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Facebook to reverse news ban on Australian sites

Facebook will walk back its block on Australian users sharing news on its site after the government agreed to make amendments to the proposed media bargaining laws that would force major tech giants to pay news outlets for their content.

It follows days of negotiations between the government and the social media company, including discussions between Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg.

"Mark Zuckerberg said to me today [restoring pages] will occur in coming days," Mr Frydenberg said.

The code is structured so that if Facebook and Google do not sign commercial deals with traditional media outlets the Treasurer can "designate" them, and force them to pay for access to news content.

The government promised to make further amendments to the code, including giving Facebook more time to strike those deals.

Last week Facebook stopped Australian users from sharing or posting news links in response to the code.

A number of non-news pages were swept up in the ban, including community organisations and the Bureau of Meteorology.

Facebook said in a statement that it was "pleased" the company was able to reach an agreement with the government.

"[We] appreciate the constructive discussions we've had with Treasurer Frydenberg and Minister Fletcher over the past week," it said.

"After further discussions, we are satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to a number of changes and guarantees that address our core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognise the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them. As a result of these changes, we can now work to further our investment in public interest journalism and restore news on Facebook for Australians in the coming days."

But the company's vice president Campbell Brown said Facebook was retaining its right to take Australian news content down again in the future. (ABC News)

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Vaccine nationalism puts world on brink of 'catastrophic moral failure': WHO chief

GENEVA: The world is on the brink of "catastrophic moral failure" in sharing COVID-19 vaccines, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday (18), urging countries and manufacturers to spread doses more fairly around the world.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the prospects for equitable distribution were at "serious risk" just as its COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme aimed to start distributing inoculations next month.

He noted 44 bilateral deals were signed last year and at least 12 have already been signed this year.

"This could delay COVAX deliveries and create exactly the scenario COVAX was designed to avoid, with hoarding, a chaotic market, an uncoordinated response and continued social and economic disruption," he said.

Such a "me-first approach" left the world's poorest and most vulnerable at risk, he said at the opening of the body's annual Executive Board meeting in virtual format.

"Ultimately these actions will only prolong the pandemic," he added, urging countries to avoid making the same mistakes made during the H1N1 and HIV pandemics.

The global scramble for shots has intensified as more infectious virus variants circulate.

Tedros said more than 39 million vaccine doses had been administered in 49 higher-income countries whereas just 25 doses had been given in one poor country.

A delegate from Burkina Faso, on behalf of the African group, expressed concern at the meeting that a few countries had "hoovered up" most of the supplies.

Observers say this board meeting, which last until next Tuesday, is one of the most important in the UN health agency's more than 70-year history and could shape its role in global health long after the pandemic ends.

On the agenda is reform of the body as well as its financing system, which was revealed as inadequate after its largest donor, the United States, announced its withdrawal last year.

"WHO has to remain relevant and ... has to come out of this crisis with more strength than before," said WHO Executive Board Vice-Chair Bjoern Kuemmel of Germany in comments last week.

But he expected resistance from some countries to pressure to boost financial contributions.

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Italy's Mario Draghi sworn in as Prime Minister, taking the reins of a country in crisis

The Italian president swore in Mario Draghi, the former chief of the European Central Bank, as prime minister on Saturday (13) at the head of a unity government called on to confront the Covid-19 crisis and a persistent economic slump.

The 73-year-old, known as Super Mario for doing "whatever it takes" to save the eurozone, has put together a national unity government involving almost all Italy's political parties.

"Break a leg," read the headline on La Stampa daily Saturday, hours ahead of Draghi and his new cabinet being sworn in under rainy skies in Rome, as a new survey showed the former banker had the support of 62 percent of Italians.

Draghi was parachuted in by President Sergio Mattarella after the previous centre-left coalition under premier Giuseppe Conte collapsed, leaving Italy rudderless at a critical time.

Italy is battling the pandemic that hit one year ago, leaving more than 93,000 people dead and triggering the country's deepest recession since World War II.

