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Protesters opposed to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other restrictions withdrew their vehicles from a key US-Canadian border bridge Saturday but still blocked access while other demonstrations ramped up in cities across Canada, including the capital, where police said they were awaiting more officers before ending what they described as an illegal occupation.

The tense standoff at the Ambassador Bridge linking Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, eased somewhat early in the day when Canadian police persuaded demonstrators to move the trucks they had used to barricade the entrance to the busy international crossing.

But protesters reconvened nearby — with reinforcements — and were still choking off access from the Canadian side late Saturday, snarling traffic and commerce for a sixth day.

In Ottawa, the ranks of protesters swelled to what police said was 4,000 demonstrators. The city has seen that on past weekends, and loud music played as people milled about downtown where anti-vaccine demonstrators have been encamped since late January.

The protests at the bridge, in Ottawa and elsewhere have reverberated outside the country, with similarly inspired convoys in France, New Zealand and the Netherlands, and the US Department of Homeland Security warned that truck convoys may be in the works in the United States.

An ex-Cabinet minister in Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government took the unusual step of calling out her former federal colleagues as well as the province and city for not putting an end to the protests.

“Amazingly, this isn’t just Ottawa. It’s the nation’s capital,” Catherine McKenna tweeted. “But no one — not the city, the province or the federal government can seem to get their act together to end this illegal occupation. It’s appalling. … Just get your act together. Now.”

Trudeau has called the protesters a “fringe” of Canadian society, and both federal and provincial leaders say they can’t order police what to do.

“Safety concerns — arising from aggressive, illegal behavior by many demonstrators — limited police enforcement capabilities,” Ottawa police said in a statement late Saturday.

Ottawa police said a joint command center had now been set up together with the Ontario Provincial Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Police earlier issued a statement calling the protest an unlawful occupation and saying they were waiting for police “reinforcements” before implementing a plan to end the demonstrations.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency last week for the capital, where hundreds of trucks remained in front of the Parliament Buildings and demonstrators have set up portable toilets outside the prime minister’s office where Trudeau’s motorcade usually parks.

Surrounded by dozens of officers in Windsor, a man with “Mandate Freedom” and “Trump 2024” spray-painted on his vehicle left the bridge entrance early in the day as others began dismantling a small, tarp-covered encampment. A trucker honked his horn as he, too, drove off, to cheers and chants of “Freedom!”

But hundreds more arrived to bolster the crowd and settled into a faceoff with police about two blocks away, waving flags and yelling. While there were no visible physical confrontations, the crowd still controlled the road to the bridge, and traffic had not resumed as of the evening.

Windsor police tweeted that no one had been arrested but urged people to stay away from the bridge: “We appreciate the cooperation of the demonstrators at this time and we will continue to focus on resolving the demonstration peacefully. Avoid area!”

Protester Daniel Koss said shortly before police advanced that the demonstration had succeeded in bringing attention to demands to lift COVID-19 mandates and he was happy it remained peaceful.

“It’s a win-win,” Koss said. “The pandemic is rolling down right now, they can remove the mandates, all the mandates, and everyone’s happy. The government does the right thing, and the protesters are all happy.”

The previous day, a judge ordered an end to the blockade of mostly pickup trucks and cars, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency allowing for fines of 100,000 Canadian dollars and up to one year in jail for anyone illegally blocking roads, bridges, walkways and other critical infrastructure.

“The illegal blockades are impacting trade, supply chains & manufacturing. They’re hurting Canadian families, workers & businesses. Glad to see the Windsor Police & its policing partners commenced enforcement at and near the Ambassador Bridge,” Federal Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne tweeted Saturday. “These blockades must stop.”

The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest US-Canadian border crossing, carrying 25 percent of all trade between the two countries, and auto plants on both sides have been forced to shut down or reduce production this week. The standoff came at a time when the industry is already struggling to maintain production in the face of pandemic-induced shortages of computer chips and other supply-chain disruptions.

In Ottawa, 31-year-old Stephanie Ravensbergen said she turned out to support her aunt and uncle who have parked their semi in the streets since the beginning of the protest. She opposes vaccine and mask requirements, and said it’s important for schoolchildren to be able see their friends’ faces and emotions.

“We want the right to choose,” Ravensbergen said. “We want the right to be able to do what everybody else can do.”

Protesters on Saturday tore down a fence that authorities put up around the capital’s National War Memorial two weeks ago after demonstrators urinated on it. Some later chanted “liberte,” French for “freedom.”

“Completely unacceptable,” Lawrence MacAulay, Canada’s veterans affairs minister, tweeted. “This behavior is disappointing and I’m calling on protesters to respect our monuments.”

On the other side of the country, protesters disrupted operations at another border crossing between Surrey, British Columbia, and Blaine, Washington, but officials said it was not blocked. Two border crossings, in Alberta and in Manitoba, remained shut down as well.

While the protesters are decrying vaccine mandates for truckers and other COVID-19 restrictions, many of Canada’s public health measures, such as mask rules and vaccine passports for getting into restaurants and theaters, are already falling away as the omicron surge levels off.

Pandemic restrictions have been far stricter there than in the US, but Canadians have largely supported them. The vast majority of Canadians are vaccinated, and the COVID-19 death rate is one-third that of the United States.

Inspired by the Canadian demonstrations, protests against pandemic restrictions were seen in parts of Europe on Saturday.

At least 500 vehicles in several convoys attempted to enter Paris at key arteries but were intercepted by police. Over 200 motorists were ticketed, and elsewhere at least two people were detained amid a seizure of knives, hammers and other objects in a central square.

