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Coronavirus deals blow to Putin’s plans to stay in power until 2036

In a televised address to the nation Wednesday, Putin announced a sweeping array of measures to cope..

In a televised address to the nation Wednesday, Putin announced a sweeping array of measures to cope with the spread of the virus and its widening economic effects."Let's not rely on our Russian luck," he said. "Please do not think, as we often do: 'Oh, this will not touch me.' It can touch everyone. And then what is happening today in many Western countries, both in Europe and overseas, could become our immediate future."Some of the measures were meant to soften the economic blow. Starting on March 28, Russians will have a week's paid leave — to stay home. Russians will see a moratorium on mortgage payments, and enterprises will be given credit holidays. And families entitled to government payments to support multiple children will receive extra monthly payments.But coronavirus has taken on a political dimension for the Russian leader: Putin also announced that a nationwide referendum on constitutional amendments scheduled for April 22 has been postponed until further notice."We'll evaluate the situation and based only on the recommendations from doctors and specialists we will decide on a new date," Putin said.It's hard to understate how important that vote was to securing the Russian president's hold on power. Putin has grasped the reins of power in his country for two decades, but his current term ends in 2024, leaving Russia with a potential succession crisis. Putin's system of managed democracy means that power flows from one man: The president has no serious political competition, his friends and allies control the commanding heights of the economy and Putin is the ultimate arbiter of disputes between elites. The current constitution requires Putin to step down after his current term, meaning that the system he presides over could quickly unravel.The April 22 vote was supposed to remedy that, in typically Putinesque fashion. The country's rubber-stamp parliament rammed through amendments to the constitution that could pave the way for the president stay in power after his current term ends, potentially until 2036. Putin signed the amendments, and the constitutional court endorsed the proposed changes, which must now be put to the popular vote.Coronavirus, then, is a new political battlefield for Putin, and the Kremlin leader preceded his speech Wednesday with a public relations offensive.Russian President Vladimir Putin visits a hospital in Kommunarka in protective gear.On Tuesday, the Russian leader paid a visit to the main Moscow hospital for monitoring suspected coronavirus patients, donning protective gear to visit the hospital in the city's suburb of Kommunarka. It was the kind of costume play we're used to seeing from the Kremlin, and reminiscent of one of his earliest moves as Russia's acting president: flying to the war-torn republic of Chechnya in 2000 in the co-pilot's seat of an Su-27 fighter jet.Putin cast the current campaign against coronavirus in martial terms."I watched how they [the hospital staff] are working, everyone is at their battle positions," he said, according to a Kremlin statement. "Everyone works like clockwork, good and well-coordinated."Putin wasn't just playing the decisive commander-in-chief for a domestic audience. He also deployed his military as part of an international campaign to battle the pandemic. Over the weekend, the Russian military announced it was deploying a group of 100 doctors and virologists along with disinfection equipment to Italy to assist that country in countering the outbreak.Why Vladimir Putin is shaking up RussiaRussian Aerospace Forces Il-76 aircraft departed Sunday from Moscow's Chkalovsky military airfield with Russian military specialists and equipment aboard. The Russian Ministry of Defense posted a photo of one of the transport planes: the fuselage was decorated with a picture of two hearts, one each in the colors of the Italian and Russian flags."From Russia with love," the sign read in Russian, English Read More – Source

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Post-Soviet strongmen prescribe vodka, hockey and folk medicine against coronavirus

Take, for instance, Belarus, a small country sandwiched between Russia and European Union member Pol..

Take, for instance, Belarus, a small country sandwiched between Russia and European Union member Poland: President Alexander Lukashenko has shrugged off concerns about Covid-19, telling his people that hockey, vodka, and banya — a traditional sauna — are the best cures.Lukashenko, who has ruled the country of 9.5 million people for more than a quarter of a century, has imposed few restrictions to prevent coronavirus from spreading further.Restaurants, parks and bars remain open. Mass sporting events go on as scheduled and attract hundreds of spectators, in defiance of the World Health Organization's social distancing recommendations. The Belarussian Premier League is now the only soccer competition on the continent. And Lukashenko himself hasn't limited public appearances, opting to play in a hockey match on Saturday. "It's better to die standing than to live on your knees," he said, rinkside in full hockey gear, in an interview with state television. "This is a fridge, this is healthy, there is nothing better than sport, especially ice which is the real anti-viral medicine." Belarus has officially reported 94 cases of coronavirus — and no deaths — but Lukashenko's critics have cast doubt on those statistics, warning that authorities there could be downplaying the numbers as the country gears up for a presidential election later this year. Lukashenko has made his own recommendations to combat the virus, suggesting that Belarusians should drink vodka to "poison the virus," or attend a banya. "I once mentioned that people need to go to banya to fight different viruses, this one included, since Covid-19 doesn't like high temperatures and dies at +60 C, as the experts informed me," Lukashenko said, adding that if you don't have hand sanitizer, drink vodka. "When you get out of sauna you shouldn't just wash your hands — down a shot of vodka," he said. "I don't drink myself, and I don't advocate for it, but I'll be okay with, it's tolerable at least until Victory Day on May 9."There is no clear evidence to indicate that the coronavirus can be controlled by high temperatures, experts say.

