Final round of French local elections slated for June 28

PARIS (Reuters) – The final round of France’s local elections has been set for June 28, provided it has not been deemed a health risk due to the coronavirus pandemic, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Friday.

The first round took place just two days before France imposed a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the virus.

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Thousands of A-level students could lose their unconditional university offers

Thousands of A-level students could have their unconditional university offers withdrawn this summer, as ministers and the higher education regulator try to crack down on panic offers made during the pandemic.

Sources at Westminster say the universities minister, Michelle Donelan, is determined to constrain universities, after private government data showed that 30,000 offers that had been dependent on A-level grades were suddenly switched to “unconditional” when the pandemic struck in March.

The competition to recruit UK students will be more important than ever this summer, as universities brace for the loss of thousands of international students, who generally pay higher fees. Some institutions are expecting to lose £100m in fees.

Now the regulator, the Office for Students, is seeking sweeping temporary powers to control universities’ admissions, including the ability to force institutions to retract offers it disapproves of. As well as new unconditional offers, experts say this could include making universities withdraw offers accepting low grades that they made to fill places.

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The Guardian has learned that several universities, including one in the elite Russell Group, have sought legal advice on how to challenge the OfS move, which they see as a dangerous encroachment on their autonomy.

Ministers are concerned that school leavers might accept an unconditional offer from a university other than their chosen institution because they want certainty. They are also worried that if some universities change offers to gain an advantage, their competitors will be forced to follow suit, leading to a domino effect with lots of universities ignoring A-level grades.

A Westminster source said: “There were some universities where every single one of their offers were converted to unconditional overnight in response to the pandemic.”

Controversially, the OfS expects institutions that suddenly handed out large numbers of unconditional offers after 11 March, the date the World Health Organisation declared coronavirus a pandemic, to withdraw those offers from students who haven’t yet accepted them. If universities don’t comply, the regulator intends to levy high fines.

The OfS has been advising universities that where unconditional offers are part of “usual practice”, including creative arts courses where candidates are interviewed and submit a portfolio, which is as important as predicted grades, students do not need to worry that their place might be withdrawn.

The government has requested the new powers in return for its financial support package for the sector. But universities say the wording of the proposed new OfS powers, which are currently being consulted on, is so imprecise that they do not know which offers might fall foul of the rules.

Dr Dean Machin, strategic policy adviser at the University of Portsmouth, says: “We’ve got enough uncertainty to be coping with right now without coming to terms with a vague new power. We don’t know what will be acceptable. It increases uncertainty at a time when that is the last thing we need.”

He says Portsmouth did not switch any offers, but a minority of other institutions saw the financial risks ahead and decided to act quickly. He adds that the sector generally saw this as bad practice, because by siphoning off students at a time of crisis they could potentially sink their competitors.

Smita Jamdar, head of education at the law firm Shakespeare Martineau, who has been advising universities on the new OfS powers, says institutions should be extremely cautious about withdrawing any offers, which could lead to accusations of having misled students. “Students may feel they are having something valuable taken away from them. Institutions need to think carefully about the legal rights of the students and the reputational impact of it all.”

Jamdar is concerned that the OfS has not defined which sorts of offers it wants to stamp out. She says universities could, for example, be challenged for accepting students with lower grades.

She is also unhappy with the OfS plan to backdate the new rules to March. “It’s an important principle of the law that you should know the consequences of your actions at the time you do them,” she says.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute thinktank, agrees it is not clear exactly which behaviour the OfS intends to punish. “In clearing every year there are universities that pretty much accept anyone they think would benefit. So if you usually take students with low grades in a normal year, are you going to fall foul of the OfS for doing it this year?”

He is concerned that universities are being hit with new rules at a time many are expecting A-level grades to be less trustworthy. “If you are an admissions officer trying to fill your places and make rapid decisions it is really hard,” he says.