Police fired tear gas against a handful of people who demonstrated on the Champs Elysees Avenue in defiance of a police order. An Associated Press photographer was hit in the head with a gas canister as police struggled to control the crowd.

In the Netherlands, meanwhile, dozens of trucks and other vehicles ranging from tractors to a car towing a camper arrived in The Hague, blocking an entrance to the historic parliamentary complex. Protesters on foot joined them, carrying a banner emblazoned with “Love & freedom, no dictatorship” in Dutch.

Earlier this week in New Zealand, protesters rolled up to Parliament grounds in a convoy of cars and trucks and set up camp. Police have taken a hands-off approach after initial attempts to remove them resulted in physical confrontations.

Parliament Speaker Trevor Mallard on Friday ordered his staff to turn on the lawn’s sprinklers to douse them and to play Barry Manilow tunes and the 1990s hit “Macarena” over loudspeakers to annoy them. Protesters responded by playing their own songs, including Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

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Britney Spears’ ex-husband convicted of crashing her wedding

A man once briefly married to Britney Spears has been convicted of aggravated trespassing and battery after appearing uninvited at the pop star’s wedding in June.

Jason Alexander, 40, pleaded no contest to two misdemeanour counts in a California court, prosecutors in Ventura County said.

Spears married Sam Asghari at her home in Thousand Oaks, California, on 9 June. The wedding guests included Selena Gomez, Drew Barrymore, Paris Hilton and Madonna.

Alexander, a childhood friend of Spears to whom she was married for less than three days in 2004, appeared uninvited at the house before the ceremony while livestreaming on Instagram.

He entered the house and went up to the locked door of Spears’ bedroom while she was inside getting ready for the wedding, according to testimony at a preliminary hearing.

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Indoor mask rule stays as Covid-19 cases remain high even though peak of current wave has passed

There are no plans for now to relax Covid-19 rules, including the requirement that people wear a mask indoors, said the Ministry of Health (MOH).

MOH on Thursday (Aug 11) said existing safe management measures will continue to stay in place, as the number of cases remain high. This is even as the latest wave of infections has passed its peak.

An MOH spokesman said: “Cases are falling but remain high and pose risks. The Ministry of Health will continue to calibrate measures depending on the situation.”

On Thursday, 7,776 new Covid-19 cases were reported, down from a high of 16,870 on July 13, in cases largely fueled by the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.

Last month, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said the current wave was “near the peak, if not at the peak”. He said in Parliament last week that infection numbers had fallen and were likely to subside further.

While most safe management measures have been eased, patrons of bars and nightlife establishments with dancing, for instance, are required to be fully vaccinated.

Events with more than 500 participants, such as worship services and live performances, also require everyone who is attending to be fully vaccinated.

Some experts in Singapore have recently suggested that there is no need to continue enforcing mandatory mask-wearing indoors.

Associate Professor Alex Cook, who is the vice-dean of research at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, had questioned the benefits of this.

“With over 90 per cent of the population vaccinated and over half the population infected, there is little reason to contain the virus. There is no need to continue mandatory mask-wearing,” he said.

But Prof Cook said wearing masks reduced the risk of transmission among those who were infectious but asymptomatic, and that those infected by Covid-19 should continue to wear masks while interacting with others.

Wearing masks in public spaces was made compulsory in April 2020, during Singapore’s “circuit breaker” period aimed at stopping the spread of Covid-19.

In March this year, wearing a mask outdoors was made optional as a raft of pandemic restrictions were lifted. But the rule on using masks indoors remained.

Around the world, countries experiencing a spike in Covid-19 cases are once again encouraging people to wear masks.

 

SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES

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North Koreans suspected of using fake resumes to steal crypto

Suspected North Korean thieves are plagiarising resumes and pretending to be from other countries as part of a wider effort to raise money for the government in Pyongyang.

The fraudsters are plundering job listings on LinkedIn and Indeed, incorporating details they find on legitimate profiles into their own resumes in order to try getting hired at US cryptocurrency firms.

One suspected North Korean job seeker recently claimed to be an “innovative and strategic thinking professional” in the tech industry, and added, “The world will see the great result from my hands.”

The job applicant’s account, identified on July 14, claimed to be from an experienced software developer. But researchers found nearly identical language in another person’s profile.

By collecting information from crypto companies, the researchers said, North Koreans can gather intelligence about upcoming cryptocurrency trends.

The North Korean government has consistently denied involvement in any cyber-enabled theft.

Other suspected North Koreans have fabricated job qualifications, with some users claiming on job applications to have published a white paper about the Bibox digital currency exchange, while another posed as a senior software developer at a consultancy focused on blockchain technology.

In addition, North Korean users, claiming to have programming skills, have posed questions on the coding site GitHub Inc, where software developers publicly discuss their findings, about larger trends in the cryptocurrency world.

The US warned in May that North Korean IT workers are trying to obtain freelance employment abroad while posing as non-North Korean nationals, in part to raise money for government weapons development programmes.

The IT workers claim to have the kinds of skills necessary for complex work like mobile app development, building virtual currency exchanges and mobile gaming, according to the US advisory.

North Korean IT workers “target freelance contracts from employers located in wealthier nations,” according to the US’s 16-page advisory released in May.

In many instances, the North Korean workers present themselves as South Korean, Chinese, Japanese or Eastern European and US-based teleworkers, according to the US advisory.

North Korea’s focus on stealing cryptocurrency comes after the country’s hackers spent years stealing money from the global financial system.

After a notorious 2016 heist on Bangladesh Bank, where the US accused North Korean thieves of trying to steal close to US$1 billion (S$1.38 billion), global banks added safeguards meant to stop such breaches.

 

SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES

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