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Myanmar Military Investigating Death of 2 Boys Allegedly Used as Minesweepers   

Myanmar’s military said it is investigating the recent deaths of two Muslim boys and the injury of another while the children allegedly were being used as human minesweepers when crossfire erupted between the military and the Arakan Army, an armed group seeking independence.Army Major General Zaw Min Tun, a spokesperson for the Tatmadaw, as the Burmese army is called, said, “We are launching an investigation about that incident, in case, if there are any discrepancies or weaknesses in handling the said case.” Zaw Min Tun said the Tatmadaw brought the bodies of two boys to their village, Pyin-shay, a Muslim area, and took the injured child to a military hospital for treatment. Myanmar is Buddhist majority.The identities of the boys have not been released.Rohingya refugee children fly kites in Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia on Oct. 11, 2020.According to the U.N. Country Taskforce on Monitoring and Reporting on Grave Violations against Children in Myanmar, October 5, “two boys were killed in Buthidaung Township, Rakhine State, in crossfire between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army. This occurred after the children, as part of a group of 15 local farmers, were alleged to all have been forced to walk in front of a Tatmadaw unit to ensure the path toward a military camp was clear of landmines and to protect the soldiers from potential enemy fire.“On the way, fighting broke out between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army, after which the two boys were found dead with gunshot wounds,” the taskforce stated.“We call for a full, transparent, and expedited investigation of the incident and for anyone responsible for the use and for the killing of the children to be held accountable,” the CTFMR also stated. A Pyin-shay village resident who did not want his name used told VOA’s Burmese service that the Tatmadaw had forced some 15 villagers to work as porters as the military advanced.“AA did not shoot at them,” the villager said.“They died in crossfire between the AA and military. The military did not release them. They ran for their lives.  We brought back two bodies to the village and buried them,” he said.Rakhine State, in Myanmar’s far west, borders Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal. The ethnic Rakhines are waging a Rohingya refugee children play football at Thankhali refugee camp, in Ukhia on Oct. 6, 2020.The agencies also voiced “deep alarm” over an alarming increase in reports of killings and injuries of children in Myanmar.More than 100 children were killed or maimed in conflict during the first three months of 2020, amounting to more than half of the total number in 2019, and significantly surpassing the number of child casualties in 2018, according to the U.N.The most recent incident occurred within 12 months of the delisting of the Tatmadaw for underage recruitment in the U.N. Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) of 2020, agencies noted.

