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Myanmar opposition welcomes ASEAN’s junta snub, wants summit invite

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Myanmar’s shadow government, formed by opponents of ruling military, welcomed on Monday the exclusion of junta leader Min Aung Hlaing from an upcoming regional summit, but said it should be the legitimate representative.

However, the opposition said it would accept inviting a truly neutral alternative Myanmar representative, as decided over the weekend by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

ASEAN will invite a non-political representative from Myanmar to its Oct. 26-28 summit, in an unprecedented snub to the military leaders behind a Feb. 1 coup against Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government.

The opposition National Unity Government (NUG), which has been outlawed by the military, said the non-political figure who attends the summit must not be a representative of the junta in disguise.

“ASEAN excluding Min Aung Hlaing is an important step, but we request that they recognize us as the proper representative,” said its spokesman Dr. Sasa.

The decision was an unusually bold step for the consensus-driven bloc, which traditionally favors a policy of engagement and non-interference.

Brunei, ASEAN’s current chair, issued a statement citing a lack of progress made on a roadmap that the junta had agreed to with ASEAN in April to restore peace in Myanmar.

A spokesman for Myanmar’s military government blamed “foreign intervention” for the decision which it said was against the objectives of ASEAN, the ASEAN Charter and its principles.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup, which ended a decade of tentative democracy and economic reform. Thousands of its opponents have been arrested, including San Suu Kyi.

Security forces have killed more than 1,100 people, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an activist group that has tracked the arrests and killings. The military has called its opponents “terrorists.”

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Clashes erupt at Brussels protest against Covid rules

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Belgian police fired water cannon and used tear gas Sunday to disperse protesters opposed to compulsory health measures against the coronavirus pandemic.

Around 8,000 people marched through Brussels toward the headquarters of the European Union, chanting “Freedom!” and letting off fireworks.

The crowd was smaller than the 35,000 vaccine and lockdown skeptics who marched last month, and police were better prepared.

Protesters were blocked from reaching the roundabout outside the EU headquarters by a barbed wire barricade and a line of riot officers.

As two drones and a helicopter circled overhead, they threw fireworks and beer cans. Police responded with water cannon and tear gas.

As the crowd dispersed into smaller groups around the European quarter, there were more clashes and some set fire to barricades of rubbish.

Police said two of their officers and four protesters had been hospitalized, and 20 people had been arrested.
Several European countries have seen demonstrations in recent weeks as governments respond to a surge in covid cases with tighter restrictions.

In Brussels, the organizers hoped to match the November 21 demo, in which police seemed caught off guard and there were violent clashes.

The demonstrators oppose compulsory health measures — such as masks, lockdowns and vaccine passes — and some share conspiracy theories.

Banners on Sunday compared the stigmatization of the non-vaccinated to the treatment of Jews forced to wear yellow stars in Nazi Germany.

“Covid = Organized Genocide,” said one sign. “The QR code is a Swastika,” declared another, referring to the EU Covid safe digital certificate.

Parents — some of whom brought small children to the protest — chanted their belief that the vaccine would make their toddlers sick.

Off duty firefighters in uniform, marched at the head of the protest as it wound its way through the city, to demand the right to refuse vaccination.

The measures imposed to fight Covid in Belgium were decided by the country’ own national and regional governments, but the European Union has also attracted the skeptics’ anger.

On Wednesday, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said that in her view it was time to “think about mandatory vaccination,” a suggestion that was denounced by speakers at the protest.

On Friday, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo announced a series of measures to tighten sanitary rules, bringing school Christmas holidays forward and asking children aged six and over to wear masks.

Belgium, with a population of 11 million, has recorded an average of more than 17,800 daily infections with Covid-19 over the past seven days, as well as 44 deaths.

Around 800 people with severe forms of the disease are in intensive care in hospitals across the country, leading to overcrowding and the postponement of treatment for many other conditions.

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Norwegian Cruise ship detects one probable case of omicron variant

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A probable case of the omicron variant has been identified in a crew member of a Norwegian Cruise ship that reached New Orleans on Sunday after detecting COVID-19 among some crew and guests, the Louisiana Department of Health said.

The probable case was found among 10 people who tested positive for the virus on Saturday, the health agency said in a tweet on Sunday.

Another seven cases have since been reported, it added, taking the total number of cases among passengers and crew of Norwegian Breakaway, a cruise ship owned by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. , to 17.

“At this time, there have been no changes to scheduled future sailings on Norwegian Breakaway,” a spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Line said in a statement to Reuters.

The cruise ship departed New Orleans on a week-long cruise on Nov. 28 and had stops in Belize, Honduras and Mexico, the health agency said.

“NCL has been adhering to appropriate quarantine and isolation protocols,” the department said in an earlier tweet.

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Gambian President Barrow wins re-election; opposition cries foul

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Gambia's President Adama Barrow.

Gambian President Adama Barrow has comfortably won re-election, the electoral commission said on Sunday, though he may face a legal challenge from opposition candidates who rejected the results because of unspecified irregularities.

The vote was the first in 27 years without disgraced former President Yahya Jammeh, who was forced into exile in Equatorial Guinea after refusing to accept defeat to Barrow in 2016.

Jammeh’s despotic 22-year rule over the small West African nation of 2.5 million people, which began with a 1994 coup, was characterised by killings and torture of political opponents.

Saturday’s peaceful election was seen by many as a victory for democracy that helped draw a line under that troublesome period.

Once cowed by Jammeh’s omnipresent secret police, crowds of people hit the streets of Banjul on Sunday night to celebrate, or drove around in their cars, honking horns. Hundreds gathered in a park opposite the presidential palace to listen to Barrow speak.

“Democracy has taken its course,” Barrow told the cheering crowd after the results were announced. “I have been the lucky person to be chosen by you. I’ll use all the resources to make Gambia a better place for all.”

Barrow’s first term provided a welcome change for many to Jammeh’s brutal tenure. But progress was hobbled by the coronavirus pandemic, which damaged an economy that relies heavily on tourism, as well as exports of peanuts and fish.

In the run-up to the election, Jammeh had tried to persuade supporters to vote for an opposition coalition in telephoned speeches that were relayed to campaign rallies.

But he failed to dent Barrow’s following. The president received around 53 percent of Saturday’s vote, far outstripping his nearest rival, political veteran Ousainou Darboe, who won about 28 percent.

As results came in on Sunday, representatives from all opposition parties signed off on nearly all the tally sheets read to the election commission.

But later in the day, Darboe and two other candidates, Mama Kandeh and Essa Mbye Faal, said they would not accept the results because the results took longer than expected and because of problems at polling stations.

They did not provide specifics or evidence of wrongdoing.

“We are concerned that there had been an inordinate delay in the announcement of results,” their statement said. “A number of issues have been raised by our party agents and representatives at the polling stations.”

The statement did not say what they would do now, only stating that “all actions are on the table.”

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