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Argentina legalises abortion in landmark moment for women's rights

Argentina has become the largest Latin American country to legalise abortion after its senate approved the historic law change by 38 votes in favour to 29 against, with one abstention.

Elated pro-choice campaigners who had been keeping vigil outside Buenos Aires’s neoclassical congressional palace erupted in celebration as the result was announced at just after 4am on Wednesday.

Women screamed with delight, sweeping their friends into tight hugs and jumping in ecstasy. Many wept tears of joy. Victory music kicked in and green smoke filled the air. A triumphant message flashed up on a big screen above the joyful crowd: “We did it!” it said. “ES LEY!” (IT’S LAW!).

“I’m very emotional,” said 25-year-old Melany Marcati, who was among the celebrators. “There are no words to describe what your body feels after fighting for something for so long. I cried a lot, which I wasn’t expecting.”

The campaigner Ingrid Beck said: “The struggle for women’s rights is always arduous, and this time we even had to contend with a pandemic, so I am overjoyed with this result.”

The bill, which legalises terminations in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, was approved by Argentina’s lower house earlier this month after being put to congress by the country’s leftwing president, Alberto Fernández.

“Safe, legal and free abortion is now law … Today we are a better society,” Fernández celebrated on Twitter after the result was confirmed.

Fernández has previously said that more than 3,000 women had died as a result of unsafe, underground abortions in Argentina since the return of democracy in 1983.

The landmark decision means Argentina becomes only the third South American country to permit elective abortions, alongside Uruguay, which decriminalised the practice in 2012, and Guyana, where it has been legal since 1995.

Cuba legalised the practice in 1965 while Mexico City and the Mexican state of Oaxaca also allow terminations.

Giselle Carino, an Argentinian feminist activist, said she believed the achievement in the home country of Pope Francis would reverberate across a region that is home to powerful Catholic and evangelical churches and some of the harshest abortion laws in the world.

abortion 1Pro-choice demonstrators celebrate. Photograph: Ricardo Ceppi/Getty Images

In most countries, such as Brazil, abortions are only permitted in extremely limited circumstances such as rape or risk to the mother’s life, while in some, such as the Dominican Republic and El Salvador, they are banned altogether.

“I feel incredibly proud of what we’ve been able to achieve. This is a historic moment for the country, without a doubt,” said Carino, head of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Western Hemisphere Region.

“It shows how, in spite of all the obstacles, change and progress are possible. Argentinian women and what’s happening right now will have an enormous impact on the region and the world,” Carino added, pointing to parallel struggles in Brazil, Chile and Colombia.

Colombian activists recently petitioned the constitutional court to remove abortion from the country’s criminal code while campaigners in Chile hope a new constitution might lead to expanded women’s rights.

In the region’s most populous nation, Brazil, activists are waiting for the supreme court to rule on a 2018 legal challenge that would decriminalise abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy.

Mariela Belski, Amnesty International’s executive director in Argentina, called the result “an inspiration to the Americas”.

“Argentina has sent a strong message of hope to our entire continent: that we can change course against the criminalisation of abortion and against clandestine abortions, which pose serious risks to the health and lives of millions of people.”

Wednesday’s victory is the result of five years of mass protest marches by Argentina’s grassroots women’s movement, which began as a Twitter campaign against gender violence that used the hashtag #NiUnaMenos (“Not one less” – meaning no more women lost to gender violence).

The first spontaneous march came on 3 June 2015, in reaction to the murder of 14-year-old Chiara Páez, who was found buried underneath her boyfriend’s house after being beaten to death and a few months pregnant.

“Aren’t we going to raise our voices? THEY ARE KILLING US,” the radio journalist Marcela Ojeda tweeted at the time. After that call to arms, a group of female journalists began tweeting under the #NiUnaMenos hashtag, resulting in the first of many marches that brought tens of thousands of women to gather at the congressional square in Buenos Aires.