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Europe’s Central Governments Struggle With Restive Regions 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson won last December’s general election partly on the back of promises to unite post-Brexit Britain and to level the country up by reviving parts neglected by previous governments. Partly as a result of his pledge, the Conservative party captured seats in the de-industrialized north of England, breaching a so-called red wall of constituencies that for decades had reflexively voted for Labor, the country’s main, center-left opposition party. Johnson took aim, too, at the Scottish nationalists, vowing to block a second Scottish independence referendum. But thanks to the havoc wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, Britain’s persistent north-south divide has widened — and support for Scottish independence has never been stronger. Welsh nationalism has been stirred by the pandemic into “greater wakefulness,” according to Polly Mackenzie of Britain’s cross-party think tank Demos, with nearly half of all under-25s in Wales now saying they want secession.Northern regional leaders have wrangled with London, complaining it is not doing enough to help them weather lockdowns or to cope with the grievous economic fallout of the coronavirus. Some have opposed a new three-tiered system of restrictions and lambasted Johnson’s handling of the crisis, accusing the government of playing politics with the pandemic.Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham speaks to the media outside Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, England, Oct. 20, 2020.The north’s mayors complain the new tighter measures are being imposed on them with too little consultation by government officials in London. “They can only see numbers and blobs on the map, whereas we see names, communities, the full picture of what happens on the ground,” Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, fumed to reporters last week.  On Monday, 54 Conservative lawmakers representing northern seats warned Johnson that his election pledge to “level up” the nation was being undermined by the disproportionate impact of restrictions in northern England. They said in a collective letter that the coronavirus is threatening to “send the North into reverse.”“The virus has exposed in sharp relief the deep structural and systemic disadvantage faced by our communities and it threatens to continue to increase the disparity between the North and South still further,” the lawmakers said. Their constituencies risk being left behind unless there is a clear strategy for exiting lockdown restrictions.A group of people push a dustbin after a demonstration against curfew and deprivation of rights, in Barcelona, on Oct. 26, 2020. Spain’s Catalonia region said it was studying imposing a lockdown on weekends to fight the spread of the coronavirus.Fueling separatismJohnson isn’t alone among Europe’s national leaders struggling with restive regions to forge a political consensus around a pandemic strategy. Central and regional governments in many European countries are increasingly at loggerheads. Some of the disputes revolve around what approaches to adopt to contain the coronavirus pandemic; others over how to share shrinking economic pies. Many of Europe’s poor regions are being hit harder by the pandemic; wealthy regions, such as Catalonia, Lombardy and Flanders, bristle at the idea that they will have to help bail out their less prosperous neighbors. Lack of consultation or the sidestepping of parliaments and imposing restrictions with no prior agreement are also prompting disquiet, exacerbating pre-pandemic divisions.Some analysts hazard that one of the legacies of the coronavirus crisis could well be to strengthen separatist sentiment in some countries already struggling with secessionists and to boost demands by regions for greater devolved powers. “The coronavirus pandemic is serving to catalyze pre-existing territorial disputes and empower regional nationalist movements,” says Jonathan Parker of Britain’s University of Sussex. “The pandemic is intensifying debates about the constitutional futures of several European regions. Many on the pro-independence side have been empowered by the crisis, which is highlighting the failings of central governments and underscoring the power of the regions,” Parker wrote in a commentary for Britain’s’ Financial Times.Belgium, Spain, Italy and Germany have all seen disputes flaring between national and regional leaders. In Belgium, Flemish nationalists have attacked the central government for its handling of the pandemic. Disputes have raged between Flanders and officials in Brussels. The latest came this week when Flanders declined to impose additional coronavirus restrictions, despite moves by Brussels and French-speaking Wallonia to tighten up. In the past week around 12,000 Belgians a day on average have tested positive for the coronavirus — hospitalization admissions and the death county keep on rising.Speaking to VTM news, Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon accused the central government and Wallonia of adopting “exaggerated measures.” He warned the additional measures won’t necessarily succeed in tamping down transmissions of the potentially deadly virus, adding that cooler heads need to prevail. Flemish nationalists are bristling at the idea that wealthier Flanders should help subsidize poorer Wallonia.FILE – Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks during a parliamentary session in Madrid, Spain, Oct. 21, 2020.In Spain, seven of the country’s regions have criticized the decision taken this week by the government of Pedro Sánchez to declare a state of national emergency and to impose a curfew. Other regions take an opposite view and have been clamorous for weeks for the central government to order lockdowns. Catalan separatists have argued an independent Catalonia would have tackled the pandemic better than it has as part of Spain, and that there would have been fewer deaths had the wealthy northeastern region been on its own, they say. Earlier this year, when the pandemic started to unfold in Spain, they called on the central government to impose a tough lockdown much earlier than it did.FILE – In this Feb. 10, 2020, file photo, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks during an event at the European Policy Center in Brussels.ScotlandIn Britain, already fractured by Brexit, the pandemic has witnessed a steady divergence in the handling of the pandemic between Johnson’s government in London and the devolved authorities of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The latter were more cautious than the central government in July and August when Johnson eased restrictions. They decided not to do so. Though Scottish nationalists do not like to admit it, the coronavirus has boosted their fortunes, say analysts. Their leader and Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has benefited from increased visibility and has grabbed at chances to differentiate Scotland from England. Support in opinion polls for the Scottish Nationalist Party is now running at about 50%. And backing for Scottish independence also has climbed. Support for separation rose to nearly 60% this month, panicking Conservative ministers in London. “In the 2014 referendum, the Nationalists struggled to get Scots to imagine what an independent government might look like. The pandemic was just what the doctor ordered. Health is devolved under Britain’s constitution, so Ms. Sturgeon’s administration has the trappings of a state-in-waiting,” noted The Economist magazine recently.Sturgeon has received plaudits for her handling of the pandemic — her message has been consistent and so have her policies.  “The coronavirus crisis has given Nicola Sturgeon’s government renewed purpose, increased visibility, new chances to differentiate from England and the opportunity to boast about its supposed superiority,” according to Polly Mackenzie of the Demos think tank.