Draghi has spent the last 10 days assembling a broad-based coalition and on Friday night formally accepted the post of prime minister in a meeting with Mattarella.

He spoke only to read out a list of his cabinet -- a mix of technocrats, veteran politicians and existing ministers, a third of them women -- but returned at noon Saturday to be formally sworn in at the presidential palace.

Draghi will be presented to the upper-house Senate on Wednesday followed by the chamber of deputies on Thursday for a confidence vote that will give the final official blessing to his government.

(France 24)

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India plans 20 million doses of vaccine supply to neighbors

India, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of inoculations, plans to offer 20 million doses of coronavirus vaccine to its neighbors as it draws up a policy to supply vials to countries across the globe, people with knowledge of the matter said.
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U.S. moves to rejoin UN Human Rights Council

The Biden administration is set to announce this week that it will reengage with the much-maligned U.N. Human Rights Council that former President Donald Trump withdrew from almost three years ago, U.S. officials said Sunday. The decision reverses another Trump-era move away from multilateral organizations and agreements.

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House impeaches Trump for Capitol riot

Washington — The House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump for inciting an insurrection at the Capitol that left five people dead, cementing his place in history as the only president to be impeached twice in a bipartisan rebuke that was approved with unprecedented speed.

The final vote was 232 to 197, with 10 Republicans joining all 222 Democrats in supporting a single article of impeachment charging the president with "incitement of insurrection."

"We know that the president of the United State incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion, against our common country," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said ahead of the vote. "He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love."

Mr. Trump was first impeached in December 2019 for his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Biden family. His second impeachment comes just one week before President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn into office as his successor. Only two other presidents have been impeached since the founding of the republic.

On January 6, the president addressed supporters near the White House, urging them to "fight like hell" as members of Congress prepared to formalize Mr. Biden's win. An angry mob subsequently marched on the Capitol and stormed the complex, shattering windows and breaking down doors to gain access to the halls of Congress. The mob managed to halt the counting of the electoral votes for several hours.

House Democrats brought the impeachment resolution to a vote with an unprecedented speed that reflected the severity of the assault on the Capitol and the limited time remaining in Mr. Trump's term. The resolution was first introduced on Monday, with Democrats forgoing the typical process of holding hearings and conducting an investigation.

The article of impeachment will soon head to the Senate, where lawmakers must hold a trial on whether to convict Mr. Trump and remove him from office. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday he has not made a decision on whether he will vote to convict the president at trial.

With just seven days left in Mr. Trump's term, the Senate trial could potentially stretch into the term of his successor. If that happens, the Senate could still choose to convict Mr. Trump and bar him from holding any federal office in the future. A vote to convict requires a vote of two-thirds of the Senate.

The president has refused to take responsibility for his role in inciting the mob that stormed the Capitol, insisting on Tuesday that his speech before the riot was "totally appropriate."

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Why is the military taking control in Myanmar?

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Myanmar's military has taken control of the country under a one-year state of emergency and reports say State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and other government leaders have been detained. Here are some possible reasons why the military has taken over now:


The announcement on military-owned Myawaddy TV cited Article 417 of the country's constitution, which allows the military to take over in times of emergency. The announcer said the coronavirus crisis and the government's failure to postpone November elections were reasons for the emergency.

The military drafted the constitution in 2008 and retains power under the charter at the expense of democratic, civilian rule. Human Rights Watch has described the clause as a “coup mechanism in waiting.”

The constitution also reserves key Cabinet ministries and 25% of the seats in Parliament for the military, a portion that limits the power of a civilian government and rules out amending the charter without military support.

Some experts expressed puzzlement as to why the military would upset their powerful status quo, but others noted the looming retirement of Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who has been commander of the armed forces since 2011.

“There’s internal military politics around that, which is very opaque,” said Kim Jolliffe, a researcher on Myanmar civilian and military relations. “This might be reflecting those dynamics and might be somewhat of a coup internally and his way of maintaining power within the military.”