The following year, Argentinian feminists held a mass strike in response to the rape, murder and impalement of 16-year-old Lucía Pérez in the coastal city of Mar del Plata.

It was after the 2015 #NiUnaMenos march that pro-choice campaigners realised the fight against “femicide” could also encompass demands for access to legal abortion.

They adopted a green scarf – worn as a bandana, head-scarf, or around the wrist – as a symbol of their movement, a trend that quickly spread to other Latin American countries, where green has come to symbolise the broader fight for women’s rights.

That green scarf was an allusion to the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo activists who wore white headscarves as they confronted Argentina’s vicious 1976-83 dictatorship over the disappearance of their children.

Pro-choice campaigners initially saw their hopes of change dashed in August 2018 when the senate, under pressure from the Catholic church, rejected a similar bill.

Fernández’s election the following year brought fresh hope, as he promised to back the push for change. “The criminalisation of abortion has achieved nothing,” he said in November after putting the legislation to congress.

Speaking outside congress on Wednesday, 46-year-old Julieta Cabrera said: “Until the last moment I didn’t want to believe it, not until the last vote was in, because last time, we got our hopes up.” She said she had come out because “abortion is something I’ve experienced firsthand. My generation and many others have been through it.”

Opponents of the law, who had gathered nearby by a giant model foetus that is their trademark, dispersed quickly after the result emerged, with one man occasionally shouting the word “Murderers!” towards the pro-choice side.

Karina Marolla, a 49-year-old opponent of the law, said: “What was voted for today is the death penalty for the most innocent. Today in Argentina there’s no law giving the death penalty to rapists or murderers. So we’re feeling sad, to put it lightly.”

were many young women who took part in the #NiUnaMenos protests and were voting for the first time.

Carino said the real credit lay with Argentina’s indefatigable women “who never stopped occupying the streets and the social networks – not even against the backdrop of the pandemic – and kept up their struggle, without haste but without rest”.

“If anything made the difference, it was this.”
(The Guardian)
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Maldives launches the world’s first loyalty program for a country to boost tourism

The Maldives has been one of the canniest luxury destinations in responding to the pandemic, pivoting to focus on private jet arrivals as it reopened; its already socially distanced resorts enacted stringent, but efficient, protocols—see Soneva, which bought its own PCR testing machine to conduct tests onsite on arrival.

The next move is a world-first, which launched this month - the first-ever loyalty scheme for a country. This airline- and hotel-like system could prove pivotal for a country where tourism accounts for almost two-thirds of its GDP.

Per a government spokesperson, the system will operate in three tiers, named in the local Maldivian language: Aida (bronze), Antara (silver) and Abaarana (gold)—make sure to enroll here.

Much like an airline program, these correspond to points, 500, 2000 and 4000 respectively, with different values for various activities—50 points for border crossings, for example, and 5 points per night spent in situ.

It’s generous enough that travelers can expect to hit Aida status after just four trips of seven days’ duration to luxury resorts like the 15-room Kudadoo, in the northern Lhaviyani Atoll that’s ideal for a buyout from a single group, or the brand-new, 99-room Chedi Kudavillingili, right next to a superb surfing break.

They can also earn bonus points via specific tourist activities or when visiting for a special occasion like a honeymoon or anniversary; each year, the program will also publish a calendar indicating certain dates that trigger a bonus, Scrabble-board style.

As for the perks, they’re murky so far, but will likely include VIP immigration and Duty Free discounts.

Points guru Eric Rosen, who hosts the Conscious Traveler podcast, says this program is a step above traditional destination marketing programs, fitting given that the typical high-spending Maldives visitor won’t likely be impressed by kitschy souvenirs or 10 percent off coupons.

“Expect payoffs that travelers will find worthwhile, like a tie-in to the costly seaplane services that connect the main island to the farther-flung atolls,” he predicts.

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Vaccinations begin for 450 million in Europe as fears grow about new coronavirus variant

Mass vaccination programs began to roll out across Europe on Sunday after several countries reported cases of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus.