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British Study Shows Antibodies Against COVID-19 Declined Rapidly

A new study of the British population shows that antibodies in the human body fighting COVID-19 declined rapidly in the British population during the summer, suggesting any immunity against the virus may not last long.The study, conducted by Imperial College London and published Tuesday, involved tests on more than 365,000 British people between June 20 and Sept. 28.In their findings, the researchers’ analysis of the home finger-prick tests found that the number of people testing positive for antibodies dropped by 26.5% during the study period, from almost 6% to 4.4%.The findings suggest the possibility of decreasing population immunity ahead of a second wave of infections in recent weeks that has forced local lockdowns and restrictions.The researchers say it is unclear what level of protection antibodies give a person against COVID-19 specifically.Imperial College London Department of Infectious Disease head, Wendy Barclay, told reporters in London they are confident in what a decline in antibodies tells them.“On the balance of evidence, I would say with what we know for other coronaviruses, it would look as if immunity declines away at the same rate as antibodies decline away, and that this is an indication of waning immunity at the population level.”The researchers say that more than anything, the study reinforces the need for a vaccine to effectively bring the virus under control.  

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Embattled Malaysian PM Receives Support From Former Ruling Party

Embattled Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has received crucial support from a key ally in his attempt to keep his fragile governing coalition together.
The United Malays National Organization issued a statement Monday offering its support for the prime minister as the country faces a surge of new coronavirus cases.   
Prime Minister Muhyiddin appeared to be on the brink of being forced from power a day earlier after King Al-Sultan Abdullah rejected his request to declare a state of emergency due to the pandemic. Had the king approved Muhyiddin’s request, the state of emergency would have suspended parliament before the prime minister is due to present a budget in early November.   
Failure to pass the budget would be the equivalent of a no-confidence vote against Muhyiddin and put pressure on him to call for a general election.    
Muhyiddin has been prime minister since February, when he was chosen by King Abdullah after then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad unexpectedly resigned and his government collapsed. His slim alliance includes UMNO, which had ruled Malaysia for more than six decades since it gained independence from Britain in 1957.
UMNO leaders have been angered over Muhyiddin’s failure to place its members in senior leadership positions.   
Veteran opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim met with the king last month and said he gave the monarch the names of 120 members of the 222-seat parliament who are ready to defect from the prime minister’s coalition. Anwar led a coalition that ousted scandal-tainted Prime Minister Najib Razak and the ruling UMNO-led coalition from power in a historic election in 2018.   
But Najib, who remains in parliament despite a conviction on corruption charges, has called on UMNO to join forces with Anwar’s coalition.   

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New Storm Bears Down on Flood-Damaged Central Vietnam

