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INTERNATIONAL

Opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi wins surprise victory

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Felix Tshisekedi

Opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi has secured a surprise win in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s presidential election, according to the country’s electoral commission.

The results came in the early hours of the morning in the Central African country, after nearly two weeks of speculation and reports of election

irregularities. If deemed legitimate, this will be the country’s first democratic transition of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

The election had always been a three-horse race. The other two contenders were former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, the preferred successor of President Joseph Kabila, and businessman Martin Fayulu.

After the results, Fayulu said he categorically rejected the outcome and called for the release of the name “of the person who really was our people’s choice.”

His comments were echoed by French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who said that the election results did not match what was witnessed during the vote count.

Either way, the stage now seems set for the exit of Kabila, who has ruled the resource-rich Central African country with an iron fist since 2001.

This election had been deemed a pivotal moment for the Congo, determining whether the beleaguered country could transition into a true democracy.

But the vote came at a difficult time for the nation. The eastern Congo is battling the country’s worst outbreak of Ebola, and violent protests erupted after the country’s Independent National Election Commission announced that voters in the Ebola-stricken cities of Beni, Butembo and Yumbi — opposition strongholds — would not cast their ballots until March for security reasons.

It is unclear now how those late votes will affect the result.

Furthermore, before the election Kabila, 47, was criticized for implementing electronic voting machines in a country with sparse access to power.

A fire in the capital of Kinshasa weeks before the election destroyed 80% of the city’s electronic voting machines, doing nothing to assuage concerns around voting methods.

After the vote, as Congo’s population of 80 million people awaited the highly anticipated outcome, on January 1, the internet and text messaging services were shut down.

President Kabila told Reuters this was done to preserve public order after “fictitious results” were circulated on social media.

This week, riot police were deployed in Kinshasa in anticipation of mass violence from citizens. The US State Department Wednesday advised all American citizens in the country to leave.

Vote of confidence

Tshisekedi, 55, was not expected to win the election.

In the run-up to the landmark vote, speculation had mounted that Kabila would install Shadary as a placeholder president, while he ruled from the shadows until 2023 when he could rerun for the presidency.

Under the DRC’s constitution, a president can only serve for two terms. Kabila’s second term expired in 2016, meaning this election was long overdue.

Congo is blessed with huge deposits of precious minerals such as diamonds, gold, and tantalum, and while in power Kabila accumulated vast wealth.

From 1999 to 2002 alone, the Kabila regime transferred ownership of at least $5 billion of assets from the state mining sector to private companies under its control, according to the United Nations.

Now Kabila’s status in the country, which produces about two-thirds of the world’s cobalt, looks unsure. But Congo’s political past is full of unexpected outcomes.

The country’s first prime minister Patrice Lumumba was executed by firing squad in 1958, as military dictator Mobutu Sese Seko came to power in a coup.

After three decades of iron-fist rule, Mobutu was overthrown in 1997 by rebel leader Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who was assassinated a few years later.

Joseph Kabila inherited the presidency from his father and has since presided over the decline of the nation.

Tshisekedi also comes from a storied political background. His father Etienne Tshisekedi founded the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, the oldest and largest opposition party of the Congo.

Felix Tshisekedi took over the party following his father’s death in 2017.

CNN

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INTERNATIONAL

UK makes citizenship offer to Hong Kong residents

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Hong Kong British citizenship

Up to three million Hong Kong residents are to be offered the chance to settle in the UK and ultimately apply for citizenship, Boris Johnson has said.

The PM said Hong Kong’s freedoms were being violated by a new security law and those affected would be offered a “route” out of the former UK colony.

About 350,000 UK passport holders, and 2.6 million others eligible, will be able to come to the UK for five years. And after a further year, they will be able to apply for citizenship. British National Overseas Passport holders in Hong Kong were granted special status in the 1980s but currently have restricted rights and are only entitled to visa-free access to the UK for six months.

Under the government’s plans, all British Overseas Nationals and their dependents will be given right to remain in the UK, including the right to work and study, for five years. At this point, they will be able to apply for settled status, and after a further year, seek citizenship.

The PM said Tuesday’s passing of a new security law by the Hong Kong authorities was a “clear and serious breach” of the 1985 Sino-British joint declaration – a legally binding agreement which set out how certain freedoms would be protected for the 50 years after China assumed sovereignty in 1997.