Andrew Hargreaves, founder of the research consultancy dataHE, which has been helping universities to understand their position in the absence of A-level exams, says: “I just don’t recognise this narrative that is coming from government about universities as villains, with the OfS coming along on its white charger to rescue young people. This is a sector trying to react to a changed environment, that genuinely wants its students to succeed.” Many in the sector argue that there is no real evidence that unconditional offers are hurting students.

Loss of international student fees could decimate UK research

Vice-chancellors are also concerned that the government is seeking to control far more than admissions. The consultation sets out proposals to prevent universities “engaging in any form of conduct” that could have a negative impact on students or the “stability or integrity” of the higher education system. It emphasises that this “includes but is not limited to” admissions. University chiefs say any number of issues the government doesn’t like could fall into this definition.

Jamdar says this is “apparent opportunism. The sector has asked for support and the government has seen it as the chance not only to ensure stability in recruitment, but also to establish a basis to intervene in a much broader and quite onerous way. I feel deeply uncomfortable about it.”

Prof David Green, vice-chancellor of Worcester University, agrees. “This is a time of crisis, but we are still in a democracy. These powers are deliberately intended to circumvent the Higher Education Act of 2017, which enshrined universities’ autonomy in law.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting our world-class universities and students through this challenging time. Prospective students will understandably feel nervous about their future, and their interests must be put first. We do not want students to be pressured into a major life decision which might not be right for them.

“The range of measures we announced, including student number controls, aim to ensure the long-term sustainability of the sector.”

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China ROW: Canada makes major SWIPE at China over it’s judiciary system

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The comments come at a time of high public tensions between China and the rest of the world for the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Trudeau spoke at a daily briefing to talk about China’s demands to free Huawei Technologies Co Ltd Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou.

He said: “Canada has an independent judicial system that functions without interference or override by politicians.

“China doesn’t work quite the same way and (doesn’t) seem to understand that we do have an independent judiciary.”

Canadian officials have repeatedly said they cannot intervene in the case.

Later in the day, Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne also said he was “very concerned” by Chinese plans to impose new national security legislation on Hong Kong, home to around 300,000 Canadian citizens.

He told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp: “Canada … will make its voice heard.”

Trudeau said last month that China had suspended consular visits, citing the coronavirus outbreak.

He said on Thursday: “The fact that China is still linking an independent judicial system in the case of Meng Wanzhou with the arbitrary detention of two Canadians is saddening, but that’s a challenge we’ve been working with for many months.”

Meng Wanzhou is fighting extradition to the US after being arrested in British Columbia in December 2018.

The United States says it believes Meng covered up attempts by Huawei-linked companies to sell equipment to Iran, breaking U.S. sanctions against the country.

A decision on a key legal aspect of the trial over whether Meng can be extradited will be announced next Wednesday, the British Columbia Supreme Court said on Thursday.

Shortly after Meng’s arrest, China detained the former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor in December 2018.

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The arrests led to the worst-ever crisis in relations between the two nations, with accusations of “arbitrary detentions” and hostage diplomacy met with trade sanctions and suspended consular visits.

Kovrig and Spavor have been held on espionage suspicions and refused access to lawyers.

Earlier, the Chinese ambassador, Cong Peiwu, told Global News that “competent Chinese authorities are handling the cases (of Kovrig and Spavor) according to law.”

He then pivoted to Meng, saying her case was “the biggest issue in our bilateral relationship” and renewing demands that she be sent back to China “smoothly and safely”.

Canada and China have had a strained relationship, but some collaboration remains.

Leading Chinese vaccine developer CanSino Biologics Inc. has inked a deal to test and sell a separate Canadian vaccine candidate as the race for immunisation intensifies globally.

In addition to developing its own vaccine together with the Chinese military, CanSino will partner with Vancouver-based Precision NanoSystems Inc. to co-develop another potential vaccine, according to a joint press release Wednesday.

The Chinese company will conduct testing of Precision’s experimental vaccine and has the right to commercialise it in Asia excluding Japan, said the statement.

