Egypt father charged over girls’ genital mutilation

A man in Egypt who allegedly had female genital mutilation (FGM) carried out on his three daughters after tricking them, has been charged along with the doctor who performed the procedure.

The doctor went to the girls’ house after their father told them they would receive a coronavirus “vaccination”, Egypt’s prosecutor-general said.

The girls, aged under 18, were drugged and the doctor cut their genitals.

FGM was made illegal in 2008 in Egypt but remains prevalent.

A coronavirus vaccine currently does not exist although global trials to develop one are under way.

The girls told their mother, who is divorced from their father, about the procedure and she notified authorities.

“They lost consciousness and when they woke up they were shocked to find their legs bound together and a sensation of pain in their genitals,” the prosecutor said in a statement.

Performing FGM was made a criminal act in Egypt in 2016, and doctors can be jailed for up to seven years if found guilty of carrying out the procedure. Anyone who requests it can face up to three years in prison.

But so far no-one has been successfully prosecuted under the law. Women’s rights groups say judges and police do not take the legislation seriously enough.

“It’s really shocking that authorities such as judges and the police continue to treat FGM cases with extreme leniency here,” Reda el-Danbouki, executive director of the Cairo-based Women’s Centre for Guidance and Legal Awareness, told AFP news agency.

In January, 14-year-old Nada Abdel Maqsood bled to death after forcibly undergoing FGM, sparking fury online.

Her parents and the doctor were referred to a criminal court, but Mr Danbouki says it is now unclear whether a trial will go ahead.

What is female genital mutilation?

Despite being outlawed in many parts of the world, the ritual is still practised globally.

The procedures alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons, and often involve the removal or cutting of the labia and clitoris.

The UN estimates that 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone some form of genital mutilation.

In Egypt, it is widespread in both Christian and Muslim communities, and is often justified for cultural or religious reasons but is rooted in the desire to control a woman’s sexuality.

As much as 87% of Egyptian women and girls aged 15-49 have undergone FGM, according to a 2016 survey by the UN Children’s Fund.

It can cause lasting physical and mental trauma, including chronic infections, menstrual problems, infertility, pregnancy and childbirth complications.

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Libya's Tripoli government seizes last LNA stronghold near capital

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Forces loyal to Libya’s internationally recognised government captured the last major stronghold of eastern commander Khalifa Haftar near Tripoli on Friday, capping the sudden collapse of his 14-month offensive on the capital.

Military sources in Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) said their forces had withdrawn from the town of Tarhouna. They headed towards Sirte, far along the coast, and the airbase of al-Jufra in central Libya. The LNA made no immediate official comment.

The advance extends the control of the Government of National Accord (GNA) and allied forces across most of northwest Libya, reversing many of Haftar’s gains from last year when he raced towards Tripoli.

The GNA has been backed by Turkey, while Haftar, whose LNA still controls the east and oil fields in the south, has been supported by Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

The United Nations has started holding talks with both sides for a ceasefire deal in recent days, though previous truces have not stuck. The GNA gains could entrench the de facto partition of Libya into zones controlled by rival eastern and western governments whose foreign backers compete for regional sway.

Turkish military support for the GNA, with drone strikes, air defences and a supply of allied Syrian fighters, was key to its recent successes. Ankara regards Libya as crucial to defending its interests in the eastern Mediterranean.

However, the LNA still retains its foreign support. Washington said last week Moscow had sent warplanes to LNA-held Jufra, though Russia and the LNA denied this.

The United Nations says weapons and fighters have flooded into the country in defiance of an arms embargo, risking a deadlier escalation. Meanwhile, a blockade of oil ports by eastern-based forces has almost entirely cut off energy revenue and both administrations face a looming financial crisis.

STRONGHOLD

Located in the hills southeast of Tripoli, Tarhouna had functioned as a forward base for Haftar’s assault on the capital. Its swift fall suggests Haftar’s foreign supporters were less willing to sustain his bid to take over the entire country once Turkey intervened decisively to stop him.

The GNA operations room said in a statement that its forces had captured Tarhouna after entering from four sides. Abdelsalam Ahmed, a resident, said GNA forces had entered the town.

