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‘Build, build build’: UK’s Johnson unveils plan to beat Covid-19 slump

Issued on: 30/06/2020 – 16:54Modified: 30/06/2020 – 16:59

Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to..

Issued on: Modified:

Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to shake Britain's economy out of its coronavirus-induced crisis on Tuesday by fast-tracking infrastructure investment and slashing property planning rules.

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As Britain emerges from lockdown, Johnson is looking to move past criticism of his government's handling of the pandemic with a plan to repair the economic damage and reshape the country.

"We cannot continue simply to be prisoners of the crisis," Johnson said. "We must work fast because we've already seen the vertiginous drop in GDP and we know that people are worried now about their jobs and their businesses."

His message, delivered at a college in the central English town of Dudley, was overshadowed by the announcement of a new lockdown in Leicester, just 50 miles away, where Covid-19 infections are surging.

Nevertheless, with an exhortation to "build, build, build", Johnson announced plans to speed up government infrastructure spending and cut through the red tape around planning to make private sector property development easier..

"We will build the hospitals, build the schools, the colleges. But we will also build back greener and build a more beautiful Britain," he said.

Promising not to cut spending, he compared his plan to then US President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1930s "New Deal", which included job-creating public works projects to help the United States recover from the Great Depression.

"It sounds like a prodigious amount of government intervention, sounds like a new deal … If that is so, then that is how it's meant to sound," Johnson said.

Spent sooner

Tuesday's headline spending announcement of 5 billion pounds ($6 billion) amounts to around 5% of gross public sector investment last year. Most had already been announced and is only being spent sooner than planned.

"It's not enough," Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer told the BBC. "The prime minister promised a new deal — well there's not much that's new and it's not much of a deal."

Kate Forbes, finance secretary for the devolved Scottish govRead More – Source

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Europe

Instagram to block all content promoting LGBT conversion therapy

Issued on: 10/07/2020 – 20:35Modified: 10/07/2020 – 20:38

Instagram said on Friday it would block ..

Issued on: 10/07/2020 – 20:35Modified: 10/07/2020 – 20:38

Instagram said on Friday it would block content that promotes so-called conversion therapy, which aims to alter a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, as pressure to ban the practice grows.

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The social media giant announced earlier this year it would no longer allow adverts for conversion therapy services, which can range from counselling and "praying away the gay" to electric shocks and sexual violence.

"We don't allow attacks against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity," Tara Hopkins, Instagram's public policy director for Europe, Middle East and Africa said in an emailed statement.

"(We) are updating our policies to ban the promotion of conversion therapy services."

A spokesman for Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, said it would take time to update all policies and content flagged by users may not be removed immediately.

The United Nations independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity called last month for a global ban on conversion therapy, describing it as "cruel, inhumane and degrading".

A growing number of countries – including the United States, Canada, Chile and Mexico – are reviewing their laws. Brazil, Ecuador and Malta have nationwide bans on conversion therapy, while Germany outlawed the treatment for minors in May.

'Step in the right direction'

Instagram's move is "a step in the right direction, but we'd have to wait and see exactly what kind of actions they take," Harry Hitchens, co-founder of the campaign group Ban Conversion Therapy, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Ban Conversion Therapy sent an open letter yesterday to Britain's Equalities Minister Liz Truss, urging her "to introduce a truly effective ban on conversion therapy for all lesbian, gay, bi, trans and gender diverRead More – Source

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Europe

Serbia, Kosovo resume very difficult talks on normalising ties

Issued on: 10/07/2020 – 19:27Modified: 10/07/2020 – 19:30

The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo on Frid..

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The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo on Friday held their first talks in 18 months on resolving one of Europe's most intractable territorial disputes, agreeing to a face-to-face meeting next week on the “very difficult” process.

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Serbia has refused to recognise Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence after the province broke away in the bloody 1998-99 war that was ended only by a NATO bombing campaign against Serb troops.

