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Ukrainian Court Finds Lviv Student Guilty of Torching RFE/RL Reporter’s Car 

A Ukrainian court has found a university student guilty of torching an RFE/RL reporter’s car, a decision that the media organization’s president said brings prosecutors closer to apprehending the organizers of the premeditated crime.   A court in the western city of Lviv on May 25 handed down a suspended five-year sentence with a three-year probation period to Yakob Sarakhman for setting Halyna’s car ablaze on the night of January 30.   The 19-year-old university student admitted his guilt to the court and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, Tereshchuk’s lawyer, Oleh Mytsyk, said.   FILE – The burned-out car of RFE/RL journalist Halyna Tereshchuk in Lviv.Police have not provided a motive for the crime, but many reporters in Ukraine have been attacked, and even killed, over the years due to their investigative work. Ukraine ranked 96th out of 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index.   “The conviction is an important first step in holding accountable the perpetrators of this hateful crime. The arson attack not only targeted an RFE/RL colleague, and terrorized her family, but it was a worrisome attempt to intimidate independent journalism in Ukraine,” RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said in a statement.   “I call on the Ukrainian authorities to identify and prosecute those who ordered the attack in addition to the individual who carried it out.”   Police have named two other suspects in the arson attack: Mykhaylo Cherdak, a local police official, and Vadym Dmytrenko, an unemployed individual with a criminal record.   Cherdak is in hiding and his whereabouts unknown, while Dmytrenko is under house arrest. 


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Uzbek Sports Journalists Ousted After On-Air Comments About Dam Failure

Two Uzbek sports journalists have left their positions after criticizing the state-run television channel for its coverage of the aftermath of a devastating dam failure earlier in May that killed at least four people and displaced tens of thousands of others.Speaking on condition of anonymity, an official of Sport TV and Radio told RFE/RL on May 25 that Bobur Akmalov, the editor of Sport TV, and the channel’s director-general, Jamoliddin Bobojonov, had been fired.The official did not give any further details, but his comments came after local media reports said the two had been relieved of their duties after they submitted their resignations on May 22.Another Tashkent-based journalist familiar with the situation told RFE/RL that Akmalov and Bobojonov had been forced to resign for expressing their opinions in a Football Plus program aired by the Oriat Dono radio station on May 18.During the broadcast in question, Bobojonov and Akmalov, who was also the anchor of the Football Plus program on Oirat Dono, criticized state-run Uzbekistan 24 for its coverage of the Sardoba dam burst, which flooded several nearby villages. Bobojonov said during the broadcast that “on paper and on the Uzbekistan 24 TV channel, everything is great” in Uzbekistan, “while real life is something completely different.””Well, after watching the reports by Uzbekistan 24, I had the impression that people in Sardoba were happy with the disaster,” Bobojonov said, laughing.Akmalov agreed with Bobojonov and also laughed, saying that reports about President Shavkat Mirziyoev’s visit to the area hit by the floods after the dam burst looked like reports from North Korea, “where people always look happy no matter what.”In a Facebook statement, Alisher Hojaev, chairman of the Uzbek National Television and Radio Company (MTRK), accused Akmalov and Bobojonov of “violating corporate ethics and making baseless and untrue allegations.”The statement was later removed from Facebook.A group called People’s Control has launched a petition on Facebook supporting the two journalists and demanding Hojaev’s resignation.RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service contributed to this report.
 


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Hypocrisy Gone Viral? Officials Set Bad COVID-19 Examples