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Liberia declares rape a national emergency after spike in cases

Liberian President George Weah has declared rape a national emergency and ordered new measures to tackle the problem after a recent spike of cases in the West African state.

The move comes after thousands of Liberians protested against rising incidents of rape in the capital Monrovia last month in a bid to draw attention to the country's alarming rate of sexual assault.

Late on Friday, Weah said he would install a special prosecutor for rape in Liberia, as well as set up a national sex offender registry, a statement from his office said.

The government will also establish a so-called "national security task force" on sexual and gender-based violence.

The high rates of rape in Liberia have been a long-standing concern.

A United Nations report in 2016 recorded 803 rape cases the previous year in the country of 4.5 million, and found only 2 percent of sexual violence cases led to a conviction.

It was the resulting sense of impunity and legacy of the 14-year civil war between 1989 and 2003, when rape was commonplace, that had created the current problem, it said.

Incidents of rape appear to have risen sharply this year.

Margaret Taylor, the director of Liberia's Women Empowerment Network, said last month her NGO had recorded 600 cases of rape between June and August.

That was up from between 80 and 100 cases in May, she said.

Weah's announcement of a national rape emergency follows a conference in Monrovia on tackling sexual violence on Wednesday.

Addressing the meeting, the footballer-turned-president said Liberia was "witnessing what is actually an epidemic of rape within the [coronavirus] pandemic, affecting mostly children and young girls across the country".

Weah's office said in a statement on Friday that further anti-rape measures will be announced. (Al Jazeera)

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China to leapfrog U.S. as world's biggest economy by 2028, report says

London – China will overtake the United States to become the world’s biggest economy in 2028, five years earlier than previously estimated due to the contrasting recoveries of the two countries from the COVID-19 pandemic, a think tank said.

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India records worst single-day spike of infections in world

India has registered a record new 78,761 coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, the worst single-day spike in the world, as the government continues to further ease pandemic restrictions nationwide.

Today, the Health Ministry also reported 948 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities to 63,498.

India now has the fastest-growing daily coronavirus caseload of any country in the world and has reported more than 75,000 infections for the fourth consecutive day.

Today's surge has raised the country's total virus tally to over 3.5 million and comes at a time when India is reopening its subway networks and allowing sports and religious events in a limited manner from next month as part of efforts to revive the economy. The crowded subway, a lifeline for millions of people in capital New Delhi, will be reopened in a phased manner from September 7.

The South Asian country has the third-highest caseload after the US and Brazil, and its fatalities are the fourth-highest.

Even as eight Indian states remain among the worst-hit regions and contribute nearly 73 per cent of the total infections, the virus is now spreading fast in the vast hinterlands, with experts warning that the month of September could be the most challenging.

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US medical authorities clears Moderna vaccine for emergency distribution

The US has added a second COVID-19 vaccine to its arsenal, boosting efforts to beat back an outbreak so dire that the nation is regularly recording more than 3,000 deaths a day.

Much-needed doses are set to arrive Monday after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorised an emergency rollout of the vaccine developed by Moderna Inc. and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The move marks the world's first authorisation for Moderna's shots. The vaccine is very similar to one from Pfizer Inc. and Germany's BioNTech that's now being dispensed to millions of health care workers and nursing home residents as the biggest vaccination drive in US history starts to ramp up.

Earlier, US Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials and politicians received shots of the Pfizer vaccine in a live television event.

The FDA made its announcement on Twitter, following the recommendation of its Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee on Thursday.

"The emergency use authorisation allows the vaccine to be distributed in the U.S for use in individuals 18 years and older," the FDA tweeted.

The two vaccines work "better than we almost dared to hope," NIH Director Dr Francis Collins told The Associated Press. "Science is working here, science has done something amazing."

Early results of large, still unfinished studies show both vaccines appear safe and strongly protective although Moderna's is easier to handle since it doesn't need to be stored at ultra-frozen temperatures.

