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Boutros Boutros-Ghali, first UN chief from Africa, passes away

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Former United Nations secretary general Boutros Boutros-Ghali died at a hospital here on Tuesday, officials said. He was 93. UN chief Ban Ki-moon hailed him as a “respected statesman” and a “memorable leader who rendered invaluable services to world peace and international order”.

Boutros-Ghali was earlier admitted to the hospital with a broken pelvis, BBC reported citing Egypt’s state news agency.

His death was confirmed by Rafael Dario Ramirez Carreno, the Venezuelan ambassador to the UN and current president of the UN Security Council.

A former Egyptian foreign minister, Boutros-Ghali was the first Arab to serve as UN chief.

He took office in 1992 at a time of increasing influence for the world body following its decisive role in the Gulf War, serving a five-year term.

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of my predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali,” Ban said in a statement.

Boutros-Ghali “was a respected statesman” and a “well-known scholar of international law and brought formidable experience and intellectual power to the task of piloting the United Nations through one of the most tumultuous and challenging periods in its history, and guiding the Organization of the Francophonie in subsequent years”.

Ban said that as secretary-general, Boutros-Ghali “presided over a dramatic rise in UN peacekeeping”, and when the world “increasingly turned to the UN for solutions to its problems, in the immediate aftermath of the cold war”.

“His commitment to the UN — its mission and its staff — was unmistakable, and the mark he has left on the organisation is indelible,” Ban said.

Boutros-Ghali led the UN during one of its most difficult times, with crises in Somalia, Rwanda, the Middle East and the former Yugoslavia.

Born on November 14, 1922 into a Coptic Christian family in Cairo, he was educated at Cairo University and in Paris.

He later studied international relations at Columbia University in New York and became Egypt’s foreign minister in 1977 under then president Anwar al-Sadat.

After leaving the UN, Boutros-Ghali served from 1998 to 2002 as secretary general of La Francophonie, a grouping of French-speaking nations.

In 2004, he was named president of Egypt’s human rights council, a body created by then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Ghali resigned in 2011, the year Mubarak was ousted by a popular uprising.

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Kamala Harris to take oath of office on ‘second mother’s’ Bible

“That’s been her amulet so to speak, her oracle, my aunt’s Bible,” LaBrie told Yahoo News in an interview.

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kamala harris

New York, Jan 20: A Black woman’s Bible has featured in every single big moment of Kamala Harris’ political career up till now. She laid her left hand upon it as she took the oath of office to be Attorney General of California, and it was there when she swore to defend the Constitution of the United States, as a Senator from California. “I carry Mrs. Shelton with me always,” wrote Harris in a 2019 article in Bustle.

Shelton’s Bible will be one of two that will feature at Kamala Harris’ coronation at noon on Wednesday when she becomes America’s first woman Vice President.

“When I raise my right hand and take the oath of office tomorrow, I carry with me two heroes who’d speak up for the voiceless and help those in need: Justice Thurgood Marshall and Mrs Shelton,” Harris posted on Twitter, barely 24 hours before she takes office.

The second Bible belongs to the late civil rights icon and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, in a nod to his role in Harris’ choice of Howard University for her graduation and in shaping her thinking to see law as a tool to bring equity. Marshall also graduated from Howard, a legendary school among historically black universities. Howard is only a short distance away by train from the White House.

The “Mrs Shelton” Harris invokes is Regina Shelton who owned three houses in a single block in Oakland, California, and ran a nursery school in one of them. This was a time when Kamala Harris’ mother, newly separated from husband Donald Harris, was looking for help to care for her girls Kamala and Maya and also needed a place to stay. Gopalan and her daughters moved into an apartment above the nursery. The bonds soon grew so strong that Harris began referring to Shelton as her “second mother.”

In an interview to Yahoo!, Shelton’s nephew Aubrey LaBrie said Shelton used to ferry Kamala and Maya to a Baptist church in West Oakland every Sunday. The Bible on which Harris has taken all her oaths of office is the same Bible that Shelton carried with her to church.