Videos and photographs posted online appeared to show GNA forces inside Tarhouna cheering and hugging each other and firing into the air.

“The Libyan government forces are rapidly moving in an organised manner and with armed drones. There could be a solution at the table, but Haftar’s forces are losing ground in every sense,” said a Turkish official.

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Libyan government says it has entered Haftar stronghold Tarhouna

TUNIS (Reuters) – Forces loyal to Libya’s internationally recognised government said on Friday they had entered Tarhouna, the last major stronghold of eastern commander Khalifa Haftar near Tripoli, capping the sudden collapse of his 14-month offensive.

There was no immediate comment from Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) on whether its forces remained in the town, a day after they were pushed from their last positions in the capital.

Turkish backing has helped the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) to a string of victories in recent weeks, ending an assault on Tripoli that led to battles in its southern suburbs and bombardment of the city centre.

The GNA operations room said in a statement that its forces had reached the centre of Tarhouna after entering from four sides.

Abdelsalam Ahmed, a resident of Tarhouna, said GNA forces had entered the town.

Libya’s conflict is far from over, however, with the LNA still controlling the country’s east, where there is a parallel administration, and large parts of the south, where the country’s main oilfields are located.

The LNA is backed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

The United Nations has warned that a recent flood of weapons and fighters to both sides in Libya risks a major new escalation.

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Family of six, including four young children, found dead inside car in Texas

A family of six – including four children aged between 11 months and four years – have been found dead inside a car at their home in Texas, police said.

Officers were called to a house in Stone Oak, San Antonio, to do a welfare check on Thursday morning after a neighbour flagged concerns he had not seen one of the residents for a while.

They found “heavy, noxious fumes” coming from inside the house, which were later identified to be carbon monoxide, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said.

Officers managed to get inside the property later that day and found a “cryptic” note on the door, before discovering six bodies and two animals inside an SUV parked in the garage, he told a news conference.

The bodies were identified as a husband and wife in their mid-to-late thirties and four children.

Two pet cats were also found in a basket on the front seat, with the man believed to be a member of the US military.

The family moved to the area in January, though neighbours told police they “never saw them” out and about, said the police chief.

“This is just the very beginning of the investigation,” he said.

“Although it appears to be a suicide they’ll be combing through the house to find any evidence they can of what happened in greater detail.”

Nearby residents were evacuated while police and chemical experts ensured there was no risk of an explosion at the house.

Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email [email protected] in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK.

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Keeping the world focused on climate change is non-stop job for UN climate chief

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) – The job of organising diplomats into a global agreement on climate change went from hard to impossible this year for Patricia Espinosa.

As the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), she’s responsible for marshaling the climate conferences that steer the world’s governments toward lower emissions, which culminate in an annual meeting.

This year’s event, known as COP26, was supposed to be a landmark for new commitments from countries aimed at keeping the world under the 2 degrees Celsius warming limit set by the 2015 Paris climate agreement. With the pandemic, the meeting has been postponed for year until November 2021, and climate change has dropped down on the global priority list.

Espinosa’s job now is to keep climate action front and centre, despite trade disputes, major protests in the United States and other pressing issues.

Today, on World Environment Day, she’ll launch “Race to Zero”, a UN initiative to rally non-state actors-including nearly 1,000 businesses, almost 500 local governments, and a few dozen investors to push for climate action.

In conversation with Bloomberg Green, Espinosa spoke about why the Paris agreement is still the best way to conduct climate diplomacy, what can be done to bring fossil fuel companies onboard, and how the economic recovery can be harnessed to boost climate action.

Q Given the stories of failures at the annual COP meeting, do you think the Paris agreement and the way we pursue climate diplomacy is still relevant?

A Yes, absolutely. There is really no other forum where humanity can ask: Where are we? How are we doing? Are we going forward? It lifts the most vulnerable people and the most vulnerable countries, who have had a very small impact on global emissions. But they are the most interested in seeing good progress in our climate talks.

Q Nearly five years on, what do you think is the Paris agreement’s biggest success?