Kosovos Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic held a video summit that was also joined by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

These discussions will be followed by more online talks on Sunday between Hoti and Vucic as well as EU officials, and then their meeting in Brussels on Thursday, Macron and Merkel said in a joint statement after the talks.

They encouraged Hoti and Vucic to “achieve substantial progress in the negotiations in the coming months,” the statement said.

“There are very difficult perspectives for the outcome of this dialogue, but there is a commitment by everyone to proceed step by step,” added a French presidential official, who asked not to be named.

Both Kosovo and Serbia have been facing mounting pressure from the West to resolve the impasse, which is seen as crucial to either side joining the EU.

“The normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia is essential for the security and stability of the region and of great importance if the two countries are to join the EU,” the statement by the French and German leaders said.

A senior EU official in Brussels who followed the talks echoed the sentiment that significant challenges remained, saying “This is the beginning of the story.”

Hoti told the online summit that the normalisation of relations “can be achieved only if Kosovo and Serbia respect each other's statehood,” his office said.

Leadership test

More than 13,000 people died in the war, mostly Kosovo Albanians, who form a majority in the former province.

Vucic, who is facing a major crisis at home after protests over a new coronavirus lockdown in Serbia, had warned ahead of the talks that he did not expect a smooth ride and that “no one is going to cuddle us or give us a present.”

The new push comes after Kosovos President Hashim Thaci was charged last month with war crimes by prosecutors in The Hague.

Thaci's indictment led to the postponement of a White House summit between Serbia and Kosovo due to be held at the end of June.

European officials had bristled at the US initiative to deal with Thaci on its own — a strategy now torpedoed by the indictment — and the EU now appears newly determined to resolve the issue.

The French official acknowledged that this issue was a “tRead More – Source

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Europe

UK travellers hope to salvage holidays as government eases quarantine rules

Issued on: 10/07/2020 – 17:09

The traditional British summer getaway to the sun-soaked beaches of ..

Issued on: 10/07/2020 – 17:09

The traditional British summer getaway to the sun-soaked beaches of the Mediterranean Sea is set to pick up steam Friday as U.K. quarantine restrictions are removed from dozens of countries, including France, Greece and Italy.

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But with many flights still canceled, holiday resorts still working on ensuring that they are Covid-safe and many potential holidaymakers reluctant to make a trip abroad in light of the pandemic, Britain's airports are much less busy than they would be in any other year.

However, last weeks announcement by the British government to ease its quarantine requirements for anyone arriving back in England has given some enough of a nudge to take the plunge.

“We probably would have gone later,” said Ray Gordge, 64, at Gatwick Airports North Terminal, south of London.

“Its exciting, Im pleased the quarantine has been lifted to be honest,” said Gordge, who was on his way to Paris to see his daughter for the first time in six months, and meet his new grandson, born last week.

As of Friday, anyone arriving back in England from around 75 countries and territories wont have to self-isolate for 14 days.

Boost for travel industry

The aviation and travel industries are hoping that the new rules will help them salvage part of the summer holiday booking season that has been so battered by the restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic – thousands of people have lost their jobs as business ground to a halt.

The crucial period will be later this month after schools formally close for the summer and travel companies and airlines start ramping up operations. Confidence is key, though, and is susceptible to any new outbreaks that may start appearing over the coming weeks.

Gatwick Chief Executive Stewart Wingate said the relaxation of the rules can make a “massive difference,” given that around three-quarters of the destinations the airport serves are now free from quarantine requirements.

“From a consumer point of view, what were hoping is that will persuade people to take advantage of the flights,” he said.

Wingate said that there would be around 50 flights at the airport on Friday, rising to around 100 by the end of the month and possibly to around 400 later in the summer – way below the 900 or so the airport normally handles in the peak season.

Masks compulsory

The list does not include the United States, which is still considered high-risk. Portugal, another popular destination for British holidaymakers, also isn't on the list, though discussions between the respective governments are ongoing. Serbia was originally on the list but was removed on Friday because of a spike in coronavirus infections in the country.

One of the major changes that will greet holidaymakers is the necessity tRead More – Source

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