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As big cats go hungry, Indonesia zoo considers 'worst-case' deer cull

BANDUNG, Indonesia (Reuters) – A zoo in Indonesia may slaughter some of its animals to feed others, such as a Sumatran tiger and a Javan leopard, if it runs out of food in coming months after the coronavirus pandemic forced it to shut it doors.

While its 850 animals are being fed smaller portions than usual, the zoo is contemplating a “worst-case scenario” of culling some animals to feed others as it expects to run out of food in July.

The Badung zoo in Indonesia’s fourth-biggest city, which usually earns about 1.2 billion rupiah ($81,744) a month from visitors, shut on March 23 as part of a wider country lockdown to try to contain the outbreak.

“We have around thirty dotted deer, and we have identified the old and unproductive ones (who can no longer breed) to be slaughtered to save the carnivores, such as the Sumatran tiger and Javan leopard,” said zoo spokesman Sulhan Syafi’i.

Some birds including geese may also be culled, he said.

Big cats, including a critically endangered Sumatran tiger named Fitri, now get 8 kg (18 lb) of meat every two days, down from 10 kg previously.

The zoo needs more than 400 kg of fruit per day and 120 kg of meat every other day, Syafi’i said, noting it is now relying on donations to keep its animals alive.

“The crocodiles are fatter and the tigers are healthier too. But the lion is still a bit skinny,” said Fauzan Dzulfikar, who was allowed to visit after a donation.

The smaller daily portions have not gone unnoticed by the animals, even though Syafi’i said they still met minimum animal welfare standards.

Orangutan keeper Aep Saepudin said the endangered primates can go into a rage and throw things.

“The food is finished, but they still want to eat,” said Saepudin.

The Indonesia Zoo Association, which has requested help from President Joko Widodo, estimates 92 percent of the country’s 60 zoos can only feed their animals until the end of May.

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China announces new national security laws sparking tensions with US

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US President Donald Trump reacted to the news by issuing a warning that Washington would react “very strongly” on the move to acquire mote control over the city. The US State Department also said a high-degree of autonomy and recognition of human rights were essential to keeping the territory’s special status in US law.

Hong Kong’s preservation within US law has helped it achieve a position as a world financial centre.

China’s actions could trigger a new wave of protests in the the former British colony, which currently has access to freedoms the mainland does not have.

Trump, who has boosted his anti-China behaviour as he pushes for his re-election in November, told reporters “nobody knows yet” the details of China’s intentions.

“If it happens we’ll address that issue very strongly,” he said.

Zhang Yesui, spokesman for the China’s National People’s Congress, said details of the regulation would be announced on Friday when the parliament holds its annual session.

“In light of the new circumstances and need, the National People’s Congress (NPC) is exercising its constitutional power” to create a new legal structure and enforcement system to preserve national security in Hong Kong, he told a conference.

The “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act” authorised by Trump last year requires the State Department to accredit at least annually that Hong Kong maintains enough autonomy to substantiate favourable US trading terms.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on May 6 he was postponing this evaluation to weigh in any NPC actions.

If the State Department decertifies Hong Kong, Trump would still have the last word on whether to decide to end some, all, or none of the advantages the territory currently boasts.

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On Thursday, Democratic and Republican US senators said they would implement regulations to bolster the Hong Kong act’s sanctions provisions.

“A further crackdown from Beijing will only intensify the Senate’s interest in re-examining the US-China relationship,” US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said in a statement.

Wall Street ended lower on Thursday as US-China disagreements sparked skepticism about a trade deal taking place this year between the two nations.

Tensions have increased considerably in recent weeks, with hostile disagreements over the pandemic crisis.

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Pro-democracy demonstrators have for years been against national security legislation, citing they could deteriorate the city’s high degree of autonomy.

Hong Kong’s autonomy is endorsed under the “one country, two systems” principle in place for two decades.

