A shipment of a quarter million AstraZeneca vaccines destined for Australia has been blocked from leaving the European Union in the first use of an export control system instituted by the bloc over a month ago.
An EU official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, confirmed a report that first appeared in the Financial Times.
The move came at the behest of Italy, which has been taking a tough line in dealing with vaccine shortages within the 27-nation bloc since a new government led by Mario Draghi came into power last month.
Faced with shortages of doses during the early stages of the vaccine campaign that started in late December, the EU issued an export control system for COVID-19 vaccines that have to make sure that companies respect their contractual obligations to the bloc before commercial exports can be approved.
The EU has been specifically angry with the the Anglo-Swedish company because it is delivering far fewer doses to the bloc than it had promised.
The EU has vaccinated only 8 % percent of its population compared to over 30%, for example, in the United Kingdom.
Japan on Thursday urged Myanmar's security forces to stop a violent crackdown on protests against last month's military coup, a day after 38 people were killed in the deadliest day of demonstrations yet.
"We strongly condemn the continued use of violence against civilians despite repeated calls from the international community," Japan's top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, said in a press conference.
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi shared concerns about the latest use of force by the Myanmar security forces in telephone talks with his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi on Thursday, their second call since the Feb. 1 coup.
In the talks, Motegi said Japan appreciates and welcomes the efforts of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to communicate with Myanmar, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.
The 10-member bloc held a foreign ministerial videoconference Tuesday at the behest of Indonesia and called for the de-escalation of the situation in Myanmar and dialogue to peacefully resolve the post-coup political crisis.
Japan will continue to strongly urge the military to reinstate the democratically elected government and to release State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi and others detained in the coup, the ministry quoted Motegi as telling the Indonesian foreign minister.
Myanmar security forces on Wednesday opened fire on protesters who had taken to the streets to denounce the Feb. 1 coup that ousted de facto leader Suu Kyi.
The death toll has now topped 50 and more than 1,200 remain in detention, according to Christine Schraner Burgener, the U.N. special envoy on the Southeast Asian country.
The coup and crackdown on protesters has also been widely decried by those with ties to Myanmar residing in Japan.
Also read: 1 month in Myanmar under military control
On Thursday, Burmese majors at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, who have collected more than 38,000 signatures condemning the coup, met separately with officials at the Japanese Foreign Ministry and lawmakers to call for more pressure on the Myanmar military, including through sanctions on its commander-in-chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.
Footage of a brutal crackdown on protests against a coup in Myanmar unleashed outrage and calls for a stronger international response Thursday, a day after 38 people were killed. Videos showed security forces shooting a person at point-blank range and chasing down and savagely beating demonstrators.
Despite the shocking violence the day before, protesters returned to the streets Thursday to denounce the military’s Feb. 1 takeover — and were met again with tear gas.
The international response to the coup has so far been fitful, but a flood of videos shared online showing security forces brutally targeting protesters and other civilians led to calls for more action. The United States called the images appalling, the U.N. human rights chief said it was time to “end the military’s stranglehold over democracy in Myanmar,” and the world body’s independent expert on human rights in the country urged the Security Council to watch the videos before meeting Friday to discuss the crisis.
The coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy in Myanmar, which for five decades had languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions. As the generals loosened their grip in recent years, the international community lifted most sanctions and poured in investment.
U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, described Wednesday as “the bloodiest day” since the takeover, when the military ousted the elected government of leader Aung San Suu Kyi. More than 50 civilians, mostly peaceful protesters, are confirmed to have been killed by police and soldiers since then, including the 38 she said died Wednesday.
”I saw today very disturbing video clips,” said Schraner Burgener, speaking to reporters at the U.N. in New York via video link from Switzerland. “One was police beating a volunteer medical crew. They were not armed. Another video clip showed a protester was taken away by police and they shot him from very near, maybe only one meter. He didn’t resist to his arrest, and it seems that he died on the street.”
She appeared to be referring to a video shared on social media that begins with a group of security forces following a civilian, who they seem to have just pulled out of a building. A shot rings out, and the person falls. After the person briefly raises their head, two of the troops drag the person down the street by the arms.
In other footage, about two dozen security forces, some with their firearms drawn, chase two people wearing the construction helmets donned by many protesters down a street. When they catch up to the people, they repeatedly beat them with rods and kick them. One of the officers is filming the scene on his cell phone.
In yet another video, several police officers repeatedly kick and hit a person with rods, while the person cowers on the ground, hands over their head. Officers move in and out of the frame, getting a few kicks in and then casually walking away.
While some countries have imposed or threatened to impose sanctions following the coup, others, including those neighboring Myanmar, have been more hesitant in their response. The sheer volume of violent images shared Wednesday, along with the high death toll, raised hopes that the dynamic could change.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Thursday urged all of those with “information and influence” to hold military leaders to account.