“Do as I say, but not as I do” was the message many British saw in the behavior of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s key aide, who traveled hundreds of miles with coronavirus symptoms during the country’s lockdown.
While  Dominic Cummings has faced calls for his firing  but support from his boss over his journey from London to the northern city of Durham in March, few countries seem immune to the perception that politicians and top officials are bending the rules that their own governments wrote during the pandemic.
From U.S. President Donald Trump to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, global decision-makers have frequently set bad examples, whether it’s refusing to wear masks or breaking confinement rules aimed at protecting their citizens from COVID-19.  
Some are punished when they’re caught, others publicly repent, while a few just shrug off the violations during a pandemic that has claimed more than 350,000 lives worldwide.
Here are some notable examples:New Zealand Health Minister Calls Himself An “Idiot”
In April, New Zealand’s health minister was stripped of some of his responsibilities after defying the country’s strict lockdown measures. David Clark drove 19 kilometers (12 miles) to the beach to take a walk with his family as the government was asking people to make historic sacrifices by staying at home.
“I’ve been an idiot, and I understand why people will be angry with me,” Clark said. He also earlier acknowledged driving to a park near his home to go mountain biking.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said normally she would fire Clark but that the country couldn’t afford massive disruption in its health sector while it was fighting the virus. Instead, she stripped Clark of his role as associate finance minister and demoting him to the bottom of the Cabinet rankings.Mexico’s Leader Shakes Hands
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said it pained him not to embrace supporters during tours because of health risks, but he made a remarkable exception in March, shaking hands with the elderly mother of imprisoned drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán. Asked about shaking her hand when the government was urging citizens to practice social distancing, López Obrador said it would have been disrespectful not to.  
“It’s very difficult humanly,” he said. “I’m not a robot.”  America’s Pandemic Politics
The decision to wear a mask in public is becoming a political statement in the U.S. It’s been stoked by Trump — who didn’t wear a mask during an appearance at a facility making them — and some other Republicans, who have questioned the value of masks. This month, pandemic politics shadowed Trump’s trip to Michigan as he toured a factory making lifesaving medical devices. He did not publicly wear a face covering despite a warning from the state’s top law enforcement officer that refusing to do so might lead to a ban on his return.
Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, meanwhile, wore a mask along with his wife, Jill, as they laid a wreath Monday at a Delaware veterans’ memorial — his first public appearance since mid-March. Trump later retweeted Fox News analyst Brit Hume’s criticism of Biden for wearing a mask in public.
Vice President Mike Pence was criticized for not wearing a mask  while on a visit to the Mayo Clinic.
Netanyahu’s Passover Holiday
While the rest of Israel was instructed not to gather with their extended families for traditional Passover Seder in April, Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin hosted their adult children for the festive holiday meal, drawing fierce criticism on social media. Israeli television showed a photo of Avner Netanyahu, the premier’s younger son, attending the Seder at his father’s official residence.  
Benjamin Netanyahu later apologized in a televised address, saying he should have adhered more closely to the regulations.  The French Exception
French President Emmanuel Macron also has been inconsistent with masks, leaving the French public confused. Although Macron has sometimes appeared in a mask for visits at hospitals and schools, it’s a different story in the Elysee presidential palace and for speeches. During a visit to a Paris hospital on May 15, Macron initially wore a mask to chat with doctors but then removed it to talk with union workers.  
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner also faced criticism this month for huddling with dozens of mask-makers in a factory for a photo where everyone removed their masks.  
Putin’s Different Approach
The only time Russian President Vladimir Putin wore protective gear in public was on March 24, when he visited a top coronavirus hospital in Moscow.  Before donning a hazmat suit, Putin shook hands with Dr. Denis Protsenko, the head of the hospital. Neither wore masks or gloves, and a week later, Protsenko tested positive for the virus. That raised questions about Putin’s health, but the Kremlin said he was fine.
Putin has since held at least seven face-to-face meetings, according to the Kremlin website. He and others didn’t wear masks during those meetings, and Putin also didn’t cover his face for events marking Nazi Germany’s defeat in World War II.
When asked why Putin doesn’t wear a mask during public appearances, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin has a different approach to protecting the president’s health.
“When it comes to public events, we ask medical workers to test all the participants in advance,” Peskov told reporters.  Puerto Rico Official’s Inconsistent Message
Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez was criticized for not always wearing a mask despite holding new conferences ordering people to cover their face outside their homes and inside businesses. A member of the opposition Popular Democratic Party also filed a police complaint last week against members of Vázquez’s New Progressive Party, alleging they violated a curfew by gathering to inaugurate the party’s new headquarters. Police are investigating the incident, which angered many Puerto Ricans.  Scottish Medical Official Takes The Low Road
Scotland’s chief medical officer, Dr. Catherine Calderwood, broke her own rules and traveled to her second home during lockdown in April. She faced blowback after photos emerged of her and her family visiting Earlsferry in Fife, which is more than an hour’s drive from her main home in Edinburgh. She apologized and resigned.
“I did not follow the advice I’m giving to others,” Calderwood said. “I am truly sorry for that. I’ve seen a lot of the comments from … people calling me a hypocrite.”  Japan’s Gambling Scandal
A top Japanese prosecutor was reprimanded and later resigned this month after defying a stay-at-home recommendation in a gambling scandal.
Hiromu Kurokawa, the country’s No. 2 prosecutor who headed the Tokyo High Prosecutors’ Office, acknowledged that he wasn’t social distancing when he played mahjong for money at a newspaper reporter’s home twice in May. Japan didn’t enforce a stay-at-home recommendation, but his case outraged the public because many were following social distancing measures.  Italian Press Conference Criticism
At a March news conference to open a COVID-19 field hospital in Milan’s old convention center, photographers and video journalists were pushed into corners that did not allow proper spacing. Only text reporters were given seating in line with regulations. The Codacons consumer protection group announced it would file a complaint with prosecutors in Milan.
“What should have been a moment of great happiness and pride for Lombardy and Italy was transformed into a surreal event, where in violation of the anti-gathering rules, groups of crowds formed,” Codacons said.  South Africa’s Rule-Breaking Dinner
In April, Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams was placed on special leave for two months and forced to apologize by President Cyril Ramaphosa after she violated stay-at-home regulations. Ramaphosa directed police to investigate after a photo emerged on social media of Ndabeni-Abrahams and several others having a meal at the home of former deputy minister of higher education Mduduzi Manana.Spanish Hospital Ceremony Investigated
Madrid’s regional and city officials sparked controversy when they gathered on May 1 for a ceremony shuttering a massive field hospital at a convention center. Eager to appear in the final photo of a facility credited with treating nearly 4,000 mild COVID-19 patients, dozens of officials didn’t follow social distancing rules. Spain’s restrictions banned more than 10 people at events like the one that honored nurses and doctors. The central government opened an investigation, and Madrid regional chief Isabel Díaz Ayuso apologized. She said officials “got carried away by the uniqueness of the moment.”
Former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also defied strict stay-at-home orders, with a television station filming him power walking around in northern Madrid. The Spanish prosecutor’s office is investigating whether Rajoy, who was premier from 2011 to 2018, should be fined.Indian Cricket Game Criticized
In India, a top leader of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party drew flak last weekend after playing a game of cricket. Manoj Tiwari, also a member of India’s parliament, said he followed social distancing rules during the game. Videos circulating on social media showed Tiwati without a mask. He was also seen taking selfies with people.  Leaders Who Follow The Rules
Some leaders are setting a good example, including Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. Media jokingly called him the most relaxed politician in the world after he was photographed queuing at a supermarket this month, wearing a mask and following social distancing measures. The photo was widely shared on social media.  
Another rule-follower is Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who did not visit his ill 96-year-old mother in a nursing home during the last eight weeks of her life because of coronavirus restrictions. He only came to her bedside during her final hours this month.  
“The prime minister has respected all guidelines,” according to a statement read by a spokesman. “The guidelines allow for family to say goodbye to dying family members in the final stage. And as such the prime minister was with her during her last night.” 