‘New route’
“It violates Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and threatens the freedoms and rights protected by the joint declaration,” he said.
“We made clear that if China continued down this path we would introduce a new route for those with British National (Overseas) status to enter the UK, granting them limited leave to remain with the ability to live and work in the UK and thereafter to apply for citizenship. And that is precisely what we will do now.”

Foreign Office permanent secretary Sir Simon McDonald expressed the government’s “deep concern” about the new law to China during a meeting with the country’s ambassador Liu Xiaoming.

The UK government has been raising concerns about the national security law and very publicly trying to pressure Beijing into a change heart.
That has clearly failed – so ministers are now fulfilling their promise to allow some three million British Overseas Nationals to come to the UK. This is a significant move and the government wants to send a strong message.

But there will be more pressure now to rethink other elements of our relationship with China – not least the deal to allow Huawei to build parts of the UK’s 5G structures.

Many Tory MPs have been lobbying against that for some time – and this will only add to their concern. Updating MPs on the details, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said there would be no limit on numbers or quotas and the application process would be simple.

“This is a special, bespoke, set of arrangements developed for the unique circumstances we face and in light of our historic commitment to the people of Hong Kong,” he said.

Speaking to ITV’s Peston programme, Mr Raab acknowledged there “would be little we could do to…cohesively force” China to allow British Overseas Nationals to come to the UK.

Downing Street said further details of the scheme will be detailed “in due course”.

In the meantime, British National Overseas Passport holders in Hong Kong will be able to travel to the UK immediately, subject to standard immigration checks, the prime minister’s official spokesman said.

They will also not face salary thresholds to gain their visas, he added. Hong Kong’s new national security law, which targets secession, subversion and terrorism with punishments up to life in prison, came into effect on Tuesday.BBC

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CRIME

Ghislaine Maxwell arrested by FBI

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Ghislaine Maxwell arrested by FBI

British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, an ex-girlfriend of convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, is facing charges in the US after being arrested by the FBI. She is accused of assisting Epstein’s abuse of minors by helping to recruit and groom victims known to be underage.

She was reportedly arrested in New Hampshire and is due in federal court later on Thursday. Ms Ghislaine Maxwell has previously denied any involvement in or knowledge of Epstein’s alleged sexual misconduct. Jeffrey Epstein died in prison on 10 August as he awaited, without the chance of bail, his trial on sex trafficking charges.

He was arrested last year in New York following allegations that he was running a network of underage girls – some as young as 14 – for sex. His death was determined to be suicide.

Four of the six charges relate to the years 1994-97 when Ghislaine Maxwell was, according to the indictment, among Epstein’s closest associates and also in an “intimate relationship” with him. The other two charges are allegations of perjury in 2016.

The indictment says Ms Maxwell “assisted, facilitated, and contributed to Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse of minor girls by, among other things, helping Epstein to recruit, groom and ultimately abuse victims known to Maxwell and Epstein to be under the age of 18”.

Specifically, she is charged with: Conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts. Enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity and transporting a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.

She is accused of grooming multiple minor girls to engage in sex acts with Epstein. She allegedly attempted to befriend them by asking about their lives and families and then she and Epstein built the friendships by taking minor victims to the cinema or shopping.

Having built a rapport, Ms Ghislaine Maxwell would “try to normalise sexual abuse for a minor victim by discussing sexual topics, undressing in front of the victim, being present when a minor victim was undressed, and/or being present for sex acts involving the minor victim and Epstein”.

“Maxwell and Epstein worked together to entice these minor victims to travel to Epstein’s residences – his residence in New York City on the Upper East Side, as well as Palm Beach, Florida, and Santa Fe, New Mexico,” Audrey Strauss, acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York, told reporters.

“Some of the acts of abuse also took place in Maxwell’s residence in London, England.”The perjury counts relate to depositions she gave to a New York court on 22 April and 22 July 2016. The charge sheet says she “repeatedly lied when questioned about her conduct, including in relation to some of the minor victims”.

