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UN chief welcomes Pakistan’s offer to release Indian pilot

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Antonio Guterres

United Nations, March 1 (IANS) UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday welcomed Pakistan’s offer to release Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was captured when his MiG-21 went down in Pakistan-occupied territory.

His Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters: “The report of the release of the Indian pilot by the Pakistani authorities would be very much a welcome step. We would encourage both parties to do whatever they can to de-escalate the situation.”

Guterres has been in contact “with both sides at various levels”, Dujarric said, while declining to identify the contacts.

Dujarric added that de-escalating tensions “is the message that has been passed on by the United Nations and, I think, by the international community as a whole”.

General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa joined in the international call for dialogue between India and Pakistan.

She “asks for both sides right now to seek dialogue to avoid an escalation of tensions, but also to avoid further tragic loss of life”, her Spokesperson Monica Billela Grayley said.

Espinosa, who has visited the region is “following with great concern the latest reports on the situation between India and Pakistan”, Grayely said

The Assembly president visited Pakistan in January and India in August.

Espinosa “stresses that the use of diplomatic means is basically the best way to settle political differences, to settle political disputes, and she hopes that the relevant parties can actually resolve the current situation through peaceful means”, Grayley added.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan told the National Assembly that the captured IAF pilot will be freed on Friday as a “peace gesture”.

Varthaman was seized by Pakistan on Wednesday when his MiG was shot down and crashed in Pakistan-held territory during an Indian Air Force operation to repel Pakistani planes intruding into Indian territory.

(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)

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Trump signs order to block transactions with TikTok parent company

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Donald Trump

President Trump has signed a new executive order which will block all transactions with Bytedance, TikTok’s parent corporation, in an effort to “address the national emergency with respect to the information and communication technology supply chain.” It isn’t effectively immediately, but has a 45 day deadline.

“The spread [of apps controlled by the Chinese government] continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States,” the order reads. “The United States must take aggressive action against the owners of TikTok to protect our national security.”

A parallel order banned transactions with WeChat, a popular texting app in China that maintains a small user base in the US.

The move comes after months of escalating tensions, which saw Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others at the White House warn that TikTok presented a national security threat because of its Chinese ownership. On Friday, President Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One that he was preparing to sign some sort of order banning the app.

Those efforts have been complicated by discussions of a potential sale to Microsoft. On Sunday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella confirmed that he had spoken with President Trump about potentially acquiring the portions of TikTok based in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, although huge portions of the deal remain in flux. The company also cautioned that discussions were still tentative and “there can be no assurance that a transaction which involves Microsoft will proceed.”

Microsoft pledged to conclude discussions by September 15th, a date that has been echoed by President Trump. Trump’s new order is set to take effect 45 days after its release or September 20th — just after the deadline set for negotiations in the Microsoft deal.

In both orders, the president names the International Emergency Economic Powers Act as authority for the move, as well as the National Emergencies Act — effectively naming TikTok’s continued operation within the United States as a national emergency. Such a move is highly unusual, and will likely be subject to a legal challenge.

The executive branch has the power to levy sanctions against individuals and corporations by placing them on the “entity list,” as the US did against Huawei and ZTE last year. But such sanctions are typically put in place by the Commerce Department rather than the White House, and subject to a specific rule-making procedure that seems to have been short-circuited by the surprise executive order.

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Ohio Guv tests COVID-19 positive ahead of Trump’s visit

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COLUMBUS: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine tested negative for Covid-19 on Thursday after testing positive earlier in the day before he was to meet with President Donald Trump, according to a statement from his office.

His wife, Fran DeWine, also tested negative, as did staff members. They underwent a different type of test in Columbus; one considered to be more accurate than the rapid-result test which showed DeWine to be positive for Covid-19 just ahead of a planned meeting with Trump in Cleveland.

DeWine, an early advocate among Republicans of wearing masks and other pandemic precautions, said he took a test arranged by the White House in Cleveland as part of standard protocol before he was to meet Trump at an airport. He had planned to join the president on a visit to the Whirlpool Corp. plant in northwest Ohio.

Instead, he received the news he was positive, called his wife, Fran DeWine, and returned to central Ohio where he took the other test that showed him to be negative.

“A big surprise to me and certainly a big surprise to our family,” DeWine said at a late afternoon news conference broadcast from his porch on his farm in Cedarville in southwestern Ohio, where he planned to quarantine for 14 days.

Dewine, 73, said he didn’t know how he would have contracted the coronavirus and that he’s already been spending much of his time at his farm, keeping his distance from family members and staff. 