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Greece Deploys Forces to Build Fence on Turkish Border 

Greece is mobilizing forces to boost defenses along its land frontiers with Turkey. The move as Turkey threatens to resume the flow of thousands of migrants to Europe through Greece. The deployment also follows plans by Greece to expand its border fence in the contentious border region. Officials in Athens say they are deploying more than 400 specially trained officers, including riot police, in the northeast region of Evros. 
 The deployment on Wednesday adds to the eleven hundred officers already in the area. An  additional 800 are expected arrive in the coming weeks as Greece ratchets up plans, as Defense Minister Nikos Papagiotopoulos says to defend itself from Turkey’s actions by extending an existing border fence. 
 
Soldiers and police in the region remain on a code-red alert, he says. 
 
Greece is reinforcing its defenses by expanding the fence because, officials say, it does not want to be caught by surprise if Turkey makes any sudden moves.  
 
While both are NATO allies, relations between the two neighbor states have plummeted to a low point since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened the borders to millions of refugees trapped in his country, allowing them free access to Europe through Greece.  FILE – Migrants wait to board on buses outside Moria camp on their way to the port of Mytilene, on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, May 3, 2020.The move turned the border region of Evros into a dangerous flashpoint as Greece — already inundated with more than 100,000 refugees — was left pushing back what its leaders called a massive migrant invasion in February. 
 
With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Turkey closed its borders and ordered migrants back into closed reception centers. 
 
But as lockdown measures are now relaxing across Europe and beyond, Turkey’s foreign minister said yesterday that migrants and refugees in his country may as well be preparing to make the move anew to Europe — a remark that alarmed officials in Athens. 
 FILE – Greek Army soldiers detain a group of migrants that crossed from Turkey to Greece, near the village of Protoklisi, in the region of Evros, Greece, March 10, 2020.Greece is now scrambling to seal its land border in the Evros region, tripling the size of an existing 12-kilometer fence — a move that has annoyed Ankara. 
 