A It’s a resounding success that every country came together and said, “Yes, we all have a responsibility to address this problem, because otherwise it will continue to affect all of us.” The goals set under the Paris agreement are voluntary. But at the end, if you look at the multilateral system, it is basically voluntary. So why do countries commit to these goals and plans? Because it is in their own interests. We have only one planet.

Q With the COP postponed, what will you be able to do with 12 extra months?

A You say we have 12 extra months, but the reality is that we have no time to waste in addressing climate change. So it is 12 extra months to prepare the conference, but it is not 12 months to relax.

One of the big challenges is how to bring the conversation of climate change into the conversation of recovering from the pandemic. If we get it right, I really believe that this is one of those historic moments when humanity can change the direction in which it was going.

The exhaustive use of resources and unlimited consumption is not sustainable. Our model needs to be reassessed and reoriented. The recovery from the pandemic and addressing climate change are not opposite things. They actually can and should be addressed together.

Q When governments look for advice on stimulus, they’re looking more to the International Energy Agency than the United Nations.

A I feel encouraged because the latest reports from the IEA are, probably for the first time, very much acknowledging the challenge of climate change. Even within the oil and gas sector, we see an evolution. This is about their survival. This transition has started and it is taking place-not at the pace that we need, but it has started.

Q There’s a growing criticism that fossil fuel companies may be influencing the outcomes of the annual COP meeting. How do you respond to that charge?

A Our only tool is dialogue and mutual understanding and inclusiveness. That means everybody needs to be a part of the conversation. The energy sector has shaped the world to a great extent. If we do not get them on the board, our chances to be successful are really very limited.

It’s not that we have the representatives of the oil companies participating. The claims are that, behind some participants, there are some of these interests represented. There is no way that they directly can influence decision making.

Q How can you get the fossil fuel companies to do the right thing on climate?

A I try to engage with the oil and gas sector. I’ve been participating in the OPEC meeting in Vienna. I really appreciate that they want to listen to what I have to say. I participated a number of times in CERAWeek in Houston. I know that probably a lot of the people in those audiences are not in agreement with what I’m saying. I’m willing to take the challenge.

Read the latest on the Covid-19 situation in Singapore and beyond on our dedicated site here.

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UK weather latest: Scandinavian chill to blast Britain with weekend washout – latest maps

People in the UK have basked in glorious highs of almost 30C over the last month despite lockdown measures restricting leisure activites outside. Thursday saw warm temperatures in the south and southeast of the country, with highs of 15-17C. Average temperatures for this time of the year is usually 14C in Northern Scotland and 19C in Southern England, according to Net Weather. 

Net Weather forecaster Paul Michaelwaite has predicted today will see “sunny spells” across most parts.

But he warned a low pressure system will bring “sharp showers” and gales from the Scandanavian direction of the North Sea. 

He said: “Low pressure will be developing and moving in from the east towards Scotland.

“That’s going to bring persistent rain into the northeast of Scotland initially, spreading south and west through the day.

“It’ll also bring gales to coastal areas of Scotland, Northern Ireland and northern England by the end of the day.”

The latest weather charts for this weekend show swirls of blue and green sweeping across Scotland first.

Then as the weekend progresses, the wind and rain will make its way down towards southern regions of England. 

Mr Michaelwaite added temperatures are likely to drop as low as 15C in some parts on both Saturday and Sunday.

He said: “The low will then slide down the east coast of the UK overnight and into the start of Saturday, taking its rain and strong winds south as it goes. 

“The rain will become more patchy the further south it heads, but it’ll still be a noticeable feature, bringing at least some (much needed) rain and the strong winds will continue for much of the weekend – especially near to the coasts.

“The patchy rain could take some time to clear the south and southeast during Saturday, with another band moving southeast through Scotland and into the far north of England during the day.

“Away from those two zones, it should be mostly dry with some brighter or sunnier spells and just a few showers.

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“Highs across England and Wales are likely to peak at a respectable enough 15-18c, a few degrees cooler than that in Scotland and Northern Ireland though. 

“Sunday will see that rain potentially affecting parts of Eastern England, moving south all the while, although there is some uncertainty over this.

“Away from that threat, there should be a good deal of dry weather. But with the risk of a shower here and there.