DeWine said he feels fine with no symptoms. His only health concern is asthma he’s had since he was a teenager, for which he uses an inhaler daily.

He said he’d already received some “not nice texts” Thursday from people claiming the news proves that mask-wearing is pointless.

“The lesson that should come from this is that we’re all human, this virus is everywhere, this virus is very tough,” DeWine said before the negative result. “And yes you can contract it even when you’re being very, very careful and even when you’re wearing a mask.” 

But, the governor said, “the odds are dramatically better” of avoiding a positive test if people wear a mask.

DeWine, in his first term as governor, is one of Ohio’s most familiar politicians, previously serving as a U.S. congressman, two-term U.S. senator, Ohio attorney general and lieutenant governor.

Trump offered DeWine his best wishes and said “he’ll be fine” in remarks after arriving at the airport, where he was greeted by Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who tested negative.

“A very good friend of mine just tested positive,” Trump said. He added that DeWine “has done a fantastic job.”

Husted said he’s been talking with DeWine via teleconference for weeks, and doesn’t expect changes in that routine or other aspects of DeWine’s job.

Trump’s visit to Ohio comes amid signs that he faces a tight race with former Vice President Joe Biden in a state he carried by 8 percentage points in 2016.

DeWine was the second U.S. governor to test positive for the coronavirus after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announced he contracted the virus last month.

The number of positive cases in Ohio had decreased after the first surge, hitting a low in late May. But numbers again began to rise in mid-June as Ohio began to reopen businesses. More than 3,600 Ohioans have died.

In recent weeks, DeWine has pleaded with Ohioans to take personal responsibility over the virus’ spread across the state. He had resisted a statewide mask mandate until July 23. DeWine’s first try at a statewide requirement for wearing masks inside businesses – back in April – drew backlash that led him to rescind that directive the following day, a stutter among the aggressive moves that had won him early praise in his efforts to curb the virus. 

Mask-wearing also has been a point of contention at the Statehouse, where many Democratic lawmakers have donned masks while many Republican lawmakers have not. DeWine has often found himself at odds with members of his own party on the policy.

DeWine’s key health adviser during the pandemic, Dr. Amy Acton, left government this week. In the early months, she joined DeWine at daily briefings and was a popular figure. However, backlash against state restrictions helped lead to a protest at her home and her decision to step away from the spotlight.

Since early in the pandemic, DeWine has hosted his daily briefings from a room separate from where the press corps gathers at the Ohio Statehouse. He would appear on a television in front of the reporters, who could step up to a microphone and ask questions.

DeWine held one of those briefings Tuesday but no other public events had been announced for this week besides his meeting with Trump. DeWine said he planned to give a previously scheduled coronavirus update Friday.

In at least two briefings, DeWine has shared how several friends had died from the virus, urging the public to think about their loved ones, especially grandparents. The governor has 23 grandchildren.

Notably, DeWine and his wife had avoided political rallies or meeting with members of the White House since the pandemic began. In June, the governor was scheduled to appear at a former General Motors plant in Lordstown but decided against it when Vice President Mike Pence announced he was going. The facility is now occupied by Lordstown Motors, which plans to build electric pickup trucks there.

“Quite candidly, throughout this pandemic, (first lady) Fran and I have avoided crowds,” DeWine said. “We have not gone out to be close with a lot of people. So we’re not going to do that.”

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UK to remove Belgium, Bahamas, Andorra from safe COVID-19 list

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UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced that travellers returning from Belgium, the Bahamas and Andorra will have to quarantine at home for 14 days, due to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the three countries.

Taking to Twitter on Thursday, Shapps said the measures will come into effect on Saturday except in Wales, where it has already begun, reports Xinhua news agency.

“Data shows we need to remove Andorra, Belgium and the Bahamas from our list of Icoronavirus) travel corridors in order to keep infection rates down.

“If you arrive in the UK after Saturday from these destinations, you will need to self-isolate for 14 days,” he said in the tweet.

The Foreign Office is also warning against “all but essential travel” to the three countries.

People who do not self-isolate when required can be fined up to 1,000 pounds in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland and those returning to Scotland could be fined 480 pounds, with fines up to 5,000 pounds for persistent offenders, the BBC reported.

Up to 1.8 million British nationals visit Belgium every year, while 150,000 visit Andorra.

The Bahamas, meanwhile, saw more than 36,000 visits from the UK in 2018.

The countries are the latest to have a change in rules, after quarantines were reimposed for Spain and Luxembourg.

Source: IANS

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