Conservative lawmaker Tassos Hadjivassiliou explains why. 
 
“It’s a no-brainer,” he said.  “Once this fence goes up,  Turkey will be severely compromised of its ability to push through migrants. And if that happens, then Ankara will have lost its most powerful tool of leverage against Europe… and its chances, therefore, of clinching a new deal with Brussels, plus added financial support will fade.” 
 
Ankara’s deteriorating economy and political pressure on Erdogan leadership underpin much of these crisis fears. 
 
Hostility between Greece and Turkey has risen noticeably in the Aegean recently. Over the weekend, dozens of Turkish soldiers moved to block Greek soldiers from surveying marshland along the Evros river to extend the fence. 
 
Local media and residents said they spotted troops inching into Greek territory and camping out on Greek soil  — a move that enraged Athens, which lodged a protest with Ankara but later denied that any Turkish soldiers had set foot on Greek soil. 
 
“There were many suspicious movements at the time,” Panagiotopoulos told a local broadcaster late Wednesday.  
He refused to elaborate. 
 
Human rights experts in Greece warn that migrants are paying the toll in the latest Greek-Turkish spat, remaining trapped in overcrowded camps and in continued lockdown. 


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AFRICOM: Russia Deploys Fighter Jets to Libya

U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) says Russia recently deployed military fighter aircraft to Libya to support Russian state-sponsored, private military contractors, who are helping forces fighting the U.N.-supported Libyan government.The Russian fighter aircraft arrived at al-Jufra Airfield in Libya from an airbase in Russia after a stop in Syria where they were repainted to camouflage their Russian origin, AFRICOM said Tuesday. The fighter jets are expected to provide close air support for Russian military contractors with the Wagner Group, who have been supporting Libyan strongman Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) in their yearlong offensive against the country’s Government of National Accord (GNA).AFRICOM commander Gen. Stephen Townsend called out Russia in a press release Tuesday for expanding its military footprint in Africa by sending mercenary pilots to “bomb Libyans.” “For too long, Russia has denied the full extent of its involvement in the ongoing Libyan conflict. Well, there is no denying it now. We watched as Russia flew fourth generation jet fighters to Libya, every step of the way,” Townsend said.He added that neither the LNA nor private military companies could arm and operate this type of aircraft without the “support they are getting from Russia.”FILE – President Donald Trump meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Oval Office of the White House, Nov. 13, 2019, in Washington.In a phone call Saturday, President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shared their concerns about worsening foreign interference in Libya, according to the White House. Turkey has provided military support to the internationally recognized GNA and has warned that attacks by Haftar’s forces will have “grave consequences.”Critics of Russian involvement in Libya say Moscow’s support of Haftar has increased the regional instability that has helped fuel Europe’s migration crisis.U.S. Air Force Gen. Jeff Harrigian, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa, warned Tuesday that Russia was setting up a means to create “real security concerns” for southern Europe in the near future.”If Russia seizes basing on Libya’s coast, the next logical step is they deploy permanent long-range anti-access area denial (A2AD) capabilities,” which are used to prevent adversaries from traveling across an area that the weapon protects, he said in a press release.


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Britain Begins Trials for Drug Remdesivir on COVID-19 Patients 

The British Health Ministry announced a new trial Tuesday of the anti-viral drug remdesivir as a treatment for patients with COVID-19.Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock holds the daily coronavirus disease news conference at 10 Downing Street in London, May 21, 2020.At his usual COVID briefing in London, Health Minister Matt Hancock called trials for the promising drug “probably the biggest step forward in the treatment of coronavirus since the crisis began.” He said treatment would be prioritized where it will provide the greatest benefit.Remdesivir, developed by the U.S. pharmaceutical company Gilead, was approved for treatment of U.S. COVID-19 patients earlier this month after trials by the U.S. National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases ((NIAID)) showed positive results. Japan fast-tracked approval for use of the drug on its COVID-19 patients a short time later.NIAID director, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said the drug proved effective in shortening recovery in COVID-19 patients, and while not a “cure-all” could be a helpful treatment.Hancock also announced that on Monday, 134 COVID-19 deaths were reported across Britain. And for the first time since March 18, no deaths from the coronavirus were recorded in Northern Ireland.


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Italy’s New COVID-19 App Tracks Contacts and Protects Privacy

Italy’s new contact tracing app for the coronavirus is about to be launched in a number of pilot regions. It will be available to everyone in the country on a voluntary basis and will guarantee the privacy of users, officials who commissioned its development say.
 
