitter.com/Go3imyxLgl— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) October 22, 2020Some experts worry that as Election Day draws near, American voters will be tested like never before.“The really tricky problem is that we’re all in a laboratory right now and we’re being experimented on by different parties,” said John Scott-Railston, a senior researcher at The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School.”We don’t know what the results will be. They [U.S. adversaries] don’t know what the results will be. But they’re very much learning,” he said.

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NATO Chief: Alliance to Build Space Center at Ramstein Airbase in Germany

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed Thursday that the military alliance would establish a space center at the Allied Air Command base in Ramstein, Germany.Speaking in Brussels after a virtual conference of NATO foreign ministers, Stoltenberg confirmed reports regarding the space center made earlier this week by European news agencies.”NATO is determined to keep our cutting edge in all domains,” he said, including “land, sea, air, cyber and space.”During a meeting last December, Stoltenberg declared “space as an operational domain for NATO. And today we took another important step.”In his comments, the NATO chief said the Allied Air Command space center would help to coordinate allied space activities and provide support for NATO missions and operations from space using satellite communications and imagery. Stoltenberg said the center also would help protect NATO-allied space systems by sharing information about potential threats.Stoltenberg has said repeatedly that NATO has no interest in the “militarization” of space. But Thursday, he said threats against NATO allied satellites and space systems were real.“For instance,” he said, “Russia and China are now developing capabilities that can blind, destroy, for instance, satellites, which will have a severe impact on both military and civilian activities on the ground.”Stoltenberg also said NATO foreign ministers expressed concern about Russia’s growing arsenal of nuclear-capable missiles and the importance of Russia and the U.S. extending the new START missile treaty.The secretary-general also called for an immediate cease-fire and cessation of all hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The region lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994.The current fighting that started there marks the biggest escalation in the conflict since the war’s end. Stoltenberg called on Turkey to “use its considerable influence in the region to calm tensions.”

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