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Blinken Faults China for Slow Response on Virus

2 hours 1 min ago

The U.S. secretary of state assailed China Sunday for its early, slow response to the threat of the coronavirus more than a year ago, saying it led to “more egregious results” throughout the world than “might otherwise” have been the case. 

“I think China knows that in the early stages of COVID, it didn't do what it needed to do, which was to, in real time, give access to international experts, in real time to share information, in real time to provide real transparency,” Antony Blinken told NBC News’s “Meet the Press” show. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus. 

There was no immediate comment from China on Blinken’s remarks. 

Former U.S. President Donald Trump had also been critical of China’s response, frequently using terms like the “China flu” or “Kung flu” to describe the infection. 

FILE - Cemetery workers wearing protective gear lower the coffin of a person who died from complications related to COVID-19 into a gravesite at the Vila Formosa cemetery in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Apr. 7, 2021.

Blinken said the worldwide death toll, which currently stands at more than 2.9 million people, “speaks to what China and other countries have to do now. As we're dealing with COVID-19, we also have to put in place a stronger global health security system to make sure that this doesn't happen again, or, if it does happen again, we're able to, to mitigate it, to get ahead of it.”  

He said the world must make “a real commitment to transparency, to information sharing, to access for experts. It means strengthening the World Health Organization and reforming it so it can do that. And China has to play a part in that.” 

FILE - Peter Ben Embarek of the World Health Organization holds up a chart showing pathways of transmission of the virus during a press conference in Wuhan, China, Feb. 9, 2021.

Blinken said further investigation needs to be done on the origins of the virus in Wuhan, China “so we fully understand what happened, in order to have the best shot possible preventing it from happening again. That's why we need to get to the bottom of this.” 

The WHO said in March the virus probably started in bats, and that it’s “extremely unlikely” the infection came from a laboratory leak. 

The United States is now vaccinating millions of Americans against the virus every week, vastly more than in many other countries, with President Joe Biden saying that in a week all adults who want to get inoculated, regardless of their age, will be eligible to get their shot. 

Blinken said the U.S. government’s first responsibility for vaccinations is in the United States. 

But he said, “I think we have a significant responsibility and we're going to be the world leader on helping to make sure that the entire world gets vaccinated.” 

“And here's why: unless and until the vast majority of people in the world are vaccinated, it's still going to be a problem for us,” Blinken said. “Because as long as the virus is replicating somewhere, it could be mutating, and then it could be coming back to hit us.” 

FILE - A woman walks past newspaper billboards during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Johannesburg, South Africa, Feb. 8, 2021.

The top U.S. diplomat said the United States, aside from rejoining the WHO that Trump withdrew from, is intent on making vaccines “more available, especially to low- and middle-income countries. We've worked a very important arrangement with India, with Japan, and Australia, the so-called ‘Quad Countries,’ to increase vaccine production around the world.” 

“And we've made some loans to our nearest neighbors, Mexico and Canada,” he said. “As we get more comfortable with where we are in vaccinating every American, we are then looking at what we can do, what more we can do around the world.” 


Aside from the virus, Blinken said the U.S. is concerned about the “increasingly aggressive actions the government in Beijing has directed at Taiwan, raising tensions” in the Taiwan Strait between the island and mainland China. 

The U.S. for years has maintained its “one China” policy, with China considering Taiwan as part of its domain. At the same time, Blinken said the U.S. has “a commitment to Taiwan…a bipartisan commitment that's existed for many, many years, to make sure that Taiwan has the ability to defend itself, and to make sure that we're sustaining peace and security in the western Pacific.” 

“We stand behind those commitments,” the State Department chief said. “And all I can tell you is it would be a serious mistake for anyone to try to change the existing status quo by force.” 

Taiwan Reports New Incursion by Chinese Jets into Defense Zone Late last month Taiwan reported 20 Chinese aircraft were involved in one such incursion

He declined to speculate on whether the U.S. would militarily defend Taiwan if China were to take control of the territory. China has expressed opposition in recent days to a series of computerized war games that Taiwan is conducting to simulate how the island might respond to a potential Chinese invasion. China said Friday that Taiwan's military "won't stand a chance" if Beijing chose to invade. 

China has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control. 

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Execution-Style Killing of Greek Journalist Sends Shockwaves across Europe, West

3 hours 19 min ago

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has ordered an urgent investigation into the assassination of one of the country’s top crime reporters. Greek media have long been targeted by far-left organizations and anarchists in a show of violent defiance to what they call links between them and the nation’s political and financial establishment. However,  journalist killings are rare in Greece and if it is established that the reporter was gunned down for carrying out his duties, it will be the first such case in Europe in years.

Citizens’ Protection Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis left a marathon meeting with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, saying he was determined to hunt down the killers of Giorgos Karaivaz.

He called the assassination an abhorrent crime but said he is convinced authorities will soon find those responsible, and hand them over to justice to be dealt with.