“This is the moment to turn the tables towards justice and end the military’s stranglehold over democracy in Myanmar,” she said.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. was “appalled” at the “horrific violence,” and the U.N.’s independent expert on human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said the “systematic brutality of the military junta is once again on horrific display.”
“I urge members of the UN Security Council to view the photos/videos of the shocking violence being unleashed on peaceful protesters before meeting,” he said on Twitter.
The Security Council has scheduled closed-door consultations for Friday on calls to reverse the coup — including from U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres — and stop the escalating crackdown.
But Justine Chambers, the associate director of the Myanmar Research Center at the Australian National University, said that while the graphic images would no doubt lead to strong condemnations — action on Myanmar would be harder.
“Unfortunately I don’t think the brutality caught on camera is going to change much,” she said. “I think domestic audiences around the world don’t have much of an appetite for stronger action, i.e. intervention, given the current state of the pandemic and associated economic issues.”
Also read: 1 month in Myanmar under military control
Any kind of coordinated action at the U.N. will be difficult since two permanent members of the Security Council, China and Russia, would almost certainly veto it.
Even if the council did take action, U.N. envoy Schraner Burgener cautioned it might not make much of a difference. She said she warned Myanmar’s army that the world’s nations and the Security Council “might take huge strong measures.”
“And the answer was, ‘We are used to sanctions and we survived those sanctions in the past,’” she said. When she also warned that Myanmar would become isolated, Schraner Burgener said, “the answer was, ‘We have to learn to walk with only a few friends.’”
Wednesday’s highest death toll was in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, where an estimated 18 people died. Video at a hospital in the city showed grieving relatives collecting the blood-soaked bodies of family members. Some relatives sobbed uncontrollably, while others looked in shock at the scene around them.
Protesters gathered again Thursday in Yangon. Police again used tear gas to try to disperse the crowds, while demonstrators again set up barriers across major roads.
Protests also continued in Mandalay, where three people were reported killed Wednesday. A formation of five fighter planes flew over the city on Thursday morning in what appeared to be a show of force.
Protesters in the city flashed the three-fingered salute that is a symbol of defiance as they rode their motorbikes to follow a funeral procession for Kyal Sin, also known by her Chinese name Deng Jia Xi, a university student who was shot dead as she attended a demonstration the day before.
As part of the crackdown, security forces have also arrested well over a thousand people, including journalists, according to the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. On Saturday, at least eight journalists, including Thein Zaw of The Associated Press, were detained. He and several other members of the media have been charged with violating a public safety law that could see them imprisoned for up to three years.
Law enforcement was on high alert Thursday around the U.S. Capitol after intelligence uncovered a “possible plot” by a militia group to storm the iconic building again, two months after a mob of Donald Trump supporters smashed through windows and doors to try to stop Congress from certifying now-President Joe Biden's victory.
The threat appears to be connected to a far-right conspiracy theory, mainly promoted by supporters of QAnon, that former President Trump will rise again to power on March 4 and that thousands will come to Washington, D.C., to try to remove Democrats from office. March 4 was the original presidential inauguration day until 1933, when it was moved to Jan. 20.
Online chatter identified by authorities included discussions among members of the Three Percenters, an anti-government militia group, concerning possible plots against the Capitol on Thursday, according to two law enforcement officials who were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Members of the Three Percenters were among the extremists who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The threat came as the Capitol police and other law enforcement agencies were taking heat from Congress in contentious hearings this week on their poor handling of the Jan. 6 riot. Police were ill-prepared for the mass of Trump supporters in tactical gear, some armed, and it took hours for National Guard reinforcements to come. By then, rioters had broken and smashed their way into the building and roamed the halls for hours, stalling Congress' certification effort temporarily and sending lawmakers into hiding.
“The United States Capitol Police Department is aware of and prepared for any potential threats towards members of Congress or towards the Capitol complex,” Capitol Police said in a statement.
Lawmakers, congressional staffers and law enforcement officials are still on edge after the attack on Jan. 6, even as the security posture around the Capitol remains at an unprecedented level.
The U.S. House wrapped up its work for the week Wednesday night, but the U.S. Senate still had a busy day scheduled for Thursday with votes going well into the evening. Police beefed up their presence in and around the Capitol. About 5,200 National Guard members remain in D.C., the remainder of the roughly 26,000 that were brought in for President Biden's inauguration that went off with no problems.
There’s also a very large fence around the U.S. Capitol perimeter that walls off all avenues of entry including on the streets around the building, put in place after Jan. 6. And Trump is in Florida.
Initially it seemed as though the online chatter did not rise to the level of serious concern; an advisory sent earlier this week to members of Congress by Timothy Blodgett, the acting House sergeant-at-arms, said that the Capitol Police had “no indication that groups will travel to Washington D.C. to protest or commit acts of violence.”
