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Fijian diplomat elected president of UN General Assembly

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UN-UNGA-71ST SESSION-PRESIDENT-ELECTPeter Thomson ,the ambassador of the tiny Pacific Island nation of Fiji  won  election for the post of president of the next session of the United Nations General Assembly, which will choose the successor to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The high profile position  has been the focus of a corruption scandal in the United States.

In a keenly contested election, he polled 94 votes narrowly defeated Andreas Mavroyiannis of Cyprus who got 90. Under the system of regional rotation, it is the Asia-Pacific region’s turn to hold the post and usually one candidate is proposed by the group whose turn it is. This time the lack of a consensus sent election to a ballot by the 193-member General Assembly.

Thomson will oversee the election of the next Secretary General by the General Assembly in a process that will have a measure of transparency for the first time.

If the Security Council reform process does not pass the current session that ends in September, Thomson could play a pivotal role in reviving it under his watch. He has in past criticised the slow pace of Security Council reform and called for greater efforts by UN members to deal with this and other issues.

Fijian Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama has declared that his country “is strongly supporting” India’s bid for a permanent seat on the Security Council.

After his election, Thomson told the General Assembly that his priorities will be the promotion of UN Sustainable Development Goals to enhance human welfare and climate change given that his island nation is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels from global warming. “We bring special perspectives on climate change and on oceans issues,” he said. “You can expect me to be vocal on these issues.”

Later at a news conference, he pledged to bring more transparency to his own office in the wake of corruption allegations against a former Assembly President, John Ashe, who held the position during 2013-14. Ashe, who was the permanent representative of Antigua and Barbuda, has been accused by US federal prosecutor Preet Bharara of taking over $1 million dollars in bribes from a Chinese real estate developer operating in Macau.

Thomson has a wide range of international leadership experience. He was the vice president of the General Assembly in 2010-11. He has also been the chair of the developing nations’ Group of 77 to which India belongs, and the chair of the executive boards of both the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

Thomson will be succeeding Mogens Lykketoft of Denmark, whose singualar achievement has been making the process of the election of the secretary general more open. He has organised meetings with the ten candidates where members of the UN as well as civil society representatives heard their positions and questioned them.

The candidature of Mavroyiannis was undermined by the fact that Cyprus is member of the European Union, even as it is a part of the Asian Pacific Group, of which Fiji is unambiguously a member.

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United States Employment Rate will fall further: Fed

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Washington, April 16 (IANS) Economic activity “contracted sharply and abruptly” across all regions in the US as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday.

“The hardest-hit industries – because of social distancing measures and mandated closures – were leisure and hospitality, and retail aside from essential goods,” the Fed said in its latest survey on economic conditions, known as the Beige Book, based on information collected from its 12 regional reserve banks before April 6, Xinhua reported.

“All Districts reported highly uncertain outlooks among business contacts, with most expecting conditions to worsen in the next several months,” the Fed said.

The survey showed that employment declined in all districts as the COVID-19 pandemic affected firms in many sectors.

“Employment cuts were most severe in the retail and leisure and hospitality sectors, where most Districts reported widespread mandatory closures and steep falloffs in demand,” the survey said, adding severe job cuts were also widespread in the manufacturing and energy sectors.

“Contacts in several Districts noted they were cutting employment via temporary layoffs and furloughs that they hoped to reverse once business activity resumes. The near-term outlook was for more job cuts in coming months,” the survey said.

The survey noted that no district reported upward wage pressures, with most citing “general wage softening and salary cuts” except for high-demand sectors such as grocery stores.

“These trends were seen as reflecting weaker demand for many goods and services in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the survey said.

The survey came after the Commerce Department reported earlier on Wednesday that US retail sales plunged in March by the most on record as the COVID-19 pandemic is starting to take a big toll on the US economy.

The US economy is expected to contract by 5.9 per cent this year, according to the World Economic Outlook (WEO) report released by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Tuesday.

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New York statewide COVID-19 deaths surpass 10,000

Meanwhile, indicators including the rates of ICU admissions and intubations have gone down and the three-day-average rate of hospitalization basically reached a plateau, according to the governor.

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New York, April 14 : Governor of the US state of New York Andrew Cuomo said statewide deaths from COVID-19 rose to 10,056, adding “the worst is over if we continue to be smart” in coping with the novel coronavirus.

Cuomo on Monday said at his daily briefing that a total of 671 people passed away on Sunday due to the disease, a number much lower than in the past few days, Xinhua news agency reported.

Meanwhile, indicators including the rates of ICU admissions and intubations have gone down and the three-day-average rate of hospitalization basically reached a plateau, according to the governor.

“We are controlling the spread,” said Cuomo. “I believe the worst is over if we continue to be smart. I believe we can start on the path to normalcy,” he said.

He said he would be joined by several other governors of neighbouring states later on Monday to discuss how to reopening the economy in a coordinated way.

On Twitter, the governor said that any plan to reopen society must be driven by data and experts, not opinion and politics.

He said the objective is to ease isolation and increase economic activity without increasing the infection rate.

“We will learn from the warning signs from other countries. We will take every precaution. We will work together as a region,” he added.

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US now has highest COVID-19 deaths, surpasses Italy: Johns Hopkins

A total of 20,071 people have died of the disease among 519,453 confirmed cases in the country as of 4 p.m. local time (2000 GMT) on Saturday

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Washington, April 12 : The UnS has surpassed Italy as the country with the highest number of coronavirus deaths in the world as the fatalities as of Sunday reached 20,604, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

As of Sunday morning, Italy has reported 19,648 coronavirus deaths, placing it in the second position after the US, the data published by the university’s enter for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) revealed.

The US also accounts for the highest number of confirmed cases with 529,887. Spain, where the number of confirmed infections stands at 163,027, is a distant second, followed by Italy with 152,271 cases.

New York state, the epicentre of the pandemic in the US, has recorded the most deaths in the country, 8,627, which is followed by New Jersey and Michigan with 2,183 and 1,276, respectively, the CSSE data showed.

A total of 32,001 patients in the country have recovered, it added.

US President Donald Trump’s administration, which earlier estimated that the pandemic would cause anywhere from 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the US, revised its projection downward this week to 60,000, reports Efe news.

Members of the White House coronavirus task force credit the more optimistic forecast to the success of the stay-at-home orders issued by 42 of the 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, covering around 316 million people.

Trump, who has repeatedly decried the economic cost of closing schools and businesses to contain the virus, said late last month that he hoped to re-open the country by Easter Sunday.

During Friday’s news briefing by the task force, Trump sought to reassure Americans that he would guided by medical experts as well as by recommendations from the “Opening Our Country Council” he plans to install next week.

“I want to get it open as soon as possible. The facts are going to determine what I do,” the president said.

“I’m going to have to make a decision, and I only hope to God that it’s the right decision. But I would say, without question, it’s the biggest decision I’ve ever had to make,” Trump said.

As of Sunday, the number of global coronavirus cases stood at 1,777,517, with 108,862 deaths, while 404,236 people have recovered.

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