“That’s been her amulet so to speak, her oracle, my aunt’s Bible,” LaBrie told Yahoo News in an interview.

Harris will be sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Wednesday, extending the ‘historic’ tag to yet another first. Harris will be the first Indian and Black American woman Vice President taking her oath of office from the first Latina justice on the US Supreme Court.

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US Covid-19 catastrophe is Biden’s problem now

Biden has vowed to “manage the hell out of this operation”. There’s a ton of managing to be done, starting with the simple act of masking up, which has gone from public health tool to culture war in the Trump era.

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Joe Biden

New York, Jan 19 : At noon on January 20, 2021, almost a full year after the first coronavirus case was reported in the US, Covid-19 will no longer be Donald Trump’s problem to solve. It will be incoming US president Joe Biden’s.

The pandemic’s winter surge is raging, pushing the total death toll towards 400,000 (398,000 lives have already been lost to the virus), deaths are rising in nearly two-thirds of the country’s 50 states even as a strong variant is taking hold. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, the new variant is about 50 per cent more contagious than the one that has ravaged the country so far.

California, where it all started, became the first state Monday to cross a grim milestone than 3 million coronavirus infections. The state took 292 days to get to 1 million infections on November 11 and just 44 days to sprint to 2 million. California alone accounts for more than 33,600 Covid-19 deaths.

The first wave never really ebbed, the baseline never came down to levels seen in Europe or Asia, US was struggling to hold down new infections even before the variants appeared, millions of Americans are out of work, the US has topped 24 million infections and counting.

“Almost a year later, we’re still far from back to normal. The honest truth is this: Things will get worse before they get better,” Biden said last week, in a nod to the massive challenge facing his “crisis tested” Covid-19 task force.

Biden has a stated goal of vaccinating 100 million people in the first 100 days. What we know so far is all the goals that haven’t been reached. The US had a goal of reaching 20 million vaccinations by end December 2020, and less than 11 million have got shots in arms by Inauguration Day out of about 31.2 million doses of vaccine which have been distributed.

Biden wants to use the Defence Production Act to boost vaccine supplies and set up 100 vaccination centers around the country by the end of his first month in office. He plans to pour $50 billion to expand testing which is seen as a key to reopening K-8 classrooms. About $130 billion is the outlay to help schools reopen safely. A much touted predictive model used by the Trump White House projects a cumulative death toll of more than 550,000 deaths within 100 days from January 20.

Biden has vowed to “manage the hell out of this operation”. There’s a ton of managing to be done, starting with the simple act of masking up, which has gone from public health tool to culture war in the Trump era.

After 24 million infections and 398,000 deaths in America’s deadliest year, Biden is pleading with Americans: “For God’s sake, wear a mask for yourself, for your loved ones, for your country.”

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French government urges Russia to immediately release Navalny

He also informed Putin that France’s own analysis had confirmed Germany’s conclusion that Navalny was poisoned by Novichok “in contravention of international norms on using chemical weapons”.

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emmanuel macron

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday urged his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to urgently shed light on the “attempted murder” of opposition figure Alexei Navalny after French tests confirmed the use of the Novichok nerve agent, the Elysée said.

Macron told Putin in telephone talks that it is “imperative that all light be shed, without delay, on the circumstances of this attempted murder and who is responsible”, the French presidency said in a statement.

Read: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny detained after landing in Moscow

He also informed Putin that France’s own analysis had confirmed Germany’s conclusion that Navalny was poisoned by Novichok “in contravention of international norms on using chemical weapons”.

Putin, for his part, told Macron that it was “inappropriate” to make groundless accusations against Russia over the suspected poisoning of Navalny, the Kremlin said.

The Russian leader said his country wanted Germany to hand over medical test results taken from Navalny, according to a Kremlin readout of the call.

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