The race is on… and the stakes are high.

Karaivaz was gunned down by a pair of masked men who pumped ten bullets into the crime reporter’s head, neck and left palm, leaving him dead in a pool of blood outside his home, in the balmy residential suburb of Alimos, south of Athens.

Locals like Elias, a municipal gardener who refused to give his last name for fear of reprisals, said he saw the gunmen and was stunned by how calculating and calmly they conducted themselves.

The actual gunshot(s) were not heard because they used a silencer, he said. The killers both came in on a motorbike, gunned down Karaivaz and left calmly, as if nothing had happened.

Authorities say they are now putting together pieces of the mystery, trying to identify the assailants from surveillance cameras, burner phones and a string of forensic evidence that has so far been compiled.

They believe Karaivaz had been tracked for days before gunmen committed the deadly shooting Friday, in broad daylight.

Senior police officials told VOA they suspect the killing is linked to organized crime and a group called Mafia Greece, known for hiring foreign shooters to sort out differences in the underworld here.

Eleftherios Economou, the deputy  citizens’ protection minister explains.

There is no doubt, he said, that they are dealing with contract killers. This is a methodology, he said, authorities have seen in at least 19 similar style murders in the last three years here and this may make solving the case, so much more difficult.

A woman reads newspapers headlines of the killing of a Greek journalist in Athens, April 10, 2021.

Either way, experts say, the motive behind the Karaivaz killing remains unclear.

If confirmed as related to the journalist’s work, then it will be the first assassination of a journalist in the European Union since the 2018 murder of investigative reporter Jan Kuciak in Slovakia.

Karaivaz was a contributor to the Eleftheros Typos newspaper, and he founded the news website, which reported on crime.

Leading officials across the European Union have issued sympathy statements, supporting free speech while urging the government and the authorities in Athens to hunt down the assailants.

The U.S. Embassy in Athens said it would help any effort to defend the sacred right of free speech.

Greek media offices and journalists are frequently targeted by far-left anarchists who routinely strike them in what they claim are attacks against the establishment.

Nevertheless, journalist killings are rare here, raising concerns that freedom of speech in the country that gave birth to democracy may now be in serious peril.


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Jordan King, Prince in First Joint Appearance Since 'Plot' Crisis 

5 hours 20 min ago

Jordan's King Abdullah appeared in public Sunday alongside his half-brother Prince Hamzah, state TV showed, their first joint appearance since a palace crisis involving the prince rocked the kingdom.  

The images showed a group of Hashemite royals at a mausoleum where their ancestors are buried, on the 100th anniversary since the founding of the kingdom.  

The palace Twitter account published a picture of the group at a cemetery with the caption "HM King Abdullah II, HRH Crown Prince Al Hussein... (and) Hamzah bin Al Hussein... visit tomb of HM the late King Abdullah I."  

All were dressed in civilian clothes, apart from Hussein, the heir to the throne, who wore military dress.  

Jordan is marking 100 years of survival Sunday as a resource-poor country in a war-ravaged neighborhood, but the palace crisis and the coronavirus pandemic have overshadowed celebrations.  

The government had accused Hamzah — a former crown prince who was sidelined as heir to the throne in favor of Abdullah's son Hussein in 2004 — of involvement in a conspiracy to "destabilize the kingdom's security".  

At least 16 people were arrested.  

But Abdullah said Wednesday that Hamzah, who has signed a letter pledging his loyalty to the king following mediation by an uncle, was safe in his palace under his "care".  

In an address read out in his name on state television, the king added that "sedition has been nipped in the bud".  

'Steps of the ancestors' 

Hamzah had been appointed crown prince and heir to the throne in 1999 in line with his father's wishes, but Abdullah stripped him of the title in 2004 and named his own eldest son Hussein in Hamzah's place.  

Hamzah in a video message published by the BBC on April 3 claimed he had been placed under house arrest and accused Jordan's rulers of corruption and ineptitude. 

Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi then charged that a group of plotters had linked up with foreign parties to destabilize Jordan, but declined to identify them.  

After mediation talks, however, Hamzah voiced his loyalty to the king.  

"Prince Hamzah pledged before the family to follow in the steps of the ancestors, remain loyal to their mission, and to put Jordan's interest, constitution and laws above all considerations," the king said Wednesday.  

A probe into the events continues, the king added.  

The crisis laid bare divisions in a pro-Western country usually seen as a bulwark of stability in the Middle East.  

Jordan borders Israel and the occupied West Bank, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. It hosts US troops and is home to millions of exiled Palestinians and many Syrian refugees.  

The king's address followed orders issued by Amman prosecutor Hassan al-Abdallat that banned the publication of any information about the alleged plot in order to keep the security services' investigation secret.  

The UN human rights office said Friday it was concerned about a lack of transparency surrounding the alleged plot. 

