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French voters pick new president amid heightened security

Commentators think a low turnout would benefit Le Pen, whose supporters are seen as more committed and therefore more likely to show up to vote.

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French voters decided Sunday whether to back pro-business independent Emmanuel Macron or far-right populist Marine Le Pen as their next president, casting ballots in an unusually tense and important presidential election that also could decide Europe’s future.

With Macron the pollsters’ favorite, voting stations opened across mainland France at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) under the watch of 50,000 security forces guarding against extremist attacks. A security scare caused by a suspicious bag prompted the brief evacuation of the Louvre museum courtyard where Macron plans to celebrate election night.

France’s Interior Ministry said voter turnout at midday was running slightly lower than during the last presidential runoff in 2012. The ministry said 28 percent of eligible voters had cast ballots, compared with a half-day tally of 31 percent five years ago.

Commentators think a low turnout would benefit Le Pen, whose supporters are seen as more committed and therefore more likely to show up to vote.

Macron voted in the seaside resort of Le Touquet in northern France alongside his wife, Brigitte Macron. Le Pen cast her ballot just a hundred kilometers away in Henin-Beaumont, a small town controlled by her National Front party.

Macron, 39, a former Socialist economy minister and one-time banker who ran as an independent, was all smiles and petted a black dog as he stepped out of his vacation home. For security reasons, he was driven to his polling station nearby.

Le Pen, 48, was able to vote without any incident after feminist activists were briefly detained a couple of hours earlier Sunday for hanging a big anti-Le Pen banner from a church in the northern town.

Emmanuel Macron greets supporters as he leaves a polling station in Le Touquet.

Meanwhile, police and soldiers worked to secure the symbolic Paris venues where the next president will celebrate victory.

The grand internal courtyard of the renowned palace-turned-museum Macron picked for his celebration party reopened after several hundred journalists preparing for the election event had to leave because of the security alert over the suspicious bag.

The museum itself was not evacuated, and tourists continued entering and leaving the site. The Louvre already was being heavily guarded after an extremist attacker targeted soldiers near the museum during the presidential campaign. Paris police said the evacuation was a “precautionary measure.”

If Le Pen wins, she plans to celebrate at the Chalet du Lac in the Bois de Vincennes, a vast park on Paris’ eastern edge.

The most closely watched and unpredictable French presidential campaign in recent memory ended with a hacking attack and document leak targeting Macron on Friday night. France’s government cybersecurity agency, ANSSI, is investigating the hack, which Macron’s team says was aimed at destabilizing the vote.

France’s election campaign commission said Saturday that “a significant amount of data” — and some fake information — was leaked on social networks following the hacking attack on Macron. The leaked documents appeared largely mundane, and the perpetrators remain unknown.

The fate of the European Union may hang in the balance as France’s 47 million voters decide whether to risk handing the presidency to Le Pen, who dreams of quitting the bloc and its common currency, or to play it safer with Macron, an unabashed pro-European who wants to strengthen the EU.

Global financial markets and France’s neighbors are watching carefully. A “Frexit” would be far more devastating than Britain’s departure, since France is the second-biggest economy to use the euro. The country also is a central pillar of the EU and its mission of keeping post-war peace via trade and open borders.

The vote will help gauge the strength of global populism after the victories last year of a referendum to take Britain out of the EU and Donald Trump’s U.S. presidential campaign. In France, it is a test of whether voters are ready to overlook the racist and anti-Semitic past of Le Pen’s National Front party.

Le Pen has broadened the party’s appeal by tapping into — and fueling — anger at globalization and fears associated with immigration and Islamic extremism. Macron has argued that France must rethink its labor laws to better compete globally and appealed for unity and tolerance that Le Pen called naive.

Either candidate would lead France into uncharted territory, since neither comes from the mainstream parties that dominate parliament and have run the country for decades. The winner will have to try to build a parliamentary majority in elections next month to make major changes.

Source : ABC

Health

COVID-19 vaccination: 23 elderly people dead after Pfizer shot in Norway

Norway COVID-19 immunisation: The Norwegian Institute of Public Health has cautioned against vaccinating elderly people above 80 years of age saying those with a short life span may not benefit much from the jab

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In a worrying development, 23 elderly people died within a short time of receiving their first coronavirus vaccine shots in Norway. However, there is no confirmation yet if there is direct correlation between the PfizerBioNTech COVID-19 jab and these deaths.

Although a direct correlation between the Pfizer jab and these deaths is yet to be established, experts have said that 13 out of 23 people who died showed common side effects of mRNA vaccines such as diarrhea, nausea and fever.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health has cautioned against vaccinating elderly people above 80 years of age saying those with a short life span may not benefit much from the jab. The Norwegian regulator further told Bloomberg, “For those with the most severe frailty, even relatively mild vaccine side effects can have serious consequences.”