But that advisory was updated in a note to lawmakers Wednesday morning. Blodgett wrote that the Capitol Police had received “new and concerning information and intelligence indicating additional interest in the Capitol for the dates of March 4th – 6th by a militia group.”
Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman said during House testimony Wednesday that her investigators had collected “some concerning intelligence,” but declined to provide any details publicly, saying that it was “law enforcement sensitive” and that she would provide a private briefing for the subcommittee members.
Meanwhile, federal agents looked for any increases in the number of hotel rooms being rented in Washington, as well as monitoring flights to the area, car rental reservations and any buses being chartered to bring groups into the capital, but found nothing significant, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. The person could not publicly discuss details of the security planning and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The FBI and Department of Homeland Security also sent a joint intelligence bulletin to local law enforcement officials Tuesday warning that a group of militia extremists had discussed trying to take control of the Capitol on March 4 and encouraging thousands of people to come to D.C. to try to remove Democrats from power.
But there has been a noticeable decline in online activity on some social media platforms surrounding efforts on March 4, and there was already considerably less online chatter than during the lead-up to Jan. 6, a day that Trump repeatedly had promoted for a his rally and encouraged thousands to come to the nation's capital.
Several QAnon groups still operating on the social media messaging platform Telegram warned followers to stay away from any events on March 4, claiming it was a setup for Trump supporters.
“If there are groups out there planning and advertising events on or around March 4 anywhere in the country (DC included) we strongly urge everyone to avoid them entirely,” one Telegram user wrote late last month in a QAnon group that has more than 65,000 followers.
Also, thousands of accounts that promoted the Jan. 6 event that led to a violent storming of the U.S. Capitol have since been suspended by major tech companies like Facebook and Twitter, making it far more difficult for QAnon and far-right groups to organize a repeat of the mass gathering on Thursday.
Twitter banned more than 70,000 accounts after the riots, while Facebook and Instagram removed posts mentioning “stop the steal,” a pro-Trump rallying cry used to mobilize his supporters in January. And the conservative social media platform Parler, which many of Trump’s supporters joined to promote false election fraud conspiracy theories and encourage friends to “storm” the Capitol on Jan. 6, was booted off the internet following the siege.
Capitol Police say that they have stepped up security around the Capitol complex since January's insurrection, adding physical security measures such as the fencing topped with razor wire around the Capitol and members of the National Guard who remain at the complex.
“I think they are definitely prepared for any threats that may come our way in the next couple days,” said Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., who was one of several lawmakers briefed privately by the police. Wexton added that she still questioned the long-term security plan for the Capitol and said Pittman, the acting chief, “has not come up with proactive ways to fix the issues that they had.”
So far, about 300 people have been charged with federal crimes for their roles in the riot. Five people, including a Capitol Police officer, died.
Since his defeat, Trump has been promoting lies that the election was stolen from him through mass voter fraud, even though such claims have been rejected by judges, Republican state officials and Trump’s own administration. He was impeached by the House after the Jan. 6 riot on a c harge of incitement of insurrection but was acquitted by the Senate.
India's iconic Taj Mahal was shut down for nearly two hours on Thursday, following a bomb hoax call to local police. Cops claimed to have detained a man in connection with the call.
The man allegedly made the call to the local police control room in the morning and claimed that a bomb was kept inside the ivory-white marble mausoleum in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh's historic city of Agra, some 250 kms from the national capital.
Immediately, the para-military Central Industrial Security Force that protects the 17th-century monument swung into action and evacuated some 1,000 visitors on the pretext of a search operation because of a sudden VVIP visit.
Also read: Taj Mahal reopens after 6 months
"A search, involving sniffer dogs, was carried out by the para-military personnel for nearly two hour before the Taj Mahal was again thrown open for visitors," A Satish Ganesh, a senior officer of Uttar Pradesh Police, told the media.
“Nothing objectionable was found inside the Taj Mahal premises in the search and thus the call about a bomb threat in Taj Mahal was deemed to be a hoax call,” he said.
Police said a man was detained for questioning within hours of the call. "Prima facie, it seems that he is mentally unstable and undergoing treatment. But we are trying to find out why he made the hoax bomb call," Satish said.
The Taj Mahal was commissioned in 1632 by then Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The monument, built by 20,000 artisans, also houses the tomb of Shah Jahan himself.
The Taj Mahal complex is believed to have been completed in its entirety in 1653 at a cost estimated at the time to be around 32 million rupees, which in 2020 would be approximately 70 billion rupees (about USD 956 million.
The monument attracts 7–8 million visitors a year and in 2007, it was declared a winner of the New 7 Wonders of the World initiative.