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Religious Leaders Recall Prince Philip's Spiritual Curiosity 

6 hours 52 min ago

Churches in Britain held services Sunday to remember Prince Philip as people of many religions reflected on a man whose gruff exterior hid a strong personal faith and deep curiosity about others' beliefs. 

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby led a service of remembrance at Canterbury Cathedral in southeast England for the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, who died Friday at the age of 99.  

A tribute to Britain's Prince Philip is projected onto a large screen at Piccadilly Circus in London, after the announcement of the duke's death.

Welby, who is set to preside at Philip's funeral on Saturday at Windsor Castle, led prayers for Philip, also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, and contemplated "a very long life, remarkably led."  

In London's Westminster Abbey, where Philip married the then-Princess Elizabeth in 1947, Dean of Westminster David Hoyle remembered the former naval officer's "self-effacing sense of service."  

Most people's glimpses of Philip in a religious setting were of him beside the queen at commemorative services, or walking to church with the royal family on Christmas Day. But his religious background and interests were more varied than his conventional role might suggest.  

Born into the Greek royal family as Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, he was baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church.

The church of Saint George where Britain's Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elisabeth, was baptized, on the island of Corfu, Greece, Apr. 11, 2021.

His father was exiled and his family left Greece when Philip was very young. He became an Anglican when he married Elizabeth, who as queen is supreme governor of the Church of England.  

In the 1960s, he helped set up St. George's House, a religious study center at the royal family's Windsor Castle seat, where Philip would join clergy, academics, businesspeople and politicians to discuss the state of the world. 

He was a regular visitor to Mount Athos, a monastic community and religious sanctuary in Greece, and was a long-time patron of the Templeton Prize, a lucrative award for contribution to life's "spiritual dimension" whose winners include Mother Teresa. 

FILE - Britain's Prince Philip (L) is escorted during a visit to a 'The Conservation Volunteers' (TCV) conservation project at the Dersingham Bog Nature Reserve, on the Royal Sandringham Estate, in Sandringham, southern England, Sept. 30, 2013.

Philip's longstanding environmentalism, which saw him serve as patron of the Worldwide Fund for Nature, was connected to his faith. He organized a 1986 summit in Assisi, Italy where representatives of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism pledged to protect the environment. Philip said at the time that "a new and powerful alliance has been forged between the forces of religion and the forces of conservation."  

Blunt-spoken and quick-witted, Philip also was known for making remarks that could be deeply offensive, some of them sexist and racist. But former Archbishop of York John Sentamu, who was born in Uganda, said those who saw Philip as a bigot were wide of the mark. 

"If somebody challenged him, you would enter into an amazing conversation," Sentamu told the BBC. "The trouble was that because he was the Duke of Edinburgh, the husband of the queen, people had this deference. 

"I'm sure sometimes he regretted some of those phrases, but in the end it's a pity that people saw him as somebody who makes gaffes," Sentamu said. "Behind those gaffes was an expectation of a comeback, but nobody came back, and the gaffe, unfortunately, stayed." 

Inderjit Singh, a prominent British Sikh leader, said Philip had a strong knowledge of Sikhism and "contributed to the understanding and harmony between differing faith communities." 

"He recognized what we should all recognize....We are all of one common humanity," Singh said. 

Philip's faith may have been partly a legacy of his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, who established an order of nuns, sheltered Jews in Nazi-occupied Greece during World War II and is buried below a Russian Orthodox church in east Jerusalem. 

"I suspect that it never occurred to her that her action was in any way special," Philip said on a 1994 trip to Israel, where he visited his mother's grave. "She was a person with deep religious faith, and she would have considered it to be a totally human action to fellow human beings in distress." 

His interests in religion and ecology have been passed on to his eldest son, Prince Charles. The heir to the throne is a strong environmentalist who has said he wants to be "defender of faiths" when he takes the throne, rather than the monarch's official title as defender of the Anglican faith. 


Ecuador Holds Second Round of Presidential Election   

7 hours 29 min ago

Ecuadorians are voting Sunday in a runoff election to choose between a right-wing and a left-wing candidate to replace President Lenin Moreno, who is not seeking reelection.

Polls show the two contenders in a tight race.

Economist Andres Arauz, 36, from the Union of Hope coalition and a protégé of former President Rafael Correa, was leading in the first round of vote in February with almost 33%. 

Former banker Guillermo Lasso, 65, a conservative politician and third-time presidential candidate who has finished second twice before, to Correa in 2013 and Moreno in 2017, garnered about 20% of the first-round ballots. 

Arauz has promised to give $1,000 to a million families when he takes office. He has also offered to provide benefits to the youth, such as free internet access. 

In the meantime, Lasso has tried to portray a moderate image by promising to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation and increase protection of animal rights. 

Both candidates have called on backers to denounce irregularities as the election proceeds. 

The Ecuadorian elections council is expected to report the results Sunday night and the new president will begin his term May 24.