Pfizer and BioNTech are working with the Norwegian authorities to investigate the deaths in Norway. According to Pfizer, the regulator discovered “the number of incidents so far is not alarming and in line with expectations”.

Experts are of the strong opinion that doctors need to exercise strong caution in vaccinating people in the wake of deaths of 23 elderly people. The Norwegian Medicines Agency said in a recent report that 21 women and 8 men reported side effects. Apart from the 23 deaths, nine people have reported serious side effects without fatal outcomes such as allergic reactions, strong discomfort and severe fever. Seven people reported less serious side effects such as severe pain at the injection site.

Meanwhile, Norway had administered at least one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna coronavirus vaccines to approximately 33,000 people by end of December.

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Health

China slams US media silence over Pfizer vax deaths in Norway

“If there needs to be some comparison, then China’s inactivated vaccine definitely has more solid foundation in safety than Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine”.

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New Delhi, Jan 16 : China has slammed the US media for its silence over the deaths of 23 Norwegian elderly patients who were vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Twenty-three elderly Norwegian people died after receiving Pfizer vaccines and the country has launched a detailed investigation into the fatalities that have shocked the world.

Thirteen of them have been assessed and common side effects may have contributed to severe reactions in them, according to the Norwegian Medicines Agency.

An editorial in China’s state-run media outlet Global Times said that 23 deaths are a large number.

“But surprisingly, mainstream English-language media did not report the incident immediately, as if they had already reached a consensus. Major US and UK media were obviously downplaying their deaths,” the editorial said on Friday.

“In contrast, those major Western media will immediately hype any unfavourable information about Chinese vaccines and try to amplify their impact on public psychology”.

For example, the data of China’s Sinovac vaccine was lower than expected in Brazil, and it was reported everywhere in Western media.

The death of a Brazilian volunteer who participated in the trials also became a major event in Western media.

“But it was later proven that the death had nothing to do with the vaccination, and Western media lost their interest,” Global Times reported.

Doctors in Norway have been asked to conduct more thorough evaluations of very frail elderly patients in line to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, following the reported deaths, the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ) reported.

“It may be a coincidence, but we aren’t sure,” Steinar Madsen, medical director of the Norwegian Medicines Agency (NOMA), told the BMJ.

“There is no certain connection between these deaths and the vaccine.”

In a statement, Pfizer said: “Pfizer and BioNTech are aware of reported deaths following administration of BNT162b2. We are working with NOMA to gather all the relevant information.

“All reported deaths will be thoroughly evaluated by NOMA to determine if these incidents are related to the vaccine. The Norwegian government will also consider adjusting their vaccination instructions to take the patients’ health into more consideration.”

According to Global Times, which first broke the story, some mainstream US and British media are taking the lead in putting geopolitical labels on vaccines.

“They are meddling in political stances with the scientific attitude toward vaccines, using their propaganda to promote Pfizer vaccines and smearing Chinese vaccines”.

“If there needs to be some comparison, then China’s inactivated vaccine definitely has more solid foundation in safety than Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine”.

The inactivated vaccine technology has been very mature and has undergone decades of clinical testing.

“But it is the first time that the mRNA technology was applied to the vaccine. This large-scale promotion of Pfizer’s vaccine is a continuous process of large-scale testing on human beings,” the editorial read.

The Pfizer vaccine has been strongly promoted by the US administration and capital.

“Their potential risk has been deliberately downplayed by Western public opinion. And public opinion has created an impression that Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine, which is being used for the first time, is safer than the Chinese vaccine”.

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Travel

Boeing assisting with investigation in Indonesia flight crash

Indonesian authorities have downloaded the flight data recorder (FDR) belonging to the crashed Boeing 737-500, the country’s National Transportation Safety Committee said on Friday.

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San Francisco, Jan 16 : American airplane giant Boeing has said that its technical experts are assisting with investigation in last week’s Sriwijaya Air plane crash.

“Boeing technical experts are assisting with the investigation and we continue to offer any support needed during this difficult time,” the company said in a statement on Sunday.

“Our thoughts are with the Sriwijaya Air flight SJ-182 crew, passengers and their families,” Xinhua news agency quoted Boeing as saying.

The Boeing 737-500 passenger aircraft with 62 people aboard slammed into the Java Sea on January 9, minutes after take-off from Jakarta en route to Indonesian city of Pontianak in West Kalimantan province.

Indonesian authorities have downloaded the flight data recorder (FDR) belonging to the crashed Boeing 737-500, the country’s National Transportation Safety Committee said on Friday.

As many as 239 body bags containing human remains had been retrieved and 12 victims have been identified after forensic examinations in the police’s hospital as of Thursday.

The National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) has retrieved data from the flight data recorder (FDR), but the search team is still looking for the aircraft’s CVR.

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