A senior Hong Kong government official said details on the plans and how they would be exercised remained unclear, however, Hong Kong media outlets have claimed the law would ban secession, foreign intervention, terrorism and all insubordination forms targeting the central government.

US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said any Chinese plans to implement laws that did not echo the wishes of the people would be highly undermining and confronted with strong counteraction.

A previous attempt to implement Hong Kong national security legislation, known as Article 23, in 2003 was met with mass peaceful demonstrations and scrapped.

Online posts had advised Hong Kong citizens to protest on Thursday night and dozens were seen exclaiming pro-democracy mottos in a shopping centre as riot police watched on nearby.

Opposition lawmakers said the regulations would severely damage Hong Kong’s status as a financial centre and its autonomy.

“If this move takes place, ‘one country, two systems’ will be officially erased,” said democratic lawmaker Dennis Kwok.

“This is the end of Hong Kong.”

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Denver Health orders closure of U.S. Post Office center over COVID-19 concerns.

Denver health officials ordered the U.S. Post Office distribution center to shut down, citing COVID-19 concerns, but the post office remains open.

Denver Department Public Health & Environment sent a letter to the USPS facility, 7550 E 53rd Place, on Wednesday ordering it “to close all onsite operations, effective immediately.”

The city’s order said the facility “must remain closed” until multiple COVID-19 “control measures” are met and that “approval for reopening” will only be granted by a DDPHE representative.

The State of Colorado has reported multiple confirmed COVID-19 cases of employees working at the distribution center, according to the letter.

USPS officials were quick to respond and the facility remained open on Thursday.

“We strongly disagree with the Denver Public Health order, which was made without a visual verification, without advanced coordination with the team of postal employees working on these issues with Denver Public Health, and without the understanding of the Postal Service’s substantial, ongoing efforts to protect its employees and the public,” said a USPS statement.

“The Denver Processing and Distribution Center is federally owned and operated and is committed to all federal and CDC directives and safeguards in regards to COVID-19 protection,” the USPS statement said. “We have provided Denver Public Health the necessary documentation to satisfy their inquiry and are confident the order will be rescinded.”

USPS said in a news release that the center handles 10 million pieces of mail a day for more than 6 million people in Colorado and Wyoming. The release said it is the fourth-largest processing center in the nation.

DDPHE officials said that “minimal observations” were made on a Wednesday inspection because of “refusal of information and access to the facility.”

In the letter, Denver officials said that all employees must be screened at the beginning and end of every shift and that all workers must be monitored closely. The letter also states that the entire facility must be disinfected.

City health officials said the USPS must provided the city with a list of all confirmed cases, within 24 hours, and update the list every Monday until notified that it will be no longer necessary.

Failure to conform could result in citations and summons, the letter, signed by Jessica Paulin, public health investigator, said.

The city said in a separate release late Thursday night: “This was a measure of last resort, and the only remaining tool we have to get the facility management’s attention and secure public health compliance during a pandemic. DDPHE and the City Attorney are committed to resolving these concerns with federal authorities quickly.”

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China’s parliament aims for show of strength

China’s National People’s Congress is a key date in Beijing’s choreography of politics and power.

It takes place this year as the country emerges from the virus crisis – and seeks to bolster its authority both on the domestic and the global stage.

It also follows months of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that have angered China’s leaders. The congress has proposed a new national security law that looks set to limit freedoms in the territory.

The annual meeting is usually scheduled for early March but was postponed because of the pandemic.

And, as much as that delay highlighted the severity of the crisis, its rescheduling is a show of strength and confidence – a sign, Beijing hopes, that things are under control.

China is where the pandemic started but it’s also the country that brought a large outbreak under control – with lockdown measures emulated by many other countries hit by the virus.

The economic fallout, though, remains dramatic – in the first quarter, China’s GDP contracted for the first time in decades.

Added to those domestic challenges, Beijing is facing increasing scrutiny and criticism from abroad over what it did – and didn’t do – when the virus emerged.