The third typhoon in a month is bearing down on Central Vietnam, where residents are still reeling from historic flooding and landslides that have claimed 130 lives and affected more than 5 million people.Another 20 people are still missing in the wake of two storms that ravaged the central provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri, Thua Thien Hue, Da Nang, Quang Nam, Quang Ngai and Binh Dinh.Typhoon Linfa and Typhoon Nangka both hit in the first two weeks of October. Now Typhoon Molave is bearing down and expected to hit the same region within hours.A monk hands out food supplies to locals in a pagoda in Quang Tri.Local authorities have asked residents in Da Nang and Hue to stay indoors through Tuesday night for their own safety, and are preparing to potentially evacuate nearly 1.3 million people from the most vulnerable areas.The storm’s eye was forecast to be directly over Da Nang’s coastline by 10 am Thursday with winds reaching up to 150 kilometers per hour and gusts of up to 167-183 kilometers per hour.Residents in Da Nang have been taking preventive measures by sandbagging the entrances to their homes and businesses. Meanwhile, local workers have been frantically lopping treetops in the My Khe beach neighborhood.Residents have been told to expect power cuts and more potential flooding and landslides over the coming days.Last week, 22 soldiers went missing in a landslide at a military camp in Quang Tri and as of now 14 bodies have been found. This is likely to be the greatest loss of life to strike Vietnam’s military since the end of its civil war.Quang Tri was a significant battlefront in the Vietnam War and underground military tunnels as well as tanks from the war are still on display today.A woman pushes a child on a bicycle through a flooded street in Quang Tri.Each year the central coastal provinces of Vietnam are prone to massive storms; however, the severity of this year’s flooding is the worst the country has seen in over two decades.The heavier than usual downpours this year are being attributed to a “La Nina” climate pattern, which as many as five or six more tropical depressions could reach Vietnam’s 2,000-mile coastline this year.“The flooding in Quang Tri is worse than the floods in 1999, but we are Vietnamese and we are strong,” said Ms Anh, a local resident who is assisting with the relief effort. “The government is of course helping us and other locally-run charities are helping as well.”Deputy Prime Minister Truong Hoa Binh said last week that the government will be provide the equivalent of about $21.5 million to five of the hardest hit provinces.The wetlands of Quang Tri are home to many farmers who mainly grow rice and raise livestock, much of which has been lost in the floods.“We will collect the money and other items to provide for the local people… these days, the local people have nothing to eat, nothing to drink… so we will try to provide them with something to eat and drink,” said a local female volunteer helping out at a Buddhist pagoda in Quang Tri.A local man wearing a raincoat stands near a home that was recently flooded in Quang Tri.The monks and other members of the pagoda have been providing food and assistance for 200 households in a flood-affected village in Quang Tri. The damage to rice paddies, roads, homes, schools, shops and other businesses is clearly visible throughout the coastal areas of the province.Almost every remaining house in the wetland areas shows a distinct muddy line just a few meters from the ceiling, showing how high the water levels rose. Other houses were completely submerged.Lacking electricity and pumps, residents have been laboriously sweeping out the muddy water with brooms and wheelbarrows. Schools have been shut for over two weeks and many facilities, including computers, playground equipment, textbooks and toys have been destroyed.Locals walking through a flooded road in Quang Tri.Since the beginning of October, dramatic images and videos carried in the local media have shown distressed people searching for their missing loved ones, fisherman caught at sea being rescued by emergency workers in helicopters, and locals climbing onto their roofs as they wait to be rescued.The United States Agency for International Development gifted the Vietnam Red Cross Society $100,000 on Saturday, and another $100,000 has been promised by the U.N. Development Program and Save the Children Vietnam. The Australian Ambassador to Vietnam, Robyn Mudie, announced Friday that Australia will be providing the equivalent of $71,000 in relief funds as well.Pacific Links Foundation and Blue Dragon are two prominent organizations that are working on the ground in the flood zones helping families at risk by donating aid and raising money. 

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Italians Protest New COVID Restrictions

Violent protests erupted in more than 15 cities across Italy after the government announced new measures to rein in a second wave of COVID-19 infections. Italian leaders are rushing to stave off criticism with a financial rescue package for struggling businesses.
Angry protesters took to the streets of some of Italy’s largest cities but also smaller ones from the north to the south of the country to show their discontent with the new nationwide COVID-19 restrictions.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told Italians he was well aware “this is a complex moment as this is a pandemic that is harshly challenging us, causing anger, frustration and new inequalities. Aware of how many businesses are suffering, Conte said the government had worked out a plan.
He said that compensation has already been earmarked for all those who will suffer under the new restrictions.
Government officials hope the measures will be enough to quell the anger.  
Italians were the first to face a widespread outbreak of the virus earlier this year and were hit with one of the world’s toughest lockdowns, which did serious damage to the country’s economy.  
At the time, they complied with the government’s rules and the tough action managed to rein in the virus by the summer.Police officers are seen in front of a garbage bin set on fire during a protest against new government restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus, in Turin, Italy, Oct. 26, 2020.This time, reactions were far from measured and it appeared not everyone in the country was ready to adhere to the government’s guidelines and rules. Far-right groups and organized crime also appear to be behind the recent clashes.
In cities like Turin, Milan, Naples and Rome, hundreds of protesters ransacked stores, vandalized trams and set garbage cans on fire. Groups of young people threw glass bottles and chanted “freedom, freedom.”
Many opposition politicians and even some members of parliament of the ruling coalition government voiced their disapproval of the tough new measures saying the already battered economy would not be able to cope. Far-right leader Matteo Salvini announced he was launching a legal challenge to the government’s decisions.
Business owners are in despair saying some will have to close forever. But some scientists say the measures adopted until November 24 still do not go far enough and that beds in intensive care units of hospitals are quickly running out.
Up for approval Tuesday was a package of up to $6 billion  to support businesses in the restaurant, sports and entertainment sectors, hard hit by the new restrictions.