“Temperatures will about be on a par with Saturday, maybe even a degree or so warmer in some western and central parts.”

BBC Weather’s weekend weather forecast called Saturday “unseasonably windy”.

A statement on its website said: “Unseasonably windy and cool for many tomorrow with local gales in the north and west.

“Bands of rain will push south, breaking up to leave sunny spells and thundery showers for England and Wales.”

And the Met Office also said heavy rain was approaching on Friday. 

It said on its website: “A breezy and showery day for many and feeling cool. Some showers heavy with the chance of the odd rumble of thunder during the afternoon. Strengthening winds and heavy rain arriving into the northeast with gales for some parts here.”

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White House, on Tiananmen anniversary, urges China to respect human rights

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House, in a statement on the 31st anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown, urged Beijing on Thursday to respect human rights, fulfill its commitments on Hong Kong and end persecution of ethnic and religious minorities.

“The Chinese Communist Party’s slaughter of unarmed Chinese civilians was a tragedy that will not be forgotten,” the White House said.

It urged the Chinese government to fulfill its commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Sino-British Joint Declaration governing Hong Kong’s status, and to “uphold the rights and freedoms guaranteed to all Chinese citizens under China’s constitution, and to end the systematic persecution of millions of ethnic and religious minorities.”

The anniversary of China’s bloody 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy activists coincides with widespread protests across the United States against racism and police brutality touched off by the killing of a black man while in custody of white Minneapolis police officers.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to militarize the response to the mass demonstrations, saying he could deploy the military in states that fail to crack down on the sometimes violent protests.

“The American people stand together with all Chinese citizens in their pursuit of fundamental rights, including the right to accountable and representative governance and freedom of speech, assembly, and religious belief,” the White House said.

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Virginia governor orders removal of Lee statue

Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam has announced that a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee will be removed from the state capital.

The controversial statue will be put into storage ” as soon as possible”, the governor said.

The monument has been vandalised during recent protests over the killing of African American George Floyd.

Memorials to the Confederacy, which fought to keep black people as slaves, have long stirred controversy.

At a news conference, a round of applause erupted when Governor Northam said the 12-ton statue would be removed.

“In Virginia, we no longer preach a false version of history,” the governor said.

“In 2020, we can no longer honour a system that was based on enslaving people. That statue has been there a long time. But it was wrong then, and it’s wrong now. So we’re taking it down.”

Referencing Gen Lee’s own words, Governor Northam said it was not “wise not to keep open the sores of war”.

The Robert E Lee statue is the largest of five Confederate statues along Richmond’s Monument Avenue. They have been rallying points during protests in Virginia in recent days, and have been tagged with graffiti, including messages that say “end police brutality” and “stop white supremacy”.

“They are extremely heavy and would crush anyone standing too close. Please be aware of the danger. Stand down!” the Richmond Police Department tweeted on Monday.

Hundreds of statues of Lee, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and other famous figures of the Confederacy – the southern states that revolted against the federal government – exist in the US.

Some see the memorials, as well as Confederate flags, as markers of US history and southern culture.

But to others they serve as an offensive reminder of the country’s history of slavery and racial oppression.

Rev Robert W Lee IV, great-great-grandson of the Confederate general, gave his blessing for the monument to be removed at Thursday’s news conference.

He said the world was watching Virginia and the US as protests over the death of Mr Floyd convulsed the country, asking: “If today is not the right time, when will it be the right time [to remove the statue]?”

The debate around Confederate symbols received renewed attention after the protests in Charlottesville in 2017, triggered by the city council’s decision to remove a statue of Lee.

The resulting rally caused the deaths of a counter-protester and two state troopers died in a helicopter crash as they monitored the event.

An independent inquiry into a racist photo on Democrat Ralph Northam’s 1984 college yearbook page ended in 2019 with no conclusive findings.

The report could not determine the identities of two individuals, one in blackface, the other in Ku Klux Klan robes, in the image.

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Campaign site flooded with petitions over death of elephant who ate pineapple filled with firecrackers

Nearly two million people have signed petitions calling for action over the death of a pregnant elephant who reportedly ate a pineapple filled with firecrackers in India.