A second vaccine represents a ray of hope amid despair as the virus continues to spread unabated even before holiday gatherings that are certain to further fuel the outbreak.

The scourge has claimed more than 312,000 American lives and killed 1.7 million people worldwide. New cases in the US are running at more than 216,000 per day on average.

Deaths per day have hit all-time highs, eclipsing 3600 on Wednesday. (Associated Press)

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US-China tensions rise after Beijing launches missiles into the South China Sea

U.S.-China tensions over the South China Sea escalated on Wednesday, with Beijing firing four missiles into the waters around the same time as the Trump administration took action against Chinese companies that helped set up outposts in the disputed region.

China launched four medium-range ballistic missiles into the South China Sea on Wednesday amid broader military exercises by the People’s Liberation Army, according to a U.S. defense official who asked not to be identified. The missiles landed in the sea in an area between Hainan Island and the Paracel Islands, the official said, and were fired a day after Beijing protested a flyover by a U.S. spy plane.

“As long as they’re doing it in accordance with international law and norms they have every right to do so," Scott D. Conn, a U.S. navy vice admiral, told reporters on Thursday in response to a question about the missile tests. He said the U.S. is ready to respond to any threats in the region, and said if all militaries operate professionally “you can have the same ships in the same water space."

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, addressing the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii, called the Indo-Pacific the “epicenter of great power competition with China" and said Beijing had repeatedly fallen short on promises, including abiding by international law.

Separately on Wednesday, the U.S. announced trade and visa restrictions on 24 companies for their efforts to help China “reclaim and militarize disputed outposts" in the contested maritime area, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The most prominent were units of state-owned China Communications Construction Co., one of the largest builders of projects in President Xi Jinping’s “Belt and Road" initiative, which saw its shares slide as much as 5.6% on Thursday in Hong Kong.

The escalating tensions come as the Trump administration is trying to push back against what the U.S. sees as an intensifying Chinese campaign to dominate the resource-rich South China Sea and smaller nations in the region. Last month it explicitly rejected China’s expansive maritime claims in the region for the first time, and sent aircraft carriers to the waters to conduct military exercises.

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Reliance Industries to build the world's largest zoo in Gujarat

Behemoth conglomerate Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) is going to develop the world's largest zoo in Jamnagar, Gujarat. Permission has been granted by both the central and state governments. After getting approval from both the governments, RIL will start working on this project on 280 acres of land.

Project delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak

Mukesh Ambani-led RIL says that the project was delayed due to the pandemic. However, now it is most likely to get completed in 2 years. As per details uploaded on the Central Zoo Authority, the mega zoo will be known as 'Greens Zoological, Rescue and Rehabilitation Kingdom'.

"As per reports, RIL Director (Corporate Affairs) Parmil Nathwani said, "We have started work on this project. This zoo will be the world's largest zoo."

He added, "The zoo is going to be even larger than the zoo located in Singapore. It will be made in about 300 acres of land." He said that in the coming days, animals of several species will be kept here. The Singapore zoo he spoke of is spread over 69 acres.

'Animals from all around the world'

Animals from all over the country and the world like the Bengal Tiger, Orangutan, African Lion, Cheetah, Jaguar, Indian Wolf, Asiatic Lion, Pygmy Hippo, Lemur, Fishing Cat, Sloth Bear, Malayan Tapir, Gorilla, Zebra, Giraffe, African elephant and Komodo Dragon are expected to be part of the largest zoo.

(Republic World)

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Topless sunbathing defended by French Minister

France's interior minister has defended topless sunbathing after police asked a group of women on a Mediterranean beach to cover up.

The three were approached by officers on the beach in Sainte-Marie-La-Mer following a complaint from a holidaying family.

The incident generated a huge backlash against the officers.

Backing the women, the minister, Gérald Darmanin, tweeted: "Freedom is a precious commodity".

He said it was wrong the women were asked to put on clothing.