Business as usual

Belarus has yet to close its borders — its response so far has been limited to a two-week quarantine order for all those arriving in the country. But all of its neighbors — Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia — have shut theirs. Work hasn't stopped either, as Lukashenko is concerned at how the coronavirus response is hurting the global economy. He says he found inspiration in US President Donald Trump's suggestion that the cure for Covid-19 should not be worse than the virus itself. "I liked his recent statements very much," Lukashenko said of Trump, during a visit to a plaster plant last week, according to an official transcript. "He said, 'If we do not immediately return to enterprises and start working, then much more Americans will die from unemployment than from coronavirus.' Now you understand why I didn't close the factories."In post-Soviet Central Asia, some local strongmen have also taken the path of coronavirus denial.In Tajikistan, a remote nation bordering Afghanistan, President Emomali Rahmon has continued a schedule of public appearances and plans to convene parliament in mid-April.'Better to die standing than to live on your knees,' says Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko at ice hockey matchLast week, Rahmon — who is referred to in government news releases as the "Founder of Peace and National Unity and Leader of the Nation" — paid visits to cities taking part in a nationwide beautification project, the Republic Flower Contest, and handed out gifts to orphans."This humane initiative of the Head of State caused great joy," the government news release stated.Rahmon also went ahead with massive celebrations for Nowruz, the Persian New Year, taking part in festivities at the central stadium in the city of Khujand on March 22. The government news release featured crowds of spectators in national dress watching a colorful, choreographed spectacle and a speech by theRead More – Source

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Spain turns ice rink into a morgue as coronavirus deaths pile up

Bodies of people who have died of Covid-19 are now being transported by the country's emergency..

Bodies of people who have died of Covid-19 are now being transported by the country's emergency military unit to the Palacio de Hielo, or Ice Palace, in Madrid's Hortaleza neighborhood, the Madrid regional president's office told CNN on Tuesday. The regional government said this was a "temporary and extraordinary measure" designed to "lessen the pain of the families of the victims and the situation that's being recorded in Madrid's hospitals."Spain has the fourth highest number of confirmed cases worldwide — after China, Italy and the US — and the third highest number of deaths. The country has confirmed 39,673 cases and 2,696 deaths, the prime minister's office said Tuesday. The Madrid municipal funeral service, a major provider in the city, announced in a statement on Monday it would stop collecting the bodies of Covid-19 victims, because its workers don't have sufficient protective material. The service manages 14 cemeteries, two funeral parlors and two crematoriums in Madrid.The funeral service said that cremations, burials and other services for coronavirus victims would continue as normal, but only if the bodies are "sent by other funeral services businesses in a closed coffin."Madrid is one of the epicenters of the epidemics in Spain. The president of the Madrid region, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, said last week that the city expects 80% of its population to get Covid-19. "They will have mild symptoms," she told a local radio, but added that the illness will be a problem for the city's vulnerable population, which is around 15% of people.Members of the Spanish army's military emergency unit disinfect the Palacio de Hielo.Spain has been locked down and in a state of emergency since Friday March 13. The period was initially expected to last 15 days, but Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Sunday that the state of emergency could be extended for further 14 days. The parliament will debate the motion on Read More – Source

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Netflix and YouTube are slowing down in Europe to keep the internet from breaking

Both companies said the measures will affect all video streams for 30 days.”We estimate that this wi..

Both companies said the measures will affect all video streams for 30 days."We estimate that this will reduce Netflix traffic on European networks by around 25% while also ensuring a good quality service for our members," a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement.A spokesperson for Google (GOOGL), which owns YouTube, said: "We will continue working with member state governments and network operators to minimize stress on the system, while also delivering a good user experience."The changes follow appeals from EU officials for streaming services and individual users to ditch high definition video to prevent the internet from breaking. With so many countries on forced lockdowns to fight the spread of the virus, hundreds of millions working from home and even more children out of school, the officials were concerned about the huge strain on the internet.European Commissioner Thierry Breton, who is responsible for the EU internal market covering more than 450 million people, spoke to Netflix (NFLX) CEO Reed Hastings on Wednesday and again on Thursday about the strain video streaming was placing on networks. In a statement on Thursday Breton said that given the unprecedented situation, streaming platforms, telecom operators and users "all have a joint responsibility to take steps to ensure the smooth functioning of the internet during the battle against the virus propagation." According to a 2019 report by American networking equipment company Sandvine, video accounts for over 60% of data delivered from internet providers to consumers, with Netflix accounting for just under 12% of total traffic. Google traffic, driven by YouTube, accounts for another 12%.A Netflix spokesperson told CNN Business the reduction may mean some users "see a reduction in perceptible video quality," while others won't see any change.A spokesperson for Amazon (AMZN) said it has also begun efforts to reduce streaming bitrates on its Prime Video service, and was working with authorities to help mitigate network congestion.The Commission said that while there has been a sharp increase in internet usage, no outages or adverse effects have so far been reported. EU officials said they would work with the regulator that oversees electronic communications in the bloc to set up a special reporting mechanism to monitor internet traffic and respond to capacity issues.Telecom operators said they support calls for customers to switch to standard definition streaming."At this stage, new traffic patterns are being effectively handled by engineers as per standard network operations," Lise Fuhr, director general of the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association, said in a statement. "We support the European Commission's effort to ensure that national governments and national regulators have all the tools they need to keep networks strong across the continent."Howard Watson, chief technology and information officer for BT Group (BTGOF), said in a statement that the company "has more than enough capacity" in its UK network. "Even if the same heavy data traffic that we see each evening were to run throughout the daytime, there is still enough capacity for work applications to run simultaneously," he said. Verizon (VZ) CEO Hans Vestberg also said his company's US network is prepared to handle the traffic. "So far [we're seeing] no congestion in the network, we can handle that, we have built a very robust network," Vestberg told CNN Business' Richard Quest on Thursday. He did acknowledge that the company is seeing different kinds of demands on the network — including a 75% jump in gaming traffic and a 30% increase in VPN usage from the prior week.But the internet is clearly under pressure. Facebook (Read More – Source

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