The military has assigned Vice President Myint Swe, a former military officer, as head of the government for one year.

ap file

FILE - In this May 24, 2017, file photo, Myanmar's Vice President Myint Swe, right, smiles while sitting with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, left, and then President Htin Kyaw during a photo session after the second session of the 21st Century Panglong Union Peace Conference at the Myanmar International Convention Center in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. Myanmar military television said Monday, Feb. 1, 2021 that the military was taking control of the country for one year, while reports said many of the country’s senior politicians including Suu Kyi had been detained. The military TV report said Commander-in-Chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing would be in charge of the country, while Myint Swe would be elevated to acting president. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo, File)



In November elections, Suu Kyi’s party captured 396 out of 476 seats in the combined lower and upper houses of Parliament. The state Union Election Commission has confirmed that result.

But the military since shortly after the elections has claimed there were millions of irregularities in voter lists in 314 townships that could have let voters cast multiple ballots or commit other “voting malpractice.”

“But they haven’t really shown any proof of that,” Jolliffe said.

The election commission rejected the claims last week, stating there was no evidence to support them.

The military takeover came on what was to be the first day of the new Parliament following the elections.

Instead, Suu Kyi and other lawmakers who would have been sworn into office were reported detained.

A later announcement on Myawaddy TV said the military would hold an election after the one-year emergency ends and would turn over power to the winner.


Telecommunications came to a near halt in the morning and early afternoon. In the capital, internet and phone access appeared to be blocked. Many people elsewhere in the country who could still access the internet found their social media accounts had been temporarily suspended.

Barbed wire road blocks were set up across Yangon, the largest city, and military units began to appear outside government buildings such as City Hall.

Residents flocked to ATMs and food vendors, while some shops and homes removed the symbols of Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, that typically adorn the streets and walls of the city.


Governments and international organizations condemned the takeover, saying it sets back the limited democratic reforms Myanmar has made.

“This is an extremely crushing blow to efforts to present Myanmar as a democracy," said Linda Lakhdhir, a legal adviser at Human Rights Watch. ”Its creditability on the world stage has taken a massive hit."

Watchdogs fear a further crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists, and others critical of the military. Even before the current military takeover, journalists, free speech advocates and critics of the military often faced legal action for publicly criticizing it.

A U.S. senator raised the possibility the United States could again impose economic sanctions, which the U.S. lifted when Myanmar was transitioning to civilian rule.

Myanmar's military leaders “must immediately free the democratic leaders of Myanmar and remove themselves from government,” said Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “If not, the United States and other countries should impose strict economic sanctions, as well as other measures” against the military and military leaders, he said.

Former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson said the Biden administration and other governments should act swiftly to impose sanctions. He also questioned Suu Kyi's ability to lead given her defense of the military's actions against ethnic Rohingya Muslims.

“Because of Suu Kyi’s failure to promote democratic values as Myanmar’s de facto leader, she should step aside and let other Myanmar democratic leaders take the reins with international backing and support,” Richardson said in a statement.

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Japan's passport is world's most powerful In 2021, Pakistan in worst category: Report

The latest report by the Henley Passport Index recently revealed that Japan has the most powerful password in the world for the year 2021.

According to the report, Pakistan and Nepal continue to be the 'worst' passport as they have a visa-free score of 32 and 38 countries respectively.

Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are also the countries with the worst passport to hold with a score of 29, 28 and 26 respectively.

The report released on January 5 revealed that even amid the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic, Japan holds the most powerful passport as Japanese citizens can travel to as many as 191 destinations visa-free or visa-on-arrival.

Singapore, on the other hand, holds the second place, with a score of 190. South Korea ties with Germany in third place with a score of 189.

The United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Switzerland are tied at the seventh position concerning the most powerful passports with a visa-free score of 15.

Australia stands at the eighth position with a score of 184. Indian ranks at 85th position with a visa-free score of 58.