What is the National People’s Congress?

The NPC is China’s parliament, the top legislative body, and it usually meets once a year in early March.

Although in theory the country’s most powerful institution, it is seen as largely a rubber-stamp assembly in Beijing’s theatrics of democracy.

It usually approves whatever has been decided beforehand by the top echelon of the Communist Party.

Why is the Hong Kong proposal controversial?

Usually, the NPC is about unveiling the country’s key economic targets, approving budgets, and passing legislation.

This year will also see the discussion of a proposal for a new security law in Hong Kong that could ban sedition, secession and treason.

The proposal is highly controversial – when the Hong Kong government tried to pass similar legislation in 2003, about 500,000 people took part in street protests against it, and the legislation was eventually shelved.

A spokesman for the NPC said on Thursday that that legislation was “highly necessary” and would “safeguard national security in Hong Kong”.

However, pro-democracy activists believe that Beijing is slowly eroding Hong Kong’s judicial independence and other freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China.

The proposal is also controversial because it is expected to circumvent Hong Kong’s own law-making processes – leading to criticism that Beijing is undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy.

The draft motion is seen as response to months of pro-democracy street protests, that often ended in violent clashes, in Hong Kong.

What else is on the agenda?

According to state media, topping the agenda will also be: epidemic control, economic growth targets, poverty alleviation, employment policy, and drafting China’s first civil code.

Premier Li Keqiang – the number two in Chinese politics – is scheduled to speak on Friday, with his address possibly including the economic target for the year as well as fresh measures to stimulate the economy.

But after the depressing data from the first quarter, there’s doubt over whether there will a clear-cut growth target for 2020.

It’s also set to be a large affair. Nearly 3,000 delegates from around the country will gather in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing for 10 days. They represent China’s provinces, autonomous regions, centrally-administered municipalities, the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau, as well as the armed forces.

There will also be a meeting of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the most powerful political advisory body in the country – which does not have any legislative power.

While the NPC will meet on Friday, the CPPCC already kicked off on Thursday.

The importance of projecting power and strength

Failure to handle the economic fallout from the pandemic could undermine Beijing’s domestic legitimacy – a real problem for a regime that promises growing prosperity in exchange for authoritarian rule.

At least as important as the actual policy, will therefore be the desire to project power and control. State media have already touted the event as being of “historic significance” and an “opportunity to gather national strength”.

To the outside world, China will seek to project itself as a transparent and responsible power – a model for the rest of the world.

Despite being accused of suppressing early warnings, China insists it alerted the world of the severity of the virus in time. Beijing says other countries simply neglected to heed those warnings.

What is the virus situation in China?

The novel coronavirus broke out in late 2019 in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province. The country was the epicentre of the virus before it spread around the world.

But wide-ranging lockdown and quarantine measures eventually slowed the number of new infections to a single-digit trickle.

Out of about 84,000 confirmed infections, almost 80,000 have recovered while more than 4,500 have died. There are currently only a handful of active cases.

Concern over a second wave though remains. New clusters near the Russian border have brought home the dangers of re-importing the virus.

Overall though, the lockdowns are being lifted, schools are gradually reopening and economic activity is resuming.

What about the economic fallout?

The coronavirus pandemic is expected to have a profound impact on economies around the globe.

For China, we already have a shocking data point: in the first three months of the year, the economy contracted by 6.8%, the first contraction in decades.

In the last two decades, China has seen average economic growth of around 9% a year – although experts have regularly questioned the accuracy of its economic data.

But when the virus struck and Beijing introduced large-scale shutdowns and quarantines in late January, the economy in many parts of China ground to a halt.

Although factory work is resuming, the economic and social consequences of a slowing economy will continue.

China has already unveiled a range of support measures to cushion the impact – though not on the same scale of some other major economies.

The NPC might give us more clues as to how Beijing plans to put its economy back on track.

But with an export-dependant economy, much of the recovery will depend not just on China – but on how the rest of the world recovers.