Italians will be able to download the contact tracing app on their mobile phones that will help combat the spread of the coronavirus, starting May 29.  “Immuni” was developed at the request of Italy’s Ministry of Innovation Technology and Digital Transformation. Paolo de Rosa, its chief technology officer, says the app can speed up the process of finding people who have had contact with the coronavirus.
    
“The app is able to do that in a privacy-preserving way so it is not like the traditional approach where you need to identify people. In this case there is only an alerting of people that have been in contact with someone that result positive,” de Rosa said.
    How contract tracing apps work
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Those alerted they have come close to someone that has tested positive for the coronavirus can quickly take action and contact health authorities or their personal physician.
 
De Rosa stressed that privacy is guaranteed as special measures have been taken and it would be extremely difficult to identify anyone using the app. The only data that a user must provide is the territorial province to which he or she belongs.
 
For the app to be fully effective, de Rosa said, there needs to be a significant amount of people using it, up to 60 percent, but that is only if one does not take into consideration other factors like social distancing. In any case, de Rosa is convinced that it will be a useful tool to have on one’s phone. “This is a very bleeding edge technology, very few countries in the world have used it,” he said.
    
Creating the app was no easy matter, de Rosa said, adding trade-offs had to be made between the requirements of health authorities and privacy. Knowledge was shared with many other countries as well, but no one really knew what the best app needed to look like. With such a highly infectious virus, the need for a tool that would help speed up contact tracing was considered essential to break the chain of the contagion.


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Merck Leaps Into COVID-19 Development Fray with Vaccine, Drug Deals

Merck & Co Inc, which has largely kept to the sidelines of the race for COVID-19 treatments, said it was buying Austrian vaccine maker Themis Bioscience and would collaborate with research nonprofit IAVI to develop two separate vaccines.
 
It also announced a partnership with privately held Ridgeback Biotherapeutics to develop an experimental oral antiviral drug against COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
 
It did not disclose the terms of the acquisition of Themis, a privately held company.
 
Merck shares rose more than 3% in premarket trading.
 
Most big pharmaceutical companies have already placed their bets on COVID-19 treatments, but Merck has been waiting for opportunities with proven track records, Chief Executive Ken Frazier said.
 
“We wanted to be in a position where we could choose things that have the right kind of characteristics to make a contribution for a virus that’s likely to be with us for some time,” he told Reuters in an interview.
 
Both vaccines are designed to be delivered in a single dose.
 
The Themis vaccine, developed in collaboration with the Institut Pasteur in Paris, is based on a modified measles virus that delivers bits of the SARS-CoV-2 virus into the body to prevent COVID-19.
 
It was developed in part through funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
 
Merck said it moving quickly with this candidate and expects to start vaccinating volunteers “within weeks.”
 
The IAVI vaccine uses the same technology as Merck’s Ebola vaccine ERVEBO, recently approved by the European Commission and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.
 
That candidate, which Merck is developing jointly with IAVI, is expected to start human trials some time this year, Frazier said.
 
The U.S. Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) is backing the effort.
 
Both vaccines are made using technologies that have resulted in licensed products, unlike some frontrunners, such as the rapidly developed vaccine from Moderna Inc, which is expected to start large, late-stage clinical trials in July.
 
Last week, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said Merck’s vaccine, and those from Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi, were a month or two behind Moderna’s, but may get added to large efficacy trials this summer as they wrap up early-stage studies.
 
“I think we’ll be in a position to participate,” Frazier said.
 
Merck intends to shoulder the cost of scaling up production of the vaccines before either has been proven to work, although it has not yet determined where they will be manufactured commercially, he said.
 
Doses of the Themis vaccine are already being made in France for clinical trials. Merck also plans to begin early production of the vaccine it is developing with IAVI at its plant in Pennsylvania.
 
Frazier said Merck had not signed any pacts with the U.S. government to deliver doses of either vaccine to Americans first, adding it was committed to making its vaccines accessible globally and affordably.
 
Ridgeback’s pill, EIDD-2801, is designed to block virus reproduction, and has shown promise in animal studies of multiple coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2. It has also been shown to be safe and well tolerated in early stage trials.
 
Frazier compared it to Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir, but it would be a pill, rather than an intravenous infusion. Efficacy trials will start later this year.
 
“If the drug works, we would be able to produce billions of doses,” Frazier added.
 
The United States has recorded more than 1.6 million new coronavirus infections and over 97,000 deaths, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Monday.


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