Henley and Partners said that the ascendance of APAC countries in the Passport Index Ranking is a relatively new phenomenon.

They added, “Over the list's 16-year history, the best positions were generally held by EU nations, the UK, or the US and specialists propose that the APAC area's situation of solidarity will proceed as it incorporates a portion of the primary nations to start the way toward recuperating from the (COVID-19) pandemic”.

US, UK continue to ‘steadily erode’

Further, the report stated that the US and the UK are still facing significant challenges related to the COVID-19 and the passport strength of both countries continue to “steadily erode”.

It read that due to this the balance of power is shifting. Dr Christian H Kaelin, who is the Chairman of Henley & partners and the inventor of the passport index concept, said that the latest ranking provides an opportunity to reflect on the extraordinary upheaval that characterised 2020.

Kaelin said, “Just a year ago all indications were that the rates of global mobility would continue to rise, that travel freedom would increase and holders of powerful passports would enjoy more access than ever before”.

The global lockdown negated these glowing projections, and as restrictions begin to lift, the results from the latest Index are a reminder of what passport power really means in a world upended by the pandemic,” Chairman added.

(Republic World)

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World’s poorest will take over 10 years to recover financially from pandemic

The poorest people in the world will take more than a decade before they return to their pre-pandemic financial positions, Oxfam has said.
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Joe Biden certified by Congress as next United States president after deadly riot in Capitol

US Congress has formally validated Joe Biden's presidential election victory on a day that saw a time-honoured ceremony become a nightmare of unprecedented political terror.

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Biden's inauguration speech calls for unity - it won't be easy

At 12:01, in the midst of his inaugural address, Joe Biden officially became the 46th president of the United States.
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India approves Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine

India has approved the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, paving the way for a huge immunisation campaign in the world’s second most populous country.

The information and broadcasting minister, Prakash Javadekar, said on Saturday that the vaccine had been given the green light on Friday.

It is the first Covid-19 vaccine to be approved for emergency use by India, which has the highest number of infections after the US.

The decision came on the same day as a nationwide drill for vaccine delivery, in which health workers received dummy vaccines at each of the centres to be used across the country.

The health minister, Harsh Vardhan, said the exercise would help build expertise “so that the upcoming vaccination drive may proceed without any glitch”. He has also called for a campaign to counter “misleading rumours” that may put people off getting the vaccine.

Javadekar said at least three more vaccines were waiting to be approved – the local company Bharat Biotch’s Covaxin, Zydus Cadila’s ZyCoV-D and Russia’s Sputnik-V.

“India is perhaps the only country where at least four vaccines are getting ready,” he said. “One was approved yesterday for emergency use, Serum’s Covishield.” he said. The Oxford/AstraZeneca shot is being made locally by the Serum Institute of India (SII).

India’s Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) is expected to announce the dosage and other details later. It has applied for a two full-dose regime about 28 days apart.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which was granted its first approval by Britain on Tuesday, is cheaper and easier to use than some rivals, major advantages in tackling a pandemic that has claimed more than 1.8 million lives worldwide.

There has been uncertainty, however, about its most effective dosage since data published in November showed a half-dose followed by a full dose had a 90% success rate while two full shots were 62% effective.

India’s regulator has also received an emergency-use application for the vaccine made by Pfizer and the German firm BioNTech, the first to secure regulatory approval in the west.

India has reported more than 10 million Covid cases, though its rate of infection has come down significantly from a mid-September peak. The country hopes to inoculate 300 million of its 1.35 billion people in the first six to eight months of the year.

SII, the world’s biggest producer of vaccines, has already stockpiled about 50m doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca product, which will be sold to the government at about 250 rupees (£2.50) a dose and 1,000 rupees on the private market.

Britain and Argentina approved the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine this week, and the World Health Organization granted emergency validation to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on Thursday.

Covishield is expected to be more widely used in India because it can be stored and transported under normal refrigeration. Pfizer’s product needs to be stored at ultra-low temperatures.
(The Guardian)
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