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EU summit: Leaders reach landmark €1.82 trillion COVID-19 recovery deal and budget

EU leaders reached a landmark €1.82 trillion budget and COVID-19 recovery package early Tuesday morn..

EU leaders reached a landmark €1.82 trillion budget and COVID-19 recovery package early Tuesday morning.

It comes after days of sometimes bitter discussions over the seven-year budget and recovery package which includes jointly borrowing a €750 billion recovery fund to be shared as grants and loans.

Speaking to reporters, European Council president Charles Michel called it a “good deal”, stating that “Europe is solid”.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, meanwhile, underlined important concessions made in the search for a compromise, saying she regretted the cuts to “modern policies” in research and innovation.

French president Emmanuel Macron called it an “historic day for Europe”.

The recovery plan includes €390 billion worth of grants and €360 billion worth of loans due to a compromise with the so-called frugal four, now five, countries — Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Sweden and Denmark.

The recovery fund had originally set €500 billion to be handed out as grants and €250 billion in loans, which was supported and pushed by a close Franco-German alliance.

On Monday, Merkel had reaffirmed her support for “substantial parts of grants” to be handed out to countries most severely-hit by the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That is the answer we need for an exceptional situation,” she said, adding: “exceptional situations also require exceptional efforts”.

Early Tuesday, Austrian Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz shared a photo of the “frugals”, stating that the final package was a “good result for the EU”.

Now the deal will have to pass the scrutiny of the European parliament, which will shortly convene a special plenary session.

Making history

What had been planned as a two-day summit has become one of the longest in EU history.

Talks were originally planned to end on Saturday, but the effort to broker a compromise pushed leaders to extend their hotel stays.

It has been compared to the Nice summit in 2000, where arguments over treaty changes and enlargement stretched into four days.

The European Council press service tweeted that the 2000 summit in Nice “started at 09h45 am on Thu 7/12 for the ‘European Conference’ (#EU15 plus accession candidates + others) and lasted until 05h30 am on Monday 11/12.”

The latest summit falls just short of the Nice summit record.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said in his seven years experience of European meetings he “had never seen positions as diametrically opposed as this.”

“This is really a very, very difficult negotiation because it is not only about this one new set of big money, but it really changes the contours of monetary union,” Guntram Wolff, Director of the Bruegel economic think tank in Brussels, told Euronews.

“Its the first time the EU borrows money to give it as grants to countries. So it’s really a game-changer in terms of how this monetary union, how this European Union works.”

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Tens of thousands protest in Belarus despite police detentions

Issued on: 27/09/2020 – 20:45

About 100,000 demonstrators marched in the Belarusian capital callin..

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About 100,000 demonstrators marched in the Belarusian capital calling for the authoritarian presidents ouster, some wearing cardboard crowns to ridicule him, on Sunday as the protests that have rocked the country marked their 50th consecutive day.

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Protests also took place in nine other cities, underlining the wide extent of dismay and anger with President Alexander Lukashenko, who has stifled opposition and independent news media during 26 years in power.

The protest wave began after the Aug. 9 presidential election that officials said gave Lukashenko a sixth term in office with a crushing 80% of the vote. The opposition and some poll workers say the results were manipulated.

Lukashenko has defied calls for him to step down and many prominent members of a council formed with the aim of arranging a transfer of power have been arrested or have fled the country. The protests have persisted despite the daily detentions of demonstrators.

The Interior Ministry said about 200 demonstrators were arrested throughout the country Sunday. Police and troops blocked off the center of the city with armored vehicles and water cannons.

Luksahenko stepped up his defiance this week by unexpectedly taking the oath of office for a new term in an unannounced ceremony, leading many to mock him as harboring royal-like pretensions.

Some of the estimated 100,000 people who braved rain and strong winds to march in a two-kilometer-long (over a mile-long) column wore crowns made of cardboard and bore placards calling him “the naked king.”

Lukashenko's main election opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, praised protesters' determination and urged them not to let their energies flag.

“Today is the 50th day of our protest and the Belarusian people have again come out on the streets,” she said in a statement from Lithuania, where she went into exile after the election. “We have come to stop this regime and we will do this peacefully.”

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‘Lukashenko has to go,’ says France’s Macron

Issued on: 27/09/2020 – 08:13

French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday that Belarus's lea..

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French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday that Belarus's leader Alexander Lukashenko must step down, after the EU refused to recognise him as the legitimate president of the ex-Soviet country.

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"It's clear he has to go," Macron told French weekly the Journal du Dimanche ahead of a trip to EU states Lithuania and Latvia, which border Belarus.

"It is a crisis of power, an authoritarian power that cannot accept the logic of democracy and which is hanging on by force. It is clear that Lukashenko has to go."

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Belarus since August 9 elections which opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya says she won, despite Lukashenko's insistence he took a landslide victory.

The embattled leader has launched a brutal crackdown against the protesters — drawing condemnation from the West, but support from Moscow.

This week he triggered new demonstrations and fresh Western criticism when he held a secret inauguration for himself.

Macron on Sunday said he had been "impressed by the courage of the protesters".

"They know the risks they are taking by demonstrating every weekend, and yet, they are pushing forward with the movement to make democracy come alive in this country that has been deprived of it for so long," he said.

"Women in particular, who march every Saturday, command our respect," he added.

More than 90 people — most of them women — were arrested on Saturday at opposition rallies, according to one NGO.

Russia's role

Fresh protests were sparked by the surprise announcement on Wednesday that Lukashenko had been sworn in for a sixth term in office.

The European Union said the strongman's inauguration lacked "democratic legitimacy" and refused to recognise him as president.

The bloc has said it is reviewing relations with Belarus, with the issue to be debated at an EU summit on Thursday and Friday in Brussels.

EU ministers decided in principle last month to impose sanctions against the regime — but Cyprus has been blocking approval until the group agrees similar measures against Turkey over gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, Baltic EU states Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have expanded their own sanctions against Belarus.

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Coronavirus deaths could reach 2 million, WHO warns

Issued on: 26/09/2020 – 07:46

The global death toll from COVID-19 could double to 2 million before..

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The global death toll from COVID-19 could double to 2 million before a successful vaccine is widely used and could be even higher without concerted action to curb the pandemic, an official at the World Health Organization said on Friday.

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"Unless we do it all, (2 million deaths) … is not only imaginable, but sadly very likely," Mike Ryan, head of the U.N. agency's emergencies programme, told a briefing on Friday.

The number of deaths about nine months since the novel coronavirus was discovered in China is nearing 1 million.

"We are not out of the woods anywhere, we are not out of the woods in Africa," said Ryan.

He said young people should not be blamed for a recent increase in infections despite growing concerns that they are driving its spread after restrictions and lockdowns were eased around the world.

"I really hope we don't get into finger wagging: it's all because of the youth," said Ryan. "The last thing a young person needs is an old person pontificating and wagging the finger."

Rather, indoor gatherings of people of all ages were driving the epidemic, he said.

The WHO is continuing talks with China about its possible involvement in the COVAX financing scheme designed to guarantee fast and equitable access globally to COVID-19 vaccines, a week after the deadline for committing passed.

"We're in discussions with China about the role they may play as we go forward," said Bruce Aylward, WHO senior adviser and head of the ACT-Accelerator programme to back vaccines, treatments and diagnostics against COVID-19.

He confirmed that Taiwan has signed up to the scheme, even though it is not a WHO member, brinRead More – Source

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