“Maxwell lied because the truth, as alleged, was almost unspeakable,” said Ms Strauss.”Maxwell enticed minor girls, got them to trust her, then delivered them into the trap that she and Epstein had set for them. She pretended to be a woman they could trust. All the while she was setting them up to be sexually abused by Epstein and, in some cases, by Maxwell herself.”

What is the background?
Allegations against Epstein had dated back years before the parents of a 14-year-old girl said he had molested her in 2005. Under a legal deal, he avoided federal charges and since 2008 was listed as level three on the New York sex offenders register.

But he was arrested again in New York on 6 July 2019 and accused of sex trafficking of underage girls over a number of years.
Some of Epstein’s alleged victims have accused Ms Ghislaine Maxwell of bringing them into his circle to be sexually abused by him and his friends.
One told the BBC’s Panorama that Ms Maxwell “controlled the girls. She was like the Madam”.

Ms Maxwell has denied any wrongdoing. Earlier this year she sued Epstein’s estate seeking reimbursement for legal fees and security costs. She “receives regular threats to her life and safety”, court documents in that case said.

Another of Epstein’s alleged victims, Virginia Giuffre, has accused Ms Maxwell of recruiting her as a masseuse to the financier at the age of 15.
Details of that allegation against Ms Maxwell emerged in documents unsealed by a US judge last August in a 2015 defamation case but are not part of the charges against Ms Maxwell unveiled in July 2020.

Who is Ghislaine Maxwell?
Ms Maxwell is the daughter of late British media mogul Robert Maxwell. A well-connected socialite, she is said to have introduced Epstein to many of her wealthy and powerful friends, including Bill Clinton and the Duke of York (who was accused in the 2015 court papers of touching a woman at Jeffrey Epstein’s US home, although the court subsequently struck out allegations against the duke).

Buckingham Palace has said that “any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors” by the duke was “categorically untrue”.
Ms Ghislaine Maxwell has mostly been out of public view since 2016. In a BBC interview last year, the Duke of York said he had met Ms Maxwell last year before Epstein was arrested and charged. However they did not discuss Epstein, he said.

Last month a US prosecutor said Prince Andrew had “sought to falsely portray himself” as eager to co-operate with the inquiry into Epstein.
US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said Prince Andrew had “repeatedly declined our request” to schedule an interview.

The duke’s lawyers previously rejected claims he had not co-operated, saying he offered to help three times. Prince Andrew stepped away from royal duties last year. Asked about the prince on Thursday, acting Attorney Strauss said: “I am not going to comment on anyone’s status in this investigation but I will say that we would welcome Prince Andrew coming in to talk with us, we would like to have the benefit of his statement.”BBC

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HEALTH

US buys nearly all of Gilead’s Covid-19 drug Remdesivir

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Remdesivir Covid 19

The US is buying nearly all the next three months’ projected production of Covid-19 treatment Remdesivir from US manufacturer Gilead.

The US health department announced on Tuesday it had agreed to buy 500,000 doses for use in American hospitals. Tests suggest Remdesivir cuts recovery times, though it is not yet clear if it improves survival rates.

Gilead did sign a licensing deal in May for production outside the US but it is still in its early stages.

“President Trump has struck an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorised therapeutic for Covid-19,” Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. A course of treatment in the US will cost $2,340 (£1,900).

Nine companies can make the drug under licence outside the US for distribution in 127 mostly poorer countries, and the cost is lower. But the project is still in its early stages.

Additional quantities are being manufactured for use in clinical trials. But critics say the US move to buy up so much stock from Gilead itself undermines international co-operation on COVID, given that other countries have taken part in trials of Remdesivir, originally an anti-viral against Ebola.

“The trial that gave the result that allowed Remdesivir to sell their drug wasn’t just done in the US. There were patients participating through other European countries, in the UK as well, and internationally, Mexico and other places,” Oxford University’s Prof Peter Horby told BBC Radio 4.

He said the move also had implications for any possible future vaccine, with the need for “a much stronger framework if we are going to develop these things and they’re going to be used for national emergencies”.

Senior Sussex University lecturer, Ohid Yaqub, said: “It so clearly signals an unwillingness to co-operate with other countries and the chilling effect this has on international agreements about intellectual property rights.”Some in the US have criticised the purchase price, as taxpayer money had helped fund Remdesivir’s development.BBC

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