A press release posted on Facebook by the Pyrenees-Orientales police said the incident happened last week.

Two officers asked three people on the beach to cover their chests, after a request from a family concerned about children present.

"Guided by a desire for appeasement, the police asked the people concerned if they would agree to cover their chest after they explained the reason for their approach," it said.

"No municipal order forbids this practice [topless sunbathing] in Sainte-Marie-la-Mer."

Their action prompted a wave of criticism online. Some questioned a wave of "prudishness" sweeping France, while others questioned if the practice was now banned. (BBC)

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Google suffers outage for users around the world; YouTube, Gmail crash

 Google services went dark on Monday for users around the world, with its most popular services, including Gmail, Google Drive and YouTube affected.

The outage occurred around 7 a.m. ET and seemed to be resolved for many users around 30 minutes later.

Google's own website that logs outages showed that all of the company's services were suffering from outages.

YouTube also confirmed the outage in a tweet.

"We are aware that many of you are having issues accessing YouTube right now – our team is aware and looking into it," the company's video platform said in a tweet at 7:09 a.m. "We'll update you here as soon as we have more news."

An hour later YouTube said it was back up and running.

A Google spokesperson said in an emailed statement that the company "experienced an authentication system outage for approximately 45 minutes due to an internal storage quota issue."

"All services are now restored," the spokesperson said. "We apologize to everyone affected, and we will conduct a thorough follow up review to ensure this problem cannot recur in the future.”

Users took to social media reporting the issue, with some complaining that the outage even affected their smart home systems.

Some of the largest companies in the U.S. rely on Google services, according to CNBC, including Uber, Netflix and Twitter.

In June 2019, Google experienced a four-hour outage in the U.S. for many of its services, including Google Cloud, G Suite and YouTube.

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TikTok to launch legal action against Trump over ban

Chinese video app TikTok is set to launch legal action to challenge a ban imposed by US President Donald Trump.

Mr Trump's executive order prohibits transactions with TikTok's owner ByteDance from mid-September.

Officials in Washington are concerned that the company could pass data on American users to the Chinese government, something ByteDance has denied doing.

The short video-sharing app has 80 million active US users.

TikTok says it has tried to engage with the Mr Trump's administration for nearly a year but has encountered a lack of due process and an administration that pays "no attention to facts".

"To ensure that the rule of law is not discarded and that our company and users are treated fairly, we have no choice but to challenge the executive order through the judicial system," a company spokesperson said.

TikTok expects the legal action to begin this week, says BBC Business reporter Vivienne Nunis.

On Friday a group of Chinese-Americans filed a separate lawsuit against the president's similar ban on the social media app WeChat, which is owned by the Chinese firm, Tencent.

TikTok's users post short video clips on the platform on topics ranging from dance routines to international politics. Its popularity exploded in recent months particularly with teenagers and it has been downloaded more than a billion times around the world.

But Mr Trump claims China is able to use the app to track the locations of federal employees, collect information for use in blackmail, or spy on companies.

The growth of mobile apps developed and owned by Chinese firms "threatens the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States", Mr Trump says.

"This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans' personal and proprietary information," he claims in his executive order.

TikTok says it has never handed over any US data user to Chinese authorities.

Mr Trump's actions against TikTok and WeChat are the latest in a growing campaign against China ahead of the US presidential election in November.

Since taking office he has been waging a trade war against China.

The US is not the only country to introduce blocks on TikTok. India has banned use of the app, and Australia is also considering taking action.

The app is viewed by some as being a key instrument in China's internal surveillance apparatus - requiring local users who have been accused of spreading malicious rumours to register a facial scan and voice print.

WeChat is very popular with users who have connections to China, where major social networking platforms - such as WhatsApp and Facebook - are blocked.

"Having it suddenly cut off would be disastrous and frightening for people, especially in the pandemic," said lawyer Michael Bien, who's representing those challenging President Trump's ban.

He said the executive order is unconstitutional, because it violates users' rights to free speech.

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