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Coronavirus fears grip Middle East; 10,000 Iran medics infected

Iran grapples with deadliest outbreak in the region while concerns also grow over rise in cases in Gaza Strip and Yemen.

The coronavirus has infected more than 10,000 healthcare workers in hard-hit Iran, reports said, as health officials in war-ravaged Yemen and Gaza expressed mounting concern about the waves of new cases.

Iran’s semi-official news agencies on Thursday cited Deputy Health Minister Qassem Janbabaei, who did not elaborate. Reports earlier in the week put the number of infected healthcare workers at only 800. Iran says more than 100 of those workers have died.

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Iran is grappling with the deadliest coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East, with at least 7,249 fatalities among more than 129,000 confirmed cases.

Those figures include an additional 66 deaths announced on Thursday by Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour.

‘Tip of the iceberg’ in Yemen

The international aid group Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) said the virus-related death toll at a medical centre it runs in southern Yemen attests to “a wider catastrophe” in the country, where a five-year civil war had already caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The facility in Aden admitted 173 patients between April 30 and May 17, at least 68 of whom have died, the group said in a statement.

The United Nations-recognised Yemeni government in the south has confirmed 193 cases, with 33 fatalities.

“What we are seeing in our treatment centre is just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of the number of people infected and dying in the city,” said Caroline Seguin, MSF’s operations manager for Yemen.

“People are coming to us too late to save, and we know that many more people are not coming at all: they are just dying at home.”

The government tally of cases does not include confirmed cases in the country’s north, which is under the control of the Houthi rebels, who are believed to be concealing the magnitude of the outbreak.

So far, they have reported four cases, including one death of a Somali migrant.

On Tuesday, a 35-year-old World Food Programme staffer died of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, in the Houthi-controlled province of Saada, the group said.

The Iran-backed Houthis captured much of northern Yemen, including capital Sanaa in 2014, forcing the government to flee to the south.

The following year, a Saudi-led coalition went to war against the rebels.

The increase in suspected coronavirus cases in Yemen is sounding alarms throughout the global health community, which fears the virus will spread like wildfire through some of the world’s most vulnerable populations.

The World Health Organization says its models suggest that, under some scenarios, half of Yemen’s population of 30 million could be infected with the virus and more than 40,000 could die.

Yemen’s health facilities are severely strained and 18 percent of the country’s 333 districts have no doctors. Water and sanitation systems have collapsed. Many families can barely afford one meal a day.

“The high level of mortality we are seeing among our patients is equivalent to those of intensive care units in Europe, but the people we see dying are much younger than in France or Italy: mostly men between 40 and 60 years old,” Seguin said.

The war in Yemen has killed more than 100,000 people and left millions suffering from food and medical shortages.

Concerns in Gaza Strip

Another area of concern is the Gaza Strip, where the Health Ministry has reported 35 new cases in the last three days, bringing the total number to 55.

All the new cases have been detected among returnees from abroad who are in mandatory quarantine in facilities at the border.

Yousef Abu el-Rish, a senior Health Ministry official, on Thursday said it is investigating whether the virus has spread beyond the quarantine facilities, where some 2,000 people are housed.

Gaza’s healthcare system has been severely degraded by a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt after ruling group Hamas seized power there in 2007.

The territory only has around 60 ventilators for a population of two million.

Egypt controls information

In Egypt, where those publicly questioning the official coronavirus toll have been expelled or thrown in prison, a government official acknowledged for the first time that the states outbreak is likely much larger than reported.

Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, the minister of higher education, said on Thursday at a conference – attended by the president and other top officials – that disease models suggest the state’s current count of 15,003 infections is an estimated “five times lower than” the projected numbers of 71,145 “or more.”

“This is a hypothetical model that we say can be a reality,” he said, noting that across the world, officials cannot know precisely how many people are infected.

Under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the media has been largely muzzled and authorities have seized on the pandemic to tighten controls.