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Russia Issues National Mask Mandate After Coronavirus Cases Surge

Russian authorities issued a national mask requirement Tuesday as the country set a single day record for coronavirus deaths amid a resurgence of new cases.Health officials reported 16,550 new cases and 320 new deaths Tuesday, the highest daily death toll since the pandemic started.In response, Russia’s consumer safety and public health agency, Rospotrebnadzor, ordered all Russians to wear masks in crowded public spaces, on public transit, in taxis, parking lots and elevators starting on Wednesday.The agency also recommends regional authorities put a curfew on entertainment events, cafes, restaurants and bars from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.Russia has the world’s fourth largest tally of more than 1.5 million confirmed cases, according to the Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the pandemic.The government’s coronavirus task force has been reporting more than 15,000 new infections every day since Sunday, which is much higher than in spring.Russia has reported more than 26,000 virus-related deaths.Despite the sharp spike in daily infections, Russian authorities have repeatedly dismissed the idea of imposing a second national lockdown or shutting down businesses.Most virus-related restrictions were lifted in July as cases dropped, but masks were still encouraged.

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Long COVID-19 Lockdown Ends In Australia’s Second Most Populous City

One of the world’s longest COVID-19 lockdowns is coming to an end in the Australian city of Melbourne. Beginning Tuesday, all shops, cafes and restaurants can re-open, and strict-stay-at home orders will be lifted. The lockdown was imposed in early July in response to a deadly second wave of infections.  Victoria, Australia’s second most populous state, has for a second consecutive day recorded no new coronavirus infections or fatalities. A sustained fall in daily cases has allowed the authorities to end one of the world’s longest COVID-19 lockdowns in the city of Melbourne.  Starting on Tuesday, the retail and hospitality industries can reopen, although conditions still apply. Face coverings remain mandatory, and cafes and restaurants can serve a maximum of 20 people inside and 50 people outdoors. Weddings can now proceed with up to 10 guests and funerals with 20 mourners. Strict stay-at-home orders imposed on Melbourne’s five million residents will end. Victoria premier Daniel Andrews says now is the time to bring the lockdown to an end.“We are able to say that now is the time to open up.  This belongs to every single Victorian, every single Victorian who has followed the rules, stayed the course, worked with me and my team to bring this second wave to an end.  But it is not over.  This virus is not going away.  It is going to continue to be a feature of our lives every day until a vaccine turns up. These are big steps,” Andrews said.Men queue for a haircut outside a barber shop in Melbourne on October 19, 2020, as some of the city’s three-month-old stay-at-home restrictions due to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak were further eased on falling infection rates.Victoria state has been at the center of Australia’s COVID-19 crisis.  It has had the majority of infections and almost 90 per cent of the nation’s virus fatalities.    The lockdown has not been universally popular.   Two people have been charged over an anti-lockdown protest in Melbourne last week, including a woman who allegedly kicked a police horse.    The state government has been accused of being too cautious while jobs were lost and there are concerns that the mental health consequences will be dire.    Victoria’s conservative opposition leader is Michael O’Brien. “There will be scars on the psyche of this state that will not heal.  There are many, many people whose lives have changed permanently because of what they have had to endure over the last few months,” O’Brien said.More than 27,500 coronavirus cases have been diagnosed in Australia, and 905 people have died.  The federal government has said there have been four critical parts to the nation’s response to the pandemic: the closure of its international borders to foreign travelers, widespread testing, reliable contact tracing and community respect for hygiene and physical distancing protocols.     Victoria’s state government has indicated it plans to ease other restrictions in early November that are likely to include reopening gyms and allowing residents to travel more than 25 kilometers from home. As Melbourne’s lockdown comes to an end, there is immense relief and celebration among residents, or as local media have put it, there have been “cheers, tears and beers.” 

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