Campaign site Change.org says more than 1,200 petitions sprang up in less than a day expressing outrage over the elephant’s death in the southern state of Kerala.

The incident has captured attention around the world, with people from the US, UK, France and Australia starting petitions on the issue.

The elephant had ventured into a village near Kerala’s Silent Valley Forest in search of food.

It is not known when or where she became injured, but she was found standing in the Velliyar River by forest officers on 27 May.

Despite efforts to help her, she died while still standing in the water.

A spokesperson from Kerala Forest Department previously told Sky News that farmers place food filled with the explosive devices on the edges of their fields to keep wild boars away.

He said the elephant had been “unfortunate” and “unlucky”.

An investigation has been launched and “several suspects” are being questioned over the incident.

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Coronavirus: Pandemic ‘gripping the Amazon’ as people ‘die in their beds’

In Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon rainforest, people are dying in their beds. 

They are trying to lift the coronavirus lockdown across Brazil – people teem the streets, the traffic noise is deafening, the markets are full, but the body count keeps growing.

The COVID-19 pandemic is gripping the Amazon and it is spreading.

Brazil has the second highest number of cases in the world, behind the US, with more than 584,000 – and 32,548 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the virus.

We joined a body collection in Sao Jorge, one of the worst hit neighbourhoods.

Family and friends crammed the streets as the SOS Funerals undertakers van negotiated its way through the narrow alleys of what is basically a slum.

SOS is paid by the city to pick up the poorest dead. Nobody in Sao Jorge can afford a proper funeral.

We could see the body of Afonso de Souza through the door to his breeze block single room.

Teary eyed friends told me he was really popular in the community but had a drink problem. They do not know what he died of – the point is, they never will. Afonso’s body, like hundreds of others, will never be tested.

The undertakers are used to this now. They have been collecting the dead in huge numbers for weeks.

Sixty bodies a day has now become 40 a day, but that is over double the normal numbers in a country where poverty and disease are part of everyday life, and death.

Dressed in full hazmat suits, they brought a simple coffin into his home and loaded him up. Friends and family helped carry the body to their vehicle – another victim, another family, another community hit by the pandemic.

Manaus is a remote city in the heart of the Amazon. Nobody drives to get here. You come by plane or more likely boat.

Despite its remoteness, despite the vastness of the Amazon, the rainforest and its river did nothing to protect its people from the virus as it swept through and actually still is.

There are no funeral corteges for these poor people, no hearses. Mini vans take the bodies to the COVID cemetery on the outskirts of the city.

We followed through in torrential rain. The funeral van struggling through waterlogged roads, huge plumes of spray soaking our windscreen as we left the city and entered the rainforest.

The Taruma Cemetery is huge and well established, but this is where coronavirus victims come.

Outside the gates – only three members of families of victims are allowed inside – relatives look through the fences of the cemetery trying to spot the funeral taking place. They stand in small groups, often crying, often hugging each other.

If there is a backlog of burials, and there often is, the coffins are offloaded into refrigerated lorries. The work of the SOS team is done, they have more work elsewhere.

We did not know what to expect in the cemetery. What we saw was a vast area of newly dug graves, grave diggers in hazmat suits digging more graves and tending to those holding the bodies of the dead. It is exceptionally grim.

At the bottom of a hill, families wait beneath a canopy to protect themselves from the incessant rain.

When it is their turn, they take their paperwork to a man who paints the name of the family member on a simple blue wooden cross.

They wait for a tractor and trailer to pull up beside the families and the cemetery staff hoist the coffins on to a flat bed.

It is silent but for the sound of mechanical diggers gouging out more graves from the mud.

Once loaded the tractor moves off followed by a morbid, sobbing, heartbreaking procession to the burial site.

The coffins are lowered into a newly dug pit. It is a mass grave. The coffins laid side by side.

Sticks pushed into the earth indicate where each coffin can be identified from six feet higher.

Wooden rectangles are later placed above the bodies so the family will forever more have somewhere to come to pay their respects and mourn.

Above the muddy pit, the families film on their phones – cry, throw flowers and hug each other. Then the work to cover the coffins begins. A huge digger picks up mounds of mud and moves to the grave side.

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