Security services expelled a reporter from The Guardian newspaper over an article citing infectious disease specialists who estimated Egypt had some 19,000 cases in March.

In a separate development, the International Monetary Fund approved nearly $400m in emergency financial assistance to Jordan, which has largely succeeded in containing its outbreak by imposing wide-ranging quarantine measures.

Jordan, a close Western ally, has reported 672 cases, including nine fatalities.

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Ahmaud Arbery case: Man who filmed video of shooting charged with murder

The Georgia man who filmed cellphone video of Ahmaud Arbery‘s fatal shooting was arrested Thursday and charged with murder in his death.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said 50-year-old William “Roddie” Bryan was arrested on charges of felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.

Arbery was slain Feb. 23 after a white father and son armed themselves and pursued him after spotting the 25-year-old black man running in their neighbourhood. More than two months passed before authorities arrested Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault.

Bryan lives in the same subdivision, and the video he took from the cab of his vehicle helped stir a national outcry when it leaked online. Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, did not immediately return a phone message.

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Trump BLOW: US President LOSING to Biden in key states – shock new poll

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The US President has ramped up his anti-Biden rhetoric in recent weeks, beginning to spread a conspiracy theory called “Obamagate” and weaponise tensions with China against the Democratic nominee.

The shock data comes from a poll conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies.

It holds that Joe Biden leads in Arizona, Pennysylvania, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan.

Other polls, including one from Roanoke College in Virginia, showed Biden leading Trump by 12 points in the state that Hillary Clinton won by just 5 points in 2016, solidifying the notion that the state is rapidly falling out of the swing-state category.

In Arizona, which Clinton lost by 4 points, Biden leads by 7 points according to a OH Predictive poll, although Biden’s lead has dwindled by 2 points since April.

The Redfield & Wilton poll, conducted last week with between 850 and 1,000 respondents in each state, found that Mr Biden has now pulled ahead of Mr Trump in all six states.

Mr Biden was found to lead by two percentage points in Florida and North Carolina, four points in Arizona, eight points in Michigan, nine points in Pennsylvania and 10 points in Wisconsin.

Donald Trump won all six of the states polled in 2016.

Four had voted for Barack Obama, Mr Trump’s predecessor, in 2012, which the Democrats will hope to win back.

These results, if replicated on the November 3 election, would see Biden winning the president.

Presented with a list of 10 reasons not to vote for Mr Biden and asked to pick three of the most compelling, around a quarter of voters went for “his alleged misconduct with women in the past”.

Around 75 percent of voters in all six states were aware of the allegation.

Other reasons often picked included “age-related health issues” and “his difficulty sounding composed in public”.

The finding is interesting because the Trump campaign has been relentlessly targeting Mr Biden’s verbal trip-ups, sharing clips of them with voters on social media.

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It comes as President Trump is threatening to deny federal cash to both Michigan and Nevada, as they want to make voting easier amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On twitter, the president claimed that the states’ separate plans to send absentee ballots to all registered voters was illegal and would enable voter fraud.

The claims have been respectively disputed by both and unsubstantiated by the records of the five states which now conduct elections entirely by mail.

He did not say which funds he pledged to “hold up” – or how he could do so – but the very idea of withholding federal help to states hit by both the pandemic and, in the case of

Michigan, catastrophic flooding this week, perplexes observers.

Political science professor David Dulio, director of the Center for Civic Engagement at Oakland University in southern Michigan, said: “If he’s threatening monies related to coronavirus relief or response, that’s potentially dangerous.”

Trump has also been ramping up his “Obamagate” conspiracy in an attempt to damage Biden’s campaign.

Last week, when Trump was asked by a reporter his reason behind accusing Obama, the President was quoted as saying by The Atlantic as saying, “It’s been going on for a very long time … You know what the crime is.

‘The crime is very obvious to everybody.”

Later on May 15, he announced that “Obamagate” is the “greatest political scandal in the history of the US”.

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